Review: By Honor Betrayed by Alex Beecroft

1748

Lieutenant Conrad Herriot and Seaman Tom Cotton have been master and servant for over a decade, and friends for almost as long. When Tom is injured during a skirmish, Conrad forgets himself and rushes to Tom’s side, arousing suspicion about the true nature of their relationship.

All Tom wants is the chance to consummate their love and embark on a new life together, outside the law that condemns them. Yet he fears Conrad won’t risk his career and his honor to become Tom’s lover.

Conrad believes his lust for Tom will damn his soul. There’s also their difference in class—a gentleman doesn’t socialize with a common tar. As Conrad struggles to refute the gossip on the ship, he must decide whether to commit the crime the crew’s already convicted them of, or part from Tom for good to save both their necks…

Review by Erastes

Just a small niggle, and this is nothing to do with the review or the mark – but I fail completely to see why Carina insisted on the American spellling of “honor” on the title and the blurb, and then used English spelling–including “honour” in the book itself. Very odd indeed. (plus the year is wrong, the book is set in 1750) Bad Carina, no biscuit.

I had to have some niggles, after all, because there’s not much else to niggle about here. Lovers of Alex’s writing–whether you like it for the mile deep descriptions, conflicted officers, multi-faceted characters–it’s all here.

Conrad is, as most people were, god-fearing and believing in concepts of immortal souls and all that jazz. He’s been humming and hah-ing about letting his manservant (horrors!) Tom know that he finds him quite delightful for many years and it takes a big sea battle for his feelings to surface–much to the chagrin of the captain and the amusement of his crew (leading to a subsequent lack of respect.) The irony is that he’s already been suspected of the crime–suspected and judged by his shipmates–and he hasn’t actually done anything. Stung by the injustice, and in danger of having Tom forcible separated from him by the captain, Conrad decides he’d rather be hung for a sheep than a lamb e.g. he might as well do the deed, if he’s already assumed to have done so. Better a short life but a merry one, as it were. Or, as he puts it should he:

“…save his heart and lose his soul? Or save his soul and lose his heart? “

The book is–I think–told entirely from the 3rd person viewpoint of Conrad, and although that felt right for the length of the book, it meant we did get a little shortchanged with getting to know Tom. All we had to go on was Conrad’s perceptions of what Tom thought and felt.  This actually pays off nicely at Tom’s reaction at the climax of the book, so I can see why this device was used, but it still leaves Tom as a little bit of an enigma in these days of dual pov books.

As usual, Ms Beecroft’s prose stuns with its seemingly effortless phrasing. Some of the descriptions are so beautiful I felt like giving up writing forever, but then her writing always makes me feel like that. She manages sometimes to mix descriptive words that are so wrong, but in her hands they feel entirely right. It’s a real gift.

Sex-wise, I think this is probably the smuttiest book that Alex has ever written, as she leans towards the more veiled sex scene as a rule, but the sex here is postively coarse (but great!). To quote one of the judges on Strictly Come Dancing “It was filthy and I loved it!”

I did feel the book was a little short, but I’m not going to mark it down for that, it was written deliberately as a novella and you can’t squeeze a quart into a pint pot. With the word count that she has, Ms Beecroft has done marvelously, and her naval descriptions — as always — are first class. There’s a bit that actually made me feel sick (sea-sick, that is) with a fantastic section where the protagonists are in their cabin and the ship is literally rolling and pitching on near enough a 90 degree angle – the floor becomes the wall and then goes all the way back. The casual way the experienced sailors deal with this, holding fast to the lines of the hammock — and each other — shows skill to portray without being confusing. It was so well done that I could feel every gravitational pull–and consequently felt rather queasy. It amused me how much more realistic it was done well in prose, than on the USS Enterprise, where everyone just leans from one side to another!

If you haven’t encountered Alex Beecroft’s longer works, particularly the Age of Sail novels (False Colors, Captain’s Surrender) then this is an excellent introduction to her remarkable talent at a reasonable price.

Amazon UK   Amazon USA

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Home Fires Burning by Charlie Cochrane

Two stories, two couples, two eras, timeless emotions. 

“This Ground Which Was Secured At Great Expense”

It is 1914 and The Great War is underway. When the call to arms comes, Nicholas Southwell won’t be found hanging back. It’s a pity he can’t be so decisive when it comes to letting his estate manager Paul Haskell know what he feels before he has to leave for the front line. In the trenches Nicholas meets a fellow officer, Phillip Taylor, who takes him into the unclaimed territory of physical love. Which one will he choose, if he’s allowed the choice?

