Review: Summer’s Lease by Scot D Ryersson (short story)

Calcutta, West Bengal, May 1891—Mair Calloway, Major Willoughby’s grandson, is arriving at Barrackpore for one night, en route to England for his first year at university. Captain Charles Blackthorne has been ordered to meet Mair at the train and take him under his wing for twenty-four hours. “No girls!” the Major orders. “Take care of his every need—personally!” Blackthorne, with an impeccable record in twelve years of military service would seem to be the perfect chaperone…

Summer’s Lease, an original short story from acclaimed author Scot D. Ryersson, brings the sights, smells, and tastes of colonial India to life. With a sensual undercurrent and simmering eroticism present throughout, the reader is transported to another world for a visit, that, like Mair’s stay at the Viceregal Lodge, is all too short and will leave you wanting more.

Review by Erastes

This is a most neglected era, and yet one so ripe with possibilities, I was thrilled to find that someone had finally written about it.

And it’s well done, too. I have to say I enjoyed it greatly, even though–because it’s a short story–it was predictable as to what actually is going to happen, but saying that, it didn’t have a hugely predictable ending, which worked well.

The language is very flowery, so be warned–that’s not to everyone’s taste, and if I say that even I found it a little over-florid at times, anyone who’s read my stuff will know what to expect.

That being said–the language takes the over-stimulation-to-the-senses that India can be, and paints it beautifully on the page. From the overbearing heat, to the crowded train station, seething with life and all types of castes, to the stuffy formality of the English club (although would they really have sat on the floor, Indian fashion?) to the scents and tactile senses of fabric, skin and hair.

Captain Charles Blackthorne is almost a pitable character as he’s spent 12 years in India and has managed to hide his proclivities pretty well. He sees new young men arriving, spots the tell-tale gleam in their eyes, and gradually, the chance of getting together with them becomes more remote as he gets older the young men get younger every year. You really feel that Mair is his last chance of happiness, and the reference to Summer’s Lease (Summer’s lease hath all too short a date” – Shakespeare, Sonnet 18) is quite sad.

I didn’t like the constant use of epithets. Mair is described as “the youth” and “the boy” throughout and although he’s not “underage” for the US laws (meaningless in 19th century, obviously) it kept pushing an image of a man that was too young, even though he wasn’t. I know some authors think it’s boring to keep saying the character’s name, but I prefer it to epithets. Sometimes, it feels there are five people in a scene when there’s only two!

There’s a couple of anachronisms I spotted, which only made me smile and the second one might not be one at all–the most glaring was the mention of the poem “Gunga Din” which wasn’t written until the year after this story was set. It’s easy done, I’ve done the same, but seeing as how the publisher is also an historical writer, and Mr Ryersson’s earlier novel with Bristlecone had many anachronisms in it, I’m surprised this wasn’t checked.

I find much of any book’s pre-amble–e.g. the stuff before the story: the legal bit, the acknowledgements a bit intrusive at the best of times, and I’ve noticed with Bristlecone that they put a “Dear Reader…” page in, explaining what the publishing house is and where it came from and please don’t pirate etc. That’s ok, but please put it at the end!

The promise in the blurb is quite right, because this is a wasted story, in the sense that it cries out for the whole thing. I want to know a lot more about Captain Charles Blackthorne and I hope that things work out for him.

Well worth the $1.59.

no website

Buy at: All Romance ebooks | Rainbow ebooks | 1Placeforromance

 


Speak Its Name Advent Calendar 2010 Last few slots

Speak Its Name (www.speakitsname.com) is looking for bloggers for their Third annual Advent Calendar series in December. It’s a great blog to reach new readers and perhaps promote a new book. from 1st 24th December SIN will feature posts every day on some historical, gay historical, or seasonal subject. Talk about some research, give us some seasonal recipes, talk about a winter’s walk where you live – it doesn’t matter. We’d also like that you have a giveaway–doesn’t have to be a book (you don’t have to be a writer, you can blog from a readers perspective) but candy, or anything you like.

