Review: The Pretty Gentleman by Max Fincher

Erotic sketches, a blackmail letter, a closeted aristocrat, his ambitious lover, and a sacrificial murder. Love, betrayal, deception and vengeance in Regency’s London’s art world.

George Rowlands, an aspiring young painter and apprentice to his father in the Haymarket theatre, meets Sir Henry Wallace while drawing the river at Richmond. Wallace invites George to his home in St. James’s square to draw his collection of sculpture and his good-looking valet Gregorio Franchese. Securing him a place to study painting at the Royal Academy of Arts under the eccentric Gothic painter, Henry Fuseli, George meets the mysterious John McCarther who befriends him. Meanwhile, Lady Arabella Wallace records in her diary her suspicions about her husband’s night-time absences and his ‘enthusiasm’ for his new protégé. George discovers his every move with Wallace is being watched after Wallace confesses his love for him.

ebook – 306 pages

Review by Erastes

I’ve been musing a while as to whether I should still be reviewing self-published books on this blog, and the editing–I’m sorry to say–on this book has pushed me so close to the edge of deciding, it’s only going to take one more like this to get me to fall off the fence one way or the other. From the huge list of helpers, encouragers and friends that the author lists in his acknowledgements, you’d think SOMEONE might have pointed out that he has a comma abuse problem. As well as subject confusion, and many other issues such as random tense changes, homonym mistakes and typos.

Sidebar: Self Published authors. I’m sick of this. Don’t go skipping towards self-publishing with the attitude that by not having to give most of your royalties to your publisher you can coin it. Think rather that you should be paying a fucking editor the money your publisher would have. Because? If you skip this, cut corners and think gleefully at the money you’ve “saved” you’ll produce a shoddy product which no one will bloody BUY. Rather defeats the object. I apologise for losing my temper, but this book really tipped me over the edge, and when you review books and you read so many self-published books which clearly are not ready for publication, and there’s so many authors doing good work, it makes me mad.

That all being said, there is something to like in this book. If it had not had that kernel of promise I would have either not reviewed it at all, or dismissed it with a half of one star for putting words in a line–kind of the equivalent of putting one’s name at the top of an exam paper, but there is talent here, there is a knack for description and the ability to communicate a time and place. It’s just a shame that the shoddy workmanship drags it down.

The other main problem is the pacing; putting aside all other issues, if this had been the type of polished self-publication–as say, The Painting was–I would still have problems with the execution. It’s possibly the most realistic Regency set book I’ve read, the research has been done mostly impeccably and you really feel that–with the descriptions of the grit and grime of the streets and the dark, candlelit rooms that you are in a time before gas lighting and electricity. But the first half of the book is so painfully slow and laboured if I hadn’t been reviewing it I would have given up, and I almost never feel that way. There’s just nothing much going on–George meets Wallace by chance whilst out painting the landscape and so slowly you can almost see the glaciers growing faster they move to a position of artist and patron while George falls in love with Wallace. Apart from one instance where George follows Wallace in stalkery fashion to Vere Street and another time he sees someone he thinks is following him, for over 50 percent of the book nothing much else happens. Oh, there’s attendance at art school, and the occasional party, and endless pages of George painting and sketching–all interspersed with the increasingly paranoid journal entries of Wallace’s wife, but there’s no real sense of foreboding or even burgeoning love on either side. George tells us he’s (probably, how can he tell?) in love with Wallace on numerous occasions, but he doesn’t really give any reason for that, nor is the reader given any. Wallace, for me, was a thoroughly objectionable, spoilt brat who wants everything his own way, and everyone to agree with his own opinions. He’s not even depicted as being entirely mesmerising which would explain why George falls so completely under his spell.

As I said, there’s a lot of historical detail in the book, most of which is accurate as far as I could tell–I wasn’t knocked out by modern language or attitudes. But many of the touches which the author obviously wanted to put in so we can tell he did the research were a bit superfluous and I was often thinking – “yeah, ok, nice scene, good description, but what’s the point of it in the plot?” I also rolled my eyes at George being paid £200 for his very first portrait and then wondering how he was going to live – the minimum conversion of that sum of money is well over £11k so it’s unlikely he’d have had any money problems for a good long while.

The major conflict, when it happens is not unexpected, but is actually well-handled. Wallace proves himself to be the git I took him to be all along which was gratifying, at least. I think what the author was aiming for was a gradual escalation of the plotline as after the middle of the book things start to kick off, but the beginning needs to have some acceleration rather than pages of walking around painting and or looking at things.

So, I’m torn about the book. On one hand it’s well done to the extent of the feel and the paranoia and the atmosphere of the times, but the painfully slow pacing would make it a do not finish for many. I would probably recommend it as a read if you can get past the pacing – AND if you are prepared to put up with the legion of grammatical errors throughout. I would advise the author to get it very carefully proofed by someone who knows how to punctuate, at the very least. A neatly edited version of this would have earned a 3.5 but as it is–specially the conversion from PDF to Kindle where all the double Ts were entirely missing–I can’t give it more than a 2.5

Author’s Website

Buy at Amazon UK | Amazon USA |

Review: Lord of Endersley by S.A. Meade

Will the passion ignited during a violent uprising survive the rigid confines of Victorian society?

Jacob Endersley is glad to escape the confines of his family home for the exotic and dangerous beauty of India during the glory days of the Raj.

Marcus Billington, an Army officer, is tired of the stifling social mores of life in a British enclave. When the Sepoy Uprising of 1857 leads to chaos and bloodshed, the two men seek the safety of Agra and find refuge in each other.

Once the rebellion is quashed, Jacob returns to England while Marcus remains in India. They have no hope of a future together until Jacob learns that Marcus has returned to England. When they meet again, Marcus makes it clear there can be nothing between them and Jacob returns to Endersley resigned to a solitary life until Marcus arrives out of the blue and then everything changes.

ebook and paperback – 161 pages

Review by Erastes

Now here’s something rare – I might even say unique! A gay historical romance set during the Indian Mutiny, a period that fascinates me and evokes the mysterious, the strange and the exotic. Jacob is the eponymous Lord of Endersley who has come to India to sort out a cousin’s finances and meets up with Captain Marcus Billington and sparks fly almost from the first.

I have to say that I was impressed with S.A. Meade’s writing. It’s nicely descriptive without being over the top, and with the exception of a couple of repeated sentences that a good editor should have winnowed out, she manages to place the reader in the stifling, lung drowning heat of India. The weather is almost a third character because everything one does in India is pretty much done in tandem with the weather. It’s excellent the way Meade notes small details such as the women struggling to deal with “roughing it” after the rebellion starts–struggling with their dresses for a start–without making such small details interfere with the flow of the story.

The romance trundles along nicely–I loved the way that they weren’t able to leap into bed together and have night after night of passionate sex, that the social structure of the time made this almost impossible and that it was clear that they had to be careful and circumspect all of the time. The couple of times they did get together were cleverly managed and quite believable. The one thing I didn’t really understand though was why they didn’t get more than one opportunity to use the little shack they used just the once. The ubiquitous handy vial of oil is really beginning to bug me, the more of these I read.

The one thing I would have liked more of was the rebellion itself, and the reasons for it, as there’s no explanation of it and the reader would come away from the book no wiser than when they started. I don’t believe that fiction books should be history tomes, but I do think they should reflect the situation. Englishmen and women talked a lot about the natives and there could easily have been club talk and gossip as to what was happening in the wider scheme of things. Sadly there’s not, and Jacob simply does guard duty. The infuriating thing is that when he leaves the fort after the rebellion has been put down, we get this sentence:

It seemed an anticlimactic moment after months of near starvation, close calls, death and privations.

And I agreed with him entirely, because we’d seen nothing of all this, and whilst I don’t think a blow by blow account of daily life at the siege of Agra would have been suitable for a romance–although there are books that get away with it– I would have liked to have seen something of this. Nothing is mentioned of the magnificent Agra fort either–other than one of the small pavilions along the walls, it surprised me that Jacob never gave any description of the wonderful interiors instead of moping around in the heat.

Only fifty percent of the book takes place in India; the rest plays out in England where again, the weather and the descriptions really anchor the reader in the sense of time and place. It’s a gasp of fresh air after the suffocating warmth of India and I laughed at Jacob already complaining about the chill when he’d spent all that time longing to be home in a cooler climate.

The dance between the two of them once they got back to Blighty became a little tedious for me, and it sadly was a case of rinse and repeat once back in England, including the hurt/comfort aspect. It was all “no no, we mustn’t” “but why not?” “no no, I must go” and so on and so on. It’s a convenient conflict, but it’s not terribly interesting reading. In fact I found much of the British section really boring, most particularly the chess match the two men have which is described for pages and pages and pages and I simply couldn’t see the point of it, as there wasn’t any sub-text dialogue going on at the same time, which you’d expect there would be.

The historical feel is quite well done, but it did tend to dip into a 20th/21st century vibe from time to time, particularly when the two men were “talking it out” some of the phrases were quite anachronistic and modern in feel

I am guessing–as this is the first part in a series–that the title of The Endersley Papers will become clear, and I have to say that as a personal niggle the title “Lord of Endersley” does nothing to evoke any interest in this book. Neither the title nor the cover give any hint of the exciting backdrop of the Mutiny and that’s a shame because I’m sure more people would try it if that was made a tad clearer.

Overall I enjoyed reading this, and I gobbled it up wholesale which is a good sign believe you me! I think that anyone who’s looking for a well-written romance will love this. I look forward to the next parts.

Author’s Blog

Buy at Amazon UK | Amazon USA | Total e-bound

Review: The Celestial by Barry Brennessel

Hardened beyond his nineteen years, Todd Webster Morgan is determined to find gold high in the Sierra Nevadas. But his dream is violently upended. Complicating matters even more, he meets a young Chinese immigrant named Lao Jian, whose own dreams of finding gold have been quashed by violence. But life back in Sacramento isn’t any easier. Todd’s mother struggles to make ends meet. His invalid uncle becomes increasing angry and violent. Todd seeks employment with little success.

Meanwhile his friendship with Lao Jian turns to love. But their relationship is strained as anti-Chinese sentiment grows. Todd vows not to lose Lao Jian. The couple must risk everything to make a life for themselves. A life that requires facing fear and prejudice head on.

Paperback and ebook – 192 pages

Review by Michael Joseph

As “The Celestial” opens, Todd is working his claim in the mountains near Truckee, about 90 miles northeast of Sacramento. It’s about 20 years after the California gold rush started, but there are still a lot of men like Todd staking claims and hoping to strike it rich. Egged on by his irascible uncle, who was invalided in the civil war, Todd has stole away in the night, leaving his mother to care for her brother on their tumble-down farm near Sacramento.

Todd isn’t alone on the mountain where he has staked his claim. A group of Irishmen have a camp nearby, where they apparently are working their own claim, among other things. Todd doesn’t much care for the rough and tumble men, except for the youngest of them, Breandon. Todd has something of a crush on the other man, who isn’t much older than him, but he won’t dare admit it.

Unfortunately, just as it looks like Todd might have a chance to spend some time with Breandon when they go down to Truckee for supplies, the two camps erupt in conflict that results in Todd trying to get a wounded Breandon to a doctor. It’s while helping Breandon back to his camp that Todd first encounters Lao Jian, a Chinese man about his own age (‘Celestial’ was one of the more polite terms of the time for the Chinese). Lao Jian is also alone now, in this foreign land. He is uneasy around the two white men, since he has experienced a lot of ill treatment from the European settlers of North America, but he is still good hearted enough to help Todd out.

Unable to save Breandon, Todd and Lao Jian are thrown together in the middle of the wilderness. They learn to trust and rely on each other as they make their way to Truckee. The town is not a welcoming place for either of them, but especially for Lao Jian. (In 1886, less than 20 years after the time in which “The Celestial” is set, Truckee expelled its entire population of Chinese immigrants. At the time, Truckee’s Chinatown was the second largest on the west coast.) After just one night, both young men are ready to leave town, and the only place they have left to go is back to Todd’s home in Sacramento.

The reception for Lao Jian in Sacramento isn’t much better, but by this time the two young men are becoming more than friends and neither wants to be separated from the other. On returning to his home, Todd finds that his uncle is getting worse. His amputated leg is infected and his mother cannot afford the treatment he needs. But it seems that both mother and son have been keeping secrets from each other, and when it all starts to come out the path becomes clear.

“The Celestial” is a rather curious tale. Todd and Lao Jian are surrounded by a storm of violence and mistrust, which is what forces them together, yet the two find a calm place in the eye of the storm. It’s certainly not an unusual way for fictional romances to develop, but it’s not clear from the outset that these two will overcome the many obstacles to their relationship.

The story is told in the first person by Todd, in a style that sometimes wanders, the way a real person’s thoughts often do. Some might find this too distracting, but at least for me it never went far enough to take me out of the story. In some ways, the core issue of the book is the accuracy with which these thoughts are portrayed. Although inexperienced, both young men know that society strongly disapproves of the feelings they are developing for each other. So, while each is willing to acknowledge their friendship – something which is enough on its own to cause upset in both communities – they are both reticent to tell each other how they really feel.

In spite of the violence that surrounds the main characters, “The Celestial” is a rather sweet story, with a very emphatically happily-ever-after ending. While sweet, the book is never really saccharin. There’s enough of an edge to it to make it seem real, rather than just romantic fantasy. The writing is competent if not especially memorable. I’m giving it four stars.

You can find out more about Barry Brennessel at his web site.

Buy from  Amazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: The Pleasuring of Men by Clifford Browder

In New York City in the late 1860s, Tom Vaughn, a respectably raised young man, chooses to become a male prostitute servicing the city’s affluent elite, then falls in love with Walter Whiting, a renowned scholar and lecturer who proves to be his most difficult client. Having long wrestled with feelings of shame and guilt, Whiting, a married man, at first resents Tom’s easy acceptance of his own sexuality. Their story unfolds in the clandestine and precarious gay underworld of the time. Through a series of encounters—some exhilarating, some painful, some mysterious—Tom matures, until an unexpected act of violence provokes a final resolution.

Paperback and ebook: 232 pages

Review by Elliott Mackle

Emotionally as well as financially prostrate by the early death of a husband who suffered heavy losses in a financial panic, a once stylish widow elects to rent out a room in her brownstone mansion in order to help pay bills, keep up appearances and support her two schoolboy sons, Stewart and Tom Vaughn.

The place: East Twenty-fifth Street, Manhattan, just off fashionable Fifth Avenue. The new roomer: Mr. Neil Smythe, a young gentleman of means and style. Although roughneck elder brother Stewart wonders if the newcomer’s subtle scent is “cologne or “‘hair slime,’” Tom, the novel’s narrator, is instantly smitten.

A clean-shaven man of twenty-two, he was tall and thin, with smooth skin  and wavy long blond hair. He came to us [for the initial interview] correctly  dressed in a gray frock coat, fawn trousers, and black pointed shoes, with a scarf  pin and cufflinks that glittered, and a boyish look that I, myself sixteen, found  stupendously appealing.

A bargain is struck and Smythe soon moves in. The observant Tom is fascinated to discover the irregular hours the new roomer keeps: breakfasting out, leaving again in the late afternoon or evening, always dapper, well groomed and elegantly dressed. Sometimes he stays away all night and is delivered home in a horse-drawn cab. On occasion, he leaves town for a week or two, directing that his mail be forwarded to chic resorts such as Long Branch, New Jersey.

Although I know next to nothing about the attire of sporty Manhattan young men in the late 1860s (Browder pays great attention to tightly tailored trousers, silk cravats, waist-length jackets and walking sticks), other period details ring true to this American ear. Stephen Foster’s popular parlor song, “I Dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair,” is cleverly transposed into “I Dream of Johnny” by a lederhosen-wearing singer in a louche bar, the Lustgarten or “pleasure garden.” The reading matter of Tom’s pious mother consists of temperance tracts, abstinence cookbooks, the then-current bestseller Little Women and maudlin poetic musings on death and religion. No wonder both sons turn out to be something other than church-going drones: one a bullying stock broker with a taste for flashy women, the other a kept boy.

When an adventurous schoolfellow describes his night-time outings to various low bars and clubs, the virginal Tom begs to tag along. Amazed at the sight of men dancing together, men dressed as women and lisping boys making leering passes at older gentlemen (and vice-versa), he is at once shocked and convinced that this is a part of the life he wants to live.

Neil Smythe naturally turns up at the Lustgarten. In short order, Tom discovers that Smythe earns his living as an employee of Young America Messenger & Courier Service, a bribe-protected front for a call-boy operation owned by corrupt politicians and businessmen. Enamored of Smythe as well as his money, clothes and freedom, Tom asks to be taught the tricks of the trade of the b.b. (“beautiful boy,” the other categories being masculine, muscular “sturdies” and effeminate “poufs”) and to be enlisted into the ranks of Young America. Smythe is happy to oblige. During a series of one-on-one sexual seminars, both discover areas of sensuality in which they do and definitely do not wish to indulge. Few but very important physical areas, as events prove. (Spoiler details stop here.)

Once Tom settles into his role as a b.b. for hire, and learns the ropes of sexual commerce with a variety of clients, mostly grey of beard and wealthy enough to double his fee when well satisfied (which is almost invariably the case), it is time for him to meet the client who will change his life forever.

Whether by design or lack of passion for the task, the author’s sexual vocabulary is modest, as are the descriptions of the acts involved and the physiques of the men and boys who perform them. “Spent” and “come” are used interchangeably; “erection” and “sweat” often figure in the proceedings. As for “pleasuring,” however, it is sometimes difficult to know whether the method employed is manual, oral or both.  In several instances I was unable to decide exactly who was doing what to who.

Fair enough. There are readers who prefer that a veil be drawn across the details of carnal commotion. But while a great deal of detail is given over to apparel and the decorative details of houses and hotel rooms, the physical descriptions of Tom’s clients when undressed are skewed to wrinkled old men, jolly fat men and corset-wearers at the expense of manly men with hairy chests, thick thighs and memorable, well-educated hands and other instruments of pleasuring.

