Review: On a Lee Shore by Elin Gregory

“Give me a reason to let you live…”

Beached after losing his ship and crew, and with England finally at peace, Lt Christopher Penrose will take whatever work he can get. A valet? Why not? Escorting an elderly diplomat to the Leeward Islands seems like an easy job, but when their ship is boarded by pirates, Kit’s world is turned upside down. Forced aboard the pirate ship, Kit finds himself juggling his honor with his desire to stay alive among the crew, not to mention the alarming—yet enticing—captain, known as Le Griffe. 

Kit has always obeyed the rules, but as the pirates plunder their way across the Caribbean, he finds much to admire in their freedom. He deplores their lawlessness but is drawn to their way of life, and begins to think he might just have found a purpose. Dare he dream of finding love too? Or would loving a pirate take him too far down the road to ruin?

ebook  - 289 pages (approx)

Review by Alex Beecroft

 First Impressions

 I love the cover – all that gold and rigging and lovely ruffly shirts. A proper naval jacket immediately catches my eye, but the piratical scarf and the fact that that’s clearly not a naval ship (with those crows’ nests) already suggests an interesting conflict.

My initial impression that this was going to be a romance between Kit and his delightful fashionable friend Tristan. The two of them had such chemistry that I was quite sad when currently turned-ashore Lieutenant Kit got a job as an elderly gentleman’s valet and set sail for the Leeward Islands. But soon their small merchant vessel is attacked by pirates and Kit is taken captive aboard the Africa, captained by the gentleman pirate La Griffe (Griffin to his friends.)

Kit is gay, but he has all the ingrained prejudices and internalized homophobia appropriate to a naval officer, for whom sodomy is a hanging offence. I liked the fact that he did not experience a sudden inexplicable change of heart on simply seeing Griffin.

I also liked the fact that Griffin is a cut above some romance-novel-pirates, who would think nothing of a bit of dub- or even non-con. I really dislike the whole ‘irresistible alpha male semi-forces himself on other bloke, confident he will like it in the end, and of course he does’ trope. It’s one of the things that generally puts me off pirate novels – all that threat of rape. Fortunately Griffin is too proud to force himself on an unwilling partner, which means that instead we get a relationship of slowly developing respect between the two men.

Kit is put to work doing such things aboard the pirate sloop that he can be trusted to do without sabotaging the ship or damaging his own honour. This gives rise to another of the great joys of the book, which is the fact that even without the m/m romance element this is a wonderful Age of Sail novel. I would almost go so far as to say that it’s an Age of Sail novel with m/m romance elements rather than a m/m romance-novel with AoS elements.

Elin Gregory’s research is impeccable, her scenes of shipboard life are endlessly engaging, full of lively characters, great nautical battles and intrigues and raving sailing. Anyone who has enjoyed Master and Commander, or Hornblower, would enjoy this novel as a thoroughly entertaining bit of historical swashbuckling.

The romance is slow developing, but I think it’s all the more convincing for that. Both men have time to show their finer qualities, which in both their cases are fine indeed. They also have time to work through their issues, making the development of the love between them more easy to believe. By the end, when Griffin is betrayed by one of his own men, it’s just as easy for the reader to be on the edge of their seat with nerves about how he will ever come back as it is for Kit.

Speaking of swashbuckling, there’s something satisfyingly old school about the ending, where by old school I mean ‘reminds me of classic pirate films like Captain Blood’. It’s a delightful twist, completely unexpected at least by me, and yet properly foreshadowed early on, so that when it does happen you go ‘oh, so that’s why…!’

To sum up. I can’t actually think of anything bad to say about this, other than that the pace and emphasis of the story is more that of an Age of Sail novel than that of a romance. To me that makes the book all the better. Lots to read and get your teeth into as well as a proper pace for the psychological journey Kit has to go on. But those who prefer a more wham, bam, thank you man pace may find it a little slow going. My advice would be to relax and enjoy the ride, because what a ride it is.

Author’s Blog

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sin-five-star-read

Review: Beyond the Spanish Road by Annie Kaye

Javier is fulfilling his parents’ wishes by serving as a soldier in the Spanish army—a duty that will take the young swordsman far from his beloved home and family to a planned invasion of England. In France, his unit awaits the arrival of the Armada, and it is there, near the shore of the English Channel, that Javier meets Gaspard, a local merchant who has the face of an angel.

Long ago, when he realized he would never truly love a woman, Javier resolved to remain celibate. What sparks between him and Gaspard shakes that determination to the core, a love that grows until it will no longer be denied. But their situation is impossible: Gaspard is intent upon having an heir, while in Javier’s future, war looms closer every day.

Ebook only –  60 pages

Review by Erastes

I learned something with this little book – I’d never heard of the the Spanish Road, and I went to look it up and found it was a well travelled military route and the main way that Spain moved its troops from Spain to the Low Countries. Obviously they were at war with France a lot, so it was imperative to get out of the country, which only has one major border to mainland Europe quickly and in very large numbers. Sea travel was more impractical as it was slower than the Spanish Road, but also couldn’t carry the numbers that were needed. There, now you’ve learned something too.

The blurb pretty much sums up this little novella. Javier is a nice protagonist; rather naive to be honest but likable in a nice but dim way. I found it rather amusing that once he realised his attraction to men he decided to be celibate–No sex for me! Ever!–and then the first time he’s offered it on a plate the vow is dropped like the hottest of bricks and it’s la la la all the way to love and ejaculation.

The very very insta-love was a tad implausible, even more so because both parties remained passionately in love with each other for years without ever seeking out anyone else for a bit of ‘oh-la-la’ and I have to say that I found Gaspard’s rejection of Javier after their one night pretty amusing (for the wrong reasons) as I said out loud “typical man!”

The writing is good, fluid and the writer has a bent for romance. In fact, lovers of romance will probably like it a good deal, as it is very romantic with plenty of feelings and lots of weeping and super sex – even on a beach. But the details were too off for me to really let myself go, and I wanted more, to read about an era I knew little about. They are able to leave camp without permission just about any time, and the two lovers ride from Dunkirk to Calais overnight — seemingly cantering the whole way–which is ludicrous without killing the horses, it’s about 30 miles and the roads wouldn’t have been good. They make love all day on the beach somewhere, and don’t seem to have to worry about being overlooked. Today, perhaps that might be possible, but back then the English Channel would have been stuffed with boats and shipping and sailors were pretty observant and had spyglasses!

Then they galloped 30 miles back. Sigh.

I also couldn’t understand, why the fireships that the English sent to destroy the Armada, were seen in Dunkirk, when the Armada was said to  be in Calais! I would have thought that the English would have got as close as possible to the Armada before setting the fireships off, not left them to drift 30 miles where they could have beached or hit just ordinary shipping. The Spanish troops at Dunkirk were blocked by flyships, so perhaps that’s the confusion.

I won’t dwell on more inaccuracies because it’s clear that this book is really about the undying romance rather than the adventure, and that’s a bit of a shame, because the writing is good and I for one would really have appreciated more of the nitty-gritty details such as camp life (such as the reason why Spain was accepted in the Low Countries was that they paid for everything) and the journey from Spain itself. Instead of which it’s rather papered over in a hurry to get to Dunkirk and meet the object of Javier’s affection.

I also–like Gaspard–was surprised that Javier had remained in France for years and had never tried to see him. Which sort of left a lot of the Happy Ending to rely on coincidence and luck, but it was a happy one, so people will be satisfied.

Overall, it’s a wasted opportunity for the author to have really got her teeth into a subject that has never been tackled in gay historical fiction before–but it’s an enjoyable and highly romantic read so give it a go, I’d say.

Author’s Website

Buy at Dreamspinner Amazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: Lord and Master by H.C. Brown

Lord Reynold Wilton, fearing exposure after a public argument with his sex slave, Lord David Litchfield, leaves England for the Americas. On his return, he finds his delicious man in the hands of a brutal sadist. In a time when homosexuality is a hanging offense, Reynold must use every trick in the book to regain the possession and trust of his young lover.

Approx 150 pages – ebook only

Review by Erastes

I’m not a great fan of BDSM, and that’s partly because it does seem to be almost mandatory in gay Regencies these days, and partly because so many don’t know, care, or are bothered to know about BDSM, the way it works. Happily, though, HC Brown either knows the genre, or has researched it enough to convince. My heart sank with the first lines, which jumps straight into a caning scene, but it’s soon clear that this is pain and punishment being meted out in a way that’s beneficial (if that’s the right word!) and consensual to both parties.

Lord David has been abandoned by his Master because of his possessive behaviour, and has been left alone in London. Another Master has taken him on, bound him with his debts and claims a ten year contract with him. Sadly, this Master is a man given only to his own violent pleasure with no consideration for his sub, and worse, he’s sharing him with his equally violent friends. The plot revolves around how Lord Reynold saves David from the brutal Lord Hale.

Although I enjoyed the story, I found that I couldn’t engage with anyone except the wet-lettuce Lord David. I didn’t really understand why the man stayed with an abusive sexual partner, but then I have about as much submissive in my soul as a rock. If he broke his contract–Hale could hardly come out and “out” David to the police, without incriminating himself. He had no fortune, being a 3rd son, so if he was disinherited it would hardly make much difference.

But it was Lord Reynold I didn’t like the most–closely followed by his good chum Lord John.

Reynold staggered me. He purports to be in love with David (who for some reason he continues to think of as an innocent) and when he rescues David the first time, David is traumatised, broken and clearly says he doesn’t want any contact–and what does Reynold do?  He says “I don’t want to fuck you, I just want to love you” and proceeds to suck off, masturbate and satisfy himself on David’s inert body. Then when David reiterates his wishes, saying he’s lost all trust in any master, all Reynold can do is whine that David has rejected his “love.” It didn’t endear me to him at all. David asks for their relationship to be exclusive, and that he needs to trust Reynold once again, and the first thing Reynold does is to shag Lord John and tell David.

Then there’s the attitude to women. Granted, I know that women were not exactly equals in the 18th century, but I don’t like every character in the book, including fathers and prospective husbands treating them and speaking of them as though they were rubbish. Both Reynold and John go through a lengthy and rather unnecessarily detailed “courtship” of two ruined socialites who they intend to marry and raise their by-blows as their own. Women are universally referred to as “chits” which really applies more to children, but overall there is no respect shown for women which put me off the main characters greatly.

What’s really wrong with this book, though, is the editing-which is just appalling. I’m surprised because Noble Romance usually produce more tightly edited books. The amount of errors left in the book are quite inexcusable for a publisher of the size of Noble. Homonyms misused (discreet/discrete for one), misspellings throughout (The Tattler, Blackfrier’s Bridge) and comma abuse which had to be bad, because even I noticed it. There’s a Duke who changes into a Baron and then back to a Duke in one short scene, and constant references to “sadists” which of course was impossible for at least another hundred years. It’s a shame because it kept pulling me out of what was generally a quite engaging book.

The descriptive passages are well done, however, and the dialogue, in the main, tries hard to be Not Modern and succeeds pretty nicely. The sex scenes are well-written and intense, and although they didn’t float my boat, I’m sure people who enjoy flogging and restraint and all that will enjoy them. I could have done with less of the rape scenes, to be honest, however lightly they were described, they were described. As I said at the top, Brown seems to know about–and indeed, according to her website, specialises in–BDSM erotic romance so as far as I can tell she gets the mindset right. However, it was an enjoyable read, despite my issues with it. A better edit would probably have upped the mark by a half point, though.

Author’s website

Buy at Noble RomanceAmazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: His Heart’s Obsession by Alex Beecroft

Kingston, Jamaica, 1752

Robert Hughes, a lieutenant–and rogue–in the British Royal Navy, is in love with his gorgeous fellow officer, Hal Morgan. Hal only has eyes for their captain–a man who’ll never share their inclinations. Night after night aboard the Swiftsure, it kills Robert to listen to Hal’s erotic dreams of a man he can’t possibly have. Determined to protect his friend, Robert stages a seduction.

But Hal demands proof of love before he will submit to the rakish Robert.

Mission accepted. After all, how hard could it be to show what’s inside his heart? Yet Robert’s move to claim Hal’s love leads to the threat of exposure, and mortal danger from the French. Will a heart obsessed ever accept defeat?

Review by Sal Davis

Isn’t that a gorgeous cover? Sunlit ship and compass rose and the tenderness of that pressure of nose and chin on the nape of the neck. No cannon fire, no flashing cutlasses and a pretty good indication of the content.

This is the most obviously romantic of the author’s stories. It is about love – unrequited aching passion that drains souls of joy and makes every waking moment a torment.

Hal Morgan adores the captain of the Swiftsure but William Hamilton only views him as a most trusted friend and subordinate and, to add insult to injury, consults Hal about the best way to court a girl! Hal suffers for his love – OMG how he suffers – little knowing that there is another man in the next cabin just desperate to show him a good time.

That man is Robert Hughes, a landlubber promoted over Hal’s head, a practical joker and an unashamed voyeur. When first seen – peering through a hole he has made in the partition wall between the two cabins so he can evesdrop and observe Hal’s wet dreams – Robert comes across as unpleasantly creepy but then Hal’s self indulgent moanings over the oblivious Captain Hamilton are a bit creepy too and last a lot longer.

I’ll be honest – it didn’t take me very long before I wanted to give Hal a damned good smack and tell him to man up. I was rooting for Robert for most of the book especially when he came to the decision that the only way to win Hal was to show him that he could take their shared profession seriously. I also really liked Captain Hamilton, who came over as a decent, god fearing, naval professional.

I enjoyed the story and, as usual, was blown away by the language, clear and precise yet somehow luxuriant. The historical details were nicely presented, not so much as to make me feel educated but enough to place the action firmly within its period. I wish we had been shown a bit more of Robert’s change in attitude to his profession and I was looking forward to a bit more shipboard heroism than I got, BUT the novella is designed to be a romance and I don’t think any romance reader will find anything to criticise as the two young men arrive at their accommodation.

Buy at Carina

Review: Solemn Contract by Morgan Cheshire

Solemn Contract

Connecticut, 1720: In an attempt to give his family financial security, school master Jem Bradley hires himself out as an indentured servant – and thus begins an odyssey which will take him to the small settlement of Kennet and a burgeoning friendship with enigmatic blacksmith Will Middleton.

Trouble is never far away, however, and when Jem is accused of committing a bloody murder his future begins to look very bleak indeed…

49,000 words/226 pages

Review by Michael Joseph

James ‘Jem’ Bradley would do anything for his sister Meg. She’s the only family he has after the two of them left their family in old England and immigrated to pre-revolutionary New England. They left over their father’s objections to Meg’s plan to marry Neil Iveson, and it seems daddy may have been right. Neil has taken all of their money, and borrowed more, to invest in a failed get-rich-quick scheme. Now the creditors are knocking at the door and threatening to send Neil to debtor’s prison. With two children to support, there’s no way Meg could survive on her own without Neil. The only way out seems to be for Jem to sell himself into indentured service for five years to pay off the debt.

Jem finds his indenture through one of the owners of the shipping company where Neil works, Amos Tanner, who is looking for a worker for one of the other farmers, Dan Wallace, in the inland settlement of Kennet. Although Tanner negotiates the indenture for Wallace, he sets his own sights on Bradley. Tanner, the father of two sons, has ‘unnatural desires’ as they put it, and Jem flames his desire like no-one else has for years. Tanner escorts Jem back to Kennet and turns him over to Wallace.

Dan Wallace is a lonely and somewhat bitter man. His wife and children were killed by Indians many years ago, and since then the man has grown gruff and demanding. Lacking much experience, Jem at first seems to be in a very uncomfortable position, but his eagerness to learn and his gentle nature soon has Wallace warming to him, and the two men settle into a close relationship almost like father and son.

It can’t last, and one day Tanner returns, demanding that he needs Jem to work on his own farm. Tanner is an important man around Kennet, and he holds the mortgage on Wallace’s farm. Wallace has no choice but to sign over Jem’s indenture to Tanner. The greedy Tanner soon makes it clear why he really wants Jem, and to increase his hold over the young man, he tells him that he has bought up all of Neil’s markers. If Jem doesn’t cooperate, Neil will be sent to prison and Meg and the children will be out on the street.

Tanner bides his time for a little while, but when he finally makes a move on Jem, the young man strikes out at him. Seeing the altercation, but not knowing the reason, Tanner’s two sons come to his aid. With the help of his sons, Tanner beats Jem severely. Only the timely arrival of the town blacksmith Will Middleton prevents it from going further. Middleton takes Jem back to his own place, where he calls on Doctor Powell to see to the young man.

Without even knowing the reason for the altercation, Middleton is dead-set against Jem returning to Tanner to work, even with the indenture. Jem doesn’t tell Will what else Tanner holds over him, or why. As Jem begins to heal, a solution is hit upon when Middleton finds out that Jem was a teacher before entering into his indenture. The town needs a teacher, so Will resolves to purchase Jem’s contract and put him to work in the school. Much to Jem’s surprise and relief, Middleton and Powell convince Tanner to part with the indenture.

Jem settles down into the happy role of teacher for a while, but then news comes that Tanner has been killed, with an ax, and Jem was seen in the area with an ax at the time. At the hearing to determine if there’s a case for Jem to answer, the man he was cutting wood with in the forest comes forward to provide his alibi, but not before one of Tanner’s sons accuses Jem of having made unwanted advances to his father. Everyone in town knows about Tanner’s beating of Jem, but nobody had known the reason for it.

With his alibi, Jem is released but his reputation is in ruins after the false allegation of Tanner’s son Virgil. It isn’t long, of course, before the school board dismisses him, and once again he’s left with no occupation. Jem thinks it would be best if he left Kennet, but Will won’t let him go and holds the indenture over his head to keep him around. Middleton’s obstinacy seems unreasonable to Jem, who feels that the longer he stays, the more Will’s reputation will be harmed. But it both men had an epiphany during the ordeal of the hearing. They’ve realized that they love each other, although each is afraid to do anything about it for fear of what the other will think.

I was quite pleasantly surprised by Solemn Contract. The plot kept me guessing, which is always good. Every time I thought it was heading into familiar territory, it veered off in a different direction. I wouldn’t say it was unique, but it avoids a lot of clichés. The main character Jem remains sexually ambiguous for more than half the book, which adds to the mystery about where the story is heading. The plot is complemented by a writing style that flows easily. The author has thankfully eschewed any attempt at trying to render early eighteenth century speech, and delivers both the dialog and narrative in simple modern English which somehow manages not to seem out of place.

The story is not without a few flaws, although they are rather minor. The first is Jem’s alibi for the murder of Tanner. The man who provides it, Zeb, is never mentioned until Jem is taken into custody. I literally had to stop and think, “Zeb? Who’s Zeb?” when Jem suggests that he can provide an alibi. Zeb makes his appearance at the hearing only after all the damage is done, and then promptly disappears again. He’s only mentioned once more in passing a few pages later. It all seemed rather odd, like a last-minute contrivance by the author that wasn’t fully fleshed out. The entire circumstances of the alibi come as a surprise. It seems like they could have been set up better.

The other issue is with Jem’s sister Meg and her family. Remember, he cares about her so much that he has sold himself into indenture to make sure her husband is kept out of prison. He writes to her when he is working for Wallace, and even mentions some irregular communication while he is at Tanner’s, but after he’s beaten, there’s no further mention of any letters. Even after Middleton wrests the indenture away from Tanner, we still don’t hear anything more about Meg and Neil. If Amos Tanner was telling the truth about buying up Neil’s debt, then his vindictive son Virgil might well have sent Jem’s brother-in-law to prison, yet the whole question is left hanging. Even when Jem wants to leave Kennet, there’s no mention that he might return to his family and his old life. The whole reason he’s there in the first place is almost completely forgotten.

Even with the flaws, I found Solemn Contract a rather enjoyable read. While the characters and the plot are not entirely unfamiliar, they’re put together in a way that at least seems fresh. A solid four star read.

You can find out more about Morgan Cheshire at her blog.

Solemn Contract may be purchased from Manifold Press |

Review: Undefeated Love by John Simpson

Can love survive the horrors of a dictatorship and a concentration camp?

Two young men fall in love just as the Nazi Party is coming into power in Germany. One man is talked into becoming involved with the S.A., and then the SS while his lover looks on horrified. When their love is discovered, both men become the victims of the institution that one of them helped protect.

224 pages, ebook and paperback

Review by Erastes

There’s one major thing that should be key when one reads a book, and particularly a romance: one should care about the protagonists. Even if they are anti-heroes, you should care about them in some way.

Sadly this book falls short of doing that in rather a spectacular fashion by having a two-dimensional guy joining the SA (Sturmabteilung “Storm Division”) and then the SS (Schutzstaffel “Protection Squadron”) because he didn’t like to say no. Then of course he realises how fabulous he looks in his uniforms and he’s totally on board as a card-carrying member of the Nazi Party. In no time at all, he’s causing the deaths of 300 so-called-communists just because one of them demoted his lover from an “important” machine to one that just made drills. Overkill, much?  (He thinks to himself that he’s “not really a Nazi” but erm, sorry – yes, Kurt you are. You bought the uniform (or had them given to you as a present), you joined the party, you wore the jackboots.

I’m appreciative that he might have been afraid as to what might happen to him, but as there’s no actual context to give us that perspective i.e. we aren’t told about any of the gradual and terrible changes happening in Berlin, the things that would have made him scared to say no to Röhm, a powerful leader of the SA, (Simpson oddly spells this without the umlaut, and the editor missed this too, but more on the editing later) but other than the SA were “brawling in the streets” we aren’t told why Kurt is so petrified of saying no.

I’m afraid Kurt lost ALL respect for me the first time he used the excuse “I was only following orders.” He behaves like a schizophrenic, one minute holding his pistol to the head of men and threatening to blow their brains out (for gossiping about him in the bathroom as to whether he was Röhm’s lover, despite him knowing that’s what they’d think) and the next he’s charging about saving lives. But there’s no connect there, we are told that he’s scared, he’s happy, he’s mad about the uniform, but we aren’t shown these things happening. Add to that some very serious head-hopping–we can leap into four or five points of view in one small scene–and I found myself having to force myself to read on.

Editing was a real problem, the editor is credited in the book, or I’d wonder whether it had been edited at all. Subject confusion was one of the biggest issues such as:

“he was holding a cigarette holder with a lit cigarette” 

which is a good trick, if you can manage it.

or

he stared back into Stefan’s eyes, long and hard.

And some of it just doesn’t make any sense, as if it’s been translated

The show went on for just over two hours. When it was over and nobody was feeling any pain…

or

No one had the slightest guess as to who Kurt’s dance partner was

and so on. Too many to list. I suppose I thought Total-ebound would be better at this stuff, being British, but clearly not.

The timeline is shaky, too. First of all, the book begins in 1929 and at the time, Röhm was in Bolivia–he didn’t return to Berlin until 1930 and didn’t take up his position as head of the SA until January 1931. Simpson brushes this aside, and in January 1931, Kurt has already moved from the SA to the SS as part of Hitler’s bodyguard. The errors ramble on, Röhm was shot by Lippert, not Eicke, The concentration camp section has continuity problems too, as they are arrested in 1934, get out in 1939, but we are told they were in the camp for two years! minute they were in there for four, perhaps five years, but they tell each other they’ve only been in for two. The major hurdle being that the concentration camp mentioned didn’t even come into being until 1936 – two years after Kurt and Stefan were put there.

I’m sad to say that the historical inaccuracies pile up until the last page.

The trouble is when you find this level of inaccuracy, you start to doubt everything and you find so much more wrong than you originally suspected. Things like the names of a plane, slipped in when Kurt travels to Munich, I looked up and found that they didn’t start manufacturing that type of plane until 1932. And the name of the plane is a Junkers Ju52 NOT a Junker Ju52. Why mention the plane at all if you don’t research it? It looks sloppy that you can’t even get the name right. I would expect any editor to check this kind of detail too–in this day and age you don’t need to be a historian to use Google, and “epublishers simply don’t have the time” or “why bother when an ebook will be forgotten in six months time” doesn’t cut it. Have pride in your product, or don’t produce it.

