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

Review: If It Ain’t Love by Tamara Allen (short story)

In the darkest days of the Great Depression, New York Times reporter Whit Stoddard has lost the heart to do his job and lives a lonely hand-to-mouth existence with little hope of recovery, until he meets Peter, a man in even greater need of new hope.

Review by Erastes

Tamara Allen is a very talented writer and doesn’t get the publicity she deserves. However, if there is any justice, word of mouth will continue to work for her and more and more people will come to her books. This is a perfect example, because it’s a free download and therefore a great introduction to her beautifully sparse, no word wasted style of writing.

Set in the 1930′s Depression it paints beautifully (if that is the right word) the struggle it was to live in New York at the time. We sometimes forget that the term “living on the bread line” meant exactly that. That you were dependent on free handouts of bread and perhaps soup if you wanted to stay alive. Today, it has rather blurred to mean the line between plenty and poverty, but that’s not where it started.

Some books take a long time to get going, and it can be a struggle to actually care two hoots about the main character–not so here, within 3 pages I was gripped by Whit and the world he lived in. I felt every cold gust of wind, every rubbery noodle, every insult, felt the shabby clothes he wore, his thin shoes, felt the despair he felt in slums and flop-houses he was forced to live in as–like millions of others–he was out of work.

Her prose, as I said, is clean and exactly enough and no more–this sentence echoes both Whit’s emotion, and the time he lives in:

Before shame could show through the ill-fitting nonchalance, Whit got up and headed for the door.

The first conversation between Peter and Whit is so crisp that it took my breath away. So many books–and we’ve all read them–have strangers talking like High School BFFs but this for me was on the knife edge of perfection. Anyone who says women can’t write men needs to read Allen–many would learn much.

Here’s a section that I particularly liked:

Only when evening shadows had grown thick enough to impress him with the lateness of the hour did the world regain his attention. Peter was a dark, warm shape pressed close, still catching his breath after Whit’s last successful effort to steal it, and Whit, drifting on the serene awareness that something wonderful had begun, wondered just how long the average miracle could last.

I won’t spoil the plot because it’s not big enough to really explain any of it without spoiling, and this is a short story that needs to be savoured slowly and read again and again. Suffice it to say that it manages in a mere 30 pages, conflict, misunderstanding, resolution, character growth, wonderful eroticism, heartbreak and a heart-warming twist that would make Ebenezer Scrooge reach for the Kleenex. And if you can manage all that in 30 pages, you hardly need a five stars from me. But it’s getting five stars anyway.

I wish I could write like Allen, and that’s the truth. Can’t recommend this any higher, and as it’s free, you’ve got no excuse not to rush off and read all 30 or so pages of it and then tell me I’m wrong, I dare you.

Author’s website

Free download here

Review: Well Traveled by Margaret Mills and Tedy Ward

Gideon Makepeace, a young man of twenty, knows who he is and what he likes: decency, men and women too, horse training, and fun… and in Livingston, Montana, in the lush autumn of 1895, he finds he likes a Lakota Sioux Indian better than he might ought to.

Jedediah Buffalo Bird is seriously wounded and seeking medical care, and Gideon helps Jed when some bigoted townsfolk might have done otherwise. Jed, who knows the wild far better than Gideon and feels indebted to him, agrees to repay him by being his guide to San Francisco.

Their trip takes them across thousands of wild miles, through the mountains men mine and the Indian reservations dotting the plains. Facing a majestic West, they learn from each other about white folks and Indians alike. Gideon’s interest in Jed is clear from the start, but will Jed give up the life he knows for a young, brash white man he has perhaps come to love? Or will he push Gideon away in favor of the peace of nature and the personal freedom of having nothing to lose?

Review by Bruin Fisher

There’s a reason why Hollywood made so many cowboy movies and TV series in the 60′s and 70′s – it’s a genre that provides plenty of scope for telling a good story. Of course much of the vast output from that period was trash, formulaic and unrealistic. Baddies wore dark hats, didn’t shave, spat and couldn’t shoot straight, goodies wore light hats, crisply laundered check shirts that never got sweaty, had perfect teeth and no body hair, and could shoot a Higgs boson off the the end of a Large Hadron Collider with both hands tied behind their back.

Hollywood, I assume, has realised they overdid it somewhat, and the occasional Western movie that still comes off the production line these days is usually more thoughtful, and often tongue-in-cheek or post-modern ironic. We’ve had Brokeback Mountain, but whether that will pave the way for more gay cowboy movies remains to be seen.

Brokeback Mountain was, of course, a short story by E.Annie Proulx before it was a movie, and we certainly do now have a plethora of gay cowboy books to choose from. May I advise choosing carefully – much like 1960′s Hollywood, some of the output in this genre is not as good as it might be.

