Review: The Christmas Wager by Jamie Fessenden

To discharge a debt to his friend, Andrew Nash, Lord Thomas Barrington returns to the family estate he fled six years earlier after refusing to marry the woman his father had chosen. To Thomas’s dismay, Barrington Hall is no longer the joyful home he remembers from his childhood, and his young niece has no idea what Christmas is.

Determined to bring Christmas back to the gloomy estate, Thomas must confront his tyrannical father, salvage a brother lost in his own misery, and attempt to fight off his father’s machinations. As the holidays near, Thomas and Andrew begin to realize they are more than merely close friends… and those feelings are not only a threat to their social positions but, in Victorian England, to their lives as well.

Review by Erastes

This is rather a review in two parts as I explain what did work for me and what didn’t.

I enjoyed the story–despite the things I say later about it–it’s has a nice feel to it, and just about every character has something going for it. It has a coherent plot, and the slightly “gay for you” plot is well done, gradually realised and works well in this context.

I particularly liked the way the two main characters deal with their emotions for each other; Andrew, although initially a little put off when he finds out about Thomas’s true nature and feelings, realises that he still wants him as a friend, and hopes to keep the friendship on that footing. I liked this, it seemed loyal and realistic for a loyal friend to do.

I liked the way they kept each other at arm’s distance too, it was sweet and although I knew where it was all going, I enjoyed the journey.

There are two or three nicely juggled sub-plots too, which work well, even if (this is a Christmas story, after all, so that’s forgiveable) it can be a little saccharine when it comes to the child involved. So taken aside the things that knocked this from being a really good read to an annoying one–I did like this book, and would probably recommend it to those who like big country house stories.

But.

I have to say that a sterner editor would have been a good thing–because the writing smacks a little of fandom. There’s far too much use of epiphets “the blond” “the handsome blond” and such like. There are spelling mistakes, grammar errors and mistaken apostrophes liberally spattered throughout.

The constant use of “Christmas holidays” was an odd concept too–Andrew ran his own business, and–like Scrooge, most employees only had a day or so off, Christmas Day and perhaps another–and Andrew had no employment, living off his family’s allowance, so he wouldn’t have this idea in his head. I am reminded of the Dowager Duchess in Downton Abbey – “What is a weekend?”

The main trouble is that it’s clearly an English historical written by an American. It’s obvious that they’ve done a fair amount of research, but this could easily have been written in a 19th century New York setting and worked much better because the little niggles like the fifth of scotch and gottens would have been more excusable. There are a fair amount of anchacronisms here, too – words like teenagers  and sabotage and the mentions of muffins and scones for breakfast–and using balsam as a decoration which isn’t found in America and not England.

In an American setting, the rather republican aspects of the story which make any class conscious English person blanch, would have made a lot more sense. It’s too late to invite the “proper people” to the Christmas Ball, so instead everyone from the village is invited–and this is done without even a murmur of dissent, disapproval, horror or even amusement from the local gentry. “how quaint, look at the poor stuffing the pastries in their pockets” was what I was expecting, but they invite the great unwashed in — and the great unwashed know exactly how to behave — without a ripple from anywhere.

It’s a real shame, because I am sure Dreamspinner have or have access to editors who could have ironed these annoyances out, and if it had only had a couple of glitches I could have forgiven it. It would otherwise have been nudging a four stars, or even a four and a half, because the story is very charming, the characters loveable (although the child is not my cup of tea) but because of the “should have been set in the USA” aspect of it, I can only give it a grudging three.

Author’s website

Buy at Dreamspinner

Review: Walking in Two Worlds by Terry O’Reilly

Lee Masters is fired from his cattle drive when his sexual orientation is discovered. Frustrated and angry, he rides to a mountain lake where he meets Running Buffalo, Tatanka, who is also exiled from his tribe for refusing to adhere to tribal custom for braves who prefer men to women.