Said clients are amusingly assorted: A wealthy European who masquerades as an aristocrat and hires young “friends” by the week; a rowdy, randy lawyer who demands energetic action in chambers; a powerful, elderly millionaire who is excited only by insults and verbal threats; even Mrs. Vaughn’s vaporous pastor, the Reverend Timothy Blythe.

After a series of try-out appointments and teasing references to a particularly interesting potential client by Neddy, the panderer-in-chief, Tom is sent to the townhouse of Walter Whiting, a scholar, lecturer and connoisseur of Greek language, renaissance culture and man-boy love. The early scenes between the two are worth the price of the book. The well-bred, properly-raised Tom’s willingness, nay eagerness to use coarse language with married, erudite Walter is hard to swallow at first, though swallow it I did. Such are the duties of a conscientious reviewer.

After the studious Tom corrects Walter’s misquotations from Keats and owns up to four years of Latin at his academy, the older scholar agrees to tutor the intelligent boy in Greek language and such higher forms of culture as Socratic love. One look at a reproduction print of a Greek urn’s decoration, however—it depicts a bearded, seated man fondling a standing boy—almost immediately turns the action into a literal erastes-eromenos moment. Walter strips Tom, seats himself on an ottoman and the two create their own, very passionate Grecian “ode.”

To a degree, this is contemporary erotic romance dressed in nineteen-century clothing. Hints of the twenty-first century sneak in, such as a reference to “truffled chicken … permeated with an earthy mushroom savor that was to die for.” Nonetheless, the author, an experienced poet, ghost writer and specialist in mid-nineteenth-century New York culture, brings the sordid underworld of Young America, the Lustgarten and Yankee-style man-boy love to life. The writing is generally crisp and well edited, so much so that when a clunker such as the following turns up, it all but stops the flow of what’s meant to be action:

“Excellent. Now if you’ll just follow me back to the viewing room …”

He raised a section of the counter, so I could pass behind it and follow him  down a short passageway to a room in back. We entered; he closed the door.  Having a skylight, the room was flooded with light.

Fortunately for the reader, such lapses are few. I did feel that the narrative dragged a bit toward the end and I remain unconvinced that Tom would make the one real mistake that lands him in so much trouble. But I have to admit using a similar device in my own fiction so perhaps my hesitation is merely a matter of style.

This is a valuable foray into a little-known aspect of American history, a pleasurable tale peopled by living, breathing boys and men, a recommended read. Ignore the cover which has little to do with the story. Go buy.

Buy at:   Gival PressAmazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: The Slave’s Mask by Patricia Logan


American blockade runner, Captain Anthony Charles, has made a fortune in gold, running guns and other contraband between England and the Confederate States in 1863. He craves a young submissive man. Francois, a young prostitute, might be just the man to satisfy all of Anthony’s taboo desires.

Infamous American blackguard and blockade runner, Captain Anthony Charles, has made a fortune in gold, running contraband between England and the Confederate States at the height of the Civil War in 1863. Anthony knows good brandy and fine cigars and his English clients appreciate him for it, but the captain also craves young submissive men. When he wins a young prostitute at an auction, Francois becomes his slave for seven days.

Francois has turned to prostitution to survive, but he is more than a whore. While most men who enjoy his favors treat him cruelly, he is stunned by this temporary owner’s kindness. Being a slave to this blue-eyed Master is no difficult task. Both men find that love may not be as elusive as they thought. Will the separation of oceans and time test their love or bring pain beyond bearing?

Ebook only – 86 pages

Review by Sal Davis

This book is the middle one in the Masquerade Trilogy. All three bear the lovely cover designed by Reese Dante and the other unifying element is a masked ball held by the Downe family. This book takes place some years after the first in the series.

Captain Anthony Charles, blockade runner, smuggler and all man, is in London to celebrate a successful voyage by finding his preferred prostitute of choice – male, young, beautiful and submissive. In fact he’s so much of a man that he repairs to his cabin to have some quality time with Mrs Palm before he goes to the whorehouse. Francois is just what he requires, with a quivering eagerness to please fostered mainly from previous ill treatment, and Anthony’s previous activities in no way blunt his desire. The beautiful prostitute falls hook line and sinker for the blue-eyed captain, while, by the end of the first encounter, the larger man acknowledges that the smaller man could easily fulfill his deepest most secret desires.

There is some minor conflict when someone tries to make a move on Francois but that is soon resolved and we get down to the business of the book, which is a celebration of the varying ways two men can express their desire and the growing romance between the lovers.

Since that was the book’s aim, it succeeds admirably. The sex scenes are many and frequent, using a flashback during a part of the story when the lovers are not together. Most of the period detail is set dressing but there were bits I liked very much – brief scenes on board Anthony’s ship, descriptions of house interiors – but I felt I was in historical fantasy land rather than seeing a true depiction of life in Victorian London.

That prostitution was rife in the capital is well known, and it’s reasonable that the many ships that docked in the Pool of London would disgorge their crews, every man desperate to work off his appetites. That Anthony found Francois, a young man who was well up for what Anthony had in mind once he’d got the hang of it was sheer good luck and I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if Francois hadn’t been available and some other less compliant boy had been handed over to Anthony, as on previous occasions. Even Francois though eager eventually, was very anxious at first but was given little choice. Anthony, frankly, came over as a dick, though obviously a fine, upstanding, prodigiously endowed one. As the hero he could be forgiven much, but it amused me that he considered everyone but himself to be lechers and I reserved my sympathy for Francois.

Historically I found the setting confusing – for instance, it is 1863 and King Edward VII is on the throne of England. The author must have intended this but I haven’t been able to work out why. If the story was overtly steam punky then I’d know it was an AU scenario. But everything apart from the monarch seems to be in accordance with mid-19th century history, unless my sparse knowledge of the American Civil War is letting me down. I would have loved to have seen a bit more of the Civil War action but I got the impression that it was mostly a cool way to separate the lovers for a while.

Naturally they are reunited and naturally they have their HEA, and I’m sure that the story is hugely popular. It deserves to be popular because it is written with such joy and I think readers who like a lot of detailed sex scenes and a lite approach to history will enjoy it very much.

Couldn’t find a website for this author.

Buy at Silver Publishing | Amazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: Brook Street: Fortune Hunter by Ava March


London, 1822

Impoverished Julian Parker returns to London with one goal: marry an heiress. He’ll do whatever it takes, even if it means denying his desire for men. After all, with a fortune comes happiness and social acceptance–which have eluded Julian his entire life.

The only things a vast fortune has brought Oscar Woodhaven are greedy relatives and loneliness. At twenty-one years of age, he has everything a man could possibly want–except someone to love him. When he meets devastatingly handsome Julian Parker, he believes his luck has turned.

Between Oscar’s lavish gifts and their searing-hot nights, Julian is caught between what he thinks he needs and what his heart truly desires. But when a betrayal threatens to tear them apart, Julian discovers he’ll do whatever it takes to convince Oscar the greatest fortune of all is love.

Ebook only-44,000 words

Review by Molly Hart

Review in a nutshell: “You’ll find boredom where there is the absence of a good idea” (Earl Nightingale).

I’ve read Ava March’s stories in the past and enjoyed them. She’s well-known for her historicals that pair hot sex with fluid, extremely readable writing, and so far hasn’t disappointed me when I was looking exactly for that mix of sex and readability.

Fortune Hunter is a bit of a different animal (though March is very good when she gets naughty). This was the first time I was actively bored by the story and struggled against a great deal of resistance to pick it up again after reading about thirty pages—not a good sign, despite this historical romance being relatively short at 44,000 words.

The story is set in 1822 in London, amidst Regency high society. Enter the characters. The first one is Julian Parker, impoverished and from the wrong branch of the right family, he is looking for a rich heiress to marry despite being gay. The second is Oscar Woodhaven, rich but unhappy and lonely (and generous to the point of naïveté). After having been introduced at one of the big society dos, Julian moves in with Oscar, who showers him with attention, favours and gifts of a new wardrobe and a gold watch with diamonds and a meaningful engraving.

I found the introduction confusing; there were a great many people and as a reader I was given no chance to care for one of them. Nobody seemed particularly motivated to do anything, and the characters’ attitudes were bland and a bit boring. The only source of interest was Julian’s nervousness about fitting in, but that’s only entertaining for so long. The characters sounded too much the same to help with distinguishing them, so I ended up confusing them (and the minor characters) at the start, which didn’t help.

Once Julian and Oscar are indoors, the focus shifts to “will then, won’t they”, or at least to “when will they”? While March does a good job of evoking Regency characters, sentences like “You are more than welcome to fuck me until I can barely walk tomorrow” sound like spoken/thought by very modern men, and the modern thoughts and sex dialogue sits oddly with the overall Regency setting, which becomes wallpaper-thin at this point.

That brings me to another issue I had with the book. The characters stay indoors most of the time and the wider Regency world feels claustrophobic and inconsequential. People only care about gambling and the marriage market, which is about as dull as it sounds. The romance starts off well with very little doubt or tension, and both lovers are perfect specimens, despite one or two hang-ups that are woefully underplayed. In the end, I didn’t care about either of them and wasn’t invested in them finding each other or happiness.

At about 50% in, I was ready to simply scroll through to get it over with, but just before the temptation became too strong, things began to happen in the story, wrenching my interest right back into the novella. Julian makes a mistake; he has to choose between his lover and his social aspirations. Suddenly, the wheels are spinning, characters are affected by what they are doing, and they are on a learning curve, which meant I finished the book and was even decently entertained in the second half.

After the lovers break up, both realize they have to grow up. Julian attempts to better himself by honest labour rather than by marriage, and Oscar learns to be less trusting and naïve. This could have been great, but it’s told rather cursorily as a summary, whereas I would have enjoyed watching the characters grow and develop, so I felt cheated out of seeing them become better versions of themselves. They meet again, they talk about what went wrong, and the reader does believe that they’ll fit much better together now. Happy ending.

Rating this was a challenge. I was leaning towards a 2.5 but felt guilty for giving Ava March anything under a 3, but I also think that readers getting bored is a valid reason for dissatisfaction. Thankfully, the turnaround in the second half meant that it was a decent read overall, which I rate at 3, but not riveting (a 4) or outstanding/memorable (a 5) for this reader. I won’t be reading the other parts in this series.

Author’s website

Buy at CarinaAmazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: Journey to Rai-Lay by Michael Joseph

Journey to Rai-Lay is the sequel to Journey to Angkor. It follows Henry, whose brief affair with Piero causes the Sicilian to be sent off on his journey to Angkor. Separated from the man he thought he might love, blaming himself for it, and still under the thumb of his uncle, Henry spirals into a deep depression, seeking sex in the underbelly of London’s docks, where more often than not he’s beaten and abused. But it’s while nursing a beer in a seedy docklands pub that Henry meets James Brooke.

Henry’s chance meeting with Brooke launches him on a journey of discovery. A journey that has him learning the ropes as a sailor, and learning more about himself and what he really needs. Sometimes we find what we need in the most unlikely places.

ebook only–122 pages

Review by Erastes

This is a sequel of sorts to Journey to Ankhor which I reviewed last year. I say of sorts because it follows Henry’s story who Piero left behind in England, and doesn’t feature Piero in person at all. For those who have been, or who would like to go to Singapore and Rangoon and other places in the area, it’s written by a man who has been based in Bangkok for 20 years and his experience helps. He writes well and descriptively and it’s clear he’s been to many of these places. He works as a travel writer and it shows.

But while the scenery is hotly pretty and the sex pretty hot, I had two problems with this book, one of which is probably more subjective than the other. Firstly, it’s again (I had the same problem with the first book, if I remember)  more of a travelogue than a novel, and doesn’t go into nearly enough detail to be a proper travelogue, so it falls between two stools and doesn’t really succeed in either genre. Basically nothing much happens. The only conflict–other than Henry “running away” from his not-actually-very-wicked-at-all-Uncle in the first place–is when he’s swept overboard when pirates attack the ship he’s on. As with so many other characters in books, he’s taken on the ship in the first place knowing nothing, learns how to do everything with no real problems at all, and makes friends wherever he goes.

After he’s swept overboard he floats around for two days before being washed up on a beach and amazingly the village he’s rescued by is manned (scuse the pun) by men who prefer men, and these men all welcome him with open arms. It really stretches the bounds of imagination here. To be washed up exactly there has the same coincidence factor as Doctor Doolittle sticking a pin in an entire atlas in order to find the Giant Pink Sea Snail. If Henry had, perhaps, heard of this village, if it had been a dangerous journey or trek to find it, and he’d arrived half dead but having achieved this aim, it would have been 1. more believable and 2. more of a story.

As it is, there’s a lot of making love, picking fruit, making love, picking fruit and then two journeys to visit the parents of each protagonist where some stuff is eaten and no-one cares that they are shagging like rabbits in a wooden bed on wooden floorboards, not even the Victorian parents of Henry. Nothing dreadful happens and they return to their fruit picking to live endless and dreary lives full of amazing sex. A couple of things struck me as the weeks went on in the book were:

1. Why he took so long to start learning the language – long after he’d started a relationship with one of the natives and

2. why it took him so long (people arrived on the island to “rescue him” before he really thought it necessary) to think about other people and how worried and sad his parents and friends would be having thought he had perished at sea. It was hugely selfish of him.

It’s not a bad book, and it absorbed me enough to keep me reading but if I hadn’t been reading for a review I would have given up because the second major problem I had with this book was the editing. I can excuse a few typos scattered here and there but there are just so many here that it seems that it wasn’t even run through Word, or had even the most cursory “here, mate, have a look through this and point out the typos” wasn’t done, let alone any kind of professional editing. There are just too many errors to be excused. I don’t think the word “led” was ever used when “lead” could be put in there instead. So many words missing, so many letters missing “The could see the gathering dark clouds ahead of them.” is just one example. So many misspellings, it was simply inexcusable. I can understand that professional editing for self published authors can be out of the price range, but there are many people on the internet who would be happy to enter into a quid-pro-quo arrangement editing books. Even a grammar check on Word would have found many of these mistakes.

It’s a shame because Joseph lets himself down in this respect and readers are unlikely to have the patience I had. I found that instead of letting myself read and enjoy the story–even though it was slightly uneventful it did show that Joseph’s credentials as a travel writer were solid–I found myself tensed up waiting for the next mistake, which did, I’m afraid, happen on just about every Kindle page.

The historical time line has been altered, but Joseph mentions this, which is helpful, and I wish more authors did the same.

I do recommend the book for people interested in the area, or who enjoy a nice uneventful story with plenty of perfect sex, but a story to fire my interest has actually to have a story not just a documentary style of discovering new people and nothing happening. If you do try it, I’d advise you to wait until the author issues a new edition because I am sure any reader will find the legion of errors very distracting and perhaps off-putting. Edited to perfection this would get a 3½, but in the state it’s in now, I can’t give it more than 2½ which is a shame.

Author’s Website

Buy at  Amazon UK | Amazon USA | Gumroad ePub MOBI PDF

Review: Games with Me (Vol 2) by Tina Anderson and Lynsley Brito (illus.)


Volume 2 of this gay historical drama continues with Dr. George Callahan certain that brothel-boy Jun is the one he knew as a child. When George attempts to better Jun’s life by buying his freedom, George’s intentions are marred by his addiction, and he risks losing Jun, forever.

Review by Erastes

This is volume 2 of what I assume is a two part graphic novel – and here’s the review of volume one. We really loved it here at Speak Its Name and we’ve been looking forward to part two for a long time.

This wasn’t a disappointment and well worth the wait. I read it ravenously first and then nice and slowly a second time, savouring the gorgeous art.

The set up in volume one, that of Dr George Callaghan knowing Jun is resolved, although that’s not really a surprise, but the story twists and turns in a satisfying way before we are given our ending.

One thing I really did like was the way the illustrations were very cinematic, such as sound effects like footsteps when dramatic tension was called for, and not too much of the labelled explanations of emotions, the art speaks for itself in that respect.

As I said, there’s a rather twisty plot, and a lot happens, with a good deal of backstory before we are done. The trouble I found was that there was so much to glean from this volume, that often I found myself guessing what was going on, or filling in gaps from the backstory and hoping I was right but not actually knowing. Perhaps it could have been extended to another volume, but that’s probably not feasible–I’m sure the logistics of getting a graphic novel out are tricky. But it did seem a bit rushed here and there, and a bit squashed for the amount of plot that had to happen. But that’s not really a detriment to the book.

I was surprised to find a few typographical errors, though. misused apostrophes and “your”/”you’re” confusion. With the small amount of speech in a book like this, there’s not really an excuse for these.

Jun is again, touchingly wonderful in this. George takes him out and about San Francisco–the poor boy has never seen a sunset, never been outside the brothel before and everything has a “wow” factor for him. Clothes, trains, traffic, people, he finds everything wonderful. Anderson being Anderson, she doesn’t whitewash problems in historical fiction. “Coolies” are less than second class citizens in this society and when Jun goes missing, the police admit that they wouldn’t waste time on the search, he’s only a coolie.

Due to the slightly squashed feel of the plot, trying to do too much in not enough panels, and the typographical errors, I’m going to mark this at 4.5 – but a resounding five stars for the two volumes as a set. There will also be an omnibus version, in print which I’m very happy about.

Tina Anderson’s Website

Linsley Brito’s Deviant Art Page

Buy at Amazon UK    Amazon USA

Review: Cawnpore by Tom Williams

After his time in Borneo with James Brooke, John Williamson travels to India. Working for the East India Company in Cawnpore, he struggles to fit in: a gay man in a straight society; a farm labourer’s son in a world of gentleman’s clubs and refined dinner parties; a European adrift in an alien land. But he finds he is good at his job, overseeing a colonial administration that has been running the country for a hundred years. He falls in love with the country and, in particular, with a young nobleman in the court of the local lord.

Successful at work and happy with his lover, he thinks he can finally meet life on his own terms. Then Indian troops rise in mutiny and the country is plunged into war. With the British Raj teetering on the edge of destruction and Cawnpore a byword for horror across the Empire, Williamson has to choose whose side he is really on.

