Review: The Low Between by Vivien Dean

It was supposed to be simple.

All struggling actor Carlo Baresi had to do was pick up a man in a taxi, drive him to the location he specified, then report where he’d taken him. The only problem is, the man isn’t who he claims to be…and they both know it.

Bookstore owner Joe Donnelly has a reputation for helping those in need, but this plan has been a bad one from the second he stepped in. Discovering someone has switched out the taxi driver is one more complication he doesn’t want, especially since Carlo is the kind of distraction that can get a man in serious trouble if he’s not careful.

But the men have something in common other than their mutual attraction. They’re both loose ends, struggling to find out what is really going on.

And murder is always complicated, even when you’re on the same side.. 

ebook  - 144 pages

Review by Erastes

Ms Dean has had me as a fan for a good while, although it’s been a while since she published a gay historical, and I’ve missed her. This was a very enjoyable read I’m glad to say!

I love Noir, I’m a big fan of Bogart and Marlowe and Spade and all that, so I was looking forward to a New York 50′s vibe and in that, I’m afraid, I was a little disappointed. There’s not enough immersion into the era. Dean lost an opportunity here–possibly by sticking to a more traditional for a romance two-POV style rather than a first person narration–in really steeping the story in a Noir feel. Part of the prop shafts for great Noir are mouth watering descriptions of clothes, guns and cars and the reader is short-changed in all these departments. There’s rain, which always adds to the genre, lots of rain and in that respect it’s atmospheric but it could have gone a lot further to really bring out the flavour of the era.

It’s a good plot, although the mystery did confuse me rather, which starts with a great scene of a switched driver and a different contact than the one Carlo was expecting which sets the scene nicely for the growing romance and the mystery. I liked Joe a lot more than I did Carlo–we learn a lot more about him, for a start. He’s beautifully flawed and having tasted tragedy in his life, professionally and personally, he keeps the world at bay. We know much about his character simply from the way he interacts with the people he knows–and doesn’t know. I felt that the “OK, now we are partners” aspect was a tad rushed–couldn’t quite see why Joe would have trusted Carlo quite so quickly, particularly after Carlo violates that trust pretty sharpish.

As for Carlo himself, I didn’t really get him at all. We know very little about him, not his past or his home life, or his past homosexual experiences. I couldn’t really warm to him the way I did Joe because of that, as by the time we are really inside his head he’s entirely smitten with Joe and that’s all he can think about.

The prose is good, as expected with this author, and there are quite a few phrases that were outstandingly beautiful and original which made me bite my lip in jealous fury that I hadn’t thought of this or that analogy or metaphor. The editing needed more work, but I’m used to that with Amber, it’s not a deal breaker, I just wish they’d pull their socks up and get editors who know the right place for a comma.

Once the relationship kicks in, it’s handled nicely and sparingly. The protagonists aren’t forever hard and aching for each other, there’s a major sex scene in the place where you’d expect it, and a glasses-fogging kiss scene which was–for me, at least–was hotter than any sex scene. It takes talent to write gorgeous kisses and not many people can do it as well as Dean.

Sadly, probably in deference to the “M/M conventions” there’s also a long sex scene after the denouement of the mystery which for me was unnecessary and didn’t interest me at all. I can understand the reason why this scene may have been put in, but my rule-of-thumb is: if you can take out the scene and it makes absolutely no difference to the plot, then it shouldn’t be there. This is appease the sex-lovers of the genre, but I found myself skipping through it to get to a rather more “pat” ending than I liked. I felt the true end of the book had actually happened naturally just before the sex scene which was probably why the sex seemed a little shoehorned in, as if the publisher said “One sex scene isn’t enough!!”

However, it is a well-written, well-paced book which I enjoyed reading. It might not be a keeper, but it gets a thumbs up from me. I have to say that the title baffled me though–what does it mean?

Author’s Website

Buy at Amazon UK | Amazon USA| Amber Allure

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: Christmas Wishes by JP Bowie

York 1922

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

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

(60 pages, ebook only, MLR Press)

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

This illustrates it well, I think.

“What would you like to hear, Mama?”

“Something sacred perhaps, Silent Night?”

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Website

Buy at MLR Press

Review: The Hun and the General by Tristram La Roche

 Livianus is bored and longs for action. His reward for serving Rome is the governorship of a quiet corner of Gaul, but as he whiles away his days at his sumptuous villa, his thoughts turn to Attila the Hun, the feared barbarian with whom Livianus once enjoyed an intimate friendship. When a desperate emperor asks him to return to Pannonia to broker a truce with Attila, Livianus’s old passion flares.

Attila is losing the will to go on. He is tired of being a tyrant but his people’s future depends on him. The arrival of Livianus renews Attila’s spirit as he prepares to march on Constantinople. Livianus has nothing to bargain with, but when the emperor’s sister delivers a proposition for Attila, a new and brighter future seems to lay directly ahead. For the people, and especially for the two men. But the deadly hand of the emperor isn’t interested in peace, and as their plans are destroyed, only one course of action remains open to the Hun and the general.

Word Count: 28,173 (Etopia Books) available in ebook only

Review by Erastes

I had to say, once again I wasn’t filled with hope for a happy ending for this one!  I knew absolutely nothing about Attila the Hun other than I had been spelling it wrong all my life and that he probably had nothing in common with Yul Brynner. So I found the period interesting to read about. The voice is quite modern, in a way–which is certainly allowable when no one is speaking the language of the story any longer. The translation works well–it may not be in the words they actually used, but I’m quite sure the meaning still remains the same. There were a couple of too modern expressions that jarred, but in the main it works all right.

I found Livianus a bit difficult to like, and I think that’s possibly he’s a little more at arm’s length in the book, or it seemed so from my angle. The author is fond of Attila, and he’s anxious to portray him as a firm (very firm, and I don’t mean that as a double entendre, but more in the way of “you’ve pissed me off, so I’m going to impale you” kind of way) ruler but while being firm, as fair and just as any tyrant might be. He has an abiding passion for promoting and looking after his people. He’s caught in a dilemma in a changing world. Do the Huns continue their nomadic existence, continually fighting everyone who wants a piece of land in a world that’s rapidly filling up, or do they “do as the Romans do”, settle down, build stone houses, put down roots, establish cities? No idea if Attila had this crisis of confidence, but it’s convincingly put.  I rather lost my respect for such a ruthless tyrant when he got tears in his eyes when he had to part with Livianus for a few months, but then I’m hard-hearted.

I liked the way there was no attempt to pretty up the protagonists. We have a good idea of what Attila may have looked like and he’s portrayed in much the same way, scrubby beard and all. We are told that Livianus is an older man, too, although still fit and healthy–these are not young studs with buff perfect bodies, they are men who have been through campaign after campaign and have the scars to show for it.

It’s the slightly mangled history that I couldn’t get my head around. Knowing nothing about Attila, I went to look up the details afterwards, because the book had piqued my interest. Honoria was Valentinian’s (the Western Roman Emperor) sister, and not, as is stated Theodosius’s (Emperor of the Eastern Empire) sister. She wasn’t killed before Attila reached Constantinople, she was exiled (although possibly killed later, as she drops off the history books). The envoy that she sent wasn’t murdered by Livianus but returned to Rome and was tortured by Valentinian order to find out the details and then beheaded.

Now, I know that historical fiction often inserts a fictional character to take part in great events that happened, but I’d prefer that the events that are happening actually, you know, happened. Or the author adds a note as to why things have been changed.

There were a couple of other things that made me blink with surprise, one of them using mud as anal lubricant. It would be fine (I suppose, although i wouldn’t like to try it) with processed filtered mud you can buy from The Body Shop but mud from the ground–with all the grit? Ouchie.

Although it’s not a Happy Ever After, it’s a hopeful ending for the pair of lovers, although knowing the date of Atilla’s death, it wouldn’t have been very “ever after.”

So, all in all an decent enough romp through a small section of Attila’s life, but don’t take the history as gospel, but anyone who likes alpha men getting it on will probably enjoy it.

Author’s Website

Buy at: Amazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: Shadowboxing by Anne Barwell


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

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

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

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

Ebook and Print 266 pages

Review by Sally Davies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Livejournal

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

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 Layered Mask by Sue Brown

Lord Edwin Nash has been sent to London by his father, threatened with disinheritance unless he finds a wife. Lord Thomas Downe sees through the mask Edwin presents to the world and leaves Edwin powerless to deny his love.

Threatened by his father with disinheritance, Lord Edwin Nash arrives in London for one season to find a wife. While there, Nash discovers he is the lamb, the sacrifice of the society matrons, to be shackled to one of the girls by the end of the season.

During a masquerade ball, Nash hides from the ladies vying for his attention. He is discovered by Lord Thomas Downe, the Duke of Lynwood. Nash is horrified when Thomas calmly tells him that he knows the secret that Nash had hidden for years and that he sees through the mask that Edwin presents to the rest of the world.

What will happen when the time comes for Edwin to return home with a suitable bride?

Review by Erastes

Just look at that cover! It’s absolutely beautiful. Sumptuous and completely in line with the book it’s mouthwateringly beautiful. It just proves that you don’t need headless torsos to illustrate gay romance. Well done, Silver Publishing. This book, incidentally, is part of 3 book anthology (all of which are available as standalones) and are linked. Two of which–this one, and The Slave’s Mask by Patricia Logan–are historicals. They seem to be using the same cover for all.

I haven’t read any of Ms Brown’s works before, simply because I spend so much time reading gay historicals and reading other stuff that I never get time to read any contemporaries at all, but what I’d heard had been good. And it’s pretty well deserved, I think. This is–forgive me if I’m wrong–her first foray into a gay historical and although it’s a simple plot and not a very long read it’s a very good effort. There’s a fair amount of careful research shown, which was appreciated. The patronesses are mentioned at Almack’s which is a rare enough occurence, and the waltz is shown as a seditiousness, whereas so many Regencies have this dance included as a matter of course.

As to the characters, though, I didn’t get swept away by either of them. Both of them seemed to be privileged and rather whiny young men–knowing their duty to their dynasties and being dragged towards it kicking and screaming. This leans more in the direction of Pride and Prejudice’s “I’d rather marry for love, thank you” which at the time was itself a rarer concept than marrying for the family’s benefit.

Thomas finds Edwin “perfect” and that “he had never met anyone like Edwin Nash” after two short conversations and a kiss–so there’s a good smattering of insta-love here. They didn’t set me on fire, but they were nice enough, I just found them rather dull together even though they seemed to turn each other on sufficiently. There’s a riding scene which seems to have absolutely no point at all, and in a short book, that’s not needed.

There’s also the ubiquitous upper-class male knocking-shop which is a trope I’m getting heartily sick of.  This is not the author’s fault of course, and it’s nicely described but it has become a trope. However I suppose men have to bonk somewhere, but I wish someone would do it elsewhere. Anywhere. There are several clubs of this type in London, according the owner of the one that Edwin and Thomas visit–a certain Lord Leicester, who was once Thomas’s lover (giving as a soupcon of conflict in the form of jealousy from Edwin before it dissipates). I found it amusing that one of the Leicester’s men was called Lester. Perhaps the author didn’t know how Leicester was pronounced!

This is quite a nice book, don’t get me wrong. It’s well researched and the love story is sweet and I’m sure people will like it, it’s just that there are a lot of gay Regencies around now and they are all coming out a bit samey these days. It just didn’t say anything to me that was new or refreshing, and I was a little bored. I’d read another by Ms Brown though, were she to write one.

Author’s website

Silver Publishing 

 

Review: My True Love Gave to Me by Ava March

Alexander Norton loathes the festive season. The revelry of the ton is a reminder of Christmas four years ago, when his first love, Thomas Bennett, broke his heart and fled to New York without a word. So when he encounters Thomas at a holiday ball, Alexander is determined not to let on how much he still hurts.

Thomas has returned for one reason only: Alexander. Having finally come to terms with his forbidden desires, he will do whatever he must to convince Alexander to give their love another chance. But instead of the happy, carefree man Thomas once knew, Alexander is now hard and cynical. Saddened to know he’s to blame for the man’s bitterness, Thomas resolves to reignite the passion he knows lies hidden behind the wall of disdain…

Review by Erastes

Part of the “Men Under the Mistletoe” seasonal anthology from Carina Press.

I’ve yet to be disappointed with an Ava March novella and if you like her previous work you’ll like this every bit as much. She’s rapidly gaining a reputation–at least with this site–for writing good solid trustworthy Regencies.