They strike up a friendship, which readily turns to love. Their family is completed when a young Indian, Sleeps with Dogs, insists they take him home with them on their search for a home.

But within each there is an unanswered yearning for approval among their people. Where can they find the acceptance they seek? Will they forever find themselves Walking in Two Worlds?

Review by Sue Brown

I have a penchant for Westerns so I was pleased to be given Walking in Two Worlds, an historical Western which not only traverses attitudes to homosexuality within different cultures, but the added issue of our heroes coming to terms each other in an interracial relationship. Walking in Two Worlds tackles a difficult subject and on the whole handles it successfully, yet as a reader, occasionally there were things that threw me out of the world Terry O’Reilly was creating.

There are elements of Walking in Two Worlds which are outstanding, such as the attention to detail, which helps to place the reader firmly in the era. The author skilfully manages to blend the historical and racial detail into the storyline without ‘information dumping’, and I finished the book with a desire to know more about the Dakota and Hopi tribes. I was extremely impressed by sympathetic handling of the comparison of the three cultures, the two Indian tribes and the white homesteads. As I read I could see the good and the bad in each world as the cowboy and the Indian, and the young Indian boy, who adopted them, struggled to adapt.

Terry O’Reilly managed to draw me into the relationship of Lee Masters, a rugged cowboy, and Running Buffalo, Tatanka, a Dakota chief, both of them exiled from their worlds. I enjoyed the development of their relationship and the prejudices they encountered in trying to live together as a couple in the Indians tribes and white culture. The sex scenes were hot and managed to combine both the physical and emotional elements that I prefer.

The secondary characters were well-rounded and added to the storyline. Reading the blurb, I was dubious about the addition of the young Indian boy, Sleeps With Dog, however his story blended in smoothly with Lee and Tatanka’s developing relationship.

After all this, there were a couple of things that really set my teeth on edge. The idea of the rough-mannered Lee telling a man he had only just met that he loved him after their first night together just screamed ‘No’. Another one was Lee’s comment about something ‘tasting just like chicken’. It seemed a very modern comment and I found it distracting.

I found the ending rushed and almost a cop-out after the time spent with the rest of the story. I can understand why it ended as it did and it was in keeping with the book. It would just have benefited from more detail.

Walking in Two Worlds gets 4 stars because it drew me into another world and made me want to know more.

Author’s Website

Buy Aspen Mountain Fictionwise All Romance eBooks

Review: Sal Mineo: a biography by Michael Gregg Michaud

Sal Mineo is probably most well-known for his unforgettable, Academy Award–nominated turn opposite James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause and his tragic murder at the age of thirty-seven. Finally, in this riveting new biography filled with exclusive, candid interviews with both Mineo’s closest female and male lovers and never-before-published photographs, Michael Gregg Michaud tells the full story of this remarkable young actor’s life, charting his meteoric rise to fame and turbulent career and private life.

About the author: MICHAEL GREGG MICHAUD’s work has appeared in numerous magazines and publications, including the Los Angeles Times. He is also a playwright, editor, artist, and award-winning photographer. An animal-rights defender, he is a founding director of the Linda Blair WorldHeart Foundation. He lives in Los Angeles.

*Available in e-book format – 2137KB

Review by Gerry Burnie

When I first came upon the title “Sal Mineo: A Biography” by Michael Gregg Michaud [Crown Archetype, 2010], I knew it was something I had to read. You see, in 1965 I spent an intimate evening with Sal Mineo in Toronto, and although this time was brief I can attest to some of the characteristics Michaud writes about; certainly Mineo’s disarming charm, his impetuousness, and his passion for life at whatever he happened to be doing at the time.

Sal Mineo’s impoverished childhood in the Bronx is a testament to several things: i.e. if you stay true to your dreams they will come true (in some measure), and anything worthwhile is worth working for. Mineo did against formidable odds. Along the way luck also played a role when he was cast with Yul Brenner in “The King and I,” and Brenner became his inspiration as well as his mentor.