In this sequel to The White Rajah, the fictional Williamson is caught up in real historical events which provide a thrilling background to his own story. Williamson meets some of the key figures at a crucial point in British history and witnesses events which shocked the world and shaped the future of British India.

Paper and ebook – 288 pages

Review by Michael Joseph

Cawnpore picks up more or less where the author’s previous work, The White Rajah, left off. Like the first book, this one takes the form of a memoir of the fictional John Williamson. Williamson has parted company with his employer and lover James Brooke after the inquiry into the battles that firmly established Brooke as the “White Rajah”. While Williamson is still in love with Brooke, the ghosts of all the people killed in Brooke’s name has driven a firm wedge between them.

With a generous severance from Brooke, Williamson could easily return to England and a quiet life, but he’s not quite ready to settle down and, intrigued by Brooke’s own stories of India, he decides to stop there before going back to Britain. In Calcutta, he applies to work for the East India Company and is surprised to find he is readily accepted and assigned the post of Deputy Collector in Cawnpore. While Brooke did not have a very high opinion of “the Company”, they have certainly heard of his exploits in Sarawak, and have a high opinion of him, and by extension, Williamson.

Although taken aback by his ready acceptance and the relatively high position granted him, Williamson soon finds that the work isn’t all that different than what he did in Sarawak. It suits him well, and although he is very much a square peg in a round hole, he gets along well with most people. One day his boss notes that Williamson is working just a little too hard, and takes him out to meet the Nana Sahib in his palatial home outside of Cawnpore. There Williamson meets Mungo, a young cousin of the Nana Sahib. There’s an instant mutual attraction between the two, and they soon become lovers.

While Williamson professes that Brooke is still the true love of his life, he is clearly deeply infatuated with the much younger Mungo. Like Brooke before him, Mungo becomes Williamson’s mentor, teacher and guide through the mysteries of Indian culture. With Mungo’s help, Williamson learns the language and soon with a little disguise can pass for a local. Everything seems to be going great, until rumors of discontent and outright mutiny begin to circulate throughout the colony.

Cawnpore is, at its heart, the story of the Indian mutiny of 1857, and in particular the massacre at Cawnpore, which is an episode of history I assume most British readers are familiar with. Williamson’s ability to pass for an Indian allows him to hide in plain sight among the rebels and observe both sides of the siege. Although Williamson’s escapades themselves seem improbable, he does relate the events of the siege and massacre in vivid, even alarming, detail that appears to be historically accurate.

Williamson of course survives the massacre and even provides information that helps the British rout Nana Sahib’s forces and re-take Cawnpore. But as the full extent of the tragedy becomes clear, he starts to fear for his own safety, as well as Mungo’s, in the face of the British fury. They flee to the countryside to wait hopefully for tempers to cool, and this is where the full tragedy of the story unfolds.

Cawnpore is, on the whole, a well-written adventure tale. In some ways, I think the author has improved from the first book. One of the issues I had with The White Rajah was the extremely timid way in which the relationship between Brooke and Williamson was described. It was clear that the two men were lovers, but for all the reader was given, it could have been a rather platonic relationship. In Cawnpore it’s much more clear that Williamson and Mungo have a very physical relationship. We’re not given detailed descriptions of what they get up to, but it’s still clear the two men share a physical bond as well as a deep friendship.

However, that said, the sexual relationship between Williamson and Mungo is not really at the center of the story. It doesn’t provide any of the key dramatic elements or move the story along. The friendship between the two is certainly key to Williamson’s ability to observe both sides of the mutiny and survive the massacre, but you could easily remove the gay element from the story and still have essentially the same tale. Cawnpore is, in many ways, an adventure tale where the main character happens to be gay, rather than a ‘gay’ historical novel.

So, where does that leave us? If you’re looking for a gay romance, you almost certainly won’t like this book, especially given the ending which is anything but happily-ever-after. Cawnpore will appeal more to someone looking for action and adventure tales of war. While I wouldn’t compare the writing of the two, this book is more in the vein of Mary Renault’s Fire From Heaven than most contemporary gay historical books. The writing is competent and sometimes vivid when describing scenes of battle, but it gets a little flat when it comes to the people and personal relationships. Once the mutiny begins, the scenes between Williamson and Mungo are quite short and even rushed when compared with the colorful descriptions of time spent with the Indian rebels, night raids or calvary charges.

Stories of battle and war aren’t exactly my cup of tea. I have, nonetheless, read quite a few of them. The ones I enjoy are carried along by the relationship between the main characters, which typically develops and changes over the course of the book, whether it’s the tried and true enemies-that-become-friends theme or something more unusual. This is the main failing of Cawnpore, for me. The relationship between Williamson and Mungo springs forth almost fully formed in an early chapter, and remains relatively unchanged for the rest of the book. Yes, there are arguments and disagreements, but they’re little more than lover’s spats.

Given the meticulous research and vivid descriptions of the mutiny, Cawnpore deserves three stars. I was tempted to give it more, but the flatness of the characters and lack of depth to the key relationship holds this book back.

Tom Williams has a blog, The White Rajah

Available from JMS Books | Amazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: The Walled Garden by F.M. Parkinson

William Ashton, retained as a gardener by Edward Hillier, discovers his new master to be a detached and driven man. Over the years, as travail and tragedy bring them closer together, he understands that they have more in common than he first realised, but the affection they feel for one another will be sorely tested by boundaries both of class and of rigid Victorian morality. Like the private garden behind the high walls their love must flourish only in the strictest secrecy – or else it will not do so at all.

102,000 words/380 pages /ebook only

Review by Erastes

I’m in two minds about this book.

While I have to say I appreciated most of the writing–which is deliberately done in an old-fashioned, if not quite Victorian style–this book annoyed me quite a lot for various reasons.

Firstly nothing much happens and while some may say that it’s simply a gentle, old-fashioned style it takes more than an old-fashioned style to create an old fashioned book.  Emma, Jane Eyre and books like that had plenty of things happening. Instead of things happening, this book contained what seemed like nothing much more than filler in many places–there’s a section where Hillier’s manager is getting old and gets replaced which is entirely pointless and dull for example and goes on for pages. The problem is that much of this filler is relatively pointless or if it seems to have a point, then it’s never followed up.

It takes the protagonists an endless age to get together, and that’s not exactly filled with angst filled nights, or rivals for affections, or anything particularly interesting. It’s simply because Hillier doesn’t find Ashton attractive until quite late in the day. To be honest, I can’t see what on earth Ashton saw in Hillier because his behaviour and attitude is pretty unpleasant–although he’s like that with more than Ashton. He’s much loved in the village which puzzled me because he wasn’t shown as doing anything for them other than at one point attending another pointless scenario–a ball on behalf of a campaign for laying drains. Other than that he does nebulous work “writing letters” and attending Parliament.

There’s an overuse of the hurt/comfort trope which raises its head not once, not twice but a colossal three times throughout the book, each time Hillier getting ill and Ashton running around getting him well and getting literally no thanks for it. This, aside from them having an argument, is the main use of conflict and together with lack of plot made for pretty dull reading.

However, although not very exciting–and we can’t always have post-chaise chases and gun fights in every book, it’s quite readable, and if it wasn’t for the final problem that had me grinding my teeth it would have got a 3.

It’s epithets. There are a record winning number of epithets in this book and I got to the stage of bursting into laughter when I found a new one. It’s like the author had had a rule sheet which said “you must never use the character’s name more than once on a page.”

Hillier is known as the lawyer, alternately, but Ashton wins the prize as “the broader man” “the gardener”, “the secretary” “the former gardener”, “the former secretary” and many many others. When there’s a scene with just the two of them it’s like there’s six people in the room. I hope, should Parkinson do another book, they will–or their editor will–ruthlessly red-pen this habit as it’s annoying as hell.

So while I appreciated the writing–mostly–the story didn’t so much grab me as much as mire me in treacle and I found it a heavy going read. But you might enjoy it more than I.

No website that I could find.

Buy at Manifold Press

Review: Brook Street: Thief by Ava March

London, 1822

It was only supposed to be one night. One night to determine once and for all if he truly preferred men. But the last thing Lord Benjamin Parker expected to find in a questionable gambling hall in Cheapside is a gorgeous young man who steals his heart.

It was only supposed to be a job. Cavin Fox has done it many times–select a prime mark, distract him with lust, and leave his pockets empty. Yet when Cavin slips away under the cover of darkness, the only part of Benjamin he leaves untouched is his pockets.

With a taste of his fantasies fulfilled, Benjamin wants more than one night with Cavin. But convincing the elusive young man to give them a chance proves difficult. Cavin lives with a band of thieves in the worst area of London, and he knows there’s no place for him in a gentleman’s life. Yet Benjamin isn’t about to let Cavin–and love–continue to slip away from him.

Review by Erastes

This is the first of what will be a “Brook Street Trilogy” focussing on the Grosvenor Estate section of London in extremely expensive Mayfair. Brook Street: Fortune Hunter and Brook Street: Rogues being the next parts.

Ava March is reliably good. A safe pair of hands is how I like to put it. You know jolly well that if you liked her other books, then you are quite likely to be enamoured of the next one. She’s an auto-buy/read for me and I’m sure many people. She specialises in gay regencies, and she does it well.

But that being said, I have enjoyed all of her books, but sadly this one didn’t set me on fire. Perhaps it’s because the characters are so damned nice. I can tolerate niceness up to a point but I like to see the real grain behind the characters. These two guys seem to have no bad  points at all, even the thief character – Cavin Fox – doesn’t even thieve except when he gets really desperate. The love of a good man cures him of ten years of his nefarious existence almost overnight. It just didn’t gel for me in that respect.

I liked the way they met, and the way they got together in bed, but of course there was then pretty much insta-love which I’m thoroughly tired of . Benjamin has had sex with Cavin twice and they’ve hardly had any conversation when Benjamin realises that he loves Cavin. Nothing specifically against this book, as the writing is stronger than many many others out there, but it just strikes me as very teenage. I know that I went around thinking every guy I kissed or fancied was going to be the one and falling in love at the drop of a hat. I think that these days I want a bit more than love at first sight.

However, that’s a personal aside.You will more than likely have no problem with this at all.

What I like about March’s work is an uneven dynamic and although that’s usually achieved via BDSM she uses a different approach here, with an aristocrat and a man living in the dregs of society, but passing as possibly a merchant’s son due to his stolen clothes and false accent. When offered a place by Benjamin’s side, he obviously balks at the idea and this is what causes much of the conflict. I don’t blame Cavin for this – he would be uncertain as to how he could possibly fit into Benjamin’s world and knows that he’d never be able to repay Ben even for a small gift of something like clean clothes. I don’t seen Cavin as being overly stubborn here, just very sensible.

There were a few irritants thrown into the research, which is unlike March. One of them refers to the nobility. England does not–emphatically not–have Marquis. It’s considered a foreign title, and the equivalent would be Marquess. I can see how the confusion might arise, though, as Marquess does sound like a female title. But a female Marquess is a Marchioness… I know.  There were a couple of other niggles, such as a young boy walking from Mayfair to the Fleet Street area in an evening (a long way, about 3 miles and not at all safe) or the same young boy roaming around the Lord’s house making himself free with the very expensive tea. The meal at this point has a quite modern feel too.

Where Ava March shines is in her sex scenes and if you are looking for well-written, heat filled sex with graphic description to make you tingle you certainly won’t be disappointed. There’s plenty of it and it’s written extremely well with no hint of repetition. This alone sets March above many authors to my mind. She never skimps a sex scene, never makes them unnecessary and goes from kiss to completion with great gusto.

But all in all, I found this a bit hard going, and that’s probably because of the lack of external conflict–I thought there might be a break-in at one point but it didn’t happen–and the eternal niceness of both main characters. I don’t see why Cavin couldn’t find a job–he’d asked for a recommendation for his young friend Sam, so Ben would have easily have given him one. He was prepared to do anything, and in Regency London, there was anything but full employment.

This isn’t really a fault of what is excellent writing, but I’d have just liked a bit more excitement rather than nice people chatting to each other (they quibble with each other for nearly an entire page about sweeping up a broken plate, for example) and then having lots of very hot sex.

Author’s website

Buy at Carina Press

Review: The Sartorialist by Cecilia Ryan

When royal sartorial adviser Beau Brummell meets a pretty soldier at a ball full of people who have begun to bore him, he’s only thinking of a brief affair and the opportunity to prove that clothes make the man. When Toby turns out to be not only beautiful but kind and a generous lover, Beau finds himself falling fast. Though previously happy to let him have his fun, the jealous Prince Regent issues an ultimatum: Toby must return to France or risk being charged with treason. Knowing Toby is unlikely to survive, Beau begins a downward spiral into depression and debt. Surely he and Toby will never meet again….

Review by Erastes

I admit tip-toeing my way into this book, because I’m a big chicken and I want a book to be good and I’m often disappointed. However this novella won me over fairly quickly and I found myself wallowing in the lovely prose and enjoying the story a great deal.

It’s so rare to find a gay historical which is about a real-life person. In this case though, I haven’t seen anything to hint that Brummell was actually bisexual or gay, but it is believable–and many people flew under the radar, even famous people.

So what this little book does, it’s not very long at 66 pages, even for a novella, is write between the spaces in Brummell’s life–as there were a few unknowns about the man–and does it very convincingly.

The story starts towards the end of the long friendship that Brummell had with George Prince Regent and Prince of Wales. There are rifts between the two and instead of using Brummell’s changing political views as the basis for this, as the history books hint, Ryan has George being jealous of any relationship that Brummell has and is in love with him himself. This was probably the biggest stretch for me, as George was a notorious womaniser but if you can get over that fact then the rest is plain sailing.

At a party, Brummell meets Toby, a fictional character who–in place of the real guy who actually did–captured the French Eagle at Barrossa. He therefore is a bit of a celebrity and has been invited to parties which are out of his class. Brummell, as an excuse to get the know the young man better offers to “smarten him up” which the Prince agrees to, as Brummell is a dress advisor to many famous men and knows his fashion.

The main portion of the book is taken up with their relationship which begins with sex and grows into love — which was something I liked, particularly the first kiss which came a lot later, and the consequences of this love affair.

After they are parted, Brummell goes into decline and rather spoiled himself for me by weeping like a baby at every available opportunity. I know men do cry, but this is rather over the top and there’s quite a lot of it, in relation to the size of the book.

The prose however is very nice indeed, and anyone with an interest in this period, or gay historicals in general will probably like it a lot. It’s told in first person and really makes an effort to read as if it actually were a memoir of the time and the old-fashioned style was a big bit with me.

Not your standard romance–although the ending fits the genre–I recommend to this book highly and look forward to Ms Ryan’s next historical.

Author’s website

Available as ebook only

Buy at Dreamspinner Press, Amazon UKAmazon USA

Review: The Master of Seacliff by Max Pierce

It is 1899, and young Andrew Wyndham has accepted a position tutoring the unruly son of wealthy industrialist Duncan Stewart in the hopes that the work will be brief yet provide an avenue to pay for his passage to France to study art. But Seacliff is a dark and eerie mansion enshrouded in near-eternal fog, dark mystery and suspicion-perhaps a reflection of the house’s master. An imposing Blackbeard of a man, brooding Duncan Stewart is both feared and admired by his business associates as well as the people he calls friends, for Stewart may have murdered his own father to gain control of his business.And his home, in which Andrew Wyndham must now reside, holds terrible secrets-secrets that could destroy everyone within its walls. 
Review by Erastes

This book has been reissued by Lethe Press, and was originally reviewed in 2007

It’s not going to be a surprise to anyone that I enjoyed this book.  I was positively drooling when I got the book in my hands and excited when I opened it.

If you are looking for an erotic romance, then you’ll be dissapointed by TMOS, but if you want a solid, multi-layered mystery chock full of quirky characters, death and over-arching gothic Doom, red-herrings and a surprise denouement, then you’ll like this as much as I did. (Oh and a lovely romance too…)

From the outset, the plot is familiar to those who have already read books such as Jane Eyre and Gaywyck. Young and innocent (not-quite-yet-aware-of-his-sexuality) Andrew gets a job as tutor to Stewart and we can already see where the story is going. However Pierce isn’t going to let us off that lightly and he throws so many obstacles in our protagonists way that you begin to wonder if they are ever going to get together.

It’s a refreshing change to see so many secondary characters; Pierce doesn’t stint with them, and each one is fully rounded, different and has his or her own story to tell. Also, in the tradition of the Golden Age of Agatha Christie, nearly every single one has a motive in the dark secret that overhangs the house of Seacliff. There are flashes of Rebecca here, with an obsessed and creepy faithful retainer, touches of Jane Eyre but never so much so to annoy, it was always its own story.

I was impressed also, as to the many threads of the mystery that were woven together, one after another until I was thoroughly convinced of the guilt of the person that everyone else thought it was. Bravo, Mr Pierce. There’s nothing I like more it’s being led by the nose to the throroughly wrong conclusion!

Andrew might be young, but he’s not a shrinking and fainting heroine type. He’s a little sensitive; he tends to hug-a-lot, and he cries from time to time but he can stand his own ground too, which was something I appreciated. He has a lot to stand up against, too, as Duncan is a difficult, prickly (and very hairy!) man and he tries to push Andrew away more than once. I liked Duncan’s persistence and his wanting to do the right thing, even when he had the opportunity to get away from a frankly difficult and dangerous position.

There’s the inevitable OK Homo, I’m afraid, not only that, you begin to wonder if anyone in the world is straight at one point – but that didn’t spoil this book when the same thing had spoiled other books for me. In this twisted, remote and decadent world that Pierce paints it doesn’t seem unusual and the reasoning behind the homosexual relationships are believable.

Previously published by Harrington Press’s Howarth Press at a time when their future was in the brink, this book has always deserved a wider audience and a better publisher and I’m very happy to see Lethe Press pick this up and run with it. I hope you try this book. You won’t regret it, as if you enjoy a really good gothic romance with all the trimmings – perfect for curling up with on a foggy night – then you’ll like it a lot. I certainly did.