Check out the posts from previous years to see the wide range of blog posts we’ve done so far.

http://speakitsname.com/category/advent-calendar/

It’s an ideal opportunity to include your bio, links etc too. We have hundreds of unique visitors each day and the Advent Calendar doubles the visitors each year. This is our Third year and we hope it will be better than ever. Drop me an email if you are interested and I’ll send out final details when I’ve filled all the slots.

ETA: Only a very few slots left – so please hurry!

Review: The Emperor by Lucius Parhelion (short story)

Eli is the personal assistant/bodyguard for the one of the most prosperous ranchers in New Mexico Territory at the turn of the Twentieth century. The Emperor, as Eli calls his boss, has a mysterious past, no one quite knows exactly how he came to the Territory, though there are plenty of rumors.

In 1908, Eli finds out the truth when the Emperor’s relatives from England come for a visit. Could it be that he and the man he’s been working for all these years have more in common than he knew? And can the two of them make a life together despite their relatives?

Review by Sally Davis

Let’s not talk about the cover, eh? Also the blurb mentions a mysterious past that is solved the minute one reads the prologue. Pity that. It’s a short story, just 40 pages.

The prologue sets a scene 19 years before the main action. Young Harry is in big trouble with his stuffed shirt of a brother, having been caught out in the company of a person of very high status in the kind of establishment that spells ruin. Obviously the person of high status can’t be held accountable so poor Harry has to carry the can. I found this section very good. The understated emotion and clipped conversation spoke of the type of society where reputation is everything. Harry is ruined, his family can no longer receive him, he cannot stay in England, in fact cannot stay anywhere in the Empire! But his brother does what he can in offering him a choice of exiles.

Harry chooses the cattle ranch in New Mexico and departs, bravely resigned to his fate.

The story proper is told from the 1st person point of view of Eli Fletcher y Baca, private secretary to ‘the Emperor’ – Harry Crewe, English ‘remittance man’ and owner of the River-R, one of the largest ranches in New Mexico – and it starts with a bang. Eli proves that ‘private secretary’ is perhaps an understatement as he lays out a thug who is disrespectful to people of Latin heritage and, by extension to Crewe who employs them. Eli was born on the Emperor’s ranch, served in the Rough Riders and is a thoroughly useful individual. Eli is also very discreetly gay.

That Crewe values him is obvious from their exchanges and they have that ease together that means they can converse or ride in silence comfortably when crossing the miles from Las Vegas to the River-R.

On the journey they get word that Crewe’s English relatives are waiting at the ranch.  Crewe and Eli discover that Crewe’s brother is dying and wishes to have a final meeting. The news is carried by Crewe’s sister-in-law, a nephew and their bodyguard, Kelly, an odious man who is plainly sniffing around for a scandal. Eli is anxious not to be the source of that scandal but Crewe’s matter of fact confession of his own proclivites – “I do not have the temperament for marriage” – and Eli’s laconic response put temptation in their way.

There are many interesting little historical details dropped into the story, and I enjoyed the flashes of Western life – bad roads, a horse that veers to the left, difficult journeys for furniture. The sex scenes are unfussy, with the participants refreshingly no nonsense about what exactly they want. As usual Parhelion is adept at showing the emotions of the characters as much with their actions as their words, especially in the case of Crewe who is the archetypal buttoned up Brit without ever quite slipping into stereotype. The words too pack a punch. There is a reference to sunflowers that had me gulping.

All in all a short but very satisfying read. One to be savoured and read again

Author’s website

Available from Torquere

Review: The Shooting Gallery by Kate Roman

Mick Reese is a Korean War veteran turned private eye, making a living sifting through the seedy underbelly of 1953 Cincinnati. But the night he busts into the Shooting Gallery, a casino cum criminal hotbed, all that changes. Accidentally rescuing Julian Marion, only son of a notorious crime boss, doesn’t bode well for Mick’s life expectancy, but Mick hadn’t planned on falling for Julian like a ton of bricks. Now they’ve got to find some way to escape a city on high alert and a madman bent on revenge. Every time Mick feels his resolve failing, he just looks in Julian’s eyes and keeps on going.