Eventually Hollywood beckoned, and on the basis of his accomplishments, youthful good looks and luck, at the tender age of fifteen he was cast in a supporting role opposite the (now) legendary James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause.” The female lead in this cinematic classic was Natalie Wood, and it is particularly interesting to note that all three of these individuals met an untimely and tragic end.

Mineo idolized Dean, who was known to be bi-sexual, and for the first time Sal began to realize how love between men could arise. Nothing ever transpired between these two, however, and eventually Dean’s brilliant career and unorthodox lifestyle was cut short by a tragic car accident—September 30, 1955.

In the Halcyon days of his career, Mineo was managed by his well-intentioned but domineering mother—the quintessential stage mother—who spent his considerable income faster than he could earn it. Moreover, lacking the business acumen to realize this, and being a bit of a spendthrift himself, the plot was set for a financial crises.

Also contributing to this downturn was Mineo’s inability to make the transition from a teen idol to more mature roles. Ironically, it was his baby face and stereotype casting as a juvenile delinquent—the very characteristics that had made him a famous—that worked against him in the eyes of the public. Consequently, he joined the ranks of childhood stars whose careers were short lived.

Until this stage his sexual orientation had been strictly heterosexual, particularly with a British starlet by the name of Jill Haworth. That was until he met Bobby Sherman; a virtual unknown until Mineo used his influence to launch Sherman’s singing career in the 1960s. Following his fling with Sherman, the floodgates seemed to open to a variety of attractive, young men who ended up in Mineo’s bed—some with familiar names from the era, i.e. Don Johnson, Jay North (Dennis the Menace), David Cassidy, and Jon Provost (Timmy of Lassie fame). Nevertheless, when he met a handsome actor by the name of Courtney Burr, he finally formed a love that lasted until Mineo’s death in 1976.

Not surprisingly rumours of this began to circulate, and since Hollywood’s attitude about sex was oddly (and not just a little hypocritically) guarded, Sal lived his private life under the radar for fear and professional recriminations.

“Sal knew that outing himself, declaring his sexuality, would destroy what little was left of his career. Though Sal never publicly came out in a conventional manner, there was a subliminal coming-out that began years before. He wanted his lifestyle and his choices to be accepted. He wanted a normalcy and legitimacy in his life.”

Not an unreasonable wish in a town where almost anything goes, sexually, and sensuality is a packaged product.

***

This exhaustive biography is not only a tribute to Sal Mineo, a talented and misunderstood individual who lived life to the fullest—no matter what he did—it is also a tribute to the author’s unrelenting dedication. For example, the writing of “Sal Mineo: A biography” took ten years and three-years of research to complete. Moreover, numerous interviews were conducted, most particularly with Jill Haworth and Courtney Burr, to give it a personal insight beyond the written record. Bravo!

Full of details and previously undisclosed anecdotes, the biography captures a career of ups and downs and a private life of sexual impulses. Highly recommended.

Amazon UK Amazon USA Kindle Edition

Review: The Nobleman and the Spy by Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon

They once faced each other on a battlefield. Now soldier-turned-spy Jonathan Reese must keep watch over the man he’s never forgotten. A close encounter reveals Karl von Binder, the count’s son, also recalls the day he spared Jonathan’s life.

Sparks fly between the former enemies and Jonathan begins to lose perspective on his mission. He knows he must maintain distance because the heat he encounters in Karl’s touch stirs him far too deeply for his own good. He can’t keep away — especially when he suspects someone is trying to kill the nobleman.

The spy becomes a protector as Jonathan guards the man he’s begun to care for. Together the men try to puzzle out who would benefit from Karl’s death — and how much they’re willing to trust each other when a torrid sexual fling threatens to become an affair of the heart.

Review by Erastes Click here for the PODCAST

Having enjoyed hugely Dee and Devon’s Gentleman and the Rogue I was eager to read this one—although a little trepidatious about the title and it seemed a bit similar, and I wondered if they weren’t just resting on their laurels and writing the same book twice.

