Home is the Heart by J M Gryffyn

The last thing war-weary veteran William O’Sullivan expects to find while walking his family’s property is the love of his life, but that is exactly what happens. Under the summer sun, well-born Irishman Will meets gypsy lad Brock, and the two are instantly love struck. 

Their newfound love may be rock solid, but so are the obstacles in their way. Will is expected to marry his childhood sweetheart and produce an heir for the family estate. Brock has his own waggon now and is expected to marry another Traveller.  The roads to their futures are embedded firmly in the past—and don’t include their love. Running off to America seems a perfect solution, but in the mean streets of New York City, they very quickly find that even a love as strong as theirs must be earned.  

ebook only – 100 pages approx

Review by Erastes

I really liked JM Gryffyn’s first book “The Wishing Cup” and I was eagerly looking forward to reading the second. Sadly I was disappointed by “Home is the Heart”

The writing is still good, there’s a flow to her prose that I like a lot but although The Wishing Cup managed a complete arc in a 100 pages, the pacing of Home is the Heart didn’t work for me at all. Perhaps it was the more static feel to the beginning–a young man stuck at home and travellers with their caravans. But throughout the book from literally the second scene it jumped around, introducing characters as though they rose from the grass and leaping from moment to moment with almost a dizzying speed.

The main protagonists literally meet and are just about having sex from second one. I’m not averse to insta-attraction but love, coupling and endless adoration from first sight is a bit too much for me. The author attempts to throw a couple of caltrops in the lovers’ path, but again, it’s sudden, seems shoe-horned in, and there’s no background to shore it up.

I think really, that there’s a point when a book simply can’t be done in 100 pages, not if the author wants to do the plot justice, and in this case to include sex scenes as well.  There’s too much here to be dealt with other than in this rather rushed way and it shows.

However, the research, particularly that around the gypsies, seems well done, I’m not familiar with the customs of the people, but what we are told seems to make sense.

There are a few minor quibbles, there are a good few Americanisms scattered around, like the dreaded “gotten” and a few context errors but all in all it is a sweet romantic tale and I’m sure that many will enjoy it. I can’t say I did, although that won’t stop me getting Gryffyn’s next book, as I’m sure that the promise of The Wishing Cup will bear fruit – it is a shame that this book didn’t live up to the promise.

Buy from Dreamspinner Press

Review: Roses in the Devil’s Garden by Charlie Cochet

In a city overrun by lawlessness and corruption, best friends and lovers Prohibition Agents Harlan Mackay and Nathan Reilly, are fighting a losing battle. With bootleggers running amuck and countless speakeasies materializing every day, how can two men possibly hope to make a difference? Especially when they can’t even trust their own bureau?

If dealing with hoodlums wasn’t enough, a ghost from Nathan’s past threatens to destroy everything Harlan and Nathan hold dear.

Review by Erastes

Written for a Goodreads writing fest, (Love is Always Write) this is now out in ebook form and is a nice quick read. The more I read from Charlie Cochet the more I appreciate her. She knows her era, she specialises in the 20′s and 30′s in America- and I don’t know of anyone doing the era better than she does.

This is the story of Harlan and Nathan–two cops working in the Prohibition Unit in New York. Lovers and partners they have successfully managed to avoid anyone finding out about their love affair. At work they are as hard bitten and tough as any of the other cops on duty–and why should they not be, after all? The only thing that I didn’t like about these guys was the fact that their names were too similar because I am a bear of little brain and can’t remember which is which.

What I particularly like about Cochet’s writing is her economy; somehow she manages to push a quart into a pint pot, as it were, and in the space of a small novella–hardly more than a longish short story, there’s action, romance, jealousy, character building, backstory, promise of more to come and more action. She makes it look easy and believe me it isn’t.

She intrigues with her characters. Small hints are thrown out, the fact that Harlan is loaded–money from his family–but we aren’t told very much more than that and I for one wanted to know more. Then there’s a character introduction that deals with Nathan’s past, and again, you want to know the full story behind that too. Don’t get me wrong, Cochet doesn’t leave you hanging with these plotlines, she tells you exactly as much as you need to know for this story, but if you are like me you’ll be writing to her and saying “more please!”

The historical details are, or seem to be, spot on. She’s a “safe pair of hands” and there are no jarring moments which throw you back into the 21st century, these are men of their time, and if that makes them bigoted and makes them say things that we would find objectionable, then so be it. If a guy is considered a fairy by 1920′s standards, then he’s described as such as so it should be. No political correctness in Prohibition Noo Yawk no sirree!

Highly recommended and even better – its a FREE READ!

Author’s website

Download at Goodreads

Review: And There Was Silence by Louise Blaydon

Two years after the horrors of the Great War, Robert and Harry are fellow students at the University of Oxford, spending an idyllic day on the banks of the river. Robert idolizes Harry, though he’s sure the other man has no idea of his feelings. When Harry offers to take Robert out on a punt on the river, the afternoon takes a turn Robert never expected.

Short story, Ebook Only

Review by Erastes

This is more a mood piece and a soft-focus love scene rather than a short story, I felt. It had a taste of a missing scene from some larger work and I’d have liked to have read that larger work because this left me feeling – like one of the protagonists – rather unsatisfied.

The writing is pretty good and just the sort of thing I like, lush with description and heavy with summer:

They sat together at the river’s edge, lazily watching the boats go by. Robert’s feet, stretched out in front of him, were somehow damp, although the sun had been blazing all morning and dappled them now through the leaves, casting loose, blotted shadows that darkened their clothes like stains. Harry had taken off his shoes, setting them aside and drawing up his knees to dabble his toes in the grass. His hair was in his eyes, paled to its summer gold, and his sleeves rolled up past the elbow.

So I was drawn in immediately, and wouldn’t have stopped reading for a big clock.

There’s nothing much to it, lovely descriptions, Robert (as the blurb reveals) not knowing Harry’s predelictions and suddenly a stolen kiss in a punt (which struck me as a little incongruous due to all the “boats going by” — I was certainly expecting a furious shout of “you there, you cads, stop that unnatural behaviour” from the bank but nothing happened. Suddenly we are in Harry’s rooms and rather nice inferred sex is happening.

And that’s sort of that. If it had managed a real sense of a short story with a story to tell rather than a cliffhanger, I would have given this a five star for the sheer lushness of the writing, but it let me down with a bump and I wanted the whole book, and I hate always having to say that about short stories. Still it’s only $1.49, so I suppose I’m being greedy.

Author’s Website

Buy at Dreamspinner Press

Review: All the Beauty of the Sun by Marion Husband

Soho 1925

Two young men meet – for one of them this is love at first sight, for the other only lust and guilt…

In 1925 Paul Harris returns to England from self-imposed exile in Tangiers for an exhibition of his paintings.  He leaves behind Patrick, the man he has loved since they met in the trenches in 1918, needing to discover if he has the strength to live without him and wanting to explore the kind of life he might have lived had it not been for the war.  In Bohemian Soho, Paul meets Edmund whose passionate love changes Paul’s idea of himself.  With Edmund, Paul begins to believe that he may have another life to live, free of the guilt and regrets of the past.  But the past is not so easy to escape, and when Patrick follows Paul to London a decision must be made that will affect all their lives.

281 pages. Available in ebook and paperback

Review by Erastes

This is a sequel of sorts to Husband’s “The Boy I Love” which I reviewed in 2007. It’s a little confusing because the three books in the series, “The Boy I Love”, “Paper Moon”, and “All the Beauty of the Sun” were written in the order above, but the timeline is: “The Boy I Love”, “All the Beauty of the Sun” and “Paper Moon”. This is important if you were setting off to read them all in order–and I highly recommend you do because these books are stellar. Simply the pinnacle of gay historical fiction.

Husband’s prose suits me perfectly, I’m quite aware that this more literary style won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but I find  her level of detail, her love for the minutiae in the depth of great emotion to be one of her greatest assets. She’s not content with someone walking with some distress through London streets; with skillful use of layering detail on detail she brings the scene to live through sights, scents, sounds, even touch. The effect of this is not only to show the protagonists emotional state, which literary fiction must rely on, but to immerse you entirely into the scene, sometimes you feel so close that you wonder that the characters can’t see you, peering in on them.

Paul Harris, whose story is more or less the mutual thread in the series, has returned from Tangiers, where he’s been living in exile with his lover, Patrick, in order to show his war paintings in a London gallery and hopefully to sell them. He’s uncertain as to whether the trip was sensible–he’s an ex convict, and would be in danger one again should his homosexuality be exposed again–and he’s left Patrick behind. He is anchored with Patrick–Patrick was his sargeant in the war, and Paul learned in the trenches to rely on Patrick–and it is Patrick that pulled Paul out of more than one terrible problems in the previous book.

Sadly though, Paul is very much “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you are with” so anyone who dislikes this ethos might want to avoid.

His story interweaves with the others in the story. Ann, the “good time girl” and artists’ model, Lawrence, straight but probably more on  his wavelength than any, the gallery owner and artist, Joseph Day, love rival for Ann, and Edmund, public schoolboy and bi-curious gay virgin. Some of it is written in third person, some in first, some in stream of conciousness, so if that literary style isn’t for you, you might not want to try it, but I think you should because the writing is so utterly beautiful.

Even when it is recounting the worst of times–death in the trenches being one dark subject, the prose remains clear and honest. This isn’t–for those who find World War One unreadable–something that dwells heavily on the trenches. It’s mentioned and obviously the effects of the war still resonate with everyone, physically and mentally, but it’s not the only factor. Paul has more demons than just the war, oh yes indeed.

I can’t help but care for Paul passionately. I felt tremendously sorry for him, and the things he does in London were unwise, but I felt he was a leaf, blown about by fate and he didn’t have the fibre to hold himself upright. I think any pretty young man would have captured him. Despite what he purports to feel about Edmund, I was never fully convinced–I don’t think he could separate love and sex, and Edmund was relatively untouched by the war. He lost a brother, but he was too young to have been in himself. Perhaps it is that aspect of Edmund that draws Paul, like a moth to a flame.

I did find the relationships rather confusing, and they lent heavily on coincidence. Everyone seemed to know everyone else. Ann for example, who Paul has only met through Lawrence and Edmund, knows–and has had a relationship with–Matthew, a man who has spent years in hospital, the war drove him mad.

It’s hard to describe the plot, because other than the thread of Paul of Edmund there isn’t really much of one–but that’s no detriment. Rather it’s a “slice of life” we start watching these characters at a certain point, and we stop at a certain point. There’s no definitive ending, no neat tying up of plot lines, because this deals with life, and of course life doesn’t have genre ending.

All of the characters–and there are more than I’ve described, all of whom are connected to Paul in some way or other–are fully fleshed out, their actions and reactions explored and consequences–or the threat of consequences–worried about. I take my hat off to Husband, because she is a master juggler of plotlines, how she does it, and with such a deft touch is beyond me.

So, don’t miss this series–if you love the power of words, words rich in layer and tone without swamping themselves in the morass of “this is literature” you will love them. Can’t recommend them enough.

As a final note, I have to mention the covers. The trilogy has been republished by Accent Press with new covers and they are terribly misleading. On each cover (as you can see) there’s a close up of a beautiful woman with a war/London backdrop. Seeing that in a bookshop makes one think that you are getting a standard women’s fiction book or a romance. Granted, the back makes it clear that the story revolves around Paul and his loves but the cover? It’s baffling. If the publisher was actually afraid to put a picture of a man on “The Boy I Love” and “All the Beauty of the Sun” then it’s rather misrepresenting, and once a reader buys a book thinking it’s one thing and finds that actually it’s gay romance with some scenes with more description than the average non-gay-fiction-reader can cope with, they probably won’t come back. I would have much preferred a more honest cover, but this doesn’t affect the five star mark, of course.

Author’s Website

Buy at Accent Press | Amazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: The Auspicious Troubles of Chance by Charlie Cochet

Chance Irving is a young man with a gift for getting into trouble—not surprising, as trouble is all he’s ever known. After losing everything he held dear one fateful night, he decides to leave New York and his past behind, and joins the French Foreign Legion. But even in Algiers, Chance can’t seem to shake his old ways, and he ends up being transferred to a unit made up of misfits and rabble-rousers like him, a unit he finds just in time to be captured and thrown into a cell with his new commandant, Jacky Valentine.

A highly respected commandant with a soft spot for hard luck cases, Jacky is the kind of guy who would go to war for you, and the three equally troubled youths he’s more or less adopted feel the same way about him. Suddenly Chance starts to think that his life doesn’t have to be as desolate and barren as the wastelands around him.

But even after their escape, with the promise of a future with Jacky to buoy his spirits, or maybe because of it, Chance can’t stop making mistakes. He disobeys orders, lashes out at the boys in Jacky’s care, and blazes a trail of self-destruction across the desert—until someone makes him realize he’s hurting more than just himself.

