Review: A Hundred Little Lies by Jon Wilson

Everyone knows Jack Tulle as a widower, a doting father, and an honest businessman. The problem is, it’s all a lie.

For eight years Jack has enjoyed the quiet life in the sleepy little town of Bodey, Colorado where he owns and operates the General Store. He sits on the town council. He dotes upon his eight-year-old, headstrong daughter, Abigail. He is even being sized-up as a prospective new member of the family by the bank president.

But when the local saloon announces plans to host a grand prize poker tournament, Jack realizes it could spell trouble. One of the many secrets he’s been hiding is that he used to be a con man — mainly underhanded poker, but he wasn’t above the odd swindle when the situation presented itself. And a contest like the one his town is planning is sure to draw some old business acquaintances — fellows Jack would really rather not admit to knowing. But one he would–Tom Jude, the only person in the world other than Abigail Jack has ever loved–but one man who knows every secret in Jack’s past, secrets which could destroy his current life.

Review by Erastes

A debut novel, and a quite impressive debut too. I really liked the style of writing Wilson employs. It reminded me very much of “The Winter of our Discontent” by Steinbeck with the everyday narrative flow and observation of small-town living. We are introduced to Jack through his waking up, getting his daughter ready for school, interraction with towns people and working in his general store. We are set up to think, as do the townspople that he is indeed a pillar of the community.

But of course, things are not all they seem. Gradually the cracks appear. We learn that he’s vehemently against the planned poker tournament in the local saloon, but it’s not really clear why. He doesn’t come over as a really straight-laced Christian type, so we can’t help but wonder what his agenda is. It’s not until the tournament is a definite event that the cracks widen.

It takes its time to unfold, and I liked this. It’s not a hugely long book, about 130 pages or so but the meandering path it takes makes it feel like a full-size novel and as I said, the style is pretty polished. I would, perhaps have liked a bit deeper view into Jack’s head–especially as the story is not only first person, but presented as Jack actually writing it down himself–he considers deleting some text, so that adds to this memoire feel, but all the same there are times when it becomes a little remote.

The characters–in the main–are intriguing and easy to get toknow on face value (although it’s clear that Jack is a veritable onion and there’s much to learn) and when Tom Jude arrives he really sweeps everyone off their feet with his handsome good looks and charisma. He also causes a eyebrow or two from the townsfolk who find that solid business man Jack knows an armed gambler… But from the sherrif to the schoolteacher, to the store-clerk, each character is nicely described and no-one feels two dimensional.

However, one character that really didn’t work for me was Jack’s eight year old daughter. Writing children is hard, and I’m afraid that I had the same feeling about Abigail that I had for “Just William’s” Violet Bott or one of Dahl’s terrible Chocolate Factory children. I wanted her to die and quite horribly. Wilson obviously thinks that we should love Abigail which made me ashamed of my dreams of fire but she’s grating and not at all realistic, even given the fact that the book is set some 150 years ago. Firstly she comes over as about three years old, not eight, lisping and misspeaking which is probably intended to be cute. I could not equate her with Jack having brought her up, because Jack is almost impossibly erudite, using large words and complex concepts. He has a knowledge of art and travel, whereas his daughter speaks like Cletus the Slack Jawed yokel and hasn’t even heard of New Orleans. Er… no. Kids learn their speech patterns from their parents. From her appalling grammar, speech and behaviour, it’s like she’s been raised by hillbillies instead of an intelligent, well read and well-spoken father.

But she was only one character and I was willing to ignore her in favour of the main plotline.

The narrative is sometimes a tad jumpy, and more than once I found myself re-reading sections because I felt I’d missed something–characters would start to talk of things without any lead up leaving the reader running to catch up and hoping some light would be shed to give a clue. Here’s one example of this: (the earlier sentences do not shed any light on who they are talking about, the conversation pretty much starts with this.)

I started forward once more, and, when I reached him, he turned to walk beside me. We progressed in silence for a spell, then he said: “Y’know, I saw him a while back.”

We were both looking ahead again, and he didn’t gaze over at me as he told me that, and I didn’t do anything at all. I just mention those facts to show that I was beyond the point of offering up any noticeable reaction to that sort of pronouncement, and Tom knew it.

He was just telling me because he thought I might like to know. “He was looking mighty—well, spry would be overstating it. But he was  breathing pretty regular for a dead man.”

I still wasn’t troubled by any particular impulse to respond, though, finally, after a moment or two, I decided it would be impolite to let him think I might not have been paying attention. I scratched my ear. “You talk to him?”

“You could call it that.”

“How’d that go?”

He offered a noncommittal shrug. “I didn’t finish up by spitting on him, so I reckon it went a damn sight better than the time before.” He paused a moment to allow me ample time to relish his sense of humor, then confided: “He wanted money.”

“I’m sorry.”

He shrugged again, and his tone lightened. “He asked after you. I suppose it was good I didn’t really know much—spared me the trouble of lying. ’Course, he figured I was lying, which I guess means his brain ain’t completely pickled.”

“How’d he look?”

“How’d he look!” Tom shook his fist at me. “You’re just itching for that pop!”

So, all right, I wasn’t as completely indifferent to mention of my father as I claimed, and I suppose Tom might have broached the subject because he suspected as much. In my defense, I told him: “He asked after me, didn’t he?”

As you can see it takes most of this exchange to explain it’s Jack’s father that is being discussed, whereas from hints in earlier conversations about certain dead men, I was completely led astray, thought they were talking about someone else, and when the father was mentioned I was entirely confused. This is also one of many plot threads that are never explored, never resolved which was a tad frustrating–unless this is going to be a series, but there was no hint of that.

The trouble could be that the author knows his backstory so much he doesn’t realise that readers don’t travel at the same speed and need a bit more support or they end up lost like me.

You can see that there are colons before certain parts of speech and while this might be a correct and formal way of expressing speech, I have to say I didn’t like it, I hadn’t read a book with this device before. One example of a hundred would be:

I asked him: “You remember the baths at Hollister House?”

Instead of

“You remember the baths at Hollister House?” I asked him.

