Review: The Actor and the Earl by Rebecca Cohen

Elizabethan actor Sebastian Hewel takes his bow at the proscenium only to embark on the role of a lifetime. When his twin sister, Bronwyn, reneges on the arrangement to marry Earl Anthony Crofton, Sebastian reluctantly takes her place. At nineteen, Sebastian knows his days as a leading lady are numbered, but with this last performance, he hopes to restore his family’s name and pay off his late father’s debts. Never mind the danger of losing his head should he be discovered. 

He didn’t expect Anthony to be so charming and alluring—not to mention shrewd. While he applauds Sebastian’s plan, Anthony offers a mutually beneficial arrangement instead. Sebastian will need every drop of talent he has to survive with both his head and his heart intact, because this is the best part he’s ever had

ebook and paperback – 216 pages

Review by Erastes

This is a plot done before, and to be honest, done better–in Madcap Masquerade by Penelope Roth–but that’s not to say it’s not worth a read.

It’s set in an era that isn’t covered enough in gay historicals–Elizabethan England and although, as the title explains, one of the protagonists is an actor it’s not set solely in a theatre. Shakespeare does get a mention here and there, though–is there anyone living in London at this time who didn’t know him!?

Overall, it’s nicely readable, and the plot canters on engagingly, but there is a major error that runs throughout which made me grind my teeth and will do for others I suspect. Let me just get that out of the way first. An Earl is usually “an earl of somewhere” e.g. the Earl of Pembroke OR simply as a prefix e.g. Earl Waldgrave. They are NOT addressed as “Earl Crofton” but as “Lord Crofton” as is the case here.

That aside, the book makes a good attempt to get a flavour of the time without an overabundance of detail. The food is mostly convincing–there are good descriptions of feasts where the meat goes on forever and there’s nary a fork in attendance–and the clothes are nicely illustrated: the gaudy doublet and hose of the men and the uncomfortable and restrictive clothes of the women. There was one scene where Sebastian put on his own corset which I found a little unlikely, but in the main it’s well done. The author even manages to tip a nod to the make-up of the day–white lead paint for the face–by having Lord Crofton (Anthony) forbid Sebastian to wear it when not at court.

The way the deception was managed–having Sebastian “visit” in his male persona while Lady Crofton was in bed with a mysterious illness was a bit unlikely. Despite having a couple of staff in on the truth it was rather unbelievable that a country house with dozens of staff would not sniff out what was really happening. There’s one section where Sebastian (as a male) goes over to visit neighbours and has a serious fall, and no mention of contacting his sister is made, let alone how that sister’s illness is continued when Sebastian isn’t on the premises. I mean, there’s no flushing toilets, so someone would notice at the very least, the lack of chamber pots.

There’s a fair smattering of OKHomo throughout, however. Everyone who is in on the secret from the beginning is all right with it, and the people who discover it as the book progresses are also perfectly fine, and are more concerned for the couple’s safety than the horror of what they are doing, as was the tone of the day. In fact everyone in the book–with the exception of Sebastian’s sister–is thoroughly Nice and all the conflict, which could easily come from external sources in this time and place, is managed by jealousy.

And that’s its major failing, really because I was never really convinced of the couple’s devotion to each other. That’s possibly because of the fact that the point of view is only from Sebastian’s side, so we never see Anthony’s feelings–although that’s part of the plot, too. But I didn’t understand WHY Sebastian fell in love with Anthony; I could see why Anthony fell for Sebastian as he’s quite doormatty until he finally has enough, but Anthony–other than being sexy and seductive–isn’t particularly nice until he realises that he might lose Sebastian for good.

So, all in all, a decent enough read and if you like the era you’ll probably appreciate it, but not a keeper for me. The sequel will be out later this year.

Author’s Blog

Buy at Dreamspinner

Review: Secret Light by Z.A. Maxfield

Rafe Colman likes his life. He has a nice home, a good job, and a wonderful dog. But he’s exhausted by living a lie. When his home is vandalized because of his perceived German ancestry, he can’t even share the irony with friends.

Officer Ben Morgan falls for Rafe’s dog first, but it isn’t long before he’s giving her owner the eye. He thinks they have more in common than the search for Rafe’s vandals, and he’s willing to take a chance and find out.

If life in 1955 is tough on a cop in the closet, it’s even tougher on a refugee who’s desperate to hide his roots and fit in. Rafe knows from tragic experience how vicious prejudice can be. Every second with Ben is stolen, every kiss fraught with danger.

When Ben’s partner threatens to ruin everything, Rafe and Ben have to fight to protect what they have but they’re tired of hiding their secret light.

ebook only  258 pages

Review by Gerry Burnie: This review was previously posted on his own book blog in July 2012

Editorial comment: The Goodreads’ posting of this book comes with a caveat, i.e. Publisher’s Note: This book contains explicit sexual situations, graphic language, and material that some readers may find objectionable: male/male sexual practices,” which I find ‘objectionable’. Were this a heterosexual story with heterosexual ‘sexual practices’ would it have the same caveat? I think not. Therefore it is demeaning at best.

This is the second of Z.A. Maxfield’s stories I have reviewed (see: St. Nacho’s, February, 2010) and I am happy to say that Secret Light [Loose ID LLC, 2011] is generally of the same well-written calibre.

Set in 1955, a period when the memory of WWII is still fresh in many people’s minds, we find Rafe Colman, an gay Austrian DP (displaced person) with his own, tragic memories of the war. These include the death of his parents and the murder of his dearest friends, a gay couple, and so he is understandably and profoundly affected by these events.

As is so often the case (it certainly was in mine) he has learned to cope by adopting a persona that ‘fits’ mainstream expectations; especially for a single man–nice guy with an eye for the ladies, friendly with everyone but seldom personal, successful with a medium-high profile. The problem with role playing of this nature is that it sublimates the real person inside, and no one can be allowed behind the scenes for a closer look.

Of course, this doesn’t prevent some busy bodies from drawing their own conclusions, rightly or wrongly, and from acting on them on account of prejudice or spite. So, when Colman’s house is vandalized because he is perceived as ‘German,’ the police become involved in the person of officer Ben Morgan; a closeted gay man, himself.

Call it “gaydar,” or whatever, the two of them come to recognize themselves in the other, and a relationship is formed based on mutual understanding, honesty and caring. It is not all cotton candy and roses, however, but at least the promise of an HEA ending is there.

While the plot circumstances aren’t particularly original, as they were in “St. Nacho’s”, the same attention to detail and atmosphere has been used to give the reader a sense of time and place. The character-development is also topnotch, which adds greatly to the credibility of their actions, and the pace allows the reader to appreciate both these aspects.

The drawback for me was the somewhat obvious story manipulation, resulting in resolutions that were just a bit on the convenient side. I hasten to add that these were not incredible in nature, but they were noticeable enough to affect my score.

Altogether, though, I have no hesitation in recommending Secret Light as an enjoyable read for all its great parts.

Author’s website

buy at Loose-ID

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

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

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

Highly recommended and even better – its a FREE READ!

Author’s website

Download at Goodreads

Review: And There Was Silence by Louise Blaydon

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

Short story, Ebook Only

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Website

Buy at Dreamspinner Press

Review: The Celestial by Barry Brennessel

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

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

Paperback and ebook – 192 pages

Review by Michael Joseph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy from  Amazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: Virgin Airmen by Michael Gouda

After a short hiatus we are back and I’m kicking off with a short story set during the early 50′s in England.

It’s a bitterly cold Saturday evening when Michael Duggan, RAF aircraftsman second class, meets Jim Ross on a train station platform. Together they experience life in the forces—including a near-miss with death when their bombing range is destroyed by American “friendly fire.” After being split up by the subsequent disbanding of their unit, they are reunited just in time for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II—and decide to have a celebration of their own.

Ebook only – 40 pages

Review by Erastes

There’s one short review on the Dreamspinner site; it’s only a sentence, but I have to agree with every word. This little story has a lot of potential, but at $2.99 it’s a bit of a rip off.

This little story is set during the first wave of National Service in England which started up just after the war, and really there’s not much to say about it, being so short, as the blurb has pretty well outlined the plot, for what there is of it.