Review by Jess Faraday

I love noir, and this is a fun example of it. A little fantastic, a little schmoopy, but for escapism, it’s not badly done.

The story opens with well-written action, clean prose, and an intriguing story line. The author maintains the action and tension well throughout the book. The main character’s backstory is skillfully dribbled in bit by bit.

I really enjoyed the main characters: Mick the tough-talking PI with a heart of gold, Julian the Boy In Distress who is more than meets the eye, and Gail–tough, smart, and a real show-stealer. One of these characters meets with an untimely end–I won’t say which. Unfortunately, I think the story is weaker for it.

The story was a little light on setting. The first hint that it’s an historical story comes from a mention of Walter Cronkite on page six. There were also a few anachronisms, like the police rolling out spike strips to stop a car. The use of the term “gook” bothered me. It was probably historically accurate (usage attested well before the Korean war, though use as a racial slur dates to the Vietnam, not the Korean war), especially given the MC’s background. But I think the author could have found a less charged word to fill the same purpose.

In general, I prefer a little more historical flavor than there was here, but seeing as the story was set in the mid-twentieth century, it wasn’t that dire. It was a fast-paced story, and, in general, the level of detail suited it.

The final firefight was a bit of a cop-out (no pun intended). I was also amazed that our hero could crawl to safety and bash someone with an oar while his hands were tied. But all in all, it was a nicely done story and worth a read. 3.5 stars.

Purchase at Torquere Press

Review: The Demon’s Parchment by Jeri Westerson

In fourteenth century London, Crispin Guest is a disgraced knight convicted of treason and stripped of his land, title and his honor. He has become known as the “Tracker”—a man who can find anything, can solve any puzzle and, with the help of his apprentice, Jack Tucker, an orphaned street urchin with a thief’s touch—will do so for a price. But this time, even Crispin is wary of taking on his most recent client. Jacob of Provencal is a Jewish physician at the King’s court, even though all Jews were expelled from England nearly a century before. Jacob wants Crispin to find stolen parchments that might be behind the recent, ongoing, gruesome murders of young boys, parchments that someone might have used to bring forth a demon which now stalks the streets and alleys of London.

Review by Yakalskovich

This is not a gay-themed book as such, it’s a straight medieval whodunnit with some gay elements, and I must say I am not really happy how some of them have been handled. Why does the one sympathetic gay character have to be a cross-dressing prostitute? And why should the protagonist fall for a proud young man, wrestling with his emotions for about two hours before he realises he’s a girl in disguise, so everything is all right again as he’s not secretly tarnished by Teh Gay?

The problems start with the protagonist himself. I understand this is an established series printed on paper, but angst does not necessarily make everything better and deeper. Crispin Guest is a drunkard former nobleman who angsts about his former life, drinks a lot at every turn, snarks at people who want to help him, then staggers and stumbles through his investigation with an unexplained instinctual gift and a lot of serendipity that lets him happen on evidence (and, finally and inevitably, the solution) before he keels over drunk again.

Then there is the thing about inserting contemporary sensibilities into a historical story. Jeri Westerson at first evades the trap ostentatiously by having Crispin matter-of-factly share the contemporary prejudice against Jews, believing wholesale the nonsense fabricated about them in England prior to their expulsion in 1290 — which is almost a hundred years in the past for the late medieval post-pestilence setting of 1384. After demonstrating that she will have the N-word said, so to speak, for the sake of historical correctness, she then gives it all away by pulling a full Dostoevsky when the first murdered boy is discovered:

“The men about Crispin kept their vigil, murmuring prayers quietly beside the stricken  boy. Crispin uttered no prayers. He could not. He found it hard to ascribe to a God who would allow mere men to debase such innocence. Who would murder a child? And in such a way? Not out of sudden anger with a blow to the head to teach him better, an accident perhaps. But in a deliberate act of cruelty and barbarism, for surely such steady strangulation, looking into the eyes of the child as he struggled to breathe, was not the act of a man. Not a man who walked the earth among other men. No one who breathed the same air, ate the same food, watched the same stars ebb and flow across the sky.” (p. 17)

I am sorry, dear Ms Westerson, but that is not how a medieval man would have thought about children. The concept of childhood as a state of being that is quite separate from the adult human state is something that wasn’t developed until the 19th century, and the special horror reserved for sexual child abuse as the utmost of crimes is quite modern. Medieval men thought nothing of marrying twelve-year-old girls to men triple their age if it suited their fathers’ business or political connections. Pauper children got under the wheels of fate, survived or not, and nobody cared much about them. There being brothels offering boys would have been abominable for the sake of the ‘sodomy’, not because they were still children, more or less. Of course there were brothels offering boys — what else should the sodomites sodomise?

From then on, the story splashes from one pothole-full of gooey trope into the next. Of course the Jews study the traditions of the kabbalah (which was then in fact relatively new, having been developed around the same time as Christian scholasticism), and of course, once you say kabbalah, you have to say Golem. Oh, and of course the One Sympathetic Gay character is as horrified by the idea of children being prostituted and abused as the main protagonist is. Of course Crispin sees the light about Jews in general and starts to protect them, abjuring his prejudices. Of course the fascinating young man is secretly a girl and only then can be snogged back (as mentioned before — but that is the point where she really lost me). And of course everything is hushed up at the end, and nobody is interested in the truth, so Crispin resumes his drunken staggering about, insults some kind people some more, and angsts a lot, to everybody annoyance, including this reader’s.

This book may work as a medieval whodunnit of the sort that people read by the stack on long plane rides. As such, it is quite entertaining, if in an annoying way where you forge towards the end just because you want to know just how serious the author expects us to take her clichéd Golem. That’s why this is worth two stars, not just one. But a milestone in GLBT historicals? This definitely is not. Sorry.

Author’s website: http://www.jeriwesterson.com

Buy from:  Amazon UK    Amazon USA

Review: Earth and Sun, Cedar and Sage by Margaret Mills and Tedy Ward


Gideon Makepeace grew up in Bill Tourney’s Traveling Wild West Show, so he knows Indians better than a lot of folks of his day. He and his half-breed lover, Jedediah Buffalo Bird, are traveling east to New Orleans where Gideon hopes they’ll find a home together, safe among the crowds of the big city. But it’s winter in the desert and a storm is blowing in, so when they run across Kingman, Arizona, just before Christmas, they decide to take their chances and hunker down for the holiday.

Review by Bruin Fisher

This novella was written before ‘Well Traveled’, but serves as a sequel – or even an extended epilogue, since it tells what happened next to Gideon Makepeace and Jedediah Buffalo Bird. I gave Well Traveled five stars because I consider it to be exceptional. The writing is first rate, fluid and eloquent, the characters believable, the historical setting solid without being intrusive, and the story involving. I am not surprised to find the same qualities in this much shorter story, less than eighty pages in the PDF version, compared to nearly three hundred pages in Well Traveled. If you enjoyed that book you’ll certainly want to read this, if only to check up on your friends, see that things turn out okay for them. If you haven’t read Well Traveled, I recommend reading it first, and indeed before reading this review since it will inevitably contain some spoilers for the other book.

At the conclusion of Well Traveled, Jed and Gideon have only just come to the decision that they want to try to be together despite the prevailing prejudice against Indians, and the impossibility of being open about their love. But we have no idea how that will go, how they will achieve it or how long it will last. Earth and Sun, Cedar and Sage takes us a little way into that journey, although I think there’s scope for a further book or two in the series. The story revolves around a stop on their travels, first at a small town and then at a farmstead in the area. We get to learn a little more about Jedediah and his background, and some more about Gideon too, which helps to explain their actions and attitudes. The two men become even more likeable the more you get to know them.