The twist here is that the couple have just begun a tentative relationship whilst at university–Alexander is sure of his feelings and desires but Thomas is repressed, used to always trying to please everyone, always sure of doing the right thing in public and the sudden realisation of what he’s about to do–when the pair of them slip off for a dirty weekend breaks  his nerve and he runs away, unable to go through with it, breaking Alexander’s heart.

I have to say that I did enjoy the book, but I felt a little disappointed. Not because there’s no BDSM in this book–which is a departure from the books I’ve read by Ms March before–but the story just didn’t grab me. Perhaps it was because it was a holiday story and is written to be heart-warming. So really I found it was a bit too predictable, and not really much going on. Thomas comes back from America, determined to apologise and win Alexander back, and it doesn’t take a razor-sharp mind to realise that that is what is going to happen. I would have preferred a bit more resistence, a bit more conflict. Perhaps another plot twist to prevent the inevitable happy ending until the bitter end.

March writes sizzling sex, and this book is no exception so people coming to the book for the coming won’t be let down.  But there was quite a good deal of repetition–telling us over and over how much pain Alexander had felt until I said outloud – “Yes! We get it!”

I also wasn’t really convinced by the “True Love” aspect. The men had been together–at age 19–for a mere two terms at university and had grabbed a few occasions for kissing and cuddling so it wasn’t as if they’d had much time to fall into true love. Then later, when the acrimonious discussion begins, Alexander says:

“I had to push, to cajole, to get every kiss, every touch from you.” I believe that there was lust, but it doesn’t come over as true love.

However, despite all my minor quibbles, they are pretty minor and although this wasn’t the best of Ms March’s books for me so far, it was solid and dependable and it won’t stop me reading her for great pleasure in the future.

Ava March’s website

Buy as a separate novella (ebook only) See above for the anthology link

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: The Wishing Cup by JM Gryffyn

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

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy at Dreamspinner (ebook only)

Review: Half a Man by Scarlet Blackwell

Traumatised by the nightmare of trench warfare in France, Robert Blake turns to rent boy Jack Anderson for solace. Neither man expects their business relationship to go quite so far.

It is 1919, less than a year after the end of the First World War with a recovering Britain in the grip of the influenza pandemic. Crippled veteran of the Somme battle, Robert Blake, is looking for someone to ease his nightmares of France and his guilt over what happened to his commanding officer. He turns to educated rent boy Jack Anderson for physical solace, not expecting how deeply the two soon become immersed in each other’s lives.

Review by Erastes

Rather a touching premise, a tart with a heart and a man paralysed from the waist down. You don’t at first (or rather I didn’t) twig that Jack Anderson is a prostitute but I suppose these days he’d be called an escort. He provides companionship and relief if needed from discreet and wealthy men. He hasn’t been soured by his life as a renter, and is both professional and attentive.

He’s called to the house of Robert Blake, who we discover is in a wheelchair. The two men meet once a week, a little tea and cakes, some sex and after a week or so they realise that they are becoming fond of each other.

It started well, and I was encouraged that this was something a little different, even though the tropes are well known, but sadly enough the men soon started to weep all over the place and to once they got into bed the old fanfic favourite chestnut of  “Come for me, [name here] both trends in m/m which I’m thoroughly tired of.

I liked both protagonists, Robert particularly because he seriously thought he was entirely useless to anyone being in the state he was and many men did–and do–think like this. Legs and cock not working=end of the world, and I can understand this. The interactions between them–and I don’t mean just the sex scenes which are detailed and many–are well done and believable when there’s no crying going on.

I enjoyed the read, but it’s not a keeper for me, I’m afraid.

However, it’s well-written, and thoroughly romantic with very little conflict so I’m sure that the readers of a more romantic brand of gay historicals will like it a lot. It’s not so over-the-top romantic as to spoil the story, so I did enjoy it. I also enjoyed that the ending was left a little in flux, and that Robert’s problem wasn’t magically cured entirely by all the gay sex.

Overall, well worth a try-out.

Author’s website

Silver Publishing

Review: Vagabond Heart by A J Llewellyn

Book one in the Pearl Harbor Series

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

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

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

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

Review: A Devil’s Own Luck by Rowan McAllister

William Carey has played many roles in his thirty-two years of life. Though born to privilege, he fled his disapproving family and, purely out of spite, devoted himself to a life of danger and infamy. William never thought twice about his self-destructive behavior until he met a passionate woman who showed him how to harness his rebellious nature and return to London, his family, and society as a respectable gentleman of fortune.

But William’s beloved wife is six years gone, and with her his joie de vivre. William devotes his days to the pursuit of empty pleasure until the night William’s brother asks a small favor by which William meets a young man who ignites a spark in him he’d thought long extinguished.

Stephen is fiery and passionate, handsome and mysterious-exactly what a fallen devil needs to stir the ashes of his heart. Unwilling to lose that spark now that he has found it again, William devises a scheme to claim Stephen for his own, but Stephen is beyond reluctant, with another benefactor and secrets he will not share. William will need more than cunning to win Stephen’s trust and love. He’ll need all the luck he can get.

Review by Erastes

This had an interesting premise, if a little bit tropey—personal companion being “lent” by someone to the main protagonist in exchange for a debt/hate and loathing inevitably turn to lust and then lurve—but I found it hard to get past the opening chapters to find out this much.

The opening I found very stodgy, and the exposition was hard going as it was almost entirely exposition. The beginning chapter was a bit bloated and made the mistake so many books do of explaining so much about the protagonist in one lump instead of just Getting On With The Story. We are told so much and not shown it, when the first section of infodump could have been handled with just one conversation between the rakish William and his pompous brother Horace. In fact it was a good 11 Kindle pages (hard to tell with ebooks!) before a fact popped up to make this possible a different kettle of fish to so many stories set in London 1820.

Sadly, the first chapter goes on in this vein, telling us so much that I began to find it rather tedious. We are told about William’s wife, Williams’ “secret house (which bizarrely he lets his brother’s carriage drive him to) where also bizarrely his his servants, Stubbs and his wife, live and then, when the second chapter opens, he’s at the opera and we missed out on the Stubbs interaction!

The second chapter doesn’t open any more promisingly. We are told how he had

“regretfully informed each of them (three women of easy virtue nicknamed the merry widows) that he had family matters to attend to, they had whispered promises in his ears and ghosted fingers across his body at every possible opportunity.”

This all would have been better as showing. Added to the fact that William has—when entirely alone and: in order:

Chuckled to himself
gave a small wicked smile
Shivered in mock revulsion
Gave a self satisfied grin
Shook his head
Stroked his chin
Shuddered
Smiled sadly
Shuddered (again)
Grinned a little (in a graveyard)
Grimaced (again)
Groaned and adjusted himself
Smiled in spite of his discomfort
Grimaced in distaste (again!)

I seriously fear for his sanity—or his safety because anyone spotting him GURNING the way he is would consider him possessed. All this in just over one chapter. I wish authors would use their observation and see how people behave when they are alone. They don’t groan, smile, grimace etc etc. Not normally, at least and this just makes him look like a loony.

Then when he does seek out the man he wants to get some letters back from – guess what? There’s oodles of more DESCRIPTION. I can honestly say that by this point I was screaming at the book, wanting some actual showing, a conversation – anything. Not just page after page of description. In fact the entire scene of him arriving at the club and seeing his quarry, all of this is dealt with in description. It’s just too much.

However, when eventually something starts to happen it turns into a solid readable erotic romance which I’m sure that readers of the genre will like–and it does improve so much I’m kind of wondering how the beginning wasn’t clubbed by the editor.

The main protagonist, William, is just the kind of hero I like, a bit morally ambiguous, with a dark past who is street savvy and has feet in society and the mean streets. I didn’t mind the instant-love reaction he has to Stephen, because he’s been alone, playing the dissolute loner, for a long time since he lost his much-beloved wife. Despite the stodgy start, I found myself eventually really wishing him well and 80% through the book actually worrying how this would be achieved, despite knowing that it would.

Stephen could have been presented as a weepy wailing omega, but he isn’t. He’s fiesty, angry and prickly–William calls him his hedgehog and prefers him prickly to anything else.

There’s secrets which are (quite rightly) not revealed until the end, and by that point I was totally enjoying the book.

Technically there were a few issues, the editing isn’t top notch, American boo-boos here and there like “block” and “whiskey” and “gotten” but I have to say that despite the doughy beginning I enjoyed reading this and if you like a very erotic gay Regency, you’ll like this a lot.

Details about Rowan McAllister

Buy at: Dreamspinner Press

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: The Shooting Gallery by Kate Roman

Mick Reese is a Korean War veteran turned private eye, making a living sifting through the seedy underbelly of 1953 Cincinnati. But the night he busts into the Shooting Gallery, a casino cum criminal hotbed, all that changes. Accidentally rescuing Julian Marion, only son of a notorious crime boss, doesn’t bode well for Mick’s life expectancy, but Mick hadn’t planned on falling for Julian like a ton of bricks. Now they’ve got to find some way to escape a city on high alert and a madman bent on revenge. Every time Mick feels his resolve failing, he just looks in Julian’s eyes and keeps on going.

Review by Jess Faraday

I love noir, and this is a fun example of it. A little fantastic, a little schmoopy, but for escapism, it’s not badly done.

The story opens with well-written action, clean prose, and an intriguing story line. The author maintains the action and tension well throughout the book. The main character’s backstory is skillfully dribbled in bit by bit.

I really enjoyed the main characters: Mick the tough-talking PI with a heart of gold, Julian the Boy In Distress who is more than meets the eye, and Gail–tough, smart, and a real show-stealer. One of these characters meets with an untimely end–I won’t say which. Unfortunately, I think the story is weaker for it.

The story was a little light on setting. The first hint that it’s an historical story comes from a mention of Walter Cronkite on page six. There were also a few anachronisms, like the police rolling out spike strips to stop a car. The use of the term “gook” bothered me. It was probably historically accurate (usage attested well before the Korean war, though use as a racial slur dates to the Vietnam, not the Korean war), especially given the MC’s background. But I think the author could have found a less charged word to fill the same purpose.

In general, I prefer a little more historical flavor than there was here, but seeing as the story was set in the mid-twentieth century, it wasn’t that dire. It was a fast-paced story, and, in general, the level of detail suited it.

The final firefight was a bit of a cop-out (no pun intended). I was also amazed that our hero could crawl to safety and bash someone with an oar while his hands were tied. But all in all, it was a nicely done story and worth a read. 3.5 stars.

Purchase at Torquere Press

Review: Lily White, Rose Red by Catt Ford


Grey Randall: Private Dick Casefile #1

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

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

Review by Sally Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Available from Dreamspinner Press

Review: Mergers and Acquisitions by Lucius Parhelion

Bob and Trip are best friends and business partners who are negotiating the sale of their company when Bob decides to come out of mourning for his dead wife, Melinda. Since Melinda was his cousin, Trip understands what Bob is going through, and while he figures Bob is as straight as they come, he has broken down and offered comfort at the risk of ruining their friendship.

When Bob finally does decide to turn his attention to love again, though, it’s Trip he finds himself caring about. Trip isn’t sure he can believe it, and he doesn’t want to lose what they do have together by rushing into things. Can Bob convince Trip that it’s not just a whim, and that they can find more together than a company merger?


Review by Sal Davis

Torquere has had a bit of a hiccup on their website. The cover displayed for Acquisitions and Mergers: The Four of Wands is actually that designed for Sanctuary: The Four of Swords. However the proper cover, I’m sorry to say, is no improvement. I turned the page quickly and got onto the good stuff.

The story is set in 1960. Dr Trip Doyle is an MIT man and a genius. His business partner, widowed Bob Eck, is negotiating the sale of D&E Optical Engineering to BTC, a company with access to defence contracts, desperate to get their hands on Trip’s patents. Trip is discreetly gay. Bob knows about it but they are keen that BTC shouldn’t know – the defence people wouldn’t like it.

That is one plot strand. Another is the affectionate relationship between brainy Trip and charming Bob, both of whom adored and mourn Melinda, Bob’s wife. Bob went through a very bad patch after her death and Trip moved in with him to keep him going. One night with Bob frantic and very drunk their relationship developed, Trip delivering, as they put it in the story, an ‘owblay objay’. Strung out by the tension of the sale, moving offices etc, Bob shocks Trip by declaring his love for him. The rest of the story concerns Trip’s somewhat drastic efforts to help Bob establish whether he’s straight and deluded or honestly has had a change of orientation, and Bob’s efforts to prove his sincerity in the face of everything Trip throws at him.