There is a plot here, and if I could care about either of the protagonists it would be an interesting plot–it follows the demise of the SA, the rise of the SS and the implementation of paragraph 175 (anti-homosexual law) throughout Germany. The thing is that it simply didn’t emote. I think this is due to a preponderance of telling, not showing. We are told that someone is “visibly scared” or visibly shocked or visibly angry, instead of the prose showing us these emotions. When the writer wants to emphasize the love affair he simply has his guys telling each other how much they love each other and having mind blowing sex (yes, even within the concentration camp.) A better edit would have smoothed this out, made it more believable and eased the author into showing us more.

The concentration camp section won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, there’s a lot of beating, and some rape, even gang rape (even though Kurt consents, it’s still rape, despite the “dubious consent” label put on by the publisher.) But even this section is held at arms length. I know that not everyone wants to read the worst of human experience, but if you are choosing a concentration camp as a setting for a romance, you cannot go prettying it up. Kurt turns into a veritable Mary-Sue here, saving Stefan (who seems to exist merely to nag, weep, suck cock, or to be saved) and their final journey is achieved – with just the two of them getting all the gear (uniform, money, forged letter of carte blanche from Hitler which of course everyone falls for, and ID papers) they need with no problems at all – with such ease it’s almost unbelievable. All I could see in my mind was the film “Bent” and the stellar and harrowing story told there, compared with this almost Disney version of the Great Escape with a happier ending.

There’s so little emotion in this book (other than the random outpouring of love between the protagonists), that it was so hard for me to warm to it. There’s no emotional fallout from the things that they have experienced and seen, no sense of loss for their friends (if any, it’s never mentioned) No details of the changes to their way of life (they continue to live together and sleep together and go snogging in public) no mention of the Jews – and the men come through to their happy ending with nary an emotional scar. Even the author’s note – usually the place where the author acknowledges their research, confirms that certain things happened, etc – is amusing as Simpson tries to convince us that Kurt’s defection and subsequent debriefing made a big difference to the war effort. I found this very odd–it would have been better in an epilogue, perhaps.

I suppose the main reason that I’m so disappointed with this book is that Simpson clearly has a flair for story telling, but there are so many obstacles that mar the path to him doing it really well, despite him obviously selling books. When I look back at the books of his that I’ve reviewed I say the same things every time, shoddy research, telling vs showing, head-hopping.  These are are solvable issues, and I hope that he finds an editor who can really help him mould his work into something to be proud of in the future.

I like the cover a lot.

Buy at Total eboundAmazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: Unspoken by R.A. Padmos

Stefan is a working-class man – or would be, if there was any work! – when he meets Adri and they begin an affair. Married with children, Stefan resists this development in a society where homosexuality is legal but scarcely tolerated. Nor does he understand when Adri warns him about the territorial ambitions of Hitler’s Germany, which their country will be unable to oppose. In a daily battle against guilt, poverty and other, more tangible enemies, Stefan and Adri struggle to hold on to a love which should never have existed at all – but which may be the only thing helping them to survive.

58,000 words/220 pages

Review by Michael Joseph

“Unspoken” is told from the point of view of Stefan, a 30-something working class man in a small-ish Dutch town. He is married with three children as the book opens, and if you asked him, he would probably say he’s happy, except for the problem of finding work to provide for his family in the middle of the depression. Stefan has done what was expected of him; he got married to a good woman, fathered children, and does whatever work he can find to put food on the table for them. He doesn’t know any better.

Then, one day in the dole queue, Stefan meets Adri, and it changes everything, or nothing. Stefan doesn’t understand his feelings at first, and Adri for his part takes things slowly. Unlike Stefan, Adri has always known that he prefers the company of men, and only men. His stepfather threw him out on the street when Adri’s predilections became clear, and he’s managed to survive thanks to the mentoring of other men like him.

Adri bides his time in part because he’s waiting until he’s 21 and completely legal. When he tries for his first kiss, Stefan is shocked, but not reviled. He’s confused by his feelings, as he remains for the entire book, which spans ten years of their relationship. Stefan is steadfastly loyal to his family, even though it’s obvious that his wife Marije’s feelings for him are no stronger than his for her, but his desire for Adri knows no reason and he can’t help but be drawn to the younger man.

You know those Bergman-inspired films of the 1960s, or even the parodies of them? You know, the ones where people just sit around, smoking cigarettes and talking? Sometimes the talk gets quite emotional, but in the end nothing actually happens. Well, that’s the feeling I had for much of this book. There’s a lot of angst from Stefan, as he’s torn between the duty to his family that his upbringing tells him is expected from a man, and his true love for Adri.

The younger Adri is a bit more worldly than Stefan, and he’s the one that initiates many of the discussions about what’s going on around them, such as Hitler’s rise in Germany. It’s also from Adri that we get lamentations about how homosexuals are second-class citizens who can’t, for example, get married. The discussions reflect the current debate over gay marriage. Now, the idea of two depression-era men discussing the merits of gay marriage in itself seems a bit unrealistic. These men have much bigger problems facing them. But, in a way, that’s almost beside the point. What struck me was that there was nothing new here. It’s still the same argument, and sending it back in time 75 years doesn’t change anything, and in the context it even comes off as a bit wingeing. As the discussions went on I began to wonder if the author really had anything to say, and with all the talking going on I started to think that the title, “Unspoken”, was some kind of joke I didn’t get.

Like those films I was talking about, “Unspoken” is told in a coldly objective, almost documentary-like tone that puts an emotional distance between the reader and the characters. Their drama is played out in front of us with a rather dispassionate voice. Not that there’s really much drama. The relationship has its ups and downs, as there are arguments and disagreements, and Stefan tries more than once to quit Adri, but it seems like they’re never put to the test, even though there are lots of opportunities. Early on, when a policeman catches them snogging in the park, they’re ‘invited’ down to the police station. But once they confirm Adri is of-age and ‘willing’ they let Stefan off with a slap on the wrist rather than charging him with public indecency. Likewise, when Germany invades and the two men are called up to defend Holland, they’re separated briefly but within a few paragraphs they’re back together again. More opportunities for a little drama are missed as the story plods along through the occupation.

To be honest, this book was headed for a two or two-and-a-half star rating, but it rather redeemed itself in the end. Hopefully it’s not too much of a spoiler to disclose that the two men survive the war. The issue here is at what cost. There’s a telling scene near the end where Stefan is leaving the park where he and Adri used to meet. The Germans have lost the war, but haven’t quit the city yet. Stefan has come to the park in search of fuel for the fires to keep them warm. He has taken the last scraps of wood from the bench where he and Adri once sat. The park has been stripped bare of anything that can be burned, eaten or traded in people’s desperate attempts to stay alive until the allies come. It’s a powerful metaphor for Stefan’s own emotions, which have been drained away by years of despair and worry over how to keep his family safe, put food on the table, and what will happen to his lover.

Adri is not quite the same person either. The open and optimistic young bohemian worked for the Resistance, and survived by learning how to hide things, even from his beloved Stefan. He talks of moving away once the war is over, starting a new life somewhere else, where he might even meet a man that he doesn’t have to share with a wife and children. Both men have survived, somewhat against the odds, but it’s taken everything they had, and it’s not clear if they have anything left for each other.

This is a hard book to categorize, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes it hard to suggest who the audience might be. It’s hard to call it romance, given the angst-ridden nature of the main character. You certainly wouldn’t call it erotica. The descriptions of the men’s many sexual encounters are as quick and furtive as the encounters themselves. It’s decidedly un-erotic. As history, much of it rings true, aside from the rather ‘modern’ discussions about gay marriage, but here we run up against the question of what it all means. I couldn’t help thinking the author was trying to say something, but perhaps that’s what the unspoken part is.

In the end, I’ve decided to give “Unspoken” three stars.

Find our more about R. A. Padmos at her blog.

The book appears to be available only directly from Manifold Press

Review: The Absolutist by John Boyne

September 1919:20 year-old Tristan Sadler takes a train from London to Norwich to deliver some letters to Marian Bancroft, letters that she’d sent to her brother Will. Will and Tristan trained and fought together.

But the letters are not the real reason for Tristan’s visit. He holds a secret deep in his soul. One that he is desperate to unburden himself of to Marian, if he can only find the courage.

As they stroll through the streets of a city still coming to terms with the end of the war, he recalls his friendship with Will, from the training ground at Aldershot to the trenches of Northern France, and speaks of how the intensity of their friendship brought him from brief moments of happiness and self-discovery to long periods of despair and pain.

Review by Erastes

I’ve redacted a bit of the blurb because it gives away a major spoiler in the book, which is kept from the reader for almost half of the pages, so it seems a bit unnecessary to give it away so easily in the blurb. Cut for spoilers.

Continue reading

Review: Shadowboxing by Anne Barwell


Can physicist Kristopher and Resistance member Michel find love and safety in the middle of World War II?

Berlin, 1943. An encounter with an old friend leaves German physicist Dr. Kristopher Lehrer with doubts about his work. But when he confronts his superior, everything goes horribly wrong. Suddenly Kristopher and Michel, a member of the Resistance, are on the run, hunted for treason and a murder they did not commit. If they’re caught, Kristopher’s knowledge could be used to build a terrible weapon that could win the war.

When Michel contacts the Allies, hoping they can work together, it isn’t long before the so-called “simple” mission becomes anything but. With both men realizing they can no longer ignore their growing feelings for each other,

Kristopher and Michel must fight—not just for a chance of a future together, but for their very survival.

Ebook and Print 266 pages

Review by Sally Davies

Dr Kristopher Lehrer, young, naive and intent upon his work, has no conception of the destructive potential of his research. Since he’s a physicist I’m assuming that he is working on the German equivalent of the Manhattan Project, though I don’t believe it’s ever actually stated. When he finds out that he’s not, as he thought, contributing to the sum of human knowledge but helping to build a weapon he is outraged and distraught.

Kristopher is a bag of nerves, but his paranoia is with good reason. He is being followed! One of the guards at his place of work, Schmitz, is showing a lot of interest in him. Luckily, when Kristopher’s panic makes a terrible situation worse, Schmitz shows his true colours. His real name is Michel and he is a member of the French Resistance, who was in the right place at the right time and able to take on the identity of the real Schmitz, killed in a bombing raid. He has been at the facility for six months, learning what he can, and has been ordered to steal the plans to the project but Kristopher convinces him to steal Kristopher too. The plan is incomplete. Vital formuli exist only in Kristopher’s brain. As if this isn’t argument enough, Michel fancies the pants of Kristopher, an attraction that has been growing over his months in disguise.

They go on the run, pursued by Holm, head of security of the facility and his scary assistant Reiniger, and assisted by three very nicely drawn strong women, and members of the Berlin Resistance. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Berlin, the team that has been sent to retrieve and verify the plans have problems of their own. Put together in a hurry they comprise two Englishmen, neither of whom speak good German, a Chinese physicist not qualified for field work, an American of Japanese-American extraction fighting his attraction for another member of the team and the leader, Matt, who is a bit of a loose cannon due to pyschological baggage he can’t shake off.

This spy caper is a detailed and meticulously researched account of an extraction attempt that goes horribly wrong. The trouble that the author has gone to with her research is clear. Official ranks, street names, medical details, routes and travelling times are laid out admirably. I felt confident that what I was being shown was a good picture of the scenes and situations through which the characters move.

The author also details the thought processes of her characters. I found it particularly interesting to see Holm’s point of view, and his absolutely sincere and uncritical devotion to his country. But elsewhere this is where the book fell down a little for me. Each action is mulled over and thought out – sometimes in the middle of what could have been quite exciting action scenes – and there were times where I found my attention wandering and I had to go back and re-read sections, skipping the internal monologue, to get a clear picture of what had happened. But the people who will be reading mostly for the romantic relationships won’t be disappointed. Emotions run at a high note and Kristopher and Michel are very tender with each other. The other relationship that developed in the latter part of the book is handled quite differently, which is good because very different personalities are involved. It should be noted that sex scenes are either non-explicit or fade to black.

The story arc is very good with plenty of alarms and excursions and various point of view characters that allowed some tense cliffhangers. I didn’t find the ending satisfying, in fact it was very abrupt. But this lays the story open to a sequel where, I hope, characters and readers will get more of a sense of closure.

Author’s Livejournal

Buy at Dreamspinner | Amazon UK | Amazon USA (ebook and paperback)

Film Review: Victor/Victoria dir. Blake Edwards

In 1934 Paris, trained coloratura soprano Victoria Grant, a native Brit, can’t get a job as a singer and is having trouble making ends meet. She doesn’t even have enough money for the basics of food and shelter. Gay cabaret singer Carole ‘Toddy’ Todd may befall the same fate as Victoria as he was just fired from his singing gig at a second rate club named Chez Lui. To solve both their problems, Toddy comes up with what he considers an inspired idea: with Toddy as her manager, Victoria, pretending to be a man, get a job singing as a female impersonator. If they pull this scheme off, Toddy vows Victoria, as her male alter ego, will be the toast of Paris and as such be extremely wealthy…

Review by Erastes

I dare say there are few people reading this blog who haven’t already seen this film, but if you haven’t, get it on Netflix, rent a copy, or simply pop on over to Youtube and seek it out because you’ve missed out on a real treat.

I first saw this film years ago, after it had just been released on video, in about 1984. I didn’t have any interest (or so I thought) in gay fiction, gay history, at the time but I loved the film to pieces for its sheer ebullience and camposity.

It’s very cleverly filmed, to my mind. Blake Edwards, having just directed “10″ and “S.O.B” could probably have filmed the entire thing on location but he chose instead to build a mini portion of Paris as a set on the odd occasions that the characters have to be outside and dealt with the rest in restaurants, nightclubs and hotels. The sets he does build, though are gorgeous, dripping with Art Deco style and fixtures and fittings which would make any Art Deco fan’s mouth drool. Particularly Victor’s hotel bathroom.

The casting is bizarre but utterly inspired. Julie Andrews was still attempting to shake off Maria Von Trapp and had done so with some success in S.O.B. but I think that it was this film that gave her the space between Maria and the real world. She’s no character actor, that’s for sure, and she’ll always have the unmistakable and unique cut-glass spoken voice but it’s quite uncanny the way she can have her hair slicked back, put on a serious face, and even with more eyeshadow than Boots she’s suddenly a very attractive and androgynous youth.

I didn’t much fancy James Garner as King Marchand (I’d like to get hold of a copy of the 1995 made-for-TV-version which stars Andrews reprising her role but with Michael Nouri as Marchand to see what he makes of it. Garner played the bumbling Maverick and Rockford for too many years for me to find him convincing as a smouldering male romantic lead, but he does pretty well, and the confusion he’s feeling is managed perfectly with those Droopy-style eyebrows.

I wish he hadn’t found out conclusively that Victor was a woman before he decided to kiss her, but I can understand that for 1982 film audiences that would have been a kiss too far. It would have had the weight of “Nobody’s Perfect” that famous last line in “Some Like It Hot” if the studio had been brave enough to have Marchand say “I don’t care if you are a man” before he kisses Victor, whilst still being unsure as to whether he was or not.

The star of the show for me is Robert Preston who hams, camps and queens it up like the proverbial good ‘un, never seeming out of place or embarrassed but gleefully milking every joke and double-entendre for what they are worth. His final performance as Victor is a gem of film history and the giggling and general guffawing that is going on during it is–I’m sure–in no way faked. It really comes over as being a really fun day on the set.

Credit is also due to Lesley-Ann Warren who plays the dizzy blonde bombshell to a tee and a wonderful understated performance by Alex Karras as Marchand’s heavy.

Historically? Well, you have to take much of it with large handfuls of salt. Of course stage types and artistic types were–and are–often gay, but how outre Paris was about this at the time is probably exaggerated. Yes, there would have been clubs where men could go and dance together, but Toddy’s song “Gay Paree” is a bit of a puff even though what he describes is very true for the time. Gay was a word around from the early 20s, although more used for prostitutes of both the gay and straight persuasion. However, it’s a great song and we can forgive it for that.

It garnered a lot of attention, critically at the time, too. It had seven Oscar nominations, Andrews, Preston and Warren all being nominated but it “only” won one, that of Best Music. It did pick up a few Golden Globes and many other awards in 1983, though.

It’s a real feel-good film, with enough gentle humour and understated farce to make you giggle. Some of the humour is very slapstick, but in a Pink Panther kind of way–unsurprising as Edwards was responsible for the show and the films, too. Add to that outstanding performances by all concerned.  Don’t miss it. And if you have seen it, give yourself a treat and watch it again.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084865/

Review: Sail Away by Lee Rowan

Corrupt governments, divided loyalties,lovingly exchanged gifts, astral travel and sensual love; not to mention a sailors unwanted little lodgers are all combined in this charming and entertaining collection of short stories by Lee Rowan, plus an extra treat from Charlie Cochrane.

THE CAPTAINS COURTSHIP
Set in 18th century New England amid revolutionary rumblings, The Captains Courtship is a nicely written and well researched traditional romance.

Cynthia Lancaster is a well brought up English girl living with her father, Edward and her grandmother in New Jersey. Her father is eager for her to marry the unprepossessing Mr Humboldt. But when Cynthia meets the handsome and dashing Commander Paul Andrew Smith when he intervenes in an argument between Edward, a loyalist and and two staunch Patriots,she is immediately smitten.

Now, with the help of her grandmother, Cynthia must attempt to persuade her father that the commander would be a better match than Mr Humboldt.

SEE PARIS AND LIVE.
Christopher St.John, the young Baron Guilford is asked by his mother, the Dowager Baroness, to travel to Paris to supervise the safe delivery of her shipment of brandy. But France is embroiled in Revolution and dangerous ground for an English Aristocrat.

Once there however, Kit meets Zoe Colbert, an extremely pretty,if rather forward young woman who immediately invites an astounded Kit to bed. Events take a turn for the worse for Kit, however and his sojourn in Paris turns out to be longer than he anticipated.

CASTAWAY.
Forbidden love aboard His Majesty’s Frigate, Calypso. When Lieutenants David Archer and William Marshall are washed overboard during a fierce storm at sea, the two find themselves stranded on a desert island. Away from the prying eyes of their shipmates David and William are able to express their love for each other without fear of punishment and almost certain death.  And for a while at least they can live out their fantasies in this tropical paradise until help arrives.

ALL SOULS.
When David Archer is confronted by the apparition of the man whom his lover, William Marshall killed in a duel, he instinctively realises that his friend is in mortal danger. Together David and William must fight the strangest battle of their lives. Will the love they have for each other help them to survive the night, and beat this most deadly of enemies?

GIFT EXCHANGE,TOKEN OF AFFECTION,FORTUNES FAVORS,TOUCH.
Four short stories featuring Davy and William celebrating Christmas, Valentines Day, risking a  ‘quickie’ in a skiff and enjoying some shore leave… and much more besides.

Reviewed by Grace Roberts

I really enjoyed this collection of stories.Beautifully written and well researched, the author Lee Rowan has delivered once again with some classic romance and adventure set on the high seas, in the American colonies and in Paris during the ‘Terror’.

Two of the stories (The Captains Courtship & See Paris and Live) are M/F and the rest are M/M, but don’t let that put you off. I did find that a little disconcerting at first but the author writes in both genres so well, I was able to put aside my bias and enjoy them just as much as the M/M stories. And I love the book’s cover. Nice and clean and uncluttered, and no naked torsos.

Set in the pre revolutionary American colonies, The Captain’s Courtship is a very traditional romance with the requisite handsome hero and a heroine who, though no raving beauty, has attributes which far transcend mere physical attraction. A strong will for one thing, and a determination to marry the man she loves and not the man her father wishes her to wed. Here also is the ubiquitous wise old grandmama colluding with her grand-daughter in her ambition.

As I said, a very traditional romance and a very charming read.

The one quibble I had with the next story, See Paris And Live was the main female character.I just couldn’t take her seriously at all, and I didn’t like her. I tried, but it wasn’t to be. She came across as arrogant and manipulative, and I found the scene where she entices a not unwilling Kit into bed five minutes after meeting him slightly unbelievable.

Later in the story, she voices concerns about the loss of her virtue, and how it would affect her father. Hmm, one can’t help but feel she should have thought of that earlier. But perhaps it was a case, for her at least, of not knowing when she may end up riding in a tumbril to the guillotine, so live for the moment. But I didn’t like it and I found it mildly off-putting.

It’s a decent story with a good, solid plot and we even have Kit undergoing Trepan surgery after a skirmish with revolutionaries.

The next four stories Castaway, Gift Exchange, Fortunes Favors and Touch feature Lieutenants David Archer and his shipmate, friend and lover,William Marshall, the stars of Rowan’s Royal Navy Series.

Castaway has the two being swept overboard during a fierce storm and managing to stay afloat by clinging onto a chicken coop. Washed up on a desert island, the two men battle to suppress their feelings for each other with some slightly comical results. While one leaves the sleeping quarters,where they share a hammock, to supposedly relieve himself among the bushes, the other takes the opportunity of his friends absence to relieve himself in a different way. (His father once told him to do it privately or ignore it) Only later do we discover what Davy has really been up to in the shrubbery. They do eventually stop beating about the bush, ho hum, throw caution to the wind, and consummate their love. And with no threat of Article 29 to bother them and no one to witness the act, they have a lovely frolic on the beach. Very sweet, very sexy,a lovely story with a very surprising ending. I certainly didn’t see it coming, and you may need a hanky or two.

Gift Exchange begins with a charming and affectionate letter from Davy to his mother thanking her for her Christmas gift of a marzipan rabbit, underclothing and woollen stockings.

He shares his gifts with William, and in return,William gives Davy a gift he’ll never forget in a beautifully written scene of illicit passion which, because they are on board ship must be conducted in silence.Difficult for Will, not so much for Davy who’s mouth is er, busy elsewhere.

My favourite after Castaway was All Souls. The author has obviously researched the subject of Astral Travel very thoroughly and whether you believe in it or not, it makes this story a gripping read. Its the first time I’ve seen anyone mention the Silver Cord (the mystical cord which attaches the corporeal body to the spirit. A sort of umbilical cord) for many years. Writers rarely mention it in fiction or in reports of so-called actual occurrences of Astral Travel.  But it enables Davy to float from one deck of his ship to another just by the power of thought. Marvellous, this is a sea faring adventure with a difference. I loved it. And it has a very satisfying ending with love triumphing over adversity and avenging spirits.

Token of Affection and Fortunes Favors have our heroes once again exchanging cute little gifts for Valentines Day and taking a newly repaired skiff for a practice run, and in Token, there are plenty of Bottom puns from the two while discussing Shakespeare, and a mention of a ‘New little mid- Beecroft’ who could play Puck, and looks the part but has an unfortunate stutter. Oh dear!

The first sentences in Fortunes Favors raised my eyebrows a little with the ‘Carry On’ type double entendres. Upright Shafts and Wet Leather! But no, tis only our intrepid twosome rigging up a mast when, having risked a ‘quickie’ behind a tiny island in the Calypso’s newly repaired skiff they are caught in a sudden squall. There’s more talk of Yardarms with er rosy tips etc plus the lovely, vivid line, ['Their] love being no less sincere for being hasty; like a hummingbird hovering in flight to sip nectar’.

Touch blew me away with it’s lusciously sensual and highly evocative sex scene. Playful and raunchy without being smutty or crude, it’s erotica at it’s tasteful best,and is written with skill and finesse.

Finally, With All My Worldly Goods I Thee Endow-Including Livestock By Charlie Cochrane.

This extra little vignette is typically Charlie Cochrane. Her wit, humour and sense of fun abound in every sentence as Davy attempts to rid Will of some unwanted little visitors…..head lice. Great fun to read and is a lovely, jolly finale to a book which I enjoyed immensely. Eight cracking tales with plenty of action, adventure, love, lust and humour, Sail Away has something for everyone between it’s covers. Available from Amazon at £4:53 for the Kindle edition, it’s also available in paperback, (a bonus these days) for £8:99, which is a little pricey, but for this collection I reckon it’s well worth it.

