Review: Casa Rodrigo by Johnny Miles

On a lush, tropical island inhabited by rogues, thieves and villains, where men take the law into their own hands, a father and son are thrust into tumultuous events that will change their lives forever.

Bernardo de Rodrigo is proud of his son. Alonso is handsome and winning, and everyone he meets is instantly drawn to the tall, warm Spaniard. But how could either of them have known that a forbidden love is about to claim Alonso’s heart?

Arbol, the charismatic male slave who was saved from the clutches of Raul Ignacio Martín, feels an instant connection with Alonso, the moment he looks into Arbol’s eyes, the moment they touch.

Bernardo has other things to worry about, however. He’s trying to exorcise himself of an intensely gratifying yet shame-filled sexual affair with Raul, who secretly adores Bernardo but doesn’t know how to show it.

When Raul blackmails Bernardo, their dark and sordid relationship not only threatens the bond between father and son, it places Arbol’s life in danger. Now Bernardo must make a difficult choice that could further alienate his son while Alonso must find a way to keep the man he loves.

Review by Jess Faraday

What I liked best about this story was the complicated way that the protagonists’ lives intertwined, both with those of the other characters, and with the slave trade. The author took the time to explain how the main characters could simultaneously find slavery objectionable and yet have their fortunes tied so inextricably to it that to get out of the trade would be to ruin not only their lives, but those of their families, employees, and slaves. It was refreshing and more realistic than I had expected.

I also liked the complicated way in which the lives of don Bernardo, his son Alonso, the slave Arbol, and the despicable Raul came together. For Bernardo and Raul, there had once been affection. Then came sex, somehow business became tied into the deal, and by the time of the story, Bernardo and Raul can’t stand one another, but have mind-blowing sex, and can’t avoid one another due to business. Alonso and Arbol grew up together after Bernardo rescued the infant Arbol from the murderous Raul, and now Alonso is both master to Arbol and his lover. And now Raul has his eye on Arbol, and Bernardo is powerless to deny him. Fabulous and tense.

The one thing that continuously bothered me, however, was the characterization of the slave Arbol. Don Bernardo and his son Alonso are complex characters. They love, they hate, they have moral dilemmas. Arbol is portrayed as property–not merely a slave, but an object. In the beginning of the story, he is an object of pity: an orphaned infant who must be hidden. Later, he is an object of lust: submissive, gorgeous, dependent, and willing–but not much more than this.

One might argue that Arbol, being a slave, is an object, at least in the eyes of society. But even a slave can have thoughts, insights, intelligence and ability. Arbol’s main ability seems to be taking Alonso’s Gigantic Cock, which had, before Arbol, been too big for any other man. One might argue that in a work written mainly for entertainment and titillation, one shouldn’t expect character depth. But the slave owners are complex and conflicted. One might argue that “objectified, submissive, naive, dark-skinned African slave” is a turn-on for some people, and I should get off my Politically Correct High Horse. But this characterization offended me, so there you go.

It is a titillating read. The tortuous relationship between Bernardo and Raul, with all its attendant history and complications is absolute fireworks. The sex is emotionally complex, fraught, and worth a read. It’s well plotted as well, with twists, turns and tension. And research has definitely been done. It’s just the appearance of the Slave-as-Prop that bothers me. So caveat lector.

Author’s website

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Review: Kindred Hearts by G.S. Wiley


Crippled by a devastating stammer, Alfie would prefer to hide himself away in the audience of London’s theaters. But as the perfect Georgian gentleman, it’s his responsibility to find a husband for his ward Eleanor. The pain of having to converse with strangers is lessened by the appearance of the kind-hearted Lord George Caldwell and his cousin Lieutenant Markham, who is far more interesting than any character Alfie has seen on stage, and far more intriguing than any man he’s ever met in person.

Review by Jess Faraday

This was a lovely, gentle romance. I enjoyed every minute of it.