It has the trademark flashes of humour, the banter between the main characters, little period details slotted into the narrative and unfussy sex scenes. I enjoyed it very much but it was, perhaps a little lightweight. There were suggestions of plot at the beginning of the story that were disposed of very easily and I felt disappointed that more wasn’t made of them.

But it’s still a very good story with plenty going on in the 50 pages, well worth both the price and 3.5 stars.

Available from Torquere Press Inc

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: 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: 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: Pleasures with Rough Strife by JL Merrow

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

Review by Jean Cox

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

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

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

Plus points:

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

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

Minus points:

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

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

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

Author’s Website

Buy at Dreamspinner Press

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: 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: 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

Film Review: Frankie Howerd: Rather You Than Me

In the 1950s Frankie Howerd, the famous radio and film comedian, meets a young waiter Dennis Heymer, who,like himself,is a closet homosexual. Their relationship blossoms into a partnership, rather than a purely sexual one, and Dennis becomes Frankie’s manager. By the early 1960s however things are looking bleak for Frankie. He has lost popularity with mainstream audiences and suffered a nervous breakdown.He is full of self hatred about his appearance – he wears a wig – and his homosexuality, putting huge stress on his relationship with Dennis. Matters are not helped by the death of Frankie’s mother Edith. However, Frankie is able to reinvent himself as a satirical comedian, with a gig at Peter Cook’s Establishment Club and his fortunes soar,with successful television comedies and a well-publicised appearance at the Oxford Union.


Imdb page

Director:John Alexander

Writer:Peter Harness

Stars:David Walliams, Rafe Spall

Review by Erastes

I went into this with a little trepidation because I am a huge fan of Frankie Howerd and wasn’t sure if someone so entirely unique could be done with the respect I feel he demands. While I never really thought Walliams captured Howed as perfectly as Michael Sheen did in Fantabulosa! it was clearly a studied and well-prepared performance, and going on the reaction of Dennis Heymer, Howard’s lover and manager (see further reading at the end of the review) it was certainly convincing for those who knew him well.

There’s two aspects to this film that I liked a great deal. Firstly that Williams didn’t do an out and out impression of Howerd, and other than prosthetics to imitate Howerd’s baldness (strange how I never really acknowledge his wig, when it was so very obvious) he relied on performance to play him, rather than make up. Secondly, that although the film touched on much stress–such as Howerd’s denial that he was homosexual, (despite being notorious for trying it on with every pretty boy who passed his way) his treatment to be “cured” and clashes between Heymer and himself–despite this, I felt the overall tone was quite upbeat and the ending in particular had me smiling like a loon.

The affection between the two men comes over well–even if there may have been more love from Dennis’s side than Frankie’s–it’s hard to tell over time and distance. The whole thing does seem a little rushed, which is hardly surprising seeing as how they cram 20 odd years into the film, and would have worked better as a three-parter perhaps. You would almost believe from this that Howerd had no friends other than a fag-hag and Dennis and never socialised, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

It’s a little bleak, and certainly does not hold the glamour of something like “Mad Men” – because it’s set in austere 1950′s Britian, still reeling from the war and rationing. Howerd was one of the best paid entertainers and he lives in a brown-coloured flat such as Mad Men’s Don Draper wouldn’t rent for his maid. There was glamour there, in fact Dennis says “I’m not in this for the glamour” – but it’s not really shown on screen, and a touch of that, mixing with the Carry On crowd and the Krays, might have enlivened this up a smidge.

But on the whole it was a solid and interesting watch, especially, if like me, you grew up not having a clue that Howerd, who portrayed himself as a lech in films, was homosexual.  I wasn’t convinced by Walliams’s performance, but there’s no doubt of the man’s depth of talent.

Further reading: There’s an indepth article here as Dennis helps Mark Walliams and Rafe Spall prepare for the film. Frankie Howerd’s lover breaks his silence.

Review: Jungle Heat by Bonnie Dee

Congo Free State, 1888

On a mission deep in the jungle, Oxford anthropologist James Litchfield comes face-to-face with a local legend: a wild man who wanders with mountain gorillas and lives as one of their own.

The chance encounter with the savage, whom James calls Michael, leads to a game of observation and exploration. Their mutual curiosity turns to an attraction—one that Michael has never experienced and James is desperate to deny.

When members of the expedition unearth James’s secret discovery—a living specimen of man at his most primitive—Michael becomes a pawn in their quest for fame.

As their relationship deepens, James is compelled to protect Michael from the academics who would treat him as nothing more than a scientific acquisition and London society, which threatens to destroy their passionate bond…

Review by Erastes

“A re-imagining of the Tarzan legend” pretty much leaves you in no doubt as to what to expect with this book, and if you keep that in mind throughout, then you won’t be disappointed, because that’s exactly what it is for most of the book.

That’s not to say it’s not entertaining, because it is, it’s just that if you already know the Tarzan story–and few don’t I’d imagine–then there won’t be much here to surprise you.

However! I’d certainly advise you to give it a go because I found it immensely entertaining.

The first section particularly impressed me because of the method Dee uses to communicate through the Ape-man’s point of view. She could have cheated and done it all from James’ point of view, glimpses of the ape-man (Michael, as he later is dubbed) through the trees and such-like but she takes the brave step of attempting to explain things that the ape-man can think in his head but can’t translate universally, as he struggles with these new sights of intruders in his land.

It might not be to everyone’s taste, but I really enjoyed it. It reminded me very much of The Inheritors by William Golding, which is written from the point of view of the soon-to-be-extinct Neanderthals, and Jordan Taylor uses the same device in The Ninth Language.

Here’s a taste of Michael (obviously not named at this point) – the ape-man’s thoughts.

His heart pounded and he breathed faster as he glimpsed one of the creatures between the leaves. It walked upright on two legs just as he did and like the Others did some of the time. He wanted to leap forward, to see all of it at once instead of flashes through the undergrowth.

There were two of them, one walking behind the other. The pair communicated back and forth with their strange calls. He caught his breath. These were like the sounds he sometimes made when he was all alone in the forest, the noises his throat and tongue made that none of the Others could duplicate.

The pair moved into the clearing in front of him where they stopped and stood looking around. His heart raced even faster. The two creatures looked like him, or what he’d seen of himself reflected in still water. Their faces and hands were naked like his with the same prominent noses and fully formed lips. Hair grew on the lower part of their faces. Their bodies were covered with something that was neither fur, skin nor scales but something completely foreign.

One of them took a thing off the top of his head and ran a hand through sweat-flattened hair—hair like his, not fur as most animals had—and white like the streaks in Old Grunt’s ruff. These animals were his kind. There were more in the world like him. He wasn’t alone.

Obviously there are concepts there that the ape-man couldn’t know, like numbers and proper nouns, but overall, I like the feel of the prose, it sets a nice balance between bafflement and comprehension, and it’s nice to see an author doing something like this.

The friendship between the two is sweet, and the teaching and learning scenes were some of my favourites. I loved the protective nature that each had toward the other. Of course, with stories like this one has to have a certain suspension of disbelief, as if I’m going to be really picky then I’ll have to say that feral children have huge learning difficulties after a certain age…But – if like most rational adults and readers you don’t give a stuff about that, you’ll find yourself rooting for the pair of them and wanting them to be happy.

I’ve tried to make this review longer, but it’s a bit difficult–with the Burroughs parallel. I think I would have liked to have seen something a bit more different than gay Tarzan–a wild child in South America, or Russia, or India even…

But I did enjoy it, for all the familiarity, and I recommend it if you are a fan of the original!

Author’s website

Buy at Carina Press

Review: Farewell my Concubine by Lilian Lee

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not a masterpiece, but well worth a read.

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Review: City of Lovely Brothers by Anel Viz

“The City of Lovely Brothers” is a family saga, the history of Caladelphia Ranch, jointly owned by four brothers, Calvin, Caleb, Calhoun and Caliban Caldwell – how it grew and prospered, and how rivalry between the brothers led to its breaking up and decline. As the story evolves, it focuses on the love affair between the youngest brother, Caliban, who is lame, and Nick, one of their ranch hands, and how their relationship set the stage for the already open feud to explode and ultimately caused the demise of the ranch.

Review contains spoilers

Review by Gerry Burnie

I enjoy this type of family saga; especially if it involves interesting, colourful characters. In this regard, The City of Lovely Brothers by Anel Viz [Silver Publishing, November 2010] has a full cast of them.

The author’s approach is to conjure up a fictional city, “Caladelphia,” Montana, as though it actually existed. Moreover, by referring to its street maps, city limits and equally fictional landmarks—i.e. “Hokey Hill Mall,” he does a very convincing job of it, as well. It is also a clever way of introducing the Caldwell family, their history, and the four disparate brothers—Calvin, Caleb, Calhoun and Caliban. There is also a sister, Callie, who plays a supporting role to the others. Continue reading

Review: Per Ardua by Jessie Blackwood

Addicted to the soaring skies, brash high-flier Arthur Edward “Jack” Ratigan returns to Britain to fly bombers when his birth country goes to war against Germany in World War II. It also means a return to his ancestral home of Pren Redyn House in Wales—and risking his career and freedom if it comes to light that he is homosexual. The drama and peril of combat will create profound changes in Jack both during and after the war, as will the influence of Ifan Griffith, the young butler at Pren Redyn and the one person who seems immune to the Ratigan charm. The sky has always been Jack’s true love, but when he faces a future of never flying again, he’ll discover he’s already found a surprising new home for his heart—with Ifan.

Review by Alex Beecroft

The blurb is possibly a little misleading as it certainly led me to expect there to be more flying in this book. I would summarize the story more like this:

Jack Ratigan’s bomber is shot down. He manages to safely crash land at his own airfield and saves the life of all his crew, but it’s at the cost of spinal injuries that leave him paralysed from the waist down. When he gets out of hospital (with some hope that he may get some movement back in time) he goes to convalesce and build a new life back at Pren Redyn. The story revolves around the family who live there, and the relationship between Jack and the butler of the house, who volunteers to care for him.

Beyond the crash scene at the beginning, the war doesn’t really come into the story. When I realized this, about half way through, I exclaimed to my husband “why would you set a story in WW2 if you’re only going to have it all take place in a big house like any novel set from Georgian to Edwardian times?” He’s a lot wiser than me and remarked that just because it’s set in that era doesn’t mean it has to be about the war. To which I grumbled that I would have preferred a few more explosions.

But this is a quieter book than that. More about a man coming to terms with the loss of his RAF career, learning to live with disability and to give up part of his independence. Jack is used to being the charming centre of attention and the man of action, and has scorned Ifan because he did not understand how anyone could be a servant all their life. Now he has to learn to appreciate what a vital role Ifan performs and what a capable personality it must take to undertake it. He must also learn to redefine himself and find something new to live for now that he will never be a pilot again.

I read to the end of this book with no great sense of hardship, which is more than I can say for many m/m romances. But I can’t say that I was ever particularly riveted either. Quiet psychological drama is not really my cup of tea. I felt that Ifan never really became anything more than simply a very capable person – he didn’t really come alive for me enough to care about him. Equally, I felt that Jack was described as charming, but I never actually found him charming. In fact there was a lot of that – a lot of instances where we were told things but never shown them.

The opening scene in the crashing bomber is my favourite part of the book, a gripping, suspenseful and action packed scene which showed that the author had done her research and pulled me straight into the action.

After this high point, however, there is a chapter or so where we are filled in on the backstory of every character in the book, including where they grew up and went to school, their parents’ backstories and sometimes even their grandparents’ backstories. All of this in a massive info-dump which I found entirely pointless and annoying, particularly as none of the information proved to be relevant later. If I had not had to finish the book for reviewing purposes, I would probably have stopped reading it at this point. Which would have been a shame, as it improves later.

The story then unfolds in a series of flashbacks that fill us in on more of Jack and Ifan’s backstory individually and together. (They didn’t like each other initially. Jack taunted Ifan to the point where Ifan’s employer had to tell Jack to lay off. After which Ifan mysteriously fell in love with Jack.)

The nested flashback is another of those things that really isn’t my cup of tea. I prefer a story to start at the beginning and go on until the end. With this book there were a couple of occasions where I got confused about what time in Jack’s life I was reading about and had to stop and say to myself “no, hold on, he’s walking at this point, so it must be earlier than the part I was just reading about.”