Author’s website

Amazon UK    Amazon USA (available as paperback and ebook)

Review: A Private Gentleman by Heidi Cullinan

Painfully introverted and rendered nearly mute by a heavy stammer, Lord George Albert Westin rarely ventures any farther than the club or his beloved gardens. When he hears rumors of an exotic new orchid sighted at a local hobbyist’s house, though, he girds himself with opiates and determination to attend a house party, hoping to sneak a peek.

He finds the orchid, yes…but he finds something else even more rare and exquisite: Michael Vallant. Professional sodomite.

Michael climbed out of an adolescent hell as a courtesan’s bastard to become successful and independent-minded, seeing men on his own terms, protected by a powerful friend. He is master of his own world—until Wes. Not only because, for once, the sex is for pleasure and not for profit. They are joined by tendrils of a shameful, unspoken history. The closer his shy, poppy-addicted lover lures him to the light of love, the harder his past works to drag him back into the dark.

There’s only one way out of this tangle. Help Wes face the fears that cripple him—right after Michael finds the courage to reveal the devastating truth that binds them.

Review by Erastes

It’s not very often that I am charmed by a book almost from the first page–but this book blew a fresh wind into the rather overworked 19th century area of the m/m historical romance genre and I found myself won over and wooed.

I have to say that I took to Cullinan’s protagonist immediately. In fact I took to both of them because they were so refreshing in these days of perfect hunks of men. Granted they are both gorgeous as hell, but Lord George Albert Westin has a stammer that would make King George VI look fluent, and Michael Vallant wears glasses–without them, he’s as blind as Marilyn Monroe’s character in How to Marry a Millionaire.

These two disabilities are used with comic effect (without making light of the disabilities at all, I hasten to add) to get our two main characters into an amusing and tight situation where they get to know each other in a manner that I don’t think I’ve ever read before. In fact it’s the way that these two characters get together that was a refreshing change to read.

Both men–aside from their handicaps–are also damaged psychologically. I won’t reveal the nature of this damage as it would spoil a good deal of the plot but it creates the main part of the conflict in the book and due to both men’s inability to deal with real life in general nearly leads to their downfall.

There’s a good deal of research that’s gone into this book and it shows–but in a way that draws you in, intrigues you and makes you think “oo – I must look that up!” It’s not the kind of book that info dumps you with detail, rather, it makes the detail part of the story so you are mopping up facts about early Victorian London without realising it. I’m not sure of the exact date, but Euston Station is in existence, so it’s sometime after 1837.

There is a fair bit of weeping, and that would normally irritate me, but actually it works well here, and Ms Cullinan has worked to portray men who are at the edge of precipices they didn’t even know they were on, and it takes one small push to send them into the abyss. There’s a hugely touching scene in the Bodliean Library where Michael catches sight of himself in a glass case and metaphysically he almost disappears, because he doesn’t know who he is, and realises that he needs to “find himself” and I fully believed that he would break down at this point. It’s very realistically played. The psychology that is explored, in a time before everyone had a shrink, is well done and convincing.

I think I would have liked a little more interaction with Wes’s brother, and his nephew and even his father, because much of what we learn about the father doesn’t gel with what we actually see on the screen. But, the secondary characters are all well done, my favourite was Rodger, Michael’s procurer. Be warned, for those of you who will not read such themes that child abuse is a theme and although its never on the page and quite rightly horrific and not for titilation it is there and Samhain should drop their jokey “warnings” and put up some real ones.

I have one minor quibble, and that’s some of the language was a little modern, and there was a lot of talk of “blocks” e.g. He drove six blocks, and that kind of thing, which was a tad jarring but that’s not enough to dent the mark, because this was a pleasure to read and I hope Ms Cullinan continues to write historicals because she’s made a great debut into the genre with this one.

A lovely long read, with two protagonists thatwill have you rooting for them from the first, I highly recommend A Private Gentleman. It’s ludicrously cheap–and ebook only, and I hope that Samhain get this into print asap, because I want a forever copy.

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Review: Solace by Scarlet Blackwell (short story)

Solace by Scarlet Blackwell

Down on his luck Victorian gentleman Dorian is looking for solace on Christmas Eve and finds it in the form of rent boy Benedict.

Review by Michael Joseph

It’s Christmas Eve in late-Victorian London. Dorian was once a gentleman of means, but now he’s alone and will soon have to sell his house in Chelsea. An unrequited crush on his houseboy landed him in jail. He managed to bribe his way out of prison, but he’s been disowned by his family and abandoned by all his friends. Dorian is strolling the streets of Whitechapel, looking for company despite the risk of the Ripper, when Benedict steps forward to offer his services.

Benedict is a young male prostitute, a “Mary Ann” in the language of the time used by the author, and Dorian is quite taken with him. Despite the risk, Dorian decides to take Benedict home, rather than just getting off in some darkened doorway. Back in Chelsea, Dorian takes Benedict twice in the drawing room, and it’s obvious Benedict is not “gay for pay” to use the modern expression. He genuinely prefers the company of men, and likes nothing more than having another man deep inside him. Dorian is so enthralled he asks Benedict to stay the night, and the following Christmas Day. Benedict readily agrees and they retire to the bedroom.

In the bedroom, things get mildly kinky, with a little bondage and spanking. Dorian becomes even more enamored with the young man, finding in him the potential for the kind of love he had hoped to find with his houseboy. He also begins to see that, despite his profession, Benedict has rarely known real pleasure.

The dreaded insta-love rears its ugly head in this story, but then this is a really short novella that sets a good pace. In print it’s just around 40 pages. I’m generally not a big fan of these shorts, which are all the rage now that ebooks rule. All too often it seems like the characters are one-dimensional and the plot full of holes. But Solace is complete, with a proper beginning, middle and end, with characters that are endearing enough. It’s short, but it is what it is, which is why I’ve given it a solid 3 out of 5.

Scarlet Blackwell

Buy from Silver Publishing

Review: Rag and Bone by J.S. Cook (Inspector Raft Mysteries #2)

Rag & Bone is #2 in the Inspector Raft Mystery Series.

Scotland Yard Inspector Philemon Raft arrives on the scene of a deadly fire in Whitechapel, only to find a much more sinister force at work, destroying lives with swift abandon – and a lunatic may help Raft capture the master criminal known only as “The Master.”

Review by Erastes

This is the follow up to “Willing Flesh” which we reviewed a while back. It’s taken me a disgustingly long time to get around to reading and reviewing the sequel and for that I apologise.

What I like about these two books (and I hope that there will be many more of them) is that they started out as rewrites of her two Inspector Devlin novels but instead of being faithful copies, they have been re-written to make them only vaguely reminiscent of their ancestry. If you’ve read book two of Devlin I think I can safely say that you will be happy about the denouement of Rag and Bone…

What I admire about J.S. Cook’s work is the sense of the grotesque–in a very good way. She takes a blending of Dickens, a touch of King, a taste of Peake and blends it all in in her own inimitable style. I absolutely adore her character description.  It’s not overdone in a Noir style, but she manages to give us an absolute certain description with a few deft sentences.

Raft was sitting is Sir Newton Babcock’s office, gazing at the floor and constructing patterns out of the carpet’s tortuous motif while the police commissioner wallowed up and down, looking very like a rhinoceros forcing its way through thick river mud.

What stops the book getting a five star from me is that fact that I wish JS Cook would trust her own talent and would create truly original characters as I know she is capable of doing. There’s too much Renfield in Rennie the lunatic, too much Holmes and Hare in Hoare, too much Dracula in “The Master” and so on and so on. Raft–who I believe JSC was modelling on David Tennant–develops a 3rd heartbeat and while I know all of these details could simply be labelled as an admiring nod to characters that JSC admires, for me it was irritating and kept dragging it back towards fanfic, and the book deserves much better than that. Perhaps thought it’s just I have too much inside knowledge and other readers wouldn’t even notice.

The editing leaves something to be desired, too – misused homonyms were picked up here and there manner born/manor born, reign/rein and the like and it needed a harsh eye looking over the plot, as things happened which hadn’t had any set-up, and some elements seemed rush,  pasted on and in the end weren’t really explained to my satisfaction. However it’s hoped there will be more of the series, so explanations may come later.

However, some authors with less talent would have a whole point taken off for these problems, J.S. Cook only loses half a point because of her consummate skill in her writing as a whole.

What shows clearly is Cook’s research. I know that she does much of her forensic research at home, making fake skulls, filling them with fake blood and then shattering them to study blood spatter–and other such home pursuits! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s almost impossible to imagine that she’s not only not as English as Miss Marple, but lives in a remote location on another continent. The way she covers police procedure and the forensic knowledge of the time rings very true. If I had one quibble it’s about her dialogue for some of the characters. At the beginning of the book two children are talking, children from the Whitechapel area, completely poor and uneducated. Their speech patterns are off, sadly–one of the children actually says “There aren’t any more” rather than “There ain’t none.” The dialogue of the children is very wobbly, careering from east end dialect and back again. A good English beta-ing would have been sensible, but then perhaps only English people would spot it.

The ending is not your typical romance ending, but then these books aren’t romances – they are crime drama, and while the horror that happens in the earlier incarnation of this book doesn’t happen, JS Cook doesn’t let her protagonists off lightly and the ending left me heartbroken in a good way and on tenterhooks for book three of the series.

You can read this as a stand-alone, despite it being part of a series, it works fine as it is, but I urge you to try out Willing Flesh first–if you are a fan of Victorian crime drama you can’t help but be impressed by Rag and Bone.

Author’s Website

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Review: Bone Idol by Paige Turner

Book one in the Past Perfect Series

Love stripped down to the bare bones.

1875. The Bone Wars. Dinosaur hunters will go to any lengths to make bigger, better discoveries—and to see their rivals broken.

Henry is a man of science—precise, proper and achingly correct. When Albert arrives in his life in a storm of boyish enthusiasm, he’s torn between his loyalty to science and a new and troubling desire.

Albert wants to protect his father, and fears Henry means to ruin his reputation in the bone-hunter world. Will he be ruled by his fear, or by his feelings?

As they hunt for dinosaurs and explore their desire together, Henry and Albert find themselves digging up some secrets that could threaten their love—and their lives.

Review by Sal Davis

This is a very niely produced book with a beautiful and atmospheric cover. Posh Gosh, the cover artist, really does the story justice.

Henry Elkington is one of those well off, well educated and brilliant young men who, in the Victorian age, helped to make such strides in natural sciences. His particular interest is in palaeontology – a new science and the scene of vicious academic conflict amongst those who studied it. The story opens with Henry arriving on the rainswept Dorset coast to try and see the Reverend Arthur Boundry, a fellow enthusiast. Henry find Boundry on the beach trying to rescue a promising fossil with the aid of some local men and his son Albert. From the moment Henry sees Albert he is unusually aware of him and disturbed by the new feelings this new acquaintance arouses. Albert comes over as being an youthful, bright eyed innocent and his vast enthusiasm for his hobby, and that of Henry and his father, is very appealing. It’s also very nice that, as their relationship develops, Albert is the one who seems more at ease with his feelings and, in fact, makes quite a lot of the running.

But the story isn’t just about love amongst the fossils. It covers a lot of ground – from Dorset to London, to the fossil beds of Wyoming via ship then back to London again. Descriptions are sharp and economical but give a fine sense of place and there is a good ‘supporting cast’ of characters. There are villains and scapegoats, victims and aggressors. However, Henry and Albert manage several tender, and raunchy, moments despite a complex plot that sets them up for a sequel.

I enjoyed the story very much and will definitely look out for any sequel.

Author’s website

Published by Total-eBound (ebook)

Review: My Dearest Holmes by Rohase Piercy

‘… The accounts of these cases are too bound up with events in my personal life which, although they may provide a plausible commentary to much of my dealings with Mr Sherlock Holmes, can never be made public while he or I remain alive …’

Although Dr Watson is known for recording some sixty of his adventures with the celebrated Sherlock Holmes, he also wrote other reminiscences of their long friendship which were never intended for publication during their lifetimes.

“Rescued from oblivion by Rohase Piercy,” here are two previously unknown stories about the great detective and his companion, throwing a fresh light upon their famous partnership, and helping to explain much which has puzzled their devotees. Together Holmes and Watson face disturbing revelations as they investigate the case of the Queen Bee; and we finally learn what actually happened at the Reichenbach Falls, and the real reasons which lay behind Holmes’ faked death and his subsequent return.

Review by Erastes

A nice deceit, that Rohase Piercy found the manuscripts and has published them. Watson’s preface is rather sad as it talks of how he hopes that men of his type have things better than men of his generation.

It’s been a very long time since I read Holmes in canon. I have the complete works and I hoovered them up all at once in my 20′s and haven’t read them since, but from what I remember these two little novellas, each cataloguing a different case of the great detective, are written by a true Holmesian.

The first story is:   A Discreet Investigation and is set just after the Sign of Four. I think the first story in this two-story collection is more original, although as I say, my canon knowledge is rusty–but the second story seems definitely more derivative but I did enjoy them both.

Watson simply runs the story through a filter telling “the truth” rather than what he published at the time. Dealing with why he left Holmes’ residence, how they ended up in Europe together, why Moriaty was chasing Holmes and why Holmes was missing for the time he was. it’s true that Watson does get a little emo at times, and more overtly towards the end, but I found that quite endearing, and he does bottle things up and he strikes me as the kind of a man who would break down after bottling things up for years.He did have cause to be upset, after all! The voice in both stories seems to be to be pitch perfect–I couldn’t tell you if there are canon errors, and if you aren’t a complete nit-picky Holmes-fanatic then you won’t care that much.

Watson’s voice is very good, and the language is done beautifully to match the canon and the time when the original was written.

The second story is The Final Problem and Holmes prefaces it with a note which says that “It is always diffcult – indeed, almost impossible – to set down an accurate record of the more painful events of one’s life…” As this story begins, Watson is married to Mary Morstan and has left Holmes, his residence and his cases behind. I believe (I may be wrong) that the canon never confirms that John married Mary–although a second wife is mentioned at some point, so it’s possible. I am pretty sure that if you are fan of the canon you will enjoy these two stories immensely. I think you will forgive Watson’s foray into sentimentality, after all, it was something he was accused of often by the great detective.

Holmes is also written beautifully, particularly pure even for being in love and entirely unable to say or show it–I think the pure brittle heartbreak of how this is worked was my favourite section. There’s perhaps a smidge of OKHomo throughout, or a dollop… but it was all such a good read, and obviously done as an homage by someone who knows and loves his/her subject, I was quite willing to overlook it when a lesser writer would get more a smacked wrist.

Overall the two novellas do tend to lurch into too much emo at times, but the pure Holmesian character keeps it buoyed up despite this. I’m sure anyone with any interest in Holmes, detective fiction, turn of the century fiction will enjoy this as much as I did.

No author’s website found

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Review: Most Wanted by Barbara Sheridan (short story)

 

 

1894: Boston born and bred Tim Dwyer doesn’t relish the thought of giving up Eastern comforts for life in the rough-and-tumble West. But when he finds himself with with no job, little money, and no place else to go, he accepts a position at his cousin’s weekly newspaper in the Indian Territory. When his cousin and his new editor cook up a roving reporter assignment, Tim learns that spending a mere week in the life of U.S. Deputy Marshal Jon Sauvage won’t ever be enough to satisfy his needs.

Choctaw lawman "Savage Jon" Sauvage has spent his entire adult life content with chasing wanted men and taking his pleasures wherever and however he can. But once he’s roped into letting a big city reporter tag along with him on a manhunt, Jon soon suspects that Tim Dwyer might just capture his heart.

Review by Sally Davis

Another nice package from Dreamspinner. Not sure I mean that quite the way it sounds. I’m a big fan of covers that do more than say ‘oh hi, look, nude males, this means it’s m/m :)’ and this one does that, establishing a Wild West theme and that one of the main characters is a lawman with a nicely posed model. Another nice touch is that the background seems to be area appropriate tall grass prairie too so here’s a yay for cover artist Catt Ford.

The story is quite short – 40 pages – so it’s no real surprise that the blurb is, more or less, the entirety of the romance plot. But the interest is in the little details – the contrast between John’s life in Arkansas and Tim’s in Boston and the way the two are brought together.

John is the archetypal strong and dependable type, valued for his abilities and trusted in the local community despite his Native American heritage. He is usually very discreet about his inclinations – the one time he gives into temptation becomes a major plot point. Tim is small and artistic and, frankly, a little girly. He is not welcome in his family home and is now homeless following a falling out with his sugar daddy. His classy aunt and her chief surgeon husband invite him to join them and their children at a family celebration in the town where John lives.  From the moment Tim and John lock eyes at the railway station, their fates are sealed!

I enjoyed the story, but with some reservations. For a start, in some places the story read very much like a sequel with references to incidents that seemed as though they should be important plot points but that weren’t strictly anything to do with the story. Also, society seemed to be astonishingly liberal. I know that the Choctaws were one of the Five Civilised Tribes and that they had a history of intermarrying with settlers, but I was a little surprised at how completely John and Tim’s cousin Star both seemed to be accepted by the people in their town and by the posh folk from back East. I think it’s great to have stories with a greater ethnic diversity and for all I know the people in those days were a lot less lacking in prejudice than I anticipated, but it didn’t strike true to me that nobody in the story seemed the least bit concerned. However this was a short story about the beginning of a relationship between two very different characters so perhaps it was wise to concentrate on the difficulties involved for gay men rather than complicating matters by trying to address the issues faced by interracial couples as well.

As a short sweet romance it works quite well but I don’t think it will be one to read again.

Author’s website

Buy From Dreamspinner

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

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

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well worth the $1.59.

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

 


Review: The Emperor by Lucius Parhelion (short story)

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

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

Review by Sally Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

Available from Torquere

Review: Well Traveled by Margaret Mills and Tedy Ward

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

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

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

Review by Bruin Fisher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He felt limp as a wet rope.”