I did have trouble with one aspect of the plot, though:

Early in the story, Jed appears with a bleeding lip and Gideon asks him about it:

He noticed the thin dark line of blood at the corner of Jed’s lip. “What happened?” he asked, low and angry because he already knew what had happened. And they’d hardly been in this town an hour.

“Nothing you need worry on,” Jed said just as softly. “Let’s go.”

Both Gideon and the reader are left in the dark about what happened. About half-way through the book, we read this:

He didn’t know whether to sneak back into that town and buy Jed a new pair or beat the tar out of whoever’d done this and take Jed’s gloves back for him.

But up to this point we hadn’t been told that Jed’s gloves were missing. And we never get to learn how Jed got a cut lip, or whether the theft of the gloves had anything to do with it. The missing gloves get their own sub-plotline, and at the end of the story the sheriff has recovered them and persuades two local lads to apologise to Jed for taking them – but there’s no mention of a fight unless it’s implied in

“Sorry we did that”… “didn’t know you was a performer.”

Unless I’ve developed a blind spot, this is a plot hole and it rather detracted from my enjoyment of the story – I care so much about these characters, and particularly about Jed who’s taciturn and inscrutable but definitely the nicer of the two, and I want to know what happened to him and whether he fought back and that his assailant eventually got his come-uppance.

I didn’t mention it in my review of Well Traveled, but that title wasn’t great. It was informative – it’s a story that revolves around travelling – but hardly intriguing or interesting. and because ‘traveled’ is spelled differently in Olde England it doesn’t look right to an English eye. The title of this one, Earth and Sun, Cedar and Sage, is certainly intriguing but not exactly memorable or informative, although the Cedar and Sage reference is explained in the story. The first few times I tried to bring the title back to my memory, I was trying to fit Sand and Sea into it somewhere.

I did mention in the review of Well Travelled that Catt Ford’s artwork for the cover was well done, appropriate and evocative. This book has a rather generic photograph on its cover. It’s not a bad cover like some, but it’s not, I think, an asset to the book, doesn’t catch your eye and make you pull the book off the shelf and flick through it with a view to buying.

I’m recommending this book to anyone who enjoyed Well Traveled. Its writing is of the same high standard. The plot hole which tripped me up, however, loses the book a star so it will have to be satisfied with only four.

Authors’ Website

Dreamspinner   Amazon UK   Amazon USA

Review: Captain Harding’s Six Day War by Elliott Mackle

Assigned to baby-sit a loose-cannon colonel at remote Wheelus Air Base, Libya, handsome, hard-charging Captain Joe Harding spends his off-duty time bedding an enlisted medic and a muscular major, then begins a nurturing friendship with the American ambassador’s teenage son. The boy swiftly develops a crush on the man, feelings that Joe, a Southern gent with a strong moral sense, feels he cannot acknowledge or return. Joe’s further adventures and misadventures during the course of the novel involve a clerk’s murder, a flight-surgeon’s drug abuse, a fist-fight in the officers’ club bar, a straight roommate whose taste for leather gets him in trouble, the combat death of Joe’s former lover, and participation in an all-male orgy witnessed by two very married but somewhat confused fighter jocks.

In the run-up to the 1967 war, a mob attacks the embassy in nearby Tripoli and the deranged colonel sets out to attack an Arab warship. To bring the pilots and their airplanes safely home and keep the United States out of the war Joe has two choices: either come out to his closest, straightest buddies or know himself to be a coward, a failure and a traitor to everything that he holds dear.

Review by Erastes

There’s something very engaging about Mackle’s writing. I couldn’t imagine that I’d be at all interested in this book–military realism set during a period I know absolutely nothing about–but damn! Mackle (who wooed and won me with his marvellous “It Takes Two“) had me gripped within a chapter of Captain Harding’s Six Day War and I was found myself enjoying reading about life on a military base and all its incestuous hothouse intrigue. Damn you, Elliott Mackle!