Published by Dreamspinner Press, ebook only, 172 pages, 56K words

Review by Erastes

A first person narrative which hits many of my buttons. As with her other novel (The Amythest Cat Caper) Chance is a very American character, but this time he’s not particularly nice. He’s a hard-bitten guy who has seemed to have lived many lives (and didn’t really enjoy many of them) by the time he hits mid twenties. He hates himself, the person he’s grown to be, wants more than sleeping around, drinking himself stupid and killing himself slowly–but he doesn’t know how. But then he’s had an unusual upbringing; he was abandoned by his parents and shoved into an orphanage at an age where he understood what it meant, and promptly ran away, to be brought up by theatre folk. His happy existence there is spoiled, and the rest of his childhood is skipped over with a few pages.

I was disappointed here, there was a great opportunity to tell the whole story, to flesh Chance out–to give us real reasons why he turned into such a soulless adult and it was missed as the story seemed to say to itself “oh dear I’d better get to the romance.”

I think for me, this book was struggling to find its niche. It had such a promising start, full of excitement, a great narrative voice with Chance, and then even more promisingly went to the French Foreign Legion–a much ignored manly organisation within m/m writing. So I was hoping that this would be the kind of adventure story where the protagonists are gay and coping amongst a World Gorn Mad. But once we arrived at sandy climes, and Chance and Jacky are shut up in a wooden crate the whole thing collapsed under the morass of predictable romance.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just I was a bit disappointed, because the set up seemed to point more at the plot, and less about the romance.

Chance is sent across the desert to find a missing unit. He does, finding them all tied up, and it was here I got rather confused, because–even according to Chance:

“Trying to decipher Jacky’s conversation was like trying to find your way through a maze blindfolded while walking backward.”

Somehow they all got free–although it’s never really explained how. Once Jacky and Chance are out of the box, there follows a predictable period of prick teasing, meaningful looks, tightening trousers until finally they have fabulous best ever sex in a tent in the middle of the camp–with the lamps on. I’m sure the rest of the unit enjoyed the show. The prose suddenly turns from hardboiled (and we’d been told many times that Chance was hardboiled and are shown why) to descriptions of weak knees and melting souls.

After the most sweet and endearing love scenes the author does try to claw it back:

“Now at this stage, let me pause to say that by no means had Jacky and I become some kinda lovey-dovey couple.”

But when there’s phrases like this:

“..he filled me up inside, every inch of my tight space coated with his beautiful essence”,

Chance rather loses some of his street cred.

I’m afraid the sex scenes were just too purple for me–they aren’t purple in the pulsing rosebud of his anus purple, but being first person they do tend to be far too much on the “I quivered as he touched me and my soul melted” (not a quote) kind of thing and I found myself skipping the rather frequent and at times rather gratuitous sex scenes because of that.

There’s also a complete lack of time and place, we lose the fact that we are stuck in a desert with “unfriendlies” (who they are isn’t really explained) all around, and the courtship takes precedence.  They move their prisoners from the ambush site to Agadir, and this isn’t explored either. We aren’t shown camp life, or the difficulties of desert survival, desert travel,  just very frequent in-tent sex. I don’t know what the Foreign Legion’s rules re gay relationships were (Marquesate explores the modern-day thinking of it here) but I find it hard to believe that they were quite this accepting. Slapping of flesh against flesh and Chance lying around naked on Jacky’s bed, scoffing dates and reading The New York Times. Heartfelt protestations of love that anyone could hear, shouting, weeping and gasping–just try not hearing your neighbour’s conversation next time you go camping. It’s not exactly Beau Geste.

It’s a shame, because from the hints here and there, Petain’s arrival in the area, mention of the Spanish and such-like, Cochet has obviously done some research. I just wished that it had come out more in the story instead of “When we reached Agadir, we dropped off the prisoners and set up camp.” When there’s a lengthy conversation, the soldiers aren’t doing anything but simply lolling about (something I think most armies try and avoid) rather than letting us see the minutiae of army life like KP duty, or standing sentry. Similarly Chance’s next few weeks in camp are dealt with by telling us what happened between Jacky and himself as Jacky attempts to tame Chance’s bad-boy personality. we are told they argued. We are told they fought. We are told there were skirmishes. But we aren’t shown them, (other than: “then I went charging in. I got shot in the leg.” These actions are brushed aside to concentrate on the relationship. As with Chance’s upbringing it’s rather rush and that for me made it an uneven balance, and I don’t think it fully works–I would have liked a more even display both of plot and character development, rather than character development as plot. Chance’s personality is uneven too, thinking like a New York gangster for part of the book, and a Mills and Boon Heroine for another part. Not knowing what a Charley Horse is, or who Chaucer is, but being able to say things like “malfunctioning neurological reasons.”

The thing is, when it takes a step backward from the sex scenes it’s interesting. The interraction between Chance and “the Brats” is exciting and really nicely done, and it fuels more character development than all the filling of asses.

All of that being said, this is a well-written novella, and Cochet (as I’ve said before) has talent and a bright future in the genre.  Ms Cochet is a relatively new find for me, but already she’s got five good stories under her belt. Lovers of romance will warm to this exceedingly and will fall in love with the love story itself. It’s just I was expecting a broader canvas, and this didn’t quite hit the mark for me. But it should state how much I rate the writing as a whole that it gets a four.

Author’s Website

Buy at Dreamspinner Press | Amazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: Christmas Wishes by JP Bowie

York 1922

Christopher Fielding has no choice but to spend Christmas with his family in York, away from William MacPherson, the biology professor with whom he has fallen in love. Finding his sister Nan in some distress over her pregnancy, Christopher makes a wish that all will be well with her and the baby, and another that William, traveling by train to his family in Scotland will be safe from the blizzard raging over the countryside.

As Christmas Eve approaches, William’s train is stranded in snow drifts and Nan’s baby is about to arrive prematurely. Cut off by the weather from a doctor’s help, the family is in despair, and Christopher feels that his wishes may not be enough. Perhaps what they now need is nothing short of a miracle.

(60 pages, ebook only, MLR Press)

Review by Erastes

This is a winter’s tale, a Christmas themed book (obviously) and as so is warm as mulled wine and full of Christmas cheer with a guaranteed schmoopy ending.

The plot is relatively simple, hard to be otherwise in sixty pages, but it does manage to pack a lot into those pages, some conflict, two red-hot sex scenes at least, a dedicated love affair and a lot of individual characters.

My problem was that it clearly states that it’s set in 1922 but the prose and dialogue smacks all too heavily of an earlier era. It wouldn’t be out of place in a Victorian setting. This more antiquated feel could be explained by Christopher being a college man, but everyone talks like it, and considering this is the Jazz Age (even in England) and the time of the Bright Young Things it seems odd.

This illustrates it well, I think.

“What would you like to hear, Mama?”

“Something sacred perhaps, Silent Night?”

“Oh, something more cheerful,” Horace exclaimed. “Deck the Halls or something.”

“I shall play them both–and Horace I expect to hear lots of fa-la-la-la-las from you in particular. Charlotte can assist you.”

“Splendid!” Charles Fielding, their father, rose to his feet. “Let’s all gather around the pianoforte and have a sing-along. It’s almost Christmas after all.”

There’s no mention of World War One either, which is disconcerting. Christopher is 27, so he should have served, and his elder brother is 30. Yes, it’s only sixty pages, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that the country had been ravaged by the loss of a generation, together with the ravaging of influenza so these things needs to have some nod given to them, even if it’s only to mention how lucky they all were to have made it with no casualties. I don’t expect there to be shellshocked ex-soldiers on every page, but some mention would have been more realistic and stopped it sounding like an Alternative Universe.

The love story was nicely told, and as I said, the erotica is hot. All in all it’s a decent little story and I think many people would enjoy it. You may not fancy reading about the snow and cold in June (unless you are from the antipodes) but I recommend you buy it anyway, tuck it away and pull it out of your stocking next Christmas.

Author’s Website

Buy at MLR 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: The Wishing Cup by JM Gryffyn

Orphaned as a boy and brought up by the crusty, disapproving Edward Collins, Dr. David Jameson may not know much about love, but he makes up for it with an encyclopedic knowledge of Egyptian history and language. Too bad his job as linguist for a team excavating in the Valley of the Kings puts him right under Edward’s nose. When the discovery of a rare artifact leads to a disagreement between guardian and ward, Jeremiah McKee, the team’s American benefactor, sends no-nonsense Jake Tanner to protect his investment.

David’s disappointment at not meeting McKee fades quickly in the heat of his intense desire for Tanner, who seems to be the only member of the team to give credence to his ideas. Push comes to shove when Edward discovers the burgeoning romance between David and Jake, but not everything is as it seems. Will David and Jake find more in Egypt than sand and strife? Something that, like the pyramids at Giza, will stand the test of time?

Review by Erastes

This is an impressive debut, with a sweet story which is allowed to build at a slow pace, rare for a novella of about 100 pages. I’ll say straight off that the author will certainly get my custom again on the strength of this. It’s not perfect, but it’s a promising beginning.

David is an ingenue, rather too innocent I think, at 23 years–specially for a young man who went to Harrow! He does say that men have made passes at him before, but he’s strangely asexual at the beginning of the book and starts only to have “strange feelings” that he doesn’t like to think too much about when a young Egyptian native asks him if he needs any company. Granted he’s been immersed in education for a good while getting his doctorate (don’t know if he’s too young for this) but you’d think he would have discovered his nether regions at some point.

When he meets the love interest, Jake Tanner, there’s a predictable instant PING of attraction between them both and David behaves like a startled deer for a couple of encounters which is all very sweet. However I wasn’t terribly impressed about them kissing in a public street in Luxor. There was no indication that they’d ducked down an alley or anything, and in fact Morris – another (luckily accepting) member of the dig – comes up on Tanner just after David has done his startled deer impression and run off–however Morris had seen what happened, and presumably half of Luxor.

As the blurb describes, once David does accept his nature and return the affection offered Damocles’ sword falls with them being discovered in snog-mode by David’s guardian, the irascible Edward Collins. This happens about half way through the book, so there’s a nice balance there.

The character development is a little one-sided. David grows up quickly which is expected, but I didn’t really see enough of Tanner to really know that much about him. It’s difficult to develop this kind of thing in 100 pages, but I felt the lack of it here.

There’s a nice flip and the story trundles along to a satisfying conclusion and all in all I quite enjoyed it. Ms Gryffyn has another one coming out in 2012, so I’ll be looking forward to that.

Aside from the undercurrent of OK Homo, there are a few historical boo-boos that marred my joy. So often authors don’t take into consideration the difference in the value of money then from the value of money now. For example, David worries if he’s got enough money to pay for a hotel room, Collins gave him £300. Well, considering that £300 then would be worth upwards of £13,000 now, I should jolly well think so. There’s an even bigger monetary cock-up later which could have been avoided with just a tiny search. Also, they stayed in the Hilton which didn’t exist in 1922. Sorry. Things that perhaps many wouldn’t spot, but anyone who reads historicals probably would.

I’ll also give a thumbs up for Dreamspinner’s cover, and the editing, which didn’t jar me once, and that doesn’t happen often enough in this genre.

Buy at Dreamspinner (ebook only)

Review: Pleasures with Rough Strife by JL Merrow

One chilly night just before Christmas in 1922, eighteen-year-old poacher Danny Costessey comes to regret his impulse to climb a tree to fetch some mistletoe for his mother when he falls, breaking his leg. He doesn’t expect his luck to change when he is found by the furious gamekeeper who’s long hated his family. However, when he is taken to the manor house, the reclusive owner, Philip Luccombe, takes an interest in Danny rather than condemning him for his actions, and it surprises them both when that interest turns into something more.

Review by Jean Cox

Pleasures With Rough Strife is a short (around 13000 words) novella, set in the early 1920′s, a world where the aftermath of both WWI and the Spanish flu are keenly felt and the traditional deliniation of role of master and servants has yet to disintegrate.

JL Merrow depicts the world well, with elegant prose and dialogue. Not for her the clunky references to current events in order to set the era. She writes simply, cleanly and effectively – an economy with words that other writers could take note of. I love the humour in her work and the little affectionate nudges towards other stories – the appearance in this one of a butler called Standish made me smile. The origins of some of the names amused me too; I believe the author hails from the Isle of Wight, so having a character called Luccombe was a neat touch. That’s the sort of thing this reader appreciates.

In such a short story, it’s hard to discuss the plot without major spoilers, so bear with me on the sparcity of detail. Daniel Costessey poaches on the local estate, to help support his widowed mother and siblings. Drayton (the gamekeeper and enemy of the Costissey family) finds him injured and unexpectedly takes him to the owner’s house to recover. Philip Luccombe has become a recluse, pining for a lost love and being protected by his staff, including the formidable butler Standish. Two of these characters find a relationship developing, a relationship that crosses more than just social boundaries.

Plus points:

Apart from the general quality of writing, the story moves along at a good pace, the characters are well drawn, and the setting appeals to those of us who love early twentieth century England, a time of loss and wistful remembrance. Fans of hurt and comfort based stories will not be disappointed.