When I pick up a gay Western story, I have a response a little like biting into a Steak and Ale pie in a restaurant: it ought to be a delight, but it so often isn’t. You will understand, therefore, my surprise and excitement when I began reading Well Traveled by Margaret Mills and Tedy Ward, and found that it’s utterly splendid. Starting with beautiful artwork on the cover by Catt Ford, it is well-written, believable, with sympathetic if flawed characters and an engaging storyline, it got my attention from the very beginning and held me spellbound all the way through. And if you get to the end and want more, there’s a novella-length sequel called ‘Earth and Sun, Cedar and Sage’.

Margaret Mills and Tedy Ward (spelled Tedi in the author’s bio at the back of the book) are experienced technical writers who have branched out into m/m historical romance, and on the basis of this book I hope they write many more together. There’s a sense of a harmonious writing team at work in the pages of the book, a team that doesn’t put a foot wrong in creating characters, setting and plot that draws the reader in and takes him with them through the story. It’s a treat to read.

Gideon Makepiece is a showman, a circus performer, although when the story begins he has just completed a secondment to a rancher, helping his hands with the training of his horses. Paid off, he’s about to take the train across the country to San Francisco where he expects to rejoin his troupe, but he chances upon a couple of locals mistreating a Lakota brave who has reluctantly come into town in search of medical attention, after being gored by a wild boar. Indians are not generally welcome in town, but Gideon persuades the local doctor to tend the brave’s wound and the further injuries he had suffered at the hands of the townsmen. Then he finds, and pays for, lodging for the patient and nurses him back to health. An updated Good Samaritan story. All this delays Gideon’s trip to San Francisco, and he’s spent the money that should have paid his rail fare. So in gratitude for his help, the Indian, Jedediah Buffalo Bird, offers to act as his guide so that he can make the journey on foot. He has his circus horse, Star, but Jedediah shows that on a long journey a horse will hold a traveller up rather than speeding his travel.
On their journey the two men learn a little about each other and develop first respect and later something more for each other. Jedediah is taciturn, and we don’t learn very much about him at first. It is well into the second half of the book that we learn a little about the circumstances of his birth – he’s half-caste – and the book ends with a number of questions still unanswered – scope for a sequel. Gideon talks more and thinks less, and manages to offend his fellow traveller a number of times, sometimes without realising his offence.

The story takes in an adventure or two on the way, and reaches a very satisfactory conclusion to qualify as a romance. I’m giving it five stars – it has a good story, interesting and believable characters, a good feel for the period including the danger that any same-sex attraction carried, and it’s very well crafted, grammar and punctuation both working to assist with a smooth reading experience.

It’s not perfect but its faults are minor. I did notice that the narrative occasionally ventured into moments of the same vernacular that the characters used. It was of course entirely appropriate to have Gideon say stuff like ‘You’d best teach me fast, if we ain’t got much time left together’ but it was surprising to come across narrative such as:

“Gideon hadn’t even found a feller really worth looking twice at around here, much less worth the risk of approaching, not when he couldn’t move on right quick if things fell out wrong. It weren’t no trouble to take matters in hand, so to speak…”

“…a grimace that Gideon knew didn’t have nothing at all to do with pain.”

“The farm was big, covering acres, but there weren’t nobody in the fields, and no one in the yard as they approached the house. “

I don’t think it’s usual for the narrator to speak the same colloquial variety of English as the protagonists, and it brought me up short when the narration, mostly in standard English, dropped into the text the occasional colloquialism. I got used to it, but if it was deliberate I don’t think it worked, and it was so sparsely distributed through the text that it might have been simply a mistake.

Also there were a couple of places where the wording made me rear up on my hind legs and go ‘Whoa!’. For instance:

“He felt limp as a wet rope.”

Cotton rope when wet is stiff and inflexible, it’s only limp when dry. Nylon ropes that remain as flexible wet as they are dry are a modern invention.

I wouldn’t even mention something like that if there were any worthwhile faults to pick on. The book is highly recommended to anyone who likes stories where the good guy is as likely to be an Indian as a cowboy.

OUT IN THE WORLD: A GLOBAL GAY HISTORY

730-845 Sunday Radio 3

ABOUT THE EPISODE

New series. Richard Coles embarks on an investigation of same-sex desire through the ages, starting with the modern construction of gay identity and its links with the ancient world. In the first programme he confronts the challenges of uncovering such a history, given that the idea of `being gay’ is a relatively modern phenomenon; and finds that the sexologists of the 19th century were greatly influenced by the preponderance of homosexuality in classical texts.

Radio Times Review by: David Crawford

The delightful, inquisitive Rev Richard Coles turns his gaze to the construction of homosexual identity in the 20th century and its historical antecedents. He covers a lot of ground, from gay gods in ancient Egypt to Freud and the diaries of Yorkshire proto-lesbian Anne Lister. Stuffed full of interviews with academics, at times it risks being as dry and dusty as the Egyptian tomb where Coles looks at wall paintings that are arguably the first known depictions of a homosexual relationship. But where else are you going to hear what is thought to be the world’s first chat-up line — “How beautiful your backside is.” — and a British Museum curator crudely describing an act of self-fellation?