However, I did thoroughly enjoy what there is of it; I’m assuming, from the author’s bio (he was in the RAF and lost his virginity there) that it’s mostly autobiographical and that was interesting. There’s a real wealth of day-to-day detail which I liked a lot; descriptions of barracks, and the mindset of the National Service airman–amusingly taking time to fold their uniforms carefully over a chair (because they know all about uniform inspections) and the larking around (a way for mostly hetero men to get touched while hiding it under a silly game) that went on. The relationship described is pretty simple – as the blurb says, they meet up on their first day at camp and get to know each other but don’t consummate the deal until much later–but it’s nicely described. The men get on with their work and aren’t mooning around over each other or getting burgeoning hardons at any opportunity.

But while there is a real core to this short story, it doesn’t satisfy–and frustrated me–because there’s so much potential here and the author clearly has a wonderful insight into the National Service of this era and such descriptive flair to pull the reader in, really tight, made me care about the characters but then ultimately to end it all very abruptly, too abruptly even for a short story. The author may think that he’s written simply a story which needs to culminate in the main characters having sex but there’s too much else he’s explored for this ever to be considered “just an erotic short story.” The voice is excellent, and there’s humour and danger and companionship, which is a tough job for a story this length.

And yes, as for the price, I know that the author has no say in that, but Dreamspinner, you should be ashamed of yourself. The general price for short stories is $0.99 and this really doesn’t merit the $2.99 price tag. I was kindly given the book by the publisher for review, but at that price, for this length, I wouldn’t have bought it–and that’s a shame because I would have not discovered a writer with talent.

I shall certainly seek out more of Mr Gouda’s work, and I hope he does this short story justice one day and expand it into the novel that it really longs to be. I was torn between giving this a 3½ and a 4 star rating, and I’ve gone for the 4, because the problems with pacing and pricing can’t overcome the really rather nice writing.

No author’s website that I could find.

Buy from Dreamspinner

Review: The Pleasuring of Men by Clifford Browder

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

Paperback and ebook: 232 pages

Review by Elliott Mackle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy at:   Gival PressAmazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: The Last Concubine by Catt Ford

When Princes Lan’xiu’s brother delivers her under duress into General Hüi Wei’s harem as a political offering, her only question is how soon her secret will be discovered. She is under no illusions: when the general discovers she is actually a he, death is his only future—though he doesn’t plan to make it easy. Lan’xiu has dressed as a woman all his life, but he is no damsel in distress. He can swing a sword with the best of them. 

General Hüi Wei has everything a man could want: power, wealth, success on the battlefield, and a harem of concubines. At first, he regards Lan’xiu with suspicion, but he finds himself strangely drawn to her. When he discovers the beautiful young woman is actually a man, his first reaction is to draw his sword. Rather than waste such beauty, he decides to enjoy the spirited Lan’xiu’s submission—and ignites a passion and desire deeper than anything he’s felt with other wives. But court intrigue, political ambitions, and the general’s doubts may be too much for their love to overcome. 

Paperback and ebook – 220 pages

Review by Erastes

Ok, I’ll say it up front that this book is schmoopy. So if you like schmoop you are absolutely guaranteed to like this.

But it’s also a damned good story, with wonderful characters, a good plot and an adventure to boot. So if you don’t like the over-schmoopy, which I don’t, much, then you won’t be disappointed with the rest of it, so give it a go.

Oh dear, I seem to have done my summing up paragraphs at the beginning. You’ll want a review now. Ok. Here goes.

I hadn’t read the blurb at all when Dreamspinner sent me this book for review, and it was with a couple of other gay historicals so I was about three chapters in and I thought “Where is the gay in this gay historical?” I was getting sort of annoyed about having read something that I thought was het (nothing against het, it’s just that I have such limited reading time) when all became clear and boy, didn’t I feel stupid.

The description of a medieval Chinese society is well done. Ford is clever, having most of the action taking place within a palace and further in, within the locked and gated women’s quarters where only enuchs, women, guards and the General himself can visit.  With this device she can concentrate on the relationships within those walls, the paranoia and fear of the women and the way they interact without having to do much about the ever shifting allegiances within China itself.

I’m not sure when this is set–there’s a mention of Sun Emperor Ju, and the only Ju I could find was around the 600AD time, so that would seem to work. I know absolutely nothing about the country other than from Pearl S Buck’s books and the few gay historicals there are, but this reads every believably, but I assume it’s AU rather than historical as I couldn’t find any mention of the General either, sp if that is important to you, you might want to avoid.

The characters, as I said were pretty great all round. There’s a rather unfortunate Dragon Lady stereotype and perhaps I’d like to have seen more motivation for her general evilness than simple jealousy and obvious madness, but First Wife Mei Ju, Fifth Wife Bai and all the other concubines and wives we meet are individual and interesting in their own way. The deference and customs are shown gently and without tub thumping exposition and I really did fear for Lan’Xiu’s life, both before her denouement and afterwards. It also shows a good blurring of genders, as Lan has been brought up one way and prefers to act and dress like that, and Ning, her eunuch – who I would really like to have seen a lot more of, because I think he may have a fascinating back story, and we were teased with it, and then it was snatched away–is referred to as the third sex, but is really not that at all, but perhaps something else. It makes you think, which is a good thing in a book.

The uber-schmoopyness comes in after Lan and Hui Wei have consummated their relationship. There’s instant lust and instant love for both of them which I could easily believe from Lan, because she had been starved of physical contact and affection, but I wasn’t so convinced as to why Hui became quite so besotted quite so quickly. He had one night with Lan, and then stayed away for quite some time, so it didn’t seem very realistic. Plus of course he really should have questioned why he was in love with Lan when for so long he’d been heterosexual and (as far as we are told) has never fancied men, despite being surrounded by them 24 hours a day. He does question it a little, but it’s brushed aside. The sex scenes are rather over-blown because of this over-romantic, lovey-doveyness, and although I could understand the use of the “mine, mine” “yours yours” claiming trope because of the nature of literal ownership of women by men at the time, I can’t say I’m won over by it, however true to the time.

The parts I liked the best were the action scenes, one of which is towards the beginning and the major one towards the end. I could really see this as a Chinese action film, one of those legendary ones where everyone jumps impossible distances, hair flying in the wind and gorgeous costumes. Oh yes, and for costume buffs, the descriptions of the Chinese ladies’ outfits are to die for.

So yes, to sum up again, thoroughly enjoyable and I recommend that you give it a go. I could have done without the over-lovey-dovey, but it fitted the story.

Author’s Blog

Buy at Dreamspinner |  Amazon UK |  Amazon USA

Review: His Heart’s Obsession by Alex Beecroft

Kingston, Jamaica, 1752

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

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

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

Review by Sal Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy at Carina

Review: The Auspicious Troubles of Chance by Charlie Cochet

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

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

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

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But when there’s phrases like this:

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

Chance rather loses some of his street cred.

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Website

Buy at Dreamspinner Press | Amazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: Solemn Contract by Morgan Cheshire

Solemn Contract

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

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

49,000 words/226 pages

Review by Michael Joseph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solemn Contract may be purchased from Manifold Press |

Review: Gypsy Heart by A.J. Llewellyn

Tinder McCartney thought he left behind his life as a gay male prostitute but soon learns returning to his old life may be the only way to save the man he loves…Tinder McCartney and his lover, Jason Qui, are adjusting to life in war-torn Hawaii following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Settling at first in Maui with Tinder’s father, they go back to Honolulu to meet with members of the new military government regarding their plans to blow up a major access road in Lahaina that would leave the islanders in Maui stranded and without access to much-needed shipments coming into the island.

Back in Honolulu, Tinder and Jason are dismayed to see how much their beloved home has changed in just a few short weeks. Jason accepts a dangerous sea mission feeling that as a Chinese immigrant, he needs to prove his loyalty to the US. He and the crew of the ship disappear, and are presumed to have been taken by Japanese forces. Tinder must decide what to do to help his lover.