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

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

Review: Long, Hard Ride by Keta Diablo

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

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

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

Review by Bruin Fisher

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

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

And

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Website

Buy from Decadent Publishing 

Review: Kindred Hearts by Rowan Speedwell

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

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon UK    Amazon USA

Review: Samurai’s Forbidden Love (Katana Duet) by Silupa Jarun

The Matsumoto twins, or “mirror samurai,” are bound together by a horrible crime committed during the civil war. Eager for a new beginning, the brothers travel to America where they are befriended by the Lennartsson brother and sister, Konrad and Klara. Akeno becomes attracted to the seemingly innocent young Klara, while Aki allies himself with, Konrad, who is desperately trying to find a cure for his sister’s mysterious illness.

The bond of brotherhood between the samurai grows into a forbidden relationship as they realize “Katana Duet” is not the only stage show they must perform for money but they must also play out an elaborate act to free themselves from a deadly game in a household full of secrets.

Review by Erastes

I enjoyed this story in the main, and really warmed to the brothers in particular. The story worked for me, overall, but the mark reflects the several issues I had with the telling of it. The story in essence is a decent family saga, showing actual historical events, the war in Japan, the research on tuberculosis, and it was interesting to read about times, places and events that I knew almost nothing of.

Jarun clearly knows her subject and her locations and that comes through strongly, the research is there and I didn’t get jolted by anything terrible. I don’t know this era at all, but Jarun does write with an air of authority, so it seems like that “safe pair of hands” that I’m often banging on about.

As the title and cover suggest, this story involves brotherly incest, so if that’s an anathema to you, then you need to stay away. There is also some graphically described heterosexual sex, so again be warned.

When referring to Japanese items, I didn’t like the way it was punctuated and it threw me off. When the author introduces a Japanese word to the reader, and explains what it is, it’s done like this:

The traditional, simple fundoshi, undergarment.

With the translated word after the Japanese one, and a comma. This really jarred with me, and I found myself gritting my teeth every time an italicised word came up. It wouldn’t have been difficult to word it in context e.g. The traditional, simple undergarment, the fundoshi. As it was it had the effect of pulling me out of the story.

This is not a limited POV book. I won’t call it omniscient, because that’s handled in a different way but generally we get the thoughts of everyone on the page. When the twins speak to each other in Japanese, even if we are in Klara’s POV we are shown what they are saying. I don’t mind this, but I know that some readers have an issue with it. But to be honest, of all the head hopping I’ve read in books, this is one of the most readable types.

I think i would have preferred it to be more linear, too. As it is it jumps from the 1860’s Japan, then 1875 America, then back to 1874 Japan and so on—there are even flashbacks within flashbacks. My memory isn’t what it used to be and having to go back and forth to find out whether the piece  I was reading was before or after another piece was rather confusing, and with a converted pdf on a Kindle, not an easy task either. In the end I just made notes of the timeline, but of course that pulled me out of the book, too. This jumping around stopped about mid-book for which I was grateful.

It’s not a happy read, and for those expecting a gay romance I need to point this out. There’s a lot of dark lurking, the hints of which are gradually explained the further we go through the book. The subject matter of gay rape and tuberculosis and the unpleasant aspects of research for this disease will not appeal to everyone. Jarun seems to have a liking for animal dissection as I remember a cat being dissected in one of her earlier books.

I have to add, for readers seeking a gay romance that the ending is definitely not a romance ending, I can’t really put it clearer than that without spoiling.

But it is readable, and although there were a few confusing moments, in the end a lot of things were explained, but some were not. I would imagine that the research into tuberculosis was sound, but I can’t verify that, but it reads as if written from a position of confidence and that’s appreciated.

If you want a rather unique, but a little gory in spots, story with an unusual subject and setting then this will probably appeal to you. It’s a bit uneven, there are grammar and spelling errors throughout but it’s probably worth the investment.

Author’s Website

Amazon UK     Amazon USA

Review: A Gentleman and His Jockey by JM Cartwright

Jockey Gem Hardaway has a race strategy that will not only carry him and Pilate to victory, it will also show that he’s the best jockey at Templeton Yard. Lord Templeton, the Earl of Vickers, knows exactly what he wants to have happen at the racecourse. He demands Gem’s obedience.

When an unruly horse intervenes, the Earl insists on a meeting of the minds. Gem is shocked to learn exactly what that entails.

Review by Erastes

A very basic little short story about a jockey who likes men and the description of a race and the consequences of him not obeying the instructions of the horse’s owner regarding that race. Basically build-up, race, sex but it fills ten minutes of your time. I wouldn’t say it’s worth actually paying for,and I’d baulk at paying $2.29/£1.40 for it (even though I did!) 99c would be a much more reasonable price, and even so it’s not much for that price.

There’s no real grounding as to when and where the story takes place, just some generic racecourse during “the earlier days” of racing—I’m guessing early Victorian perhaps or Georgian. Nothing wrong with it but nothing to write home about either.

Author’s Website

Amazon UK    Amazon USA

Review: Convincing Leopold by Ava March

Mr. Leopold Thornton finally has the man he’s loved for a decade, yet he can’t believe his good fortune. A reformed rake and a conservative solicitor? Can it possibly last? To add to Leopold’s worries, Arthur’s spending more time at the office…with a handsome new secretary. Desperate not to lose Arthur, Leopold does the only thing he can think of – use pleasure to keep him.

Mr. Arthur Barrington truly wants their relationship to work. Sinfully beautiful and devoted to him, Leopold’s the opposite of Arthur’s staid ex-lover. And Leopold’s given up his old vices, putting those concerns to rest. Yet lately, all Leopold wants is sex – in the study, in the carriage, and at Arthur’s office, no less. The sex is amazing, but juggling demanding clients and a demanding lover leaves Arthur exhausted and worried perhaps he and Leopold aren’t suited after all.

It takes one disastrous night for Arthur to realize how much Leopold means to him. But convincing Leopold he loves him, all of him and not just his body, proves difficult. For Leopold’s disappeared and Arthur hasn’t a clue where to find him.

Review by Erastes

As I’ve said often on this blog, I’ve enjoyed Ava March’s stories, particularly her “Bound” series quite a lot.  She does her research, and her characters are memorable and vivid. When it comes to erotic+Regency there’s  no-one as consistent.

But whereas the  characters in “Convincing Leopold” are just as memorable and vivid, I didn’t enjoy this novella quite as much as I have the others. It’s not for a lack of research. Her prose hasn’t suddenly gone out of the window, I think it was simply that I wanted to knock these characters’ heads together and say “oh for God’s sake, you had no problem communicating in “Convincing Arthur“, so why are you both behaving like a couple of wet blouses?” Here there is angst and moping and sulking and not much else.

Arthur has a problem with work/life balance, which is a bit of a modern concept, and Leopold is needy, clingy and is behaving like Russell Brand on Viagra. Arthur is finding it hard to do all the work and hours necessary to bring him legal practice up a notch, and all Leo wants to do is fuck all night. Eventually Arthur snaps and pushes Leopold out of bed. Feelings are hurt and tantrums ensue.

 

And that’s it, really. I admit I was disappointed that the conflict didn’t amount to more than this—because Arthur’s ex, Randolph, is sniffing around—the man who really broke his heart during “Convincing Arthur” and he could have caused real problems this time around. But this is solved altogether too neatly and the ending, and the solving of all the internal conflict was solved in a rather baffling way, for me. It probably showed Leopold having grown up, but it was all a bit lame.

That being said, if you liked any of March’s other books, you’ll probably like this one, because there is a lot to like, from ballroom to bedroom, and we all know she can write many smoking hot sex scenes in a smallish novel without repeating herself or boring the reader, but it just didn’t work for me. It was far too much angsting and not enough plot and external conflict.

Author’s website

Buy at Loose-ID

Review: Magnolia Heat by Keta Diablo

North Carolina, 1876: Rumors abound about the dark, mysterious Dominic Beresford in Chapel Hill. Their curiosity piqued, their libidos functioning on overload, Craven and Anthony are intent on obtaining answers about the supposed licentious gatherings taking place every weekend.

When the duo are caught spying on Beresford Hall, their punishment will be swift and severe, and in Craven’s case, dispensed by none other than the stunning Lord of the Manor.

What begins as penance soon veers off to a session of feverish passion where the avenger becomes the pawn in his own game

Review by Aleksandr Voinov

Note: This is the re-release of “Carnal Cravings” by the same author and “completely expanded and revised” according to the publisher.

First off, I haven’t read “Carnal Cravings”, but from what I could glean from various reviews (especially on Goodreads), all the things that bothered readers with “Carnal Cravings” have been taken care of in “Magnolia Heat”, such as the fact that the protagonists were under-age and apparently there were rather off-putting enema scene flashbacks in the previous version of this story.

Having not read the first version, I can judge this story only on its own merits. It is a, for the most part well-written, very short “historical” novella featuring two students who spy on a gay lord of the manor, get caught, get sexually abused (i.e. one gets whipped and fucked, the other ends up restrained and spit-roasted, that is, fucked from both ends).

A solid helping of modern people in costumes (research here has been minimal, the history is nothing but a veneer), which features instant love and instant monogamy, which some people find offputting. Personally, I’m tired of the device, as it’s often crammed into a very short length, such as this one here, where, after a night of passion and some fucking, characters discover they are endlessly in love and become exclusive.

If you want a quick dirty read on the – very soft – side of dub con and don’t mind some hilarious stylistic howlers, you can have fun with this.

Author’s website

Noble Romance Publishing

Review: Silver Saddles by Cap Iversen

 Dakota Taylor, the gay gunslinger, is back. Here, Dakota leaves his lover Bennie on the ranch for a short trip into town. But as he heads home, somebody tries to use him for target practice. Soon Dakota finds himself two hundred miles from Bennie, with no chance of returning until he finds out who wants him dead—and why.

Review by Gerry Burnie

Having read Arson: The Dakota Series by Cap Iversen, and enjoyed it, I then went on to find (not that easily done) Silver Saddles [Alyson Books, 1993].

In this tale, gunslinger Dakota Taylor is now happily partnered with Benjamin Colsen, whom he met in the first of the series, and all is well until he get’s the news that his mother has passed away at the family’s homestead. After hearing this news in town he is ambushed on his way home, and discovers that someone has posted a bounty for him, dead or alive. When he recovers from his injuries, he sets out on a nine-month odyssey to find out why someone would hate him enough to go to all this effort to see him dead.

To this point it is classic western fare, i.e. good guy v. bad guy(s), but then the author takes off on a flight of fancy that is both complex and incredible at times. It is the sort of thing that requires not only tight writing, but also tight control of the characters and events that are galloping all over the place. In this regard Iversen does quite well for the most part, and almost pulls it off…that is, almost.

Fundamentally, the story suffers from too many characters doing too many things, as well as a plot that is too clever-by-half. Still, having said that, if you read it as being a “let’s pretend the West was like that,” it is a fun read and an evening’s entertainment.

Amazon UK       Amazon USA

Review: Muffled Drum by Erastes

Bohemia, 1866

They met in a port-side tavern, their lust-filled moments stolen from days of marching and madness. After eighteen months, Captain Rudolph von Ratzlaff and First Lieutenant Mathias Hofmann have decided to run away from everything they hold dear. Resigning their commissions is social suicide, but there’s no other choice. Someone will eventually see Rudolph’s partiality toward Mathias.

Now their plans have gone horribly awry… When Mathias goes to Rudolph’s tent after their last battle, his lover looks at him without a hint of recognition. Mathias can hardly believe the man he knew is gone. He wants to fill in so many of Rudolph’s missing memories, but the doctor says a shock could result in permanent damage. The pain of seeing Rudolph on a daily basis, when Rudolph doesn’t remember their love, is excruciating. Now Mathias must decide whether he wants to fight for the man he loves or forget him completely…

Guest Review by Marion Husband author of “The Boy I Love”

Muffled Drum is such a sexy, compelling read that it would be easy to overlook how much research must have gone into this novel – I found Erastes’ descriptions of horsemanship particularly convincing. All in all the historical details were done with a light touch, carefully judged not to stand in the way of a rattling good story but still interesting enough to give insight into the period. But then historical detail isn’t truly what we read Erastes’ novels for: we read these novels because they are entertaining and the heroes (and they are always heroes in the best sense of the word) are deliciously sexy men who are easy to fall in love with and root for – you want them to be happy, for it all to work out – these are happily-ever-after stories and all the better for that.

And what could be better than gorgeous Prussian officers being effortlessly sexy and fiercely brave on horseback? Heroic Rudolph and Mathias are the kind of men you would around in a fight, but also in a ballroom or, perhaps especially, the bedroom – what more can I say? This is fun, escapist stuff and very enjoyable…I even learnt a little about horses…what more could a girl want?

Author’s website

Buy from Carina Press  -  Amazon Kindle

Review: A Strange Love by Georges Eekhoud

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon UK      Amazon USA

Review: The Station by Keira Andrews

Ever since Cambridge-bound Colin Lancaster secretly watched stable master Patrick Callahan mastering the groundskeeper, he’s longed for Patrick to do the same to him. When Patrick is caught with his pants down and threatened with death, Colin speaks up in his defense, announcing that he, too, is guilty of “the love that dare not speak its name.” Soon they’re both condemned as convicts and shipped off to the faraway prison colony of Australia.

Patrick learned long ago that love is a fairy tale and is determined that no one will scale the wall he’s built around his heart. Yet he’s inexorably drawn to the charismatic Colin despite his best efforts to keep him at bay. As their journey extends from the cramped and miserable depths of a prison ship to the vast, untamed Australian outback, Colin and Patrick must build new lives for themselves. They’ll have to tame each other to find happiness in this wild new land.

Review by Sal Davis

April Martinez has produced an enticing cover to draw readers into this Australian set story. The dry washed out colours and the stockman and cattle set off the faces that depict the two protagonists. The models have been chosen with care too, showing the belligerence of one and the soft bemusement of the other.

The Station is a coming of age story, told from the point of view of Colin Lancaster, a privileged, somewhat fragile lad who is cossetted by well off and over anxious parents. Home schooled, lonely Colin develops a childish crush on hunky head groom Patrick which causes him to follow the man around and help out in the stable. The relationship that develops is innocent enough but is ruined when Colin catches Patrick rogering one of the gardeners. Colin is transfixed by the sight, realising that he wishes it was him and that this is a very Bad Thing.Afterwards he avoids Patrick completely, hurting his feelings and setting up the situation for oodles of angst later. Yet Colin still adores Patrick and when Patrick is caught in flagrante, he tries to save his life by claiming to have committed the same crime. Off to Australia they are sent and so the adventure begins.

I’m a bit torn about this story. On the one hand there are historical inaccuracies that shook me right out of the narrative. [Graduation from school, really?] But on the other I enjoyed the plot and some of the secondary characters rock. Sadly, I was less engaged by the two protagonists. Colin struck me as very bland and accepting of all the horrible things that happened to him. Patrick, still cherishing a broken heart from a previous relationship, came over as an opportunist and an ass.

There’s a lot of telling in the story, maybe the author wanted to avoid over-dramatising it? However it all hangs together pretty well and ends in a suitably romantic way. If you can ignore the little bits that make history wallahs go ‘eh?’ and just enjoy the emoting you’ll be fine. I’d be inclined to give it three stars plus another half for the unusual Aussie setting.

Author’s website

Buy from Loose-ID

Review: Willing Flesh by J S Cook (Inspector Raft Mysteries #1)

When a series of bizarre murders occur in London’s notorious East End, Scotland Yard’s Inspector Philemon Raft is called on to solve the crimes, but even he is powerless to explain why the victims are displayed in public places — or why the killer insists on drilling burr holes in their skulls. With little to go on except the strange red dust found on the victims’ palms, Raft must scour the city looking for an explanation. Aided only by his newly-appointed constable Freddie Crook, Raft’s investigation takes him into London’s most dark and dangerous places, where human predators wait to devour and destroy.

But Raft has an even bigger problem: a casual acquaintance is blackmailing him, and what she knows about his secrets could tear Raft’s life to pieces

Review by Erastes

This is a grown up murder mystery. Don’t go into without an ability to read unpleasantness. This is Victorian London in all its gothic nastiness where life is extremely cheap and grotesque is the name of the game. In fact grotesque would be a good sub-genre for this, but that’s not an insult. This faces the dark, dingy and seedy London of the 1880′s head on and finds it covered it gore. If you liked The Alienist this will be right up your dark , cobbled street.

I’ve read JS Cook before and I know her from the internet. She is, although some of you will find this hard to countenance, even more obsessed with total accuracy than I am. She’s a perfectly nice looking woman who you would not think capable of experimenting with “Kensington gore” and fake paper mache skulls to see how brain and blood might spatter across a wall. She’s Dexter, but without the irritating habit of wrapping people in clingfilm. She takes her crime extremely seriously, and that echoes beautifully in her creation of Inspector Philemon Raft.

He’s a dour obsessive with a keen eye for observation. But he’s no idiot savant or genius and good job too. He can’t look at flowerbed and know that a drunk sailor stood there before travelling to Tahiti. What he finds out he finds out either by hard graft, sending someone else to do hard graft or by outside information. In this I found him to be extremely believable because even today most of police successes are based on outsider information. He’s ably assisted by the lovely Constable Freddie Crook who is not all he seems, and a lot more besides.

I found Raft a little uneven. I like detectives to have quirks–Poirot had OCD (must have had, surely!), Holmes took coke, and so on,and in that vein, Raft seems a little unhinged when he’s deep in thought, and I liked this rather frenetic side of him, but this device wasn’t regular enough to be a quirk. He’s also mildly clairvoyant, and I haven’t let this aspect of him preclude this book from review–because he may simply be hallucinating–or it could be his subconscious helping his detetcting. It’s good that this is not fully explored because he pushes it down and that works well.

I absolutely loved the Dickensian feel when it comes to the names. They were lush and rolled around the mouth like honey. Featherstonehaugh, Breedlove, Butter and so on. In fact it’s wrong to say “Dickensian” because Cook has her own style, her own voice and although there are tones picked up from others it comes over as entirely hers.

It needed a really tough and experienced edit, though. Not for typographical reasons but because one or two facts contradict themselves and that’s a shame and spoils an otherwise good effort. For example there’s a point where a thumb injury is pertinent to the plot and the first time Raft sees it he recognises what caused it because he’s seen something very similar before. BUT later in the story it’s said “Raft had never seen anything like it.” There are a couple of these continuity problems which probably wouldn’t matter in any other genre but did in this–it just made Raft seem rather stupid, and he’s certainly not that.