Lee Rowan’s Website

Buy at Amazon UK,  Amazon USA

Review: Cross Bones (short story anthology)

Ahoy, me proud beauty, shiver me timbers! I ask ye to sail me jollyboat on the high seas, lubber, but will ye dare to accept? On offer be a pirate’s life full of danger and risk, and not just to yer neck, but to yer very virgin heart! There’s many a bodice to be ripped–or perhaps I should say many a codpiece to be snapped–and should ye be graced enough to cross bones with a corsair, don’t be an addlepate! Heave ho, lad, handsomely, and show him how ye bury yer treasure!

Pirates didn’t only sail the high seas in historical times. Modern-day renegades and futuristic rebels are just as ripe for adventure and plunder. No matter the time, place, or circumstances, bad boys steal affection as often as they salvage treasure, and in these stories of romance, a rogue’s black heart always conceals a center of gold.

Review by Sal Davis

This is one of the jolliest covers I have seen. Well done Catt Ford. Looking at it one knows EXACTLY what’s on offer – piratical passion, and that’s what the reader gets. Here are nine stories with an historical setting, 2 stories set in the present, 2 fantasies and 2 futuristic ‘piiiiirates in spaaaace’ romps, all of which are good fun too.

Captain Merric by Rebecca Cohen – Captain Daniel Horton risks losing more than his life when he falls into the hands of notorious Captain Merric, who is surprisingly familiar.

Touched by the West Wind by Ellen Holiday – The lyrical tale of Thomas’s love for Brendan.

The Golden Galleon by K.R. Foster – called in to work by his partner on his day off, restauranteur Flynn gets a surprise.

My Hand in Yours by Emily Moreton – pirate captain woos peace keeper in a world full of magic.

Ghost of Jupiter by Jana Denardo – space privateer Al is shocked to find his latest raid has netted him a collection of dangerous alien slaves.

Officer and a Gentleman Pirate by E.S. Douglas – the capture of pirate Rheinallt Jones causes a naval lieutenant a crisis of conscience.

Objectivity by K.J. Johnson – American journalist Matthew risks all to get a story about African pirates.

Worth the Price by Cornelia Grey – Lt Edward Moon, abandoned to pirates by his commanding officer, has to choose between loyalty to the Commodore he despises and the pirate he desires.

Peter and the Lost Boys by Juan Kenobi – Peter is drowning his job related sorrows in a cocktail bar when charismatic Kap offers a solution.

Irish Red by MJ O’Shea – Loving a pirate can so easily lead to heartbreak, as Chris, barman of The Dagger, discovers.

Black John by Piper Vaughn – Juan has to choose whether to declare himself or let his love go free when Jacob is returned to him by the sea.

Rough Trade by Cooper West – “Black market trader” Audacity Gunner, unofficial captain of the AI ship Carthage, has his already random lifestyle further disrupted by the embarkation of Dr Sagittarius Deifenbaker.

From a Simmer to a Burn by B. Snow – Sule Okonjo, ex-slave, hates the Dutch. Ship’s carpenter Olaf is Norwegian but that’s close enough to engage Sule’s fury.

On the Wings of Lir by Riley Shane – Hugh Edward, officer on one of Her Britannic Majesty’s airships, is determined to capture Patrick Kelly, airship pirate.

The Winds of Change by Maggie Lee – Theo Cook, pirate, is perpetually unfaithful to his mess mate Sebastiano. Then they ship out with Edward Teach and Theo suddenly has competition.

Good fun is what this selection of pirate stories is all about. But if you’re the sort of reader who demands pin-sharp historical accuracy before you can even begin to think about enjoying a book, you may not like this anthology. Some of the stories are much better than others in that respect but, as short stories, none of them have much time for world building. Some authors set the scene admirably but some have concentrated exclusively on the passion while hand-waving the historical/naval research. As a representation of generic pirate fiction the anthology is good – I enjoyed the rompy bits while greeting the more thoughtful stories with a cheer – but it’s not Patrick O’Brien.

Buy from Dreamspinner. (paperback and ebook)

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: Colonel’s Treasure by Dirk Hessian

Young Rob Winston is deemed too small of stature and unsoldierly to take his place in the military ranks of the American Revolution. All he is seen fit to do is to become the sexual comfort and treasure of Colonel Seth Hampton of the army of General Nicholas Herkiner in the Mohawk Valley campaign. With the help of the Indian subchieftain and scout Otetiani, however, Winston endeavors, by taking on the role of spy, to show that his talents in enticing the desires of men are more than enough to turn the tide of war. At war’s end, however, he must choose between his colonel, the Indian chief who has mastered him, or the runaway slave, Jeremiah, to whom Rob himself has become a slave.

Review by Erastes

A short review for a a short novella. At around 17,000 words this story follows Rob Winston has he tries to help America win the war of independence–on his back.

It’s an erotic novel, rather than a historical piece, even though it’s set in 1775 and onwards, there’s plenty of sex on the pages but it’s more geared towards porn than erotica. The story starts with a rape (although some, as Rob’s reactions soon turn from “no no!” to “more more!” might call it “dub-con”) and progresses to him becoming a male prostitute, then becoming a Colonel’s sex toy (with all his platoon knowing about it) to participating in a bogus Native American sex ritual of group sex of rape and bondage.

I can’t say I enjoyed the story much, because it was a real case of OK Homo, one of those cases where everyone–be it black slave, Native Americans, loyal Americans, dastardly British–instantly wants this odd little milksop of a short-arse weakling of Rob Winston. A young man who is so runty that he’s not even considered for a soldiery which I know included much younger boys than him. He’s desicribed as being skinny and pale-white in skin colour–despite the fact he often works shirtless in the anachronistically democratic slave fields of a neighbouring farm–so he didn’t come over as being appealing to me.

His motivations were rather clouded. He starts off saying how much he wants to help the cause, because as I say, he’s been turned down for proper solider work, but as he goes on, he’s thinking more about the sex he can have rather than any good he can do.  When he becomes the “Treasure” of the Colonel named in the title, he professes to be really in love with him, but later actions show that he doesn’t care a bit. He wants to be some (and I’m quoting directly) a sex slave to someone, but he walks away from someone who offers him just that. Also, when he’s having some of this sex (and some of it is quite distasteful, with BDSM that isn’t BDSM but simply someone damaging another person who’s only willing for spying purposes) the camera pulls out of his head and we have no indication of what he’s feeling other than the times he’s enjoying it.

Overall, mildly uncomfortable to read, not at all erotic, despite it being more a sex-manual than a book showing the American War of Independence.

Dirk Hessian is a pseudonym for the author “Habu” which is also a pen-name. I’m not sure why–when Habu already writes gay historicals, s/he needs a further penname for the same genre.

Author’s website

Amazon UK    Amazon USA

Review: Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

Baldwin’s haunting and controversial second novel is his most sustained treatment of sexuality, and a classic of gay literature. In a 1950s Paris swarming with expatriates and characterized by dangerous liaisons and hidden violence, an American finds himself unable to repress his impulses, despite his determination to live the conventional life he envisions for himself After meeting and proposing to a young woman, he falls into a lengthy affair with an Italian bartender and is confounded and tortured by his sexual identity as he oscillates between the two.

Examining the mystery of love and passion in an intensely imagined narrative, Baldwin creates a moving and complex story of death and desire that is revelatory in its insight.

Review by Erastes

Warning – spoilers ahoy.

I’m always a little trepidatious about doing a review of such a well-known and hugely reviewed book. I doubt there isn’t anything that hasn’t been said about it, and as such, my amateur ramblings aren’t scholarly, and aren’t deep and insightful. I avoided even reading the foreword, or any other reviews so I can try and put my views out there that aren’t influenced by anything else.

I’m reviewing it purely as a work of fiction—its historical significance is towering, of that there is no doubt, but the foreword (which I read after the book, as you should unless you want to be very spoiled) deals with that in enough detail and I don’t need to rehash it here.

The book begins clearly following a literary bent, written in the first person present tense and then slips into flashbacks of David’s life since he met Giovanni, written in the third person. However this does tend to slip from time to time and there are a few instances where Baldwin slips back in the present tense even within the past flashback which was a bit off-putting.

There are many places in so-called literary novels where sometimes I’m left feeling like I’m the simian left out in the cold, and not knowing whether this was a slip up or dazzling genius made me feel like that. If I’d been an editor, I’d have evened it out, that’s all.

There’s an over-use of French, too. I can speak a bare modicum of the language, enough to buy me train tickets, order a meal etc, but I don’t really need to have whole chunks, or even interspersed phrases of French bunged into a book. Editors have told me that it adds flavour—and I blow a raspberry at this.

They are in France. The people involved are American, French and Italian. They are all speaking French as a common language. This has been explained. I don’t then need words like quais (quays) hostelries (hotels) and many many phrases and words included. I had no idea what people were saying sometime, and I didn’t wish to break off reading to go and look. And as I read most of this out of range of a PC or a dictionary, I am still in the dark.

There is a point where Hella—David’s girlfriend—writes him a letter and that’s littered with French phrases. It works there, because she’s frankly as pretentious as David himself and it’s the way she should have written. But for David to think of words in French in his own thoughts, or for Giovanni to lapse into French when he’s already speaking it? Nom de nom! Imbecile! as Poirot would say.

There’s nothing wrong with the Americans being pretentious, by the way. This is the 50’s and the American abroad would have gone with mind-expanding experiences as much as possible—before returning to their suburban lives. Amply illustrated in Hollywood style in such films as Funny Face where Hepburn joins a group of free thinkerswho hang around in dark nightclubs and express themselves by wearing black and dancing to impossible jazz—and An American in Paris, where artists and performers live in garrets and not-quite-starve due to their allowances from back home.
I coudn’t like David. I wanted to—but (and this is another instance where I don’t know whether I’m barking up the right tree or not) I simply couldn’t. His self-loathing for his bisexuality, and his consequent deep seated loathing of everyone else around him tainted with homosexuality or bisexuality pissed me off. He was perfectly fine doing what he was doing in a foreign country as long as he could pretend it wasn’t happening. Even the pick up, when basically what happened was their eyes met across a crowded bar and they fell for each other like a ton of bricks was marred by David pretending la la la that nothing extraordinary was happening, while being secretly thrilled and disgusted that it was going to.

I can understand that revulsion, I really can. He had fears of becoming “unmanly” (probably because he father set such store on manliness—yes, that’s right, blame the parents!) and I can entirely understand that fear, that he knows he’ll have to return to the USA and will he have to forever be lusting after men, when he doesn’t want to?

In fact, along that line, I found it very interesting that there was such a parallel to how Hella sees her future life unless she finds a companion—the pensioned widows guzzling dry martinis and making eyes at anything in pants, to how David sees his life in the future: following any young boy into the darkness and forever lusting over younger and young men like Jacques does.

But I couldn’t forgive David for being quite as self-hating as he was. He knows he loves Giovanni, and he knows that he could be happy, but then again he knows he can’t be with him forever and he hates Giovanni for having “awoken” that side of his nature, a side he had squashed down for so long since his first and only other homosexual experience. He knows he can never send that part of himself to sleep again.

What really did annoy me about Baldwin’s David was his omiescient know-it-all-ness. He knew what Hella was feeling (although he wasn’t exactly an expert with women)—he knew exactly how his father must be feeling about his long absence in France despite the fact that they couldn’t talk to each other, had never had a proper conversation in their lives and he knew all about Giovanni’s light and darkness.
In fact this was alluded to so many times “a new sense of Giovanni, his private life and pain, and all that moved like a flood in him when we lay together at night” – but this isn’t ever explained. On the surface, we are shown Giovanni as being a modern bi-sexual, moving along from man to man to woman, not really caring a fig about the world’s opinion of him, and the David throws in sentences like the one above and I’m all “what? Where are you getting this? Or at least, if that’s true, how about sharing it with the reader?”

In David’s last scene with Giovanni we are shown some of this, so it’s a little confusing that David attributes his life of pain before he actually knew about it, but as I say, David seems to know everything about everyone.

I don’t know whether it is ironic that his father’s nickname for David is Butch. That could be a coincidence, or simply something that means more now than it did then. There’s also a discussion between David and a girl he picks up – to show his manliness—about stonewalls, which I assume is where the bar took its name.

One of the most telling sentences of the book for me was in the final argument between Giovanni and David, where David says “what kind of life can two men have together anyway?” and this sums the book up quite well. David thinks he’s after a certain kind of life, the American dream, the one with his “manhood intact” and he’s lying to himself over and over and over about everything. When he tells Hella that (by saying he loved her and wanted to marry her) he was not lying to her, but lying to himself, she says (sarcastically) “that makes everything different, of course.”  Goodfor you,Hella.

The only really jarring part that I simply Did Not Get was the sudden intrusion of GOD into the last section. David had shown no religious tendencies. I assumed that he was probably one of the milder American faiths—he’d not said anything else, although he certainly had the inbred guilt of the Catholic that Graham Green weeps in every line. Despite Giovanni obviously being Catholic, there was no mention of God and Church until right at the end—and we get this section:

“I move at last from the mirror and begin to cover that nakedness which I must hold sacred, though it be never so vile, which must be scoured perpetually with the salt of my life. I must believe, I must believe that the heavy grace of God, which has brought me to this place, is all that can carry me out of it.”

Do Not Get.

I will comment briefly on one aspect of the historical import—I am pleased that this was written by a black man. David is white, blond and isn’t poor. There was probably a shit storm by white and black alike that (shock!) a black man dared to write from the pov of a white man (as I say, I haven’t looked up any literary sources or learned reviews of this book, so I am only guessing going on what I would deem to be normal human prejudice and behaviour) but it resonates with me, as a white bisexual woman who has the temerity to write about gay men.

I’m giving this four and a half stars. It’s clearly an important book, both for gay fiction, and for gay history. It is beautifully written, even if David annoyed me beyond belief, it’s written from his own fucked up and muddled point of view and while I don’t agree with it, it is his mind that rebelling against itself. It’s an “essential read” – obviously – for anyone who wants to write gay historical, particularly in the post-war era of Europe or America. The historical significance actually pushes it up to four and a half stars, because I’d probably give it four had it been written by a contemporary writer.

In a way, this is a very contemporary book. Due to the very limited geographical scope the book explores: Paris cafe society, Giovanni’s Room, there are actually few markers which ground us to a particular time and place. Even the women who talk of sons lost during the war do not immediately tie us to the 50’s – if the cafe owner had said she had lost sons in the first Gulf war, it would not have seemed out of place. Technology is missing—no mobiles and they have no phones where they live, so that gives it away as not being of now than anything else, but read from a certain angle, it could be about modern times, and it’s sad really that David’s repression and self-loathing and longing for a normal life still abound.

No one said to him that “it gets better” because obviously it wasn’t going to get better for him. I don’t think he was ever going to be happy in his skin, and I feel desperately sorry for him. I wish he could have enjoyed what he had without destroying it for fear of a future that may not have happened.

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Review: A Strange Love by Georges Eekhoud

A very early gay novel, originally published in 1900, by a Belgian writer with the first English translation in 1908, set in 19th Century rural Flanders. A gay count returns after years abroad to an isolated uptight community where his love for a peasant boy brings furious attacks by fanatic and bigoted villages whipped up by the girl he spurned. The count’s gay education of his peasant boy includes the history of the boy-Emperor whose lover voluntarily joined him for beheading. This pioneer work of fiction was among the first novels to focus unapologetically on gay relationships and the author, a distinguished Belgian literary figure, faced legal prosecution for this book. Georges Eekhoud (1854-1927), a Belgian poet and novelist, became known as the editor of the Antwerp Precurseur, from which post he passed to the position of literary critic of the Etoile Belge.

Review by Erastes

I had to do a bit of research on this book, because it predates pretty much all of the gay fiction I know of, and I simply hadn’t heard of it, so I’ll talk about that before I do the review.

It was published in 1899. Eekhoud is the premier literary figure of the age in Belgium and very famous. He was well-known for his pieces describing peasant life, such as Campine. He wrote in French, and there is a free copy of the book–in French–on the Gutenburg website for those who might prefer to read it in the original. It was titled Escal-Vigor and I’m not sure how the title changed to A Strange Love. It–like many other books–was prosecuted in court but there was a literary swell of support, and Eekhoud was acquitted without a stain on his character. Shame more books didn’t get the same support!

The story concerns the young Count Henry Kehlmark who comes into his inheritance at quite a young age, and who is more than a little spoiled. This doesn’t make him a monster, but it does make him the kind of young man who wants to do what he likes. He lives quite a wild life and then suddenly he decides to retire to his country estate taking with him his housekeeper Blandine, a young woman with whom he had a brief affair in his youth, and Landrillon, his manservant. It is there, whilst being introduced to the neighbourhood, he meets and falls  passionately in love with Guidon, the son of the local burgomaster.

You can see by the illustration on the cover how this ends, which is badly, but that’s no real surprise, as far as I know Maurice was the first (and only for a long time) which dared to give gay men a happy ending. The story itself, while quite simple, has a lot of themes, such as the nature of loyalty, ambition, and what is true friendship. There’s (possibly) the first faghag in Blandine–who loves Henry to distraction, so much so that she stays with him, despite knowing that she’ll never have him, even before she finds out his true nature.  She is, however, angry at the way Guidon has usurped her as his best friend, and is alarmed at the gossip in the village–which is inflamed by the disloyal Landrillon. But when Henry explains it all to her, (with a rather disturbing confession that he lusted at one point over pre-pubescent boys but got control of this problem) she accepts him for what he is, and vows to stand by him, and will be friends with Guidon.

What I liked about this book was the way that Henry was no longer ashamed of his predilictions. He’d spent years hiding his nature–trying to “pass.” Making jokes about men like himself, pretending to leer at women with his friends and thinking he was truly alone in the world. But he came to terms with himself and his feelings and when he meets Guidon, he sees it as fate, something that was truly meant to be. Guidon was not an innocent that he had corrupted, but a man with similar desires. The ugliness is all perceived by the outside forces. The priest who wishes to destroy Henry, the dismissed servant, the woman (Guidon’s sister, Claudie) who wants Henry for herself.

This ugliness reaches a head, with the final chapter of the book, and it’s clear who the real monsters are.

The language is rather hard to take, and I wonder how faithful the translation is. It’s a curious blend of slang and thees and thous. It’s rather over flowery but not a difficult read because of that, just a little smirk inducing at times. Luckily there’s little conversation between Guidon and Henry because I couldn’t have taken much of the earnest declaiming. Even the huge argument that Blandine and Henry have is exquistely formal.

The edition I have is the plain green cover version, also found on Amazon, and the preface is most peculiar. It doesn’t give any indication as to who wrote it, and it’s almost as impassioned as the book itself, resorting to hyperbole and many many exclamation marks. It’s worth a read, but isn’t exactly instructive about the book, the time of its writing, or much about the author, prefering rather to bang on about how worthy the book is and how many other gay writers came before and since. The facts about the book I had to find elsewhere!

I can’t give it a high mark, because to the modern eye, and certainly compared to Wilde or Forster the prose doesn’t hold a candle to them (although the French itself might be beautiful, so if you do read it, let me know) but it’s an important book in the genre and if you get a chance to get hold of a copy and are interested in the development of gay literature then it’s worth seeking out.

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Review: Game of Chance by Kate Roman

When the young Duke of Avon takes a back exit at a masquerade ball, expecting to find like-minded players to share a high-stakes game of cards or dice, nothing can prepare him for what he finds. But in the arms of mysterious Lord Donahue, Sebastian finds this new game is more pleasurable than anything he anticipated…

Review by Erastes

A short review for a short story. I hadn’t read any Kate Roman before but I’m very appreciative of the time she took to set up what is really a wham bang thank you Sam plot. The story begins nicely and doesn’t rush to immediately tell us that our protagonist is homosexual. He’s a gambler and he’s come to a masque ball (always a sexy setup) to have a game of cards or dice. He hears rumours of back rooms where the real action takes place and whoops we have a delicious misunderstanding and a great place for much shagging in the Marsh.

Roman describes things well, and I’ll definitely have a look at her back catalogue and see if there are any other historical hiding away there. Within the space of this small setup, she leaves us in no doubt as to where adn when we are in time, wigs, coloured heels, our protagonist is a proper “macaroni” even though he doesn’t actually have any idea of his predictlictoins when it comes to me. Don’t worry, there’s someonewaitingin the wings to explain mattersto him. The sex scene when it does come—no pun intended—is again, nicely drawn out and uses enough of the historical colour to prevent us thinking that this could be set in any time at all. It’s graphic without being overly so, and will get you tingling in places that you like having tingled.

I don’t normally recommend such short stories, as i do think they are over-priced for what they are, and would prefer to have them as an extra in a novella, or ina collection of that author’s others tories, but I liked this one a lot, and it kept me amused for fifteen minutes or so and has introduced a writer to me who does her research. Four stars.

Author’s website

Buy from Torquere Press

Review: The New World by G.S. Wiley

Toby’s life is simple and uneventful. He spends most of his time working alongside his brother at the Blue Boar Tavern, welcoming travelers and serving locals. Occasionally, he indulges in illicit, illegal liaisons with men he knows he will never see again. When an old friend, a man who left to make his fortune as one of King George IV’s “redcoats,” returns in time for Valentine’s Day, Toby is forced to make a choice between his past and his future, and between his safe, quiet life and adventure beyond his imagination.

Short Story (5k)

Review by Erastes

And that’s about it, actually. Once you’ve read the blurb there’s not really any great point in reading the story–short story blurb writing is an art in itself and needs not to reveal the entire plot.

I was disappointed with this because I, like the reviewer of Kindred Hearts, had really loved that title, and I would have also given Kindred Hearts five stars. So I was looking forward to this, thinking it would be another little gem like that one.  But it was not to be.

But as this is GS Wiley and we know that Wiley can write, it is nicely written, and the description is true to the era, pre-revolution 18th century England, there’s a real atmosphere, andI liked Toby and felt his dissatisfation with his lot.It just doesn’t really deliver the way a short story should and therefore I can’t really recommend you spend even $1.99 on it, because as I said at the top, if you read the blurb there’s not a lot else there for you–sadly. Get Kindred Hearts instead.

Author’s website

Torquere Press

Review: The High Class Highwayman by Julia Talbot

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

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

Review by Jess Faraday

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

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

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

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

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

Author Website

 

 

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Review: The Matelot by Ariel Tachna

Their pirate vessel destroyed, Captain Amery White, ship’s surgeon Gavin Watson, and quartermaster Quinn Davies are left without a livelihood or a home. The three men have served together since they were old enough to put to sea, sharing hardships and comfort until Amery and Gavin formalized their union with a matelotage—the pirate equivalent of a marriage contract.

Now they’ve been offered a letter of marque and a fine English galleon with enough speed and firepower to catch and capture any ship in the Caribbean. But their mission brings back memories long-buried and puts a strain on Amery and Gavin’s relationship, especially when the Silver Queen captures a Spanish slave ship, bringing the very young, very beautiful, and very abused Eliodoro to their crew.

Quinn finds himself torn between the love he’s always had for his friends and his desire for their new crew member. When secrets from the past come to light and cause a rift between Amery and Gavin, Quinn will have to choose between substituting for Gavin’s true love and becoming the center of Eliodoro’s world.

Review by Sal Davis

I do like pirates. I know I’m on very shaky ground historically speaking because pirates tended to be syphilitic psychopaths with bad personal hygiene and worse morals, but from an entertainment point of view pirates are excellent box office. Swash buckling, passion, open or no shirts, wind-blown hair, healthy exercise in the fresh air, a little light robbery from people who deserve it – the cover of The Matelot conjures up all of that. Cover artist Analise Dubner has produced a well-balanced sepia toned image that depicts Quinn and Eliodoro, the two main protagonists of the novel, very well.

Relationships in the book are quite complex. Amery and Gavin are in a formal relationship, having taken out articles of matelotage. This leaves old friend and some time lover, Quinn, out in the cold, listening to them boink through the thin canvas wall between his and their cabins. But discovering the gorgeous Eliodoro chained in the hold of a Spanish prize takes his mind off his loneliness. Naturally there are obstacles to their love, and Amery and Gavin’s relationship is imperilled as well before the story is brought to a satisfactory and loving conclusion. As a romantic romp the book works very well. There are sex scenes that are sufficiently different in pace and content to pique the interest, but not so frequent as to get tedious. I think that people who want a light, if substantial, read will be pleased with this.