When presented with the opportunity to return to his old way of life in exchange for information that will help him rescue his lover, he must decide how far he is willing to go to heal his gypsy heart and save the man he loves…

Novel length, ebook and paperback. Print version is “Pearl Harbor Vol 1 and includes Vagabond Heart and Gypsy Heart)

Review by Erastes

This is the second in the Pearl Harbor series of books by this author (the first being Vagabond Heart reviewed here) and it is often difficult to read the second book without having read the first one. So often a sequel is marred by the author info-dumping on the reader to give them the backstory, or they assume that the reader has read the first one and tell you absolutely nothing, leaving you with a sense of catch up. However, to my delight, A.J. Llewellyn does neither of these things, and imparts exactly the right amount of information, to my eyes at least, to have this book as part of a series, or ability to read as a standalone.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, and America’s subsequent entry into the war, Tinder McCartney has given up his whoring on Hotel Road in Honolulu and documents his life as he moves from Honolulu to Maui with his lover, Jason, to move in with his father and Linda, his step-mother. Not only are relations a little strained, as Linda doesn’t like Tinder and Jason that much, and she’s visibly shocked and in a lot of stress over the war. I know very little about this era, and this place. It’s clear that Llewellyn has done a large amount of research, for he isn’t a resident of Hawaii. He portrays the islands very well, and imparts a lot of information what it was like to live under the restrictions of very tough martial law–something that few of us have–or will, hopefully–never experienced.

I’m not saying that the historical details are spot on, but if there’s anything inaccurate, I didn’t notice. I never had a jarring moment where I had to reach for the laptop to check up a point. In fact I enjoyed the details very much; I could really see the crowded, standing room only diner, could smell and hear all the atmosphere of the sweaty, sailor-filled tattoo parlour and felt the fear of a man running home after curfew.

This isn’t a story about a man caught up in huge world events, but it’s an every day account of a family beginning to struggle as those huge events constrict and change their world. I suddenly realised how fragile an island economy was, how the expanded population was so dependent on trade and imports and although in this book (there are at least two more in the series) food is becoming precious, it isn’t yet scarce, you really get the feeling, as news of the Japanese advance reaches Hawaii, that things are going to get difficult for the inhabitants in no time at all.

Tinder and Jason help with the Home Guard duties, digging trenches and bomb shelters (which are promptly washed away, due to the Americans not understanding the island climate), and going on a survival course, teaching them to live off the land. Neither of them realise how useful these skills will be one day. As with the lack of info-dumping, there is, in this book, no “guide-book” feel as the reviewer found with Vagabond Heart. As Tinder moves around the islands, everything is described naturally–not in a way that instructs and therefore pulls the reader from the experience. And also, Tinder? Best protagonist’s name ever.

I liked the characters a good deal; Tinder is a guy who does what he has to do to keep his family safe–and it’s a real dilemma for him when he’s presented with an opportunity to do just that when he knows that it’s really, really wrong. He’s probably a little too nice, especially with his wreck of a step-mother, but he’s not syrupy–he still presents a few prickles when pushed. You don’t see that much of Jason but I shall enjoy going back and reading book one and learning more about him. The secondary characters, from Tinder’s father, Linda, to the various characters of Hotel Road are well painted and memorable.

My only problem is that sometimes it seems a little rushed. There’s many kitchen-sink details here, life more ordinary and sometimes they are introduced only to disappear again (two of them involve Linda) and not to cause any further ripples in the plot. I would have liked this aspect of the book to have been expanded, to have seen more of the day-to-day life, and the struggles as the war tightened everyone’s belts, and less of the obligatory long sex scenes. Another niggle is that whatever language Jason speaks–which I’m assuming is Cantonese or Mandarin–Kindle mangled it and it came out in complete gibberish.

But I recommend this as it’s an interesting read about a culture and lifestyle that is quite alien to many of us, and a part of Hawaiian life that Hollywood isn’t going to portray any time soon. This is definitely the best score for A.J. on this site, and that makes me happy, because we all want to read good books, right? I’m looking forward to reading book 3 in the series, which is Abiding Heart

Author’s Website

Buy at: Total ebound (ebook and print) | Kindle (UK) | Kindle (USA)

Review: Protection by S.A. Reid

When Gabriel MacKenna enters Wentworth Prison in 1931, he promises himself two things: never to be buggered and never to turn prison queer. Tough, smart, and ruthless in a fight, he quickly makes a name for himself inside. But Gabriel is serving two life sentences. And life is a very long time. Enter Joey Cooper. Trained at Oxford as a physician, the young doctor is innocent of prison culture and too handsome for his own good. Joey cannot hope to survive Wentworth without protection. And protection is just what Gabriel MacKenna offers. At a price…  102 pages

Available in paperback and ebook (Lyonesse Books)

Review by Erastes

This book is set in the fictional prison–says the author’s note–of Wentworth in England, a cross between Pentonville and Wandsworth. It’s an unfortunate name as I immediately thought of Wentworth prison from “Prisoner Cell Block H” the Australian show about women prisoners! However, as long as you aren’t as stupid as me, this won’t even occur to you. It’s clear the author has done their research, as the descriptions of the prison and the yard are pin sharp and detailed. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have a floor by floor plan pinned up somewhere.

The unfortunate first impression that this book gave me was that it hinged on one of the biggest tropes and personal squicks of mine, that of prison rape, and of Rape Turns to Love. I can work around it and suspend my disbelief usually, but the main trouble with this is that at 102 pages, there’s not enough space to have the characters turn around in their feelings. Yes, they do, but it’s too quick and in the case of Joey (the victim) rather unbelievable in light of what he’d been thinking up to that point. One minute it’s all “I’ll never forgive him, I’d rather die” and then the next minute he’s sucking dick like he was born to it. In Gabriel’s case it’s hinted as to why he pulled back from raping Joey every night, but again, this simply isn’t explored in enough depth to help the reader get over the fact that it’s an unpleasant trope. The fact that both men were aggresively heterosexual before entering prison adds weight to their love affair being far too quick.

HOWEVER, that being said, and once we get past this point the book is well-written and absorbing. I was drawn into the prison life, the claustrophobic feeling of never, ever being unobserved, even when you paid people to turn a blind eye. The petty injustices of the screws, the way that even with Gabriel protecting Joey he’s only as safe as the next five minutes (although this sense of peril did descrease as time went on) and the sadness of thinking of men incarcerated for decades, knowing no other home, growing old, remembering a world that no longer existed and dying there because there’s no way they’d be able to be released into 1936 when they’d been sentenced in 1888.

I have to say that I really warmed to their relationship, but I simply could not see any light at the end of their tunnels. Gabriel was sentenced to life, and Joey for 18 years. Even if they had stayed together for 18 years there could be no HEA for them. So be warned, there is no HEA, this is a love story, but absolutely not a romance.

Due to the almost entirely internal aspect of the prison life, there’s very little historical context other than the outbreak of WW2 (the book starts in 1936) so Reid doesn’t have to worry too much about historical detail, but what there is seems pretty good. The only thing that did amuse me was the campaign to ban “slopping out” (the routine of having a bucket in the cells, rather than a flushing toilet, and having to dispose of that bucket in the morning.) The reason I found it amusing is that even today, some prisons in Britain still do this despite the process having allegedly “been abolished” as late as 2004.

I know I say this often about novellas, but I think I’m justified with this, this book really really needed the extra space to develop. Not only would the coming together of Joey and Gabriel have been improved, but there’s so much else that had a lot of potential but didn’t get the space to fly. There are myriad other prisoners, as would be expected, and I would have loved to have seen more of the daily politics with–particularly as this isn’t a genre romance–little subplots to enjoy.

But this is–as far as I know–S.A. Reid’s first published gay historical, so I can live with it. The writing is impressive, the voices strong and the plot, while not given enough space to grow, is good enough. I think Reid has a real future in the genre and I look forward to their next book.