The depiction of era is consistent (not always something to be found in historical fiction) and the pervading sense of Christmastide, hope in the darkness, works well.

Minus points:

The lack of structure; at novella length, the tale pans out in a series of short scenes, some of them very short. This led at times to a sense of the story being a bit too fractured.

It was also a touch predictable–I’ve read a number of JL Merrow’s stories and what I’ve appreciated is her ability to produce the unexpected (her wonderful story in I Do Two is a case in point). I kept waiting for that here and it didn’t happen.

For what it is–a seasonal short–Pleasures with Rough Strife is perfectly fine and as a historical romance it’s well written. I just wish it had shown some more of the trademark Merrow touches.

Author’s Website

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Review: Dulce et Decorum Est by JL Merrow

The First World War cast a long shadow, and in the winter of 1920, it’s still at its darkest. When solicitor’s clerk George Johnson moves into new digs, he’s instantly attracted to friendly fellow lodger Matthew Connaught, who lost an arm in the Great War. As the two become inseparable, George begins to wonder whether it’s just friendship that Matthew feels for him or something more. And if it’s something more… can George risk a revelation of his shameful past?

Review by Erastes

A seasonal story, this. I believe that it was planned to come out at Christmas to take advantage of the Christmas market and those who like to read seasonal stories. However, don’t let that put you off because it’s not offensively so with holly draped in every scene and enough sugar to bring on diabetes.

This is a very nicely written story which just happens to have a Christmas section. In truth it could have been set at any time in the year.

I’m a bit of a sucker for post war stories, because they have the capacity to evoke great hope and regeneration and so it is with this book. One character is getting away from something, and the other protagonist has every reason to shut himself away and hate the world in general. It’s a refreshing change to find that he doesn’t and is–as many young men would have had to do in 1920–simply getting on with his life. So many books concentrate on the negative aspects of WWI injuries and mental incapacity, and while there is a touch of that here, it’s not enough to weigh it down with bleakness.

Neither does it take it to the opposite extreme. It could have been extremely sappy, but it avoids that–and I think that’s managed because Merrow writes the stiff upper lip and youthful breeziness of English young men very well. They don’t slip into stereotype either, nor wallow in too much angst or emotion, and in this it is nicely balanced. There are some frankly sweet moments, but it is a seasonal story, so I’ll forgive it.

If I have one tiny quibble is that the conflict was not sufficiently conflictly to really cause a rift. By the time it raises its head, the relationship between Matthew and George was strong enough to weather it and I never felt for one minute that rejection would be any part of an issue. I didn’t worry about their relationship, and that was a minus point for me. I wanted to say “Oh, Buck up, George!” at one point, because he spent a lot of time worrying about his problem which should have turned out to be a problem. But, again, it’s a short book (about 70 pages) and too much conflict would have marred the seasonal good feeling perhaps.

Overall, this is a nice seasonal story, beautifully written with memorable characters. Highly recommended.

Author’s website

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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: Farewell my Concubine by Lilian Lee

A sweeping saga, Farewell my Concubine runs the gamut of China’s modern history, from 1924 to the 1980′s, and takes the revered Peking Opera as its centre stage. Xiao Douzi and Xiao Shitou become friends under the harsh training regime of the opera (a mix of martial arts, deprivation and singing) and continue friends through the good and the very bad times of over 50 years of the country’s turbulent history

Review by Erastes

I’m going to say right out that if you have seen the film and are thinking about reading the book, and you expect the same optimistic conclusions to the character’s stories and actions within the film, you are likely to be either disappointed or surprised by the changes made – or both. Although the book does not end tragically, the film has a softer ending and also within the book the plotline regarding the abandoned child is not how it shown on the film. So be warned.

Ok – that’s that out of the way and I can concentrate on the book. Like many books about China, this is a fascinating read, because the cultures and mores of that culture are so very alien to most of a western audience. Lee lets us see Peking from the ground up; the surface “glamour” of actors and protitutes,looking affluent but look closer to see the ragged cloth shoes and the unhealthy pallor. Lee doesn’t flinch from the poverty and the squalour, and later on, the violence and degradation that the characters are forced to endure.

A young woman is desperate for her son to live, and to have a trade, carries her son to the Opera and asks them to take him on. We learn that Xiao Douzi (literally: Little Bean) has six fingers on one hand and in order for him to join the Opera–despite his excellent voice–he has to sacrifice it.There’s a theme of sacrifice that runs through the book, but you have to squint to see it.

Douzi’s mother was–for me–one of the unresolved plot lines, as this mother is never seen again, and despite Douzi missing her terribly, he does nothing to try and seek her out. It’s perfectly reasonable that she would disappear, but for him to do nothing about it, for he surely would have remember where he had lived, seems a little off, considering his character as it is painted for us.

We are introduced to the training regimen of the Opera, and from what I have read it’s not unusual, however harsh. I remember an interview with Jackie Lee who tells of his martial arts school and the terrible rigours he went through, so this is not much different, although absolutely shocking to our eyes, that young boys could be starved, beaten and humiliated in such a way. The training master is rather a cliche, I found, redolent of a sargeant major in a British sit-com or film, although he shows he does care about his charges, and whether they care for him or not, the respect they show him in later life (China, of course having a tradition of high respect for the older generation) is also highlighted.

Douzi is a natural “dan” due to his high clear voice and delicate features. A dan is a singer who specialises in female characters on stage—and in a similar fashion to the way that man-playing-female actors were trained in Shakespearian Britain – (see Stage Beauty for reference) – a dan is encouraged to consider himself female much of the time, and Douzi has to remind himself that he’s not.

The two friends stay together when they “graduate” from the ten years of their apprenticeship and they go out into the city singing their repetoire and getting better known. They are best known for the opera “Farewell my Concubine” in which Douzi (now renamed Deiyi as an adult) and Shito (renamed Xiaolou) play the concubine Yu Ji and her lover General Xiang Yu. Like many operas in the east and west, it has a tragic ending.

In the film it appears that Douzi’s sexual identity is a much bigger deal than the book, for here I found it incredibly muted, and other than a fierce loyalty, one touching scene in make-up when Shito was injured, I never really got the sense that Douzi loved Shito in some enormous way. It was very brotherly, quite hands off, and even his intense hatred and jealousy of Juxian–the prostitute that Shito marries–comes over as more of a Yoko Ono deal, and not ‘he would have loved me if it wasn’t for you.’ Douzi, doesn’t ever act on that love, so we never get a chance to find out.

The scenes where the Red Guards, consisting mainly of teenagers,  terrorise everyone who don’t adhere to the new ideals, were the most moving for me; the inhumanity of man against man, and the demonstration of just how blood-thirsty and cold young people. Harnessed for a task of cleansing the populace this section really shook me–particularly aligned against how very polite Chinese society was. The way that–even after the revolution of 1911–the country clung to its traditions, nearly had them entirely swept away in an Orwellian frenzy-only to start regaining a sense of their past was terrifying and made for a wonderful section to read.

There is a scene towards the end which is could almost be a scene from Orwell’s 1984, which is not terribly surprising, given the regime the three characters find themselves in, and it’s every bit as heartbreaking, although the real heartbreak comes at the end of the book.

However, I don’t know whether it was the translation, or just the book itself, but it didn’t really move me in the same way that other gay love stories have. I note that the translator was an academic but she wasn’t an author–perhaps it needed an author’s hand, because there were many grammatical issues, and there was some very American slang at times at times that was a tad jarring for 1920 and onwards. It’s when I read things like this that wish that I could read it in the original, but fat chance of that!

In fact I think that also, the book fails where the film shines, because it never really gives us a taste of the gorgeousness that the film is able to portray, the life of Deiyi and Xiaolou after they left the training regime and became actors, and started climbing the greasy pole to success is rather rushed, and I for one would have liked a bit more of this section.

It’s a fascinating read, however, if only for the portrait of a culture lost, and subsequent descriptions of the Mao regime as it attempted to eradicate anything that smacked of the “old traditions” and anyone with any interest in China will enjoy it for that reason, but the promise of the book in the first chapter  that it’s a story of men in love smacked just a little of a ploy to pull in people who want a gay romance, and it never delivers on that score.

Not a masterpiece, but well worth a read.

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Review: The Dark Farewell by Josh Lanyon

It’s the Roaring Twenties. Skirts are short, crime is rampant, and booze is in short supply. Prohibition has hit Little Egypt where newspaper man David Flynn has come to do a follow-up story on the Herren Massacre. But the massacre isn’t the only news in town. Spiritualist Medium Julian Devereux claims to speak to the dead–and he charges a pretty penny for it.

Flynn knows a phoney when he sees one, and he’s convinced Devereux is as fake as a cigar store Indian. And he’s absolutely right. But when Julian begins to see bloodstained visions of a serial killer, the only person he can turn to for help is the cynical Mr. Flynn.

Reviewed by Erastes

We are always, as authors, being advised by Those That Know that to get a book sold and to capture the reader, you need a killer first line. And this book certainly has one:

The body of the third girl was found Tuesday morning in the woods a few miles outside Murphysboro.

It sets the scene and intrigues, without being trying too hard. And yet – although this hints at much, this isn’t really even the main plot of this clever, convoluted novella.

This is (embarrassingly) the first book I’ve read of Lanyon’s. My reasons–or excuses–are simple: People generally clamour to review his books for the site before I even know they are out, and with the amount of books I have to read I’m happy to let others cover it. But I found that no-one had picked this one up and I did it myself.

I have to say, I’m impressed, although–having heard my friends’ praise that shouldn’t have surprised me. Lanyon writes very well in a direct, but descriptive manner. The tone reminded me a little of Chandler, with the touches of description and personal opinion, shuttered away behind a tough guy veneer.

It would be entirely wrong to try and tag a label on this book. It is a standalone, but it is to published in The Mysterious anthology (along with Laura Baumbach and Alex Beecroft) and that’s a good way to label it, if labelling is necessary: mysterious. That being said, with it not exactly being a romance and it not being exactly a paranormal – it IS a great whodunnit, with a great cast of characters all of whom could be the guilty party.

What I particularly liked, though, was the way that this didn’t go at all the way I expected. We meet a couple of guys that the  protagonists tags with his gaydar, and without spoiling too much I thought things would go otherwise than they did.  While I didn’t feel feel ever very close to Flynn–and I think this was deliberate because he’d shut himself off from just about everyone due to the war, and his job, and losses he’d suffered–I fell almost instantly in love with Julian, the spiritualist. “A sissy, if ever he’d seen one” thinks Flynn, and he’s right.

I loved how Flynn disliked Julian – and the reasons why he disliked him. He’s coloured by prejudice against spiritualism, and he hates that Julian is effeminate–because it reflects something in himself that he isn’t able to show openly, something that he’s learned to be disgusted in himself. I loved their first private encounter, and when more was learned about Julian, it made me sad to see Flynn treat him like that.

I think my main complaint about the book would be a purely personal one, and that’s one I’ve often stated with novellas, that this has more than enough material in it to be a full-sized novel, and it short changes itself by being the size it is. It might be this aspect, the pure distillation of so many facets and ideas that made me a little confused at times, and I would rather have meandered along those Illinois byways for a happy 80,000 words without a complaint. Because of the size (42,000 words)

I felt the characterisation was sometimes a bit rushed, we are whizzed around the introductions for everyone in the boarding house for example, the other gay relationship Flynn forms is picked up and dropped rather too abruptly too. There’s so many themes here, the debunking–or not–of spiritualism, antiquated methods of medicine, mine safety, unions, prohibition, and much more. With a novel to play in, Lanyon could have wallowed in the intimate talks with all the other inmates of the hostel, layered the tension, laid more red herrings.  But I can’t mark the book down because of what I’d like it to have been!

On the negative side: the cover is pretty misleading, as it looks like naked men in the trenches, which is so not what the book is about–and the blurb within the book itself could have done with an editor. There are two(!) typos in it–and I really hate these jokey warnings Samhain do.  Warning: This novella contains phony spiritualists, cynical newspapermen, labor disputes, illicit love affairs, high-calorie southern cooking, and more than fifty-percent humidity! But that’s probably just me being curmudgeonly, I’m sure loads of readers love this touch. To me it smacks of fanfiction (from where these warnings seem to have come) and lessens the worth of the book. It makes it sound like a comedy, and it’s anything but that, and it doesn’t do the book the justice it deserves.

But if you haven’t read this novella, then I strongly recommend it, it was exactly “my kind of book” with enough difference from many other books to keep me reading and reading. I’ll certainly be trying other books of Lanyon’s now on the strength of this.

Author’s website

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Review: American Hunks by David L. Chapman and Brett Josef Grubisic


The “American hunk” is a cultural icon: the image of the chiseled, well-built male body has been promoted and exploited for commercial use for over 125 years, whether in movies, magazines, advertisements, or on consumer products, not only in America but throughout the world.