Imagine those wonderful 1950’s movies in black and white set in and around army bases. Films starring a youthful Frank Sinatra, Montgomery Clift and Rock Hudson and the like dressed in sharp light khaki and white shirts. Well, now add in a very likeable and not-at-all unhappy in his homosexual skin gay man who’s cautious and careful but up for action. Mix in a great supporting cast of friends (male and female) a couple of friends-with-benefits and a beautiful and dangerously young 17 year youth who calls to Harding like a candle does a moth. Shake vigorously with all the stresses that soldiers encounter in a tentative peace that could kick itself off at any time (although the Vietnam War is raging elsewhere) and you have a cocktail which proves to be a hugely gripping read.

Mackle was a soldier himself and draws on much of his own experiences and he delivers real gravitas and truth with this book. The claustrophobic village atmosphere of the base is like a powder keg and it becomes more and more pressurized when everything starts to hot up both militarily and personally for Harding.

Harding is a great character. He has a lot of heart but he’s a man, with very human foibles. He knows the drill when it comes to gaydar and setting up gay encounters. A couple of trusted buddies suits him fine. A NCO, Duane, who is often off base doing medical medicy duties (as you can see my military knowledge is so vast), and Hal–a major who only needs a bit of light “relief” but still can be depended on to watch Harding’s (and consequently his own) back when necessary.

Things start to go to pieces when Harding realises he’s falling for the too-young son of a local diplomat, and the young man professes his crush right back. He knows he’s not in love with Duane, although Duane has fallen in love with him and is desperate for that feeling to be returned. Harding finds himself torn in a dozen different ways, and as life often does, it lands him in a big mess with everything blowing up in his face–literally and figuratively in this case–all at once. A rash decision, fuelled by frustration and drink at a male-only party in town, and Harding’s world threatens to blow itself apart.

Don’t go thinking this is just about gay men getting it on–or not–because it’s far more than that, it’s also a well-researched, well-written story about a dangerous crisis in our near-history and it does a good job, I could easily see this as a film, it would even work well as a stage play, because of the claustrophobic nature of the setting. The characters are varied, entirely three-dimensional and range from every type you’d expect, and some you would not. There’s no open-sky dogfights on the page, just a man trying his best to stop his own world going to hell, the only fire fights that go on are him fire-fighting crises as they occur. It was nail-biting stuff, and towards the end of the book, in the thick of the action, I was holding my breath, alternating with a need to shut the book in case it all went horribly wrong.

The writing is crisp and mature. Not a word wasted or skipped. No extraneous passages; it’s as neat as a career soldier’s bunk space, everything in its place. If I have the smallest of quibbles about the language, it’s that to a complete layperson, such as myself, I was able to pick up some of the jargon that I’d learned from war films, such as NCO and AWOL–but many of the other acronyms were entirely beyond me, such as TDY, BOQ, TAC, OSI and others so I had to guess the gist of what they were saying. It wouldn’t be such a bad thing to have had a small glossary in for the uninitiated, and for those who are reading in bed and don’t want to get up, go downstairs and look up the words on the computer.

But that’s a very minor quibble, and not even worth chipping off half a point for. This is a proper gay book which strides the chasm of romance and litererachoor beautifully. It will appeal both to those who want a story with gay characters off doing stuff, and those who want Harding to have a satisfactory ending. I’m not spoiling it for you but my eyes were moist, that’s all I’m sayin’.

There are parts of the book that aren’t at all PC. This is 1967 and equal rights (hollow laugh) are still a way off. There are derogatory comments regarding skin colour, race, sexuality and much more. But this is realism, if you can’t handle people talking in a way that they used–still do–speak then go and read something else.

Mackle is probably one of my favourite writers in the genre, and if this spurs him on to write more of the same I’m going to be in the queue with my money clutched in my hand.

Do not miss this book, even if, like me, you don’t think that the setting would interest you. It will.`

Author’s website

Amazon USA

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