However I shouldn’t have doubted them, because this is a very different book in time, flavour and feel.

The eponymous spy, Reese is introduced to us from the start and he sets the scene quite wonderfully, following on from an excellent first line:

“We aren’t asking you to kill the man”

we learn a lot about Reese, and nothing, because that’s the kind of shadowy spy he is. He gives nothing away, not in speech or in body language. He understands how to fake interest, how to fake non-aggression and he’s damned good at his job. We learn early on that he will no longer kill anyone—so he’s been an assassin at some point, and that he had a liaison with his former handler, and that something went terribly wrong there, and after that Reese changed. But not a lot else, and that’s how it should be. However as the story went on, I have to say that I would have liked to have seen more of how good Reese was at his job; he broke his cover pretty soon and wasn’t much of a spy during the story itself, although we had a hint of his excellence from his backstory.

His target couldn’t be more different on the surface. He’s assigned to follow Karl Johann Peter, Erb-Pfalzgraf von und zu Neuschlosswold-Binder (try saying that with a mouthful of chips) who seemingly everyone knows about. A famous aristocrat, diplomat with a huge retinue and a famous family—but with his own secrets to hide.

I loved the way the relationship started early, and the way that Binder was the experienced one, when I’d half expected it to be the other way around. Binder has good gaydar and his seduction of the man he’d already spotted as following him was quite delicious. There’s a lovely sense of paranoia from both men as they size each other up: what is he up to, who is working for, all these questions go through both men’s minds and it works well and is very believable, even for men who have just had an intimate encounter.

Both characters, Binder and Reese are excellently portrayed, each with a distinct personality and voice; they rub each other up the wrong way (and the right way in more intimate moments) and the cat and mouse and cat game that they play is great to read.

This nicely sums up the differences between them:

Maybe it was this somber aspect that drew Karl, since his own nature was more flamboyant. Jonathan seemed to have a stillness about him, an ability to sit quietly and take things in. He reminded Karl of a pool with a smooth surface and all sorts of dark, hidden depths. And every time Karl saw the pool, he was compelled to drag his hand through it and ruffle the waters. He just had to splash around, and he wanted to dive deep and see what secrets lay at the bottom.

Although I had to laugh at the last of that, but I’m twelve.

There’s many characters in this story, too, which is tightly plotted and multi-layered, and each character has a definite place and no one feels like “filler.”

Set in 1866 (and I think) just before the Austro-Prussian-Italian war I have to say that having been researching this period myself for the last six months I was impressed by the research done here in respect to the political situation in England and Germany at the time, touching lightly on unrest in Russia and other hotspots in Europe–(Europe being a veritable powder keg about to explode at any time.)

If you are looking for a sexy book, you won’t be disappointed, but the sex here is decadently sensual, full of round ripeness and a languid time-wasting hedonism that had my toes curling with delight. I’ve said it before that a sex scene needs to be part of the plot, and although (for the size of the book) the sex is a large proportion, it never once feels gratuitous and for once I was looking forward to the next one, rather than rolling my eyes with “oh God, they are at it again.” I appreciated the masculinity of the scenes, too—sometimes gay erotic can get a little too feminine for my taste. There’s little of the sighing over a pair of eyes or lips; at a party Karl imagines flipping up the tails of Reese’s evening jacket, yanking down his trousers and rogering him hard. Quite right, sir. Quite right.

When I’m writing these reviews I generally tap out quibbles as I find them, and it amused me vastly that the first major quibble I had, regarding Reese’s identity and the persona he’d booked in at the hotel were debunked thoroughly by Karl’s staff, which made me laugh that I’d thought that Dee and Devon would make such a simple error. Other than Claridge’s having unaired sheets (heavens, no!) nothing much other than the word “cum” making an appearance which I always dislike. That’s probably Loose ID’s style guide, not the authors’ choice though. And a few Americanisms which crept in here and there, like “wash-up” for washing. So well done, ladies.