With a deft hand, the author weaves intimate knowledge of the social intricacies of the period into a subtle story. This requires not only research, but also synthesis of what one has researched. It was not the case, as in so many stories that I’ve read, that the rules of the time and place were bent to accommodate the story, but rather that the plot complications arose from the author’s knowledge of those rules. This is one of the things that separates costume drama from historical writing, and Wiley does it very well.

In addition, it’s just a jolly good read. The prose is lively, the plot subtle, and the characters both realistic and sympathetic. The main character, Alfie, is particularly well drawn. His life and self-image have been handicapped by a stammer, but when push comes to shove, he can reach within himself to find the strength and confidence he needs to get the job done. He is flawed, but, like everything else in this book, it’s handled subtly and without the mawkishness that a less skilled writer might resort to. There is sex, but it fades to black at the bedroom door. It seemed very natural given Alfie’s shyness and inexperience, and given the understated nature of the story itself.

The only fault–and it’s not really a fault–is that the story was so short. It was so well written and so enjoyable, I wanted it to go on and on. It left me with a smile, and I’m certain that most readers will have the same reaction.

Author’s Website

Buy at Torquere Press

Review: The Soldier of Raetia: Valerian’s Legion by Heather Domin

Rome, 10BC. New soldier Manilus Dardanus is sent to apprentice under General Cassius Valerian in the hope of securing a military sponsorship. Dardanus is idealistic and naive, Valerian brusque and restrained – but each soon discovers the other is not what he expected. In the legion Dardanus finds purpose and strength; in Dardanus, Valerian finds hope. This bond will be tested on the northern frontier, as Valerian and Dardanus each realize the true nature of their connection just as war and betrayal threaten to end it – and possibly their lives.

Review by Gerry Burnie

Although my specialty is Canadian history, I have a great appreciation for all history, and I certainly bow to Heather Domin’s knowledge of Augustinian Rome, as demonstrated in “The Soldier of Raetia: Valerian’s Legion.

I also like her writing style. She provides just the right amount of description to make both characters and settings vivid without slowing the pace. The characters are also well developed and distinctive although I did find Elurius and Pertinax somewhat similar in nature. This applies to their respective relationships with Dardanus and Valerian, as well. The author has also made very good use of dialogue (very credible), without being contrived.  What I liked most, however, was that the story builds to a climax gradually—like an orgasm—and the climax was gratifying.

The synopsis of the story is that young Manilus Dardanus has come to Rome at his father’s insisstance. The father has arranged an introduction to the wealthy and illustrious general Marcus Cassius Valerian, who commands Augustus Caesar’s twenty-fourth legion. Crusty General Valerian is hardened by battle and tragedies of the past, and at first assumes that Dardanus is like the other sons of sycophants who have sought his favour—i.e. with the idea of an adoption in mind. Despite these reservations, valerian gives him a place within his household and arranges for him to be trained as a soldier. Theirs is an awkward relationship, but in spite of this they both undergo significant changes; Valarian re-discovers deeply buried emotions within himself, and Dardanus grows from a callow boy to a self-sufficient man. He also discovers friendships bonded from hard work and the heat of battle, as well as loyalty asa soldier and for his idol, Valerian.

Having said all that, I had some minor reservations. I certainly bow to Ms Domin’s knowledge of Roman history, but did they travel in carriages (I mean the four-wheel variety) is 10BC Rome? I don’t know, but it seemed at little ‘modern’ to me. Their were some other anachronisms aswell, For example, the phrases “working his ass off,” and “Cut them off at the pass,” also seem a bit modern. However, these certainly didn’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the story.

Highly recommended. 

This review was originally posted on Gerry B’s reviews

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Review: Bless Us With Content by Tinnean

Ashton Laytham came to Fayerweather, his uncle’s estate, as an orphan at the age of seven. Family and servants alike perceived Ashton as an unlovable child and shunned him; as an adult, the occasional illicit rendezvous aside, Ashton remains aloof and alone. When his uncle dies, yet more abuse falls upon Ashton’s shoulders: the estate is bankrupt and Ashton must make good on his uncle’s gaming debts.