Review: Long, Hard Ride by Keta Diablo

Grayson Drake has been sent by a covert spy agency from the South to break Marx Wellbourne out of Elmira Prison at all costs.

Ordered to return Wellbourne to Richmond so the Confederate Army can pick his brain about the maps he’s memorized, Gray soon discovers Marx is courting death from malaria and pneumonia. To complicate matters further, the decadent, gorgeous Wellbourne is none other than the same man he coveted from afar four years ago in a Charleston brothel.

Pursued by the villainous warden of the prison, Major Britton Darkmore, nothing is as it seems when intrigue, suspense and raw passion collide on the long, hard ride back to Richmond.

Review by Bruin Fisher

From the blurb above: “Marx is courting death from malaria and pneumonia”. Courting death in my version of the English language is daringly taking risks that could cost one’s life. Malaria and pneumonia don’t count. In the hands of a master, inventing new uses for words can work, Shakespeare did it and his usage stuck. But here it makes for difficult and laboured reading. Several times the sound of a cough is described as a chortle – which I always thought was a kind of laugh, but what do I know? I quite like this: one of the characters wakes up

“Sore and dogmatically stiff, but nothing a dip in the river and a hot meal wouldn’t rectify.”

And

“He’d checked the bottle of quinine before their trek to the river only to find it empty. Another conundrum.”

If you’re going to read this book you will have to cope with a lot of flowery prose, some of which doesn’t make much sense, such as this:

“Gray lingered between darkness and light it seemed for eons. He likened his re-emergence to that of a drowning man who’d thrashed and clobbered his way through the claws of a cloven-hoofed demon.”

and a thin plot, and characters who act without much apparent motivation. If you can get past that, there is some mildly enjoyable reading in the middle part of the book when the two main characters are fleeing their pursuers and failing to decide whether they like, love, distrust or just hate each other.

Grayson Drake is a physician from the town near the prison, and also an agent of the Confederates (Gray, see?) sent to spring the man the blurb describes as ‘the decadent, gorgeous Marx Wellbourne’ from prison. He has to get him back to Confederate territory for de-briefing, since he has information about battle maps which will, apparently, change the course of the war. We don’t ever discover quite why it will change the course of the war, and when he finally hands it over he points out that it’s months old.

Wellbourne is, apparently, gorgeous although he’s skin and bone after a starvation diet in prison and “two days in the sweat box had greatly compromised his maladies”. He’s also well-born (Wellbourne, see?), having inherited a big southern estate and slaves although slavery is, of course, abhorrent to him – after all his name’s Marx. We are not, however, given any evidence that he’s decadent. He’s a corporal which seems to be an elevated rank although in the Confederate army it was only one grade up from the lowest enlisted man, the private. His vocabulary includes shit, and bugger, and fuck, and Jesus and Christ used as expletives, which doesn’t quite ring true considering he’s a Southern Gentleman and not a mill worker from the North of England. He has heroically helped ten other prisoners to escape and for his trouble ended up in the ‘sweat box’, presumably a punishment cell of some sort, and contracted pneumonia, and malaria, apparently from drinking the water from a frog-infested pool – no mention of the usual mosquito bite transmission method. Why the poor frogs are implicated, I can’t say.

Gray gives Marx a forged pass hidden in a Bible to get him through the front gate of the prison, and a Union soldier’s uniform with a knife in the pocket, but no help with getting past the locked door of his cell. We’ve been told that the door is heavy, and metal, and incorporates metal bars, and that it is unlocked by inserting a key (but apparently there’s no need to turn it) and it can then be opened despite its weight by pushing with a toe. Gray has hinted to the guard that Marx may be very infectious, and dying, and warned him to keep well away from the prisoner, despite which Marx convinces the guard to hold his hand and read to him from the psalms, and then he threatens him with the knife until he hands over the keys.

We have to assume that the rest of the escape goes smoothly, because the next chapter begins when Gray and Marx rendezvous in woods and begin their ‘long, hard ride’ to Richmond, Virginia, pursued by the prison warden, Major Britton Darkmore (he’s the baddie, Darkmore, get it?) who considers their capture so crucial that he’s abandoned his prison and searches the towns on their route house by house with a posse of soldiers to help him. It’s difficult to see why Wellbourne’s memorised battle maps, months old, can be quite so important to Darkmore or to the Confederate ‘covert spy agency’ either. Are there any other kinds of spy agency?

Wellbourne and Drake have seen each other before, in a brothel they both frequented. Now they are attracted to each other despite their continuing distrust of each other – although Drake has sprung Wellbourne from prison and is doing his best to get him back to his own lines, which would be enough reason to trust each other, you’d think.