“The Case of the Overprotective Ass”

Stars of the silver screen Alasdair Hamilton and Toby Bowe are wowing the post WWII audiences with their depictions of Holmes and Watson. When they are asked by a friend to investigate a mysterious disappearance, they jump at the chance—surely detection can’t be that hard? But a series of threatening letters—and an unwanted suitor—make real life very different from the movies. 

Review by Erastes

Let me say up front that I thoroughly enjoyed both books, as I expected I would. I just didn’t enjoy the overall experience as much as I thought I would.

The trouble for me came with the stark differences in tone. I can see possibly why this was done, to offer some light relief in the second story to compensate for the pain of reading the first one, but I found the disconnect a little too much. The light frothy feel of the second book seemed to lessen the really true impact of the first, and that was a shame. I wish I had read them the other way around.

This Ground Which Was Secured At Great Expense

You can usually assume that any book dealing with the Great War is going to be a harrowing story, unless the writer doesn’t do their job properly and this one is no exception. Don’t be put off–this deals as lightly as it can with the actual job of soldiering in the trenches, and while there is description of the environments and atmosphere of that time, it won’t make you go cold in sheer horror as some books have done.

One thing that struck me as I was reading was the way that Cochrane’s writing has evolved over the years that I’ve been reading her. She could always write a good yarn and she’s always been on my list of Must Reads but this book shines for me as the best thing she’s ever done.

She doesn’t take the easy option with this book–e.g. that of one man meeting another, having conflict in the war, and despite all odds coming through to find his true love. That, married to the wonderful writing, would have been sufficient–but (and forgive me if I’m wrong here) Cochrane for the first time decides to explore some flawed characters. In fact, this darkness had begun to creep into the Cambridge Fellows series towards the end, and that’s what made it fascinating for me, but Cochrane shows true strength of prose as she explores the love square, one must call it I suppose, between Nicholas, Paul, Phillip and Fergal.

The most touching moments for me were those between Nicholas and Phillip, and the way the story has them coming together (as it were) due to many reasons: war, anger with another, loneliness and just damned human need.

As you can see, there are too many people in the equation to have a realistic gay historical romance ending, so you’ll already realise that choices have to be made and something’s gotta give. I won’t spoil it, but it’s wrapped up very deftly, without cloying into saccharine sentiment and my eyes were moist, which is always a good ending for me.

Absolutely marvellous read–please do not miss this one. I can only hold my breath to see where Cochrane goes next.

The Case of the Over-Protective Ass

We are back on familiar ground here, as Ms Cochrane demonstates her skill at sleuthing. Our heroes, both stars of the silver screen, and protected as much as possible by their studio are in love and having a rather lovely affair, although as discreet as possible.  They are asked by a theatre impresario, to find his missing secretary and the game is afoot.

I quite liked Toby and Alasdair, but I didn’t warm to them the way I warmed to Orlando and Jonty from The Cambridge Fellows series, they seemed a bit too similar to the Fellows – not altogether surprising, I suppose, being two sets of homosexual sleuths deeply in love with a penchant for innuendo and double entendre. But I would have liked them to be more distinct from their Cambridge counterparts–to have voices more their own.

However, the story is engaging, with one mystery spilling into another and the progression of it is nicely handled with no sudden incomprehensible jumps as the reader is kept nicely informed of progress all the way. There was one glaring error I spotted, and that was Alasdair speaking of the Aunt’s will a couple of pages before said aunt and said will had even been discovered by Toby, but that was all. The editing slipped a little here and there, with a few missing punctuation marks, and the wrong homonym used at one point.

But as a piece of entertaining crime-solving fiction, I recommend it highly, the protagonists are amusing and sweet in turns, although the sex was a little over-stylised for me (compared with the more subtle and almost glossed over scenes in the first story) but the mystery rumbles along at a good pace never making the reader bored.  I could quite easily see these characters having their own series of books, but I hope that doesn’t happen and that Ms Cochrane investigates and develops the growing power of her writing as shown in “This Ground.”

It’s just that overall, I couldn’t gel the two stories together, I think I would have liked (as in Ginn Hale’s Wicked Gentlemen) two novellas relating to the same characters, or–if about two sets of people–two novellas more similar in tone. Not necessarily both about the Great War, but The Case of the Over Protective Ass didn’t have the impact it should have if it had been a readalone, because of the power and strength of the first story.

I liked both stories, but have to give “This Ground” a resounding five stars, as I couldn’t get it out of my head afterwards but “The Case of The Over Protective Ass” only gets a four. Overall, the duet of stories gets a 4½ and a highly recommended.

Buy at AllRomance ebooks    Amazon UK  Amazon USA

Review: Vagabond Heart by A J Llewellyn

Book one in the Pearl Harbor Series

Gay prostitute Tinder McCartney thought he had it made in WWII Honolulu…until true love and an attack on Pearl Harbor turned his life upside down.