With the family talisman stolen and the suspects fled, Ashton faces certain ruin until the arrival of Geo Stephenson, who holds all of Sir Laytham’s IOUs. Geo proposes a solution: Ashton will accommodate him in his bed, thereby paying off the debt. Attracted to Geo in spite of himself and desperate for any human kindness, Ashton agrees… never expecting to lose his heart to a man who claims he will never give his.

Review by Erastes

There’s a good story here, but it annoyed me as I was reading it, despite the fact the plot is decently formed and the structure was something I should have liked a lot.

The problem is with the pacing; it was very uneven. It spent a lot of time on some aspects that were sometimes less important than others that were frustratingly told not shown, and jumped about here and there. Characters were introduced as if we knew them well, when I’m scratching my head and saying “who’s this?” and searching back to find that they’d been mentioned once before in throwaway conversation.

I liked the beginning quite a lot–it had touches of Jane Eyre in the way that an orphan comes to a house and is looked after by relations who don’t think much of him because he’s upset about losing his parents. The trouble was, as is the case throughout the book, that the character description isn’t shown in any depth and when Uncle Eustace turns out to be a tyrant it’s a surprise, and doubly so when we are told that he’d whipped Ashton not just once but many times.  Ashton’s “awfulness” is not really shown either. We are told that Ashton decided that he would be as awful as his nickname “Awful” made him out to be, but we aren’t shown this behaviour–and there’s no real reason that I could see why people disliked him so much. Granted the other adoptive children in the story bully him but children do.

Similarly, as Ashton grows up, and the other adopted children and then young adults, continue to treat him badly (despite the fact that as the last in the line, he’s the heir) we have no character development from Ashton. I predicted that he would behave like an absolute horror (in some way or other) but really putting on an act until the day he inherited—but this did not happen. He would have had every right to be a very flawed Heathcliffian character but he wasn’t this either. It was hard to see what he was, to be honest as he turned out to be a Nice Chap which seemed a bit odd.

Telling not showing was prevalent all the way through. We are told that Ashton cares for the tenant farmers, and it wouldn’t have hurt to have had him doing something good in secret as a child, or perhaps visiting the tenants when he wanted to get out of the house, but we don’t see this. We are just told that he looks after his people and I’m all “why?”  Make him a saint, or make him a monster, but give us reasons.

Some of the sequences add to the disjointed effect. One minute he’s having dinner, the next he’s careering across the fields, the next brooding for days whether Geo loves him—despite the fact they’ve met once and shagged once.  It’s like a roller-coaster ride but one where you can’t see where the tracks are going. Little things like him avoiding a phaeton coming up the drive so he doesn’t have to see any neighbours, despite the fact that no visits to the hall are ever mentioned, even though the ladies of the house make visits—so one assumes they would have been returned.  It’s almost as if the author didn’t have the time to pad this out in a way it deserved, which is a shame because as I said at the beginning, there’s the kernel of a good story here.  There’s just not the depth—other than the emo-ing over “does he love me?”—that it needed to do justice to the many other characters in the story.

What I liked was the language, even though (once again) it’s a little disjointed. Sometimes Ashton speaks like aperfectly normal aristocrat, and then he suddenly lapses into cant that would do justice to any Heyer novel. I didn’t look up every word, so can’t tell you if the slang is historically correct or whether it’s taken from Heyer.  When it’s used, it’s used pretty well, although some words did need to have something in context to hang them on, for clarity.

There were no problems with historical accuracy that I could see, I might take issue with a two year old horse being broken to saddle and taken over jumps, but no-one’s except horse lovers would baulk at that anyway.

I look back at this review and it makes me look as if I hated this book—but I DIDN’T—that’s the crux of it. The problems that beset it could have been smoothed out to make the read more even, and the trope of “orphan makes good” (or bad!!) is one I highly enjoy and I did enjoy the book for all my criticisms. I suppose I got annoyed more because I did enjoy it than didn’t. Suffice to say that I’d seek out other historical by Tinnean.