They pause on their journey and Wellbourne’s exhausted condition doesn’t prevent them having energetic sex. A day later Drake has been shot in the chest and they get the wound treated by an Iroquois healer, a friend of Gray’s whose camp fire “flared in the middle of a small clearing. Behind it stood a lean-to, the slanted mud and straw roof sagging like his Aunt Rosie’s tits.” Aunt Rosie, I should point out, plays no further part in the story – very wise of her, I’d say.

They’ve smelled the smoke of the fire from a distance but apparently their pursuers missed it so they can spend some time and recuperate. The next day they have more energetic sex despite the chest wound. The sex scenes are among the better passages of the book, although there’s a hint of BDSM which never really takes hold. These are two men physically attracted to each other but there’s no affection developing between them.

The day they strike camp and continue their journey, Gray has pain in his arm, but he “rotated his arm in a circle and realized most of the pain stemmed from stiffness”. Nevertheless he apparently loses the use of it for the next few pages and there is no further mention of the bullet wound in his chest. Marx’s pneumonia and malaria seem to be better, too.

So: can I recommend this book to you, dear reader? Umm… well, No. Sorry. It’s rubbish, poorly written hokum. None of the characters are particularly likeable, there’s no satisfactory resolution of tension, very little plot (I’ve told you nearly all of it) and although civil war dates and events are mentioned there’s nothing about the characters or their dialogue that anchors them to the early 1860′s. I give it two stars because the cover art is attractive, although the man in the picture looks about a hundred and fifty years too modern. Oh, and the punctuation is immaculate.

Author’s Website

Buy from Decadent Publishing 

Review: Placing Out by P.A. Brown

At the age of ten, Dylan Daniels was a placed-out kid sent from New York’s Five Points to a family in Nebraska. But Dylan ran away at the age of eighteen when he realized he preferred boys and didn’t want to be a farmer. Once he made his way to Hollywood, he wound up as a popular and high-class hustler with a number of wealthy clients.

Now in 1933 near the end of the Prohibition Era in America, Dylan meets Ben Carter during a bar raid. Ben, who’s a six-year veteran of the LAPD and deeply in the closet, is instantly both attracted and repelled by this beautiful man. Between them they struggle to overcome the barriers that keep them apart, including Dylan’s career, and Ben being in a brutal squad that frequently raids pansy bars and beats the patrons, which tears Ben apart.

Will Ben let Dylan’s love heal him or destroy him altogether?

Review by Sally Davis

Sometimes just getting the text to a story is a bonus. The cover of the book is uninspiring and I think I enjoyed the beginning of the story more without having read the blurb. The story is written partly in first person from Dylan’s point of view and partly from Ben’s POV in third person. I’ve seen reviews that claim this change of POV is confusing but I found it an interesting way of emphasising the great differences between the two characters.

Dylan’s voice changes as his story progresses from that of the defiant uneducated foster child to that of the young man with ambition to rise above his current station. He is practical, and has no illusions about how long he has before he’s too old to reap the benefits. Once his looks are gone his hustling days will be over so he has a limited amount of time to make his pile. His loneliness comes across quite strongly too – he is hungry to be loved and that he pretends when he is with one particular client that their comfortable cuddling doesn’t have to end, that they can be as he puts it “a forever couple”, is very sad.

Ben is lonely too, but that is because he is living a lie. Part of Red Squad, a special task force that breaks strikes and raids gay bars, he can barely admit even to himself that he is “queer” until the stress of the lying gets too much and he finds his regular lover Kevin for some brief and intense comfort. He hates what he does for a living, hates the way he is expected to join in the laughing brutality of his fellows, but he daren’t show any reluctance to conform. Then they raid a bar and he lays eyes on Dylan – the golden boy – and Ben’s life of lies becomes even more complicated.

This is a short story – only 40 pages including the extras at beginning and end – and I don’t want to give any more of the plot away. Let’s just say that I loved it and I’ve spent some time thinking about Ben and Dylan and what may have happened after the end of the story. I’m planning on working my way through P.A. Brown’s backlist.

Author’s Website

Available from Amber Quill Press in their Amber Allure line

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Kindred Hearts by Rowan Speedwell

Charming rascal Tristan Northwood seems to have it all: an ancient name, a noble inheritance, a lovely wife, and a son he adores. Women love him, men admire him, and it seems there is nothing he can’t do, whether it’s seducing a society wife or winning a carriage race. Little does Society suspect that the name means nothing to him, the fortune is in his father’s controlling hands, and he has no interest in his wife except a very distant friendship. Society bores him, and he takes dares because he only feels alive when he’s dancing on the edge… until his wife’s brother comes home from the wars.