American Hunks is a fascinating collection of images (many in full color) depicting the muscular American male as documented in popular culture from 1860 to 1970. The book, divided into specific historic eras, includes such personalities as bodybuilder Charles Atlas; pioneer weightlifter Eugene Sandow; movie stars like Steve “Hercules” Reeves and Johnny “Tarzan” Weismuller; and publications such as the 1920s-era magazine Physical Culture and the 1950s-era comic book Mr. Muscles. It also touches on the use of masculine, homoerotic imagery to sell political and military might (including American recruitment posters and Nazi propaganda from the 1936 Olympics), and how companies have used buff, near-naked men to sell products from laundry detergent to sacks of flour since the 1920s. The introduction by David L. Chapman offers insightful information on individual images, while the essay by Brett Josef Grubisic places the work in its proper historical context.

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

American Hunks is a wonderful collection of photographs, spanning a bit more than a century from 1860 to the early 1970s. It shows muscular men in all their glory, starting with the early gymnasts and strongmen and moving on to bodybuilders and Hollywood stars with handsome physiques.

The pictures are drawn from the collection of author David L. Chapman, who opens the book with a wonderful memoir when he was eleven, in 1959, and wandered into a tobacconist and magazine store in his hometown of Chula Vista, CA. There, he stumbled upon the magazine, Physique Pictorial, with John Tristam on the cover, photographed by Robert Mizer. Chapman bought the magazine (which, given his age and the fact that the proprietor of the shop was blind, was amusing in and of itself) and in that moment, a collecting obsession was born.

The book has minimal text: a Foreword by Chapman and an essay, Flexed for Success: Consumer Goods, Pop Culture, and the Setting of Heroic Masculinity by co-author Brett Josef Grubisic. It is broken into seven chapters: The Pioneers (1860-1914); Hunks Make the World Safe (1914-1919); Jazz-Age Athletes (1920-1929); Depression Physiques (1930-1940); Supermen at War (1941-1949); The Age of the Chest (1950-1959); and Muscles à Go-Go! (1960-1969). The concluding pictures in the book are of an Austrian with an unpronounceable name who marked the end of normal

bodybuilding and the rise of steroid enhanced bodies. To those of us who appreciate the male form in its natural glory, the current crop of ‘roid puffed-up specimens are about as realistic as breast implants bolted onto a woman’s chest, and Chapman wisely left them out, letting the book end at its natural conclusion.

American Hunks is a large format book (8” x 10”) printed in full color on glossy paper. Many of the images are full-page and all have extensive comments in the picture captions, identifying the subject and photographer (when known) and additional contextual information. In addition to physique photographs, the book includes ads, magazine covers, movie posters and stills, postcards and a variety of other ephemera to illustrate the rise of muscular masculinity in popular American culture.

This 351 page book retails for $29.95 (US) which in my mind is a bargain; right now it is discounted at Amazon to $19.77 which is an absolute steal. For UK readers, it is available for pre-order at a price of £19.54 which isn’t quite as much of a good buy but still a pretty good deal. And let’s be honest, to have such an exquisite collection of handsome looking men to drool over—is money really the issue?

At Out.com, I found a slide show of pictures from the book so if you need any more temptation to add this book to your collection, go there and look at them. In the meantime, I’ve included a few of my favorites here, along with the captions (just hold your cursor over the picture too see the caption), to

give you first-hand impression of what the book is all about. Enjoy!

Visit Arsenal Pulp Press for more information.

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review.

chauncey-gay-new-york3

Review: Spurs & Saddles: Oil Well Ben and the Hollywood Rustlers by Lucius Parhelion

When Ben gets a chance to leave his New Mexico home to visit his childhood friend in Hollywood, he jumps at it. 1930s Beverly Hills is full of bait and switch tricks that Ben just isn’t used to, especially when he meets up with Johnny, someone he knew a long time ago, better than he’s known anyone since. Between actors, studios and Tom’s suspicious wife, Ben thinks he’s walked into the lion’s den.

Luckily, Johnny is willing to help out, and becomes Ben’s guide through the tricky world of moving pictures. Ben thinks he might like to make Hollywood a more permanent part of his life, but not everyone and everything are as they seem. Can Ben find a way to reconcile all the pieces of his new life, or will he and Johnny have to part ways?

Reviewed by Jean Roberta

The ‘Spurs and Saddles’ line from Torquere Press consists of same-sex romances about cowboys in various settings and eras. Forget John Wayne and old reruns of Gunsmoke. These stories completely rewrite the ‘western’ genre.

Lucius Parhelion does a brilliant job of describing same-sex relationships in a time when “coming out” was so dangerous that double-entendres, secret signs and discreet meeting-places were absolutely necessary. And the “gay culture” of the time existed only in cities.

In this novella, a ranch owner in 1920′s New Mexico suspects that he might be a “Nancy boy.” He is only about as old as the century, so he can’t be absolutely sure. If a young man likes the fit of another fellow’s trousers, he doesn’t ask his old friends for advice on how to go courtin’. And whatever he does, you can be sure he does it in secret as long as he’s living on the family ranch.

But what if oil is discovered on Ben’s land just before the Stock Market crash of 1929? Well then, Ben is one lucky son-of-a-gun. And his opportunities sure open up.

There isn’t a lot of explicit sex in this rollicking tale, but the action is fast-paced, the dialogue sparkles, and the details are true to the period. The reader learns early that Ben is no fool in high-stakes negotiations:

‘For years, Ben McClure had battled land, cattle and climate to try to win a hard living from the high plains ranch that had been his father’s dream come true. This year, for no better reason than luck, that fight was over and Ben had won. Not that his victory had come easily. In Ben’s opinion, any negotiations in a new and booming oil patch were a lot like being sewn up in a canvas sack with five snakes, four of which were diamondbacks, and then having someone kick the bag. But Ben’s pa had known everyone who settled this part of the Llano Escatado, the stake plains, so Ben knew them all too.’

So now that Ben can afford to travel, where does he want to go? He wants to follow Tom, the handsomest man he ever met, to Hollywood, California, where Tom is burning up the screen as a ‘cowboy’ in moving pictures. Along the way, Tom married a diva, a blonde spitfire named Miss Inez Altura. Tom didn’t mention her in the two letters he sent to Ben, inviting him to come for a visit.

When Ben rolls into California in the most luxurious train carriage available, he finds some new surprises. His first view of the local sights is impressive: ‘So far, the men in Hollywood were an awfully fine looking lot.’

The movie cameraman who asks Ben if he’s an ‘extra’ looks strangely familiar. Then Ben recognizes him:

‘You’re Janos. Your pa was Mr. Kovacs, the peddler who took photographs and fell so ill. James Kovacs.’

‘Johnny Smith now.’ He could see the Adam’s apple shift as Johnny swallowed. Ben could not blame him. He felt a touch queasy himself. They had not known each other long; but, thanks to Tom, their few weeks spent together had been real memorable.

Johnny takes Ben to the Red Gulch, a ranch north of Hollywood that serves as a set for western movies. Ben’s wrangling skills come in handy, but the bright and perky Miss Blake is a little harder to handle than a horse. Is she sweet on Ben?

Johnny learns that the motion picture business is all about appearances. Just as the Grade B pictures that Johnny films don’t bear much resemblance to ranch life as Ben has lived it, the boy-meets-girl ‘romance’ in the pictures is a cover for a whole other way of doing things. Ben learns how he can get ‘paid’ for helping Johnny out, and he also learns that a bigger company is very interested in the Red Gulch. And ‘Oil Well Ben,’ as Tom calls him, is holding all the aces.

Tom the movie star doesn’t appear in the story until about halfway through, and by then his appearance has been long anticipated. How has he become so famous so fast? Is his marriage with Miss Altura a Hollywood ‘arrangement,’ a friendly understanding or a love-match? Has he bamboozled Ben, or does he intend to?

For that matter, why is booze so easy to find when it can’t be legally bought or sold?

Ben shows himself to be shrewd when he needs to be. He is no stranger to maverick cattle or slick dealers. Love, however, is a new experience for him. While figuring out how to win at the poker game of the motion picture business in hard economic times, Ben also needs to learn who is really on his side, and whose side he wants to be on.

If you can never openly tell the truth about how you really feel, is there a place for flirting, courtship, flowers and valentines? Ben and the partner of his dreams have to answer that question for themselves. From beginning to end, this twentieth-century ‘western’ is a wild and witty ride.

Author’s Website

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Review: Irish Winter by John Simpson

Living in Cork, Ireland, a hotbed of resistance to British rule, makes Ian Mulroney’s life dangerous despite his peaceful beliefs. But disgusted by the brutality and shootings in the streets, he agrees to join the local IRA brigade to use his skills with medicine and learn the ways of war. There he meets Devlin Walsh. Ian has seen him before, and the impression left upon his body was not easy to ignore. He couldn’t know that Devlin felt the same. But because of the war, they are comrades first, despite their silent, budding attraction to one another. As the resistance grows and the violence escalates, Ian and Devlin fight the only way they know how, losing family and friends in their efforts to free their country. Together, they are stronger to face the next day’s struggle. Together, they are united in their belief in the hand of God. Together, they will find a way to survive the war.

Review by Erastes

Anyone looking for a adventure story, with thrills and spills, anxious moments and a growing romance which blossoms in predictable fashion to a lasting love affair and sex no matter what thrills and spills going on around them, will enjoy “Irish Winter” a lot.

However – if you know anything at all about Ireland and her history, you probably will, like me, find it a frustrating read.

I bought the book because I have lived in Ireland for many years and I’m always eager to read about earlier times. Having loved At Swim Two Boys I knew that nothing was going to come close to that, but I was still eager for more.

The characters aren’t bad.  They aren’t girly, and that’s a major point in their favour.  They talk like young men, they act like young men and they fuck like young men – there’s no lyrical descriptions and purple prose here, just wham bam and get on with it–nothing wrong with that. But they are very samey, though, and neither has their own distinct voice.  It was difficult at times to tell who was in control of the POV (there’s a lot of headhopping, and switching from third person to omniscient which doesn’t help with that.)  I personally would have liked them to be their own personalities more, and that really didn’t come across.  The secondary characters, such as Ian’s mother, and Shane, the leader of the local IRA cell come across well.

But it’s the history, and the research which really really lets this book down. I really wish people would leave this period of Irish history alone unless they really understand it.  I’ve lived there, both sets of grandparents were Irish and I don’t think I would touch the subject with a bargepole.  Like Age of Sail there’s so much to it.

I’m not going to list everything that was wrong, because that’s not the point of a review, but I’ll mention a couple of the basic, fundemental errors which should not have been done, and even the basic amount of research would have highlighted them.

First of all: Ian.  I did like him, he’s – like many young men of the time – forced into the fight even though he abhors the violence on both sides.  But he’s a single child, which is pretty unlikely for Catholic families. (So is his lover, Devlin, coincidentally. They are “unaccustomed to sleeping with other boys”  When I was in Ireland, families still had two room cottages, and all the children slept in one bed.) We are told that he’s poor, dirt poor, supporting his mother by working part time in an “apothecary” as an apprentice.  But he has jam every day, his house has a porch (this is so American, houses in England and Ireland do NOT have porches) and there’s no way he can be an apprentice chemist.  (That’s the word, after all. Apothecary is from another time. ) To be a trainee chemist (and we are told he’s six months from qualification) he’d have to have a degree, and yet he doesn’t even know what laudanum is.  Apprenticeships for apothecaries were abolished in 1822 – and I found that in minutes – so that’s blatant nonsense for a start.

His name is wrong.  There is no Ian in Roman Catholic Ireland. He’d be Sean. Many of the names are wrong – Kyle and Byron and Devlin for example – all American Irish names. Boys of this age would have RC names, and that means names of saints. Spelled in an Irish fashion .  To not know that part of the basis of the problems between Ireland and England is the Scots! And to attempt to write about the War of Independence proves a lack of research.)

There’s no mention of church at all. Impossible. Shops are open on Sunday. Pubs are open on Sunday!!  No. And on this matter, the timeline staggers around like a drunk on a Saturday night. It’s hard to keep track of when Ian is supposed to work for example.

Ian bicycles from Cork to Limerick AND BACK (a total distance of over 100 miles) in a few hours.  I’d like to see someone do that today, let alone in 1919.

And the Black and Tans – the paramilitary imports from the English army into the Royal Irish Constabulary – the main impetus for the entire plot of this book – didn’t even enter Ireland until a year LATER than this book is set.  In fact, the facts of the war in this book are made up.  That’s not entirely unusual in a historical book, of course – but when it comes to events such as this, attacks on the Cork RIC garrison, murders of civilians and reprisal killings of Black and Tans, I’d rather have read real facts OR had an author’s note in the book explaining it.  I don’t think the “fits all” disclaimer that all books have works in this instance.