Buy at Amazon USA  | Amazon UK | Smashwords (ebook) Createspace (paper)

Review: On the Trail to Moonlight Gulch by Shelter Somerset

It’s 1886, and Chicago is booming, but for nineteen-year-old Torsten Pilkvist, American-born son of Swedish immigrants, it’s not big enough. After tragically losing a rare love, Tory immerses himself in the pages of a Wild West mail-order bride magazine, where he stumbles on the advertisement of frontiersman and Civil War veteran Franklin Ausmus. Torsten and Franklin begin an innocent correspondence—or as innocent as it can be, considering Torsten keeps his true gender hidden. But when his parents discover the letters, Tory is forced out on his own. With nowhere else to go, he boards a train for the Black Hills and Franklin’s homestead, Moonlight Gulch.

Franklin figures Tory for a drifter, but he’s lonely after ten years of living in the backcountry alone, and his “girl” in Chicago has mysteriously stopped writing, so he hires Tory on as his ranch hand. Franklin and Tory grow closer while defending the land from outlaws who want the untapped gold in Franklin’s creek, but then Franklin learns Tory’s true identity and banishes Tory from his sight. Will their lives be forever tattered, or will Torsten—overhearing a desperate last-ditch scheme to snatch Franklin’s gold—be able to save Moonlight Gulch and his final shot at love?

Review by Gerry Burnie (this review was previously posted on his review site)

I’m a great fan of classic western tales, especially if they are accurately portrayed regarding setting and lifestyle, and in my opinion On the Trail to Moonlight Gulch, by Shelter Somerset [Dreamspinner Press, 2012] touches most of the right bases.

The story is about a lonely, tenderfoot Easterner, Torsten Pilkvist [I love the names], who naively starts a lovelorn correspondence, as a woman, with an equally lonely rancher, Franklin Ausmus, and when Torsten is forced to leave home he impetuously makes his way west to find him.

As improbable as this may seem, it nonetheless works because Somerset has done a superb job of bringing the loneliness of these two characters to life, and since we’ve all “been there,” so to speak, it is easy for us to empathize with them—i.e. the litmus test of a good writer.

Thinking Torsten is a drifter, Ausmus takes him on as a ranch hand, but Thorsten chickens out on telling Frank he is the ‘gal’ he has been writing to—setting up a conflict of significant proportions later on.

Of course, no good western would be complete without villains, and there are a whole cast of them in this story. The ring leader is a French Canadian by the name of Henri Bilodeaux who, along with others, covets the gold that still remains on Ausmus’ property.

What I liked

The writing is solid from start to finish, and the descriptions are not only vivid but also informative at times. Somerset has done his research well, and it shows.

For the most part the characterization is also done well. The good guys are principled but ‘human,’ which makes them all the more credible, and the bad guys are definitely bad. The author has also given Torsten a reasonable period of adjustment to fit into the role of ranch hand, rather than thrusting him into it as many writers do.

The other supporting characters, Wicasha the Indian and Madame Lafourchette, are a bit formulaic but nonetheless charming—almost de rigueur in a classic-style western of this sort.

Altogether, this is a delightful read for all those who like their westerns ‘classic.’ Four solid stars

Available in paperback and ebook (320 pages)

Author’s Blog

Buy from DreamspinnerAmazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: The Amethyst Cat Caper by Charlie Cochet

Two years ago, Remington Trueblood left England and everything he held dear for the chance at a new life. Now the successful owner of The Purple Rose Tea House in Manhattan, Remi has come across the perfect addition to his business: a stunning amethyst cat. But Remi’s acquired something else with his latest purchase: the attention of the notorious Gentleman Thief!

Detective Stanley Hawk doesn’t know the first thing about tea. He’s strictly a java kind of guy. What he does know, is crime, and someone’s just committed one. As a Pinkerton’s, Hawk always gets his man, and when his investigations lead him straight to Remi, the words have never been truer.

Can Remi and Hawk resist each other long enough to figure out who the thief is and what the heck is going on? Or will the Gentleman Thief get his hands on more than just the Amethyst Cat? 

Review by Erastes

This is the second book I’ve read by Ms Cochet (When Love Walks In was the first) and like the first one, I was impressed, and also the author has a talent for creating characters and situations which we’d not only like to see more of – we can say that about many books – but which stories lead naturally to a conclusion, whilst still leaving the door open for More Adventures.

Set, like her other book, during the Great Depression in America, this deals with the top end of society. Englishman Remi (Remington) has left his wealthy family in England due to his incapacity to please his father–marry where ordered, continue the line, that kind of thing–and came to America and is living the American dream. He starts a tea house in the centre of Manhattan and it’s doing really rather well, making him a millionaire twice over in his early twenties.

So, although the struggling masses of the depression are mentioned a few times, you don’t really get to see them. This is a world of Hollywood style opulence, art deco interiors and shiny shiny things. And it’s described very well with just enough scene setting to see where we are, but not overdoing the detail by telling us who made every knick-knack and trinket.

The characters come to live quite beautifully on the page. Remi for instance, seen through the eyes of the burly detective Hawk is easily conjured to mind. Slim, wonderfully tailored and gorgeous to boot. It’s nice that he doesn’t consider the man’s wealth as part of the deal. What I particularly liked was that Remi was damaged a little, from his relationship with his family, and from the first man he ever fell in love with who “done him wrong.” Hawk, sadly, although I liked him as a character doesn’t have this particular depth and I bonded with him much less than I did with Remi. Hawk seems to get swept away with Remi so easily and the problems that their relationship might bring aren’t even considered until right at the end of the book. I think I’d have liked him to be a bit more noir, as I feel he considers himself a Sam Spade but he doesn’t come over that way, he’s more protective and lustful.

There’s a lot of eye colour detail too, which I have to say I’m over when it comes to romance novels. I don’t know anyone with violet or emerald eyes and I’d probably punch them if I did.

The story is good too, and tight, having a definite arc which begins and ends with exciting well-written action. Having struggled with action myself, I know how damned hard it can be to write when three men are struggling and there’s a gun involved, but Cochet pulls it off with cinematic style.

The third person is, of course, the Gentleman Thief and I was delighted when I entirely missed the clues as to who it might be and plumped for someone it absolutely wasn’t. That kind of red-herring-ism is a bit hit with me and I enjoyed guessing.

So, what with good period detail, movie-style flair, good characters and an ending which practically sets itself up for a whole series of “Capers” in the future, I have no problems with thoroughly recommending The Amethyst Cat Caper and look forward to more from Ms Cochet.

And it has to be said, because I’ve pointed out their errors so often, this was lacking in errors which was a refreshing change! I also liked the cover a lot, but sadly on Kindle it’s only in black and white.

Author’s Website

Ebook only.

Buy at Torquere | Kindle UK | Kindle USA

Review: The Forgotten Man by Ryan Loveless

In 1932, after Captain Joshua Pascal’s family loses its fortune, the Great War veteran’s sense of duty compels him to help his mother convert his childhood home into a Jewish boarding house. He’s lived openly as a homosexual among his friends, but now Joshua must pretend to be a “normal,” and hiding his nature is a lonely way of life. But in the middle of Chanukah, Joshua meets Will, a street musician with a ready smile, and wonders if he might deserve a chance at love.

 During the cold December nights they find comfort in each other. But the specter of the workhouse and the possibility of family and personal ruin hang over them, making their every move dangerous. Which would they rather lose: their lives as they know them… or the promise of a future together?  168 pages

Review by Erastes

It was great to find another book set in this era, as Prohibition/Depression America is a hugely untapped market and all in all I enjoyed this story. I felt that perhaps the few problems I found with it were maybe the length of the book, which made it a little difficult to take the characterisation and conflict deeper than it was.

I liked Joshua a good deal, he’s a man who has been shoved back into the closet because he’s had to move back home. Not that he was “out” of course, but having his own apartment in New York meant he had a little more freedom over his own life. Now, because his well-to-do family has lost all of its money, he’s living back in the large house with his mother and brother his personal life has shrunk to visiting “Shorty’s” – a bar which welcomes homosexuals and where he’s been having an on-off sexual liaison with one of the staff.

I liked his sense of obligation to his family without having the resentment that many of us show. That’s not to mean that he’s a saint, he’s grumpy and snappy like all of us. It was with his interraction with his family that one of the gaps showed, for me. The whole missing father arc seems to have been introduced and there’s an attempt to solve the situation, but it seemed to me as though it was a plot that was meant to do something, but really didn’t. I kept waiting for something to happen–good or bad–but nothing much did. When Joshua’s brother Asher fails in what he sets out to do the backlash is glossed over, we are told that Joshua looked after Asher, but that’s about it.