Give it a try, it’s a nice meaty read and worth the cover price—and let me know what you think.

Author’s Website

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Review: The High Class Highwayman by Julia Talbot

When Julian is forced to turn to crime after he loses his inheritance, he decides that he can do better than the incompetent highwayman who tries to waylay him one dark night. That’s how the High-Class Highwayman comes into his own, and he does very well for himself, at least until Griffen Michalis comes along.

Griffen is far better versed in the criminal underworld than Julian, and he has no interest in the legitimate, and rather modest, fortune that is rightfully Julian’s. Being a Lord would cause him too much trouble. Griffen has far more planned for Julian than one night of excitement on the high road and Julian finds that being with Griffen is not just about mind-blowing sexual games, but danger as well.

Review by Jess Faraday

This is a short, lively romp with lots and lots of sex. There’s a bit of a mystery plot, and an HEA. It was a fun read, and as long as you’re not looking for more than that, it’s not a bad way to spend an hour or two.

The story starts out strong, with crisp, clear prose and a well-described setting. There are nice touches that show a fair amount of research: clothing, hygiene, transportation, and entertainment are, for the most part, spot on.

I also liked the main characters. Griffen and Julian are engaging, and it’s fun to watch them banter and circle each other. After the introduction of the mystery–who has it in for Griffen and why–the story goes on pause for a multi-chapter sex break. Without a lot of work, the plot wraps itself up for a not-so-surprising conclusion.

Although many of the little things were well researched, there were a few really big mistakes that surprised me. Use of the title “Sir Hisname” is reserved for baronets and knights of the realm, yet there seemed to be an awful lot of them running around this story, even the constable. Regarding crime and punishment, it surprised me that everyone seemed to know that Julian was a highwayman, but there didn’t seem to be any serious threat that he would be arrested for it.

But none of these things takes away from the fact that this story was really fun to read. And I know that a lot of readers will agree with me on that one.

Author Website

 

 

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Review: The Affair of the Porcelain Dog by Jess Faraday

London 1889.

For Ira Adler, former rent-boy and present plaything of crime lord Cain Goddard, stealing back the statue of a porcelain dog from Goddard’s blackmailer should have been a doddle. But inside the statue is evidence that could put Goddard away for a long time under the sodomy laws, and everyone’s after it, including Ira’s bitter ex, Dr. Timothy Lazarus. No sooner does Ira have the porcelain dog in his hot little hands, than he loses it to a nimble-fingered prostitute.

As Ira’s search for the dog drags him back to the mean East End streets where he grew up, he discovers secrets about his own past, and about Goddard’s present business dealings, which make him question everything he thought he knew. An old friend turns up dead, and an old enemy proves himself a friend. Goddard is pressing Ira for a commitment, but every new discovery casts doubt on whether Ira can, in good conscience, remain with him.

In the end, Ira must choose between his hard-won life of luxury and standing against a grievous wrong.

Review by Erastes

Not your normal Holmes clone, that’s for sure. Although this story is set in late Victorian London, and around the Baker Street area, there’s a highly enjoyable twist.

The point of view is told, first person, by Ira Adler. But instead of being a Doctor Watson clone,and the companion of a great detective, Ira is the live-in companion, “private secretary” and lover of Cain Goddard, the dread “Duke of Dorset Street.” Goddard is a crime lord, so in some respects, he’s a Moriaty clone. But not quite. Because in this fictional imagining, the “great detective” of the time is Andrews St Andrews who is, frankly, a bit of a twat (written to be so) and adds some great giggles to the text. He’s a real Holmes wanabee, a poseur and frankly not very good at his job. The brains of the St Andrews outfit is St Andrews’ companion, Tim Lazarus–and Lazarus is an ex-lover of Ira. Already it promises to be quite tortuous and it won’t let you down on that score.