Tinder McCartney is the only gay male prostitute working in Honolulu, Hawaii during World War II. Like the 200 female prostitutes who live and work on Hotel Street, he services the armed forces drifting in and out of the islands. His life and work are controlled by the local police, yet because the cops don’t think that there can be that many ‘depraved’ men wanting the comfort of another man, Tinder is not only busy, but often in danger.

Living by very strict rules enforced by the police, Tinder cannot own or drive a car or bicycle, can’t ride street cars or be seen in the company of other men. He can’t visit bars or restaurants or swim at Waikiki Beach. Savagely attacked by two men one night, he is rescued by a local businessman, Jason Qui, the son of a Chinese immigrant and a former New England missionary.

Jason is not Tinder’s usual type. But Jason offers to protect and house him. It seems like the ideal business arrangement until Tinder’s Vagabond Heart can no longer handle the arrangement… and then on December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbour is attacked, turning the entire world upside down.
Review: by Sally Davis
Cool blue cover that does the job pretty well in that the models conform to the characters in the book and there’s a battle ship and aircraft to boot. Neither of the boys look particularly happy but then neither are in particularly happy situations.
Tinder is the one most likely to invite sympathy. He has returned to Hawaii from San Francsico, abandoning his career as an architect, to attend the funeral of his beloved mother. His father is involved with a woman Tinder detests, who is intent upon destroying all Tinder’s childhood memories. Jobs are hard to come by and his father has no money to spare so Tinder has taken the only available job – a prostitute working for a highly-regulated, government sponsored establishment.
Tinder has a lot in common with Cinderella – the wicked stepmother, the soul-crushing job – and only lacks the handsome Prince. Enter Jason Qui who has spotted Tinder, made enquiries and books him for private sessions much longer than the house regulated three minutes including washing ‘equipment’.
Jason is rich, the head of a successful business, has the love of his family and it seems as though he should be happy enough. But it is time for him to marry and Jason has no taste at all for women. Tinder, however, he does favour and soon they are deeply in love with each other.
There’s more to the story than just a love affair. There is the day by day count down to the Pearl Harbour attack and it’s aftermath. There is also a subplot to do with Jason’s business, but the story focusses on the two protagonists. As one would expect with a story about prostitution there is a lot of sex but the short mechanical acts in the ‘house’ on Hotel Street are contrasted nicely with Tinder and Jason’s more elaborate love play.
I know very little about Hawaii or Pearl Harbour, and even less about the businesses on Hotel Street during World War Two. I know a lot more now, which is good in one way – I love to come away from a story about an unfamiliar period of history feeling that I’ll carry some information with me – but in others leads to me a fairly minor criticism. The author has clearly done huge amounts of research to get the background, locations, history, settings of the island as accurate as possible. I really appreciate seeing that an author has put this amount of effort into it, but from time to time the way it is presented is clunky – almost guidebookish – and it distracted me from the narrative. The big quibble – that one of the military endorsed brothels would have allowed a male prostitute to ply his trade – is dealt with in the prologue with a neat disclaimer.
This is the first story of a series, apparently, but can be read as a standalone.

Review: As Time Goes By by Anna Lee

In 1944, Matt Jackson, a wounded RAF pilot, ends up in the Royal Infirmary after his squadron is attacked. When he meets Doctor Trynt Andrews, both men’s lives are changed with the instant connection they feel for one another. Alone and injured, Matt is invited into Trynt’s home and they become inseparable, finding a love they thought they never would. As the year goes by, their commitment deepens despite having to keep their love a secret. When Matt is deployed and his plane goes down during battle will all be lost? Or will he make it home to Trynt?

Review by Erastes

Ok. Here’s the thing. When you know a fandom, it’s very difficult to read a book that’s obviously converted fanfic when it hasn’t been converted well enough to expunge all traces of the original canon.  I know how difficult this is–I used to write fanfic, and I have two novellas at least that I’m very proud of, but the work involved in making them entirely unrecognisable as to where they came from would be as hard work as writing something entirely new–so I haven’t done it.

And in this case–which is obviously Torchwood fanfic, it’s a shame, because the writing is decent enough to carry a story throughout.

But when you have an RAF Captain Matt (with an RAF greatcoat that becomes a sexual object in itself) who falls in love with a dark-haired, blue-eyed Welshman–now called Trynt–and then you have an assorted cast who are obviously name-changed versions of Torchwood’s cast: Gwen becomes Wynne, the gap-toothed Welsh nurse; Toshiko is now Kimioko,  Trynt’s room-mate etc etc–then I for one have difficulty reading it as an original story at all because I’m translating it back to fanfic in my head.