The thing is, I think, is that the book is bursting out of its “I’m a gay romance” skin because there’s so much extra world here: the club, the family, the father interest and the romance aspect suffers from all these interesting plot developments that don’t come to fulfilment and the other plots suffer a little because of the romance.

The second protagonist is Will–or Blue as Joshua first calls him, not knowing his name. He’s a new widower trying to protect and support a new-born child on the streets by busking and not doing terribly well at it. It’s not exactly a “gay for you” plot as it turns out that Will is bisexual, but had been scared senseless away from his gay leanings by his family at a young age, but it’s along the lines of “it’s not men, it’s just him (Joshua)”

I didn’t like Will as much, possibly because we are rarely in his point of view, but I found his constant running away to be irritating–added to the speed that they went from “I’m straight” to “I’m in your bed.” He blames part of his running away on the fact that Joshua was too uptown for him, but this class difference wasn’t really stressed–unless it was the oddly inserted riding scene which I didn’t see what it was demonstrating. If Joshua had been one of the top nobs in New York I’d have liked that to have been more illustrated, as it wasn’t really clear to me until Will starts angsting about it. Apparently too, both men had been noticing each other for a long while as Joshua passed Will in the street but this again isn’t particularly strong. He only really notices Will on the day that Will isn’t on the corner as expected.

The ending was a little odd, and how the conflict is resolved struck me as arbitrary and odd–plus there were a good couple of plot holes that stood out, Joshua would have known what he finds out (sorry to be vague) a lot quicker simply by going to the bar–the fact he stopped going made no sense at all.

I had a niggling feeling that it was converted fanfic, due mainly to the appearance of a military coat, and the fact there’s a character called Harper and the protagonist has a younger brother, but I’ve had contact with the author and they assure me that it definitely isn’t converted fanfic, so no worries there.

I realise that I haven’t said it very well, becuase I’ve been trying to work out why the book didn’t blow me away as much as it should have, but I actually did enjoy this book very much. The fact that it gets four stars despite all the issues I’ve pointed out here demonstrates that, I hope. It was a little schmoopy for me,  but there’s enough of a hard edge in it too, in all those plots which deserved more time and space to be explored, that pulled it out of the average. Plus a holiday themed book is allowed to be schmoopy by most.

I’m sure you’ll enjoy it if you try it out. Ebook only.

Author’s Blog

Buy from Dreamspinner  Amazon UK   Amazon USA

Review: The Sartorialist by Cecilia Ryan

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

Available as ebook only

Buy at Dreamspinner Press, Amazon UKAmazon USA

Review: Alike as Two Bees by Elin Gregory

Horses, love, and the tang of thyme and honey…

In Classical Greece, apprentice sculptor Philon has chosen the ideal horse to model for his masterpiece. Sadly, the rider falls well short of the ideal of beauty, but scarred and tattered Hilarion, with his brilliant, imperfect smile, draws Philon in a way that mere perfection cannot.

After years of living among the free and easy tribes of the north, Hilarion has no patience with Athenian formality. He knows what he wants – and what he wants is Philon. Society, friends and family threaten their growing relationship, but perhaps a scarred soldier and a lover of beauty are more alike than they appear.

Review by Michael Joseph

Anatolios and Philon are young apprentice sculptors in Classical Greece. Anatolios is a precocious boy of just 13 years. Philon is much older, around 20, and treats Anatolios like a brother. Their master Nikias treats both boys as his own sons. They are rather talented, and Anatolios may one day even surpass his master.

The young men and other sculptors are working on a commission Nikias has received from Eutychos, a rich trader who is building a new house that he wants to be sure will impress people. Given leave one day to take their lunch on the beach, the boys encounter a group of men riding horses. Among them is Aristion, Eutychos’ son, as well as his older cousin, Hilarion.

The scarred Hilarion is no beauty, but there’s something about him that makes Philon’s heart go pitter-patter. Apparently the feeling is mutual, but the two barely start their charmingly awkward courtship before they’re distracted by shouts of panic from Anatolios. Aristion, on his big horse, is bullying the young boy and nearly drowns him. Hilarion and his friends come to the rescue and berate Aristion for his bad behavior, but this only infuriates the spoiled brat.

A few nights later there’s trouble with the mules in the sculptor’s yard, and one of the panels Anatolios and Philon have worked hard on is broken. Philon is certain the Aristion is behind the trouble. A few days later, while all of the rest of the sculptors are up at the house site, Philon is alone when Hilarion comes calling. Hilarion admires Philon’s work, as well as the sculptor himself. They finally consummate their growing love in the heat of the afternoon.

The ending section contains a mild conflict, which ramps up the tension sufficiently, but never to put us in fear of the HEA.

“Alike As Two Bees” is a sweet little story. It’s quite short, even for a novella, which is usually a problem for me. But in this case there are no dangling plot lines, no mysterious back-stories crying out to be filled in or impossibly convenient coincidences. It’s a quite surprisingly complete work. I didn’t notice it until I finished the book and was digesting it for review, and perhaps it was even subconscious on the part of the author, but what she’s done is make quite effective use of archetypes. Aristion is quickly identifiable as the typical evil spoiled rich kid, Nikias the kindly uncle and Eutychos is the nouveau riche fat cat with more money than taste. None of this detracts from the story. It just helps to move it along by subtly giving us familiar character types we recognize and understand easily. The two lovers are drawn much more fully. You may not know them as well as you might like, but you know them well enough to care about what happens.

If I had to pick out one tiny niggle with the story, it would be with the one and only love scene. It’s communicated in such genteel language that it’s a little hard to figure out who is doing what to whom. But in a way it all fits with the sweetness of the story, so it’s a very minor flaw, at most.

This delightful little story definitely deserves four out of five stars.

Elin Gregory can be found on-line at Blogspot or LiveJournal

Amazon UK   Amazon USA

Review: When Love Walked In by Charlie Cochet (short story)

Bruce Shannon is a Private Investigator dealing with case after case of missing persons and infidelity. None of which inspire warm, fuzzy feelings during the week of Valentine’s Day. Then again, Bruce isn’t exactly a fuzzy feelings kind of guy, which suits him just fine. He doesn’t need anyone anyhow, only his cat, Mittens.

That is, until the handsome Jace Scarret wanders off the streets and into Bruce’s life. Will Jace end up showing Bruce that maybe Valentine’s Day isn’t so lousy after all?

Review by Erastes

I love Noir. The films, the books. Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, Raymond Chandler and all that. I love the morally ambigious characters, the twisted plots, the fashions, the cars, the settings.

While “When Love Walked In” is almost a vignette from what my mind fills in as a much larger story, it screams through every blue-nosed automatic pore that the author loves the era, loves Noir every bit as much as I do.

We meet our protagonist, who is a cagey, irascible, caffiene driven private dick–Bruce Shannon. He’s recently lost his secretary who was, it seems, a treasure, and he’s absolutely lost without her (so often the way!) We learn about Bruce in these opening sections: we learn he’s untidy, eats unhealthily, works too much, dislikes much of humanity and loves his cat, Mittens. Mittens is the star of this story in my opinion and you’d have to be hard-hearted not to love her too.

While it definitely has a Noir edge, don’t go expecting anything really Chandler-esque about it. For a start it’s told in third person POV whereas many Noir detective books are first person to retain the bafflement of the detective and to portray the voice (think the original Bladerunner with the commentary). While this works for this simple Valentine’s Day tale of new romance blossoming, I think that were the author to do a full-sized detective novel, I’d prefer a first person approach. There’s no real conflict either, which I’m not going to gripe about much seeing as how the story is only 30 or so pages, but I’ve seen it done in books as short as this, so it is possible.

That being said, what is there is good with a capital G. The writing is crisp and immerses you in the period, the characters are distinct and believable (even the off-stage secretary and the one-scene cafe owner burst with life) and the burgeoning romance isn’t too much insta-love to be eye-rolling. Rather the characters are turned on by each other which is much more realistic.