Eventually the flashbacks do catch up with the present, and from that point on the story unfolds in linear fashion. This was a great relief and I enjoyed the final two or three chapters almost as much as the very first scene. My feeling, as a result, is that there’s a good book in here but it’s being undermined by the kind of structural problems which are often the downfall of first novels.

If you don’t mind backstory, info-dumps and flashbacks, and you enjoy a quiet romance where not a lot really happens, this will be very much more your sort of thing than it was mine. I still wish that there had been a few more explosions.

Buy from Dreamspinner Press (paper and ebook)

Review: Bitter Creek’s Redemption by T A Chase

Bitter Creek is a town on the brink of war. Lines are being drawn and sides taken as two powerful men gather armies of gunfighters. The townspeople are helpless and the law worthless. One man has already died in the opening salvo of this land war and an air of fearful anticipation hangs over the town. Eagle, the half-breed who works at the livery stable, manages to survive by not taking sides, until one day a stranger rides into town. Eagle’s life changes, and he realizes that he can no longer hide with his horses if he wishes to be the man he claims to be…

Review by Aleksandr Voinov

Travis Ramsay is the “Helper” in his widely extended family – the one homeless rover who appears when somebody in his family needs help, whether it’s driving cattle or standing by his family in a shoot-out. When his brother Ralph is murdered, he comes to Bitter Creek to investigate and avenge his brother’s death. He meets the Comanche half-breed Eagle, who was with Ralph during his last hours, and the attraction between the men is instant. But there are feuding cattle barons, a cunning murderer, gunslingers and not least of all Travis’ duty, his family and a whole load of prejudice to keep them apart.

For the most part, I enjoyed “Bitter Creek Redemption” as a light holiday read in the stupor of a Turkish summer midday. I still have some niggles about the text; Eagle, the halfbreed Comanche, doesn’t actually develop at all as a character, and I found his sometimes smug superiority rather grating. Travis, on the other hand, had a whole lot of growing up to do, overcoming teenage trauma, his ‘Helper syndrome’ as well as his reputation as a stone-cold killer with some of the cast.

Wrecked by insecurity on the inside, and appearing aloof and apart from the others on the outside, he was certainly the most interesting character in the book, and there’s certainly enough going on to keep things interesting and not bogged down with just relationship drama. There are real impediments to their relationship, and the author goes to great pains to tell us that homosexual relationships face harsh odds when they become more than a fumble in the hay, but, satisfyingly for romance readers, the main couple takes that risk in the end.

Speaking about the setting, I would have liked more of a flavour of the Old West. While the Civil War, the railway and the rough frontier justice was mentioned and the story moves between Bitter Creek, Ralph’s farm and the Indian camp, the world could have used more description for my taste to really immerse the reader. The description is so sparse that for the most part, we don’t even know what people look like.

In addition, a lot of what the characters say rings too modern to me, and there’s a fair bit of kitchen psychology coming into play as the actions of the characters don’t speak for themselves, but are explained either by the author or by the supporting cast to make sure the readers suffers from no ambiguities. Personally, I like wondering about character’s actions and don’t need any supplied explanation, but this might not be true for every reader.

There are also several editing issues (often, past tense is used when it should have been past perfect, confusing the reader about the actual sequence of events), and a few sentences that make no sense. “He resisted the urge to blush” is one of them. Last time I blushed, I didn’t think it was much of an urge and I certainly had no choice to suppress it. That said, these issues are not bad enough to seriously detract from the story.

Since this is a historical m/m erotic romance, there is sex, but not without rhyme or reason, as in other historical m/m romances I’ve read recently, and the prose is rock-solid and certainly stands out as some of the better and less sentimental writing in the genre. Absolutely read it as a solidly enjoyable read at the pool if you like Westerns and want to spend a couple hours with a romance.

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Review: The Bad and the Beautiful by Jamie Craig

It’s 1955, Las Vegas is swinging, and David Lonergan has the chance of a lifetime when he accompanies his cousin to be the headlining act at the Thunderbird Casino. A pianist who cut his teeth in the jazz clubs of Chicago, David is dazzled by the lights, the music, and the anything goes attitude of Las Vegas. But he’s not knocked off his feet until he meets Vincent “Shorty” Accardo.

Vincent is a full-time bodyguard and sometimes hitman for the mob controlled casino. He doesn’t indulge his interest in men very often, but there’s something different about David from the moment they meet. He’s attracted to David’s talent, his surprising innocence, and his easy smile. There are a million reasons to stay away from the young piano player, but Vincent can’t help himself. Even when there are lives at risk.

Review by Erastes

There seems to be a little flurry of show-biz books recently, and I for one am happy as hell about that, as there’s such a lot of potential in it.

Although the set-up is pretty standard–guy meets guy straight away and starts to fantasize about him–Jamie Craig doesn’t disappoint with setting the scene.  Whether it’s Hollywood or the Wild West, Craig (for those who don’t know, Craig is a writing partnership) always paints her backdrop in with meticulous detail, deep enough to make you feel you are there, but light enough to avoid the laundry list approach.  The historical detail is sparse enough not to swamp and correct enough for the purist.

However, I can’t say that I was entirely convinced by the initial banter — in public — between David and Vince.  For a mobster bodyguard to be talking so openly in 1955 – even in the more ‘anything goes’ area of Vegas didn’t strike me as very true.   Both men are from deepest Chicago, too, and while I didn’t want an entire dialogue written in dialect, (no thanks!)  a mere flavour of the speech patterns that these men would converse in with each other would have helped to season the story a little more, and make me believe they were from the mob-life in Chicago, their speech was just too ordinary to flavour the story enough.

The risk factor–the whole “black hand” thing–(threatening notes from the Mafia) came out of the blue, for me.  There was no foreshadowing, and as David has come to Vegas to be under Moretti’s protection (as the accompanist and cousin of Moretti’s girlfriend) and Moretti was such a hard man, I didn’t understand

1. why they were targeting him and

2. why on EARTH he didn’t take the notes to Moretti.    He uses the excuse that Kate would worry – but as she’s DATING Moretti, and she’s a singer from Chicago, she’d be unlikely not to know who Moretti was and what he could do…  It works, in the scheme of things, but I’d have liked a little more intro–perhaps a scene with Moretti and Vincent discussing the rivalries in existence before the extortion notes were received, not after.

The two major characters are nicely disparate; Vincent always has his eye on the main chance and he finds David surprisingly untouched.  I had to agree with Vince, here – specially as David’s cousin was dating a mob boss, he did come over as a little unrealistically innocent. He comes over as the “woman” needing to be protected. This is shored up by some of the prose which puts David into a feminine role:

David whimpered. That was the only word for it. One of his hands fluttered at Vincent’s waist before finally settling along the hip. The touch was fragile, like David wasn’t sure he wouldn’t get his wrist snapped for trying, and Vincent pushed harder, erasing once and for all any doubts David might have had about his interest.

There’s some nice touches of history–which is always expected with Craig, I know they do their research–like the mention of The Moulin Rouge being the first desegregated casino in Vegas.  The sex scenes are very hot too, the build up to the first one, and the first one particularly, which doesn’t shy away from the discomfort losing your anal virginity can cause. The second half of the book I felt was stronger than the first, although I could never get my head around the contradiction of David: Chicago raised innocent who is more disturbed by the guilt of sodomy rather than Vince murdering people.

On a purely personal note, I don’t understand Amber Allure’s decision to copy famous titles of films/books.  Perhaps they think that people are going to come to the line because they haven’t heard of the more famous counterparts but this seems pretty impossible.  In the long run, it seems to invite unwarranted criticism.  This book was good enough to stand on its own merits, as Jamie Craig’s invariably have been.

To sum up, it’s an enjoyable read with a lot of punch.  It wasn’t my favourite of Jamie Craig’s works, and it didn’t have the same fluidity of plot or solid characterisation in it that other books by Craig does -  but I liked it a lot, nevertheless – it just won’t be a keeper.

Author’s Website

Buy at Amber Allure

Review: Bitten Peach by Habu

Bitten Peach is an eleven-story anthology capturing the essence of the deliciously euphemistic Oriental world of men making love to other men, arranged in a chronological sequence covering a 2,200-year period. These are stories that go beyond the random act of sexual release between men. They offer more complex and context-richer studies of gathering age-old themes, exotic settings, and all-so-human characters up into the Floating World of the Orient in which men give themselves to other men–some more freely than others–for something in return, whether it is for money, position, power, survival, honor, service, devotion–or, not all that rarely, really, in unconditional love.

Review by Aleksander Voinov

This is a collection of 11 short stories set in China and Japan, usually featuring oriental men (apart from four stories when Westerners enter the picture). The stories are varied, and as far as erotica/porn goes, they aren’t bad. There several things I honestly like about this collection. This has many good ideas and generally solid writing, and, I think, a good grasp of the cultures and locations—but I have to admit I’m not a specialist on Chinese/Japanese culture or sexual mores. It sounded authentic, apart from, I think, when some Chinese terms showed up in a story set in Japan.

So, as far as gay erotica/porn goes, this is much better than the average that’s out there. Erotica/porn doesn’t need much character development, and the characters here remain flat – they are, invariably “well-formed” and “well-muscled”, and that’s it.

One caveat: many of these stories deal with “forced seduction” – most often from the perspective of the guy being “forcibly seduced” (aka: raped), and invariably, they struggle and whimper and plead a bit and then they warm to it and “love it”.

Now, this is not the place to discuss “rape culture” or whether they are “allowed”. Regardless of well-deserved criticism levelled against rape depicted in this way, the rape fantasy is one of the most common fantasies for both men and women. So, the need/appeal does exist, and this caters to it. If that is your cup of tea, you can’t go wrong here. The anthology is placed into a niche—most m/m publishers won’t accept stories featuring rape that is written to titillate, and this is meant to titillate. In addition, there is a clear theme of hierarchy and dominance, and of innocence and virginity corrupted (often in a rape/forced seduction context that leaves out lube).

What this does need, though, is a good editor—one that finds the typos, repetitions, kills the purple prose (“love channel” makes me laugh, but even more in a rape setting where, sorry, “love” is not what I’m thinking of) and edits out the style mishaps which are still in the manuscript.

To sum up: some stories were hot, others left me a little bewildered, and readers with a non-con (non consensual sex/rape/forced seduction) kink get served well here. Character development is, as usual in porn/erotica, sparse, and the writing is, overall, solid, with patches of purple and weak editing, but clear enjoyment of telling a story and a varied and rich sexual imagination.

Author’s Website

Buy at  Excessica

Review: Queer Cowboys by Chris Packard

“Brokeback Mountain” exploded the myth of the American cowboy as a tough, gruff, and grizzled loner. “Queer Cowboys” exposes, through books by legendary Western writers such as Mark Twain, James Fenimore Cooper, and Owen Wister, how same-sex intimacy and homoerotic admiration were key aspects of Westerns well before “Brokeback’s” 1960’s West, and well before the word “homosexual” was even invented. Chris Packard introduces readers to the males-only clubs of journalists, cowboys, miners, Indians, and vaqueros who defined themselves by excluding women and the cloying ills of domesticity and recovers a forgotten culture of exclusively masculine, sometimes erotic, and often intimate camaraderie in the fiction, photographs, and theatrical performances of the 1800’s Wild West.

Review by Gerry Burnie

While my usual genre is historical fiction, I am always on the lookout for research of a historical variety. Therefore, although it has been around for a while, “Queer Cowboys: And other erotic male friendships in nineteenth-century American literature” by Chris Packard (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) is one such work.

The stated objective of this thesis is to explore the “bonds that hold … [same-sex partners, i.e. ‘sidekicks’] together, particularly the erotic affection that undergirds their friendship.” To do this it painstakingly explores the “originary” texts of seminal, nineteenth-century writers who, individually and collectively, created the prevailing stereotype of the devoted same-sex partners. Moreover, the author undertakes to “teach readers how to recognize homoerotic affection in a historical discourse that was free from the derogatory meanings associated with post-1900 evaluations of male-male erotic friendships”—a not overly presumptuous ambition, given that Packard teaches literature and writing at New York University and New School University.

Okay, I am one such hypothetical reader, so let’s see how well Professor Packard achieved his objectives.