Less pleased will be the people who are fans of Age of Sail novels. Patrick O’Brien this isn’t and even to my eyes there were enough maritime gaffes to make me giggle. There are also some editorial problems – words out-of-order, confusion of personal names, misuse of words, including ‘colossic’? – which surprised me. Dreamspinner are usually better than that. However both problems were within my tolerance and I could ignore them.

Less easy to ignore was the sheer emoness of these pirates. They all spent far more time angsting about their objects of desire than pirating. It also seemed to be an OK-Homo Caribbean since there was only one person in the novel who had a problem with the male/male relationships, and that was expressed merely as a disapproving sniff and nothing more came of it. I also had problems with the ‘abuse’ angle. Luckily none of it was shown but they talked about it a lot. Quinn, Gavin and Eliodoro had all been raped, sometimes repeatedly, with varying degrees of emotional damage.

So – emo pirates – not my cup of tea but I think that people who want a light, if lengthy, read will be pleased with this, especially if they aren’t too picky about their history.

Author’s website

Buy at Dreamspinner

Review: Young Man in Paris by Sophia Deri-Bowen

I had always believed that I would return home to empty rooms for the rest of my life, for who would I want, and be wanted by in return? It had been an impossible alchemy until Alexander Montrose, and the summer of 1923.

1923 was the summer I fell in love with Alexander Montrose. I suppose I could say it was the summer I met my soul mate, but I have little poetry in my soul. That which I do have, however, was spent upon Alex. Nearly sixty years have passed since that summer, and I am an old man and Alex is gone, but here at least is our story, set down for all time.

Review by Sal Davis

I have to admit to some bias right from the beginning with this story. As soon as I opened the pdf I was saying ‘Cool’ because I love the personal touch of a painted book cover. This is particularly nice with the protagonists in colour against a monochromatic background with some nice period correct detail. Thumbs up to Dreamspinner for picking artist Paul Richmond. Definite thumbs DOWN for getting Sophia’s surname wrong. It’s BOWEN, guys, not BROWN!

Inside the book there are no blurb page or publishing details. It goes straight into the prologue of the story, which gives a little background for the narrator, Michael Clifton, who comes over as passionate, moody and a bit of a diva at 19, and amused by his own youthful behaviour in his seventies. Michael seems an honest narrator, nostalgic for the pains of the past as well as the pleasures, with a somewhat dry manner that I very much enjoyed.
Chapter one introduces his grand passion, Alexander Montrose, a golden young man whose chirpy manner makes a nice contrast to the dour Michael.

In subsequent chapters, both have secrets they need to share and problems they need to overcome, not least Michael’s tendency to theatrics.

There is another main character – Paris. The city is a major plot point in the story. Some story arcs could be moved just about anywhere, but this one requires Paris, with the way of life and the pleasures available, in order to work.

I think it worked very well. I must admit to an automatic “But what happened next?” grumble at the end, but that was because I hadn’t kept an eye on the page count. Once I reminded myself that it was the story of one summer and a first love, not a whole life I was very happy with it. It couldn’t have been longer unless it was MUCH longer, and it comes to a very satisfying conclusion as it is.

Author’s website: http://sophiaderibowen.wordpress.com/

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Review: Hotel de Dream by Edmund White

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

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Review: Suffer the Little Children by Tracy Rowan

When Victorian private investigator Nick Romney’s step-father, an Anglican bishop, is murdered, Nick refuses to get involved. At the urging of his family, though, Nick and his lover Davy step in to investigate. Together they uncover the truth of the bishop’s involvement in the dark and horrifying world of child prostitution, the reason why he was killed, and the shocking identity of the murderer.

Review by Erastes

The set up sounds familiar, a detective in fin-de-siecle Europe, but this isn’t really a Holmes homage. The author freely admits that she was inspired by Holmes:

“The initial inspiration was Sherlock Holmes and I jumped right to the idea of a gay Victorian detective and let the characters define the story, which they were quite happy to do.”

but the characters are nicely different from Holmes and Watson, or at least the Holmes and Watson I like to imagine, as I’ve never been part of that fandom. Nick, when Davy meets him, is a lab assistant–not some kind of genius and Davy is a bit of a wastrel, so it’s a far enough remove from “doctor and private detective”. I suppose I just wish that someone would do more than just Victorian detectives. It’s not like they didn’t exist.

The first kiss between the two was rather baffling, I didn’t see why it happened the way it did, and I felt it was a little abrupt – and frankly idiotic of Davy as he could have been in serious trouble. Nick hadn’t given him any encouragement and they’d hardly met more than thirty seconds. Similarly their proper first meeting and conversation was relayed in a tell-not-show manner -we are told they “sat and talked” until interrupted by Davy’s father.  And then Davy says this:

I was sent from the room for the duration of the interview, but I loitered in the waiting room because I didn’t want Romney to disappear from my life without at least trying to find out where he lived. Though I was no innocent, I had never felt such an attraction to another man before. It made all my previous dalliances seem inconsequential. However Nicholas Romney had stirred something in me that no one else had ever before touched, and I was anxious to explore all these new feelings.

The thing is–other than an impetuous kiss–we haven’t had any reason to suspect that Davy was madly attracted to Nick–nor are we given the reasons why, so I felt a little short changed. First meetings, first conversations, first attractions–like first sex–should always be described, even briefly. It was like leaving the cinema for a couple of minutes to get an icecream, only to find upon your return that the bunny has already been boiled.

I did like Davy’s family’s reaction to the fact that he was sharing rooms with Nick–his father seems to suspect their relationship, and it’s probable that his mother at least wouldn’t have been able to put words to what their relationship was, so maybe didn’t suspect. His brother deals with it by not dealing with it, and his sister is madly curious. It made his family decent (although probably quite unrealistic) without really breaching the OKHOMO barrier.  Similarly, the jump from his father being dismissive and disappointed with Davy, to this statement:

I knew he was a loving man,

was never truly explored. It’s often the way with books I like, though–I want all of the book, including all the things that can’t be fitted into 170 or so pages.

We are soon into familiar territory,a murder, a possible miscarriage of justice and things to investigate. One might say that Nick has similar methods to a certain detective living in Baker Street, but we can’t really blame him for that, methods are methods, after all.

Character-wise, there’s some solid building here, and we quickly learn about Davy (who Nick calls Fitz) and Nick (who Davy sometimes refers to as Rom.) Nick has interesting idosyncracies which make him rather alluring (to me, anyway!) and that’s all as it should be. Who wants a normal detective, gay or otherwise?

What is a nice touch is that in this book, Holmes is fictional–and he even gets a mention when a corpse is proclaimed by Nick to be a brewer and it made me laugh:

I had only recently read a story entitled “A Study in Scarlet” about a fictional detective, and much as I had enjoyed it, I harbored the suspicion that Romney was twice the detective this other chap was and not nearly as annoying. “Is that all?” I asked.

“Do you want me to tell you the location of the brewery by sniffing the hops?”

I grew excited. “Can you do that?”

Rom rolled his eyes. “Good heavens Fitz, you read too much nonsense.”

“Well, I don’t know!” I snapped.

As Nick’s “storyteller”in the same way Watson was for Holmes, Davy has a good eye. He’s the narrator of the story–which is first person–and he gives you great details of the locations they encounter in their travels, rooms and furniture, streets and buildings all come to life as he describes them.

The story unfolds in a parallel fashion, with the most recent case with frequent flashbacks to the time they met, and Nick’s first case. I – being a bear of little brain and less concentration (specially with reading on the PC) found this distracting, and if I’m going to be picky I would have liked both stories as individual books rather than this method–but I know that it won’t bother most people so it’s not getting marked down for that. Nor for the cover which is very ugly.

It’s well-written and pacy–just how a mystery of this genre should be. Never a dull moment, in either plot-lines. The American spelling pissed me off a little bit, but it is probably a Torquere requirement, many publishers insist on it. I wish they wouldn’t for English set books. But spelling aside there were no other Americanisms that pulled me out of the immersive detail.

I should warn for themes which might offend–that of child abuse–but of course it is not described in any way, and the only references to it are those that disgust the characters involved, but I need to point this out, in case you won’t read anything with that theme.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and feel that I should knock a mark off for the double plot-line, (or due to the fact that we’ve reviewed three books this month with a five star rating) but both reasons would be unfair.This is a solid addition to the genre, well researched (very well researched, I should add) well written with a detective that I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of–and I hope we see more of Ms Rowan’s work in the gay historical field.

Author’s website

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Review: The Nobleman and the Spy by Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon

They once faced each other on a battlefield. Now soldier-turned-spy Jonathan Reese must keep watch over the man he’s never forgotten. A close encounter reveals Karl von Binder, the count’s son, also recalls the day he spared Jonathan’s life.

Sparks fly between the former enemies and Jonathan begins to lose perspective on his mission. He knows he must maintain distance because the heat he encounters in Karl’s touch stirs him far too deeply for his own good. He can’t keep away — especially when he suspects someone is trying to kill the nobleman.

The spy becomes a protector as Jonathan guards the man he’s begun to care for. Together the men try to puzzle out who would benefit from Karl’s death — and how much they’re willing to trust each other when a torrid sexual fling threatens to become an affair of the heart.

Review by Erastes Click here for the PODCAST

Having enjoyed hugely Dee and Devon’s Gentleman and the Rogue I was eager to read this one—although a little trepidatious about the title and it seemed a bit similar, and I wondered if they weren’t just resting on their laurels and writing the same book twice.

However I shouldn’t have doubted them, because this is a very different book in time, flavour and feel.

The eponymous spy, Reese is introduced to us from the start and he sets the scene quite wonderfully, following on from an excellent first line:

“We aren’t asking you to kill the man”

we learn a lot about Reese, and nothing, because that’s the kind of shadowy spy he is. He gives nothing away, not in speech or in body language. He understands how to fake interest, how to fake non-aggression and he’s damned good at his job. We learn early on that he will no longer kill anyone—so he’s been an assassin at some point, and that he had a liaison with his former handler, and that something went terribly wrong there, and after that Reese changed. But not a lot else, and that’s how it should be. However as the story went on, I have to say that I would have liked to have seen more of how good Reese was at his job; he broke his cover pretty soon and wasn’t much of a spy during the story itself, although we had a hint of his excellence from his backstory.

His target couldn’t be more different on the surface. He’s assigned to follow Karl Johann Peter, Erb-Pfalzgraf von und zu Neuschlosswold-Binder (try saying that with a mouthful of chips) who seemingly everyone knows about. A famous aristocrat, diplomat with a huge retinue and a famous family—but with his own secrets to hide.

I loved the way the relationship started early, and the way that Binder was the experienced one, when I’d half expected it to be the other way around. Binder has good gaydar and his seduction of the man he’d already spotted as following him was quite delicious. There’s a lovely sense of paranoia from both men as they size each other up: what is he up to, who is working for, all these questions go through both men’s minds and it works well and is very believable, even for men who have just had an intimate encounter.

Both characters, Binder and Reese are excellently portrayed, each with a distinct personality and voice; they rub each other up the wrong way (and the right way in more intimate moments) and the cat and mouse and cat game that they play is great to read.

This nicely sums up the differences between them:

Maybe it was this somber aspect that drew Karl, since his own nature was more flamboyant. Jonathan seemed to have a stillness about him, an ability to sit quietly and take things in. He reminded Karl of a pool with a smooth surface and all sorts of dark, hidden depths. And every time Karl saw the pool, he was compelled to drag his hand through it and ruffle the waters. He just had to splash around, and he wanted to dive deep and see what secrets lay at the bottom.

Although I had to laugh at the last of that, but I’m twelve.

There’s many characters in this story, too, which is tightly plotted and multi-layered, and each character has a definite place and no one feels like “filler.”

Set in 1866 (and I think) just before the Austro-Prussian-Italian war I have to say that having been researching this period myself for the last six months I was impressed by the research done here in respect to the political situation in England and Germany at the time, touching lightly on unrest in Russia and other hotspots in Europe–(Europe being a veritable powder keg about to explode at any time.)

If you are looking for a sexy book, you won’t be disappointed, but the sex here is decadently sensual, full of round ripeness and a languid time-wasting hedonism that had my toes curling with delight. I’ve said it before that a sex scene needs to be part of the plot, and although (for the size of the book) the sex is a large proportion, it never once feels gratuitous and for once I was looking forward to the next one, rather than rolling my eyes with “oh God, they are at it again.” I appreciated the masculinity of the scenes, too—sometimes gay erotic can get a little too feminine for my taste. There’s little of the sighing over a pair of eyes or lips; at a party Karl imagines flipping up the tails of Reese’s evening jacket, yanking down his trousers and rogering him hard. Quite right, sir. Quite right.

When I’m writing these reviews I generally tap out quibbles as I find them, and it amused me vastly that the first major quibble I had, regarding Reese’s identity and the persona he’d booked in at the hotel were debunked thoroughly by Karl’s staff, which made me laugh that I’d thought that Dee and Devon would make such a simple error. Other than Claridge’s having unaired sheets (heavens, no!) nothing much other than the word “cum” making an appearance which I always dislike. That’s probably Loose ID’s style guide, not the authors’ choice though. And a few Americanisms which crept in here and there, like “wash-up” for washing. So well done, ladies.

If I have any complaint it’s to Loose I-D – PLEASE can you vary your covers a bit? These are all getting a bit samey.

It’s an exciting and robust tale with mouth-watering intrigue, political machinations, witty banter and some fizzlingly sensuous sex scenes and like The Gentleman and the Rogue (which if you haven’t read why the hell not?) I can’t recommend it highly enough. I want to take away these ladies’ pens until they promise they write nothing else but gay historicals. I just wish I could get a set of theirs in print.

Buy from Loose I-D

Communion


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A Father’s Love

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This Year Maybe


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Ahoy!

Greetings, ye sons and daughters of the bilge.

Today, for those less enlightened souls, is the world-famous Talk Like a Pirate Day and so we are celebrating here – on The Macaronis AND on the Speak Its Name Chat Group with a myriad of piratey based fun.

That doesn’t necessarily mean we will be keel-hauling sailors, painting everyone blue as we cross the equator and laughing uproariously as we push people off planks into sharks or crocodiles mouths, but we will be doing pirate based activities.

After all, there’s nothing more manly than striding about barechested with a cat-o’ nine-tails and skin tight breeches, right? ARRRR!!!! Continue reading

Review: Duke of Orleans by John Simpson

Twenty year old Richard Giles is living on the streets of London in the year 1660, scrounging for food and shelter the best he is able after the closure of his place of employment and death of his mother.

After being given shelter for the night by a kindly old man Richard is back on the streets when an unfortunate incident brings him into contact with a man who may just change the direction of his life, for the better.

Review by T J Pennington

John Simpson’s The Duke of Orleans reads, in part, like a history book…and not in a good way. The descriptions of the time and place are stilted, sounding as if they were chucks of an essay by a very earnest student rather than observations by an omniscient narrator or by the main character. For example:

Many turned to crime, becoming pickpockets and petty thieves, transforming the streets into a morass of corruption.

For those caught plying their trade, it was a stint in Newgate Prison, which far surpassed the definition of cruel in any decent person’s mind. Women and their children were housed along with common debtors in cellblocks considered to be austere at best, unless you had the coin. Then you could buy your way into the section of the prison containing upscale furnishings and comforts, while enlarging the pockets of the jailors whose tender mercies you were subjected too.(sic)

All of which is more or less accurate (“austere” is a remarkably charitable description of the Newgate cells)…but all of which is irrelevant, at that point. We know nothing about the the main character yet save his name, so we don’t care for him. And we don’t wonder if Newgate Prison will be a threat somewhat later. (It isn’t.)

We learn more about the main character on the next page. Unfortunately, the author has not mastered the art of showing rather than telling. We are told that he won’t steal unless he’s on the verge of starving; we aren’t shown him having an opportunity to steal and resisting it despite the temptation. We’re told that he sold off everything that he inherited long ago, though we aren’t told why. And finally we read a sentence that pushes us away from the time, the place and the main character: In the jargon of the day, Richard was a pauper.”

We learn that Richard Giles is the world’s most passive prostitute. His method of attracting business? Standing in front of restaurants and looking attractive and pathetic so that rich men will pity him, feed him and take him home for sex. This doesn’t strike me as a viable way of attracting multitudes of customers, especially if one is homeless, penniless and starving—when was the last time that you went out to dinner and invited a street person to dine with you?–but apparently it works for Richard.

Well, a lord strolls by as lords are wont to do (he’s called “my lord” three or four times, so I presumed that he was intended to be nobility), sees Richard looking hungry and sad, and immediately invites him to partake of “some hot food and cool drink.” We get no sense that Lord X is looking for a bit of fun or that Richard is offering any. The man who owns the pub that they enter behaves believably, shouting at Richard to leave, as he doesn’t want paupers and potential thieves hanging about his pub. Of course, he is immediately smacked down by the lord for daring to suggest that he doesn’t have the money to pay and for criticizing the lord’s guest.

The lord, as it turns out, is not a lord. He is Henry Walker, merchant. He asks Richard why he’s on the streets and Richard recites his true biography. If the narrative had not told us that this was his real background, I would have thought that he had memorized a false story and was reeling it out for a customer. When questioned further about the job he lost, he slips from the formal recitation into 21st-century slang:“I kinda kept the records of what was made and who bought what we sold.”

Sadly, Simpson alternates between stiffly formal and anachronistic language and behavior throughout the book. The barmaid sing-songs, “May I take your order?” much as a waitress in today’s family restaurant would. Richard’s problem with finding employment is one that today’s homeless face; employers require an address for their records. I think that would have been less of a problem in the days when people could be hired on for X amount of hours and paid at the end of the day.

There’s also the problem of how much money was worth back then. Richard states that he came to London after he lost his job with only six shillings in his pocket. That doesn’t sound like much to us. But in 1660, £0 6s 0d would have the same worth of 2008′s £33.70 (using the retail price index) or £459.00 (using the average earnings of the time). Economist Jan Luiten van Zanden says that the income of an unskilled laborer on a construction site in Oxford, Cambridge, Dover or Canterbury was 12 pence (or one shilling) a week (worth £5.61 using the 2008 retail price index and £76.50 using average earnings); in London, the wage for an unskilled laborer was 20 pence (or one shilling eightpence) per week (£9.35 using the 2008 retail price index and £128.00 using average earnings).

So when Richard got to London, he was ridiculously well off. He had a small fortune in his pocket. And we haven’t seen any reason yet why he couldn’t live on that.

Walker takes Richard home. Not because he’s interested in men or boys—he states that openly—but because he “had a rough childhood and young adulthood.” I’m not sure what that has to do with anything, as Richard is neither a child nor an adolescent but a grown man. The housekeeper is only too happy to scrub and mend Richard’s clothes after a long day of work, just as Walker himself is only too happy to do a footman’s job and build the fire in the guest room that Richard is occupying.

The next day, though, Richard has to leave; Walker has relatives coming from York, and well, you know how it is. Richard, effusively grateful for the one night’s sleep, the bath and the newly mended, clean clothes, goes out onto London’s streets again. And that’s it. That’s the last we see of Walker until the end of the story, when Richard pops up again to tell him how well he’s doing.

Now that Richard is cleaner and more rested than he’s been in weeks, does he try to go get a day job somewhere, as would have been possible in his time? Does he tell a proprietor of a store or an inn that he’ll work for food? Does he go to a carriage house or livery stable and offer to help muck it out so that he’ll have somewhere to sleep for the night? Oh, no. He heads to Parliament to beg. And “[h]e hoped his clothes didn’t look too good for people to believe he was a pauper.”

When he gets to Parliament, he is “run off continuously by the local constabulary and finally threatened with arrest.” I’m not sure how that managed to happen, since Henry Fielding didn’t found the Bow Street Runners, an unofficial police force that worked for the Bow Street Magistrate’s office, until 1749 and Sir Robert Peel didn’t establish the Metropolitan Police Force in London—the first modern police force–until 1829.

Anyway, Richard gets rousted from one of the front doors of Parliament, so he starts wandering about in front of the more fashionable shops and gets splashed by a carriage drawing up to the curb. Richard charges up to the coachman and starts berating him. This is the point at which a “youngish” French noble (the eponymous Duc d’Orléans, who would have been twenty at the time of this story, and not, as the character later says, twenty-six) gets out of the carriage himself and goes over to talk to Richard. And he apologizes for the driver splashing Richard.

Philippe I, Duc d’Orléans

Let me repeat that. An aristocrat who is the younger son of King Louis XIII and his consort, Anne of Austria, the grandson of Philip III of Spain, the younger brother of King Louis XIV, and the Duke of Anjou and Duke of Orléans in his own right gets out of his carriage and apologizes to the poorly dressed commoner who is now soaking wet, covered in mud and shit, and screaming at his coachman.

Philippe (for that was the name of the Duke of Orléans) offers to make it up to Richard by buying him an entire set (read: suit) of new clothes. He also introduces himself as “Philippe, Duke of Orléans, Duke of Valois, Duke of Chartres and Lord of Montargis,” which is jumping the gun a bit; he was styling himself as Duke of Orléans as of February 2, 1660, but Louis didn’t grant his brother that title or any of the others until May 10, 1661.

Richard protests that he lacks “employ, money, or a place to rest each night” and that he’s “a non-person”—a word that didn’t exist in the seventeenth century—and, with that, tries to leave. The duke shouts at him not to do so…and Richard is instantly attacked by servants and shopkeepers who think that he’s trying to rob the duke. The duke explains that no, he wasn’t being robbed, he just wants to talk to Richard. Oh, and make him three sets of clothes. One in full evening dress.

While Richard is taking a bath in a washtub in one of the back rooms of this fancy tailor shop, the Duke of Orléans asks Richard what kind of work he’s looking for. When Richard says he can write and figure, Philippe hires him as a valet and personal secretary, despite the fact that Richard can neither read nor write French and says so. His appraising gaze as he looks at Richard’s naked soapy body says exactly why he’s hiring the man. He also notes that despite deprivation—and Philippe thinks to himself that he’s seen such deprivation before on the battlefield, though the first war that Philippe seems to have been in was the War of Devolution in 1667—despite it, Richard is “fairly well muscled.” He also talks to Richard about “the stunning beauty of your ass.”

Once the clothes are taken care of, Philippe explains to Richard why he’s in England—his brother and his advisors sent him to England to keep him from starting a civil war to grab the throne. This would be an interesting Dumaseque plot. Unfortunately, that’s all there is to it. The story contains no further information about a conspiracy to overthrow Louis or an upcoming civil war. Which is a pity. It would have made a compelling alternate universe story.

After a long section in which Philippe takes Richard to his ambassadorial residence, gives Richard all sorts of instructions about his duties and proper etiquette, and has a couple of meals with Richard (because servants always sat down and ate with their employers), Philippe finally asks Richard if he prefers men. Upon Richard admitting that he does, the Duke says that he prefers men as well…and would Richard “care to join [him] in bed tonight where we both can remain warmer?”

Of course Richard says yes, and of course Philippe assures him that nothing will happen that night…while at the same time asking Richard if he will be his “student in love.” You would expect that night to feature a passionate sex scene. But instead, Philippe curls up next to Richard and falls asleep. They don’t have sex until a week later—over the protests of Richard, who tells the duke, “I am not very experienced in the ways of physical love and I might disappoint you.” Um…Richard? Weren’t you working as a streetwalker earlier, sexually obliging men who would feed you?

After a couple of fairly standard sex scenes, Philippe tells Richard that he loves him and wants him to come back to France with him…as his lover. And, after a conversation with Charles II, in which Charles wants an Anglo-French alliance against Spain—never mind that an Anglo-French alliance already defeated Spain in the Franco-Spanish War in 1658 and England profited from that alliance in the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659—Philippe suggests sending Richard to Louis XIV as a messenger.