Decorated war hero Major Charles Mountjoy jerks Tris out of his despair by inspiring feelings of passion Tris had never suspected himself capable of. Almost as terrifying as those feelings for Charles are the signs Charles might return his affection-or, even worse, that Charles sees the man Tristan has been trying so valiantly to hide from the world.

Review by Erastes

This has the feeling of a “proper” Regency, and as a comparison, if you liked the Regency work of Lee Rowan, G.S Wiley, or Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon you’ll definitely like this. It has all the elements in place for a “nice” traditional Regency – an arranged marriage, a brooding rake, clubs and ballrooms etc etc–but it doesn’t stick to the rules for too long thank goodness!

That’s not to say it isn’t flawed, but in this case the good definitely outweighs any faults–I can’t go so far to say “the bad”–because the flaws are like little touches of inconsistency, like the faint taste of cabbage in your burgundy or something like that. It’s not bad–at all–it’s very enjoyable, but time and again I was jolted when the writer was doing something nice which many readers would really enjoy.

So, we have Tristan Northwood, a deeply unhappy man who drinks and tries to earn himself the reputation of a Rake. He has Father Issues which is very sad, because they are not really merited. His father–as many fathers would have done at the time, being left with a small boy he probably had very little to do with–had to concentrate on running a huge estate and didn’t have time to spend time with his son. However Tristan, an only son and the heir to the Baronetcy, takes this hard and feels himself badly done by.

He’s not a very good rake either. He doens’t seduce and violate the innocent, he doesn’t leave behind a string of broken hearts and hymens and desperate ex-virgins who then are left in a delicate position. He always sleeps with either the willing experienced lady or willing and bored married women and–thanks to very good advice given by his father, always uses protection and always makes sure his bed partners are satisfied first before allowing himself to climax. So, for a Rake, he’s a Thoroughly Nice Chap.

The arranged marriage is a success, in as much as Charlotte (or Lottie) doesn’t like all that marriage act stuff and the couple are as fond of each other as any couple who only met once before the wedding have a right to be.

This part of the book was a little bit too long for my liking, the gay love interest was mentioned a couple of times (Lottie’s brother) and it was obvious that he was going to be The One to finally make Tristan realise he was looking for love in all the wrong places but the pre-marriage discussion and post marriage stuff took up about 20% of the book and I found I was a little restless, because I don’t read a gay romance to read about hetero marriage and babies. However I should grow up, because this section was good, necessary for character development (in particular Lottie’s) and the author was skilled enough to keep to her guns, and spend the time to start with book in the way she wanted to do.

I liked all the characters a lot, particularly Lottie who is absolutely deadly sensible–in a Charlotte Lucas kind of way. She knows what she wants and she doesn’t want the moon, and in the long run it’s probably better the way her marriage goes than marrying for love. I also liked that Tristan was such an arse at times, and wouldn’t listen to reason, rather than just being changed in his character by lurve.

The research is well done and applied with a light touch, enough to ground us to the era without plastering on thick descriptions of carpets, carriages and chairs. There are touches such a Belcher handkerchief and references to Darby and Joan which are perfectly in tone, and some Heyer style slang, but not enough to make me want to punch anyone.

Some of the vernacular was a tad too modern for my taste, but it’s very sporadic and it was probably Just Me Being Picky–things like “he washed up” which to an Englishman means something different from an American and “I wrote you” rather than “I wrote to you.”  Small things, picky things yes, but the quality of most of the book made them stand out like blemishes on a catwalk model.  I wasn’t absolutely sure about the medical details–it was clear the author had done her research on many things, her treatment of Waterloo seemed to be very solid–but considering that Waterloo is forty years or so before the revolution of medical care, with Nightingale’s and Mary Seacole’s reforms–the scenes of rather clean injured bodies and the careful use of lint etc seemed a little too advanced for this time and place.

The use of food, though. A recurring problem with historicals…Ham and Eggs and Toast and Tea for breakfast…Today, yes. 1815. No. Far too much tea all round, in a time when it was so prohibitively expensive it was locked away to keep the servants from touching it, one wouldn’t have tea willy nilly as here.

I particularly liked the relationship between Tristan and his father, it wasn’t an easy fix–and I particularly liked the way that Tristan remained quite staunchly anti his father for quite a long time, even though the rest of his family was aware that the old man actually adored his son, but had no idea how to show it.

I’m sorry to say though, there was far too much weeping for my taste. Even though Tristan keeps asserting that he “was never a watering pot before he met Charles” he tends to burst into tears a great deal, even after he got over his overwrought state. Charles, too becomes uber weepy at times, and I really can’t manage two men in bed, weeping all over each other.

The other issue I had was the OK Homo. Everyone is OK about the Homo. Tristan’s wife (understandable, perhaps as she already knew her brother was homosexual) the companion, all the servants. Even when they are discovered with their hands in each other’s breeches by a fellow officer who is disgusted, angry and horrified–he is converted to their love by the realisation that they are devoted to each other. Too many people know, that would–in real life–have really led to problems.