At the risk of oversimplifying Packard’s thesis, it starts with an underlying premise that before 1900—i.e. before “the modern invention of the ‘homosexual’ as a social pariah”—cowboy relationships were freely represented as quite a bit more affectionate than they are after that date. Moreover, although the stereotypes generally depicted ethnic warfare; citing the threat of “savagery” as justification for ethnic slaughter, and the freeing-up of territory to make way for European homesteaders, writers like James Fennimore Cooper wrote about friendships, “even marriage rituals,” between members of warring groups based on shared values. In addition friendships between young whites and natives were quite common. These mixed friendships usually had the natives tutoring the boys in the primitive ways of the wilderness, and included rituals of brotherhood, i.e. exchanging blood, and other physical, nuptial-like rites.

Notably absent from this literary same-sex scenario is any role for femininity, which is described by one quoted authority, Walter Benn Michaels, as “…the problem of heterosexuality.”  The ‘problem’ being the threat of reproduction in a period when fear of mixed-ethnicity through sex or marriage was keen in American culture. Moreover, femininity and reproduction ran contrary to the strong, independent, and particularly ‘free’ nature of the cowboy characters.

“Within canonical as well as ignored literature, high culture as well as low, homoerotic intimacy is not only present, but it is thematic in works produced before the modern want him to be queer. America’s official emblem of masculinity is not one who settles down after he conquests … rather, he moves on, perpetually conquering, and repeatedly affirming his ties to the wilderness and his male partner.”

Having thus stated his hypotheses, Packard then goes on to support these with an anthology of mostly “canonical” writings—i.e. Cooper’s “The Leatherstocking Tales,” Owen Wister’s “The Virginian,” and Walt Whitman’s poetry.  He also introduces some lesser known examples, such as Claude Hartland’s “The Story of a Life,” Frank Harris’s “My Reminiscences as a Cowboy,” and Frederick Loring’s “Two College Friends.”

While circumstantial, when read from a homoerotic perspective Packard makes a very compelling case, over all.  There are no ‘smoking-gun’ examples, of course, because such blatancies would have been considered excessive by Eastern readers—meaning east of the Mississippi, but it is evident that the implication was there just below the surface. Consequently, he has also taught us how to recognize homoerotic affection in “historic discourse.”

To get to that level of edification, however, the reader has had to wade through an Introduction that I found to be a jumble of complex ideas, confusingly presented and fraught with academic jargon—i.e. “nexus,” “praxis,” “lingua franca,” and so forth. A case on point:

Given the instant and undying popularity of cowboys in U.S. popular culture during a period of rapid national expansion, to identify a homoerotic core in its myth about the supremacy of white American masculinity is to imply that American audiences want their frontiersmen to practice nonnormative desires as part of their roles in nation building. In other words, if there is something national about the cowboy (and other frontier heroes of his ilk), and if there is something homoerotic about American national identity as it is conceived in the American West.

Perhaps I am a bit slow on the uptake, but I didn’t find the “In other words” any more elucidating than the original statement.

Happily, once he launches into the body of the argument his tone becomes somewhat less esoteric, and apart from belabouring some points—giving a new dimension to the term ‘moot point’—he presents a very interesting and informative perspective on nineteenth-century thought.

Those looking for titillating erotica, however, are bound to be disappointed but well-informed after reading this work.

This review was originally posted on the reviewer’s blog here

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

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

Review by Alex Beecroft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of Boats and Bluebeards by Willa Okati:

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

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

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

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

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Review: The Pleasure Slave by Jan Irving

Lucius Mettelus Carbo, once a legate on the rise in the Roman army, rescues a beautiful young prostitute, Varick, who immediately stirs him. However, Lucius doesn’t believe anyone could want him, a man cursed by the gods with an ugly, twisted leg. He resists his attraction to the pleasure slave as they forge a tempestuous relationship, and Varick tries to convince Lucius that he desires his master despite the injury. Both men are fighting their fears as they strive toward a future together… a future in the shadow of the volcano Mount Vesuvius.

Review by Erastes

I have to say up front, that however my review seems to indicate the opposite, I did enjoy reading this book, and I recommend it to anyone who likes the era.

The story takes place in Pompei, and a quick glance at the date (July 79AD) will set the scene immediately.  Volcano Day is on the way so we know our protags are going to be up against it.  However, sadly (and this is the second time in recent months that I’ve read an under representation of a cataclysmic eruption) the eruption, when it does come, is more of a damp squib than a OMG WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE and the escape seems a little too easy, considering the rain of death that was going on.

Whilst I liked both protagonists, it was difficult to cheer them along, as I didn’t know if they even knew what they wanted.  The emotions are kept very much in check, Lucius’ less so, but he keeps himself back because he doesn’t want to fall in love with a slave, and Varick’s point of view is only very lightly visited, so we don’t get into his head much at all. However, the romance is very readable, warm and arousing, and the sexual level worked well for the length of the book.  I did feel that they cared for each other and that they needed to learn to trust each other, something that didn’t come easy for either of them.

The history is good and solid–the author even makes a note that she has, for her own timeline purposes, moved the destruction of Lucius’ regiment a few years, but that’s forgiveable, the best of historical novelists do that.  I enjoyed the historical aspects of this book a lot, because I love learning things, and the history and destruction of Lucius’ regiment was fascinating. The descriptions of the town, the murals, the graffiti and the villas are convincing, and never once did I get jolted out of the story.

Historically, too, Lucius’ behaviour is very apt–he no longer considers himself a man. He’s injured, and therefore is no use (in his mind). His friends shun him and he hasn’t even taken prostitutes since his disfigurement because it reminds him of all the men and women he had – paid or otherwise – when he was whole.  The stigma of falling in love with a slave is well described too.  Shag your property by all means, but you run the risk of being laughed at if you become “indulgent with it.”

I never quite understood what happened to Lucius’ leg, though – it’s twisted and wasted but I’d have liked a bit more of what actually happened to him when he got lost during the Batavian rebellion.

It’s sometimes a frustrating read, because there seems to be something else going on under the surface which is never quite explained, and there are a couple of dialogue sections which entirely baffled me.  Perhaps it’s due to the length restriction, but I feel that if the book had been perhaps 50 pages longer, it would have felt more complete.

At 90 or so pages (yes, it says 99 but of course many of those are introduction, cover, bio etc) I would have expected a little more story for my story, but at $3.99 it’s a pleasant read which will certainly fill an hour of your life and although may not set your world on fire, it shouldn’t disappoint.

Buy from Dreamspinner Press

Review: Wanted by J.M. Snyder

Jesse McCray ekes out a hard living cutting cattle from the local beef baron of Defiance, Texas. He’s known for his quick draw and his steady aim; no one outguns him. Whenever he and his ragtag group of friends known as the Rustlers ride into town, the local cowboys hold their breaths, waiting for the men to ride through. But one evening, while playing faro at Billy’s Saloon, Jesse’s attention is drawn to a new face in the crowd.

Ethan Phillips is an idealistic tenderfoot from back East, passing through Defiance on his way to the California coast. He’s heard tales of the gold that enriches the west coast, and he’s looking for a way to make his dreams come true. When his horse pulls up lame, he offers to sing for the cowboys of Billy’s Saloon to earn a few coins, but the men jeer at his song until a man in black quiets them. With one look into Jesse’s dark eyes, Ethan finds himself falling for the man.

Ethan’s horse heals, but he stays in Defiance, enamored by his outlaw lover. But the cattle baron has a grudge against one of Jesse’s outlaw friends, and a gunfight in Billy’s Saloon puts a price on the Rustlers’ heads.

Review by Erastes

I have to say that I was really drawn into the beginning of the book.  The description is pure western gold, four men, all different, all hard as nails and Really Bad Eggs™ ride into town and the author paints a little picture of them all before they pull up at the saloon and start to do things that cowboys do.

I’ll say right now that I have little in-depth knowledge of the cowboy era, my knowledge is highly flavoured by Hollywood, so any things that western purists might find eye-rollingly dreadful I certainly won’t spot.  This certainly has a lot that feels very familiar to watchers of Hollywood westerns. Men in black hats (yes, really), corrupt sheriffs,  cattle rustlers and cattle barons. The bar with no-one wanting to annoy the Rustlers, the honky-tonk piano, the tart with a heart, rund0wn hotel, the dirt sidewalks.  So, yes. It’s a western.

It’s a shame, therefore, that after all this delightful cinematic build up that the relationship between Jesse and Ethan rushes ahead so fast that I didn’t even see it happening.  It’s obvious that they fancy each other and that Jesse picks up boys from time to time, but I’d like to have seen more than a few fingers brushing each other, some veiled “dating” which involves riding out to Make Out Point (my name, not Snyder’s) and then culmination in the sex scene.

What’s odd, too, is the OKHomo. Granted, all the members of the Rustlers are Jesse’s friends and have been for years, and they are all accepting of his homosexuality. They rib him about liking ‘em pretty and how he picks up guys but no-one bats an eyelid in the bar about their behaviour, almost holding hands and they saunter off to the hotel and have mad noisy monkey sex (remember the buildings would all be wood) and no-one cares about that either.  I chose to think it was because everyone was scared to death of Jesse and his gang and so let him get away with anything he wanted, but there’s a scene in the book towards the end which makes me think that there’s another reason for this over-accepting feel throughout the book.  Ethan has a bath in the creek and:

On their own accord, his fingers paused to press against the soft flesh of his pubic mound.His eyes closed as a shiver ran through him which had nothing to do with the cool water.

Um. Men don’t actually have pubic mounds… So I wonder if the book was actually a m/f once upon a time and has been converted. This would explain why everyone turns a blind eye to Ethan and Jesse (and explains why one of the other cowboys makes a very loud and obvious pass at Jesse in public too and no-one cares)

The only other thing that grated on my nerves was the constant reference to horses as “steeds,” but that’s just a personal quibble and won’t bother anyone else and nor should it.

However, despite this is a short book – about 80 pages and there’s two sex scenes it’s pretty rounded with characterisation, a good adventurous plot and a nice romance, even if that aspect is a bit rushed.  I enjoyed, read it in one sitting and was genuinely worried that things might all go very wrong.

Anyone who likes westerns with a real cinematic feel will really enjoy this, I think.

Buy from Amber Allure

Review: Cane by Stevie Woods

As this book has been reissued by Phaze and is now available in print and ebook – we are reprinting the review showcasing the new cover.

From the blurb: Sint Marteen 1855. Privileged young Pieter may have grown up on a sugar cane plantation, but that doesn’t mean he agrees with the way his father runs things. He falls in love with Joss, one of his father’s slaves, and their affair sets off a chain of events that is destined to tear them apart. When Pieter’s father dies, he returns home hoping to find Joss. It’s too late for their love, but maybe it’s not too late for Pieter to find happiness. As he makes his way to America, Pieter realizes old conflicts still rage, and even as he finds a new love, danger stalks his every move. Can Pieter learn to overcome the hate and fear that threaten to tear his world apart?

Review by Erastes

It’s an intriguing premise and Woods has obviously done a ton of research about Sint Maarten, sugarcane and the Dutch trade, and that shows. There’s rather a little too much history at the beginning of the book – which follows on from the very opening scene, a sex-scene between Pieter and Joss and pulls you away from a erotic beginning into HISTORY! Then the time-line jumps back and forth and is a little disruptive, and in fact (as far as I can see, from just one reading) goes wrong at one point, and Pieter goes from being nearly 21 to 25 years old in only 2 years.

Pieter’s complete ignorance of his surroundings, and the workings of the plantation, relationships of the slaves struck me as rather implausible. He’s about 12 before he starts asking questions, and .. well… that just didn’t ring very true. He doesn’t seem to have a tutor, and I’d imagine that his father would have had him learning the business (as an only son) pretty early on. He has, however to become an abolitionist so I suppose this might have been necessary. What struck me, too, is that the voices were all so similar. You had a Dutch-Caribbean young man who’d never been off the island, a young negro slave, an American plantation owner from Louisiana and so on, but they all spoke identically. I’m not saying that I want phonetic representations of accents, but I’d like to have seen some differentiation here and there.

I did like the way that the author showed the reasons why some plantation owners could not follow the abolitionist route, but I did find it ironic that, for all Pieter’s talk and attempts to convince Sebastian of his views, he still owned slaves in St Marteen, even if they did run the plantation themselves.

The conflict takes a while to kick in, and everything is bit laboured for the first half of the book – particularly the episode back in Holland where nothing much happens except to introduce Cane himself – but when it does it relies heavily on not only one major coincidence but two, which was a bit much to swallow. The reintroduction of previous characters could have been done a little more elegantly.