Of course, Philippe says, a mere commoner can’t meet with his brother. So Charles agrees to make Richard the Earl of Dunleavy. The title doesn’t bring Richard any land, but it does give him what Charles calls “a token”–one hundred pounds a year. According to Measuring Worth, that’s about £11,200.00 in 2008 pounds, using the retail price index, or £153,000.00 in 2008 pounds, using average earnings. (I wouldn’t mind getting that kind of “small token” each year myself.)

And, naturally, as the story concludes, it is implied that Richard and Philippe are going to live together happily for the rest of their days. Unfortunately, the only way that works is if you ignore not only Philippe’s marriage in November 1660 to Henrietta of England (called Minette, and mother of four of his children) and his later marriage to Elisabeth Charlotte of the Palatinate (called Liselotte, and mother of three more), but also the existence of the man who was allegedly the love of Philippe’s life, Philippe de Lorraine-Armagnac, called the Chevalier de Lorraine, whom Philippe met in 1668. The Chevalier was described as “fait comme on peint les anges”–”made as the angels are painted”–and remained with the Duc d’Orléans until the Duke’s death.

The story itself has problems. First, I must mention both the cover and the editing—which are not the author’s responsibility, but which do count, nevertheless. The cover is attractive, and looks as if it were modeled on the Running Press covers, but it is not even vaguely accurate; of the two men on the cover, the one on the left is dressed in what appears to be late-eighteenth to early nineteenth century garb, while the one on the right is clad in what looks like a black jacket and a white mock-turtleneck. Neither is wearing anything approaching seventeenth-century attire…or the long and elaborate curly wigs that were the hallmark of fashionable men’s hairstyles in the seventeenth century, either. And the editing is ill-done; there are many, many missing quotation marks, missing commas and commas inserted scattershot into the text. The errors were distracting and annoying; they kept pulling me out of the story.

As for the writing itself…well, as mentioned throughout this review, the story is very, very poorly researched; even the age of the bisexual Duc d’Orléans is wrong. The language is alternates between being stilted and being slangy and anachronistically modern. And the characters are not developed; we never get a sense of them as people with thoughts, likes, dislikes, hopes and fears. I’ve finished the book, but I don’t feel that I know Richard any better now than I did on the first page.

Finally—and this is linked to the lack of characterization–there is no overarching plot. The novella is, fundamentally, a series of anecdotes about a impoverished young man who is given everything that he could ever want because he is a wonderful, noble, humble and saintly person. We never see Richard being poor or unhappy or struggling or starving; we hear about it, but we don’t see him suffering. Richard, like many fairy tale heroes and heroines, is kind and courteous to the right mysterious old man and old woman (Henry Walker and the housekeeper Martha, respectively) and gets his heart’s desire. It is the Cinderella story with the wicked stepmother and wicked stepsisters left out.

And because there is no opponent, no antagonist, no threat to Richard, no conflict at all, and because Richard, who is the quintessential Passive Protagonist, never needs to accomplish any goals through his own efforts (and, indeed, never tries to do so), the story is not interesting. It’s a wish fulfillment fantasy—and while everyone on earth has daydreamed about getting wealth, power, the perfect job and the perfect lover, a daydream is not a fully developed story.

Because there are so many basic problems with the book, the most I can give it is one star.

Author’s website

Silver Publishing Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: All for One by Nicki Bennett & Ariel Tachna

Aristide, Léandre, and Perrin pledge only three loyalties in life: their King, their captain, and their passion for each other. So when the musketeers discover a plan to accuse M. de Tréville of treason, the initial impulse to kill the messenger, Benoît, is tempered by their need to unmask the plotter. But their first two suspects, the English ambassador and Cardinal Richelieu, prove to be innocent, forcing the musketeers to delve deeper into the inner machinations of the French court.

Meanwhile, Aristide finds himself falling in love with the ill-fated messenger, a blacksmith without a home who rouses all of his protective, possessive instincts. Benoît, however, has no interest in any man. Torn between desire and duty, Aristide must find a way to protect the King and clear his captain’s name—all while heeding the demands of his heart.

Review by Aleksandr Voinov

The musketeer Aristide enjoys the good life with his two comrades, Leandre and Perrin. The three of them take the famous motto ‘all for one, one for all’ literal, as they aren’t just comrades but members of a ménage-a-trois. This arrangement serves them well until they save Benoit, who has been shot on the road while delivering a letter to Cardinal Richelieu. The contents of the letter accuse the commanding officer of the musketeers of treason, and the four set out to uncover the plot which may hint at an attempt to murder the king.

Aristide, who looks after Benoit while he’s healing, falls in love with the peasant who lost his wife and child to the plague. Unobligingly, though, Benoit abhors the idea of having sex with another man. Eventually he comes round to it, though, after much angsting and many misunderstandings, and helped along by a cast of characters mostly made up of happy exclusive gay couples and their understanding allies, who all adore Aristide.

I have to admit I was bored for most of the book. The sex is the best about it – the frequent sex scenes are realistic for the most part (coming back to this later), even if they are, more often than not, completely unnecessary. Though there were a few where I wasn’t quite sure how the positions work and the bodies fit together, as pure erotica, they were well handled, if not particularly revealing about the characters.

Once it moves away from the sex, the story falls apart on several counts. Despite some attempts at making this a historical novel by detailing clothes and mentioning bits and pieces of the times peppered throughout, the attitudes of the characters are decidedly modern. Under no circumstances do I believe a musketeer is calling the
Queen-Mother “that bitch” without raising at least an eyebrow. But never mind that they speak in a modern way (many instances of“’twas” and “’tis”nothwithstanding) – the dialogue just never rang true to me, regardless of any historical timeframe.

While the author does mention they have to be discreet, the characters never really are, instead talk openly and brazenly about their mindblowing sex and what they intend to do to each other once opportunity arises. One gaffe like that is funny, two gets repetitive, but ten or more is just grating.

Lucky, then, that almost all of Paris is gay and happily exclusive, if we judge it by the supporting cast, which is made up of couples that read like they had their own novels or will get their own novels in due course. True to form, our happy menage is about to break up into two couples, with even the slutty Perrin yearning for one man to claim wholly and exclusively. This happens of course, so Perrin mends his slutty ways and, having sworn exclusivity with Leandre, wishes for nothing more than not having slutted around. I’m not sure what this hang-up about exclusivity is, but I guess it’s one of those things that m/m romances have inherited from m/f romances, however psychologically dubious this yearning for a restoration to purity and virginity is. Applied to a gay male, a fighter, and a man of his century, that is a pretty bizarre thought.

The main drama in the first two thirds of the book is about the fracturing menage on one hand and misunderstandings and fears that keep Aristide and Benoit apart. The last third is about Benoit and Aristide having sex and swearing eternal love to each other.

Personally, I wouldn’t have minded if they had stayed apart.

Beyond being really pretty, I see nothing loveable about Benoit. (I’d call him a “girly weepy girl” if that wasn’t pretty damn sexist and insulting to my kick-ass female and female-identified friends).

This is not remedied by the authors telling me he is a peasant blacksmith. His manners and fears and blushing innocence make him appear more like an underaged runaway from a monastery. His combination of stupidity (which I guess is supposed to be innocence), insolence, sullenness, unreasonable demands and taking any excuse for self-pity is a deeply unattractive combination. I couldn’t help but laugh at the scenes where Benoit is staying in the house of the three musketeers and keeps bitching about how loud they are during sex until they vow to be silent – and Aristide flips over backwards to accede to Benoit’s petulant and childish demands.

Aristide, built up to be the tough alpha male to sweep sweet little blushing Benoit into his arms, loses my respect with all his pining, self-pity (again) and passive-aggressive behaviour. Supposedly a gifted officer, he doesn’t have an ounce of empathy for other people – constantly misreading their intentions and then sulking that things don’t go his way.

But then, the misunderstandings are the only things that keep the story moving. Well, kind of. There’s a bit of an intrigue going on, which is sprinkled in, but never develops into a real plot. After two hundred pages of pretty much nothing happening but relationship drama and sex sex sex, when the politics finally do happen they are as subtle as a plan cooked up by fire-year-olds. I’d have expected better from accomplished players like the Cardinal Richelieu and the De Medici Queen-Mother. This ‘plot’, when it happens, takes around twenty-five pages of the 352 pages, with the rest taken up by relationship drama that leaves me cold, because of the, for the most part, unrealistic and overwrought emotions.

There was also a sore lack of all the cool stuff in that time and setting. The fighting/fencing was done with some empty phrases and sometimes was plain wrong, such as the one character bitching about how Benoit failed to ‘parry a feint’. Well, you’re not supposed to *parry* the feint, since doing so opens your guard for the real attack. So the wrong way to respond to a feint is to be deceived by it. Many other details are wrong, or sound wrong.

It’s great all our gay characters love and accept each other, but an ambassador who’s drinking in a musketeer tavern, chats up a bunch of musketeers and tells them to call him with his Christian name, until all of the minor and major characters are on a first-name basis lacks all the decorum that such lofty station warrants, never mind him being a nobleman (or English).

The POV constantly jumps around into all the characters heads, which I’d find a lot less grating if that hadn’t been slowing things down to near-paralysis, and if all the characters had had something interesting to contribute. This way, it seems like it was some kind of roleplaying game between the authors, where lots of unnecessary repetitions were never edited out.

There was simply not enough plot or believable conflict in that book to warrant the pagecount or the lengthy explanations and the many, many, many repetitions where everything was repeated and still people constantly contradicted their original intentions just two paragraphs later. There is no sense of danger or urgency in the story, until the reader wonders why he should bother even finishing the book.

There was enough purple in the prose to paint a mid-sized village. ‘Passages’ and ‘channels’ were invariably ‘anointed’ (the religious connotation nothing short of disturbing even for this atheist), and this has a sex scene where a tongue reaches a prostate – which made me laugh. All that overwrought emotion rang false, especially when the authors spend so much time with taking Benoit’s virginity…The threesome sex scenes, which are unabashedly porny, are way better and more honest than all the heart-rending and soul-searching emotion of the entirely predictable Aristide/Benoit sex, which was shown to me to be so much better for Aristide than the empty threesomes he had with his friends. Well, I’d have chosen the empty sex over that overwrought nonsense from that weepy blushing blacksmith any time.

The saving grace is that I did like Perrin and Leandre and some scenes were well-handled and interesting (such as the beginning and whenever the actual plot made an appearance). I can easily see the book that this could have been, and I’d have rated that one pretty highly, but that’s not the book I read. I think it might be a fun read for everybody who likes yaoi, doesn’t care about the history or real emotions, and doesn’t need a plot to be a happy reader.

Buy at Dreamspinner Press (paperbook and ebook available)

Reviews: Memoirs of Colonel Gérard Vreilhac by Anel Viz

“When I think of the things that happened and the things I did, it is as though I were living them … My hands feel what I touched, and the smells that surrounded me fill my nostrils … Old joys swell my heart, old sorrows clutch at my throat … I remember every face, every name, every street …”

So Gérard Vreilhac begins the story of his life from his boyhood as a gardener at the Château d’Airelles before the French Revolution through six decades of upheaval and social change to the eve of Napoleon III’s coup d’état. It is a story of heroism and devotion, of political intrigue, of the great battles fought in Napoleon’s conquest of Europe, and of unprecedented upward mobility. Most of all it is the story of the men he loved: Julien, the aristocrat; the jealous and possessive Laurent; his Egyptian houseboy, Akmoud; Anatole, a male prostitute… And every time he fell in love with a man, it was forever.

Review by Nan Hawthorne (crossposted from “That’s All She Read“)

A friend of mine once told me when I told her I was planning to write historical fiction that if she wants to know about an event, she just reads a history book about it. I was so startled by the inconsideration of the comment that I had nothing to say. This novel is an example of why historical fiction, when it is well done and the writer is insightful and a careful researcher, can be so much better than a dry, impersonal, history. No matter how much the historian tries to address the immediate experience of an event, s/he simply doesn’t have the liberty to speculate on the inner motivations and reactions of the people who lived through it. That is why I value historical fiction so much, and one reason why I loved this book.

Imagine what it must have been like to live through the period in France from just before the Revolution of 1789 through Napoleon, two more revolutions and the continuous change in political systems and government and their impact on average people. I mean, have you ever wondered how you would have known from your middle class or lower neighborhood in Paris in 1789 that people were rioting in the streets and that the Bastille had been taken? I can tell you that this happened at this place as a result of this action, but wouldn’t you rather know what you may have seen out your kitchen window as early one morning you dragged yourself out of bed and went out to the courtyard well to draw water to make coffee, noticing odd sounds outside and seeing one of your neighbors running out of his front door with a musket?

Gérard Vreilhac experienced it all, either right in his face or as a victim of the consequences. He is the gardener’s son at a country estate of a nobleman. He is about as far from the focus of the revolutionary action as he can be, but not for long. He and the younger son of the household, already boyhood friends, become lovers, Gérard finding the first love of his life. Julian, the son, must leave to join the military, and Gérard is left to puzzle out his sexuality. He is in Paris when the proverbial Revolutionary trumpets sound and manages to get a job that introduces him to the leaders of the rebellion. As a result of impressing Robespierre, he becomes the clerk for the infamous trials of the Reign of Terror, finally finding himself convicted of crimes against the revolution and facing a guillotine that has already taken the lives of the many, both strangers and friends. He rots in prison, and miraculously is still there when Robespierre himself is taken down.

It is in prison that he meets Laurent, a sensitive and mild person who nonetheless joins the army of Napoleon the same time Gérard does and turns out to love fighting. They have an initially rocky relationship that settles into something no different from a marriage as they grow older and more mature. While in the army in Cairo with Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign, Gérard takes in a servant, Akhmoud, who proves to be a willing and inventive bed partner. The scene when Gérard leaves Cairo, having given Akhmoud his house and furnishings, and Akhmoud’s face is streaming with tears watching him go was heart breaking. Still Gérard knows he could not have stayed, could not have fit into the society, and their relative class would have prevented anything truly deep from happening between them. Gérard knows, for it was Julian and himself in reverse. Back in France Gérard and Laurent return to their intense if peripatetic romance, until Laurent goes missing at Waterloo.
The rest of the novel sees Gérard trying to find a place in his new world without Laurent. An older wealthy friend acts as an excellent advisor and helps him find his way into salon society. He must marry to maintain that lifestyle and makes an old friend, also a former servant in Julian’s family estate, his wife. Other married men have mistresses, it is just that Gérard’s is a man, Anatole, a male prostitute, whom he sets up in an apartment. When Gérard is reaching the end of his life, prompted to write this memoir, Anatole is still there, his longtime companion and friend.

The most consistently present character in this book besides Gérard is France. Viz captures the idealism of youth that can become so violent so quickly, then the rollercoaster of idealism, realism, cynicism. One year they seek a republic, the next they want the King back, then they want workhouses, then they want war. Against this backdrop Gérard’s relationships reflect his changing role in his own frenetic society. He is Julian’s servant, Laurent’s working class lover, Akhmoud’s master, Anatole’s client and then Anatole’s companion and beloved. The novel is rich in erotic scenes, detailed and at the same time romantic. I would like to tell every heterosexual woman I know to read gay male erotica if you want to learn things you never knew a man likes in bed. I happen to believe that sex in a novel is an important way to develop the subtler aspects of a characterization, strive for that in my writing, and have a masterful example to follow in Viz’s novel. There is nothing cold or impersonal in Gérard’s accounts of bed sport, but rather are part of a vital and intelligent man’s self reflection and self determination.

In sum, I found this novel intelligent, insightful, quite well written, both sexy and romantic, and quite moving. Viz handles first person narrative appropriately in what is, after all, a memoir. For me, this novel was most of all about the importance of people in your life and how much friends of all types mean in the successful life of any person. There are so many fine characters in this novel, and each is distinct, important, and not just to the story but as well to each other.

I bought the book as a download at Dream spinner Press LLC’s web site and read it on my Kindle 2 – which, incidentally, was miserable with the French names!

Dreamspinner Press LLC

Review: HMS Submission by Jack Gordon

‘I know who you are.’The cat’s tangled thongs fell a second time. Mick flinched, arching away from the lash.

‘I know what you’ve done.’

Mick’s strong shoulders shivered under another blow. He caught the eye of the handsome midshipman. The stinging heat on his broad back increased, as did the burning ache between his spread legs

‘And by God, I will make your life the hell you have made mine!’

Under the command of Josiah Rock, a twisted man with cruel desires, HMS Impregnable navigates a course through pirate-infested waters of the Atlantic, bound for the Indentured Colonies. Christopher, Viscount FitzGibbons, has been forced by his father into a life on the high seas as a novice officer. Meanwhile, below decks, manacled and filthy, the roguish Mick Savage fights for food and plans his escape from the prospect of a lifetime in the penal colonies of the Americas.

The two men are unaware that they have embarked on a voyage towards a shared destiny. And they find that daring to transgress the boundaries of class and upbringing is as dangerous as becoming involved in Captain Rock’s power games or falling into the hands of lusty Spanish brigands.

Review by M. Kei

HMS Submission is a book with a split personality. The first half is a well-written, entertaining erotic comedy as the Irish rogue Mick Savage beguiles his way into the beds of a variety of England’s uppercrust, male and female, and robs them. With the assistance of his sidekick, the cutpurse Cat, he goes after the greatest prize of them all: The Gloucester Diamond. Disguised as a pair of priests, they discover that men of the cloth are just as fallible as the randy lords of London. Greed is his downfall, and he and Cat are arrested and transported to the colonies.

Meanwhile, the bookish and mild Christopher FitzGibbons is betrothed against his will to Lady Violet. Completely ignorant of sex, he finds himself strangely attracted to a Willicombe, an underfootman and young man like himself. With Willicombe’s help he attempts to get a sexual education and comic mishaps ensue. Just when he and Willicombe are finally reaching a mutually pleasurable understanding, they are discovered by Lord Christopher’s father. Lord FitzGibbons is Not Happy enlists his son in the navy to make a man of him.

And the book falls apart.

Once Christopher is assigned to the HMS Impregnable under Captain Rock, and Mick and Cat are tossed into the filthy hold along with the other prisoners Captain Rock is charged to deliver to the penal colony, the author loses faith in his materials and reverts to gay porn scenes. Previously in the book the numerous erotic encounters had some point in the story—Mick’s cuckolding of the betrothed Lord Christopher when each has no idea who the other is, for example, is an amusing scene that grows out of the characters of the various people involved and sets up the complications that will ultimately bring the two men together. The sex scenes aboard the Impregnable are not the result of any particular motivation aside from the author’s need to fill out the requisite number of pages of men screwing.

Needing to resolve Willicombe’s unrequited love for Christopher, suddenly we discover that he and Cat knew each other when they were boys and are happy to be back together again. After mistreating Mick, Captain Rock is enlightened and suddenly forgives and embraces his own gay son. Preposterously, all this happy-ending occurs aboard the ship belonging to the Spanish pirate El Niño, The Boy, who isn’t a boy at all, but either a hermaphrodite or a girl in disguise. It is El Niño who rearranges everything so that everybody (except Captain Rock) gets laid and everybody forgives and embraces everybody.

I’m all for happy endings, and those who know me know I’m utterly in love with wooden ships, but the second half of the book was a snooze. The author couldn’t tell a jib from a square sail, and aside from a few bits of wit when the other midshipmen set up the gullible Christopher for a prank, the nautical errors and mechanical behavior of characters who had formerly been engagingly believable, had me turning pages in a hurry to finish the book. One has the feeling that the publisher had a look at the manuscript in progress and snapped, “I’m paying you to write about men screwing, not Regency manners!”

What a pity. Gordon has a knack for humor. The bookish Lord Christopher—who is so earnestly struggling to be the man his father wants him to be while yearning for his books and other men—is the perfect foil for comic interludes. The reader can’t help sympathizing with the poor bewildered Christopher during the first half of the book. At the same time, Mick and Cat, whose flexible morality allows them to prey on the English, find that their streetwise wits can get them into more trouble than they bargained for. Even when we’re rooting for them to succeed, we can’t help but be amused when they get what’s coming to them—as in when Cat attempts to rob Mick after they have become lovers. I would have been very happy to read an entire book like this and given it five stars, but the second half of pirate porn ruins it.

Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: Voyageurs by Keira Andrews

Jack Cavendish needs to get to his station at Fort Charlotte, a fur-trading outpost in Grand Portage, Upper Canada. The fort is only accessible by canoe, and there’s just one man willing to take him on the perilous, thousand-mile journey from Montreal this late in the summer. Young Christian Smith, the son of an Ojibwe mother and absent British father, needs the money to strike out on his own, so he agrees to take Jack deep into the wild.

As they travel endless lakes and rivers, at times having to carry the canoe over land, the arduous expedition takes its toll. Yet the attraction between Jack and Christian, two men from vastly different worlds, grows ever stronger. Locked in a battle against the wilderness and elements, how long can they fight their desire for each other?

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

This is a story that has been told a million times before (think of The African Queen) but it is a trope that is obviously effective and popular and once again, works well in this short novella.

The story opens in the summer of 1793. Jack Cavendish had been stationed in India, working for the East Indian Trading Company. He’s ready for a change and has come to Canada to take a  new job at Fort Charlotte. Unfortunately, his journey from England was delayed by bad weather and he is a month late in arriving in Montreal, which means that all the voyageurs have already left for the far north. William Grant suggests that he wait until the spring but Jack doesn’t want to sit around for the better part of a year, twiddling his thumbs. Reluctantly, Grant hires Christian Smith to make the journey with Jack, telling him it will be long and dangerous. Jack thinks Grant is exaggerating, of course. He just wants to get to the fort.

When Christian arrives early the next morning, Jack is ready to go, complete with two trunks and all his books. Christian looks at him like he is daft and hands him a backpack. The only personal possession he is allowed to bring are a few tins of spices from India.

Off they go. Jack is overbearing and supercilious, believing he knows everything, even though he’s never been in the north woods of Canada—or the north woods of anywhere, for that matter. Of course, after just a few hours of paddling, he begins to realize what he has gotten himself into. It’s not long before he comes to respect Christian’s skills and abilities, feelings that turn into lust and eventually love.

Because they got off on the wrong foot, Christian doesn’t want to have anything to do with Jack, beyond providing the required transportation to Fort Charlotte. Still, as the days turn into weeks and they only have themselves for companionship, his feelings begin to change, too.

Their first sexual encounter is very rough and almost abusive—it reminded me of the first night in the tent scene in the movie Brokeback Mountain, to be honest. Putting it in that context made it realistic, although it was difficult to read. For quite a while afterwards, they don’t talk about what transpired. But gradually, they do acknowledge what is going on between them.

The protagonists are both interesting characters. Jack, at 27, has long known he prefers men, but he is a virgin. Christian is just 20, but more experienced and understanding, partly because of growing up in the Ojibwe culture, which has a more tolerant attitude towards homosexuality than the English do. Jack and Christian use this information as a way to bridge the differences between them; that’s the point when they truly fall in love.

The story is nicely told and the writing evokes the majesty of the Canadian north, with its lakes, rivers, and forests. There is a fair amount of excitement, especially near the end, which resulted in a satisfying and realistic conclusion.

This book is one of a series put out by Torquere called “Spice It Up” wherein each story features a different spice—in this book it is turmeric (which is misspelled on the cover, but correctly spelled in the book). The spice is used two or three times in the story in a very realistic way, which was a nice little twist. As far as I can tell, this is the only “Spice It Up” story that is historical.

Overall, I enjoyed this short novella that was realistic to the time, place, and characters. The setting was a little bit different and the story, while familiar, was well told. Recommended.

Buy from Torquere

Review: Pirates by G.A. Hauser

Justin Alexander Taylor had always dreamed of a life at sea. Living on the tip of England’s coastline, Justin escaped one night from his abusive father and stowed away on a ship. What Justin didn’t realize was the sloop, His Revenge, was a pirate ship, out for a broadside and gold. Captain Richard Jones escaped his own life of hell with the British Royal Navy. Leading the group of ragged men to their next adventure, Captain Jones never expected a stowaway to emerge from the bowels of the ship while they were asea. As the captain sought to protect Justin from the violent crew, a friendship blooms between him and his young charge. Soon immersed in bloody battles with Spanish galleons, the two men form a close bond which is about to be tested. Justin knew he would be in for an adventure when he left England, he just didn’t know he would find the love of his life in the process.