Perhaps it’s to emphasize that it’s Jack writing this as a memoire I don’t know. But I hope the author re-considers in future and uses a more acceptable method of dialogue.

But these are matters that can be ironed out as the author learns and progresses.

However the good certainly eclipses the irritants. I loved the way that Jack says he feels sorry for men and women because it’s much easier for men to walk around with their arms around each other or to fake wrestle in the street and no-one thinks anything of it. I also liked the way that it dealt with an addiction; Jack is an addict, but not to drink or to drugs, although both are mentioned. He’s a recovering card sharp and just the feel of a packet of cards in his hands is enough to tempt his control. I found it endearing that the only pack of cards he had in the house was incomplete, but I understood the necessity for it.

There’s a section toward the end with a rather nice surprise, but this isn’t followed through–not even in thought, which was disappointing. I would have liked to have known how Jack got around this particular problem. Editing was fine but I’m afraid the cover does nothing for me—something more literary and vague would have done—but that’s cosmetic and doesn’t affect the mark at all. What marks it down is the confusion I felt at several points, the ends that never really got tied up and the hillbilly sounding daughter.

Don’t come to this book looking for a stock gay cowboy romance. Come instead for a beautifully written story with characters that will stick in your head. Well worth a read.  I look forward to what this author can do in the future because it might be pretty amazing.

Buy at Cheyenne Publishing Amazon UK Amazon USA

Film Review: Infamous

On November 16, 1959, Truman Capote reads about the murder of a Kansas family. There are no suspects. With Harper Lee, he visits the town: he wants to write about their response. First he must get locals to talk, then, after arrests, he must gain access to the prisoners. One talks constantly; the other, Perry Smith, says little. Capote is implacable, wanting the story, believing this book will establish a new form of reportage: he must figure out what Perry wants. Their relationship becomes something more than writer and character: Perry killed in cold blood, the state will execute him in cold blood; does Capote get his story through cold calculation, or is there a price for him to pay?

Director:

Douglas McGrath

Writers:

Douglas McGrath (screenplay), George Plimpton (book)

Stars:

Review by Erastes

A bit of an odd one, this–almost the exact same story had been released a year earlier with “Capote” – with a much higher profile and glittering prizes – Philip Seymour Hoffman received an Oscar for his performance in that particular film, and yet–having watched Toby Jones in this I think that this film does it better in just about every respect. and yes – that does include a great performance by Sandra Bullock.

I KNOW!!!!!!!!!!!

 

The story for those who missed Capote,and who haven’t read “In Cold Blood” starts in 1959 when Capote–a multi-published author, screenplay writer and considered to be the enfant terrible of the literati world of the time–catches a pretty small article in a paper talking of a mass slaying in Holcomb, a small town in Kansas. He persuades his newspaper editor to let him do an article on the case and sets off for Holcomb to interview the locals. However, as he is pretty outre, even for 1950′s New York, he’s jaw droppingly shocking to the good people of Holcomb and the story follows how he–and Nelle Harper Lee (beautifully underplayed by Bullock–I know!!!!) win over the townspeople and start getting them talking. The killers are apprehended and the story changes to Capote as he starts to interview the two young men and the relationship he forms with them.

Firstly, I adore Toby Jones. I loved him as Hogarth and more recently he did a lovely job of the man who Isherwood changed into Mr Norris in “Christopher and his Kind.” He picks projects that play to his strengths, and seeing how he’s short, a little pudgy and not blessed with chiselled features he’s found his niche and plays strongly to it.

He seems born to play Capote, and he did a wonderful job, even more swishy and unrepentant than Seymour Hoffman, and infinitable more likeable. As he flounces down the small-town street in bright canary yellow or wearing a red scarf bigger than him I can appreciate what a stir he must have caused.

I wonder why they made this film; considering the other being made at the same time–perhaps they were being made at exactly the same time, despite the fact they came out a year apart–perhaps this version with a much higher count of Big Names was expected to the one to make it big, but sadly that didn’t happen, and me thinking it deserves it more isn’t going to make any difference.

Aside from the fact that Capote was gay, and in a full-time relationship with Jack Dunphy, who he was with from 1948 until his death in 1984, the story line touches on the way that Capote interracted with the more reticent of the two killers: Perry Smith. Smith was not willing to speak to Capote–and unlike his partner in crime Dick Hickok, Capote paints him as educated, sensitive–once he’d decided to talk.

I liked the way that we are left in some doubt as to the veracity of the accounts given in the book–Capote’s behaviour with his New York socialite friends echoes the way he behaves in Holcomb. He says of the way he gets the NY set to open up and tell him everything, that he finds out what they want and then he gives it to them. Perry Smith seems to want a friend, and then, later, someone to love, and Capote gives him that. But did he mean any of it? or was it just a ruse to get his story?  I suppose we’ll never really know.

I should add here, that Perry is played amazingly by Daniel Craig–made up to lessen his attractiveness but he loses none of his power–the scenes between Capote and Perry are mesmerising.

Add to that that little matter of Bullock’s quiet and beautifully judged (I KNOW!!!) performance, and with guest spots from Weaver, Paltrow, Bridges and others–I think I can recommend this with knobs on.  It may not be a subject matter that will appeal, and there are one or two scenes pertaining to the murder that will disturb you (but then, In Cold Blood is a disturbing book, and the murders were appalling) but overrall, you should seek it out.

Review: According to Hoyle by Abigail Roux

By the close of 1882, the inhabitants of the American West had earned their reputation as untamed and dangerous. The line between heroes and villains is narrow and indistinct. The concept that a man may only kill if backed into a corner is antiquated. Lives are worth less than horses. Treasures are worth killing for. And the law is written in the blood of those who came before. The only men staving off total chaos are the few who take the letter of the law at its word and risk their lives to uphold it. But in the West, the rules aren’t always played according to Hoyle.

US Marshals Eli Flynn and William Henry Washington are escorting two prisoners to New Orleans for trial when they discover there’s more to the infamous shootist Dusty Rose and the enigmatic man known only as Cage than merely being outlaws. When forces beyond the marshals’ control converge on the paddlewheeler they have hired to take them downriver, they must choose between two dangers: playing by the rules at any cost or trusting the very men they are meant to bring to justice.