The best parts of the book for me–and it’s all pretty good, despite my tiny gripey gripes (they seem like bigger gripes than they are)–were actually the conversations that Charles had with his fellow soldiers and officers. They were solid, and utterly believable, peppered with news of the war and the machinations of Wellington and others. I think that if Ms Speedwell was to write a pure historical at any time, she’d do very well.

If you like this era, you’ll certainly like this one a lot. Highly Recommended, despite my small niggles.

Amazon UK    Amazon USA

Review: Lily White, Rose Red by Catt Ford


Grey Randall: Private Dick Casefile #1

Meet Grey Randall, a hard-boiled detective whose sense of humor makes it hard for him to stay strictly noir. It’s 1948 in Las Vegas—the newborn Sin City—and he’s just landed his first murder case. He’s more at ease among the lowlifes, but his new client, a beautiful, wealthy woman, a real femme fatale, moves in the upper crust of society.

Grey’s hot on the trail of a killer, despite obstructive cops who don’t want a private dick sniffing around and digging up secrets. And he starts getting close to the truth, but one of his suspects, Phillip Martin, AKA Mr. Big—AKA Mr. Beautiful—proves to be a man who could force Grey to reveal a dark secret of his own.

Review by Sally Davis

I dearly love a good PI story so was excited to get Catt Ford’s “Lily White, Rose Red” for review. The cover was designed by the author and is a classic noir image of the man in the snap brimmed hat preparing to walk the mean streets! I was a bit thrown by the plastic Dymo tape labelling – to me that just screams 1960s, rather than 1948 – but apparently similar machines existed just after the war, stamping into aluminium strips instead of plastic, so more fool me for jumping to conclusions.

Just so we know what we’re getting into there’s a silhouette in the background and, instead of the usual curvaceous broad poised to make trouble for our hero, it’s another fedoraed, trenchcoated fellow.

Not that there aren’t an unusual number of women in the story, which begins in the most traditional way possible.

Femmes fatales had been noticeably absent since I hung out my shingle, but the day she opened the door without knocking, I knew I’d hit the jackpot.

The delicious Lily MacIntyre, ex-burlesque queen and friend of men in high places, enters Randall’s office to hire him to investigate his very first murder – that of a young dancer in whose career Lily had taken an interest. At first it appears that her selection of Randall is pure chance but later it is revealed that there is evidence associated with the case that no police officer could plausibly investigate – it’s something no straight man would know about. But Randall is eminently qualified and the adventure takes him to secret gay bars and to the offices of the rich and powerful. On his way he is both helped and hindered by local police officers, by female librarian Charlie, by Lily and her household, by a gay pugilist and by Mr Big, who may or may not be straight.

Trouble is my business – and I’m open twenty-four hours

As one would expect Randall is tough, driven and wise-cracking. This caused me a little bit of a problem because, while those attributes contribute to his success, I found that some of his bull-headedness in dealing even with his friends made him  unsympathetic. There were other secondary characters who engaged me far more emotionally and I hope they get more ‘screen time’ in subsequent books in the series.

But on the whole it was a fun romp, clues were dropped gradually and there were enough suspects to cloud the issue. If Grey Randall, Private Dick has a Case#2 I think I will read it.

Available from Dreamspinner Press

Review: Keta Diablo – The Devil’s Heel

Five years ago Drew Hibbard dismissed Rogan Brockport from his life. Now, they meet again at the Governor’s Ball and Rogan will know the reason for the abrupt, unexplained cut. After Rogan saves Drew’s life during a pirate raid, he kidnaps him and the perfect opportunity to extract answers from Drew is finally at hand.

Betrayal
Retribution
Undying Love
The Devil’s Heel

Review by Emily Gained

Sadly, during the first few pages, I discovered that this wasn’t the kind of book I’d normally choose to read. First of all, there’s more purple prose than I can stand on an empty stomach (I found the previous book, “Magnolia Heat” less afflicted by that, so one of them might have benefited from a good editor or simply a different process/taste in the author).

To me, the prose wasn’t just purple, it also confused the hell out of me. Here’s a representative sample right from the start:

“From the lofty balcony, Rogan Brockport watched the merriment in the crowded ballroom and squelched a smirk. Polite society would be astonished to discover he found their existence mundane and tedious.

He lifted the goblet of burgundy to his lips, took a sip, and smiled. The foremost reason for his appearance tonight, and the object of his intense perusal, had finally arrived. The parchment in Rogan’s vest pocket—a summons from the Governor—rustled when he pulled himself from the railing and devoured the man’s beauty.

The young widower, Drew Hibbard, wound his way elegantly through the crowd, nodded to several bystanders and stopped briefly to present a white-gloved hand to the fools of Virginia’s Parliament.