The beginning was excellently paced–and in no time at all we into an action scene that just begged to be filmed.

The plot is very nice indeed. It’s more Philip Marlowe than Conan Doyle. Each clue leads you deeper in and further away from where you began, and it’s as opaque as the London smog.

The characterisations are excellent, all round. Some books you read, characters have similar voices, but each and every character here, and there’s a good dusting, is his own person with his own demons and issues.  And boy are there are lot of demons. This is the underbelly of London in the 19th century and it’s not a nice place. Either you are a leader or you get used. Child labour, opium dens, brothels, and exploitation of every kind. Ira holds an interesting position in this world, because he came from the gutter, but now he steps in an upper middle-class world where never thought he would, but retains his knowledge and connections that he’d rather have left behind forever.

I absolutely loved–with a big squishy heart–the bittersweet relationship between Ira and Cain Goddard. In a way,this is a coming of age story, because Ira has to face to harsh truths, look deep inside him, and make some hard decisions. He has a massive chip on his shoulder, but that’s only to be expected. He started his relationship with Cain as his prostitute, so he finds it hard that Cain really and truly cares for him–and similarly, Cain would have similar fears. Despite there being much that is wrong about their relationship, and who Cain is, I wanted them to be happy.

Yes, there seems to be a good deal of homosexuality in the book: There area few couples. But seeing as how Ira was a renter before Goddard took him under his wing,that’s not really surprising.  The homosexuality is never glossed over, though,never treated lightly. You are always aware of Labouchere’s Amendment hanging like a sword of Damocles over everyone’s heads–and it’s this threat, in fact which launches the story, as both Goddard and St Andrews are being blackmailed. There’s a lovely scene in Hyde Park where they walk so they can hold hands in public (in the dark) and you can’t help but feel sorry for them, that even the smallest of touches have to be considered –you never know who’s watching.

Be warned,you don’t get a “Romance” ending, and more than that I will not say, but the ending is beautifully done, and leaves it wide open for a sequel or more and I hope there will be. I’m dying to see what Ira gets up to. This will apppeal to a broad swathe of readers–and should do, in a fair world this should be picked up by a mainstream audience, because other than homosexual themes there’s nothing a non m/m reader would find uncomfortable to read–whether you like detective fiction, noir, Victorian stories or just damned good love stories, this will appeal to you. I neglected to mention this is her first novel. Well done Ms Faraday.

Author’s website

Bold Strokes Books    Amazon UK   Amazon USA

Review: Perfect Score by Susan Roebuck

Feckless, exasperating Alex Finch is a rich, handsome and talented singer/songwriter who longs for two things: a career as a professional rock singer, and to have his love for Sam Barrowdale reciprocated. But drifter Sam’s two aims are simply to earn enough money to pay his sister’s medical bills and to hide from the world his reading/writing and speech disability. At this time the word “dyslexia” is generally unknown so to most people he’s just a “retard”. From the severe knocks life’s dealt him, Sam’s developed a tough outer coating and he has no time for a spoilt, selfish guitar player.

Despite his defects, Alex’s love for Sam never wavers and when Sam unexpectedly disappears, Alex begins a somewhat bungling quest to find him, only to discover that Sam has a fearful enemy: Alex’s powerful and influential yet sociopathic uncle.

As Alex spirals downwards towards alcoholism, many questions need answering. Just why did Alex’s evil uncle adopt him at age eleven yet deny him any affection? And what’s the mystery behind Alex’s father’s death?

Both seem to face unbeatable odds. Are they doomed to follow separate paths forever?

Review by Erastes

I am going to enthuse. This–I know from people who complain that I’m too critical–is a rare thing, but I was so impressed by this debut novel I can’t not. It’s not perfect–and I can’t give it five stars for reasons I’ll explain later, but I’ll say right out that I consider it a must read and it has my highest recommendation. I will discuss plot points, so beware of spoilers.

The story hangs on either side of the Speak Its Name cut off of Stonewall. It starts in 1963 and goes on for twenty or so years.