Review by Sue Brown

I used to have an expectation of m/m stories that by page 5 the two men – or any other number thereof – would have their clothes stripped off and be getting down to business. I did not expect to find plot interrupting the sex. My knuckles have been firmly rapped with this amazing story. If you are expecting Wild West Sex, then According to Hoyle isn’t for you. If you like a complex plot, rounded and well-developed characters and some surprising twists, then this is definitely up your alley.

This is the tale of two US Marshals, Eli Flynn and William Henry Washington, escorting two prisoners to New Orleans for trial: the shootist and outlaw, the Englishman Dusty Rose, who surprises the lawmen by developing a relationship with the other prisoner, the silent man, Cage. Over the course of their journey Flynn, who has always played life according to Hoyle, by the book, learns that the criminals aren’t always the bad guys and he learn a lot more about himself and his old friend, Wash, as well. These characters aren’t exactly original, the stoic lawmen, the criminals finding their way into infamy through dime novels, but Abigail Roux has crafted them so well that you are swiftly drawn into their world.

As a reader I probably focus more on the interaction of the men. The developing relationships between Rose and Cage and Flynn and Wash, and the way they all have to learn to trust each other, are subtly woven. It isn’t about two men watching another two get together, but the four of them and the way their relationship develops from distrust into something more, not friendship, but a grudging admission of respect, particularly between Flynn and Rose

Considering the time in which the story was set I expected more overt homophobia. However a second reading made me see it was skilfully handled through the uncomfortable feelings engendered in Flynn as he watches Rose and Cage together. In fact of all the four men it was Flynn that fascinated me as he fights his feelings for Wash.

Meanwhile, I am unwilling to spoil the story too much, but there is another subplot woven through which makes the story more than just a journey of the lawmen and the outlaws, but gives it a touch of uncertainty and excitement.

One minor criticism, and it is minor, is that both times I read the book I felt the boat scene was a little too long. It was a necessary part of the plot but became a little tedious. I did like the end of the book though. Flynn came a long way, both as a lawman and a lover. I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone, whether you like westerns or not.

Buy from Dreamspinner Amazon USA Amazon UK

Film Review: Christopher and his Kind (BBC)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1651062/

 

(from imdb) In 1931 budding author Christopher Isherwood goes to Berlin at the invitation of his friend W. H. Auden for the gay sex that abounds in the city. Whilst working as an English teacher his housemates include bewigged old queen Gerald Hamilton and would-be actress Jean Ross,who sings tunelessly in a seedy cabaret club. They and others he meets get put into his stories. After a fling with sexy rent boy Caspar he falls for street sweeper Heinz,paying medical bills for the boy’s sickly mother, to the disapproval of her other son, Nazi Gerhardt. With Fascism rapidly rising Christopher returns to London with Heinz but is unable to prevent his return to Germany when his visa expires.

Review by Erastes

A visually beautiful film, which draws you into to the Berlin of the early 30′s, Christopher and his Kind is the dramatised version of the book of the same name which was not published until 1976. Becoming a figurehead for the growing gay movement, Isherwood reflects on his earlier life, particularly his relationships in Berlin and decides to add to the existing canon by writing Christopher and his Kind.

With immensely clever set direction and some CGI which did now and then show the join, it looks and feels like an immensely lavish production. There are all the familiar scenes we expect in a film like this in this era, steam from the trains billowing onto the platform, scary and omnious scenes with the Nazi flag flying from every building, book burning and the like. It’s cleverly done and you hardly notice that it’s actually done in small scale, but it looks like it’s done with a cast of thousands.

The cast is wonderful–Matt Smith could have overshadowed the piece with his performance, but he’s nicely tempered by the dour and slightly clingy WH Auden (Pip Carter), Isherwood’s domineering mother Kathleen (Lindsay Duncan) of whom Christopher takes no notice but has an more extreme effect on Isherwood’s younger brother Richard (Perry Millward) (who was also homosexual.)

Imogen Poots has large shoes to fill as Jean Ross (the woman who Isherwood immortalised into the unforgettable Sally Bowles) and here she is much more like her actual incarnation. Many American viewers will probably be surprised not to find Bowles is American!  Poots does a grand job, from her chewed green lacquered fingernails to her brittle strength to her not-brilliant singing ability! There’s a marvellously campy performance by Toby Jones as Gerald Hamilton (the inspiration for Mr Norris in the books) who double-entendres his way through his first meeting with Isherwood and enjoys every perverted pleasure Berlin can throw at him.

Of course, only having an hour and a half to play with, there’s a lot condensed here, and some people might say that there’s not enough time  spent on the political situation and it’s top heavy with the gay scene and gay sex, but that’s rather the point of the book. Isherwood wanted to show the reasons he went to Berlin, and he gives those reasons very succinctly at the top of the film:

It’s 40 years since I first wrote about my time in Berlin, and the book I’m now writing is perhaps an attempt to set the record straight, well,as straight as it’s possible to be. I destroyed my Berlin diaries you see, so have had to rely a good deal on memory. As to why  I went in the first placy, my friend Wystan Auden was there and encouraged me to join him. I could say that I went there because of what was happening politically, but in fact I went because of the boys. To me, Berlin meant boys

Smith, in recent interviews–and very sensibly–has said that he wanted to show that he’s not just The Doctor and he does that in spades in this film. I don’t think anyone was in doubt of his talent, but here he really drives home that he’s an old soul in a very young body. He absolutely convinces as the rather remote Isherwood, who says in an interview with the Jewish Landau, that he has his sympathies but he finds it hard to work himself up to the pitch required to “do something” about what’s happening in the city.  “I rather suspect I’m best equipped to observe and record.”

This is certainly borne out by Isherwood’s prescence in the city. He seems to glide along on the surface and never really engages with the maelstrom. I don’t criticise him for this, for I’m sure, being, like him, a Brit, with the luxury of simply being able to walk away when things got too hot, I would do the same.

Fan of the era, or Isherwood or Matt Smith, or simply gay history, this is a must-see, must buy.