The thing is, that I did enjoy this book – I appreciated the work that the author had put into it, and I liked the set up at the end which screams sequel. If there is one, I’ll definitely be buying it, but there were too many reasons that stopped this from being a book which, with a few tweaks, was one that would have easily earned five stars.

Buy from Phaze

Review: Cabin Fever by B.A. Tortuga

Horace is a loner, a mountain man with a claim to a tiny stream of gold and a lonely cabin in the woods. When he finds young Walker wandering lost in his mountains just before the snow flies, he decides he’s found exactly the kind of companionship he craves.

Walker is young, naive, and totally unprepared for the kinds of amusements Horace has in store for him. Good thing he’s willing to try new things, because Horace has a stern hand and a fine sense of adventure, showing Walker things he’d never dreamed of. But what will come when the spring thaw melts all that snow?

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

A short review for a fairly short (33K words) novella.

This isn’t really historical fiction. It’s more like a story that takes place in the old days. The difference? Well, to me, historical fiction should have some history: description of the place, the people, what’s going on in the world and so on. On the other hand, the old days are differentiated from more modern times by things like lack of indoor plumbing and no electricity. But other than that, the time period is really inconsequential to the story. On top of being in the old days, this novella didn’t have much of a plot. The sex wasn’t porn so it didn’t tip all the way into PWP, but it was dancing around the edge. Even so, something about this story appealed to me and I read it all the way through in one sitting. I think it might be that Horace’s kink is mine (mostly) and that made it entertaining.

Anyway, to the story. As it opens, Walker is wandering around in the woods without proper shoes or clothes, when he bumps into the end of Horace’s rifle just as the first snowflakes of the season start to fall. Horace takes the younger man back to his cabin, warms him up, feeds him, and tells him to get ready for a long winter.

A fella’s got to do something to keep himself entertained on long, cold wintry days and nights, right? A person can only cook so much rabbit stew and play so many games of checkers before one’s thoughts naturally move in a more carnal direction…

Horace, a man of indeterminate age, clearly has a few definite ideas for what he wants from Walker, but realizes the need for trust between them to get there. So he takes things very slowly, letting Walker absorb each intimacy between them, before he moves to the next step. After all, they have all winter.

Walker, also of indeterminate age (but younger than Horace), has moments of doubt and fear that he is going to go straight to hell (or worse), but Horace finds the right balance between being rough and dominant and tender and loving to assuage Walker’s worries. Throw in lots of mind-blowing orgasms and Walker is eventually fully with the program and by the end of the book, thoughts of a life off the mountain and without Horace have long been abandoned.

There was a slightly formulaic feel to the writing and particularly the sex, as if the author had a clipboard next to her computer and kept checking off each new experience as it was introduced. Worse, most of these experiences were presented once and never revisited which is what gave the story the sex-without-plot feeling. That said, there was more than one shaving scene (I like those). Horace kept the woodstove well fed and the little cabin was hot, allowing Walker to be nude most of the time. I’ll admit it, that has a certain sexy appeal (along with his smoothie look) which is in large part what kept me reading.

I had to chuckle at this: winter is ending and supplies and provisions are running low. Does Horace worry about running out of flour, salt, sugar, coffee? Nope. Only one thing is on his mind…oil. LOL.

All in all, not a bad book. While I’ve certainly read much better, I’ve also read much, much worse. If you are looking for a wintry warm up, this might satisfy.

Authors’ website

Torquere Press

 

Review: Drawing the Veil by Stevie Woods

The exciting prequel to Beyond the Veil!

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

Buy at Phaze

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

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

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

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

Death’s Desire by Stevie Woods (1785)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Green River by Jardonn Smith (1938)

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

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

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

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

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Review: Here and Always Have Been by Kenneth Craigside

Here, and Always Have Been. An Anthology of Gay Historical Fiction

If homosexuality is the result of biology then gay inventiveness had to have led to wild sexual adventures during every era of human existence. Here, And Always Have Been is a collection of thirteen erotic tales. Each takes place at a different era ranging from the prehistoric through the middle of the Twentieth Century. These stories have been researched to the point of plausibility in terms of language and events, yet are inventive in ways both exciting and sensual. In other words, we’ve had fun throughout time!

Review by Vashtan

Review by Vashtan

There should be a saying that goes like: “You cannot escape a book at the airport.” I set out on a business trip with three ebooks on my smartphone (pretentious little thing, but I agree with Nathan Bransford that this particular smartphone makes a pretty good  e-reader). The longer I waited at Heathrow Terminal 5, worried sick about my suitcase, the more grateful I was for distraction. When the first two (short) ebooks turned out to be non-historical, I started on  “Here, And Always Have Been” by Kenneth Craigside, published by The  Nazca Plains Corporation in 2009. This was very different from the
first two m/m romance offerings, and I found myself very well distracted. Apart from the take-off (when you have to switch off even shiny smartphones), and the landing (same), I hardly remember anything about the flight. Thank you, Mr. Craigside.

But first things first. “Here, and Always Have Been” is an anthology of gay historical fiction, all written by Craigside. The thirteen stories vary in length between about ten and twenty pages–so nice, quick, even-paced reads. Historically, they cover the Stone Age, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, the Crusades, the age of Shakepeare, Louis XIV, early 19th century, late 19th century, the Wild West, the Raj, the early 20th century, and the 1950ies. Thematically, these stories do not negotiate relationships like in your usual gay romance—the emphasis here is on kink, sexual fantasy that plays out in a historical setting, and vary strongly from explicit to implied.

Variation is the keyword. The anthology is a very mixed bag, ranging from some stories that worked very well to others that had me scratch my head, baffled.

Let’s look at a few stories more closely.

After “Stalagmite”, which has two Cro-Magnons “consecrate” the cultic  “man-stone” with their discharged fluids (I’m trying to be genteel here), comes my favourite story in the anthology: “Alcibiades’s Mirror”, which is the story of a Greek who ‘clothes athletes’. This is the place of a very sensuous passage:

But my real income is derived from that which covers an athlete’s nakedness—namely oil, and of all kinds. Maxagoras’s ships bring them to me from every corner of the great sea. And camel caravans extend my reach to mystic capitals of unknowable eastern empires. A poor athlete must make do with ordinary olive oil: sticky, rancid and melling of some farmer’s nearby grove. But wealthy athletes…ah, they line my pockets for a finer sheen. Oils of thirteen kinds of palm, seven different nuts, two types of whale, and three of dolphin, as well as the most refined varieties of olive. I stock them all.

And I can delight them with scent. Attar of rose or lavender may be added to the oil for those men who wish to smell sweet at the end of a race. Cinnamon or clove can give one a bracing aroma. Ambergris, frankincense, and myrrh are more pungent still. There are also those who crave something, shall we say, in the super masculine vein? The addition of various musks of bear, ox, or a rare gazelle from Africa are said to drive an athlete’s admirers to distraction.

Passages like this show that Craigside aims for more than writing about a sexual encounter. There are many instances where he attempts to portray the time by the language he uses, finding a slightly different style and tone for each and every one. The anthology is full of nods towards literary and historical figures, ranging from Plato,
Hadrian and Antinous, Shakespeare and Billy Budd. There were many well-researched details that I enjoyed, so Craigside ranks high on the historical accuracy. Personally, I’d disagree with him about the depiction of historical characters such as Antinous or Richard the Lionheart, but I’m aware that we all interpret people,  even historical people, differently. Since Craigside is not aiming for historical biographies, but sexual encounters, that’s fine.

There were several stories that didn’t work for me, though. “King Ludwig’s Dream Machine” is set in Neuschwanstein, ”Mad” King Ludwig of Bavaria’s fairy tale castle, and features a character discovering and trying out the king’s clockwork sex toy/machine. Like in many of the stories, I liked the idea, but the execution was shoddy. What grated
in this story were the national stereotypes, and then the terrible, terrible German, which sounds like Babelfish had an especially bad day. In times when the Internet is full of German speakers that fall over themselves to help writers get German sentences right, this soured the story, and, to a lesser extent, the anthology for me.

“Will’s Best Bed”, a short story that deals with Shakespeare’s possibly homoerotic sonnets features the characters (one of them old Bill himself) rhyming, but the rhymes here (and in “A Manual of Arms”) don’t work for me. Craigside’s rhyming and poetry really jarred me when side-by-side with the timeless beauty of Shakespeare’s actual
sonnets.

Readers looking for character exploration or romance, however, might want to look elsewhere; beyond the sex and a few sketched traits, there is little to no character development. And while his humor doesn’t really work for me, Craigside has a very interesting imagination and a knack for setting and historical detail, but I feel  his story-building skills fall a bit short of his literary ambitions and his ability to translate his ideas onto the page. The one serious research fault was that he uses German liberally and wrongly—while I  don’t mind the use of foreign language to put more life into a setting, I do expect those passages to hold up to a native speaker, regardless of the language used.

To sum up: lots of good research; Craigside is a stickler for historical detail, and while not all stories are erotic, there are several scenes that speed up the pulse and get the readers exactly where the author wants them. Those stories that are explicit are usually fairly hot or have hot moments (apart from the ones that are farcical, or even, in the instance of “Shiva’s Smile” very gruesome).

Craigside is definitely aiming towards the “literary” side of the spectrum, but he would have benefited from a strong editor to fully realize the literary potential and ambition of the prose.

Finally, would I read more of his writing? Yes, I would like to see him develop as a writer. There were a lot of interesting ideas and angles he developed, and if the anthology had shown a much more consistent quality, it could have scored much higher.

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Vashtan is an expat German living near London, UK. After studying medieval and ancient history and modern literature, he is now making a living as a financial journalist and writing coach. He has published in English as Aleksandr Voinov and is working on about five novels and stories at any given time. He is interested in all epochs of history and sometimes believes he knows something about a few of them, too.

Review: Over Here by Jamie Craig

Harvey Kramer shipped home from the European front with a damaged leg and memories of a man he couldn’t have. Ten years later, on the first official Veterans Day holiday, that man knocks on Harvey’s door and turns his world upside down.

Zach Jones never forgot Sergeant Harvey Kramer. Though he made it through the Second World War uninjured, he bears the scars of a love he thought he lost forever. Using the new holiday as an excuse, he tracks down his old friend in hope of a sweet reunion.

ebook-22,000 words

Review by Erastes

And that’s it really, it’s a reunion story and a very nicely written one, Jamie Craig’s writing speaks for itself, it’s mature, confident and going on the books I’ve read by the writing team of Pepper Espinoza and Vivien Dan enjoyable.  I can’t say that I was set on fire with this story though, it rambled on a bit at the beginning and I would have appreciated a lot more of the men’s backstory–perhaps a few flashbacks because their conversation of their spent in WW2 fighting and loving was intriguing to say the least. It struck me as slightly discordant that they’d been apart for ten whole years without tracking each other down, went into the bedroom with some alcohol, then lay on the bed together half undressed and just lay there and chatted.  It’s not that I wanted heavy sex at that point – the chatting was good, but it would have seemed more believable in the sitting room – or at least from any man I’ve ever been in a bedroom with, half undressed after a long absence!

When the sex does kick in, it’s very hot, and again, nicely written and won’t disappoint the reader who is looking for a hot read.

But sadly, apart from the sex, I found it all a bit dull, which was disappointing–nothing much happens, it’s like a cozy gay erotic episode of Touched by an Angel and didn’t do much for me, I’m afraid, in 100 pages, there seemed to be to be able to add a little bit of conflict.

However – if you want a heartwarming, undemanding and very romantic read, then this will be right up your street.

Author’s website

Buy from Amber Allure

Review: Loving my Lady by Penelope Friday(f/f)

When her father dies, Cordelia Brownlow’s future looks bleak. She has no money and must sell Ashworth, the family house, in order to pay the debts of honor that her father ran up. The offer her cousin, Lady Dennyson, makes to buy Ashworth and keep Cordelia on as a companion seems like the answer to her prayers. But Lady Juliet Dennyson has an unusual idea of the duties (and pleasures) of a ‘companion’, and Cordelia finds herself falling in love with the lady who shows her delights of the body she’s never imagined.

Lady Juliet has secrets in her past and they threaten to spill over into the present, destroying her relationship with Cordelia. Can Lady Juliet learn to live with her past – and can Cordelia accept it, too?