The editing wasn’t bad–it’s been a while since I read a Torquere book, and was surprised only to find one misused homonym. However the price seems pricey for a short story–other publishers sell novellas for that price.

However, as a piece of fiction that will take you 20 minutes or so to read, it’s highly enjoyable, well-grounded in its period, written in a cinematic way that will make you relive the gritty days of the 1930′s depression and a solid little story. As I said above, it seems (and I hope this is the case) that the author has a lot more to tell us about the back story and the continuing story of Bruce–he would do very well, as many Noir detective do–in a series and I for one will be lining up to read it. More please, Ms Cochet.

Author’s website

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Review: My Dearest Holmes by Rohase Piercy

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

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

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No author’s website found

Amazon UK   Amazon USA Available as ebook and print

Speak Its Name Awards 2011

Sorry to cut into the Advent Calendar which I hope you are all enjoying.

We will be reviving the Speak Its Name Awards this year and introducing a new category, the Readers’ Choice.

The Awards will be:

Best Novel

Best Cover

Best Author

and Readers’ Choice.

The first 3 are chosen by Speak Its Name, but the Readers’ Choice gives you a chance to participate. We’ve compiled the list of the top books rated 4,4½, and 5 stars. There’s a few but still only a fraction of the books reviewed in the year.

The poll is HERE - so please go and vote if you would be so kind.

The books concerned are these below, with a link to the reviews if you need a reminder of their goodness. The only thing I ask is that you vote for the book itself, and that you have read it. Not that you’ve reader other things by the author or you really love them as a person.

Many thanks and enjoy the rest of the year!

Captain Harding’s 6 Day War by Elliott Mackle

By Honor Betrayed by Alex Beecroft

Well Traveled by Margaret Mills and Tedy Ward

Placing Out by P.A. Brown

Violet Thunder by Kate Cotoner

This Rough Magic by Josh Lanyon

Muffled Drum by Erastes

The Puppet Master by Kate Cotoner

Kindred Hearts by G.S. Wiley

The Affair of the Porcelain Dog by Jess Faraday

Wingmen by Ensan Case

Bound Forever by Ava March

Missouri by Christine Wunnicke

Suffer the Little Children by Tracy Rowan

Eromenos by Melanie McDonald

Under the Poppy by Kathe Koja

Home is the Sailor by Lee Rowan

Sal Mineo: a biography by Michael Gregg Michaud

The Nobleman and the Spy by Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon

Midnight Dude by Various

Beloved Pilgrim by Nan Hawthorne

Earth and Sun, Cedar and Sage by Margaret Mills and Tedy Ward

Kindred Hearts by Rowan Speedwell

The Last Tallyho by Richard Newhafer

The Painting by FK Wallace

Algerian Nights by Graeme Roland

Game of Chance by Kate Roman

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

Perfect Score by Susan Roebuck

Dulce et Decorum Est by JL Merrow

Mere Mortals by Erastes

Lion of Kent by Aleksandr Voinov and Kate Cotoner

Young Man in Paris by Sophia Deri-Bowen

Raised by Wolves 2 Matelots by WA Hoffman

The Wanderer by Jan Irving

Arson! The Dakota Series 1 by Cap Iversen

Living the Spirit: a Gay American Indian Anthology, compiled by Gay American Indians, Will Roscoe

Precious Jade by Fyn Alexander

Sam’s Hill by Jack Ricardo

Home Station on the Prairie Series-1 and 2 by Kara Larson

Walking in Two Worlds by Terry O’Reilly

Comstock by Aaron Michaels

Home Fires Burning by Charlie Cochrane

Pioneers by Lynn Lorenz

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

A Faint Wash of Lavender by Lucius Parhelion

Silver Lining by Lucius Parhelion

The Soldier of Raetia: Valerian’s Legion by Heather Domin

The Only Gold by Tamara Allen

House of Mirrors by Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon

Icy Pavements by Lee Wyndham

According to Hoyle by Abigail Roux

All Lessons Learned by Charlie Cochrane

The Evening Crowd at Kirmser’s by Ricardo J. Brown

His Client by Ava March

The Praise Singer by Mary Renault

Review: Midnight Dude by Various

18 wonderful stories by 18 talented authors. A cornucopia of gay themed short fiction and a showcase of the talent of the authors at AwesomeDude. Most of these stories were written specially for this anthology, whilst just a few are favorites from the site. There is something for everyone: from fantasy and stark realism, to War stories and sports, humor and pathos, angst and passion. (the review refers only to the two historical short stories within the anthology)

Review by Jean Cox
“Midnight Dude: Selected Readings” is an anthology of stories, two of which are historical.

“Some Enchanted Evening” by Tragic Rabbit: A love story to die for. Set in a decaying country house this intense and atmospheric story will pull the reader into a world of the liminal.

“A Flower In France” by Bruin Fisher: War’s brutality and how that can touch those who experience it is graphically illustrated in this moving story.

I’d read Bruin Fisher’s contribution to “I Do Two” and enjoyed it greatly, so was looking forward to this one. “A Flower in France” tells the story of an English Tommy who finds an unexpected sympathy for and empathy with one of the enemy, against the backdrop of WWI trench warfare.

On the positive side it illustrates the author’s variety; the light hearted tone of “Work Experience” is here replaced by serious notes for a serious subject. The hero, Godfrey, is complex and interesting—I wanted to find out a lot more about him—and his wonderful pragmatism shines through. He’s typical of the wartime generation who just got on with things without grumbling. There are scenes of great power and great tenderness in this tale and some particularly powerful images.

On the negative side, the story could have been three times as long; the development, especially of the post war scenes, felt rushed. I kept thinking there was a novella length (at least) story to be told, with the WWI part as the prelude.

Bruin Fisher can write very well—I’d like to see him really develop a longer story.

“Some Enchanted Evening” is set in both early and mid twentieth century America. The author, Tragic Rabbit, has an elegantly descriptive style; the prose was absolutely breathtaking at times, which is in keeping with a story that feels more like a fairy tale than the average gay historical short. The ghostly aspect of the second half of the tale adds to the air of mystery.

Christian’s slow awakening to his feelings in 1910 is contrasted with that of Thomas in 1962, observed by Christian’s spirit. The interaction between ghost and human, which could risk appearing absurd, is well depicted, as is (generally) the contrast between the two eras and the similarity of the young men’s experience.

This is such an unusual story I can forgive the overabundance of contemporary references (brand names, chart songs) for the 1962 segment, which contrasts with a lack of the same sort of references for the earlier segment. However, like “A Flower in France”, “Some Enchanted Evening” rushes to its conclusion; the ending would have been better had it been at the same pace as the rest of the story.

Overall, I came away with the feeling that both of these would have benefitted from a harder copy edit, which could have transformed a pair of good stories into excellent ones.

The issue with both stories’ endings might have pulled the final star rating down, but the overall quality of the writing (and the fact the anthology contains at least one non-historical story which alone would justify reading the book) deserves four stars.