If I have any complaint it’s to Loose I-D – PLEASE can you vary your covers a bit? These are all getting a bit samey.

It’s an exciting and robust tale with mouth-watering intrigue, political machinations, witty banter and some fizzlingly sensuous sex scenes and like The Gentleman and the Rogue (which if you haven’t read why the hell not?) I can’t recommend it highly enough. I want to take away these ladies’ pens until they promise they write nothing else but gay historicals. I just wish I could get a set of theirs in print.

Buy from Loose I-D

Preditors and Editors Poll

sin

Once again, some kind person has nominated our little review site over at Preditors and Editors yearly round up poll.

So, if you’ve enjoyed the site and the reviews, please pop over to the site and vote for us!

http://www.critters.org/predpoll/reviewsite.shtml

Review: Dona Nobis Pacem by Willa Okati

Mute saloonkeeper Donnell knows all about prejudice; he’s had to battle it all of his life. He also knows how self-righteous and judgemental the people of the old west town of Nazareth can be, so he isn’t surprised when he sees them spurn requests for work from a man who walks into town looking to be all but on his death bed. Donnell takes the man in and nurses him back to health, falling in love along the way.  But is Donnell destined to have his heart broken?

Review by Jess Faraday

I feel badly that my first review for Speak Its Name is going to be largely critical. However, not all books were written for all readers. Even though the story didn’t work for me on a number of levels, there’s quite a bit in Dona Nobis Pacem to like. I’m certain that there are readers who will enjoy the story for its merits. Here are a few of them.

I’ve read a few other stories by Willa Okati, and the sex is always hot. It’s graphic, but not to the point where one is counting the pores on the hero’s…er…chin. So if you like some hot, well-described man-on-man nookie, you’ll find three very tasty scenes to sink your teeth into.

I also liked Nathan’s (the hero’s love interest) inner conflict regarding his attraction to Donnell. It seemed realistic given the time, place, and Nathan’s religious background. Although I thought this could have been drawn out and explored more, considering the brevity of the piece (100 pages and change), the amount of time spent on it was appropriate.

There’s a difference between historical romance and romance with historical flavor. SIN reviews historicals, so I read from this perspective. As historical fiction, this story really didn’t work for me. The main difference between a contemporary and a historical is setting, and the setting in this story was basically undefined.

References to a gold rush suggest that the story is taking place in the 19th century. Vague descriptions of a desert-like climate suggest that it was the California gold rush of 1848 (although the gold rush did not take place in the desert part of California), or possibly the Northern Nevada gold rush. But however one slices it, there was not enough physical, social, or cultural description for me to feel any certainty of time or place.

A few character inconsistencies also distracted me from the story. The hero, Donnell, seemed far too cosmopolitan for his circumstances. For an orphaned son of a prostitute in a one-horse town, he knew an awful lot about the world, including what color the Jamaican sea was, the weather in Texas, what blizzards were like (hint: blizzards do not take place in, or anywhere near deserts) and the works of Tchaikovsky (who would have been a child during the California gold rush) and Rachmaninoff (who wouldn’t be born for another 20-odd years). He also had a magnificent vocabulary, which, despite being mute, he managed to express flawlessly through gesture.

Moreover, in the beginning, it was stated that only Donnell’s adoptive mother knew about his proclivities–entirely believable for the time and place–but by the end of a month, this tough, old-West town had become remarkably OK HOMO.

As a light romance, the story fares somewhat better. Dona Nobis Pacem is a classic hurt/comfort tale: a story in which the plot consists almost entirely of one character nursing another through a Grave Crisis. Although the crisis was drawn out a lot longer than was realistic (one does not require a month–need I say it, in bed–to recover from heatstroke), H/C lovers may enjoy the plot. Unfortunately, there’s not much more to the plot than that. There is some attempt at external conflict with a wild-eyed preacher bent on taking Donnell’s land and claiming Nathan’s soul By Any Means Necessary. However, this conflict isn’t developed, and is dropped altogether without explanation in the last third of the book.