Review by Kalita Kasar

Set in Regency England, the story reads like the journal of a genteel lady fallen upon hard times after the death of her father. Forced to sell the ancestral home, Ashworth, to cover debts left by her deceased parent, Cordelia looks set to be cast upon the streets. Then fate intervenes in the form of a widowed relative who wishes to buy the house, with one stipulation. Cordelia must come with the house and remain as the new owner’s companion.

Expecting to greet an elderly dowager, Cordelia is taken by surprise, and utterly smitten by the arrival of a young and quite beautiful cousin by marriage, Lady Juliet Dennyson.

Juliet is beautiful, and as a rich widow, highly sought after on the marriage market, but her heart in relation to men is quite cold. The one love of her life having been her late husband, she now toys with the affections of men, and teaches Cordelia to do likewise. At the same time she schools her companion in the ways of love between women.

I found myself simultaneously spellbound by the writing and disappointed at how many elements the author brushed over without fully developing them. I felt that there was enough content here to fill out a novel had the scenes been expanded upon and it left me wanting something that was never quite delivered. The tone and voice of the writing is appropriate to its setting given that the narrative is first person.

This is the debut GLBT novella of a newcomer to the gay-historical scene and if this is an example of what Ms Friday can do, then I sincerely hope that she will stay around and write many more stories.

ebook: 48 pages / 19000 words
Available file types – html. lit, pdf, prc
Author’s website

Buy from Torquere Press

Review: The Secret Tunnel by James Lear

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

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

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

ISBN: 978-1-57344-329-6

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Review: A Gentleman’s Wager by Madelynne Ellis

When Bella Rushdale finds herself fiercely attracted to handsome landowner Lucerne Marlinscar, she does not expect the rival for her affections to be another man. The handsome and decadent Marquis Pennerley, however, has desired Lucerne for years and when all three are brought together at the remote Lauwine Hall on the Yorkshire Moors, Pennerley intends to claim Lucerne. At the risk of scandal the contest leads to a passionate struggle between the highly sexed Bella and the debauched aristocrat. Ultimately it will be Lucerne who will choose the outcome, but his decision is bound to cause outrage and upset somebody’s plans.

Review by Erastes

“What’s this?” I can hear you shout. “That’s a M/F cover – what’s going on?”  Well, yes, it does have some het in it – quite a lot of het, to be honest, but this isn’t just another menage book. There is an established (if only if they did it once) homosexual relationship described and as such I think it deserves a place on the site.

This, let me say from the first, is an erotic novel. Whilst there is a plot running through it, (and it’s a much better plot than so many novels where sex scenes happen almost every other page) it’s an erotic novel – there’s sex from the first page just about, and sex almost to the last page. One could level accusations of anachronism for the “let’s stay in this big house and all have sex with each other a lot” but who’s to say that some people didn’t behave like this in private?

Yes, as expected, everyone wants Bella, and annoyingly, even the decadent, seemingly homosexual Pennerley is swept away by her “charms” (however well worn…!) but that’s to be expected in a Black Lace book – the heroine has to be irresistible.  But what I did like particularly about the book was the way Lucerne (however silly it is to be named after a bean) struggled with his feelings for Pennerley and those of Bella. At times he’s swept away by Pennerley’s seduction, and at other times he’s protective of Bella, and then jealous of her as Penerley starts to stalk (hur hur) her.

I was less impressed with Bella who – it seemed to me – would have not only slept with anyone who asked her (and she does, including the staff!) but would have gone off with any of them either. I was never really convinced that she loved Lucerne, and frankly I was cheering Pennerley on from the sidelines and hoped that he’d win Lucerne for himself.

It’s a hot and steamy one-handed read, which will appeal to people who like a lot of froth and a lot of sex – it will even appeal to die-hards who only read M/M.  Hell, I read it and enjoyed it, didn’t I? Can’t get more die-hard than that!

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Author’s Website

Review: A Perfect Waiter by Alain Claude Sulzer

Translated from the original German by John Brownjohn.

Erneste is master of the Blue Room in a Swiss Restaurant. He is the ‘perfect waiter’, a model of order in every way, and his private life seems to embody the qualities he brings to his job. But inwardly this polite, dignified, withdrawn man has been caught in the grip of an overwhelming passion that began many years before, in the summer of 1935.

One morning three decades later, Erneste receives a letter from that lover, Jakob – now in America – asking for his help. It means that Erneste must engage with the world again and risk delving into his memories of those years gone by – and uncovering what they might really mean.

Review by Erastes

The main action starts on the first page – a letter arrives from America and we are told that it’s from a man that Erneste knew 30 years before – and that person is someone who Erneste has thought of daily for every day of those 30 years. It’s clear fairly soon that Erneste is repressed in every facet of his life. He works diligently and perfectly; he has no friends and no acquaintance aside from one cousin who he sees once a year. Soon we slide into flashback and we are in a pre-war summer in “The Grand Hotel” on a Swiss lake. Erneste is sent down to the lakeside to meet a new member of staff – Jakob, trainee waiter – and from the very moment they shake hands, Erneste knows his life will never be the same again.

It wasn’t until all four of them were standing on the shore that Jakob shook Erneste’s hand and introduced himself. “Jakob Meier,” he said simply, and the handshake that accompanied this formal introduction seemed to say: “Here I am, having come here purely for your sake.” The little world in which Erneste had so blithely installed himself collapsed under the aegis of Jakob Meier’s shadow. He quit that world for evermore- for evermore, he knew it- and gladly, unresistingly left it behind.

We are left in no doubt of Erneste’s love – at first, helpless, hopeless passion. He is content, happy to take the handsome 19 year old German under his wing and to teach him to be – as he is himself – the perfect waiter. We are convinced of his devotion, a high church kind of devotion that makes him proud just to be called Jakob’s friend and he is convinced that everyone who sees Jakob must be jealous that he, Erneste is his friend, and not they. One of the most touching and erotic scenes is when Jakob goes to be fitted for his uniform. The seamstress measures Jakob, her hands travelling over every part of Jabob’s body and Erneste sits and watches, his hands are her hands imagining every muscle, every hair. When Jakob strips down to his underwear – the seamstresses all turn away and Erneste is almost gleeful that as a man there is nothing out of the oridinary for a man to watch another in this act.

Two months into their friendship Jakob instigates a kiss and their friendship turns to the physical. Erneste and Jakob live, love and work in the hotel and Erneste – having no discernible personality of his own, is subsumed by Jakob.

However, it’s fairly obvious by the information at the beginning of the book that this love-affair didn’t last and as the book slides from past to present and back again we are shown why and how and if Erneste’s heart doesn’t break on his own account, the reader’s does for him as he tucks his emotions back into a safe place.

Back in the present Erneste isn’t entirely celibate. Even in clean, calm serene Switzerland in the 60′s there were still places where gay men would meet and Erneste indulges his longings by cottaging. It is only after an attack by queer-bashers one night which seem to bring his emotions close enough tot he surface for him to decide to do something about the letters and do what Jakob asks of him, which leads to more truth than he can handle.

The themes of first love-and of anyone hoarding that love so close to them for their entire life, not allowing themselves to live because of it- touched me closely because I understand how one can put barriers up in one’s life to prevent hurt happening to one again. But I think it was the fact that Erneste (and the others that Jakob came in contact with too) almost deified Jakob. Erneste wanted to mould him into his own image, others simply wanted to worship at the pedestal of his youth and beauty. It comes as no surprise when Jakob proves to have feet of clay, what is surprising is the depth of deceit that these men maintain – they all blame themselves, when they should be blaming Jakob.

Beautifully written, if the translation is anything to go by at least, this little book is well worth a read. It was rather too frustrating for me – I’m more active than the characters here. I’d fight, I’d make scenes – I find it hard to understand such perfect repression, but for all that – Erneste is never unbelievable and in this way I felt nothing for him but bitter pity.

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Review: Beyond the Veil by Stevie Woods

Captured by the aggressive pirate captain of a Barbary corsair ship off the North African coast in the latter half of the eighteenth century, David Jordan faces a life of slavery of the worst kind when he is taken to the specialist markets of Tripoli . However, the enigmatic man who finally buys him is not all what David expects.

Robert Charteris has a very personal reason for fighting against the iniquity of slavery and, in disguise, witnesses the disposal of the slave cargo from a captured English ship and, for the first time in fifteen years, Charteris feels an interest in another man.

His decision to rescue the young man has repercussions he could never have expected in this tale of high passion and forbidden love.

Review by Alex Beecroft

I admit I wanted to like this book from before I even picked it up. The Barbary pirates of the Ottoman Empire make a fabulous setting, rich with Arabian Nights romance, that isn’t explored enough, in my opinion. I would have picked the book up for nothing more than that.

‘Beyond the Veil’ makes great use of that setting to spin a tale that is equally balanced between action adventure and sensuality. It hits the ground running with the battle at sea during which David and his companions are captured by the mysterious pirate Malik, and keeps you turning pages through tense moments, exciting rescues, exotic voyages etc right to the end. As this is happening, David’s awareness of his own desires mounts and he has to come to terms with the fact that he is in love with another man – his rescuer, Robert Charteris.

This is a fast paced, entertaining novel with more than a flavour of the mysterious East, and I can recommend it on that level alone. I can also recommend it for the slow and sultry way that David experiences his sexual awakening. The sex scenes are some of the best in the book, and I really enjoyed the escalation of confusion, UST, fascination and finally abandon.

I did, however, have a couple of problems with the book which prevented me from enjoying it as wholeheartedly as I wanted to. A nitpick struck me in the first page – why are the pirates firing their cannons while their own boarding party are on the deck of David’s ship? They’ll hit their own men! A similar problem occurs during another chase at sea – the pirate ship, while coming up behind its prey, fires ‘a shot across the bow’. You can’t shoot across the front of a ship while you’re behind it.

These things stand out to me because I write Age of Sail stories myself, and the mechanics of sea-battles are of interest to me. I hesitated before pointing them out at all, because I don’t suppose many other readers would notice or care. But they bothered me.

A more fundamental problem to me was the book’s hero David. David is a beautiful young man, who seems to cry a lot. He occasionally puts up a plucky resistance to his captors, but it’s a very ineffectual resistance which only seems to emphasise that he’s a traditional spirited heroine. I call him a heroine advisedly because he’s too passive to be a hero. He’s the cause of action in other people, but not a force in his own right. Having said that he causes other people to act, this wouldn’t be a bad thing at all if he wasn’t so damn stupid. Other characters praise him for his compassion, but it’s a compassion mixed with blind irrationality and a tendency to nag people who know better to do things which they know are suicidal, but can’t resist doing to please him:

‘But why can’t you rescue everyone? I know you’ve explained that you can’t do this too often without risking the entire future of the white-slave underground railroad you’ve painstakingly built up over years. But why? I’m not going unless you rescue everyone. Oh dear, the attempt to rescue everyone has resulted in them all being killed? Never mind dear, you mustn’t blame yourself.’

I was waiting with baited breath for Richard to look up and say what I was thinking, which was ‘no, David, I blame you,’ but sadly this didn’t happen. David gets to demonstrate his loveliness by comforting Richard instead.

I wish I could say it was just one incident, but David’s inexplicable whining carries on throughout. He claims to be depressed because there’s nothing for him to do to help Richard. So Richard arranges to give him a job appropriate to his skills and interests. Whereupon David throws a strop and claims Richard doesn’t care about him. Huh?

By the end of the book Richard is claiming it’s too dangerous to use a certain disguise too often, and David is still going ‘but why can’t you use it?’ Fortunately Richard has learned better than to actually listen to him any more, or I would fear for Richard’s life expectancy beyond the end of the book.

This is not a flaw in the author’s conception, because Stephie Woods gives David a perfectly convincing backstory which does explain why he is so emotionally needy and messed up. It’s just a matter of what I like and don’t like in a character. Reading other reviews I see that many other people have fallen in love with David for his vulnerability and empathy. If I could have done that myself, I would have enjoyed the book much more.

A second place where the characters got in my way of complete enjoyment was in the subplot with Suzanna and the pirate captain Malik. I honestly have no idea at all how Suzanna could delude herself that being a pirate’s bedslave equalled achieving perfect freedom. But mention of the subplot reminds me of the many things I did enjoy in the book – the slave smuggling ring, the action-adventure plot and the luxurious, sensual journey into Egypt, where David’s ingénue-like delight in everything he was seeing made him for once a pleasure to be with.