Awesome Dude Website

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Review: Beloved Pilgrim by Nan Hawthorne

Not content with a life as a passive and powerless noblewoman, a young Bavarian woman dons her late twin brother’s armor and weapons and sets out to join the disastrous Crusade of 1101. She is able to pass as a young man because, as she observes to her squire, who was also her brother’s lover, “People see what they expect to see.” She learns two things on her journey, that honor is not always where you expect to find it and that true love can come in the form of another woman
Review by Yakalskovich
A book about lesbian crusaders — that sounds either like some bizarre sexploitation premise, or a massive dose of historically incorrect strangeness. Still, once I started reading this book, I found that Nan Hawthorne made it work quite brilliantly.
Elisabeth von Winterkirche is a young noblewoman living in Bavaria around the year 1100. Owing to a series of rather tragic circumstances, she runs away from home in her dead twin brother’s armour, with her brother’s former lover as her squire. Only the squire, Albrecht, know her secret. Wanting to fulfill her brother’s vow and to find their father who had joined the First Crusade, she joins a number of latecomers to the crusade assembling fist at the Melk monastery, then in Bologna in northern Italy.
Albrecht and Elisabeth — who goes by her brother’s name, Elias — join up with a number of other crusaders and pilgrims whom they will stick will, or meet again, during their entire journey. This journey turns into a journey of self-discovery for Elisabeth, from her first infatuation through the discovery of sexual pleasure to true love. Other than her lovers, she keeps her secret from everybody, taking to the knightly life like a fish to water. After a brief if lovely respite in Constantinople, the crusaders depart for the Anatolian highlands, to fight free a direct overland route to the Holy Land through the Turk occupied territories…
This book is filled with historical detail and characters that we really learn to care about. There are three problems, however, that keep me from giving it the full five stars. For one thing, Hawthorne gets many of the German names wrong; she should have asked a native speaker whether these work as place names or surnames. Unfortunately, many don’t, which made me laugh in places where I shouldn’t have.
Then, there is a very slight undercurrent of OK HOMO in the development of the main characters. They keep happening on people who keep telling them that love is love and a good gift from God, no matter what the circumstances, which would have been deeply heretic at the time, to put it mildly. Acceptance and self-acceptance comes a tad too easy to the protagonists. And lastly, there is a problem with the POV. We normally stick strictly with Elisabeth, apart from a few surprise moments when we do not. These moments increase in frequency and length after the crusaders leave for Anatolia; during the campaign and battles, we often see events from a vague third person omniscient POV in which we observe the commanders talking, whole armies moving, and strategies explained with nary a sight of Elisabeth for several pages. Also, a map would be really helpful at times.
Still, despite these little weaknesses, it is a lovely book that I enjoyed very much which makes me look forward to a potential sequel. Plot lines have been left dangling that the reader still cares about — what happened with Elisabeth’s father? Will any of them ever actually reach Jerusalem? Will they return to Bavaria and oust the usurper from the castle? This calls for a second book; and the author’s web side reassures us that it is in the works.-
Author’s website: http://www.nanhawthorne.com/

Review: The Emperor by Lucius Parhelion (short story)

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

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

Review by Sally Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

Available from Torquere

Review: Earth and Sun, Cedar and Sage by Margaret Mills and Tedy Ward


Gideon Makepeace grew up in Bill Tourney’s Traveling Wild West Show, so he knows Indians better than a lot of folks of his day. He and his half-breed lover, Jedediah Buffalo Bird, are traveling east to New Orleans where Gideon hopes they’ll find a home together, safe among the crowds of the big city. But it’s winter in the desert and a storm is blowing in, so when they run across Kingman, Arizona, just before Christmas, they decide to take their chances and hunker down for the holiday.

Review by Bruin Fisher

This novella was written before ‘Well Traveled’, but serves as a sequel – or even an extended epilogue, since it tells what happened next to Gideon Makepeace and Jedediah Buffalo Bird. I gave Well Traveled five stars because I consider it to be exceptional. The writing is first rate, fluid and eloquent, the characters believable, the historical setting solid without being intrusive, and the story involving. I am not surprised to find the same qualities in this much shorter story, less than eighty pages in the PDF version, compared to nearly three hundred pages in Well Traveled. If you enjoyed that book you’ll certainly want to read this, if only to check up on your friends, see that things turn out okay for them. If you haven’t read Well Traveled, I recommend reading it first, and indeed before reading this review since it will inevitably contain some spoilers for the other book.

At the conclusion of Well Traveled, Jed and Gideon have only just come to the decision that they want to try to be together despite the prevailing prejudice against Indians, and the impossibility of being open about their love. But we have no idea how that will go, how they will achieve it or how long it will last. Earth and Sun, Cedar and Sage takes us a little way into that journey, although I think there’s scope for a further book or two in the series. The story revolves around a stop on their travels, first at a small town and then at a farmstead in the area. We get to learn a little more about Jedediah and his background, and some more about Gideon too, which helps to explain their actions and attitudes. The two men become even more likeable the more you get to know them.

I did have trouble with one aspect of the plot, though:

Early in the story, Jed appears with a bleeding lip and Gideon asks him about it:

He noticed the thin dark line of blood at the corner of Jed’s lip. “What happened?” he asked, low and angry because he already knew what had happened. And they’d hardly been in this town an hour.

“Nothing you need worry on,” Jed said just as softly. “Let’s go.”

Both Gideon and the reader are left in the dark about what happened. About half-way through the book, we read this:

He didn’t know whether to sneak back into that town and buy Jed a new pair or beat the tar out of whoever’d done this and take Jed’s gloves back for him.

But up to this point we hadn’t been told that Jed’s gloves were missing. And we never get to learn how Jed got a cut lip, or whether the theft of the gloves had anything to do with it. The missing gloves get their own sub-plotline, and at the end of the story the sheriff has recovered them and persuades two local lads to apologise to Jed for taking them – but there’s no mention of a fight unless it’s implied in

“Sorry we did that”… “didn’t know you was a performer.”

Unless I’ve developed a blind spot, this is a plot hole and it rather detracted from my enjoyment of the story – I care so much about these characters, and particularly about Jed who’s taciturn and inscrutable but definitely the nicer of the two, and I want to know what happened to him and whether he fought back and that his assailant eventually got his come-uppance.

I didn’t mention it in my review of Well Traveled, but that title wasn’t great. It was informative – it’s a story that revolves around travelling – but hardly intriguing or interesting. and because ‘traveled’ is spelled differently in Olde England it doesn’t look right to an English eye. The title of this one, Earth and Sun, Cedar and Sage, is certainly intriguing but not exactly memorable or informative, although the Cedar and Sage reference is explained in the story. The first few times I tried to bring the title back to my memory, I was trying to fit Sand and Sea into it somewhere.

I did mention in the review of Well Travelled that Catt Ford’s artwork for the cover was well done, appropriate and evocative. This book has a rather generic photograph on its cover. It’s not a bad cover like some, but it’s not, I think, an asset to the book, doesn’t catch your eye and make you pull the book off the shelf and flick through it with a view to buying.

I’m recommending this book to anyone who enjoyed Well Traveled. Its writing is of the same high standard. The plot hole which tripped me up, however, loses the book a star so it will have to be satisfied with only four.

Authors’ Website

Dreamspinner   Amazon UK   Amazon USA

Review: Kindred Hearts by Rowan Speedwell

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

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon UK    Amazon USA

Review: The Last Tallyho by Richard Newhafer

Fighting air battles over Wake Island, Tarawa and Truk Lagoon, the U.S. Navy pilots of Air Group Two blazed a trail of flaming Japanese planes and hard-won glory across the Pacific skies. Yet among the heroes lived a man with a terrible secret shame, a vice that kept him from enjoying the conventional pleasures offered by the bevy of beautiful women waiting to welcome their men back to Pearl Harbor.

Set aboard the fictional carrier Concord during the latter part of World War Two, “The Last Tallyho” was called “The epic novel of World War II naval fighter pilots” by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and “Excellent” by The New York Times.

Review by Elliott Mackle

Perhaps the most notable aspect of Richard Newhafer’s thoroughly conventional World War II novel, “The Last Tallyho” (1964), is that it inspired the much more deeply felt “Wingmen,” by Ensan Case (1979). (See my five-star review-appreciation here on Speak Its Name.) The primary evidence appears on Case’s dedication page: “Thanks to silly Dick Newhafer and his first Tallyho.” In a recent email, Case explained: [Big time spoiler alert]:

“Sometime in the late ’70′s I reread Tallyho. Good writing, excellent technical info, but much too contrived for my adult taste. And the portrayals of CAG Crowley and the ass-kissing effeminate swabbie named Rathburn just sort of pissed me off, and I wrote Wingmen in retaliation. My officer protagonists would be too smart to diddle enlisted men, aboard ship no less, and would not be required to slit their wrists in shame. It was my first attempt at a full-length novel. Avon published it with only typo editing, and I waited in vain to become rich and famous. Hell, I would have settled for rich.”