Where Cook really excels (aside from her medical knowledge) is her immersive description. Every scene is 3 dimensional–from the feel of the cobbles on the street, to a musty coat on a hook, to the smell of rotting flesh to the sounds of carriages passing by the window. It’s fantastically real and very addictive.

The story itself is deep, twisty, plotty and at times you feel that all the threads are going in different directions. It’s not the sort of cosy mystery that you’ll like if you want your detective to be following one lead which leads to another. It’s more like the time of TV drama where the detective is bombarded with conflicting and confusing theories and characters and information–and none of it seems to tie up. So you need to concentrate with this book, you can’t coast and let the author hand feed you the clues.

Yes, there is a gay plotline, but it’s not at all the main theme of the book. The crime’s the thing–and Raft and Crook will have to work out their relationship in the midst of another gruesome set of circumstances, which they will in “Rag and Bone” which I’ll be reviewing later.

Overall, I highly recommend this if you are lover of gritty detective fiction. It gets a very solid four from me and I look forward to more of Philemon Raft.

Author’s Website

Amazon UK     Amazon USA

Review: Bless Us With Content by Tinnean

Ashton Laytham came to Fayerweather, his uncle’s estate, as an orphan at the age of seven. Family and servants alike perceived Ashton as an unlovable child and shunned him; as an adult, the occasional illicit rendezvous aside, Ashton remains aloof and alone. When his uncle dies, yet more abuse falls upon Ashton’s shoulders: the estate is bankrupt and Ashton must make good on his uncle’s gaming debts.

With the family talisman stolen and the suspects fled, Ashton faces certain ruin until the arrival of Geo Stephenson, who holds all of Sir Laytham’s IOUs. Geo proposes a solution: Ashton will accommodate him in his bed, thereby paying off the debt. Attracted to Geo in spite of himself and desperate for any human kindness, Ashton agrees… never expecting to lose his heart to a man who claims he will never give his.

Review by Erastes

There’s a good story here, but it annoyed me as I was reading it, despite the fact the plot is decently formed and the structure was something I should have liked a lot.

The problem is with the pacing; it was very uneven. It spent a lot of time on some aspects that were sometimes less important than others that were frustratingly told not shown, and jumped about here and there. Characters were introduced as if we knew them well, when I’m scratching my head and saying “who’s this?” and searching back to find that they’d been mentioned once before in throwaway conversation.

I liked the beginning quite a lot–it had touches of Jane Eyre in the way that an orphan comes to a house and is looked after by relations who don’t think much of him because he’s upset about losing his parents. The trouble was, as is the case throughout the book, that the character description isn’t shown in any depth and when Uncle Eustace turns out to be a tyrant it’s a surprise, and doubly so when we are told that he’d whipped Ashton not just once but many times.  Ashton’s “awfulness” is not really shown either. We are told that Ashton decided that he would be as awful as his nickname “Awful” made him out to be, but we aren’t shown this behaviour–and there’s no real reason that I could see why people disliked him so much. Granted the other adoptive children in the story bully him but children do.

Similarly, as Ashton grows up, and the other adopted children and then young adults, continue to treat him badly (despite the fact that as the last in the line, he’s the heir) we have no character development from Ashton. I predicted that he would behave like an absolute horror (in some way or other) but really putting on an act until the day he inherited—but this did not happen. He would have had every right to be a very flawed Heathcliffian character but he wasn’t this either. It was hard to see what he was, to be honest as he turned out to be a Nice Chap which seemed a bit odd.

Telling not showing was prevalent all the way through. We are told that Ashton cares for the tenant farmers, and it wouldn’t have hurt to have had him doing something good in secret as a child, or perhaps visiting the tenants when he wanted to get out of the house, but we don’t see this. We are just told that he looks after his people and I’m all “why?”  Make him a saint, or make him a monster, but give us reasons.

Some of the sequences add to the disjointed effect. One minute he’s having dinner, the next he’s careering across the fields, the next brooding for days whether Geo loves him—despite the fact they’ve met once and shagged once.  It’s like a roller-coaster ride but one where you can’t see where the tracks are going. Little things like him avoiding a phaeton coming up the drive so he doesn’t have to see any neighbours, despite the fact that no visits to the hall are ever mentioned, even though the ladies of the house make visits—so one assumes they would have been returned.  It’s almost as if the author didn’t have the time to pad this out in a way it deserved, which is a shame because as I said at the beginning, there’s the kernel of a good story here.  There’s just not the depth—other than the emo-ing over “does he love me?”—that it needed to do justice to the many other characters in the story.

What I liked was the language, even though (once again) it’s a little disjointed. Sometimes Ashton speaks like aperfectly normal aristocrat, and then he suddenly lapses into cant that would do justice to any Heyer novel. I didn’t look up every word, so can’t tell you if the slang is historically correct or whether it’s taken from Heyer.  When it’s used, it’s used pretty well, although some words did need to have something in context to hang them on, for clarity.

There were no problems with historical accuracy that I could see, I might take issue with a two year old horse being broken to saddle and taken over jumps, but no-one’s except horse lovers would baulk at that anyway.

I look back at this review and it makes me look as if I hated this book—but I DIDN’T—that’s the crux of it. The problems that beset it could have been smoothed out to make the read more even, and the trope of “orphan makes good” (or bad!!) is one I highly enjoy and I did enjoy the book for all my criticisms. I suppose I got annoyed more because I did enjoy it than didn’t. Suffice to say that I’d seek out other historical by Tinnean.

Give it a try, it’s a nice meaty read and worth the cover price—and let me know what you think.

Author’s Website

Amazon UK    Amazon USA

Review: The Affair of the Porcelain Dog by Jess Faraday

London 1889.

For Ira Adler, former rent-boy and present plaything of crime lord Cain Goddard, stealing back the statue of a porcelain dog from Goddard’s blackmailer should have been a doddle. But inside the statue is evidence that could put Goddard away for a long time under the sodomy laws, and everyone’s after it, including Ira’s bitter ex, Dr. Timothy Lazarus. No sooner does Ira have the porcelain dog in his hot little hands, than he loses it to a nimble-fingered prostitute.

As Ira’s search for the dog drags him back to the mean East End streets where he grew up, he discovers secrets about his own past, and about Goddard’s present business dealings, which make him question everything he thought he knew. An old friend turns up dead, and an old enemy proves himself a friend. Goddard is pressing Ira for a commitment, but every new discovery casts doubt on whether Ira can, in good conscience, remain with him.

In the end, Ira must choose between his hard-won life of luxury and standing against a grievous wrong.

Review by Erastes

Not your normal Holmes clone, that’s for sure. Although this story is set in late Victorian London, and around the Baker Street area, there’s a highly enjoyable twist.

The point of view is told, first person, by Ira Adler. But instead of being a Doctor Watson clone,and the companion of a great detective, Ira is the live-in companion, “private secretary” and lover of Cain Goddard, the dread “Duke of Dorset Street.” Goddard is a crime lord, so in some respects, he’s a Moriaty clone. But not quite. Because in this fictional imagining, the “great detective” of the time is Andrews St Andrews who is, frankly, a bit of a twat (written to be so) and adds some great giggles to the text. He’s a real Holmes wanabee, a poseur and frankly not very good at his job. The brains of the St Andrews outfit is St Andrews’ companion, Tim Lazarus–and Lazarus is an ex-lover of Ira. Already it promises to be quite tortuous and it won’t let you down on that score.

The beginning was excellently paced–and in no time at all we into an action scene that just begged to be filmed.

The plot is very nice indeed. It’s more Philip Marlowe than Conan Doyle. Each clue leads you deeper in and further away from where you began, and it’s as opaque as the London smog.

The characterisations are excellent, all round. Some books you read, characters have similar voices, but each and every character here, and there’s a good dusting, is his own person with his own demons and issues.  And boy are there are lot of demons. This is the underbelly of London in the 19th century and it’s not a nice place. Either you are a leader or you get used. Child labour, opium dens, brothels, and exploitation of every kind. Ira holds an interesting position in this world, because he came from the gutter, but now he steps in an upper middle-class world where never thought he would, but retains his knowledge and connections that he’d rather have left behind forever.

I absolutely loved–with a big squishy heart–the bittersweet relationship between Ira and Cain Goddard. In a way,this is a coming of age story, because Ira has to face to harsh truths, look deep inside him, and make some hard decisions. He has a massive chip on his shoulder, but that’s only to be expected. He started his relationship with Cain as his prostitute, so he finds it hard that Cain really and truly cares for him–and similarly, Cain would have similar fears. Despite there being much that is wrong about their relationship, and who Cain is, I wanted them to be happy.

Yes, there seems to be a good deal of homosexuality in the book: There area few couples. But seeing as how Ira was a renter before Goddard took him under his wing,that’s not really surprising.  The homosexuality is never glossed over, though,never treated lightly. You are always aware of Labouchere’s Amendment hanging like a sword of Damocles over everyone’s heads–and it’s this threat, in fact which launches the story, as both Goddard and St Andrews are being blackmailed. There’s a lovely scene in Hyde Park where they walk so they can hold hands in public (in the dark) and you can’t help but feel sorry for them, that even the smallest of touches have to be considered –you never know who’s watching.

Be warned,you don’t get a “Romance” ending, and more than that I will not say, but the ending is beautifully done, and leaves it wide open for a sequel or more and I hope there will be. I’m dying to see what Ira gets up to. This will apppeal to a broad swathe of readers–and should do, in a fair world this should be picked up by a mainstream audience, because other than homosexual themes there’s nothing a non m/m reader would find uncomfortable to read–whether you like detective fiction, noir, Victorian stories or just damned good love stories, this will appeal to you. I neglected to mention this is her first novel. Well done Ms Faraday.

Author’s website

Bold Strokes Books    Amazon UK   Amazon USA

Review: The Only Gold by Tamara Allen

New York 1888

Jonah Woolner’s life is as prudently regulated as the bank where he works. It’s a satisfying life until he’s passed over for promotion in favor of newcomer Reid Hylliard. Brash and enterprising, Reid beguiles everyone except Jonah, who’s convinced Reid’s progressive ideas will be the bank’s ruin. When Jonah begins to discover there’s more to Reid than meets the eye, he risks succumbing to Reid’s charms—but unlocking the vault to all of Reid’s secrets could lead him down a dangerous path.

Losing his promotion—and perhaps his heart—is the least of Jonah’s difficulties. When the vengeful son of a Union army vet descends upon the bank to steal a government deposit of half a million dollars during the deadliest blizzard to ever sweep New York, Jonah and Reid are trapped, at od ds and fighting for their lives.

Review by Sal Davis

I have a bit of a ‘thing’ about covers so excuse me while I enthuse about this one. It really is worth viewing in the pop out version (on Dreamspinner‘s site) because I don’t think the artist, Lorraine Brevig (her portrait work is fab), has missed a beat. Covers are so important as a come-on to potential readers and often one doesn’t appreciate the fine detail until well into the book. This one is warm and welcoming with two good figures whose pleasant expressions but wildly differing stances and fashions get across the polite antagonism with which they initially view each other. In the background is the massive romanesque architecture that suggests that the bank’s fiscal foundations are also rock solid, a window with driving snow beyond and a shadowy mystery figure in silhouette that I can’t quite make out.

The period detail of the dress of Reid and Jonah are taken directly from the descriptions in the book and seem spot on to me. Definitely a cover that made me want to read on.

The book is written from Jonah’s POV and right from the first sentence – “Jonah was late” – one can see that he’s a man who lives on his nerves. Very competent, precise, organised, he follows routines absolutely and is as meticulous in his approach to his dress, his manners and his morals as he is to accounting for the bank’s money. That he is drawn to other men is something he has repressed as being an unfortunate aberration. Life is proceeding as planned and his few excitements are restricted to the prestige of the bank and his place within it. He is well liked by his staff, though he is somewhat awkward socially, and as assistant cashier he is clearly valued by the bank’s Board members. He knows his place and is happy with it but now the cashier has retired he is due a step up and is confident of receiving it. He is expecting promotion, but this expectation doesn’t come across as smug or grasping. He has earned it, there is a career structure, it is the way of the bank.

The arrival of Reid Hylliard, therefore, is a tremendous shock on all counts.

Abandoning tradition, the Board members hire Reid for the cashier’s post Jonah should have taken. Everything about Reid is anathema to Jonah. He dresses inappropriately. He slouches. He makes jokes with the junior staff. He invites people to lunch individually and organises staff jollies to Delmonico’s. In short his behaviour is NOT appropriate for a cashier of a state, soon to be national, bank. He is far too frivolous. That he is good at his job is also a source of frustration. From the moment he leans over Jonah’s shoulder and adds a column of figures with a flick of an eye, the reader can sense that there would be fur flying and blood on the mat if this story wasn’t so firmly set in its period.

Some stories can be re-set without any dimishing of vigour. The Seven Samurai, for instance, worked very well in a Wild West setting. But this story has to be in this time and place to work. Everything – dresscodes, manners, living quarters, districts, class divisions, time frame – is combined to make a plot that is foremost about two very different characters combining their resources to combat a threat. The romance between Jonah and Reid isn’t exactly secondary but it is so much of its time that anyone who wants a one handed read had better look elsewhere. The sex scenes are very mild and most of them fade to black. The couple that are described dwell more on the feelings involved than the plumbing. It is an intensely emotional story without being overblown or angsty – a harder trick to pull off than one might think.

I didn’t notice any editorial issues with the book – I read the ebook version – but that could be because I read it in great big chunks over 24 hours. In retrospect there were a couple of minor niggles but nothing historical and since I didn’t notice the niggles while I was actually reading I’m not sure they really count. In short I found nothing in the story to grumble at and plenty to bring a big silly grin to my face.

Author’s website

Buy at Dreamspinner Press

Review: One Eyed Jacks by India Harper

A Civil War veteran and recovered opium addict, Adam Finlay, knows the cost of taking pleasure too far. In life, as in poker, he plays things close to the vest. The only way he knows to survive is to let no one in. Jackson Talbot loves a challenge. And no one is a greater challenge than the closed-off Adam Finlay. An awkward partnership gets Jackson’s foot in the door, but it will take every bit of skill he possesses to get any further with Adam.

Amidst the excitement of a high-stakes poker game, white lies and past mistakes threaten to destroy the fragile relationship the two men have begun to build. In the end, can two Jacks beat the Queen of Hearts?

Review by Erastes

I have to say I was easily sucked into this story because the whole idea of the paddle-steamers and the poker games that were played upon them fascinate me hugely, with the romance and atmosphere. In general, this book does well and it kept me interested although it was a little light on immersive atmosphere.

The two main characters meet believably and I enjoyed the banter between them. I found it a bit difficult to remember who was who–and I’m not sure whether it was just my attention span, or whether it was subject confusion,because there was a smattering of this here and there. I had to concentrate and think to myself “Which one is Adam again?” which pulled me out of the story from time to time. The description of their meetings is well done, although I would have loved more of the life of the paddle steamer but that’s just me–I’m greedy and if I find a nice novella, I always want a full sized novel!

I had a couple of major niggles which stopped this book from being a four star, which otherwise it deserved.

One was the money. I haven’t done the research to know how expensive these games were, but the “buy-in” for this particular game was $5,000 which struck me as a HUGE sum- worth around $500,000 in today’s money.  The plot point which causes the men to meet is that Jackson needs an extra  $200 to join the game and it struck me that if a man had $5,000 at this time, he’d hardly need to earn more, gambling. The winning pot was $250,000 which again was a king’s ransom at this time. ($28 million today–source: Measuring Worth). I think these amount are vastly over-inflated.

The other was the total disregard for the protagonists regarding sex–they hardly seem to care that they are on a boat with thin wooden walls and bounce and thump and scream and roar and fuck like rabbits and discuss their proclivities in public and with others.  At one point they fuck on deck in the open on a very crowded ship, and no measures are put into place to ensure their privacy.

The sex scenes however, because the erotic love affair is the focus, rather than the rather thin plot, are well described and nicely hot. Like many other recent books there’s a nod to BDSM which seemed a little pasted on, but I know many readers like bondage.

All in all,it’s an enjoyable and hot read which will occupy a good couple of hours and I do recommend it. It does teeter on wallpaper historical, but only just and there’s been sufficient research done to satisfy more picky readers, and less-picky ones will enjoy it a great deal.

India Harper is a writing collaboration between Philippa Grey-Gerou  and Emery Sanborne

Author’s website

Buy at Amber Allure


Review: Mere Mortals by Erastes

Orphaned Crispin Thorne has been taken as ward by Philip Smallwood, a man he’s never met, and is transplanted from his private school to Smallwood s house on an island on the beautiful but coldly remote, Horsey Mere in Norfolk. Upon his arrival, he finds that he’s not the only young man given a fresh start. Myles Graham, and Jude Middleton are there before him, and as their benefactor is away, they soon form alliances and friendships, as they speculate on why they ve been given this new life. Who is Philip Smallwood? Why has he given them such a fabulous new life? What secrets does the house hold and what is it that the Doctor seems to know?

Review by Jane Ellsworth

Three orphaned young men are picked by Phillip Smallwood as wards and brought to his isolated manor in the Norfolk Broads: Crispin Thorne, Jude Middleton and Myles Graham. Each impoverished young man has a secret in his past that haunted or drove him from his school. But the biggest secret is that of Phillip Smallwood, as he seems to shape the three young men for an unknown position.

Consciously and unconsciously, the young men compete for the honor, as they are dressed, valeted and tailored. Love affairs between them, and Phillip, blossom and wilt like tropical flowers caught out in the English winds. They are paraded at a party to the county, where neighbour Doctor Baynes upbraids Phillip for treating his wards like dolls. Then Dr. Baynes goes missing, and Thorne leaves the close confines of the manor for the open but dark marshes of the Broads at night to help find the body, and ends up finding out more than he wants to know about Phillip.