If you don’t mind your men passive, weepy and irrational, then you will love this. If you do mind it, you may very well still enjoy the book for its other fine qualities. It’s worth a try, at least!

Buy the Book: Phaze

Review: Frontiers by Michael Jensen

The year is 1797. John Chapman, an impulsive young man and a sexual outlaw, forsaken in the bitter winter of the Allegheny Plateau, clings to his one tenuous dream: to claim a future in the Western outpost. Unarmed and near death, Chapman is on the brink of giving up when an unexpected rescue changes his course in life forever, and he discovers the true meaning of survival.

The mysterious savior is Daniel McQuay, a loner whose overpowering bond with Chapman is as shifting as a shadow, as dark as the prairie tale he spins for the impressionable young man. For Chapman, McQuay’s story of a deranged killer clings to his transient soul like a nightmare, tracking him further south and into the safe haven of a gentle Indian woman named Gwennie. His journey also takes him into the intimate deliverance of Palmer, a brash but irresistibly innocent seventeen-year-old settler.

As the three adventurers carve a new life out of the endless wilderness, they face the ultimate enemy — man — in a life-and-death struggle that unfolds in the shadow of a legendary and avenging evil.

Review by Mark R Probst
I have a great deal of affection for Michael Jensen’s unique retelling of the origin of Johnny Appleseed in his pioneer adventure novel Frontiers. Since in reality Johnny Appleseed is more folklore and legend than historical fact, the character was a perfect vehicle for Jensen to mold into his own creation. In an interview from his website, Jensen talks about how through research he found that John Chapman (Appleseed) never married nor had a sweetheart but when he did occasionally settle down, it was always with a man. So it’s not that much of a stretch to presume that Chapman might have been gay.

Frontiers begins in 1797 with the 23-year-old Chapman heading to western Pennsylvania, an advertisement in hand offering free supplies and land to encourage western expansion. The giveaway is to occur in the spring but Chapman has arrived early, so he spends the winter with the overseer of the supplies for the management company. There is some sexual chemistry between the two men holding out the long winter in the small cabin, but I won’t spoil the twists and turns that occur. I’ll only say that a discerning reader will probably figure out the surprises, but I didn’t, and in retrospect I felt rather dense in that I couldn’t see what was coming up. But kudos to Jensen for fooling me! Once the winter is over, John takes over an abandoned claim complete with a furnished cabin and food store, close to the nearby settlement of Franklin. He becomes acquainted with the frontiersmen and women who are fired up by the town’s Native-hating preacher and anti-ecology mayor to kill all the trees and Natives (that is the ones who won’t convert to Christianity, though they are never really given a chance.) Palmer, the 17-year-old brother of the preacher, is the town rebel and not only is he sickened by the destructiveness of the townsfolk, but he is also an atheist and secretly, a sodomite. He takes a shine to John and gives him a lot of insight into the true nature of the town, all the while becoming more intimate. As John farms his land, Gwennie, a Native-American woman known as the “Apple Lady” because of the orchards she has planted and maintained, teaches him how to plant his own orchard, in a foreshadowing of what he will become. The end of the story is fraught with peril and I won’t spoil it to tell you any more.

I found a lot to like in this novel. Jensen’s breezy style is easy to read and the high adventure briskly rolled along with flourishes of humor and some really well-handled suspense as well as a few erotic scenes. Many have mislabeled this story as a Western. It really is not, since it is set in the early pioneer days before western expansion really took off. As part of the legend is John’s love of animals, I found the following particularly endearing.

Scowling, he flung a bag on the table. “Bloody hickory nuts from a squirrel’s nest.” Chocolate-hued nuts scattered across the table. “I figured we at least could roast them.”

“Sure,” I replied, unable to help wondering what the squirrel was going to eat.

Though I’ll have to admit it’s a little disheartening that every single animal John cares about meets a grisly death. Another tiny quibble I have is just my own personal dislike for the scenario where one goes to great lengths to save someone from a perilous situation only to have them killed off later. It’s also interesting to note that while legend has John as a man of God and perhaps even a minister, Jensen shows him as struggling with his faith.

As I have read a few complaints from readers regarding modern language, I will give a word of warning. If modern language in a historical is a particular pet peeve, I’d say you probably shouldn’t read this book. While Jensen did pepper the text with some relevant language from the time period, there are enough anachronistic words and phrases to lead me to believe that is was an editorial decision to use such modern language. It really wasn’t a problem for me, as I just treat it as though the modern words were a translation of what the characters really would have said.

I enjoyed my time spent with Johnny, Palmer and Gwennie and as this story only covers what led up to Chapman becoming Johnny Appleseed, naturally I was left wanting the story to continue so it’s nice to know that there is a sequel Firelands waiting for me. I, for one, will be curious to see how the legend plays out as well as how Johnny resolves his religious strife.

After I finished the book, for fun, I decided to pull out my Melody Time DVD and watch Disney’s interpretation of Johnny Appleseed for comparison. Here are the words of the narrator: “Workin’, singin’, carefree and gay, that’s how Johnny spent each day tendin’ to his apple trees.” I couldn’t help but smile, wondering if Michael Jensen had watched this as a young boy and that’s where he first got the notion that Johnny was gay.

Buy: Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: Reconstruction by GS Wiley

The second son of a noble family, James has retreated from his family’s fall from favor, finding peace at his beloved abbey. When the abbey burns to the ground, James knows his life is in ruins, and he is forced to return to the genteel world his relations still inhabit under the reign of Henry VIII.

The one good thing about James’ life outside his sanctuary is his love for Richard, who holds a dreaded high place in society. Richard’s life is also torn apart, and threatens to separate the lovers as nothing else could. When James has the chance to run away to his abbey once more, things get even more difficult. Will James be able to discover what is truly important in his life?

Review by Hayden Thorne

“Reconstruction” has all the potential for a longer work of fiction, given all the character and situational complexities that G.S. Wiley manages to stuff into a novelette. Because of the length of the published story, however, these complexities fall a bit short by way of development. The promise is clearly there, and I really hope to see Wiley expand her scope and go all out next time.

As a work of M/M fiction, “Reconstruction” is a bit unusual. Firstly, there’s no sex. A few very light touches of sensuality here and there, but there’s nothing graphic, nothing by way of paragraph after paragraph of kissing, undressing, and fucking. There might be something coy about Wiley’s approach, but it works perfectly for the story, whose focus is less about the romance, let alone the actual physical act itself. There’s no overwrought angst-ing over one’s beloved or one’s forbidden feelings or over society’s censure. The relationship’s already established, and it’s met with uncomfortable acceptance or a half-hearted blind eye from those who know about it. The characters belong to Henry VIII’s court, hence the story’s exploration of the scandalous nature of different relationships between men and women. There’s resistance, of course, from people close to James, and that resistance is also defined by an ambivalence toward the dictates of church, society, and the individual’s right to happiness.

The story is also less about James’ relationship with either Hugh or Richard. He’s torn over the choices he’s being forced to face, but his decisions aren’t completely dictated by his romance with these two men (one from his past, one from his present). “Restoration,” on the whole, is about James. Period. The story follows his progress from his spiritual to his secular life, what he desires and what he’s willing to sacrifice. To whom does he owe his allegiance? To whom does he turn for answers? For the latter question, especially, Wiley resolves James’ dilemma in a short yet beautifully-written and poignant flashback that segues nicely into the present, which makes the final passage of the story all the more vindicating.

The strength of “Reconstruction” is two-fold: Wiley’s graceful, lyrical writing style and the quiet, contemplative quality of the story. Every scene is given equal care so that the pacing slows down, but it’s necessary, given the inward-driven focus of the conflict. Readers who’re used to – or are big fans of – stories brimming with action, breathless passion, and drama might not take to “Restoration”‘s languid quality. There’s a lot of emphasis on family, both happy and unhappy, in addition to marriage (also happy and otherwise). As with James’ intimate relationships, family scenes are given quite a bit of “screen time,” which helps in creating a multi-layered world in which the conflict takes place.

That said, there are a few things that held me back. First, there’s the lack of sense descriptions. Given Wiley’s chosen period and location, it would’ve helped to have drawn the readers more deeply into James’ Tudor world with detailed descriptions of scenes as varied and colorful as a jousting tournament, a banquet held in Henry VIII’s court, a monastery, and a domestic scene. Most of the details are generalized and at times rushed, which is unfortunate. We need to be more firmly entrenched in James’ world, which would’ve given us even more reason to sympathize with him or the monks (as they’re persecuted under Henry VIII’s reign) or Thomas or any other character.

Second, the flashbacks aren’t set apart from present scenes, which can be pretty confusing to some readers, especially since the flashbacks tend to be pretty lengthy. It often took me about three paragraphs into the flashback to realize that I was reading one, which was a bit of a jolt.

Language quibbles are very minor. There are a few modern terms like “dad,” for instance, but I appreciate Wiley’s attempts at finding a balance with regard to historical accuracy in the dialogue. The farther back in history we go, the more delicate the balancing act becomes, since we can’t be too accurate in the language to the extent of sacrificing readability or flow. There’s enough of a dated and formal quality to Wiley’s prose to set the story in the 16th century without the awkward “markers” that some historical writers use in their characters’ dialogue.

“Reconstruction” is the kind of story that deserves to be expanded into a novel. What we’re given right now is the proverbial tip of the iceberg, and I really do hope that once the e-book contract expires, Wiley would work on developing this into a longer work of fiction.

Buy the book: Torquere Press

Review: An Asian Minor-The True Story of Ganymede by Felice Picano

From the blurb: “An Asian Minor is unlike any book you are likely to read this year. The story of a thirteen year old boy who discovers he is “the most beautiful mortal ever born,” it examines that dubious humour in a retelling of the classical Greek myth that has attracted artists for centuries. A very contemporary, intelligent, clear sighted boy, through whose eyes adult politics and sexual attitudes are skewered, Picano’s Ganymede will remind reader of Huck Finn and the heroine of Rubyfruit Jungle.”

Review by Erastes

If you are looking for a traditional Greek tale with formal classic language then this is certainly not for you. Picano visualises a young man, given immortality at fourteen, who has aged mentally with the earth; he sees and knows the world – the modern world – and he speaks like a modern (albiet an American) boy. He decides to speak up and tell his true story because he sees that “a certain group of overconcerned busybodies are intent on making me a symbolic victim of an old pervert’s lust; and contrarily, by others saying that the perversion is fine.” He wants to set the record straight, to point out that his human rights had NOT been violated and he’s not the unwilling victim, raped and abducted without his permission.

He also says in the prologue, that he wants to give guys of today some hints

to get themselves a sugar daddy who really counts, rather than settling for whomever comes along.”

Yes – unhinge your classical brain, we ain’t in the land of Laurence Olivier as Zeus!

Now you’d think I’d be complaining bitterly but I’m really not. I thoroughly enjoyed it once I saw the tack that Picano was taking. Ganymede is a cheeky little bastard, but wouldn’t you be if you were fated to be the most beautiful youth that ever lived? Picano takes the story mentioned in The Iliad that Ganymede was the son of Troas, King of Troy and whilst some of the ends of the story are changed a little, Ganymede Explains It All with typical youthful brio. When Zeus propositions him, there’s one of my favourite lines in the book and typical of the boy:

“If you want me, you’re going to have to do a lot better than they did. I’m not going to be known as the idiot who threw over Apollo and Hermes and Ares for an instant baking.”

The fact that his dad is dying of embarrassment as his son talks back to Zeus is a perfect touch.

Ganymede learns very early on that being so beautiful is both a blessing and a curse. His father shows him off as one of the wonders of Troy and soon on the boy is exiled from his home because Troas doesn’t want any gods turning up to court his son and making a nuisance of themselves. Ganymede’s adventures begin after this, rejecting Hermes, Ares and Apollo (after giving them a little taste of what they were going to miss) because he knows he’s worth more than any old randy minor god. And who can blame him. However it’s not until he’s humbled that he gets the chance to fulfill his destiny. The fact that it was Ganymede that brought about the Trojan war and subsequent destruction I thought was nicely done. It was his face that launched those ships, after all!!

The book is illustrated with lovely black and white drawings by David Martin which are very lickable and I wish I could show you one.

This book could easily have descended into a laughable, sporkable farce-but it doesn’t. It manages to be a fun, funny read thanks to the characterisation of the narrator and if you can get hold of a copy, reasonably priced, I think you’ll enjoy it.

Buy: Amazon UK Amazon USA

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