 

Review: All Lessons Learned by Charlie Cochrane

He’s at the end of his rope…until fate casts a lifeline.

Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book 8

The Great War is over. Freed from a prisoner of war camp and back at St. Bride’s College, Orlando Coppersmith is discovering what those years have cost. All he holds dear—including his beloved Jonty Stewart, lost in combat.

A commission to investigate a young officer’s disappearance gives Orlando new direction…temporarily. The deceptively simple case becomes a maze of conflicting stories—is Daniel McNeil a deserter, or a hero?—taking Orlando into the world of the shell-shocked and broken. And his sense of Jonty’s absence becomes painfully acute. Especially when a brief spark of attraction for a Cambridge historian, instead of offering comfort, triggers overwhelming guilt.

As he hovers on the brink of despair, a chance encounter on the French seafront at Cabourg brings new hope and unexpected joy. But the crushing aftereffects of war could destroy his second chance, leaving him more lost and alone than ever…

Review by Erastes

I was expecting to have my heart put through the wringer with this book, and I wasn’t wrong. Charlie Cochrane warns, without too many spoilers that it’s a “three hanky read” and she’s not wrong. So if you aren’t a fan of angst, then stay away! There are hints in the blurb about the outcome, so don’t despair.

It is a brave thing that Cochrane does to build up characters and relationships over seven books only to tear it all down in the eighth–but it’s entirely right to do so because of the setting and the events that happened from 1914-1919. The book is set after the end of the Great War–the other great lie, that it was the “War to End All War”–and it’s all the shattered Britain can hang onto, because that’s the only thing that helps them make sense of what seems four years of senseless slaughter. To make things worse, many people who escaped being killed on the battlefield, including wives, husbands and children were wiped out in the influenza epidemic of 1919, further reducing an already battered population.

So we know from the outset—and from the blurb, that loved ones have been lost, although it’s more than the blurb hints at, so steel yourself for sadness.

Orlando’s reaction is entirely right. The Orlando from books 1 to about 3 would probably have retreated entirely within his mind and never come out again, but Jonty’s influence remains strong with him, and he’s able to cope on a day-to-day level  as long as he doesn’t allow himself to think too deeply—and that’s something a gentleman wouldn’t let himself do in public.  His initial interview with his—and Jonty’s—old friend Matthew Ainslie is perfectly pitched. What they can talk about and what they can’t, the feeling of unbearable, but gentlemanly repression. The way Ainslie has kept obituaries from the paper “in case you wanted to see them” and the way that Orlando takes them without reading them in public. This skill of writing shows a writer who completely understands, not only her characters, but the mindset of middleclass and upperclass England of 1919.

I’d definitely say to prospective readers of the series–don’t start with this one. That probably sounds unnecessary to say, but some readers will start at the end or in the middle of a series, but to get the full flavour out of this, you will need to get some of the backstory under your belt, because the impact won’t be anything like as powerful otherwise, and you’ll need to know who’s who–it might leave you feeling a little confused otherwise.

Here’s one part which had me sobbing like a baby:

Their eventual parting had been so painful, preceded as it was by snatched nights of shared passion and tender longeurs—giving and receiving each other’s bodies, lying in one another’s arms without speaking, reacquainting themselves with every inch of each other, lest they be parted. Lest they might then forget. The last meeting, on a crowded railway station, had been almost wordless, from both necessity of discretion and aching in their hearts. They had shaken hands, exchanged notes and gone off into the smoky night. And each note had been almost identical.

I love you. Do not forget me. Love again if I don’t return.

I think we all know (without spoiling, because Cochrane has advertised widely for her readers to “Just TRUST her”) that the story must end well, and we also know that Cochrane wouldn’t do that to her readers—it would probably be romance suicide to do it, but even so the pathos of this story hits hard. The bequest to honey-buzzards will resonate with readers only who have read the earlier books, and the tender way Jonty  is discussed and remembered will make even the hardest hearted of us well up with emotion.

I’ve already spoken about the characterisation being pitch-perfect, and you never need to worry about Cochrane’s historical detail. She makes me laugh, actually, as from time to time something jars with me and I gleefully trot to the etymology dictionary only to discover that she’s spot on—one example was “foxhole”—i had thought this was a later term, but no, I should have known better, it was coined in WW1. The thing with a book like this is that you actually forget that you are reading something written in the 21st century. It’s so immersive, you just lose yourself within it, whether you are strolling along the seafront of Caborg or having a pint in the Holloway Road.

There was a little too much cosy chat too for me which lost my concentration at times, but I know that this will be the main draw for lovers of previous books.

I also felt that Orlando’s “sleuthing” was a little too easy in spots—coincidence plays a part and he only has to say something out loud for one of the porters to say “oh I know where you can find that out, guv’nor.” And he not only finds the man he needs in a neighbouring college but the details of one man in all of the war. Coincidence plays a large part in the remaining plot, and I’d complain more strongly about that had Cochrane not made this a feature in the previous books. I can live with it in a cozy novella, it’s almost part of the genre.

I wouldn’t say that this is the strongest in the series because it’s not as strong on sleuthing as the others—and I would have liked a little more mystery to balance the Jonty—Orlando plotline, but it breaks the mould in good ways. The whole arching story—whether or not this book will be the last Cambridge Fellows book or not—is compelling and sweet, although nicely toned in light and shade. This last book shows us that Cochrane is more than capable of stepping well outside the cosy mystery and dealing with the most disturbing of subjects, war, shellshock, duty and death—and of doing it every bit as well as writers such as Pat Barker or Susan Field. Bring hankies with you when you read it, but read it. It will touch you in many good ways.

Title is an ebook only at the moment but will be moving to paperback in a few months.

Buy at Samhain Amazon UK Kindle Amazon USA Kindle

Review: Arson! The Dakota Series 1 by Cap Iversen

People look up when Dakota Taylor rides into town. His legend precedes him and if that legend isn’t always founded in reality … well, Dakota’s not about to disappoint folks. Nor does he want to disappoint the handsome Bennie Colson, who has a job for him. Trouble is, Ben’s job means taking on a whole town of angry cattle ranchers.