Spoilers ahoy!

Review by Alex Beecroft

This is quite an ambitious book, and a long one. At 223 pages it has more plot than most of the m/m Age of Sail books I’ve been reviewing recently. A quick run down of the story is going to take quite some space: Continue reading

Review: Black Wade by Franze & Andärle

Graphic Novel

Dreaded pirate Black Wade has a cruel mind and an explosive sexuality. His mercilessness is legendary, but it wavers when he encounters the young and warm-hearted English officer Jack Wilkins. these two absolutely different men are prisoners to their fate. overwhelmed by their passion they unite in a fight for freedom and love.

Review by Erastes

Age of sail pedants, abandon ship.  But everyone else, climb aboard for a fruity and surprisingly touching naughty-cal romp. (Yes, I know. I’m shameless.)

The review is under a cut because I’ve included pictures which are not for minors. Continue reading

Review: A Taste of Honey by Christiane France

Antoine Auguste, Marquis de Vernnay, is twenty-four and bored. Bored with women at the house he frequents on la rue Charles V, and bored with the elaborate rituals and devices he must use in order to achieve an orgasm. But then he meets Honey at an exclusive men’s club, and has his first sexual experience with another man. One taste of this beautiful, young creole man with the golden skin and Antoine’s life is forever changed. Honey is the only person he can think about and the only person he wants. Honey, however, is a servant of the lowest class, and also the property of another man. Can Antoine discover a way he can separate the two and keep Honey all to himself?

Review by Erastes

We are introduced to our hero on the first page, trying to wank (and failing) in his mother’s bedroom.  This was not a good start, as I found this rather distasteful and not a little icky.  Be warned for those of you who run screaming at the mention of heterosexual practices, that–up to now–Antoine has been shagging women and hasn’t found it very fulfilling (although he’s tried damned hard!), and his mastubatory fantasies are all about women.  He’s friends with the Maquis de Sade who has initiated him into the “delights” of causing pain-and Antoine is disgusted that the women he’s tried these on aren’t properly grateful.

he would have thought they understood a little pain increased their mutual pleasure a thousand-fold. But no, the merest touch of the whip on their delicate little backsides, the sight of the tiniest drop of blood, or the odor of burning pussy-hair from the brush of a hot poker, and they were screaming for madame, and madame was doubling, and sometimes even tripling her fees, then threatening to send for the police if it happened again.

Plus the fact he’s not a young man. He’s twenty four, (almost middle aged in the 18th/19th century and at his age you’d think he’d be a little more grown up instead of behaving like a sulky 17 year old.  All this sadly put me at odds against him, but I hoped that’s what the author was attempting to achieve.

His dissatisfied thoughts lead him–rather oddly, I thought–to wondering whether he’d have more luck with men (lucky men! /sarcasm)   He doesn’t do this because he considers himself to have desires in that direction, though.  It’s just he wants:

…something new and different—new friends and new amusements, and different avenues of pleasure to pursue.

However, help is at hand. His manservant needs no more than a hint that his master wants something less boring and immediately he suggests a club for men of that sort.

I found it rather staggering that, when the inevitable hook-up between the first man who approaches Antoine (coincidentally the man who is going to be the love of his life) happens, it happens in the middle of the room of the club!  They have each others’ cocks out in seconds, Honey’s finger is half way inside Antoine and they aren’t even in a booth or a private room.

Within minutes of them actually going to a private room, Honey is pushing his cock into Antoine. No preparation, no lubricant nothing.  While I know that, from discussions on various blogs, this is possible–I found it idiotic that a marquis would 1. allow it and the loss of status it entailed and 2. not be screaming in pain as he’s a virgin.

Of course the painful experience is hugely enjoyable.

[Honey]…was now pumping in and out of Antoine’s back entrance with a powerful thrust Antoine found more satisfying than anything he’d experienced with a woman.

Which I found odd because surely the women didn’t shag Antoine? Perhaps that’s what he actually wanted all along.

He returns again wanting to be touched by Honey and no-one but Honey.  Why? I wondered – how does he know “only Honey” can give him what he needs?  It all seemed rather odd.  There’s a seemingly huge angst section afterwards before the plot moves along and more than that I won’t spoil you – the book is less than 70 pages (on Microsoft Reader) so there’s not much plot to spoil.

However, I have to say I didn’t enjoy the book at all.  While not being badly written (apart from the sex scenes which struck me as rather bleak, clinical and non-erotic in the extreme) I couldn’t warm to Antoine in the slightest. He lurches from spoiled brat to frustrated spoiled brat and that’s about it, and I wasn’t won over by him and the way he thought he was in love after one painful shag.  There’s a lot of repetitive angst and sections which simply ask for suspension of disbelief.  One minute he’s worrying about how dangerous France is, politically, the next he’s getting his cock out in public. We are told that Honey is the “property” of an English lord which is errant bilge–although I think the author didn’t actually mean to imply that Honey is a slave, that’s how it comes over in the book and the blurb.

The denouement is little better, and considers more suspension of belief, I’m afraid, and I really felt that I’d wasted an hour of my time, so apart from the actual writing which isn’t that bad, I can’t find anything in this book to recommend, as the plot is weak, the history pretty much non-existent and the erotica not very erotic.

Amber Allure

Review: The Wages of Sin by Alex Beecroft

Charles Latham, wastrel younger son of the Earl of Clitheroe, returns home drunk from the theatre to find his father gruesomely dead. He suspects murder. But when the Latham ghosts turn nasty, and Charles finds himself falling in love with the priest brought in to calm them, he has to unearth the skeleton in the family closet before it ends up killing them all.

Review by Erastes

Anyone familiar with Beecroft’s writing will know that she has turned her hand successfully to Georgian Age of Sail and also fantasy. To blend the Georgian era–about which she is superbly knowledgeable–with a phantasmagorical element seems a very logical next step.

The story is included in The Mysterious a trio of stories including others by Josh Lanyon and Laura Baumbach. However, The Wages of Sin (which, incidentally, if you are interested, seem to be more sin, happily) is available as a standalone title. As the title suggests it’s a mystery, and right from the first chapter it had me guessing, and in no time at all I was thoroughly spooked out, baffled, and enjoying myself hugely.

If you love the deeply Gothic, then this will certainly be your cup of horror, as the book positively drips with it. The protagonist, Charles–the rather dissolute second son of the Earl of Clitheroe appears in the first chapter, slightly worse for wear from a drunken night out and proceeds with the thoroughly mundane task of putting his horse in the stables. However, a head full of drink, the eerie dark, his conversation about vampires with his friends, and what he thinks is his imagination (at first) takes over and before long he’s encountering something that I’m sure many of us have encountered, a sudden dread of the real unknown. Shades of Udolpho shudder out from the hidden places: from the echo of the horse’s hooves on the cobbles, to terrifying shadows on the ivy, to an unease that can’t be explained and then something happens both horrible and inexplicable–which is passed off as being very explicable in no time at all, lulling us into a false sense of security.

If you are looking for a formula romance then this certainly isn’t it. If you looking for a light and frothy read, then this probably isn’t for you. Beecroft’s prose–always lavish and descriptive–is given full rein here: no fabric is undescribed, no ornamentation or wig left unnoticed. Any lover of antiques will positively wallow in the furniture and the trinkets. Historical purists will revel in the fact that the men are wearing as much–or more–make-up than the ladies and are dressed in just as much lace and peacock-bright finery. From a lesser writer, this layer upon layer of description might seem injudicious or heavy handed, but Beecroft’s skill merely brings this slightly more alien Georgian world than than the familiar Regency we know so well, to vivid, sensual life. You feel you are walking down those polished, creaking floors, that if you were to touch that lace, or brocade, you’d know just how it felt on your skin, you are left in no doubt that the clothes are unsuitable for just about every pursuit other than polite conversation, and that to be pilloried, or caught in the rain in a powdered wig are things you’re really glad you’ll never have to suffer.

The relationship–I hesitate to call it a romance, as the ending leaves Beecroft open to write more about these characters–ably shows why gay romance, and particularly gay historical romance baulks from being shoe-horned into a formula that readers of hetero romances have become used to. From what we can glean from the historical record homosexual men would often take their pleasure quickly on the slimmest of encouragements and so it is here; due to the length constraints of the novella it’s difficult to have a dignified wooing, so the pair tumble into a connection which is primarily sexual–it’s not until the end that Charles begins to wonder and hope if there’s any future for them both. This grabbing of touches and kisses where they can, and where they hope they are safe, adds to the tension of the book which is unremitting throughout.

I absolutely loved the protagonists: Charles, with his clever mind and impetuous youth, who gets to grow up fast and learn things about himself and his family which change him for the better, and the delicious mysterious, conflicted Jasper with his own inner demons, his filial loyalty and his fingers in the butter. :) The minor characters are rarely short-changed; the sister Elizabeth is quite masterly, the Admiral–I really loved the description of him–made me laugh with his silly feud with Charles’ father, and even the one-line servants are vibrant and believable. The only character that I didn’t really get a real line on, was Charles’ brother, George–he’s a little two-dimensional and his motives muddied – but that’s possibly because Charles is a lot younger than him, and they are not close. Plus I feel there’s more of this story yet to be told.

The book made some valid social comment, too–after a tragedy with a servant there’s an exasperated rant from Elizabeth about the inconvenience it will cause this close to Christmas which made me laugh. (Although it really wasn’t funny.)

The language overall is rich, and gives a real sense of being there, rather than simply reading about it. The mystery is beautifully paced, if you are anything like me you’ll have to read it at least twice to work out how you’ve been gulled, how you didn’t notice the clues being laid out there for all to see, and I happily went charging off in the wrong direction, which for me is the mark of a good mystery.

I did notice a couple of minor typos, and although the language was English English (colour etc) I did notice the dreaded whiskey sneak in. Once or twice I had to re-read sections to fully comprehend who the “he” was – an all too easy trap with gay romance, but it really only was once or twice. Sometimes the dialogue was a bit too modern, and clashed with the prose. The cover is horrible too, imho–for some reason known only to itself, MLR seems to favour covers with headless torsos and a jumble of out of focus images. but I’m being uber-picky–like a judge in the final of Strictly Come Dancing/Dancing with the Stars who criticises the angle of the shoulders in a 10 point performance.

I’m not sure if it’s called “The Wages of Sin” or just “Wages of Sin” as I’ve seen covers with both titles. No matter – whatever it is, it’s an utterly spellbinding and spooky read, a cracking mystery and a really lush piece of Gothic literature.

Buy at Manloveromance

Review: Pirates of the Narrow Seas by M. Kei

Lt. Peter Thorton of the 18th century British navy must struggle to come out gay while surviving storms at sea, ship to ship battles, duels, kidnapping, and more in his quest for true love and honor.

My own Quick Summary

Lt. Peter Thorton is in love with fellow lieutenant Perry. Both men are given commissions to serve aboard HMS Ajax, taking an Islamic envoy to talks in France. Peter makes an enemy of the Captain, who is largely incompetent but doesn’t like people who show they know it. During a storm, the Ajax comes to the rescue of a sinking Spanish galley. The Spanish abandon their vessel, leaving their slaves, chained to the oars, to sink with the ship. Peter and several of the other British sailors attempt to free the slaves and stop the galley from sinking. As they do so, the storm blows the two ships apart, leaving him surrounded by freed slaves who have no desire to voluntarily sail back to the Ajax to be reunited with their captors.

Command of the galley is taken by Isam bin Hamet al-Tangueli (Captain Tangle to his crew) a famous pirate of the Barbary coast, who had been serving as a galley slave following capture by the Spanish. The story then follows Peter’s slow naturalization into the ways of the Sallee Rovers, and his growing understanding that he’s better off in a culture that allows him to love other men without censure. Rejected by Perry and wooed by Tangle, Peter has to decide where his loyalty really lies.

(First of a series)

Review by Alex Beecroft

As Speak Its Name’s reviewer most familiar with the Age of Sail, I tend to get all the books which deal with pirates and naval officers in the 17th and 18th Centuries. This is not a bad thing, as I’m always keenly on the look out for the next Patrick O’Brian, and I enjoy a naval battle possibly slightly more than the next person.

Recently I seem to have read nothing but the kind of Age of Sail book where all the action goes on in the Great Cabin, the sails apparently handle themselves, the Captain has nothing to do except to shag his cabin boy, and wind, waves, currents and the ships of other nations never appear at all.

So I was excited to be given this book to read. I had already seen M. Kei’s blog and knew he was someone who was interested in the history and the sailing for its own sake. This, I thought, was going to be different from the outboard-motor historicals I’d read before. I went into it with great hopes.

I almost gave up on it in the first five pages. There are two flaws, IMO, that a historical novel can fall into – one is not to care about the history at all, and the other is to care so much that you load your story with all your research, so that it reads like pages out of a text book cut up and joined together with a thin excuse for a story.

At the beginning of the book, I feared I’d come up against the second type. There seemed to be a lot of explaining how the Admiralty works, explaining about the Articles of War, and the “Captain’s Cloak” which gives a captain absolute authority at sea, etc etc. By contrast there wasn’t a lot of concentration on the characters of Peter and Perry. Also, the first few chapters were very similar to the first few chapters I’ve read of very many AoS books—officers receive their orders, travel to find their ship. The ship and the other officers are introduced. They make ready to sail, etc.

So up until about chapter 7 (the chapters are quite short) I was feeling that this was a worthy attempt which had become choked by its own research.

However—this is a big however—once I hit chapter 8 I started to sit up and take notice. The story suddenly took off. The scene of Peter and his boarding party frantically struggling to free the slaves before the whole ship sank under them was nail-bitingly intense. I cast off all my quibbles and began to thoroughly enjoy myself.

From chapter 8 onwards, the story moved from the path, well-trodden by Forester and O’Brian, of adventures in the British Navy, and entered the realm of the Barbary corsairs. The research began to feel more naturally embedded in the story – for example, it becomes not only fascinating to find out that galleys have watertight bulkheads, but also vitally important for the story. The culture clash between Peter and Tangle was beautifully drawn and gripping—Peter simultaneously proving that he is an admirable, honourable man while learning to appreciate the Islamic way of doing many things, from daily washing to sail-handling.

His realization that Tangle finds him attractive and that he returns the admiration is handled beautifully. Peter has been in the grip of some pretty terrible low self esteem as a result of his “unnatural” and “abominable” inclinations, and it’s beautiful to watch his confidence blossom as he slowly begins to accept that in Tangle’s culture it really isn’t that big a deal.

Over the course of the novel, Tangle and Peter negotiate a treaty with Britain and France which enables them both to serve together united in enmity against Spain. Peter converts to Islam and resigns his commission as a result. Tangle fights a duel with Bishop (Peter’s bad ex-captain) and then spends much of the end of the book trying to get his old ship and possessions back out of the hands of his brother in law, who snapped them up when everyone thought that Tangle would never be coming back.

As is typical for an Age of Sail book, this is more of a “slice of life” than a “romance” with a strict beginning, middle and end. Things happen the way they happen in real life—unexpectedly and often surprisingly. And I like that. The plot here is formed by the arc of character development—Peter learning to accept himself, and Isam learning that although he’s a mighty pirate, sometimes there are things he can’t have all his own way. Just as I enjoyed Peter’s development from self-hatred to confidence, I enjoyed the slow way that Isam’s character went from ‘tragic heroism’ to ‘slightly overbearing but endearingly sunny’. I also enjoyed the constant nautical competence of both characters. I do like a hero who knows how to do his job!

To conclude: I loved the book. I enjoyed it immensely, and I thought it was a wonderful breath of fresh air that it concentrated on the culture of a maritime nation which normally gets cast as the baddies in AoS books.

I wish I could give it five stars. However I’m going to take off a half for the slightly belaboured start. Also—I presume because it’s self-published—there are numerous typos. I would very much urge M. Kei to offer it to a publisher like Lethe Press because I’m certain that a professional edit would be all this book needs to be perfect. Even at 4.5 stars though, if you have any interest at all in the age of sail, I highly recommend that you rush out and get this book. I received an ebook copy for the purposes of this review, but as soon as I’ve posted this I’m going to go and buy it in print.

Author’s Website

Buy at Lulu

Review: Galleons and Gangplanks by Sean Michael, Julia Talbot, Mychael Black and Willa Okati

Pirates! Rapiers! Cannons and flintlocks! These are all the idea behind Galleons and Gangplanks. Bringing back the days when pirates ruled the high seas, this collection of stories has no shortage of adventure, danger, and excitement. From Sean Michael comes Searching the Seas, a story about an honest man kidnapped by pirates, used as collateral for a trade between the pirates and the seaside village at their mercy. Things are not always as they seem, though, and soon the constable and the pirate Captain are learning to love, and live, with the past and the future. Julia Talbot’s The White City takes on the Barbary Coast, with a legendary privateer meeting his match in an Algerian sheik. But who is the captor and who is the slave in this game of cat and mouse that runs from the sun baked streets of Algiers to the waves beyond the shore? Mychael Black’s Fool’s Gold is a romp in the best pirate tradition. Searching for his father’s lost gold, a young man teams up with a salty veteran to follow a treasure map. Can the two of them find something in common besides a lust for coin? In Willa Okati’s Of Boats and Bluebeards two young men are pressed into service on a pirate ship, one of them slated to be the Captain’s new toy, the other set to backbreaking work. Can Kit and Paul find a way to escape, and to share the budding love they find with each other? Get your arrr! on!

Review by Alex Beecroft

Like most anthologies, this is a mixed bag of stories, some of which are in my opinion better than others. I think I’ll consider them separately before I think about the book over all.

Unfortunately, the first story in the anthology, “Searching the Seas” by Sean Michael is, I think, the weakest of the four. Abraham Sawyer is “a lawman” (whatever that means in the 17th/18th century, before the invention of the police), who lives on a small, peaceful island, and is taken aboard a pirate ship as a hostage following some negotiations that didn’t quite make sense to me. There he discovers that the despicable pirate is in fact his old lover who has been searching for him for years. And then they have lots of sex, and some hurt/comfort, and some more sex.

This ‘story’ is little more than a set up for endless amounts of smut. It’s fairly good smut, and if you’re looking for some explicit pirate/non-pirate porn, then it does the job. For me, I’m still shaking my head over the fact that this is the second time in as many Age of Sail books that an author has given the captain of a wooden ship a hearth in his cabin. An open fire, on a ship made entirely of inflammable wood, coated with inflammable pitch and containing a room full of gunpowder.

I realise this is probably not a deal-breaker for other people, but it is for me. For me it says “I didn’t care enough about my setting to even make the effort of looking at the internal layout of a tall ship (easily available by Googling), or sparing a moment’s thought about the realities of life at sea.” Why bother to set your story on a 17th Century ship if you’re going to write it as if it was a house on waves? Why should I, who was looking for some real tall ship action, care about a story that is just pirate-dress-up + porn? I don’t. However, if pirate-dress-up + porn is what you’re looking for, you will like this story better than I did.

I wish that the volume had opened with one of the other stories instead, because first impressions count, and all of the other stories have more to recommend them than the first.

Julia Talbot’s The White City is set in Algiers. Told alternately in the PoV of Jem Nettles, captured pirate, and his captor Hakim Reis, this is a story which is much more historically believable in terms of setting. I’m even delighted by the fact that Hakim Reis and his nemesis and overseer turn out to be British pirates employed by the Dey, like the infamous trio of Dutch pirates who ‘turned Turk’ in the early 17th Century.

Hakim finds himself falling in love with his captive and refuses to turn him over to his boss, Sharim Reis. Sharim is annoyed, as Jem has been a pain in his neck and he wants to see the annoying man punished. So Sharim captures Hakim, and is about to teach him a painful lesson when Jem (who has seized the opportunity to escape from them both,) rallies his scattered ship’s crew and rescues him. There is some sex with dubious consent in the story, and it is quite hard to see what it is that draws Jem and Hakim together and makes them willing to risk so much for each other. But it was so nice to see a setting that I could believe in, and a story that had some plot, that I put this down to the mysteries of love and just enjoyed the suspense of wondering what was going to happen next.

I liked this one and would like to read something longer by her.

Fool’s Gold by Mychael Black features mature pirate Ian Bowers being employed by naïve young gentleman Silas Christian to find the treasure to which Christian’s father has left him a map. Over the course of the story we discover that Christian is not really naïve, nor a gentleman at all, he’s actually the son of Bowers’ previous captain and lover. During the hunt for this and then a second treasure, the two of them fall in love, and Bowers has to prove to Christian that (a) he loves the son as much as he ever did the father, and (b) he’s willing to give up the sea in order to be with Christian.

I have mixed feelings about this one. I thought the characters were interesting, and the tangled story would have benefitted from being expanded to novel length and fully explored. I never did quite understand why anyone had to give up the sea – they could have become legitimate merchants rather than pirates and carried on sailing. There was a lot in here in terms of story and backstory and aims and themes and characterisation, and I felt it didn’t get a chance to be what it could have been because of the short length and the need to stuff it full of sex scenes. There are a lot of sex scenes, and I’m afraid my eyes did glaze over at points.

I can’t stop myself from saying that no 17th Century gentleman would be wearing trousers and boots, though. Trousers are not worn by respectable people until the early 19th Century. And this must be a 17th Century setting because a lot of it is set in Port Royal before the earthquake.

This one was interesting, I thought. Lots of potential, which I’d have loved to see expanded, but (IMO) sidetracked by too much sex. Again, your mileage may vary if the sex is what you’re looking for in the first place.

Of Boats and Bluebeards by Willa Okati:

Kit’s lover David runs away to sea and is drowned. Kit’s uncle, on finding out that Kit has a male lover, treats him so badly that Kit runs away to the docks too, hoping to be taken on as a sailor. This duly happens, but not before Kit acquires a hanger on in the shape of Paul, who is an old friend of David’s. However, the handsome and obliging captain who has press-ganged them both turns out to be a pirate of the old school – a rapist and murderer with a grizzly surprise locked away in one of the store rooms on his ship.

Despite the fact that this is another ship which leaves only a skeleton crew on watch at night (better than none at all, but still, what happens when the wind changes and there aren’t enough men to man the sails?) and continues to use the cannon even when boarding (thus mowing down their own men) I enjoyed this story. It’s refreshing to find a pirate who is genuinely piratical and not very nice. The threat of rape hanging over Kit, and the later threat of murder gave the story a real tension and suspense, and there’s a wonderfully grotesque and gruesome moment half way through that really had an impact on me. Paul and Kit’s hate/love relationship was also a nice twist, and I liked the open-ended ending which took them out of immediate danger but allowed them to go on to further adventures together.

Given the title and the historical Bluebeard, I should have been expecting the surprise, but I wasn’t, and I give the story due kudos for that. It woke me up, and I like that.

So… on the whole this anthology presents more good than bad. Few of the stories are exactly historically correct, but (except for the hearth) the anachronisms are not so egregious that I couldn’t enjoy the stories despite them. There was too much sex for me, but there was at least enough story to keep me reading despite that. One of the best examples of its sort, I think, and if you’re actually looking for erotica rather than romance it would be even better.

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Review: Le Frai de Demon by Sarah Masters

Life at sea brings new experiences to Vincent, but tragedy eclipses the happiness in his heart. Blurb: As Le Frai De Demon coasts the ocean waves, Vincent and Julian continue their love affair. Upon arriving at Hellion to trade wares, Julian takes Vincent to a special place where the crack of a whip brings them both pleasure. However, their private time is interrupted when a crew member brings news of a rogue trader causing trouble. The men return to the ship intent on leaving Hellion as soon as possible, but a tragedy is in their midst. Once at sea again, Le Frai De Demon battles through a storm, but will all the crew survive?