That’s not to say that the events portrayed in Irish Winter aren’t similar to what actually happened.  The Tans did terrible things, killing civilians and burning villages, and putting Tralee to siege for an entire week.  So in this respect it was clear that Simpson did do quite a lot of research – so I don’t know how he managed to cock up some of it so very royally.

The cover is bloody lovely, (although wtf was with putting the flag on it’s side??) and I know that Dreamspinner have their heart in the right place – they like historicals and that alone gets a thumbs up from me.  I just wish they had an editor who could sniff out the stuff that turns a good book into one that gets thrown across the room.   For that reason I’m giving this book two and half stars and because as a story, it holds up.  There’s action and adventure, and I think that with decent research or an tough editor this book would easily have scored four stars with me, but as it is it doesn’t merit anything more than two and a half.

Review: His Master’s Lover by Nick Heddle

In 1919 His Lordship declares that the Western Front may now be secure but the home front is still being undermined by Prime Minister Lloyd George and all his damned meddling . Only the humble gardener, Freddy has the intelligence to make money out of the new garden city full of homes fit for heroes , which is being built next to the ancestral estate. Heroic Freddy restores the family fortunes by opening the first profitable garden centre. However, His Lordship unwisely invests the family treasure in New York, just before the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Freddy’s fate becomes further entwined with that of this noble English family when he becomes, in succession, the passionate gay lover of two generations of its heirs and only the profits from Freddy’s garden centre save the day.

Review by Erastes

I wanted to like this novel, I really really did.  I’m always excited when I find a new (to me) author of gay historical fiction, and I bought both books by Mr Heddle without hesitation.  However, I found it entirely impossible to like anything about it, I’m sorry to say, and now regret the purchase of both books, because I’m sure the sequel is likely to be similar to this.

Firstly, the characters.  The main protagonist, Freddy, has just returned from the Western Front and has come back to his place at a stately home as under-gardener.  He catches the attention of Charles, the Lord & Ladyship’s son, a disgraced officer, who is suffering from severe shell-shock and mental problems who stages a clumsy seduction which succeeds.

Freddy, unfortunately, is a Gary-Stu of the highest type.

Gary Stu: (n.) A fanfiction term for the male version of Mary Sue. A Gary Stu refers to an original character, sometimes a Self Insert, who is more powerful than any canon character, can beat them at anything, and usually supersedes them as the story’s main character. (Dictionary of Anime Fandom)

Here’s just some of the things he can do/knows about.

Bear in mind, please, that this is 1919, he’s an under-gardener educated (probably until the age of 14) at a village school by his grandmother who still lives in his tied cottage.

He knows about the Classics

He can play chess

He can read – in fact he’s read the war poets, Oscar Wilde and, from his knowledge of the daily world, obviously the newspaper (a good one, not a rag) daily.

He can fix cars better than anyone around

He’s a dab hand at geometry

He’s conversant with world politics, and the nitty gritty of English politics.

He’s built a gym in his cellar.

He saved a relation of the King from his downed plane, crawling out into no-mans land to get him.

Because of the above, he earned the Victoria Cross.

And more and more and more.  In fact, he’s entirely sickening. There is nothing he can’t do. He fixes sewers. He finds treasure. When the Lord and Ladyship go to America he offers to go with them because he has dealt with American customs officers before in the war (God knows where). He build a garden centre with no effort, and when a small obstacle lands in his path,he charms the local Mayoress and gets the entire council on his side.

Not only that but everyone who meets him falls in MADLY love with him. And it’s the universal lurve for Freddie that makes me want to smash him in the face with something painful. Everyone loves him (with one exception) and not only that, everyone knows he’s gay.  Yes, this is the land of OKHomo, and boy is this the land of the tolerant.  The first people told are Charles’ parents.  Yes. The Lord and Lady of the manor, who not only understand but embrace the entire concept with what only can be described as glee, and there are one or two thoroughly sickening scenes where the young men are caught in flagrante delicto by her ladyship, who loves the experience, (as she fancies Freddy herself.) Then a Harley Street doctor is told who thinks it’s a Jolly Good Thing, the local doctor knows, and so on and so on.

The only person who doesn’t think it’s a good idea is the sadly neglected (by the otherwise saintly Freddy) Grandmother of Freddy himself.  A old woman with no visible means of support living in Freddy’s old tied cottage who Freddy hardly bothers about other to come and tell her he’s fucking the son of the nobility. She eventually turns into a mad religious ranter.

The relationship between Charles and Freddy never strikes true. Freddy gets into it for reasons that are never really explained, as he never seems to be physically or mentally attracted to Charles and there’s some very boring sex and suddenly they both profess to be madly in love. Plus, Charles is mentally unstable, and threatens to kill himself if Freddy leaves him, at every available opportunity, forcing Freddy to stay. Charles’ parents both urge Freddy to stay–or Charles will do himself harm–and this aspect of it made me cringe.

However, even if I hadn’t cared about any of the above–it’s the writing itself that made this book a nightmare to read.  More than once I thought “I can’t finish this.”  The prose is clunky in the extreme, for example, almost every section of dialogue has the name of the person being spoken to within it, a device that simply dosn’t happen in real life, and in order to present (I assume) a historical provenance, the author info dumps on every single page. Nothing is mentioned that doesn’t have an Act of Parliament and a corresponding date with it, and it was so hard to read without screaming.

Then, the way Freddy acts towards the end of the book is utterly un-endearing (if anyone was endeared in the first place) – he starts an affair with a boy of 16 while he’s still “married” (yes, they got married in a faux ceremony with a ring and with a horse for a witness) to Charles and when Charles dies he shows not one iota of grief – not one after ten years – and buggers off to France with his self-proclaimed and obviously unstable fratricidal toyboy, leaving his Granny to fend for herself. Nice.

Good, I thought. In 9 years time they’ll probably both be blown up.

So, no I am sorry. I do try to find the good in any book I read, because there usually is something, even if I give it one or two stars – but this has to be the first book I can’t even mark at all. The only thing I liked was the photo on the cover, and would like to know who did it, and commission him/her to do others.

Buy: Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: The Folded Leaf by William Maxwell

Set in 1920s Chicago, The Folded Leaf follows two very different boys who find themselves forming an unlikely friendship. Lymie is thin, clever and terrible at sport. Spud is athletic and quick to fight and blithely accepts Lymie’s passionate devotion to him. The bond between them is obsessively close, until they leave home for college and both find themselves drawn to their new classmate, Sally.

Review by Erastes

This book was published in 1945, so it’s particularly “coded” in such a way that it can be read without some people noticing the homosexual sub-text. I think perhaps that if the ending had been more upbeat in the way The Charioteer had been written then it would be as popular as that book because it’s certainly written as beautifully and to read it is to truly immerse yourself in the high school and university life of 1920′s America with the coon skin coats, letterman sweaters and the heady importance of who you knew against what you knew. However, these aren’t grown men able to do what they like with their lives, and they aren’t in England. They are 19 year old American schoolboys in 1920 smalltown America.

I think I’d have to disagree with the blurb, though. I didn’t see any indication that Lymie was attracted to Sally at any point. They liked each other extremely well, but it is Spud’s misinterpretation of Lymie’s friendship with her that causes the conflict, not any realistic attraction at all.

Are Lymie and Spud homosexual? I think possibly, yes. I would say that Spud shows bisexual tendencies and Lymie homosexual. In today’s frat houses I think that they would–as they are sleeping together in The Folded Leaf, and always sleep touching in a sweet innocent fashion–take their relationship to another level. I got the impression from the story that neither boy ever had any suspicions as to what their deep feelings really meant. Even when Lymie longs to touch Spud, I felt it was more of an adoration of a body of a type that he could never hope to have, for he himself is an entirely different body shape, rather than any sexual desire.

Very often, looking at Spud, he felt the desire which he sometimes had looking at statues–to put out his hand and touch some part of Spud, the intricate interlaced muscles of his side, or his shoulder blades, or his back, or his flat stomach, or the veins of his wrists, or his small pointed ears.

The affection is clear between them both, but stronger from Lymie to Spud. Spud inhabits a much more physical world than Lymie; he boxes, he swims–does all sport well, while Lymie’s skills are cerebral and Spud takes Lymie for granted, while always wanting him in his life. I think that others see their relationship a little more clearly than they do themselves, notably the effeminate landlord (there’s always one!) and Spud’s own family, who, until Sally is brought home to meet them, had been entirely accepting of Lymie’s place in Spud’s life.

The crisis comes when a mutual acquaintance tells Lymie (and it’s never acknowledged as to whether it’s a true tale he tells) that Spud hates Lymie because of Sally’s friendship. Sensitive Lymie feels entirely betrayed and takes matters into his hands. Thankfully the book doesn’t end with tragedy (and I think for the sake of readers of this blog I’ll be forgiven for spoiling this much) but still, the author writes the only ending that would have been accepted in 1945, after giving us one of the most memorable scenes in the book.

If you liked The Charioteer, you’ll definitely like this, because it has much in common with its themes and has beautiful prose–and as a piece of homosexual history, I’d think it definitely rates a read from anyone interested in America at this time.

Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: A Class Apart by James Gardiner

The Private Pictures of Montague Glover.

A Class Apart is a selection of photographs and letters culled from the archive of Montague Glover (1898-1983) documenting the intimate, rarely recorded lives of gay men in Britain from the First World War to the 1950s.  The book features Glover’s three obsessions: the Armed Forces, working-class men, and his lifelong lover Ralph Hall.

Review by Erastes

Who was Montague Glover?  No-one, really. But therein lies the reason why his legacy (boxes and boxes of letters and photos) is so very important in gay history. Just an ordinary man, a son of middle-class parents who was sent to a minor public school.

But by cataloging his life, collecting images of men, writing ordinary and heart-warming love letters, and most importantly by taking endless photos of men he found attractive, he paints a picture of a gay man’s life, well-adjusted and ‘ordinary,’

The book is photo-heavy, as you would expect and is split into eight sections and I’ll cover a few only.

The Story

Basic intro to the man’s life. An English middle-class life. The army straight from school and off to the trenches where he was awarded the Military Cross. Then university and 30 years as an architect. As well as his photos, he collected images of men he found attractive from newspaper clippings and magazines, seeing as homoerotic art wasn’t exactly freely available!

Rough Trade

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“In common with many other middle and upper class men of his class and generation, Monty Glover was principally attracted to working class men. Gardiner purports that perhaps this is because working-class men were “manly” and completely non-effeminate. Like all the photos of unnamed men in the book, it is unlikely that most of these young men were in fact homosexual, but rather approached by Glover and simply asked to pose. As a Brit it was fascinating to see the clothes, hats and shoes from the 20′s onwards, the detailing of the clothes (belts, scarves, boots) essential to any writer of historical men in these eras. Monty shows us delivery boys, postmen, barrowboys, farmhands – and soon you get a fair idea of Mr Glover’s taste in men! As well as candid shots of real people, there’s a lovely section of posed studio style shots, most likely done in Monty’s house, where young lovelies pose in various states of dress and undress. Prostitutes or just young men eager for a thrill, we’ll never know.

Soldier Boys

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Monty started taking photos of soldiers after he signed up in 1916, and in 1918, the year he was awarded the MC, he kept a diary, snippets of this are quoted in the book and show that although dealing with lice, rats, dead Bosche and horror on a daily basis, he still found time for love. It is at this time he meets Ernest (Ernie) with whom he has at least one “night of his life.”

Ralph

image00021Quite simply, the love of Monty’s life, and to look at him, it’s not hard to understand why. Coming from a working-class background, but with the looks of an Aryan angel, photogenic and very obviously hung like a donkey, Ralph is to die for. However, when it could very easily have happened that this younger man could have been nothing more than a kept man, staying with Glover for sex and money, it didn’t happen that way. This is very clearly a love affair with a capital L, which you cannot help but see in their extensive and lavishly adoring mutual love-letters. A large portion of these were sent during the second world war, when Ralph was drafted into the RAF in 1940. Indeed, it’s hard – reading a selection of these letters which are quoted in the book – to understand how these letters got past the censor! It’s wonderful that they did though, or we would miss out on lines like this written by Ralph to Monty in November 1940:

“Do you remember the old days when we first started darling.  I went back all over it again last night.  What a time we had in them days and I am sorry to say I am crying I canot hold it back no more my Darling. I love you my old Darling. I do miss you ever such a lot my dear as you know my dear.”

Monty and Ralph lived together (after meeting around 1930) for fifty years. The photographs of their lives together (other than the beautiful, posed, and artistic shots of Ralph) are ordinary and heartwarming for their ordinariness. Sitting in their sitting room, pictures of their bath, Ralph making toast, having breakfast, Monty shaving. Love in every image.

When Monty died in 1983, he left everything to Ralph, but Ralph went into a decline and died four years later.