Review by Gerry Burnie originally posted on Gerry’s Book Reviews

Pretty well everyone enjoys a cowboy story; especially if the principal characters get out of the sack long enough to ride a horse or chase a cow. Cap Iversen(?)[1] has therefore struck an agreeable balance between the two types in “Arson!: The Dakota Series, No.1” [Alyson Books, 1st edition, 1992].

Dakota Taylor is a gunslinger—a ‘hired gun’—the fastest in the West. He has a pair of custom-made, silver-plated colts on his hip, and an instinct for calculated eradication of people’s enemies.

He is juxtapositioned with Benjamin Colsen, a Harvard law student, who hires Taylor’s gun to avenge the Colsen family’s brutal murder—father, mother and siblings—on their mountain-top, sheep ranch by a group of unknown assailants. The issue seems to be a drying-up of the water supply that has mysteriously struck the valley, and the overall cast of suspects includes the cattle baron, James T Anderson, and practically everyone else in the dusty town of Turnpike.

There are the usual supporting characters: A fat, incompetent and cowardly sheriff; a slick-talking merchant; a ‘meat-head’ butcher; and the weaselly manager of the local meat packing plant. However, there are a few that are slightly out of the loop, i.e. Ryder McCloud, another gunslinger, who has been hired by Anderson. McCloud and Taylor have had shootouts before, but these generally involved fleshy weapons between sheets. Nevertheless, with McCloud’s arrival the plot definitely thickens.

Anderson’s young son, Seth, enters the picture as well. He is your typical brash, young Turk; enamoured with McCloud and not at all adverse to romping with Taylor.

Meanwhile a sub-plot is developing, which involves a fabled Eternal Spring that only the Shoshone Indians and a few others—including Dakota Taylor—know about. Dakota is the adopted son of a Shoshone Shaman, and also becomes the confidante (and bed mate) of his warrior-like grandson; therefore, the only other(s) to know about it must also be the murderer(s).

I will not go further for fear of spoiling the story; however, I will say that the writing style, told in a first-person narrative, is both colourful and appropriate. Moreover it has the air of authenticity, and it reads almost effortlessly. Whoever Cap Iversen is he or she is/was definitely not a novice writer or journalist.

I do have some reservations regarding the number of gay characters that pop up quite ‘coincidentally’ in what is otherwise an insular and isolated community. There are, I believe, six such individuals, which is perhaps stretching the laws of chance and probability. In addition, the story seemed to lose its compactness toward the end.

Nevertheless, this is a thoroughly enjoyable and well-crafted story, and I look forward to reading the other two, i.e. “Silver Saddles,” and “Rattler.” Recommended.

Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: Paper Valentine by AJ Llewellyn

London, 1840. At the height of Victorian hypocrisy, two men meet and fall in love. Their romance is forbidden, punishable even by death, but their passion blossoms thanks to a paper Valentine.

Saint Valentine’s Day has become a new and very popular day for lovers. Thousands of Londonites are clamouring for the ideal romantic gift. While men buy chocolate and posies, they yearn for something more unusual, more personal. Enterprising brothers Aldon and Samuel Barnaby hit upon the idea of paper Valentines, creating lavish presentations decorated with silk, lace, and paper flowers.

Aldon is fortunate to have his perfect valentine going to his expectant wife, Geneve, but Samuel still longs for his own true love, pouring his heart and soul into his beautiful creations. Samuel’s romantic verses inside his paper Valentines are in huge demand, yet not a single local girl can lay claim to his heart…because his passion lies not in a woman, but another man—Jude, a handsome but shy widower.

Jude’s heart, haunted by grief, hasn’t been ready to consider marriage again. But slowly, through his inclusion in the Barnaby family’s lives…and his frequent excursions to stop and stare at the Barnabys’ shop window…he begins to wonder in what direction his future lies.

Can Samuel possibly allow his heart to explore love with another man? Could Jude ever love him in return? He sends Jude an exquisite, anonymous paper Valentine, not suspecting that his entire world is about to be turned upside down…

Review by Erastes

Dear Cover Artists. Please take note of the dates of the iconic structures, particularly in London. I’ve seen the Houses of Parliament used in Regency fiction and now we have Tower Bridge on this one, which is a quite nice cover, except the bridge wasn’t even begun until 1886, 46 years after this book takes place.I’m surprised, seeing as how the publisher is British.

However, this anachronistic tone, (after all I wouldn’t mark the book down merely for an incongruous cover), continues throughout the whole of the book, and although I’ll mention some later, there are egregious errors on just about every page, which layered with the other problems with the book made this a really hard read for me. The editing isn’t too bad, apart from Jude’s coachman changing names half way through, but what this needed was a damn good historical edit and a Brit pick. I understand that a small publisher cannot afford specialist editors for every genre, but I think that they should be prepared to check the author’s facts and not take on trust the author has it right. One or two checks with this book would have revealed the fact that just about everything was wrong,and as such it reflects badly on the publisher, not just the author.

Aside from the appalling anachronisms, the book just didn’t work for me because there is actually no plot. One could say that I’m asking a bit much expecting much more than a Plot-What-Plot in a story of sixty pages, but I certainly do. Other writers such as Ava March are capable of doing characterisation, plot, complications, BDSM and sex in as many pages, so we all know it can be done. Here however, I’m not sure what exactly the author was trying to achieve, or what message might be being transmitted.

Half of the book deals with the aforementioned dinner party, and at least half of that wastes time and plot-time while Samuel goes to his brother’s house, helps cook(!) and rants on for pages about how beautiful, how clever, how good, how shiny his sister-in-law is. So much so that I assumed that there was some plot point to this, but no. Eventually the dinner party is gathered and we finally meet the other hero of the story, Jude Curtis. They get together with no discernible difficulties and engage in perfect insta-recovery sex whilst weeping a lot and calling each other “baby” and asking if each other are “OK.” As you can tell by this, the dialogue is pretty awful–in fact in the throes of passion Samuel actually says to Jude “You’re so clean.” which made me giggle. It’s not exactly love-talk.