It’s easy to get tripped up on “remembered history.” From experience I’ve found that writing recent history can be a lot harder than writing about several hundred years ago. It’s easy to take stereotypes and run with them, overdo the slang and the product references. Despite a teenaged Alex being full of “cool slang” in the first chapter, it doesn’t wallow in nostalgia and product placement.

It’s absolutely not an m/m novel. And for a debut novel this is very, very impressive writing.  Don’t make the mistake that “literary” means “I don’t understand a bloody word of this.” It’s readable without being coy or self-indulgent and you’ll be sucked in from the first chapter. The homosexual aspect–whilst actually being the core of the book isn’t the theme. It’s a love story, and the gender of the people involved doesn’t matter as much as the twisting and sometimes heart wrenching path they make while managing to not be together for one reason or another.

The story is told in three points of view. Alex’s story is in first person, Sam’s is in third, and there’s a final three chapter epilogue in first person by another character that I won’t list here. Don’t be put off by the rather literary device of mixing and matching the points of view–it works and it couldn’t work any other way. Alex’s mind is bright and colourful, full of self-indulgence, a selfish, rather spoiled young man who thinks more of himself than he has any right to be, and it’s his maturation that winds around the plot as he learns to care about other people instead of satisfying his own needs. Sam however is considered a “retard” — dyslexia was not as well-known a disorder as it is today, and anyone hearing his speak or seeing the way he interacts with the world would have thought he was educationally sub-normal. To have written his point of view in first person would have tripped this book up, and I think the readers would have been impatient with the way Sam stumbled over the words, even in his head. Doing it in third cushions the reader a little–just enough–from this mental and vocal confusion.

What wasn’t really needed then, in my opinion, was to be told at the beginning of each chapter, which young man it referred to–as only a few words in would have made it clear.

There’s a lot of layers to this book too. It’s not at all just a case of boy meets boy, boy loses boy, boy finds boy–but then I’ve already said it’s not a romance. (not a tragedy either, but that’s all I will say about the ending.) As the blurb suggests there’s a hell of a lot going on even without the tortuous way the young men never seem to catch a break. Even for a full-sized novel, it covers a lot of ground, has a lot of plot and I loved that, it really gave me plenty to get my teeth into.

What also impressed me was the sheer scale of the research involved. Not only does the history feel right–and that’s some doing in an era that went from the Beatles to the Space Age and into our technological era–but there’s dyslexia, chemistry, biochemistry, farming, mining, popular music and so much more, and if there was a bum note anywhere, I didn’t spot it.

Negatives, yes, there were a couple. There was a section–one of Sam’s–which was thumpingly subtitled “(ten days earlier)” and that jarred me. I wouldn’t have been so dim that I couldn’t have worked out we were skipping back to see what had happened to Sam at a slightly earlier point where we’d left Alex’s section. I was also a little bemused about the conflict Liza came up with, there didn’t seem that enough time had passed for her to be as sure as she was about that particular thing. (attempting to reduce spoilers here, but it’s difficult, :D)

There were a few–very few–typos here and there, but not enough to pull me out.

The ending–well, I absolutely don’t want to spoil, but I am pretty sure that (unless you are rabid about the falling into the arms and the HEA) you won’t be disappointed. The real kicker comes half way through the epilogue, which had me sobbing like a baby. I was railing at the end of the book proper and hating what had happened, but the explanation of the ending, and the way that it was concluded at the “proper” end was entirely right, and said buckets about the characterisation of Sam and the real coming of age of Alex.

There aren’t many books in this genre of ours that have me mulling over them after I’ve closed the book but this really got under my skin and it’s been eating away at me in the same way that “The Catch Trap” or “Brokeback Mountain” did.

Don’t miss this, because you’ll miss a real treat.  I can’t imagine what Ms Roebuck will come up with next, but I’ll be first in line.

Author’s Blog

Buy from Awe-struck Books (it’s only available in ebook right now, but the print version is due any time)

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