Anyone with any interest in gay history will find this a resource they can’t be without, particularly if writing of gay men from 1910 onwards, anyone with an interest in photography will find it fascinating. But really, anyone with a heart cannot be moved by this book and the social record it has saved for posterity.

chauncey-gay-new-york3

Buy:  Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: The Secret Tunnel by James Lear

Handsome, muscular Edward “Mitch” Mitchell is back in this steamy send-up of Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express, traveling from Edinburgh to London for a reunion with his ex, “Boy” Morgan. All aboard the Flying Scotsman for a ride that’s anything but smooth, as Mitch discovers his fellow travelers include Belgian power bottom Bertrand, sleazy starlet Daisy Athenasy and her butch publicist, Peter Dickinson. Add to the recipe a group of kilt-wearing soldiers, some very accommodating railway workers and a dead body tumbling out of the toilet, ant you have a magical mix of comedy, mystery and non-stop sex.

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

The time: Winter 1928. The place: Aboard the Flying Scotsman as Edward “Mitch” Mitchell makes his way from Edinburgh to London to attend the christening of Harry “Boy” Morgan’s firstborn child, a daughter, for whom Mitch is to be the godfather. The events: murder, madcap mayhem, amateur sleuthing, silliness, and sex. Lots and lots of sex.

And that, in a nutshell, is The Secret Tunnel. It is not exactly a sequel to The Back Passage, but author Lear does bring back two characters, Mitch and Boy, and introduces a whole cast of colorful newcomers, including Bertrand Damseaux, who is supposed to vaguely remind readers of Hercule Poirot, just like The Flying Scotsman is supposed to remind us of The Orient Express. In other words, Lear uses lots of references to classic mysteries to set the mood.

When the story opens, we learn that Mitch has graduated from Cambridge and is now living in Edinburgh with his lover, Vince, and is in the final stages of completing his medical training. Mitch purports to be deeply in love with Vince, but that doesn’t stop him from having lustful thoughts about Boy Morgan, train conductors, porters, and lords, all before he is barely 18 steps away from his front door. Events have conspired so that Vince is unable to accompany Mitch on his journey; at first, Mitch is annoyed but being an optimistic sort, he remembers the adage, “Out of sight, out of mind,” and decides that having fun on his trip will be his number one objective.

He doesn’t waste any time, getting friendly with Arthur the porter, the mean train conductor, and the aforementioned Bertrand; then all of a sudden, Zut, alors! A body shows up in the first-class lavatory. Mitch is thrilled. Now, he gets to play Sherlock Holmes, Jr., too — his favorite hobby, second only to sexual activity in all its forms.

As a sleuth, Mitch’s primary detective tool seems to be his tool, which he uses to get men to open their mouths – and various other bodily crevices – to spill the beans. He isn’t terribly discriminating: even men who don’t have beans to spill get the treatment. At about the halfway point of the book, the story gets confusing. Why exactly is Mitch having sex with this guy? What exactly is he hoping to learn? Who is this guy, anyway?

The sex, fun as it is, becomes formulaic. I almost felt like the author had a checklist at his side to make sure every possible fantasy and fetish was covered. Sex with a man in uniform? Check. Sex with a man (or two) in a kilt? Check. Sex with lots of men at once? Check. Sex with Mitch tied up? Check. Sex with Mitch tied up and drugged? Check. You get the point.

I only kept reading because Lear is a good writer. The story is funny and fast and the writing is humorous, although the plot is totally implausible to the point of being preposterous. I got swept along in the current and kept flipping the pages, even if by the end I was flipping the pages to the point that I was mostly just skimming the words.

I read this back-to-back with The Back Passage and maybe that was a mistake because I kept comparing the two. The writing wasn’t any different and I don’t think the sex was any different either – but Mitch as a character was, and that was unsettling for me. In The Back Passage he was a college student visiting an English country estate for a holiday weekend (which happened to include finding a body in a closet). In The Secret Tunnel, school days are over and Mitch is supposed to be settling down to a career and a life with his beloved life partner. Boy, too, is married and a father and that gives Mitch momentary pause – but only momentary before he thinks about what he wants to do (and eventually does) with his former lover and friend. While I didn’t expect Mitch to become totally monogamous to the point of being a prude, his promiscuity with wild abandon was a tad too far to the other extreme for me to be totally comfortable with – especially since Mitch himself had some ambivalence about what he was doing.

Even more unsettling is the fact that Mitch realizes that what he likes best – to have sex with men – is an illegal activity. It comes up at the beginning: Mitch and Vince wear pajamas because they worry that the landlady might walk in and the sight of two naked men sleeping together could be grounds to call the police. Huh? That’s not the only instance. Mitch worries about drawn blinds, overheard cries of passion, and visible erections, any of which might have him hauled off to the clink and hung as a sodomite (never mind that the last time a sodomite was hung in England was 1835). Since the story is totally absurd, anyway, this slice of reality was intrusive and jarring and I am not sure it added to the narrative.

Would I recommend this book? It depends on what you want to read. I know many who consider Lear’s works to be “one handed novels” and if what you want is well written soft-core gay porn, it certainly fills the bill. On the other hand (excuse the pun!), if you are looking for a well written historical fiction story with a homoerotic subplot, I can think of many others I would suggest before this. While I am glad I discovered Lear as an author and I certainly enjoy Mitch as a character, I am not chomping at the bit for the third installment of this series, if one is planned.

Author’s website

Published by Cleis Press, Inc., publication date October 2008

ISBN: 978-1-57344-329-6

Buy: Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: Lessons in Love by Charlie Cochrane

Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book 1

St. Bride’s College, Cambridge, England, 1905.

When Jonty Stewart takes up a teaching post at the college where he studied, the handsome and outgoing young man acts as a catalyst for change within the archaic institution. He also has a catalytic effect on Orlando Coppersmith.Orlando is a brilliant, introverted mathematician with very little experience of life outside the college walls. He strikes up an alliance with the outgoing Jonty, and soon finds himself having feelings he’s never experienced before.

Before long their friendship blossoms into more than either man had hoped and they enter into a clandestine relationship.Their romance is complicated when a series of murders is discovered within St. Bride’s. All of the victims have one thing in common, a penchant for men. While acting as the eyes and ears for the police, a mixture of logic and luck leads them to a confrontation with the murderer—can they survive it?

Review by E Louise van Hine

Orlando Coppersmith, despite the Shakespearean name, is the most unremarkable of creatures – a professor of mathematics at St. Bride’s College, and a fellow of Cambridge.  Shy, quiet, and unobtrusive, he spends his evenings at high table in wordless company with his fellow dons, and for years he goes virtually unnoticed and invisible, retiring after his meals in his lonely rooms, kept company with his books, never venturing beyond the gate of the college to the pub in town or share a game of whist.  At least not until the new arrival, an English fellow, serendipitously occupies his dinner seat, and Coppersmith is forced to exercise his decidedly rusty social skills with the chatty newcomer.

What proceeds is a slowly-developing but undeniable attraction between two opposites – the outgoing and popular Jonathan “Jonty” Stewart, an alumnus who returns to his alma mater to introduce a new generation to the delights of Shakespeare, and the retiring maths scholar who gradually realizes that the precious friend he has discovered holds the key to his heart.  Their gentle and fumbling exploration of their developing love for one another, however, is complicated by a murder at the college – and the police turn to Stewart and Coppersmith when the few clues they find lead nowhere.

This is how “Lessons in Love,” a Cambridge Fellows Mystery, by Charlie Cochrane.  The story offers equal portions of romance and mystery, which, while the romance seems slow in coming, does not drag.  One of the arguments I have with so many erotic stories is how quickly the sexual relationship develops – even when the historical setting makes such a relationship forbidden by law or punishable by death.  But “Lessons in Love” does not have this flaw, thank goodness – the pace of the reluctant attraction fits the retiring personality of Orlando, particularly well.  The story takes place just past the turn of the 20th century, where homosexual affairs were not as severe a crime as in earlier centuries. In addition to the pacing, the prose narrative sometimes breathtakingly sweet, the love scenes are original and mildly humorous (one of my favorite descriptions was the description of Orlando’s erection as  “peninsular.”)

Charlie Cochrane knows her way around a first encounter, and the subsequent “lessons” are just as well written.  I particularly enjoyed some of the moments of jealous confrontation and the moody atmosphere of the college, which really brought the era clearly to my mind’s eye.

Less well drawn, however, are the other Fellows and the students, particularly those that Stewart and Coppersmith assign themselves to investigate as they help the police solve the mystery that unfolds between the episodes of romantic exploration.  Even with their colorful names – we needed more, either in dialogue or description, to be able to tell them apart before the next twist in the plot. I found myself mixing them up.

Another problematic point was the mystery itself, which, considering the circumstances of Lord Morcar’s death, would logically have had a devastating and dampening effect upon particularly Orlando’s romantic feelings toward Jonty – and yet, with a killer on the loose and most likely lurking within the walls of the college, they take chances that seem logically inconsistent with the threat they face.  This inconsistency did mar the plot for me somewhat, and I found myself wishing that this story was written in two books – the first a romance, and the second, a mystery that unfolds once the romance is established.  This did not dampen my enthusiasm for getting to the solution, or finding out how the star-crossed Fellows would fare with one another once the strangler is captured.

The book contained the first chapter of the sequel, and I am looking forward with anticipation to the next story, Lessons in Desire.

Available in ebook and print from Linden Bay Romance, Amazon UK and Amazon USA

Review: “Napoleon’s Privates” by Tony Perrottet

NAPOLEON’S PRIVATES
2,500 Years of History Unzipped

by Tony Perrottet
Harper Entertainment, ISBN 978-0-06-125728-5

From the blurb on the author’s website:

What were Casanova’s best pick-up lines?
(They got better as he got older).
Which Italian Renaissance genius “discovered” the clitoris?
(He could have just asked the Venetian nuns).
What was the party etiquette at Caligula’s orgies?
(Holding one’s own could be a stressful business in ancient Rome).
How were impotence sufferers put on trial in medieval France?
(And why this should be a new reality TV show).
What were the kinkiest private clubs of Hogarthian London?
(Austin Powers would have blanched).

And what was the truth about Napoleon’s privates?
(Was it a big baguette or petit éclair? And did size matter to Josephine?)

There are some books you just have to order, even if you fear the worst when it comes to content. I hang my head in shame – when I stumbled over “Napoleon’s Privates” (now please don’t take that literally!) I couldn’t resist. Yes, yes, I know, my mind’s in the gutter at times. But if everything else fails, there’s still eBay, right?

I’m happy to report that I won’t have to deal with eBay. “Napoleon’s Privates” is an amusing collection of the high and mighty’s “raunchy little secrets” all through history. Reading it transported me back to the days when I was a really young teenage girl and read with a friend “Dr. Sommer’s Sex And Relationship Tips” in a teenage magazine. Means: lots of giggling and the occasional “d’oh?”-experience!

Author Tony Perrottet knows how to keep his readers captivated. In the slick tone of a gossip journalist (an almost extinct species capable of forming complete sentences), he shares the tale of the whereabouts of Napoleon’s little emperor with as much wit and glee as the rather mind-boggling “Holy Guide to Coital Positions”. Perrottet completely won me over with his “Impressionist Misery Index”, listing the social backgrounds, personal dramas, career lows and wretched dotages of artists like Monet, Cézanne, Renoir et al just like Marvel Comics would have described the special powers of their super heroes.

Some chapters are almost exclusively of a speculative nature, though – was Abe Lincoln gay or not? – but to his credit, the author points this fact out and notes that it really wasn’t uncommon for men to share a bed back in those days. So “Napoleon’s Privates” is also a journey through the urban legends of the past.

However, all gossip and giggles aside, the misogynistic roots of some anecdotes are pointed out several times. The “Boys Club” could not deal with strong women, the church tried its best to keep them down, and many of the rumours still clinging to great women’s names – Katharina the Great and her “horse lover”, for example (complete rubbish, of course) – have been born out of this attitude. It’s also interesting to see how disparaging rumours about sexual prowess, sexual orientation or even shape of genitals have been used – and are still used! – to impair an enemy’s reputation.

For those interested in the history of sexuality in general, beauty ideals, gay history, gossip and saucy details, this book offers a lot of material to shake your head over. Kinky clubs in 18th century Scotland, proof of (im)potence in front of witnesses and the court, brothels, ancient sex toys, horny popes and knitted condoms, syphilis and why castrati made better lovers – “Napoleon’s Privates” offers all this, and more.

The book consists of stand-alone chapters, so you can easily put it away for a while. I read the whole thing in one go, though, so I can now impress my friends at the next party with my amazing knowledge about Napoleon’s dick and dickery between the sheets. I might even throw in the amazing tale of “The Invention of Smut”, should anybody ask.

Especially you navy folk will be pleased to hear that the Duke of Wellington, if actress “Mademoiselle Georges” (a former mistress of Napoleon) can be believed, “was by far the more vigorous.”

In conclusion:
a) “Napoleon’s Privates” is a book wellworth buying, and
b) people are funnier than anybody.

In case you’re interested: the author’s website.

“Napoleon’s Privates” is available from Amazon UK, Amazon US and as e-book from Harper Collins.