The food in a book is important–espeically when the author has made such a big deal of it–literally the first 30 or so pages (half the book) concentrates on entertaining, so when all the details are wrong it’s such a waste of time and effort. Strawberries, cranberries and bilberries, all available in February. Gas stoves, the lady of the house whipping up a quick meal for twelve without hardly turning a hair after the servants have left, no-one except the lady of the house changing for dinner, despite it being an important dinner which she is holding to get her husband admitted to the Atheneum Club.

I’m not going to list all the anachronisms, it would take too long and would be unfair, but a few include making artists a major plot point. This is fine except the ones mentioned were hilariously Whistler (who would have been six at the time), Rosseti (13) and Holman-Hunt who was about 12. Then there’s mention of the Brotherhood of the Pre-Raphelites (which didn’t exist), gas stoves, mentions of “hotwired.” The thing is that the author goes into Dan Brown mode at times, describing in detail something historical that they think we’ll be interested in, such as a meticulous description of the first commercial stamp–the Penny Black–but the author didn’t take the two minutes it takes to do the research to find out that the stamp wasn’t issued until JUNE 1840, not February.

The sex (apart from the silly dialogue and much weeping) is all right, but for me it’s not enough to make the cover price worth while.

So, putting together the missing plot, the buildup of things that never became plot–the brother’s entry to the club, the making of the Valentines, the servant troubles–with the anachronisms on every page, I simply can’t recommend this as a historical. If you are only looking for some gay sex in costume, then you might enjoy it.

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Review: Hotel de Dream by Edmund White

(From Publisher’s Weekly) A biographical fantasia, White’s latest imagines the final days of the poet and novelist Stephen Crane (The Red Badge of Courage), who died of TB at age 28 in 1900. At the same time, White also imagines and writes The Painted Boy, a work that he has Crane say he began in 1895, but burned after warnings from a friend. Crane dictates a fresh start on the story to his common-law wife, Cora Stewart-Taylor. Interspersed within White’s impressionistic account of Crane’s life, The Painted Boy tells the tale of Elliott, a ganymede butt-boy buggaree. Once a farm boy used by his widowed father and elder brothers like a girl, Elliott escapes to New York and begins a new life as a street hustler. Crane, dying overseas, asks that someone skilled and open minded complete the novella. The wry Cora, in her earlier career as a madam at the Jacksonville, Fla. Hotel de Dream, has some ideas of who among Crane’s friends fits the bill.

Review by Erastes

It’s a book of two halves, really. The first half, with Stephen Crane–who spends the entire book dying–is as slow as a meandering river. Suddenly, the “book within a book” which he’s writing hots up and the pace increases–it’s just that the two don’t really gel with each other. If you had told me two different people had written the book I would have believed you.

It begins with lengthy descriptions of Stephen Crane dying of tuberculosis and living in Engand in preparation for travel to the Black Forest for a hopeful cure. Crane is writing the “O’Ruddy” and he regrets that a manuscript he began about Elliott, a boy-prostitute he met in New York and who he interviews with journalistic zeal, was burned by another writer friend, so he begins it again, dictating it to his common-law-wife, Cora. This book “The Painted Boy” has become a writing myth, as there’s only that, and rumour to substantiate its existence, but it makes an interesting premise.

What I suppose I couldn’t really get over is that White could easily have made this story about a fictional author and it would have worked just as well. The fact that he’d set himself to write The Painted Boy himself, to take on the task of emulating Crane’s style seemed to me to be rather hubristic. Whether he does it well I will have to leave to others, as I haven’t read any of Crane’s works, but I couldn’t really tell the difference in style between White’s prose and that of what he puts forward as Crane’s.

I must apologise because this book didn’t appeal to me in any aspect. It was really a case of “gah, how many pages left?” and I appreciate that makes me a bit of a illiterate slob as this book has been lauded all over the place as being a work of genius, but frankly I’ve read books labelled “M/M” that have more literary merit in my eyes.

I’m more than slightly baffled about a couple of things. One, it’s called “A New York Novel” and this doesn’t really come over. You would have to squint hard to see much about the city–it’s mentioned here and there, more so towards the latter end of the novel, when the book gets more interesting, but it’s certainly nothing on the scale of other books that are steeped in the late 19th century city. Gaderene by Tina Anderson and C.B. Potts is far more New York than this, as is The Alienist by Caleb Carr. Not only is Crane iving in Engand and travelling to Germany in the book, but when he,or any of the other characters, are shown in New York, they are inside somewhere, and very little flavour of the city at that time is shown. There’s one segment which smears on description, thick as lard, about the Five Points and Manhattan towards the end, but it really feels like the author had done a bit of research and wanted to shoehorn this local colour in instead of threading it through the entire book.

Also baffling is the title. Crane met his ex-prostitute Cora at the brothel “Hotel de Dream”, but unless I’m missing something (probably) it’s not mentioned otherwise, so any symbolism to the name entire skidded over my head.

That being said I liked the characterisation a good deal. From the real Elliott who Crane interviews–and has him take around part of the queer scene in New York of the time–namely a gay bar and a visit to an androdyne, to the characters they meet in their investigative travels, to Cora, Crane’s mistress who loves Crane so hugely and does anything it takes to try and get him the help he needs, from mumping off friends to writing her own hack stories (which sell) just to support them in their financial troubles. But the most compelling characters in the book for me were the fictional Elliott portrayed in The Painted Boy and his obsessed, entirely in love protector, Theodore Koch. The love that can come to an older man this late in love can be a frightening and destructive love and so it is here, the seven year itch taken to its nth degree. I think of all the characters in the book, it is Koch that will stay with me, as he’s so in love, and ultimately so destroyed–but hey, it wouldn’t be gay literature if everyone wasn’t as miserable as hell.

Oscar Wilde said this of The Old Curiosity Shop: “One must have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing.”

And I’m afraid you will think badly of me when I tell you that I roared with laughter at the denouement in Hotel de Dream. It was probably not meant to be funny, and I have a sick sense of humour but I thought it was hilarious. It reminds me of the best kind of shaggy dog story, so be warned.