Mere Mortals blends gothic mystery story with gay romance, with a keen ear for the tone and voice of 19th-century English novels. It is almost completely unlike The Portrait of Dorian Grey, yet the characters and faint flavour of the “unnatural” are reminiscent of Wilde. More coltish than Wilde’s eponymous character, the young men of Mere Mortals enjoy each other with the same exuberance they bring to their enjoyment of the sudden supply of good food, wine, clothes and living quarters, but they are too young emotionally to sustain real relationships at this point. The narrating character, Thorne, through physical and emotional suffering, love and betrayal, finally emerges ready to love at an adult level.

The languorous pace of the first three fourths of the novel is in strong contrast to the last chapter, wherein All Is Revealed, which, while action-packed, is rather too rushed. The aftermath of the last death goes completely unexplained, in contrast to that of Dr. Baynes, and there is a several-year-jump to the epilogue. Nevertheless, the entire story was a pleasure to read. Erastes crafts this story so keenly and with such marvellous detail that the reader can come to feel she is part of the place and even the time of the story (I enjoyed particularly trying to determine the exact date from all the asides given by the characters, until it was settled by a particular item). The strong and distinct characterizations, recognizable as men of determinable ages, also show her excellent workmanship. And despite the corpses strewn about the Broads, there is a much less grim tone than in some of her previous works. Four out of five stars for Erastes!

Author’s website

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Review: A Daring Devoted Heart by Linda Hines

Years ago, revenge brought Emeric von Gondrecourt to New Mexico. Now, the force keeping him there is loyalty to the Metairie family — and his love for the young Calder Metairie, who has grown up while Emeric watched.

A DARING, DEVOTED HEART is a Western with a difference. Not merely an m/m romance, it’s also “quest fiction,” taking a pair of mis-matched heroes through country which brings to mind the works and words of Zane Grey, and culminating in a double-bareled climax — it’s a hail of hot lead and a struggle to survive, before Calder Metairie and Emeric von Gondrecourt take those devils by the horns.

Review by Jess Faraday

I really wanted to like this one. And to be fair, there is a lot to like here, even though the story ultimately didn’t work for me.

The story is well researched, for one. It was a bold move to bring together characters from such divergent backgrounds–the son of a rich New Mexico rancher and a dispossessed Austrian prince. And the author did enough research to come up with an explanation that was not just satisfying, but intriguing: Dispossessed Austrian Prince Hired as Old-West Hitman Changes Sides and becomes Protector of Intended Victims. With a side of forbidden love.

Oh yes. I’d read the hell out of that.

Add to this novel premise the fact that in the space of 117 pages, the author has created a solid plot with subplots and backstory. So far so good.

Unfortunately, the sloppy execution obscures the plot and the backstory. I have no idea how much time went into the writing of the story, but to this reader, it read like a hurried early draft. I can’t help but feel that it would have been much stronger if the author had put in a little more time to get it just right.

The backstory would have been much more powerful–and easier to connect to the story-in-progress–if it had been filtered in gradually rather than dumped in large, textbook-like chunks. The head-hopping confused me in places. And to beat the proverbial dead horse, there’s a lot of telling here, and not a lot of showing.

Which is what made this one a heartbreaker. Given one or two more drafts, this could have been a subtly crafted page-turner.

Linda Hines strikes me as an intelligent writer with terrific ideas and a good sense of what a historical should be. I will definitely read more from her, even though this one didn’t quite hit the mark for me.

Author’s website (although the links don’t work)

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Review:Of Death and Desire by Jude Mason

October 15, 1898

Dear diary, that’s how you’re supposed to begin these things, or so I assume. I never in a million years thought I’d write in one, let alone under these circumstances. This was Jonathan’s doing. When he asked me to make this entry, it was something I had to do, for him. He’s given up so much.

The beginning. Yes, that’s where I should begin and then let his accounting tell the tale.

Review by Erastes

This is a short story, about 10,000 words, and is probably worth getting to fill twenty minutes or so. It’s a ghost story, which allows it to slide in here—paranormals not being the norm—and for most of the story, the ghost element works well, but I have to say I rather lost the plot towards the end.

The beginning is rather baffling. There’s a prologue, which is written in Jonathan’s first person POV (from his diary, which plays a part later on) but at the end of the prologue, it says END EXCERPT so I assumed that this was indeed, not a prologue at all, but an excerpt of the prologue.  But then we go into Chapter One straight away, so I assume that’s a typographical error and a most off-putting one.

The period placing is done quite well, the entire book takes place in one house, so it was easy to stay placed in the time and location. Having a claustrophobic feel to it added a touch of the gothic too which works well, as it is really a gothic short story. Note the title, please and be prepared for both aspects of it.

Some words jarred here and there, and there were a couple of typos but not too many—and I felt the BDSM element was somewhat pasted on, because when Jonathan started talking about his master, I was rather surprised as there’d been no mention of that for the first section.

It wasn’t clear what Jonathan’s sacrifice was—and I didn’t think it was much of a one—and it was never explained how anyone dealt with what happened to Philip at the end, how it was explained to the public at large.

It was a good concept, but perhaps the length of the piece prevented it from being all it could be. As I said at the top, fine to fill in a lunchbreak, but probably not a keeper.

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Review: The Wanderer by Jan Irving

Doctor Jude Evans has built a safe but barren life for himself in a small western town where he pours all his passion into caring for his patients while hiding his secret yearning to love another man. Gabriel Fontenot is a drifter who is handy with a gun, prospecting for gold and trying to forget the night the letter “O” was carved into his hip. Suffering from hard living, he is cared for by Jude, but Gabriel is aroused by Jude’s gentle touch and offers to service the innocent doctor.

But Jude has other problems. A reformer in a small town reluctant to change, he is targeted by David Smith, a wealthy and dangerous landowner. Gabriel vows to protect shy Jude, becoming a reluctant guardian angel who helps to keep the doctor safe. But what will it take for Jude to finally feel free to give himself completely to his beloved gunfighter

Review by Sue Brown 4 stars

I come away from reading this book confused about my feeling towards The Wanderer. On one hand, this is a very well-written tale of Doc Jude, a man troubled by his sexual proclivities, who has sequestered himself in a small town of Sylvan to atone for not being what his family expected, trying hard to fit in, but never fully accepted by the townsfolk. Jan Irving has written an engrossing tale with well-written characters and I found myself immersed in their lives, particularly the young, blind Mouse, a young boy who as a misfit himself, had a much better understanding than the doctor just how unaccepted he really was.

I had no problems with the characters. On the contrary, they were warm and well-developed, leaving me wanting to know more. My issues came with the relationship between Gabriel and Doc Jude. I could see the attraction between them, world-weary Gabriel must have been very attractive and rather scary to the deeply closeted and frightened doctor. I could see why the drifter would be attracted to the virginal doctor. There was chemistry between the two men and therein lies my issue. The doctor was a thirty year virgin, yet immediately was embroiled in sexual practices as a sub and frankly, I couldn’t get my head around it. One minute the doctor disliked his first experience of penetrative sex and the next he was a compliant sub, complete with role playing and a belt to his backside. As a reader I don’t usually have a problem with dom/sub relationships but it didn’t ring true with this particular couple so soon into their relationship.

That aside, it is an engrossing story and hence my rating. If I had engaged with the sex my rating would have been higher. I think the way Jan Irving has written the sense of otherness of the doctor, the blind boy and the other misfits was deftly handled. For me, by far the best part of the book was how Jan Irving portrayed the attitude of the townsfolk, actively colluding with the bully, David Smith, until shamed by Gabriel into helping to rebuild the doctor’s clinic. I have reread the book which is testament to how much I liked the story, even allowing for my reservations with the sex.

Author’s website

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Review: A Hundred Little Lies by Jon Wilson

Everyone knows Jack Tulle as a widower, a doting father, and an honest businessman. The problem is, it’s all a lie.

For eight years Jack has enjoyed the quiet life in the sleepy little town of Bodey, Colorado where he owns and operates the General Store. He sits on the town council. He dotes upon his eight-year-old, headstrong daughter, Abigail. He is even being sized-up as a prospective new member of the family by the bank president.

But when the local saloon announces plans to host a grand prize poker tournament, Jack realizes it could spell trouble. One of the many secrets he’s been hiding is that he used to be a con man — mainly underhanded poker, but he wasn’t above the odd swindle when the situation presented itself. And a contest like the one his town is planning is sure to draw some old business acquaintances — fellows Jack would really rather not admit to knowing. But one he would–Tom Jude, the only person in the world other than Abigail Jack has ever loved–but one man who knows every secret in Jack’s past, secrets which could destroy his current life.

Review by Erastes

A debut novel, and a quite impressive debut too. I really liked the style of writing Wilson employs. It reminded me very much of “The Winter of our Discontent” by Steinbeck with the everyday narrative flow and observation of small-town living. We are introduced to Jack through his waking up, getting his daughter ready for school, interraction with towns people and working in his general store. We are set up to think, as do the townspople that he is indeed a pillar of the community.

But of course, things are not all they seem. Gradually the cracks appear. We learn that he’s vehemently against the planned poker tournament in the local saloon, but it’s not really clear why. He doesn’t come over as a really straight-laced Christian type, so we can’t help but wonder what his agenda is. It’s not until the tournament is a definite event that the cracks widen.

It takes its time to unfold, and I liked this. It’s not a hugely long book, about 130 pages or so but the meandering path it takes makes it feel like a full-size novel and as I said, the style is pretty polished. I would, perhaps have liked a bit deeper view into Jack’s head–especially as the story is not only first person, but presented as Jack actually writing it down himself–he considers deleting some text, so that adds to this memoire feel, but all the same there are times when it becomes a little remote.

The characters–in the main–are intriguing and easy to get toknow on face value (although it’s clear that Jack is a veritable onion and there’s much to learn) and when Tom Jude arrives he really sweeps everyone off their feet with his handsome good looks and charisma. He also causes a eyebrow or two from the townsfolk who find that solid business man Jack knows an armed gambler… But from the sherrif to the schoolteacher, to the store-clerk, each character is nicely described and no-one feels two dimensional.

However, one character that really didn’t work for me was Jack’s eight year old daughter. Writing children is hard, and I’m afraid that I had the same feeling about Abigail that I had for “Just William’s” Violet Bott or one of Dahl’s terrible Chocolate Factory children. I wanted her to die and quite horribly. Wilson obviously thinks that we should love Abigail which made me ashamed of my dreams of fire but she’s grating and not at all realistic, even given the fact that the book is set some 150 years ago. Firstly she comes over as about three years old, not eight, lisping and misspeaking which is probably intended to be cute. I could not equate her with Jack having brought her up, because Jack is almost impossibly erudite, using large words and complex concepts. He has a knowledge of art and travel, whereas his daughter speaks like Cletus the Slack Jawed yokel and hasn’t even heard of New Orleans. Er… no. Kids learn their speech patterns from their parents. From her appalling grammar, speech and behaviour, it’s like she’s been raised by hillbillies instead of an intelligent, well read and well-spoken father.

But she was only one character and I was willing to ignore her in favour of the main plotline.

The narrative is sometimes a tad jumpy, and more than once I found myself re-reading sections because I felt I’d missed something–characters would start to talk of things without any lead up leaving the reader running to catch up and hoping some light would be shed to give a clue. Here’s one example of this: (the earlier sentences do not shed any light on who they are talking about, the conversation pretty much starts with this.)

I started forward once more, and, when I reached him, he turned to walk beside me. We progressed in silence for a spell, then he said: “Y’know, I saw him a while back.”

We were both looking ahead again, and he didn’t gaze over at me as he told me that, and I didn’t do anything at all. I just mention those facts to show that I was beyond the point of offering up any noticeable reaction to that sort of pronouncement, and Tom knew it.

He was just telling me because he thought I might like to know. “He was looking mighty—well, spry would be overstating it. But he was  breathing pretty regular for a dead man.”

I still wasn’t troubled by any particular impulse to respond, though, finally, after a moment or two, I decided it would be impolite to let him think I might not have been paying attention. I scratched my ear. “You talk to him?”

“You could call it that.”

“How’d that go?”

He offered a noncommittal shrug. “I didn’t finish up by spitting on him, so I reckon it went a damn sight better than the time before.” He paused a moment to allow me ample time to relish his sense of humor, then confided: “He wanted money.”

“I’m sorry.”

He shrugged again, and his tone lightened. “He asked after you. I suppose it was good I didn’t really know much—spared me the trouble of lying. ’Course, he figured I was lying, which I guess means his brain ain’t completely pickled.”

“How’d he look?”

“How’d he look!” Tom shook his fist at me. “You’re just itching for that pop!”

So, all right, I wasn’t as completely indifferent to mention of my father as I claimed, and I suppose Tom might have broached the subject because he suspected as much. In my defense, I told him: “He asked after me, didn’t he?”

As you can see it takes most of this exchange to explain it’s Jack’s father that is being discussed, whereas from hints in earlier conversations about certain dead men, I was completely led astray, thought they were talking about someone else, and when the father was mentioned I was entirely confused. This is also one of many plot threads that are never explored, never resolved which was a tad frustrating–unless this is going to be a series, but there was no hint of that.

The trouble could be that the author knows his backstory so much he doesn’t realise that readers don’t travel at the same speed and need a bit more support or they end up lost like me.

You can see that there are colons before certain parts of speech and while this might be a correct and formal way of expressing speech, I have to say I didn’t like it, I hadn’t read a book with this device before. One example of a hundred would be:

I asked him: “You remember the baths at Hollister House?”

Instead of

“You remember the baths at Hollister House?” I asked him.

Perhaps it’s to emphasize that it’s Jack writing this as a memoire I don’t know. But I hope the author re-considers in future and uses a more acceptable method of dialogue.

But these are matters that can be ironed out as the author learns and progresses.

However the good certainly eclipses the irritants. I loved the way that Jack says he feels sorry for men and women because it’s much easier for men to walk around with their arms around each other or to fake wrestle in the street and no-one thinks anything of it. I also liked the way that it dealt with an addiction; Jack is an addict, but not to drink or to drugs, although both are mentioned. He’s a recovering card sharp and just the feel of a packet of cards in his hands is enough to tempt his control. I found it endearing that the only pack of cards he had in the house was incomplete, but I understood the necessity for it.

There’s a section toward the end with a rather nice surprise, but this isn’t followed through–not even in thought, which was disappointing. I would have liked to have known how Jack got around this particular problem. Editing was fine but I’m afraid the cover does nothing for me—something more literary and vague would have done—but that’s cosmetic and doesn’t affect the mark at all. What marks it down is the confusion I felt at several points, the ends that never really got tied up and the hillbilly sounding daughter.

Don’t come to this book looking for a stock gay cowboy romance. Come instead for a beautifully written story with characters that will stick in your head. Well worth a read.  I look forward to what this author can do in the future because it might be pretty amazing.

Buy at Cheyenne Publishing Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: According to Hoyle by Abigail Roux

By the close of 1882, the inhabitants of the American West had earned their reputation as untamed and dangerous. The line between heroes and villains is narrow and indistinct. The concept that a man may only kill if backed into a corner is antiquated. Lives are worth less than horses. Treasures are worth killing for. And the law is written in the blood of those who came before. The only men staving off total chaos are the few who take the letter of the law at its word and risk their lives to uphold it. But in the West, the rules aren’t always played according to Hoyle.

US Marshals Eli Flynn and William Henry Washington are escorting two prisoners to New Orleans for trial when they discover there’s more to the infamous shootist Dusty Rose and the enigmatic man known only as Cage than merely being outlaws. When forces beyond the marshals’ control converge on the paddlewheeler they have hired to take them downriver, they must choose between two dangers: playing by the rules at any cost or trusting the very men they are meant to bring to justice.

Review by Sue Brown

I used to have an expectation of m/m stories that by page 5 the two men – or any other number thereof – would have their clothes stripped off and be getting down to business. I did not expect to find plot interrupting the sex. My knuckles have been firmly rapped with this amazing story. If you are expecting Wild West Sex, then According to Hoyle isn’t for you. If you like a complex plot, rounded and well-developed characters and some surprising twists, then this is definitely up your alley.

This is the tale of two US Marshals, Eli Flynn and William Henry Washington, escorting two prisoners to New Orleans for trial: the shootist and outlaw, the Englishman Dusty Rose, who surprises the lawmen by developing a relationship with the other prisoner, the silent man, Cage. Over the course of their journey Flynn, who has always played life according to Hoyle, by the book, learns that the criminals aren’t always the bad guys and he learn a lot more about himself and his old friend, Wash, as well. These characters aren’t exactly original, the stoic lawmen, the criminals finding their way into infamy through dime novels, but Abigail Roux has crafted them so well that you are swiftly drawn into their world.

As a reader I probably focus more on the interaction of the men. The developing relationships between Rose and Cage and Flynn and Wash, and the way they all have to learn to trust each other, are subtly woven. It isn’t about two men watching another two get together, but the four of them and the way their relationship develops from distrust into something more, not friendship, but a grudging admission of respect, particularly between Flynn and Rose

Considering the time in which the story was set I expected more overt homophobia. However a second reading made me see it was skilfully handled through the uncomfortable feelings engendered in Flynn as he watches Rose and Cage together. In fact of all the four men it was Flynn that fascinated me as he fights his feelings for Wash.

Meanwhile, I am unwilling to spoil the story too much, but there is another subplot woven through which makes the story more than just a journey of the lawmen and the outlaws, but gives it a touch of uncertainty and excitement.

One minor criticism, and it is minor, is that both times I read the book I felt the boat scene was a little too long. It was a necessary part of the plot but became a little tedious. I did like the end of the book though. Flynn came a long way, both as a lawman and a lover. I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone, whether you like westerns or not.

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Review: Arson! The Dakota Series 1 by Cap Iversen

People look up when Dakota Taylor rides into town. His legend precedes him and if that legend isn’t always founded in reality … well, Dakota’s not about to disappoint folks. Nor does he want to disappoint the handsome Bennie Colson, who has a job for him. Trouble is, Ben’s job means taking on a whole town of angry cattle ranchers.