Review by Erastes

This is a sequel to Devil’s Spawn reviewed last year, which I must admit I haven’t read, so it was interesting to me whether it could stand on its own.  I found it didn’t, not really–as within the first couple of pages I was a bit confused as to who anyone was and why they were there.  The crew seemed entirely accepting of Vincent and Julian, and in fact seemed all gay themselves which is a fantasy trope I can do without.

The ship docks at an unnamed place–dubbed Hellion by Julian, but we are told that’s not its real name–and predictably, there’s a brothel there that caters for homosexuals. There’s one major sex scene, which involves a woman whipping the pair of them, which I really didn’t like that much–I don’t see the attraction of whipping, when it’s out of context–there didn’t seem to be any BDSM relationship between the two of them – and I wasn’t expecting any female action in my m/m.

The language tries hard to be old fashioned, and is a tad too purple for my current taste, but the lack of care with anachronistic words such as adrenaline and libido jars from time to time.  Libido dates from around 1892 – although there’s no time frame to this story.  With the mention of breeches and sailors, I am guessing late 18th century/early 19th, but there’s no real way to tell.

I have to say, that it rather surprised me, that when the ship seemed to be in trouble and they had to get out of Hellion in a hurry, the pair retired to their cabin to shag, rather than to take care of the necessities of leaving port. In fact, it’s Vincent, not the captain, Julian, who eventually says that they should get out of bed and go and help the crew who are struggling with a storm!

The blurb promises excitement in the storm, but as they spent most of it in bed, saying that the crew can cope, I rather lost my sympathy for the pair of them.

Age of Sail purists should probably avoid this.

Other than that, I think my main concern is that there’s no actual plot. The men dock at a port, are chased off, get into a storm, shag a lot, speak endless endearments and that’s about it.  I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, which was set up from the beginning, but nothing actually happened, and as with the last book, the entire plot is described within the blurb.  Even with my short stories, I expect some kind of surprise.

So, it doesn’t really work as a standalone, I’m afraid, whatever happened in the first book might explain some of the bafflement – and I understand that this is an ongoing series, with five books now–but at two-three dollars each, I think I’d prefer one whole book to read.

Buy from Lovedivine Alterotica (also available on Fictionwise and Kindle)

Review: Hidden Conflict (various)

Hidden Conflict presents four novellas that tell the experiences of gay military men, their families and friends, during times of conflict and war. Each story presents a unique voice at a distinct time in history.

Review by Vashtan

I’ve been in a reviewing funk over the question how to review and to what end. While I still believe that honest reviews require the occasional lashing, I concur with a friend who holds that reviewers should offer advice to authors as well as readers. Now, that requires a slightly different approach, and makes this a bit more difficult.

Not only would a reviewer have to express an opinion on something as intangible as moods and one’s personal reflections (easier thought than written), but also find the perceived “fatal flaw” in the writing and point it out so it can be fixed. This approach actually places a reviewer in the camp of the editor. What I then review is not just that author’s command of the craft, but the editor’s ability or inability to spot and fix issues. A weak book would then be not only the fault of an author, but the flaw of an editor in not fixing it, and the publisher for acquiring the text and contracting it. I will have to do more thinking about it.

Thankfully, “Hidden Conflict” is, by and large, an easy vote. I really enjoyed it. One word of warning. This is not a collection of romances. Only one text fits the bill and provides a happily ever after (at least we can hope that), while the other texts explore loss, suffering, social stigma, “fitting in with the boys” and barely-verbalised or expressed desire. This is also not the book for steamy sex scenes, so I would place this firmly in the camp of “gay historical writing”. What this book gives you is four intense,
emotional journeys, each one firmly grounded in history and fact. We see Native Americans counting coup, experience the mind-numbing shelling of WWI and the terrible wastelands of mud and rain, and the loss of families and boyfriends knowing their loved died “somewhere across the ocean”. Alienation, shell-shock, and the terror of war. In this, the authors explore the mind of the fighting man; the comradery,
the emotional bonds forged on the battlefield, looking out for one’s fellow man. As a historian with a strong bent towards military history, I’m always astonished at how war brings out the best and worst in humanity; both our bestial natures and our utterly selfless ability to sacrifice and preserve, and to value life most in the destruction of it. I felt the authors all grappled with those questions, so this is not a book for those who fancy men in uniforms getting it on. It’s so much more than that, which makes it difficult
to review.

All of the stories are well-written and carefully edited; the cover expresses the essence of the book well as a collection of four different voices. “Romance” as in romantic attachment, the possibility to love, the desire to love and hold features in the anthology, of course. It can be a love story against all odds and society as in “Blessed Isle” by Alex Beecroft, a (possibly) unrequited love and uncanny, ambivalent, maybe brotherly love as in “Not to Reason Why” by Mark Probst, or the potential of love that was sadly cut short like so many lives during WWI in “No Darkness”, and, with a different slant in “Our One and Only” by E.N. Holland, which focuses on the survivors and their ability – or inability – to move on after loss. But the setting is very real, too, and I found no major flaw with the research in terms of military and gay history. A different reviewer pointed out issues of military protocol in some of the stories, but as a civilian, I didn’t spot them.

Now comes the part where I have to choose a favourite, I guess, and the vote is clearly on “Blessed Isle” by Alex Beecroft. I read her “False Colors” and it blew me away, and she did it again, with less words. Minor craft issues I had with “False Colors” (focusing on viewpoint, voice, and pacing) are gone in “Blessed Isle”. Beecroft continues to astound and amaze, and this story went down like very old, accomplished Bordeaux wine, served just exactly right. It’s not a story that you can “just read”, you have to savour it. The language was pitch-perfect, and I recommend taking your time to work out the nuances and let them resonate. Sometimes, prose is so well-made that it becomes a rush and a pleasure all by itself. The story Beecroft tells and the exploration of the characters just heighten the pleasure, but it’s always her prose that gets me first. Were “Blessed Isle” on it’s own, it would be a rare five stars.

The reason why the others aren’t my favourites (I hope that sentence makes sense) are minor. Each story would rate highly on its own (in the 4-star range), but I have minor quibbles with each one. “Not to Reason Why” by Mark Probst is emotionally honest (and I love authors facing those emotions – it takes a special kind of bravery), but I
didn’t fully warm with the main character, Brett Price. While it was painful to see him stumble through the battlefield and tell us all about the horrors of the massacre (well-done, gruesome writing), I didn’t quite warm with him. He appeared through much of this as a love-struck puppy, and I kept wanting to tell him to “man up” and stop
pining. But then, how many of us do manage to do that when our friends tell us? Exactly.

“No Darkness” by Jordan Taylor sets out on a very difficult task—to tell a story with two men in a cellar, fearing impending death, and growing close by telling their stories. The story is heavy on dialogue, and attempts to draw the characters by dialogue, a task that
it didn’t quite accomplish for me. While I can believe that hysteria and stress (one is wounded) can make people sound more cheerful than I would expect them to sound under such circumstances, there were moments in the dialogue where I thought that the characters were on the verge of being self-indulgent, telling all those anecdotes while
quite literally fighting for their lives. I’d expect more of the raw stress and fear to come out, so I would have tightened up the dialogue quite a bit more than was done. The strongest parts of the story, I felt, were those where the characters don’t talk.

The last story, “Our One and Only” by E.N. Holland explores the loss of a loved one, a life lost in battle during WWII, from the viewpoint of his lover. I struggled a bit with this story; while I understand that many struggle to move on after a loss, I felt forty years of
mourning was excessive, especially since the surviving boyfriend never had any other relationships and has never fallen in love. Instead of romantic, I felt “what a waste of one’s life”, but maybe I’m too cynical. The story explores the surviving boyfriend’s life, his
inability to let go, how he is part of the family of his beloved Edward, taking Edward’s position, while keeping his mourning mostly silent, “lover” becomes “good friend”. Nevertheless, I felt the story dragged and would benefit from some well-placed strategic cuts.

As diverse as these stories are, there is one for everyone, and I believe nobody can read this without being profoundly moved by the writing and the depth of emotion the authors explore. Bravo.

Cheyenne Publishing (print)  Bristlecone Pine Press (Ebook)

Review: Checkmate by Nicki Bennett and Ariel Tachna

When sword for hire Teodoro Ciéza de Vivar accepts a commission to “rescue” Lord Christian Blackwood from unsuitable influences, he has no idea he’s landed himself in the middle of a plot to assassinate King Philip IV of Spain and blame the English ambassador for the deed. Nor does he expect the spoiled child he’s sent to retrieve to be a handsome, engaging young man. As Teodoro and Christian face down enemies at every turn, they fall more and more in love, an emotion they can’t safely indulge with the threat of the Inquisition looming over them. It will take all their combined guile and influence to outmaneuver the powerful men who would see them separated… or even killed.

Review by Erastes

Wow.  Just look at that cover.  I’m not generally a fan of Ann Cain’s hand drawn covers, but I’ve probably only seen the more yaoi ones.  This is utterly brilliant and has everything that a gay historical needs.  Yes, there’s flesh but it’s not representative of “men shagging” it’s more relevant to the story. It has depth. Bloody brilliant and standing ovation from me.  My top cover of the year.

Although I did enjoy the story as a whole, the main thing that stopped this book getting a much higher mark–which with a hard edit it would have deserved–was the head hopping.  I can usually bear it (although I know most readers dislike it intensely) with two people, but this hopped between however many where on the page, which was often 3 people and caused my head to hurt at times, and made for some really difficult reading.

Christian realized he had not brought his valise into the room with him. Sighing against the inevitable, he wrapped the cloth more tightly around his waist and opened the door. He hesitated when he saw Teodoro and Esteban standing there, but there was no help for it. He needed his clothes. Without speaking, he crossed to his bag and rummaged through it for a clean shirt and breeches.

His already hard cock throbbed against Teodoro’s  breeches when Blackwood entered the room clad only in a bath sheet, his bare chest and limbs even more alluring than the Spaniard had imagined them.

As you can see, the head-hopping here causes definite confusion!

It also made it very difficult to get to know the characters–it’s hard to get inside the head of someone when they only have one paragraph, one reaction and then you are whizzing over to everyone else in the scene.  To be honest it made the book almost unreadable, as the POV even broke away from Teodoro in the middle of an exciting sword fight,  completely spoiling the scene,  to leap into Christian’s head who was elsewhere at the time.

The mercenary’s conscience surprised me – I wouldn’t have thought he’d have cared whether his client’s story was true or not – he was being handsomely paid.  I would have thought that a hired sword would have one loyalty – the the highest bidder.  Granted he was attracted to Christian from the first but not enough to immediately feel guilt that he was kidnapping Christian, not saving him from unnatural practices.

There were a couple of things that jarred, such as a horse travelling 400 miles in 5 days, and the mention of a Grand Tour which didn’t exist until after the Restoration, but other than that the history seemed pretty solid to me, so no complaints there.

Overall, it’s a good story with a tender romance, exciting moments, enough hurt/comfort to assuage the hardest heart – and if you can get past the confusion of the dizzying head hopping you’ll probably enjoy the book, but it makes it a not-read-again for me, I’m afraid.

Dreamspinner Press Amazon UK Amazon USA

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Review: One Man Drowing by Steph Minns

Running away in 1762 from a dull life in fashionable Georgian Bath, Jesse Sunderland joins an ocean-going merchant ship. Just nineteen years old, naive and keen for adventure in the expanding world where England rules the seas and dominates the colonies, he has to not only deal with the harshness of this life at sea but coming to terms with himself and essentially his homosexuality, a hanging offence by law in these times. His adventures take him into a passionate affair with the charismatic Captain Jan Hough, who embroils him in his smuggling racket. Set in the ‘golden age’ of the 18th century English smuggler, this is the tale of one man’s quest to find himself, as he battles not only his own demons but the authorities as he is drawn into the dark and dangerous underworld of the smuggler.

Review by Alex Beecroft

As a reader, I’m firmly of the opinion that life is too short to read bad books. So if a book makes me go “oh, for goodness sake!” and throw it down in annoyance repeatedly in the first ten pages, as a reader I would just stop picking it up again. As a reviewer, however, I have a duty to read the whole thing, to see if it gets any better towards the end. Sometimes books do, and you’re glad you held on. The excellence of the end makes it worth having ploughed through the beginning.

One Man Drowning does indeed make me go “oh, for goodness sake!” repeatedly at the beginning. There are so many anachronisms; so many things about what we’re told that don’t make sense in the context. For example, our hero is from a good family (his mother’s family is titled, she ‘spent her first season at the Palace of Marseille‘, and she is well respected among the high society of Bath). But they are impoverished, and he is marrying a girl from a family who runs a successful business, in order to get hold of her money.

So far so good. In the context of the society of the time it makes sense for him to marry the girl, get hold of the money, and then carry on living as a gentleman. He is getting money out of the bargain and she is getting increased status as a gentleman’s wife. But then he goes and lives in his mother-in-law’s house, and gets a job helping her sons run the family business. It makes no sense for him to immediately destroy his status by lowering himself to his wife’s social level. If he did, not only would it negate any benefit she got out of the deal, but the shame and degradation his mother would feel would be acute. Yet she doesn’t appear to feel any shame about his working for a living, and neither does he.

If you’re not sure I’m talking sense about the social stigma involved in work, think about Jane Fairfax in Emma and how she seems to feel that becoming a governess is only one step above becoming a whore. How all people of true sensibility feel terrible for her and try not to mention her oncoming degradation. Think about Pride and Prejudice, and the way all Darcy’s relatives consider that he can’t possibly marry Elizabeth—not because she isn’t a gentleman’s daughter herself, but simply because some of her relations are in trade.

So the set up on the very first page makes me think that the author has no real insight into the thought processes of a character born into society at that time. It makes me think that we are going to get modern characters and modern attitudes wearing dress-up, rather than any real approach to history.

And honestly, I think that reading further proves me right about that. Jesse’s worries appear to be the worries of a man who knows nothing about the society he lives in. He marries this girl for convenience, and all through the ceremony he is plagued by the thought that he doesn’t love her, and that he’s being a cad. Why? Marrying for love was a new and suspicious phenomenon at the time. Marrying as a business merger was a time honoured tradition and Jesse’s tortured scruples just make me think he’s a little ahead of his time.

Jesse actually likes the girl’s brother, James, who likes him back. They get as far as necking on the hearth-rug (without troubling to lock the door) and are discovered by James’ mother. This is clearly a society of matriarchs, because James’ mother takes it up with Jesse’s mother, and she has this verdict:

“But this cannot bring you anything but pain. It is all wrong, Jesse.”

“Wrong? [he replies] I’m in pain now by denying what I feel! Look at the pain I’ve caused Dora too because of the hiding, the dishonesty. Can you tell me that’s right? To hide my true self from society in case, oh God forbid, it disapproves of me and makes me an outcast? Pray don’t turn sanctimonious on me now as I know you are no Bible basher!”

Here we are on page 6 of 269 and I don’t want to read any more. “Bible basher”? Apart from being a phrase that was first recorded in 1885, where on earth is Jesse getting his conviction that only the sanctimonious would disapprove of sodomy? Everyone in British society at the time, from whores to archbishops, at least publicly disapproved of sodomy. And “in case society makes me an outcast”?! Don’t you mean “in case I’m hanged by the neck until dead” or “in case I’m put in the pillory so that the crowd can beat and stone me to death.”?

Where is he getting his pop psychological notions about how damaging it is to deny what he feels? He’s talking like a 21st Century teenager, and at this point I have lost all faith that I’m in a historical at all.

As the book goes on, this only becomes more and more apparent. Jesse apparently thinks that fox hunting is barbaric—a strange attitude for a high born man of his time. He thinks that bloodletting is barbaric (he just happens to know a doctor who just happened to train in China, and on the basis of this acquaintance he rejects a thousand years of medical authority.) He takes every opportunity – or rather the author takes every opportunity, because Jesse scarcely rises above the level of ‘mouthpiece’ until just before the end – to condemn every facet of his society.

Seriously, if I wanted to read a polemic about the evils of Christianity, and how it’s all ‘dogmatic drivel’ which no person of any intelligence or moral fibre could believe, I would not go to historical fiction to find it. Apart from being intrusively preachy, it’s another example of Jesse’s aggressively modern attitude which does not make him in the slightest bit believable for a man of his time.

In the same way, when he’s transported to America for 15 years for smuggling, and given a cushy job as a gardener, instead of being thankful that he’s got off lightly, he cheeks his supervisor and is somehow surprised to be punished. Then he actually slaps the lady of the house and is again surprised to be whipped within an inch of his life. I find it hard to believe that anyone could be that blithely oblivious and stupid.

While he’s there, the author uses him to indulge in further lectures about the evils of colonisation. Which I’m sure is very worthy, but I’m equally certain that his thoughts make him something of a prodigy for his era.

To be fair, I would not deny that an 18th Century man – by virtue of being an independent thinker – could have reached surprisingly egalitarian and modern positions on many things, if that person was presented as a deep philosophical thinker. I have no objection to Steven Maturin, for example, (from the Patrick O’Brian books) who unites some very modern views with a thoroughly 18th Century character. But I don’t see Jesse being presented as that kind of a philosopher. He doesn’t come across as an 18th Century man who has thought deeply about injustice. He comes across as a mouthpiece for a modern author who wants to display how politically correct she is.

She also has a tendency to break out into paragraphs of “my research, let me show you it” facts that read as if they’ve been copied from a text book. For example:

The Powhatans spoke a group language he said settlers knew as “Algonquian”, which they shared with related clans. I came to understand that to them the planet was a conscious being, inhabited by birds and creatures which all had their own spirits and they saw them as fellows, not inferiors. When a game animal was shot or captured it was thanked in a small prayer for giving up its life. I noticed during our hunting trips that not one warrior failed to do this quietly for each rabbit, deer, or bird he took.

This does contribute to a feeling that you are reading an uneven blend of anti-Christian anti-European polemic, non-fiction and anachronism. You’re not being entertained, or even shown the mechanisms, reasons and appalling consequences of colonialism, so that you can come to a deeper understanding of what really went on at the time. You’re being lectured. And I like being preached at no better than she does.

I would not say there was a story. Things happen to Jesse and he reacts to them. Then other things happen. He lurches from one disaster to the next. He’s a reluctant bridegroom. He runs away from his first lover to become a sailor. Then he’s a reluctant housewife, then he’s a reluctant smuggler, then he’s a reluctant convict, then he’s a reluctant revolutionary, then revolution starts looking dangerous so he decides to sell cheese. Then he (reluctantly) takes up with an Earl who happens to come along (but it’s all right because he’s an Earl who wants to live like a peasant), then he’s driven out of his house and goes off to be a smuggler again, then that gets too dangerous and he moves on to something else…. Admittedly, the ending resolves a number of things which had been left hanging, but it’s also a curiously unsatisfying ending, as you’re left with the impression that the next disaster is just around the corner.

Jesse himself is a very passive character and doesn’t appear to have any goals other than being sent to places so that the author can use him to give us her opinions about them. These opinions are generally without nuance—for example, all settlers appear to be evil, all slaves saintly, all Native Americans noble and kindly and supernaturally connected to nature.

I can’t even recommend the book as an interesting way of learning historical facts. I don’t know anything about the Powhatan, for example, so I can’t say how accurate the book is about them, but I do know that Holland was not a Catholic country in the 18th Century. When (following a barn burning) Jesse muses “Such a crime would be …barely considered anything but natural justice by the Catholic Church and the Amsterdam authorities.” I wonder how he’s managed to miss that the country has been Protestant for over a century. I also know about 18th Century ships, and the fact that the Captain of the Viper has “a small hearth with leaping flames” in his cabin makes me think that the level of historical accuracy is unreliable at best.

I think the book would have benefited enormously from the input of a skilled editor. Apart from eliminating the numerous typos, an editor might have been able to encourage the author to show rather than tell. The author clearly is passionate about what she believes in, but she has not yet learned how to immerse her reader in her imaginary world and invisibly guide them to live through the lessons she wants to convey. Currently the book is not an experience, it’s a lecture.

I began to be slightly more interested towards page 200, when Jesse went to Cornwall and actually started to drive the action of the book rather than just being tossed around by his circumstances. Once he became more active in the plot, he stopped, on the whole, being such a pathetic, whiny, judgemental git and I found myself more sympathetic to him. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the end made me glad that I’d suffered through the first 200 pages, but it earned the book the 1.5 stars that it gets, and demonstrated a promise that the next book from this author might be better.

Full disclosure

1. I received this book free in exchange for a review

2. I am a Christian myself, so I may be more annoyed than the average person of other beliefs about the anti-Christian bits. I have, however, tried not to let that influence my review. If the author had been equally preachy for or against any other faith, I believe I would still have pointed that out as a criticism. I don’t think a novel benefits from being used as a soapbox for the author’s views, whatever they are.

Author’s Website

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Review: Stand and Deliver by Scarlet Blackwell

When Lucien Mayer, 14th Earl of Ravensberry is taken hostage by a gang of highwaymen, he is drawn to the damaged, reclusive Ambrosius and the dangerous, brooding Dante. Torn between escaping and satisfying his body’s needs, his life will never be the same again.

Review by Erastes

Oh dear, I thought. Another kidnap/rape-non con turns to love story.  However it turns out that it’s not quite as predictable as I imagined and that was a nice surprise.

The cover is quite nice. Frilly shirt: check. Moonlight and a castle: check.  Not a bad cover at all.

The length is only 34,000 words, though – even though Total e-bound Publishing call it a novel. I wouldn’t call that size anything but a novella, so pay your £2.99 knowing the length.

Lucien is travelling the London to Nottingham road (incidentally where his parents were killed by highwaymen some years before.)  I’d thought that it was nice to see highwaymen represented at killers, rather than “give us a kiss milady and I’ll stop at taking your earbobs” which you see too often. They were as nice and chivalrous as pirates were like Jack Sparrow. Sadly the men who kidnap Lucien fall prey to this Hollywood stereotype later in the book, content with kissing the bejewelled hand of the Baron’s daughter than nicking all her bejewells.

Lucien is waylaid by four highwaymen and when he jumps out of the carriage to defend himself, his coachman sensibly runs away.  It’s a good, exciting beginning to the story, and made me want to read on, despite the editing, which was sadly lacking in commas in many places, such as before names (e.g. “I don’t want to see you suffer Lucien” which actually means that he doesn’t want to see him suffer from Lucien), and inconsistencies such as two men sticking their head through a carriage window, and the face that it was very late at night and yet eye colour is clearly noticed. There are unforgivable typos too. “Dual” instead of “duel” and Lucien’s name misspelled for two examples. All little things on their own, but put together they irritate and pull a reader out of the immersion of the story.

What happens next is pretty predictable.  Even though Lucien has been kidnapped–and he seems to have no thought that anyone would miss him– he immediately gets aroused just by looking at the sexy quartet, and rather than worrying about his life, he starts fantasising about having sex with them all, even to the point of wanking off  There’s obvious tips to the yaoi fans; Lucien has turquoise eyes (later blue green, then aquamarine), another has green/amber/gold eyes and so on.

The men are not really manly men either, there’s lots of soul-searching and I love you’s and a lover that can never be forgotten, lots of teardrops trembling on eyelashes and betrayed hearts.  If that’s your cuppa tea, you’ll revel in this.

From the clothes, black velvet breeches with embroidered work, and the fact that there are glamorous highwaymen, I’m assuming that the time period is the 18th century, rather than the late 19th, so a cottage with a fully fitted bathroom with a large bathtub “swimming in soapsuds” was a little unusual.  Granted the richest of the land could afford such luxuries, but these four bandits live alone with no servants and cook for themselves. They are not princes and kings.  There’s no real sense of fear of capture for the highwaymen, either.  They live very close to the road they predate, and they don’t worry about the watch at all–there would certainly be patrols out to capture four active highwaymen like these.

Lucien decides to seduce whoever it takes to get away, and he’s soon grappling with a few of the highwaymen, both participating willingly and watching avidly.

It’s all a little confusing and inconsistent, one minute he wants to escape, one minute he really fancies Ambrosius, the next he knows he’s going to beg the evil Dante to shag him.  It’s like a big sexy orgy in the 1800s with everyone wanting everyone else.