Do I recommend this? It’s probably fifty fifty. I’d say get it from the library, and see what you think.

Author’s website

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Review: Missouri by Christine Wunnicke

Written in the language of the period, this vivid and utterly transfixing love story between two men is set in the nineteenth-century American Midwest. Douglas Fortescue is a successful poet in England who flees the country for America following an Oscar Wilde-like scandal insinuating sexual impropriety; Joshua Jenkyns is a feral young outlaw who was taught how to shoot a man at age six, and who, against the wishes of his father, teaches himself how to read, a skill that then unleashes a world of possibility beyond that which he knows. The two men meet when Joshua robs Douglas’s carriage and takes him hostage; soon, a remarkable secret is revealed, and these two very different men grow closer, even as Douglas’s brother tries to “save” him from his uncivilized surroundings.

Missouri was first published in Germany to wide acclaim. Now available in English for the first time, Missouri is destined to become a gay men’s camp classic for its earnest, romantic reinterpretation of a time and place in American history traditionally closed off to gay readers.

Review by Gerry Burnie (originally posted on Gerry’s Review Site)

Missouri by Christine Wunnicke[Arsenal Pulp Press; Tra edition, 2010] is a story that either pleases or displeases; there is very little middle ground shown by its critics to date. Therefore, I will have to say that I liked it. I found it wonderfully zany; offbeat; and unlike any other gay, American Western tale I have every encountered.

Douglas Fortesque is an ambitious court clerk in northern England, and not just a little bit of a con man. He therefore lets his hair down (literally), dyes it black, starves himself until he has that gaunt, poet-like appearance, and pens utter gibberish to the wild acclaim of an effete London literary society. Indeed, the more outlandish he becomes the more acclaim he receives from a pretentious, gullible public.

Eventually tiring of this masquerade he retires to the country, but legitimacy only makes him less interesting and also vulnerable to his critics, and in a thinly veiled allusion to Oscar Wilde’s persecution he escapes to the United States where his brother wishes to buy property.

Meanwhile, Joshua Jenkyns, the young, slightly psychotic half-breed offspring of a notorious American outlaw is terrorizing the Midwest, learning how to read and becoming enamoured by the disjointed words of one, Douglas Fortescue. In a bizarre turn of events, therefore, these two unlikely characters cross paths and Fortescue is hurried away on horseback to become Jenkyns’ coddled hostage.

Thus begins a process of assimilation whereby Fortescue is stripped of his pretentions, and Jenkyns of his savagery, until they meet in an ethereal love-making scene that is beautifully understated by the author. Any other approach—graphic for example—would have cheapened it.

One of the criticisms that has been leveled at this novella is that it is too short (134 pages) to develop a complex story of this nature; and I agree that it could have been longer. However, in those 134 pages Wunnicke has developed two very unforgettable characters, a unique love story set against a stark, primeval wilderness, and an outcome that is totally unpredictable.

Highly recommended. Five stars.

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Film Review: Frankie Howerd: Rather You Than Me

In the 1950s Frankie Howerd, the famous radio and film comedian, meets a young waiter Dennis Heymer, who,like himself,is a closet homosexual. Their relationship blossoms into a partnership, rather than a purely sexual one, and Dennis becomes Frankie’s manager. By the early 1960s however things are looking bleak for Frankie. He has lost popularity with mainstream audiences and suffered a nervous breakdown.He is full of self hatred about his appearance – he wears a wig – and his homosexuality, putting huge stress on his relationship with Dennis. Matters are not helped by the death of Frankie’s mother Edith. However, Frankie is able to reinvent himself as a satirical comedian, with a gig at Peter Cook’s Establishment Club and his fortunes soar,with successful television comedies and a well-publicised appearance at the Oxford Union.


Imdb page

Director:John Alexander

Writer:Peter Harness

Stars:David Walliams, Rafe Spall

Review by Erastes

I went into this with a little trepidation because I am a huge fan of Frankie Howerd and wasn’t sure if someone so entirely unique could be done with the respect I feel he demands. While I never really thought Walliams captured Howed as perfectly as Michael Sheen did in Fantabulosa! it was clearly a studied and well-prepared performance, and going on the reaction of Dennis Heymer, Howard’s lover and manager (see further reading at the end of the review) it was certainly convincing for those who knew him well.

There’s two aspects to this film that I liked a great deal. Firstly that Williams didn’t do an out and out impression of Howerd, and other than prosthetics to imitate Howerd’s baldness (strange how I never really acknowledge his wig, when it was so very obvious) he relied on performance to play him, rather than make up. Secondly, that although the film touched on much stress–such as Howerd’s denial that he was homosexual, (despite being notorious for trying it on with every pretty boy who passed his way) his treatment to be “cured” and clashes between Heymer and himself–despite this, I felt the overall tone was quite upbeat and the ending in particular had me smiling like a loon.

The affection between the two men comes over well–even if there may have been more love from Dennis’s side than Frankie’s–it’s hard to tell over time and distance. The whole thing does seem a little rushed, which is hardly surprising seeing as how they cram 20 odd years into the film, and would have worked better as a three-parter perhaps. You would almost believe from this that Howerd had no friends other than a fag-hag and Dennis and never socialised, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

It’s a little bleak, and certainly does not hold the glamour of something like “Mad Men” – because it’s set in austere 1950′s Britian, still reeling from the war and rationing. Howerd was one of the best paid entertainers and he lives in a brown-coloured flat such as Mad Men’s Don Draper wouldn’t rent for his maid. There was glamour there, in fact Dennis says “I’m not in this for the glamour” – but it’s not really shown on screen, and a touch of that, mixing with the Carry On crowd and the Krays, might have enlivened this up a smidge.

But on the whole it was a solid and interesting watch, especially, if like me, you grew up not having a clue that Howerd, who portrayed himself as a lech in films, was homosexual.  I wasn’t convinced by Walliams’s performance, but there’s no doubt of the man’s depth of talent.

Further reading: There’s an indepth article here as Dennis helps Mark Walliams and Rafe Spall prepare for the film. Frankie Howerd’s lover breaks his silence.