Review by Gerry Burnie originally posted on Gerry’s Book Reviews

Pretty well everyone enjoys a cowboy story; especially if the principal characters get out of the sack long enough to ride a horse or chase a cow. Cap Iversen(?)[1] has therefore struck an agreeable balance between the two types in “Arson!: The Dakota Series, No.1” [Alyson Books, 1st edition, 1992].

Dakota Taylor is a gunslinger—a ‘hired gun’—the fastest in the West. He has a pair of custom-made, silver-plated colts on his hip, and an instinct for calculated eradication of people’s enemies.

He is juxtapositioned with Benjamin Colsen, a Harvard law student, who hires Taylor’s gun to avenge the Colsen family’s brutal murder—father, mother and siblings—on their mountain-top, sheep ranch by a group of unknown assailants. The issue seems to be a drying-up of the water supply that has mysteriously struck the valley, and the overall cast of suspects includes the cattle baron, James T Anderson, and practically everyone else in the dusty town of Turnpike.

There are the usual supporting characters: A fat, incompetent and cowardly sheriff; a slick-talking merchant; a ‘meat-head’ butcher; and the weaselly manager of the local meat packing plant. However, there are a few that are slightly out of the loop, i.e. Ryder McCloud, another gunslinger, who has been hired by Anderson. McCloud and Taylor have had shootouts before, but these generally involved fleshy weapons between sheets. Nevertheless, with McCloud’s arrival the plot definitely thickens.

Anderson’s young son, Seth, enters the picture as well. He is your typical brash, young Turk; enamoured with McCloud and not at all adverse to romping with Taylor.

Meanwhile a sub-plot is developing, which involves a fabled Eternal Spring that only the Shoshone Indians and a few others—including Dakota Taylor—know about. Dakota is the adopted son of a Shoshone Shaman, and also becomes the confidante (and bed mate) of his warrior-like grandson; therefore, the only other(s) to know about it must also be the murderer(s).

I will not go further for fear of spoiling the story; however, I will say that the writing style, told in a first-person narrative, is both colourful and appropriate. Moreover it has the air of authenticity, and it reads almost effortlessly. Whoever Cap Iversen is he or she is/was definitely not a novice writer or journalist.

I do have some reservations regarding the number of gay characters that pop up quite ‘coincidentally’ in what is otherwise an insular and isolated community. There are, I believe, six such individuals, which is perhaps stretching the laws of chance and probability. In addition, the story seemed to lose its compactness toward the end.

Nevertheless, this is a thoroughly enjoyable and well-crafted story, and I look forward to reading the other two, i.e. “Silver Saddles,” and “Rattler.” Recommended.

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Review: Paper Valentine by AJ Llewellyn

London, 1840. At the height of Victorian hypocrisy, two men meet and fall in love. Their romance is forbidden, punishable even by death, but their passion blossoms thanks to a paper Valentine.

Saint Valentine’s Day has become a new and very popular day for lovers. Thousands of Londonites are clamouring for the ideal romantic gift. While men buy chocolate and posies, they yearn for something more unusual, more personal. Enterprising brothers Aldon and Samuel Barnaby hit upon the idea of paper Valentines, creating lavish presentations decorated with silk, lace, and paper flowers.

Aldon is fortunate to have his perfect valentine going to his expectant wife, Geneve, but Samuel still longs for his own true love, pouring his heart and soul into his beautiful creations. Samuel’s romantic verses inside his paper Valentines are in huge demand, yet not a single local girl can lay claim to his heart…because his passion lies not in a woman, but another man—Jude, a handsome but shy widower.

Jude’s heart, haunted by grief, hasn’t been ready to consider marriage again. But slowly, through his inclusion in the Barnaby family’s lives…and his frequent excursions to stop and stare at the Barnabys’ shop window…he begins to wonder in what direction his future lies.

Can Samuel possibly allow his heart to explore love with another man? Could Jude ever love him in return? He sends Jude an exquisite, anonymous paper Valentine, not suspecting that his entire world is about to be turned upside down…

Review by Erastes

Dear Cover Artists. Please take note of the dates of the iconic structures, particularly in London. I’ve seen the Houses of Parliament used in Regency fiction and now we have Tower Bridge on this one, which is a quite nice cover, except the bridge wasn’t even begun until 1886, 46 years after this book takes place.I’m surprised, seeing as how the publisher is British.

However, this anachronistic tone, (after all I wouldn’t mark the book down merely for an incongruous cover), continues throughout the whole of the book, and although I’ll mention some later, there are egregious errors on just about every page, which layered with the other problems with the book made this a really hard read for me. The editing isn’t too bad, apart from Jude’s coachman changing names half way through, but what this needed was a damn good historical edit and a Brit pick. I understand that a small publisher cannot afford specialist editors for every genre, but I think that they should be prepared to check the author’s facts and not take on trust the author has it right. One or two checks with this book would have revealed the fact that just about everything was wrong,and as such it reflects badly on the publisher, not just the author.

Aside from the appalling anachronisms, the book just didn’t work for me because there is actually no plot. One could say that I’m asking a bit much expecting much more than a Plot-What-Plot in a story of sixty pages, but I certainly do. Other writers such as Ava March are capable of doing characterisation, plot, complications, BDSM and sex in as many pages, so we all know it can be done. Here however, I’m not sure what exactly the author was trying to achieve, or what message might be being transmitted.

Half of the book deals with the aforementioned dinner party, and at least half of that wastes time and plot-time while Samuel goes to his brother’s house, helps cook(!) and rants on for pages about how beautiful, how clever, how good, how shiny his sister-in-law is. So much so that I assumed that there was some plot point to this, but no. Eventually the dinner party is gathered and we finally meet the other hero of the story, Jude Curtis. They get together with no discernible difficulties and engage in perfect insta-recovery sex whilst weeping a lot and calling each other “baby” and asking if each other are “OK.” As you can tell by this, the dialogue is pretty awful–in fact in the throes of passion Samuel actually says to Jude “You’re so clean.” which made me giggle. It’s not exactly love-talk.

The food in a book is important–espeically when the author has made such a big deal of it–literally the first 30 or so pages (half the book) concentrates on entertaining, so when all the details are wrong it’s such a waste of time and effort. Strawberries, cranberries and bilberries, all available in February. Gas stoves, the lady of the house whipping up a quick meal for twelve without hardly turning a hair after the servants have left, no-one except the lady of the house changing for dinner, despite it being an important dinner which she is holding to get her husband admitted to the Atheneum Club.

I’m not going to list all the anachronisms, it would take too long and would be unfair, but a few include making artists a major plot point. This is fine except the ones mentioned were hilariously Whistler (who would have been six at the time), Rosseti (13) and Holman-Hunt who was about 12. Then there’s mention of the Brotherhood of the Pre-Raphelites (which didn’t exist), gas stoves, mentions of “hotwired.” The thing is that the author goes into Dan Brown mode at times, describing in detail something historical that they think we’ll be interested in, such as a meticulous description of the first commercial stamp–the Penny Black–but the author didn’t take the two minutes it takes to do the research to find out that the stamp wasn’t issued until JUNE 1840, not February.

The sex (apart from the silly dialogue and much weeping) is all right, but for me it’s not enough to make the cover price worth while.

So, putting together the missing plot, the buildup of things that never became plot–the brother’s entry to the club, the making of the Valentines, the servant troubles–with the anachronisms on every page, I simply can’t recommend this as a historical. If you are only looking for some gay sex in costume, then you might enjoy it.

Buy from Total-ebound

Review: Hotel de Dream by Edmund White

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

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Review: Missouri by Christine Wunnicke

Written in the language of the period, this vivid and utterly transfixing love story between two men is set in the nineteenth-century American Midwest. Douglas Fortescue is a successful poet in England who flees the country for America following an Oscar Wilde-like scandal insinuating sexual impropriety; Joshua Jenkyns is a feral young outlaw who was taught how to shoot a man at age six, and who, against the wishes of his father, teaches himself how to read, a skill that then unleashes a world of possibility beyond that which he knows. The two men meet when Joshua robs Douglas’s carriage and takes him hostage; soon, a remarkable secret is revealed, and these two very different men grow closer, even as Douglas’s brother tries to “save” him from his uncivilized surroundings.

Missouri was first published in Germany to wide acclaim. Now available in English for the first time, Missouri is destined to become a gay men’s camp classic for its earnest, romantic reinterpretation of a time and place in American history traditionally closed off to gay readers.

Review by Gerry Burnie (originally posted on Gerry’s Review Site)

Missouri by Christine Wunnicke[Arsenal Pulp Press; Tra edition, 2010] is a story that either pleases or displeases; there is very little middle ground shown by its critics to date. Therefore, I will have to say that I liked it. I found it wonderfully zany; offbeat; and unlike any other gay, American Western tale I have every encountered.

Douglas Fortesque is an ambitious court clerk in northern England, and not just a little bit of a con man. He therefore lets his hair down (literally), dyes it black, starves himself until he has that gaunt, poet-like appearance, and pens utter gibberish to the wild acclaim of an effete London literary society. Indeed, the more outlandish he becomes the more acclaim he receives from a pretentious, gullible public.

Eventually tiring of this masquerade he retires to the country, but legitimacy only makes him less interesting and also vulnerable to his critics, and in a thinly veiled allusion to Oscar Wilde’s persecution he escapes to the United States where his brother wishes to buy property.

Meanwhile, Joshua Jenkyns, the young, slightly psychotic half-breed offspring of a notorious American outlaw is terrorizing the Midwest, learning how to read and becoming enamoured by the disjointed words of one, Douglas Fortescue. In a bizarre turn of events, therefore, these two unlikely characters cross paths and Fortescue is hurried away on horseback to become Jenkyns’ coddled hostage.

Thus begins a process of assimilation whereby Fortescue is stripped of his pretentions, and Jenkyns of his savagery, until they meet in an ethereal love-making scene that is beautifully understated by the author. Any other approach—graphic for example—would have cheapened it.

One of the criticisms that has been leveled at this novella is that it is too short (134 pages) to develop a complex story of this nature; and I agree that it could have been longer. However, in those 134 pages Wunnicke has developed two very unforgettable characters, a unique love story set against a stark, primeval wilderness, and an outcome that is totally unpredictable.

Highly recommended. Five stars.

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Review: The Framing of Dorian Gray by Barry Lowe

Sherlock Holmes is called in on one of his most personal cases ever when his young nephew, Bramwell, disappears. Has he been kidnapped by his own father and forced to marry against his nature or is something more sinister afoot? In his search for answers Holmes and Watson will cross swords with the angelically beautiful Dorian Gray and be forced among degenerates and rapists at Soho’s notorious Pandemonium Club. But the truth is more evil than anyone could have suspected.

Review by Erastes

This is a shift in my thinking, because I’m not a great fan of published fanfiction, be it out of copyright or not–so I want to be upfront about that. However, I’m going to review this for other merits than accordance with canon etc. Although having read all of Holmes, I’m not that familiar with the canon to do that. Also, I’m aware that it’s a literary tradition for some authors to change or embellish the canon, in this case giving Holmes a sister, so this makes it Alternative Universe fanfiction, I suppose. And although it has a paranormal aspect–the inclusion of Dorian Gray’s portrait–I’m including this on the list, as we have Wilde’s original book listed.

That’s that out of the way, let’s get on with it.

It actually starts quite well, and even if you had never read a Holmes story, you would be able to pick this up and not mind. It cleverly sets the scene and the modicum of back-story (with the additional relatives) without resorting to pages of tub-thumbing Basil Exposition and it’s deftly done.

I liked the language that Watson writes in, it’s archaic enough to be easily understandable, and gives a nice flavour. It may be a little too flowery for some, but then that “some” is unlikely to pick up a Holmesian piece and expect it to be in contemporary prose.

The editing, I’m afraid, left a lot to be desired–with wanton apostrophes, missing and also unnecessary commas, spelling mistakes, a weighty surfeit of epithets and some tenses getting tangled up around each other’s legs. I’m a little grammar-blind at the best of times, so if I noticed errors, I’m sure there were a lot more. I have not reviewed anything from this publisher before, so I hope that it’s not a feature.

I think it is the fanfic aspect that makes these books a difficult read for me, because I have to  rely on the author to get Holmes and others right. In an original book, if the main characters behave with derring- do or are amused or outraged at certain things, then I think little of it, because it’s their characters and they can do with them what they wish, but with Holmes (and the other myriad of spin-offs now proliferating the market) I find myself thinking “Would Lizzie/Darcy/Holmes/[insert name here] really behave like that? And I find myself doing this for inconsequential things like [character] chuckling, instead of being able to just relax and enjoy the story unfolding.

However, that being said – it did draw me in, and it felt like a real Holmesian caper, complete with grotesques and dodgy venues, many cab journeys and Watson fumbling around in the dark both physically and mentally.

This is not a “gay Holmes” by the way, for which I was actually grateful, but a Holmes story involving gay matters which struck me as much more realistic, despite the book’s other problems.

I didn’t see anything of Holmes’ skills, though, none of the “I can tell you are a Polish sailor who spent some time in Africa and you have two wives, one in Madagascar and the other died a year ago.” This was a shame, because that’s what draws people to Holmes, I would think. Overall he was a little bit jolly, laughing, chortling and throwing his arms around people.

The final action scene concerns a brutal rape, so be warned—and I didn’t like that it was played a little for titillation. This probably explains why this otherwise pretty good read hadn’t been picked up by one of the larger epubs, as they probably wouldn’t have allowed the rape scene to stay as written.

One or two misuses of words I spotted “erstwhile brothers” (referring to Mycroft and Sherlock) when they were hardy “former” brothers. “Queer” wasn’t used for another fifty years or so, but in the main, the research is pretty good—streets are where they should be, and buildings existed at the time. But nothing too jarring, and as I say, the research is decent.

Seeing as how Holmes isn’t very “Holmesy” this could easily have been converted to original fiction without much of a join, but it’s a pretty good read if you can skim over the dreadful editing. If you are fan of the Victorian detective genre,then you’ll probably enjoy this. I would give the story a 4 stars but the presentation a 2, so overall, it gets a solid 3.

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Review: Sam’s Hill by Jack Ricardo

A young man coming to grips with his homosexuality during the latter half of the 19th century, through four years of The Civil War, the Indian Wars with General Custer’s 7th Cavalry, into the rough and tumble town of Cheyenne and up into the Black Hills of the Dakota Territory.

*Available in Kindle format, 382KB

Review by Gerry Burnie

A revisiting of the American Civil War is not a new theme, nor is gay, Union and Confederate soldiers, but “Sam’s Hill” by Jack Ricardo [Amazon Digital Services, 2010] contains some of the best, graphic descriptions of battlefield action I have ever read; the carnage, the confusion, the fear and the impersonal killing are all there in almost tangible detail.

The plot—at least for the first half of the story—is equally well conceived with some quite unexpected twists.

Sam Cordis is a young Union volunteer from New Jersey; green, innocent, seeking to become his “own man” and heading west when the war is over, “…a mere two or three months, he was sure.”

After a taste of war, and the reality of it, i.e.

“The order came. “Tear Cartridges.”

“Sam did exactly that. He poured powder into the barrel of his musket, dropped a metal ball inside, stuffed the ramrod down to push the ball into position, and carefully placed a cap under the hammer.

“When he heard the first shot, the taut skin of his neck strangled his throat, his heart stopped. The woods began bleeding with an indistinct jumble of men in gray yelling ferociously, shooting indiscriminately. Sam wanted to run for cover. There was none. And there was no interference when he lifted his musket.

“He stayed his mind, focussed his eyes, spied his target. He couldn’t see the Rebel clearly. He didn’t know if he was young or old, an officer or a volunteer. He was merely a target. Sam aimed the weapon with ease, as if marking a jackrabbit on the banks of New Jersey’s Rampo River. He pressed the trigger and squeezed as his older brother taught, gently, caressing the tender skin of a newborn calf. The report of the musket was lost in the din.

“Sam didn’t wait to see if the ball hit its mark. He followed the example of the others, crossing the former path, running wide, stumbling, turning, reloading, firing again, this time with haste. As hastily as the enemy fired at him.”

Under such perilous circumstances men frequently bond out of necessity, and the mores of a conventional society are either relaxed or shirked in favour of a new reality. So it was with Sam and his young companion, Davie, when a tender friendship gradually blossomed into love, like a flower amidst the ruin. Just as quickly, however, it was snuffed by a sniper’s bullet, but not before Sam had discovered a love that would not be denied.

As the war dragged on Sam found himself in Savannah, Georgia, with Sherman’s army, and during a lull in the hostilities he is drawn to the docks in search of male companionship. It is a mixture of intrigue and inert desire until he encounters an older man who almost succeeds in fanning his smouldering desire into a flame. However, in an unexpected twist, he is mugged and then rescued aboard a gunboat where the stranger is first mate. Romance nearly blossoms there as well, but when the gunboat is attacked Sam is thrown overboard during the mêlée. Miraculously he is washed ashore on the coast of Florida, and making his way inland he encounters a regiment of Black, Union soldiers, who are themselves captured by Confederate forces.

A forced march then proceeds to a POW camp somewhere in South Georgia—a non-regulation compound where corruption and cruelty prevail. A “King Rat” type-of-character also rules, and he sets his sights on seducing Sam. On the other hand, Sam befriends a badly wounded youth who would otherwise die. These are the characters that will play a significant role later in the story, but for now they are certainly interesting enough.

When peace if declared Sam and the now rehabilitated youth start for their respective homes in the north, where Sam’s several family members await, but first there is another character to be met; an Indian brave named Kehoe.

To this point I would have no hesitation in giving this story a five-star rating. The journalism is first rate, the characters are interesting and credible, the action is breathtaking, and the pace compelling.

Regretfully, the second half of the story begins to bog down under the burden of characters that, in their numbers and complexities, nearly overwhelm the reader. Likewise, to accommodate each of their parts, the story loses its linearity to twist and coil around the various subplots.

There is no question that Mr. Ricardo has a flair for historical fiction, but sometimes less is more. 

Review: Suffer the Little Children by Tracy Rowan

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I knew he was a loving man,

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

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

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

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

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

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

I grew excited. “Can you do that?”

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

“Well, I don’t know!” I snapped.

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

Buy at Torquere Press

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