Attired in an ensemble fashioned after the London gentry—a mauve silk coat and matching breeches—a dreamlike beauty enveloped Drew. His midnight hair glimmered beneath the crystal chandeliers, and although Rogan couldn’t see his soulful eyes at the moment, he knew from memory they matched to perfection his dove gray waistcoat. A bevy of flushed maidens surged forth and surrounded him, their peacock fans fluttering like leaves caught up in an eddy.

In mourning after the death of his wife six months ago, Drew’s self-imposed exile had not diminished his allure or his captivating magnificence. Christ, the man embodied beauty.

Rogan fought an overpowering urge to quit the balcony and seek him out, gaze into the gunmetal eyes, lose his soul in the shimmering, long, black hair, and watch his spine stiffen when he offered his hand. Drew’s distress over seeing him again would be palpable, and equal to his. He had a score to settle with the meretricious widower and he’d waited a lifetime, it seemed, for tonight.”

Diablo is going for the old shtick of an innocent (Drew Hibbard) being seduced by a rogue—a Byronic hero, dark and brooding and arrogant, but the effect fell completely flat for me. Both characters are so over the top that I just couldn’t connect to any of them. Rogan (not Josh) is the caricature of a rogue, so arrogant he makes your toe nails fall off. Domineering, so driven to get his man—willing or not—that he comes across like a psychopath.

Drew, while innocent and all appalled about how his ex-lover treats him (for example, he threatens to shoot Drew’s dog! Now there’s a sexy man you want to spend your life with) also needs Rogan’s cock so badly he turns into a whimpering, spineless wretch who loves getting semi-forced and semi-seduced. Hey, I love some good forced seduction with the best of them, but I found the characters way too over the top and the writing and set-up too melodramatic.

Plotwise, it doesn’t really matter what’s going on, because it’s all just stage dressing for the sex scenes. There’s some hare-brained scheme for Rogan to join a famous pirate, and he dances through that small challenge.

So when the famous pirate attacks Drew, Rogan can carry him off to safety for some rogering. The interesting plot-oriented scenes were brushed over and were clearly subordinated to the “romance” plot. Only, the “romance” plot in this case isn’t much of a romance, since the characters are so dysfunctional and dependent, nevermind completely controlled by their desire (read: hard cocks) that I didn’t believe for a moment that anybody loved anybody. In a way, the simpering spineless Drew deserves the domineering psychopath Rogan, but I really didn’t want any part in their relationship, let alone read about it.

There’s ample sex in this short piece, and if you don’t mind their rather unbelievable recovery period between the fucking and the purple prose and look for some historical porn to fill forty-five minutes of boredom, check this out. It wasn’t for me.

Author’s website

Noble Romance Publishing

Review: The Last Tallyho by Richard Newhafer

Fighting air battles over Wake Island, Tarawa and Truk Lagoon, the U.S. Navy pilots of Air Group Two blazed a trail of flaming Japanese planes and hard-won glory across the Pacific skies. Yet among the heroes lived a man with a terrible secret shame, a vice that kept him from enjoying the conventional pleasures offered by the bevy of beautiful women waiting to welcome their men back to Pearl Harbor.

Set aboard the fictional carrier Concord during the latter part of World War Two, “The Last Tallyho” was called “The epic novel of World War II naval fighter pilots” by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and “Excellent” by The New York Times.

Review by Elliott Mackle

Perhaps the most notable aspect of Richard Newhafer’s thoroughly conventional World War II novel, “The Last Tallyho” (1964), is that it inspired the much more deeply felt “Wingmen,” by Ensan Case (1979). (See my five-star review-appreciation here on Speak Its Name.) The primary evidence appears on Case’s dedication page: “Thanks to silly Dick Newhafer and his first Tallyho.” In a recent email, Case explained: [Big time spoiler alert]:

“Sometime in the late ’70′s I reread Tallyho. Good writing, excellent technical info, but much too contrived for my adult taste. And the portrayals of CAG Crowley and the ass-kissing effeminate swabbie named Rathburn just sort of pissed me off, and I wrote Wingmen in retaliation. My officer protagonists would be too smart to diddle enlisted men, aboard ship no less, and would not be required to slit their wrists in shame. It was my first attempt at a full-length novel. Avon published it with only typo editing, and I waited in vain to become rich and famous. Hell, I would have settled for rich.”

“Wingmen,” in significant ways, is as groundbreaking a mainstream masterpiece as it was possible to publish at the time. Both novels are melodramas set aboard fictional American aircraft carriers during the Pacific campaigns of the war, with operational and recreational interludes in and around Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Both are event and character driven. Both writers are extraordinarily familiar with the workings of carrier-based aircraft, in particular the Grumman Hellcat, and both describe the vibrant lives and violent deaths of naval aviators in the kind of seat-of-pants detail that suggests first-hand knowledge. Newhafer, a Navy pilot who served in World War II and Korea, was awarded the Navy Cross in 1945. Case was commissioned as a Navy ensign.