Review: Living the Spirit: a Gay American Indian Anthology, compiled by Gay American Indians, Will Roscoe

“For centuries throughout America, both before and after the arrival of the Europeans, gay and lesbian Indians were recognized as valued members of tribal communities. Combining make and female roles, gay Indians worked as mediators, artists, healers, and providers for their tribes.” (from the back of the book)

Living the Spirit: a Gay American Indian Anthology, compiled by Gay American Indians, Will Roscoe, Coordinating Editor, St. Martin’s Press, 1988. Review by Tedy Ward

Rather by accident, several years ago, I found myself studying Native American cultures and writing about them. I did my graduate work focusing on European history, particularly the medieval and Renaissance periods, and while I took the requisite courses in American history, it wasn’t nearly as interesting to me as the darkly complex European periods. But when I started writing fiction, I found myself drawn to the period of American expansion referred to as ‘the American West’, a period from about 1830 to 1930 in which American ‘white’ culture spread itself economically, politically, and culturally across the wide plains and deserts of the heart of continental America.

Of greatest interest to me is the cultural clash between the indigenous peoples who lived there and the ‘American culture’ that moved in and took then over. The study of these Native American cultures – and there were far more than ‘one’ – is ongoing and probably always will be. Most of these cultures did not leave behind written documents, and the more they were exposed to ‘white’ culture, the more they changed, even when they didn’t want to.

Most of the records we have of the various cultures were left by Europeans and Americans who encountered them. It is from the French trappers who wandered through many of the Native American settlements that we get the word ‘berdache’, a term they used “to describe Indians who specialized in the work of women and formed emotional and sexual relationships with other men” (Preface, page 1). This concept, of the Native American acceptance of alternate gender and sexual roles, is the focus of the book Living the Spirit, compiled by Gay American Indians, Will Roscoe, Coordinating Editor, published by St. Martin’s Press, 1988.

The book is an interesting collection of modern writings from gay and lesbian Native Americans – poetry, short stories, essays – and historical studies of alternate sexuality in some of the tribes. “Tinselled Bucks: a Historical Study of Indian Homosexuality” by Maurice Kenny discusses the problems of lack of primary source material, and also the differences between the berdaches – men who lived as women and women how lived as men – and men and women living their gender roles who preferred to be sexually and emotionally involved with others of their gender and gender roles. He discusses the different terms and customs of berdaches in various tribes, as well as the levels of importance that many berdaches held in certain cultures, where they were often respected as people of great magic.

“Toleration of the berdache varied from tribe to tribe. Some tribes, such as the Illinois, actually trained young men to become homosexuals and concubines of men. The Cheyenne and the Sioux of the plains may not have purposely trained young men to become berdaches but certainly accepted homosexuals more readily than perhaps other tribes.” (“Tinselled Warriors”, page 26).

The thesis of “Sex/Gender Systems in Native North America” by Midnight Sun is as follows:

“Social, and specifically sexual, life is embedded in the economic organization of society – an organization that gives rise to a variety of cultural forms.” (page 32). This article discusses Native American sexuality as a function of the roles that men and women played in the survival of the various tribes. The author uses three specific case studies, of the Mojave, the Navajo, and the Peigan. All three tribes acknowledged cross-gender identities. “The Mojave believed that cross-gender individuals, especially hwames [female cross-dressers] were lucky in gambling and could become powerful shamans, while shamans and chiefs often married alyhas [male cross-dressers].” (pp. 37-38).

In Navajo culture, cross-gender people were called nadle:

“Because they were believed to have been given charge of wealth since the beginning of time, a family with a nadle was considered fortunate and assured of wealth and success.” (p. 41).

The Peigans, whose culture placed more importance on the role of men and the masculine-warrior ideal, had the ‘manly-hearted woman’, who was, unlike with the Navahos and Mojaves, not a sexual identity but an economic one. The ‘manly-hearted woman’ was a woman who dominated her husband but who was respected by the tribe because she was able to win and control property in traditionally masculine ways – inheritance, ingeniousness, and gifts of respect. The discussion of this article centers mostly on the roles that sexuality played in the respective tribes, and how equal the respect for women and men were, which seems to be dependent on whether the tribe supported itself through farming and agriculture (Mojave and Navaho), where women were often seen as equals to men, or hunters (Peigan) where men were more important and allocated more power and control.

“Strange Country This: Images of Berdaches and Warrior Women” by Will Roscoe, the contributing editor for the book, is a collection of short essays about cross-gender people in specific tribes, as seen in primary sources from European and American explorers during their early exposures to these tribes. Most of these essays are accompanied by pictures, either drawings or photographs taken at the time of these encounters or soon thereafter. There are twelve different Native American tribes represented in these essays and illustrations, covering all regions of North America. “Ever Since the World Began” is a collection of myths and tales from ten different tribes involving their cross-gender members or icons.

The second half of the book is a collection of autobiographical essays, short stories, and poems written by contemporary gay Native Americans; while many of them are modern, they often include family histories that discuss life on the reservations in the mid-1900s if not before, and the struggles that gay Native Americans faced then and now as their tribal culture has changed, taking on the values of the European and American culture.

This anthology isn’t technically an academic study; while some of the essays have internal notes, they don’t have individual bibliographies which makes it difficult to find the primary sources. That said, the history is fascinating, especially the individual views into various tribes and how tolerant and receptive they were to the ideas of homosexuality and cross-gender roles. To be clear, not all tribes were tolerant; the respect and tolerance varied depending on the tribe and how balanced the roles of women and men were in the tribe’s survival.

Overall, it is an interesting read, and a good resource for Native American concepts of sexuality and gender roles. It’s a little dated, politically as well as historically, and I’d very much like to see an new anthology from the Gay American Indians Organization, especially with the more recent interdisciplinary studies between anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians. It’s appeal may be a little more specific than other books studying gay history, as it’s focus is on gay Native Americans, a very select group historically and currently, but it’s also an interesting look at how a dominant culture – in this case, European/American ‘white’ culture – interprets and eventually changes and redefines other cultural values.

I’d rate this at a 4; it’s informative and engaging and in many ways, a view into an alien world.

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