I would recommend this story for someone looking for a quick read, some hot sex, and a happy ending. But if you’re in the mood for a complex plot or a well-researched historical, this probably isn’t the book for you. 2.5 stars.

Buy from Torquere Press

Review: The House on Birdgate Alley by Anel Viz

London, 1889.

Dr. John Williams suspects somebody has been blackmailing one of his patients, Sir Hugh Cockburn. The same day, the body of a young man is found floating in the Thames. Mere coincidence, or is there a connection?

Willliams’ eccentric cousin, Cyril Fosterby, turns his mind to unraveling the mystery.

Review by Erastes

The trouble with writing victorian “maverick sleuths” in 1889 is that one can’t help but wonder that perhaps this is Holmes fanfic revisted and it does read rather like it. It’s unfortunate for the story if it isn’t, of course, but I’ve read a lot of converted Holmes fic. This is a story about a doctor called John–in late Victorian England with a cousin who’s an experimental scientist who solves cases and is a master of disguise…

For all that, though, Anel Viz proves he can turn his hand to the Victorian era with good effect – it’s a decent enough story and an enjoyable hour’s read.

There’s not much gaslight and gaiters, if you get my gist, not much description of the familiar post-Ripper London that we are used to, and it depends more on conversation and indoor scenes than dripping grey bricks and eerie fog over the Thames, but what is there is done all right.

What I found odd, though was everyone’s openness about homosexuality. Two young men at Cambridge kiss in front of Doctor Williams, and the brothel keeper talks openly to him about her employees, and admits having talked to the Health Board and the Police about them.

Now, this is 1889, four years after the dreaded “Labouchere Amendment” of the Sexual Offences Act which, in an attempt to clean up the prostitution, also targetted homosexuals whether or not they were in private or not. There is much in this book that entirely ignores this Amendment, which caused a sensation at the time, and drove homosexual men underground.  In fact the Cambridge man says:

As for a scandal, what Freddy and I do in private need not go beyond these four walls or whatever four walls happen to surround us at the moment.

Um. Very very wrong, and no-one corrects him either.  So I find it very strange that the madam of the brothel talks to anyone at all, let alone the police the health board and John Williams.

I can’t say that I was impressed by Fosterby’s reasoning regarding the original blackmail note, in the same way I was often impressed by Holmes–he doesn’t really give me enough reasons to suspect that Sir Hugh was an “invert” – rather presented it as a fait-a-complis rather than “these are my reasons and there is no other explanation.”

I loved the working class Johnny Rice, his cheeky attitude and sexual enjoyment really lit up the page (even if I couldn’t stand the dialect written out) and he was quite my favourite character. I couldn’t warm to Dr John Williams as he abhored everything about the sex trade, said how he disliked cocks and anuses in particular and then suddenly PING he’s homosexual for Johnny, seduced by the power of the cock in the same way that the also married Sir Hugo had been too.

However, if you are expecting a Holmesian tale with tortious twists and clues scattered to find and pick up, then you are going to be disappointed, because the story serves only really as a vehicle for John and Johnny to hook up and for John to realise that he’s not faithful to his wife.

There really was not enough of the so-called “eccentric” cousin, the detective figure. We don’t find out why he was considered eccentric, we don’t learn his methods and in fact we only meet him a handful of times and we learn nothing much when we do.All detecting is done off stage and is wrapped up neatly after John and Johnny spend a lot of time together and fall in love.  However Fosterby explains all the dectecting he’d been doing at the end.  This is well explained, and works, but I think I would have preferred more involvement from Williams.

It has a nicely realistic ending, and sets itself for sequels. I did enjoy the story as a whole, despite the OK Homo aspects and lack of historical fear, and I’ll be looking out for further books if there are any.

Buy at Silver Publishing

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