* * *

(c) Emma Collingwood

Review: Speak Its Name by Charlie Cochrane, Lee Rowan and Erastes

A Three novella anthology from Cheyenne Publishing

Featuring:
Aftermath by Charlie Cochrane
Gentleman’s Gentleman by Lee Rowan
Hard and Fast by Erastes

Expectations riding on young Englishmen are immense; for those who’ve something to hide, those expectations could prove overwhelming.

Aftermath
When shy Edward Easterby first sees the popular Hugo Lamont, he’s both envious of the man’s social skills and ashamed of finding him so attractive. But two awful secrets weigh Lamont down. One is that he fancies Easterby, at a time when the expression of such desires is strictly illegal. The second is that an earlier, disastrous encounter with a young gigolo has left him unwilling to enter into a relationship with anyone. Hugo feels torn apart by the conflict between what he wants and what he feels is “right”. Will Edward find that time and patience are enough to change Hugo’s mind?

Gentleman’s Gentleman
Lord Robert Scoville has lived in a reasonably comfortable Victorian closet, without hope of real love, or any notion that it’s right there in front of him if he would only open his eyes and take notice of his right-hand man, Jack Darling. Jack has done his best to be satisfied with the lesser intimacy of caring for the man he loves, but his feigned role as a below-stairs ladies’ man leaves his heart empty. When a simple diplomatic errand turns dangerous and a man from their past raises unanswerable questions, both men find themselves endangered by the secrets between them. Can they untangle the web of misunderstanding before an unknown attacker parts them forever?

Hard and Fast:
Major Geoffrey Chaloner has returned, relatively unscathed, from the Napoleonic War, and England is at peace for the first time in years. Unable to set up his own establishment, he is forced to live with his irascible father who has very clear views on just about everything—including exactly whom Geoffrey will marry and why. The trouble is that Geoffrey isn’t particularly keen on the idea, and even less so when he meets Adam Heyward, the enigmatic cousin of the lady his father has picked out for him… As Geoffrey says himself: “I have never been taught what I should do if I fell in love with someone of a sex that was not, as I expected it would be, opposite to my own.”

Review by Alex Beecroft

It won’t be any secret that I’m a fan of both Erastes and Lee Rowan, so I’ve been looking forward to this trilogy ever since I first heard that it was on the books. That’s an uncomfortable position to be in, or at least it is for me, because I’m always afraid that if I look forward to something too much, it will end up being a disappointment.

So colour me very happy indeed that this was nothing of the sort. All three stories are carefully observed, beautifully written and emotionally very engaging. All three also share an emphasis on romance, on following the burgeoning relationships of their protagonists through discovery, doubt, problems, conflicts external and internal, towards an eventual satisfying resolution.

Of the three, Aftermath is probably the one I liked least. I loved the setting! Who could not love flannel-trousered beautiful young men at university, strolling across the green lawns, talking about the meaning of life, while slowly, deliciously falling in love? My main problem was the structure. A flashback at the beginning left me wondering whether now was now or then was now or…. I got a bit chronologically confused as to when the shoes incident was happening. Reading back a second time I realised that that was the dramatic first meeting of the two heroes, but the impact was lost on me at the time.

Having said that, though, when I got my bearings, I became thoroughly invested in hoping that these two highly principled young things would throw their principles to the wind and settle down to making each other happy. Much praise to the author – whose first professional story this is – for making that happy ending so very much desired while also showing how unlikely, even impossible, it could seem. You can see both young men growing up even in so short a space.

Gentleman’s Gentleman by Lee Rowan is a delight from start to finish. It felt a little like watching an episode of the Lord Peter Whimsey detective stories, if Lord Peter had been secretly in love with his manservant instead of with Harriet Vane. I don’t mean that in any kind of derivative way, but more to illustrate the feeling of place, from the battlefield to the first class carriage of a train racing across Europe, to the final meeting with the spy in the hotel in Vienna. And yes, there was a spy too, and a snuff box full of cocaine, and secret plans that had to be retrieved and taken to the Embassy before the Germans got their hands on them… In short, it was an exciting read just at the level of an adventure story. But add on top of that the wonderful familiar-but-repressed relationship of Lord Robert and his manservant, the conveniently named ‘Darling’ (Jack Darling), and there’s a whole new world of entertainment.

I loved the many convincing reasons why neither man had acted on his attraction so far, and the equally convincing way that the story unravelled every objection, from Robert’s principles to Jack’s reputation as a ladies’ man. It’s obvious that both characters are already comfortable and well suited to each other – and I liked both of them very much – so the final coming together is a coming home for both of them. Beautifully done and very touching. And a big thumbs up for the excuse they came up with to tell Lord Robert’s matchmaking mama!

Hard and Fast by Erastes is also a story in which matchmaking family members have a big impact. In this case it’s Geoffrey Chaloner’s father who wants him to get married to Emily Pelham, despite the fact that Geoffrey himself is fascinated by Emily’s cousin, Adam Heyward.

Normally I’m not a fan of stories told in the first person, but this is just lovely! Geoffrey’s ‘voice’ is delightfully in character for a man of his times, but he still comes across as very much of an individual. A rather lovable, bemused, good humoured, chivalrous, but none too bright an individual. Adam too immediately leaps off the page as a fully rounded person; clever, cynical, defensive. And it’s a treat to find that Geoffrey’s father, Emily Pelham and Lady Pelham are well drawn, likable characters too.

This is another story where I was able to really luxuriate in the sense of place – the settings were so beautifully detailed and real. The writing managed to be lush but powerful at the same time. I did really enjoy the fact that Geoffrey, who is all kitted out to be the ‘alpha male’ of this relationship – he’s big, powerful, a trained soldier, and literally at one stage so moved by passion as to sweep Adam off his feet – is also such an innocent. Adam, the physically frail, slight, non-combatant is three steps ahead of poor dim Geoff at every stage. And speaking of sweeping off the feet, the passion between the two leads is breathtaking.

With three very high quality stories, I thoroughly recommend this book. It left me with a smile on my face that hasn’t worn off a day later, and I’ll be buying it myself as soon as it comes out in print.

Cheyenne Publishing Amazon UK Amazon USA

Erastes would like to blushingly say that the views of the reviewer are not necessarily shared by the management, however much the management appreciates said view.

Review: Mr Clive and Mr Page by Neil Bartlett

It is Christmas Eve, 1956, and the reclusive Mr Page is remembering a dream from thirty years ago. The dream is about the rich and wild Mr Clive, a man who could have been Page’s twin, and what really happened to the beautiful white-haired boy who served in his house. And the dream is about Clive’s house itself–ostensibly modern and spacious but in truth deeply secretive, with its invisible network of staircases, corridors and hidden rooms. Neil Bartlett bears angry witness to the oppression of gays in the past and evokes their concealed world with dark, erotic tenderness.

Review by Erastes

I’ve just closed the book and am completely blown away.

It’s probably not for everyone, because it’s written in first person; is interspersed with (relevant) articles and news clippings; is written in a realistic diary-style; has a very campy-fussy-gay-man-tone and rambles quite extensively. But for my money it’s one of the best books I’ve read.

For a start it emphasises the very real fear that gay men were feeling in late 50′s England. Compare and contrast this with Isherwood’s bohemian gay life of A Single Man and you will appreciate the difference of Californian sun to the cold austere post-war severity and class-conciousness.

You’d think that – as the Labouchère amendment had been in place for 70 years – that the gay community (such as it was) would be a little more confident but for those who didn’t already know that was not the case, this book shines a light on the constant fear of discovery.

Mr Page is a wonderful character; from his first words “I’ve got the gas on, Lovely,” you immediately picture him: fussy, beautifully turned out, and alone. The entire diary is written with a core of the fear of detection running all the way through it, and he explains, just by the way he describes his life, why he’s so repressed because of the case of that household guard, those two navy boys, that man in the university – a catalogue of less fortunate men who have been “found out.” He even says that he can’t name names because if they found any of those names in this – they’d know. It’s a terrible thing to be so very afraid, afraid to love.

In a very real way, it reminds me of Rebecca; there’s a gothic feel to Mr Clive and his huge empty expensive house, and Mr Page even mentions the book at one point, which probably helps the comparison. Mr Page meets Mr Clive (a Gatsby type figure, apparent wealth and eccentric behaviour) outside the Turkish bath where Mr Pages goes every week. Although it’s very veiled (as Mr Page doesn’t want anyone getting hold of his memoir and naming names) it’s clear that the bathhouse is a meeting place, as such places have been in history.

Mr Page wonders why Mr Clive picks him up the way he does, first thinking that it is because they look so alike, but then realises it’s probably for other reasons. It’s not a friendship, never a friendship, but it’s compelling both to Mr Page and to the reader – and whether or not Mr Page’s reasoning at the end of the book- the reasons why Mr Clive did the things he did – are accurate, then that’s up to the reader.

The core of the book is one image: of one day in history 14 March – when Mr Page saw a blond man, naked, bathed in sunshine. This image is both a dream and a reality and what starts out as one certain image – what we think we know is happening – gradually unravels as Mr Page get more maudlin (fuelled by Christmas brandy) and we finally, tragically, understand what the image of the naked, blond man is really all about. You get a real feel that it’s the true meaning of the image that Mr Page has been trying to hide, but in the end, he had to get out.

I wish I could say more, but it’s difficult to do so without spoiling, despite the length of the book, it’s a very simple premise, fabulously written and I was jealous of every line. The ending had me sobbing, but not in a bad way, believe me.

This is definitely a keeper, a re-reader, an inspiration, and one of my essential reads.

I don’t often link to other sources, but I think that this essay on the book is well worth reading (after you’ve read the book, of course)

Buy: Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: Finistère by Fritz Peters

finistere.jpg

A lyrical gay coming-of-age story first published in 1951, acclaimed by many including Gore Vidal and The New York Times, about Matthew, a young American who moves to France with his mother following his parents’ divorce. In boarding school and on trips with his mother into the countryside, Matthew investigates his budding sexuality and complicated new relationships with trepidation and hardship until he is forced to confront finistère – land’s end – where the brutal truths of the world can be found.

Review by Hayden Thorne

Though the novel was published in the 1950s, the story takes place in the late 1920s. As a historical novel that’s also a coming-of-age story, it’s very much the classic problem novel of which we see a lot being published as Young Adult fiction. What we have in modern sophistication and cynicism becomes postwar America’s confining views about homosexuality, and that said, it comes as no surprise that Peters’s novel is a tragedy – the kind of pre-Stonewall fiction that some readers criticize or dismiss as self-hating and/or trashy.

On the whole, Finistère is both easy and difficult to read, the reasons lying largely in Peters’s narrative style. Given the delicacy of the subject – fifteen-year-old Matthew’s process of self-discovery, which involves a man who’s twice his age – Peters tackles it with a certain elegance and grace that adds color to the frank sensuality of Matthew’s relationship with Michel. The sex scenes are suggestive, not explicit, and even the slightest gesture, touch, or even kiss is beautifully erotic.

The characters’ complexities, particularly those facets of their natures that are shaped by their pasts, are subtly and skillfully drawn. The effects vary, of course, depending on the character and how Peters is able to develop him or her. Some minor characters – such as Edith, Matthew’s stepmother – are on the scene for a very limited span of time and yet are able to convey so much about themselves through mannerisms, dialogue, casual gestures, and simple interactions with others. There are those – such as Paul – who are there from start to finish and yet come across as unsatisfying and flat. In Paul’s case, Peters does try to say as much as he can about the man’s character, but in the end, it’s simply not enough. Paul, in fact, though adding texture and color to Peters’s impressive cast of characters, remains a problem for me. He’s simply too villainous, and while there’s an effort in the end to give him a more multi-dimensional quality, it’s simply too late in the story for him to rouse sympathy in me. To some extent, Peters’s efforts in developing him in the final chapters feel almost forced.

The greatest weakness in the book, I think, lies in Peters’s use of the third person omniscient POV. While readers are treated to close and in-depth looks at each character, the heavy dependence on so much telling, not as much showing, can take its toll. The book relies a lot on introspection and exposition, and being in a character’s head can last a few pages at a stretch. It’s during those moments when I feel myself slow down quite a bit in my reading. Despite the interest these scenes raise in me regarding a given character, they can be relentless and even repetitive. There are, in fact, scenes in which Michel ruminates about the same things that Matthew does in other scenes. There are also times in which situations that are shown in a previous chapter resurface in another, but this time it does so in the form of exposition, with the reader rehashing the same issue in, say, Scott’s head.

On the other hand, this omniscient POV also works to give the characters – pretty much all of them – varying degrees of complexity, which really adds to the dramatic texture of the plot. Most of them undergo a process of transformation, and some end up being revelations. It’s an effective approach to take in telling Matthew’s story, especially when one considers that Matthew, at fifteen, is the only youngster through most of the book. His innocence comes under fire from his environment, which is peopled with bitter, loving, pragmatic, misguided, selfish adults. The boy is alone through his ordeal, and the sympathy he rouses in his readers is sharp and strong. It’s quite easy to see Michael Bronski’s point in the book’s introduction when he says that Matthew, in his youth and innocence, becomes a metaphorical symbol of “the naturalness and the ingenuousness of homosexual desire.”