Both novels culminate in battles over Truk lagoon, Japan’s principal naval base in the west-central Pacific, ending in routs by American pilots and the almost total defeat of Japanese fliers. It is safe to say that when the Emperor of Japan lost Truk he lost the war.

“The Last Tallyho” follows the adventures of Air Group Two aboard the carrier Concord during 1943-44. The cast of pilots and commanders is wide and varied, though universally white, athletic and educated. Among pilots there is a professional football player (Steve Stepik), a son of wealthy Park Avenue bluebloods (Maxwell Winston III), an amateur golfer (Dick Marriner), a career flyer-administrator (Harry Hill), even a coward who loses his nerve at the expense of his mates (Bob Crowley). Most of them become aces, among the highest scoring killers in the fleet. Symbolically, but unfortunately for the reader, these guys are hard to tell apart because they all talk alike. The same is essentially true of their gorgeous and good-hearted women.

The brilliantly characterized heroes of “Wingmen,” Commander J.J. “Jack” Hardigan, his junior wing, Ensign Frederick “Trusty” Trusteau, and half a dozen other pilots and crewmen, on the other hand, are living, breathing individuals, and totally unforgettable.

Captain Sam Balta, skipper of Concord, and his superior, Vice Admiral “Frog” Delacroix, the commander of the fleet, date their friendship from the Naval Academy at Annapolis and call each other by nicknames from that period. They are much better drawn, more complex figures than the men they send out to fight, and their voices and movements, though naturally similar, are always distinct. Through them we learn much about the cruelties of high command. Before the last battle, for instance, they must calculate the odds of success in a rapidly changing situation and count up the possible losses of their own men against the necessity of defeating the enemy and ending the war. Their counterpart in “Wingmen,” an admiral, is as sympathetically drawn but not nearly as well characterized.

Commander Bob Crowley, the cowardly pilot, is not only a homosexual, he beds at least one enlisted sailor between flights (or “hops” as they are termed) and, when caught naked with the sailor in his bunk, begs for mercy and a medical discharge. When that is refused by a bull-headed executive officer, Crowley kills himself. The hapless sailor suffers essentially the same fate, dying “in screaming agony, his face contorted out of shape,” after being gutted by a piece of flying metal that, a moment earlier, was part of a Japanese Zero. Although Crowley’s shipboard seduction was certainly unwise under the circumstances, Allan Bérubé’s “Coming Out Under Fire” and other histories demonstrate that such liaisons were not all that uncommon. Superior officers and NCOs, especially toward the end of the war, tended to look the other way.

Newhafer’s war is the John Wayne version, in other words, the official version, the real men version. It is no surprise that after leaving the Navy Newhafer became a successful writer of Hollywood and television film scripts.

The underlying nature of Mr. Case’s novel explains his use of a semi-pseudonym, “Ensan” being the phonetic pronunciation of “Ensign.”

Taking off from the carrier Constitution, Commander Jack Hardigan, leader of Air Group Twenty (that’s two plus zero), and his wingman Fred Trusteau also become aces. They risk their lives for each other, for the members of the group and for their shipmates. After considerable trust building and combat, they discard their conformist heterosexual role-playing, accept their mutual attraction and share a bed in Waikiki’s Moana Hotel during Christmas shore leave. The physical details are not described and the affair remains discreet and low key. What happens ashore stays ashore. Although suspicions arise in another pilot’s mind, he has the good sense to keep his mouth shut. Blood is shed but the three men survive the war and prosper thereafter.

Case’s writing is vibrant and lively throughout the book, a pleasure to read and to reread. Newhafer is all over the map. His battle scenes soar – especially the final battle, which brings together all the remaining main characters – but small talk in officers’ clubs and the wardroom drones on and on. Sometimes his descriptions are simply flat, as in the following:

“The dusk had deepened to a murky darkness when the combatants drew apart. For this is the way fights end. One moment the sky is a wild place and the next as silent as a cathedral.”

Finally, Newhafer’s novel features a stream almost totally lacking in Case’s: the war from a Japanese pilot’s point of view. Commander Isoku Yamota, an ace every bit as brave and successful as his counterparts Winston and Marriner, appears early and fights to the end. He is a stock character but a good one, a warrior who, facing death, dreams of returning to his wife and child not as a hero but as a loving husband and father.

For fans of military and maritime fiction, both novels are worth reading. “Wingmen,” a Speak Its Name Five Star Read that includes the pleasures of first-rate gay historical fiction, is simply the better book. “Tallyho” is out of print but used copies are widely available in hard and soft cover. Four stars.

Amazon UK      Amazon USA

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