There’s a quite jaw-dropping “revenge” issue to the story which I won’t spoil, but whilst I don’t want any 21st century values to creep into a historical story, I found this aspect particularly repulsive, as the man being sought out for revenge had only defended himself against armed robbers!  It didn’t endear me to the highwaymen in the slightest, to be frank. Neither did the constant weeping.

I won’t spoil the plot any more than that, but if are a fan of the Black Lace type of erotica and you like a lot of sex with your story, then you won’t be disappointed with Stand and Deliver.

It’s not a bad story and as I say, if you like sexy sensual stories with your heroes finding their erections more diverting than being in fear for their lives then you’ll enjoy this.  I’ll probably give this author another go, particularly if they work harder on the editing and make their men a bit less like erection obsessed love-struck girls.

Author’s website

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Review: Drawing the Veil by Stevie Woods

The exciting prequel to Beyond the Veil!

Read how Malik became the pirate captain who fell for Robert, and how he was forced into a life of pain, fear and violence following his capture by the Corsairs.

Review by Erastes

This is a prequel and sequel to “Beyond the Veil” which was reviewed earlier on the Blog.

Like the first book, it’s a fast paced adventure story, with emphasis on the plot, and not the sex – which is how I like it, but because Malik’s story is not as tender and kind as Robert and David’s,  readers might find it a harder read. And not in a good way!

Malik doesn’t have an easy time of it; captured by pirates and instead of being forced to crew, he’s taken by the wicked captain™ as a sex slave.  This was something I’d read so often, I found myself rolling my eyes when I discovered what Malik’s fate was, but I suppose the whole rape fantasy does appeal to some people.  I didn’t find the captain anything other than entirely two dimensional almost one-d if that’s possible, he’s a monster pure and simple–and while that’s quite believable (because the POV we see him from is Malik’s)–I wouldn’t have minded have seeing something of the man as well as the monster.

This first section of the book is pretty unrelenting–there’s nothing nice or titillating about Malik’s predicament (and that’s entirely as it should be imho) but when Malik sinks into remembrances of his relationship with his beloved Robert, I would have liked a lot more tender eroticism to balance the dark of Malik’s current torment.

However, it’s a brave stance, and I see why Woods did it this way; Malik’s past, and the softer traits of his personality, are gradually razed, and he becomes a harder, darker man in himself, he stops being the kind of crew member who tries to save the victims of the pirate’s predation, and becomes one of the pirates.  I applauded this, because some writers would have made Malik a 21st century man, baulking at the horrible things he had to do.  You never get the feeling that Malik revels in his activities, but he certainly realises that it’s his life, and he needs to make the most of it. Not only that, but he feels he can’t accept any male contact again.

The friendships that Malik eventually makes were rather rushed–and this is probably due to the length of the book – it’s 80 pages or so (whereas Beyond the Veil was full sized at 220 pages)–and Drawing the Veil would not have been at all damaged from extension. Once Malik is discarded by the Evil Captain™ and joins the crew proper I found myself wondering why he (and another of the crew who complains that he is nothing more than a prisoner) don’t or can’t escape.  The ship makes landfall pretty often, and no escapes are made, and no reason is made for this.

After Malik’s freedom from his sex slavedom,  the book takes a turn, and for me that’s where the characterisation disintegrates.  Malik goes through the fire of two years of rape, and becomes this hardened bitter man, but in no time at all he starts to lust after someone else, and we find he’s actually a sulking, weepy, whiny man and one that falls in love after just one fuck – which simply doesn’t gel at all with the man he’d grown to be, shutting himself off from emotion and male lusts.

I know nothing much of the Age of Sail, and perhaps I should have asked one of my AoS reviewers to review this, but as a layperson in the genre, it worked ok for me, and it’s clear that Woods has done a hell of a lot of research and if there are sea battle errors or ship description problems they certainly didn’t show if you aren’t an expert.  It’s the characterisation rather than the historical detailing that weaken this novella for me.  If you’ve read Beyond the Veil first and found that Malik was in fact in love with a woman, you’d be confused too because the canon simply doesnt’ mesh.

However, I do recommend this book, as it’s a roaring good read and stands on its own.

Author’s website

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Review: The Low Road by James Lear

An erotic adventure story for men who love men, set at the time of the Jacobite Rebellion in war-torn Scotland. Charles Gordon is sold into near-slavery as the plaything of corrupt military officials, but his talents-both in and out of bed-win him powerful friends as well as dangerous foes.

Review by Jean Roberta.

“You’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road,
And I’ll be in Scotland before ye.
But me and my true love will never meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.”

- from “Loch Lomond,” Scottish folk song (see explanation below)*

James Lear is a sly dog who subverts the kind of novels that are widely thought of as ‘classics’ by larding their plots with man-on-man sex. The results are surprisingly faithful to the original books, if not strictly faithful to the era in which they are set.

The most obvious model for James Lear’s novel about Scotland after the defeat of the Jacobites (Catholic supporters of Prince Charles Stuart’s claim to the throne of Scotland) at Culloden in 1746 is Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, a novel published in the 1880s but set in the mid-1700s and largely read (when it first appeared) as an adventure story for boys. The central character in Kidnapped is a young man whose parents are dead, and whose wicked uncle arranges for him to be taken to sea against his will. In the course of his adventures, the young man grows up and eventually gains his rightful inheritance.

The Low Road picks up the picaresque (adventure-story) and coming-of-age themes and intertwines them with the romance of ‘coming out’ into a society in which ‘sodomy’ is a hanging offense but in which most men enjoy sex with other men. Nineteen-year-old Charles Edward Gordon, the central character, lives with his grieving mother in the family mansion after his father, a brave Jacobite leader, has been murdered. Young Charlie, a physically active but isolated lad, develops a ‘friendship’ with Alexander, the servant who works in the stable.

Charles and Alexander engage in horseplay (literally), which leads to more intimate contact.

For awhile, the lovers live together in bliss, but the country is still in turmoil, spies and English soldiers are everywhere, and danger lurks.

One day, Alexander disappears and a mysterious French ‘priest’ named Benoit arrives to tutor the lad in Greek and Latin. Charles resents him, but grudgingly admires him.

By spying on the strange man in the house (after being spied on himself), Charles sees the “priest” masturbating. Charles confronts Benoit about his hypocrisy. Before Benoit can explain his real mission and his real identity, English soldiers arrive to search the house for ‘traitors’ to the English crown. The soldiers take Benoit away, leaving Charles and his mother. Charles realizes that he must take action.

Charles sets forth to outwit the ‘redcoats’ of the garrison and rescue Benoit. Along the way, he stops at an inn where he encounters a group of men:

‘a rough and ready group, but, I thought, honest-looking Scotsmen each and every one of them. When I entered the inn, they had been joining in a chorus of Loch Lomond — a crypto-Jacobite hymn, as every young Scot knew well.’

Charles is naively trusting. After excessive drinking and sex with the men, Charles loses consciousness and wakes up on board a ship, where he is destined to be the plaything of the crew.

The captain is an English gentleman who rescues Charles from the attention of uncouth sailors (not that Charles really objects), and decides that he wants to keep Charles for himself. Although he has been commissioned to bring Charles, the Jacobite ‘traitor,’ to a feared English general for ‘questioning’ (torture), Captain Moore sends word that Charles has been killed. Charles does not want to be the captain’s concubine forever, so he escapes.

Charles eventually meets up with the feared General Wade while impersonating a messenger so that he can discover the whereabouts of Benoit. In one adventure after another, Charles uses his healthy young body in the service of Scotland.

Meanwhile, Benoit uses any means at his disposal to write letters to Charles, addressed to him at Gordon Hall and smuggled out by corrupt guards. Benoit has little hope that Charles will ever receive the letters, but writing them helps keep Benoit sane in desperate circumstances.

The letters are interspersed with Charles’ adventures, so the reader can follow the parallel narratives as the suspense builds. The plot proceeds at a gallop despite the frequent sex scenes involving orgies, voyeurism/exhibitionism, spankings, cross-dressing and a memorable banquet in which Charles is the piece de resistance. Charles survives numerous close calls long enough to mature from a sheltered boy to a more sensible man, and all complications are resolved — at least for the major characters, if not for the doomed Prince for whom Charles was named.

For those who love historical fiction and m/m erotic romance, this novel is a treat. The epistolary form seems true to the period, and the episodic plot lends itself to being read in installments. James Lear has such a shamelessly homoerotic take on history and literature that a reader wonders which “classic” he will take on next.

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* From the Wikipedia entry on “Loch Lomond:”

“There are many theories about the meaning of the song. One interpretation is that it is attributed to a Jacobite Highlander who was captured after the 1745 rising. The English played games with the Jacobites, and said that one of them could live and one would die. This is sung by the one who was sentenced to die, the low road referred to being the passage to the underworld.

Another interpretation is that the song is sung by the lover of a captured rebel set to be executed in London following a show trial. The heads of the executed rebels were then set upon pikes and exhibited in all of the towns between London and Glasgow in a procession along the “high road” (the most important road), while the relatives of the rebels walked back along the “low road” (the ordinary road traveled by peasants and commoners).”

Review: Lover’s Knots by Katherine Cross

Third Lieutenant Andrew Clayton wanted senior officer Daniel Barrett from the moment they first met. Something about the charismatic man with the scarred knuckles and street-tough voice heats Andrew’s blood and makes his body ache. He’d give up everything for just one taste of the forbidden—his position in Society, his commission…even his life.

Daniel’s sure he’s losing his mind. Nothing else could explain his obsession with noble-born Andrew or his constant desire to spread him across the wardroom table and mark his fair skin. In His Majesty’s Royal Navy, the punishment for their love is death. One misstep could have them both at the end of a hangman’s noose.

But everything changes when they’re granted an unexpected leave. Far from the captain’s watchful eye, Daniel agrees to one week—seven days to explore each other’s bodies, to let four years of suppressed desire consume them—before they must return to their ship and the way things were. But some passions can’t be tamed once unleashed, and some dangers are worth the risk.

Review by Alex Beecroft

I know I said, just in my last review, that I didn’t like erotica much. So it seems like a dose of poetic justice that this should be the very next book I read. This is a very sexy book indeed and I loved it.

There’s not a great deal of story; we open with the ship on blockade duty, patrolling up and down the coast of France to stop any potential French invasion fleet from leaving harbour. This duty which is tedious at the best of times provides plenty of opportunity for Andrew to yearn for Daniel, angst about what Daniel would think of him if he knew, and enjoy some scorchingly explicit dreams.

Daniel’s low born roots and current high status make an enemy of the fourth lieutenant, Edmund Sinclair, who has designs on Daniel’s job and – it emerges later- on his person as well. However, before he can manage to find any weapon to use against Daniel, the ship is directed back home to England for the Captain’s wedding.

On the way, Daniel lets slip to Andrew that he is that way inclined too, and has been lusting after Andrew for some time. Further angst ensues as Daniel does the sensible thing and insists that nothing should happen between them.

However, by dint of cunning and determination, Andrew convinces him to at least spend the seven days of their upcoming leave in bed together, and much further highly entertaining sex ensues.

Unfortunately, the moment they reappear in public they make a disastrous mistake and are spotted kissing by their First lieutenant and by Sinclair. Given the opportunity he was looking for to hurt Daniel, Sinclair proves not to be the cad we thought he was, and doesn’t use it. The first lieutenant also keeps mum, and during a battle with the French, the two lads behave heroically and all is forgiven.

Put like that, the story is not enthralling. In fact I would say that the story is the weakest thing in the book. Not a great deal happens, and the villain who has been set up to provide some feeling of threat fortuitously turns out not to be a villain at all. Despite a battle at sea, there isn’t a lot of conflict, and this does rather undermine the characters tendency to angst about how dreadful it would be if they were ever found out.

But I don’t think that anyone who was reading this book would be doing so for the story. It’s an Ellora’s Cave book, and its intended audience are people who are looking for a sexy read. This is certainly that, the sex scenes are numerous, emotionally and sensually involving, mean something to the characters and therefore also to the reader, and are very very intense and hot.

The book is also beautifully written with a lovely spare style which is however not lacking in detail and description. And the historical research and setting are absolutely impeccable. No topless waiters and glassed-in portholes here. The scenes on HMS Charon are the real deal. I may not be sure about “swabbing the barrel” as a command – I’m fairly certain it would be “worm and sponge” – but I suspect that’s just a translation for the sake of greater clarity. Apart from that little nitpick, however the sea scenes are wonderful, and could have graced CS Forester. I’d have liked to see more of them, in fact.

That’s my main problem with this book – I would have liked it to be longer. I’d have liked to see Sinclair go through on his threat, and how the lads dealt with that. I’d have liked more of the action at sea that Katherine Cross proves she can do so splendidly. I’d have liked the heroes to have to struggle harder for their happy ending. Maybe a couple of hundred pages harder J

I also had a minor problem with the character of Daniel. Throughout, we hear about what a great leader he is, how everyone loves him, even the villain, how he’s born to be a captain despite his low birth. Everyone seemed determined that he should be given a command of his own, and the social and financial support he needed to get it. And the more everyone in the book praised him and said he was wonderful, the more I ended up mildly disliking the man.

He doesn’t act like a born leader. It’s Andrew (whom the book tells us is a natural follower) who forces the issue between them. Andrew decides that he will use his family connections to get Daniel a command, and drives this decision through despite Daniel’s protests. Andrew overcomes Daniel’s determination not to get sexually involved, and it’s Andrew at the end of the book who continues to drive the action.

The book’s insistence on Daniel as the ‘alpha’ of the pair, and as the one destined for greatness didn’t really match the way they came across to me, and ran the risk of making me dislike Daniel as a Mary Sue. But having said that, despite this, I did like him anyway, as a sort of gentle, immovable rock of a man, and I liked Andrew even more for his nervous but unstoppable determination.

This is definitely the best piece of Age of Sail erotica I’ve read recently, and I can only reiterate my wish that she would try something longer and more plot heavy to let all that lovely historical setting and research shine out even more.

Buy from Ellora’s Cave

Review: Past Shadows by Charlie Cochrane, Jardonn Smith, Stevie Woods

Through the centuries, lives and loves have been lost to the shadows. Stevie Woods brings redemption and a new love in DEATH’S DESIRE; Jardonn Smith has a frisky ghost showing two men the pleasures of love in GREEN RIVER; and Charlie Cochrane’s tale of future love is predicted by a ghost in THE SHADE ON A FINE DAY. In these three stories spanning from 18th century England to the Depression-Era Ozarks, love shines through the shadows.

Past Shadows is a trilogy of historical m/m ghost stories—1785, 1808, and 1938. The one thing I can say about all three is that these are probably the least frightening ghost stories I’ve ever read, which is not a criticism—I’ve never really seen the point of a spirit hanging around just to scare people. These revenants all have more serious business to pursue, naturally relating to the sexy gentlemen who are able to perceive them.

I was given a galley proof as ARC, so some of the minor errors that I noticed may have been repaired in the edition that went to press.

Death’s Desire by Stevie Woods (1785)

I liked the idea of this novella—two young cousins exploring their own attraction to one another while helping to lay to rest a murdered relative’s ghost. The young men were engaging and the dialog between Hugh and the ghost of Adam Simmercy was delightful, but there were so many problems interfering with my suspension of disbelief that I was never able to get into the story. Some were simply language errors (a ‘peel’ of laughter, misplaced commas and apostrophes), but the improbability of the circumstances leading to the murder convinced me that Adam Simmercy died of sheer carelessness. What gentleman, enjoying the embraces of another man in his own bedroom, would not take the basic precaution of locking the door? This carelessness is matched by his murderers—they bury the Lord of the Manor in the kitchen garden and his lover in the woods, instead of taking both corpses well away from the house to avoid discovery. Why one ghost is stuck haunting the place he was buried, not the scene of his death, while the other was stuck at the scene of the crime was never explained, either.

For me, much of the charm of historical fiction lies in small details. Unfortunately, this story disregarded important details, especially one: where were the many servants that one would expect to see in a grand country manor? A kitchen garden means a gardener, and gardeners are alert for such things as rabbits in the veg—yet there was no evidence of a gardener and no explanation of his absence. Hugh and his cousin Charles use a coverlet (an expensive item of household linen) as a carryall and shroud for the exhumed body, with no expectation that it will be missed, and they park a decomposing corpse beside the garden wall for some hours without anyone noticing. (That missing gardener would probably have had a dog…) They somehow manage to clean themselves up before dinner without the assistance of the servants who would bring in bathwater and collect their grimy clothing, and after further excavations (and another wash-up), they engage in a long, noisy session of sex in Hugh’s bedroom, with no apparent concern about being overheard by a passing maid or footman.

Any one of these problems would be a minor thing, but there were so very many that I just could not stay focused on the story. The sad thing is that I think the problems could have been worked out with a critical beta’s feedback or a tough edit. I have to say it’s my least favorite in the collection because it just didn’t feel finished, and I know that Stevie can do, and has done, much more convincing work.

A reader who isn’t as picky about details and likes enthusiastic first-time love scenes will probably enjoy this story a lot more than I did; I think Death’s Desire does have the most romantic sex scenes in the collection, but they weren’t enough to keep the story moving.

The Shade on a Fine Day by Charlie Cochrane (1808)

This story is a first, I think. It’s a gay inspirational—a Christian inspirational, no less. As a reader totally unfamiliar with the conventions of the Church of England, I found myself wishing that the author had included a short glossary—what exactly are a curate’s duties? What is a verger? If a curate preaches sermons, what does the Rector do, and why is he called a ‘Canon?’

But once that hurdle was passed, the story settles into a delightful combination of Austenesque convention—the young ladies of the parish twittering over the handsome young curate and the local squire—and unexpected surprises. The Rector is a married man whose wife must have been quite a shock to the locals, as she is a dark-skinned lady from an unspecified tropical isle. Her tribal traditions include a ghost named Toomhai Gamali, who drops in on dinner parties when there’s something those present need to hear.

Naturally, TG makes his appearance, and one of his cautiously-worded messages prods the handsome young curate, William Church, into a great deal of soul-searching that ends in him expressing his feelings to the gentleman he’s had his eye on… a gentleman who has been anxiously watching to see which village maiden will win the young clergyman he would rather have for himself.

This is a gentle romance, less explicit than the other two. Its main conflict is one of conscience, and its great charm is the cast of well-rounded characters who, I am convinced, went on with their lives long after I closed the book. This story was also refreshingly free of the typos that I found so distracting in the other two novellas (the only thing that struck me was the use of ‘may’ instead of ‘might,’) and I think it’s unique in having a scene where a ghostly yenta refutes Leviticus to a gay clergyman. Shade is interesting departure from Charlie’s usual whodunits, and I enjoyed it very much.

Green River by Jardonn Smith (1938)

This story is the only one I’ve seen set in this place or era. Since my own father grew up in the South during this time (he’d have been a few years younger than these characters), I was very interested to see what the author would do with it.

The setting—a WPA work camp repairing highways—came through vividly, as did the grinding poverty of the era and the human desperation of a depression, a striking contrast to the lush scenery of the country landscape. Smith really caught the sense of how a river becomes the center of human activity in the summertime. The love story is convincingly masculine—far more screwing around than verbalized emotion, though when the emotions do surface, they ring true. The comeuppance of the camp bullies was very welcome, and the randy river ghost has a satisfactory explanation that makes this the anthology’s second whodunnit. I almost wonder if Smith found an actual event while researching, as it sounds very real and regrettably believable.

I would have been more able to lose myself in this story if not for a number of minor errors in grammar and punctuation, and anachronisms—for instance, steaks wrapped in plastic should’ve been in butcher-paper, since plastic wrap for food wasn’t even around until the late 40′s. I also thought there was a slightly pedantic tone that crept into the expository sections of the story, language that didn’t quite match the narrator’s down-home folksiness when he was recounting interactions between other characters, and a few modern-day terms such as “graphic items,” and “peripherals” struck my ear as expressions that no down-home boy would’ve picked up in a pre-WWII schoolhouse.

But apart from these—and it’s possible that some of the typos will have been caught in the final galley proofing—this was an interesting story and an inventive choice of setting. The plotting is tight and well-organized, and all the threads neatly woven to a satisfying conclusion.

Amazon UK Amazon USA ManloveRomance Press

Review: Divided Hearts by Terry O’Reilly

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

When Jonathan and Nathaniel part ways, Nathaniel heads for the Ohio territory and a new life with Robert. Robert soon realizes his friend will never reciprocate his love fully. What can he do? Robert agrees to help the English translate in their negotiations with the Shawnee and in doing so meets Red Horse. Now there are two men living with Divided Hearts.

Review

Divided Hearts is one of the stranger books I’ve read in awhile. Let me try to explain.

Divided Hearts is the sequel to Awakening, which I read and reviewed earlier at this site. I had some issues with Awakening but was sympathetic towards the two central characters, Jonathan and Nathaniel. I also liked Robert, the young man with an Indian mother and English father who becomes an apprentice to Nathaniel in his cooperage. Awakening ends with Nathaniel and Robert heading off to a new life and some sense that there are lots of broken hearts littering the ground.

As Divided Hearts opens, we discover that Nathaniel and Robert are living in the Ohio Territory. It’s not exactly clear where they are living since very little description is given of their surroundings (in the village? Out in the woods?) but they have a house that they share and seem to be content. Robert longs for Nathaniel and Nathaniel is still longing for Jonathan. In a moment of weakness and need, Nathaniel invites Robert to bed with him; they have sex and Robert says “I love you” but Nathaniel doesn’t respond.

Time passes, which is described as “years.” Robert begins sleeping with Nathaniel more frequently but still does not receive the declaration of love that he longs for. Robert is trying to decide if this is his lot in life—“an unequal love”—when all of a sudden, on page 30, we have the first of several “jarring interludes.”

If you go back and re-read my review of Awakening, you’ll notice that I advised readers to skip the Afterword because I felt it was an unnecessary and intrusive add-on that ruined the bittersweet ending. Well, the author either didn’t read or care about my suggestion because in Divided Hearts, the “afterword” has become a series of jarring interludes that are peppered throughout the book. In these, the author flips to the present time and shares details of his life with his husband, Drew, and their seeing eye dog, Jive. Drew, who is blind, acts as the cheerleader for Terry’s writing (the interludes are written in the third person). Drew and Terry discuss the evolving story in such a way to make sure that we readers, in case we are too dense to figure it out on our own, know exactly what is going on. The interludes become increasingly irrelevant and personal (Jive’s week-long bout with diarrhea; Terry’s ill-advised one night stand with his boss) but they also have a train wreck quality. I actually began to look forward to them, more than I enjoyed reading the story because the story was…boring.

Yes, boring. As with Awakening, the writing is wooden and flat. People talk to each other, they ride around on horses and that’s about it. The sex scenes are the only lively part of the narrative. They do have a little passion and flair but that’s not enough to sustain a reader’s interest for 164 pages—at least not this reader.

Divided Hearts is supposed to be a historical fiction but the only thing that makes it historical is a very brief mention of the coming Revolutionary War, transportation is by horse, and the fact that Robert is running around with the Shawnee in parts of the US that would eventually become Ohio, West Virginia, and Virginia. This is faithful to US history circa 1758 so I guess O’Reilly got that right, but none of this history is presented in the story—I just looked it up on Wikipedia. No detail, no description, no little flourishes that make historical fiction fun to read.

The story wraps up with not one but two happy-ever-after endings which makes Drew very happy (revealed to us in yet another interlude) but left me shaking my head. Now, here’s my paradox: I feel bad giving this book a bad review because the author seems like a genuinely nice guy (he shares quite a bit of personal information in the course of the text). But he really needs to find an editor/mentor who will help him with polishing his writing and storytelling and give him some good, honest advice, ie, “The interludes don’t work, Terry. Leave them out.” O’Reilly seems to have good ideas for stories but at the present stage of his authorial development, he is unable to convey them effectively, which is why I can only rate this book at 1.5 stars.

Available from Aspen Mountain Press

Disclosure: I received an ebook review copy of Divided Hearts from Erastes, owner of this site, who had also previously given me a copy of Awakenings, also for review.

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