OK. Putting that aside, I couldn’t like this book at all. The writing is perfectly serviceable, no complaints there, but it’s just far too saccharine for my, and I’m guessing many people’s tastes.

Captain Matt wakes in a hospital after a terrible accident with his squadron where everyone has died, including his own lover and he almost immediately falls in love with his doctor, who of course, falls almost immediately back in love with him. The two men are femininely  sensitive to the point of hysteria, fall in love instantly and are touching, kissing, hugging and weeping on each other’s shoulders within a day of meeting. All this in a hospital in 1944…

There then follows half a book of their relationship building. This consists of Matt recovering–having moved in with Trynt and them having long girly talks, sleeping together but not actually doing anything. But there is a lot of talk and weeping. For the first 25% of the book one or other of them is just about crying on every page. It was ludicrously inconsistent with a doctor and a flight captain, and also was out of character for the fanfic counterparts.

Here’s just one sample of this overblown schmoopiness: (this conversation is happening during penetration while Matt rides Trynt’s cock)

“I know our love is strong enough to outlast whatever this war throws at us. And despite it, I promise I will do everything I can to make you happy and give you the life you want.”

“You already have, Matt.” Trynt began to thrust slowly as he held on to Matt. “All I want is a life with you. I want all the plans we just made.  And I won’t let anything stop us from having them; we’re going to build that life together. I know our love can overome whatever happens.”  He cupped Matt’s face in his hands, gazing into his stormy blue eyes. “And you’ll never be alone again. I’ll always be here for you, loving you with all my heart and making you happy. I didn’t know what true happiness or love was until you came along, now it all makes sense. You’re my whole word Matt and I couldn’t love you more. And I certainly couldn’t ask for anything more than to be here with you just this,” he admitted, then kissed Matt passionately, pouring all his feelings into the kiss.

“I love you too.” Matt slowly lifed himself up and then back down on Trynt’s cock. “Always, Trynt.”

“Always,” Trynt vowed.

This type of conversation goes on for pages, as does the sex which is very coy, to be honest. The author clearly has a problem with using more graphic terms, so there’s lots of “warm passages” and the like. The one that make me want to throw my Kindle against the wall was “essence” for sperm, and essence is used a lot. There’s much fanfic cliche too, the characters are always saying “Come for me” in fact they pretty much say it at every orgasm, and in fact the sex is quite repetitive although some might find it arousing.

As for an historical grounding, there is hardly any. We are told a war is going on, and Matt pops off in between injuries then comes back and “recovers” a bit more which involves sex, massages, wine(!), coffee(!), but you never get the atmosphere of London at war. Rationing is mentioned, but there’s no real impact of it in their day-to-day life.  They drink wine, and in one scene–in December–they eat lasagne and have strawberries for dessert. Words fail me. Where would they have got the strawberries from? Spain? I think the author lost control of her own timeline at this point, as she had them planning a picnic shortly afterwards.

1944 was a hugely important time in London’s war as the V2 rockets were fired at the city–look at this map here–but there’s no mention at all of any bombs, or indeed of anything much. I found this amazing, because the devstation was immense. Selfridges, Speakers Corner and Holborn was all bombed, but Trynt doesn’t seem to notice.

Matt’s involvement in the war is very confusing too. We are told he’s the captain of a squadron, and that he flies Spitfires, but we are also told that he leads bombing raids, and is also fighting on the ground with the infantry. In fact there’s so much wrong with the military details I’m not even going to discuss it.

Then there’s the OKHomo. Unsurprisingly really, seeing as this is converted Torchwood fic, but in 1944 London it’s absolutely mad. Everyone knows and just about everyone lurves the idea of it, understands it completely and the one person who doesn’t has something over him–blackmarket activity–which prevents him doing anything about it and he’s won over by the homo-love by the end anyway. The author makes a sop to having Matt and Trynt be careful in public but it’s purely pasted on, as their behaviour would be obvious to anyone.

And that’s about it, really. Conflict happens about 60% of the way through, which calls for a major crying jag from Trynt as the melodrama is plastered on with a trowel. The conflict lasts for about one chapter, though and the remaining 25% of the book is taken up with the inevitable HEA which loses a lot of its impact because how could they be any more soppy and romantic than they already have been almost on every page?

So, no. I didn’t like this book at all. It had just about every aspect of m/m that I dislike and layered it all up so thickly I felt like giving up.

IF you can handle the constant weeping, pages of declarations of love, long talky sex, constantly crying men on a wallpaper war background with decidedly shaky historical accuracy–and IF you don’t already know the Torchwood fanon, then you might like this. But I’m sorry, I didn’t.

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