Michael Bronski’s lengthy introduction is a gem in itself, for it provides readers a fascinating mini-study of postwar gay fiction and, therefore, a historical context for the conception of Finistère and its successful reception. His discussion of post-Stonewall attitudes toward pre-Stonewall gay fiction is also significant, given the fact that most postwar gay novels are tragedies, conveying pessimistic views of homosexuality against the backdrop of past mores.

“While it is understandable that gay readers of the 1970s would reject these earlier novels in favor of a new wealth of literature that was being published by both mainstream and alternative publishing houses post-Stonewall, the rejection incurred emotional costs as well. Not admitting these novels into a growing canon of gay and lesbian literature meant that the gay reader of the 1970s did not allow himself access to the world view – and more importantly, the emotions and the psychological mind-set of homosexuals who had come before him…These new gay cultural norms were so set that they did not allow gay liberationists to take the time to understand the people or the cultures of the recent past. This lack of cultural empathy created a generational divide that was difficult for people on both sides.”

Well said, and that can certainly be applied to new generations of readers as well.

Buy the book: Amazon, Amazon UK

Review: Cinnamon Gardens by Shyam Selvadurai

From the blurb: …Cinnamon Gardens is a residential enclave of wealthy Ceylonese. Among them is Annalukshmi, an independent and high-spirited young teacher intent on thwarting her parents’ plans to arrange her marriage. In a parallel narrative, her uncle, Balendran Navaratnam, respectably married but secretly homosexual, has his life disrupted by the arrival in Ceylon of Richard, a lover from long ago.

Review by Erastes

I found this a fascinating read, partly because I had only just finished Burmese Days” by George Orwell and the parallels are easy to see, even though it was obvious that they come from completely different directions. Both books deal with the English Raj – one in Burma, one in Ceylon – but one is written from the point of view of the priviledged and ruling whites, whilst Cinnamon Gardens is written from the point of the view of the privileged native population of Ceylon.

I knew next to nothing about Ceylon (this is set in the late 1920′s) and the insight that Selvadurai gives is like looking through a plate glass window into a world that none of us will ever know – like Mitchell’s land of knights and ladies, this is a another culture that is gone with the wind. However, although the blurb went on to say that it was a world where no-one can breathe freely, I didn’t really get an overwhelming sense of that, I was never really convinced that any of the characters (save for Belandran whose “face” is tremendous against the weight of love, responsibility, duty and family) were crushed and overwhelmed by position, caste or race. Not even the orthodox wives.

It seems from what I learned along the journey that the wealthy Ceylon of this time (for you don’t see the poverty in this book, the POV is purely from two rich people) were more racially integrated than I had seen in books dealing with other Asian countries; they intermarried with whites, and set themselves up as English, becoming Christian in many cases and changing their names to English names. In some instances the characters are related – and are seemingly accepted by- English aristocracy. Belandran’s wife visits a titled relative in England at one point.

After having read Burmese Days where the middle class whites consider the Burmans to be nothing but “niggers” this came as a surprise. I don’t doubt the author’s research – the afterword stated that he’d spent a year in Sri Lanka researching the book, and he was a native of the country, only leaving when he was 19. It was just a little surprising, that’s all.

What struck me was the complete LACK of the perception of colour and the barriers that it must, surely have made, in the book itself. Annalukshimi is a a school mistress under a headmistress called Miss Lawton, but you can’t assume that Miss Lawton is white – you only find that out later on, when Annalukshimi realises that her ambition to teach will be limited to the colour of her skin, no matter that Miss Lawton is helping to raise the education of girls in the Country. There’s Miss Lawton’s ward – Nancy – who I assume was white but turned out not to be. Because of the English names of a lot of the Ceylonese, it continued to be difficult to tell who was white and who was not. I was simply surprised that it did not seem to matter as much as it did in Burmese Days and other colonial books such as Passage to India and Jewel in the Crown

I was determined not to like Balendran because he had left behind his lover in England and “done the right thing”, followed his father’s dictates and had come back to Ceylon and married. But somehow he softened my resistance, and I couldn’t help, by the time the inevitable bitter sweet ending rolled around, to love him deeply for he had managed to make some kind of peace with himself in spite of all the obstacles he faced. His relationship with Richard was infinitely touching and there’s a moment in the hearing scene where I completely melted.

However, there was a niggling feeling that the characters held a little too much modern sensibility. One of the messages in the book (if I’m reading it right) was to show how Ceylon was taking its first steps to self rule and how the generational shift and education of its young people was helping that along, but it was slightly blurred for me that the young people did as they liked anyway and no-one seemed to care all that much.

The writing is fine – not (in my opinion, obviously) a masterpiece, but deftly done. There was, at times, a little TOO much description of saris and furniture and rooms and I had a Dan Brown flashback and felt that the author was so very intent on painting this world for the reader that he went a little too far.

The politics behind the whole regime change is interesting and detailed, although, again, there were a few times where I felt the the author was info dumping and it was refreshing when several of the characters were showing no interest in the politics, which felt very real to me. One of them even criticises Ghandi!

However, that being said – I do recommend it. It’s absorbing and I don’t think you’ll be able to put it down once started. The characters stayed with me, and more than anything I’d like to sit down with the author and talk to him about it, and I haven’t wanted to do that for a while. Perhaps it’s a bit too short, or perhaps it’s the niggling modernism of the characters but I came away having enjoyed being in Cinnamon Gardens but ultimately a little unsatisfied.

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Review: The Stallion & The Rabbit by Mike Shade

 

Review by Erastes

Alex is a reporter, determined to follow a great race through the Sahara and earn his name in his field. What he doesn’t count on is desert cheiftan Alfahl kidnapping him and carrying him off.Alfahl needs and English tutor, and Alex fits the bill. Alex fascinates him, as much for the Arabian Nights style tales he tells as for his sweet body and foreign ways. Can these very different men find enough common ground to last together? Or will they become just another story?  

This is an odd little novella and almost defies my reviewing it. It possibly is far more clever than I am giving it credit for, the meaning of it is probably steeped with folklore or something but that may have gone completely over my head.

At first glance it seems like a typical Sheik/slave story, Alex is reporting on the first Trans Sahara road race when his car breaks down and he is captured by Alfahl, a powerful Sheik.

Ostenibly, the men have brought Alfahl an English speaker to help him with his language but it’s soon clear that Alfahl has more on his mind than vowels and he refuses to let Alex go.

Alfahl nicknames Alex “the Rabbit” for reasons that escaped me (as I said, perhaps the whole book went over my head) because I considered Alex to be (‘scuse the pun) quite spunky and he stood up to his kidnapper, wasn’t afraid to make a deal with him when a lot of people might have been a little more terrified.  Alfahl is “the Stallion” which is hyperbole whichever way you cut it.

Alex borrows Scherezhade’s trick of tale-telling (because, hey, every Sheik falls for that trick, right?) and it works beautifully. Alex’s ravishment is gradually put off until he starts to tell tales that excite both of them.

On the surface that’s just about all it is, but I think personally it’s more than that. There is some beautiful writing here, and the gradual increasingly sexual scenes are genuinely erotic rather than verging anywhere near porn.  For those reasons I have kept the e-book (which is rare for me) and I intend to read it again because it haunts me a little.  I do have a small quibble that a white man and a reporter can go missing in the desert and no-one actually bothers to look for him, but that’s just me.

That being said, this book has the feeling more of an allegory, (although I’m too dim to work it out) and less of a narrative and I personally liked that feeling as I was unsettled throughout and still am.

Well worth the $3.95 that it’s on sale for, and I wouldn’t mind reading more of this author, if there is any.

Buy from Torquere

Review: Time and Place by Alan Sheridan

Review by Fiona Glass

Okay, I’ll admit it – this book had me baffled. It was billed as a fictionalised biography based on the diaries of a real-life actor, Mark Sheridan, as written by his descendant Alan Sheridan, but I have to admit I couldn’t tell if this was the case, or if it was really just a novel in disguise, so skilfully was it written.

The story was told in first person as though by Mark himself, almost-but-not-quite in the form of a diary of his experiences in the acting world, and earlier as the son of a diplomat based in China and Russia in the late nineteenth century. Much of the book (biography? novel?) was set in Peking and St Petersburg, with lengthy travelogue-style descriptions of both cities, as well as lengthy but slightly less orthodox descriptions of Mark’s many encounters with men. His essays on the usefulness of public conveniences as pick-up joints at a time when homosexuality was still expressly forbidden across most of Europe were quite an eye-opener!

The sense of place, then, was beautifully suggested. I felt I knew the avenues of Paris, the canals and underground toilets of St Petersburg, and the compounds and back streets of Peking, and that I was there with Mark as he explored, rutted, and trod the boards.

Where I was less convinced was with Sheridan’s handling of the time-scales involved. The book (novel? biography?) opens in the early twentieth century with Mark as a fully fledged actor but soon skips back to China and Russia of the 1890s when he was still a child, and from then on it leap-frogs backwards and forwards from the 1920s to the 1900s to the 1890s in a endless and bewildering series of flashbacks. Each section was complete in itself and each one nicely presented the time in which it was set, but I soon found my head was spinning and any continuity of narrative was hopelessly lost.

This applied to the central relationship as well. When we first met Mark he was living with another actor, the young Esmé, but their meeting wasn’t described until at least two-thirds of the way through the novel, after a series of other affairs, some earlier and some later. Even then the description of what must have been a life-changing event was curiously flat, and the same applied to many of the other encounters with men, be they political dialogues with diplomats or mutual masturbation sessions with rough trade. I never got the feeling that I knew the characters half so well as the places they visited.

Overall I found the book rather like the proverbial curate’s egg – good in parts. Beautiful scenery does not a novel make, and once I’d waded through several hundred pages of constantly-switching time and place, I struggled to finish the book.

Buy Amazon UK: Amazon USA

Review: The Back Passage by James Lear

Agatha Christie, move over! Hard-core sex and scandal meet in this brilliantly funny whodunit. A seaside village, an English country house, a family of wealthy eccentrics and their equally peculiar servants, a determined detective — all the ingredients are here for a cozy Agatha Christie-style whodunit. But wait — Edward “Mitch” Mitchell is no Hercule Poirot, and The Back Passage is no Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Mitch is a handsome, insatiable 22-year-old hunk who never lets a clue stand in the way of a steamy encounter, whether it’s with the local constabulary, the house secretary, or his school chum and fellow athlete Boy Morgan, who becomes his Watson when they’re not busy boffing each other.

Review by Erastes

Thoroughly enjoyable. This book very clearly makes the point that gay historical fiction needn’t be po faced, full of deep meaningful literary merit and serious as hell. This is a romp, from start (hero found groping his friend in an understairs cupboard) to the finish which I won’t spoil. Imagine how I squeed when I read the first page and found that it was set about 10 miles from where I sit right now, on the North Norfolk coast in 1925.

There’s a lot of sex in this book, and I mean a LOT. This is the kind of book where the reader can be happy that there’s sex in every chapter and it isn’t boringly escalated, you know what a mean, starts with a grope, moves on to a blow job, then a 69 and so on – the Hero “Mitch” takes advantage of every opportunity.

And there’s PLENTY of opportunity. Even though you must suspend your belief at the door, although, to be honest, a remote Norfolk aristocratic family – I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this house set-up hadn’t actually happened, so it’s actually quite plausible and the reasons for why everyone seems to be gay are very cleverly explained. It’s not just the power of Mitch’s sex-appeal that gives him the sex-filled week of his life!

It’s a classic who-dunnit, too. Big house in the middle of no-where with a cast of larger than life characters, unexplained murder and it could be any one of the occupants, like all of Christie’s stories I was hopelessly led down one blind alley after another, suspecting everyone in turn and happy doing so.

What I particularly liked was the lovely little touches of the language. When Mitch talks he says ass, and when Boy Morgan speaks he says arse. I heartily approve of this.

I also liked the fact that Mitch isn’t some Gary-Stu private dick (although his that part of his anatomy is anything but private…) solving everything. He’s just nicely curious, and is not averse to asking questions and using other methods to get what he wants. He doesn’t get it right all the time too, in fact I loved the fact that when he’s listening to one of the witnesses he frankly says “I couldn’t help but think that Sherlock would have already grasped the salient point” (paraphrased)

The sex itself is graphic, along the same graphic level as say – Alyson’s short story collections.

So all in all, recommended. I dislike asking an author for a sequel, but, in Mitch, he has a character who could cheerfully go on to other gay mysteries. I shall go and seek Lear’s other works now, and will look forward to his next. A nice afternoon’s read, which got me hot and made me smile too.

And really – any writer who uses whence and glabrous is always going to win my heart…

Author’s Website

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