“Wingmen,” in significant ways, is as groundbreaking a mainstream masterpiece as it was possible to publish at the time. Both novels are melodramas set aboard fictional American aircraft carriers during the Pacific campaigns of the war, with operational and recreational interludes in and around Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Both are event and character driven. Both writers are extraordinarily familiar with the workings of carrier-based aircraft, in particular the Grumman Hellcat, and both describe the vibrant lives and violent deaths of naval aviators in the kind of seat-of-pants detail that suggests first-hand knowledge. Newhafer, a Navy pilot who served in World War II and Korea, was awarded the Navy Cross in 1945. Case was commissioned as a Navy ensign.

Both novels culminate in battles over Truk lagoon, Japan’s principal naval base in the west-central Pacific, ending in routs by American pilots and the almost total defeat of Japanese fliers. It is safe to say that when the Emperor of Japan lost Truk he lost the war.

“The Last Tallyho” follows the adventures of Air Group Two aboard the carrier Concord during 1943-44. The cast of pilots and commanders is wide and varied, though universally white, athletic and educated. Among pilots there is a professional football player (Steve Stepik), a son of wealthy Park Avenue bluebloods (Maxwell Winston III), an amateur golfer (Dick Marriner), a career flyer-administrator (Harry Hill), even a coward who loses his nerve at the expense of his mates (Bob Crowley). Most of them become aces, among the highest scoring killers in the fleet. Symbolically, but unfortunately for the reader, these guys are hard to tell apart because they all talk alike. The same is essentially true of their gorgeous and good-hearted women.

The brilliantly characterized heroes of “Wingmen,” Commander J.J. “Jack” Hardigan, his junior wing, Ensign Frederick “Trusty” Trusteau, and half a dozen other pilots and crewmen, on the other hand, are living, breathing individuals, and totally unforgettable.

Captain Sam Balta, skipper of Concord, and his superior, Vice Admiral “Frog” Delacroix, the commander of the fleet, date their friendship from the Naval Academy at Annapolis and call each other by nicknames from that period. They are much better drawn, more complex figures than the men they send out to fight, and their voices and movements, though naturally similar, are always distinct. Through them we learn much about the cruelties of high command. Before the last battle, for instance, they must calculate the odds of success in a rapidly changing situation and count up the possible losses of their own men against the necessity of defeating the enemy and ending the war. Their counterpart in “Wingmen,” an admiral, is as sympathetically drawn but not nearly as well characterized.

Commander Bob Crowley, the cowardly pilot, is not only a homosexual, he beds at least one enlisted sailor between flights (or “hops” as they are termed) and, when caught naked with the sailor in his bunk, begs for mercy and a medical discharge. When that is refused by a bull-headed executive officer, Crowley kills himself. The hapless sailor suffers essentially the same fate, dying “in screaming agony, his face contorted out of shape,” after being gutted by a piece of flying metal that, a moment earlier, was part of a Japanese Zero. Although Crowley’s shipboard seduction was certainly unwise under the circumstances, Allan Bérubé’s “Coming Out Under Fire” and other histories demonstrate that such liaisons were not all that uncommon. Superior officers and NCOs, especially toward the end of the war, tended to look the other way.

Newhafer’s war is the John Wayne version, in other words, the official version, the real men version. It is no surprise that after leaving the Navy Newhafer became a successful writer of Hollywood and television film scripts.

The underlying nature of Mr. Case’s novel explains his use of a semi-pseudonym, “Ensan” being the phonetic pronunciation of “Ensign.”

Taking off from the carrier Constitution, Commander Jack Hardigan, leader of Air Group Twenty (that’s two plus zero), and his wingman Fred Trusteau also become aces. They risk their lives for each other, for the members of the group and for their shipmates. After considerable trust building and combat, they discard their conformist heterosexual role-playing, accept their mutual attraction and share a bed in Waikiki’s Moana Hotel during Christmas shore leave. The physical details are not described and the affair remains discreet and low key. What happens ashore stays ashore. Although suspicions arise in another pilot’s mind, he has the good sense to keep his mouth shut. Blood is shed but the three men survive the war and prosper thereafter.

Case’s writing is vibrant and lively throughout the book, a pleasure to read and to reread. Newhafer is all over the map. His battle scenes soar – especially the final battle, which brings together all the remaining main characters – but small talk in officers’ clubs and the wardroom drones on and on. Sometimes his descriptions are simply flat, as in the following:

“The dusk had deepened to a murky darkness when the combatants drew apart. For this is the way fights end. One moment the sky is a wild place and the next as silent as a cathedral.”

Finally, Newhafer’s novel features a stream almost totally lacking in Case’s: the war from a Japanese pilot’s point of view. Commander Isoku Yamota, an ace every bit as brave and successful as his counterparts Winston and Marriner, appears early and fights to the end. He is a stock character but a good one, a warrior who, facing death, dreams of returning to his wife and child not as a hero but as a loving husband and father.

For fans of military and maritime fiction, both novels are worth reading. “Wingmen,” a Speak Its Name Five Star Read that includes the pleasures of first-rate gay historical fiction, is simply the better book. “Tallyho” is out of print but used copies are widely available in hard and soft cover. Four stars.

Amazon UK      Amazon USA

Review: Haji’s Exile by Alan Chin

Nathan has cared for horses all his life, but Haji is the first he’ll train on his own. When the Arabian stallion arrives at Bitter Coffee Ranch, Nathan thinks he is the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. And then he lays eyes on Haji’s handler, Yousef. Nathan has much to learn about horses, about pride, and about love, but with the ranch’s hopes riding on Haji, he’ll also learn that all things have their price.

A Bittersweet Dreams title: It’s an unfortunate truth: love doesn’t always conquer all. Regardless of its strength, sometimes fate intervenes, tragedy strikes, or forces conspire against it. These stories of romance do not offer a traditional happy ending, but the strong and enduring love will still touch your heart and maybe move you to tears.

Review by Erastes

Haji is a beautiful 3-year old colt (called stallion here) which Nathan’s father has bought from North Africa to race. Haji’s handler, Yousef is beautiful too, and Nathan finds him so.

When Haji’s handler creeps into Nathan’s room and sex happens, it was rather a surprise. The two of them had hardly spoken (Yousef has hardly any English) and the only leering had been from Nathan’s direction towards Yousef, and he’d only been on the racing stable for a couple of days. It did seem a little bit of a risk, seeing Nathan was the boss’s son. But considering what Yousef does every morning after sex, perhaps that’s not surprising. I wasn’t very keen on this device, it was never explained and doesn’t give a good picture of Yousef at all.

The trouble I had with the book was my deep knowledge of horse husbandry. If you want to make me like your protagonist, then do not have them smashing a 3 year old Arabian colt in the muzzle twice, as hard as you possibly can with a riding crop, and have the man who dedicates his life to that horse just stand by and watch.

It was hard to take off my “horse” head and be objective after that, it really shocked me, even in the 1950′s–if one has been raised around horses, particularly sensitive, hugely expensive racing stock one doesn’t do that. You should never hit a horse in the head, anyway–granted the horse bit him, but the easiest way to deal with a biter is to bite him back–because that’s what they do to each other for punishment.

Another equine quibble before I shut up about it – Haji has damaged tendons, and this is the equivalent of a sprained ankle, it means rest, ice and compression–and he was being ridden regularly. That kind of injury is a horse owner’s nightmare as it takes weeks or months to recover fully–if the horse even does. The horse’s fitness is still much in doubt when it is run on the track, and that shows no love for the horse, merely the want of winning.

OK – that aside, this book is exquisitely written in parts, some of the description is quite breathtakingly beautiful, if a little self-conscious, because it’s just done in parts, jumping from very beautiful prose to work-a-day prose and then back again. This is definitely a good book to start with to get a feel of Chin’s style, although he does seem to be improving with every book.

The racetrack section is well done, you get a feeling of tension and race of course is exciting in the way that all horse races are, but Nathan once more didn’t win any prizes for behaving like a baby and risking his, Haji’s and Yousef’s life.

There were a couple of jarring homonyms: metal/mettle, bail/bale, a bit too much for such a small book which should have been spotted.

It’s short–only 3o pages or so, but worth the money for the sheer beauty of much of the prose. I can’t award it five stars simply because I loathed both protagonists and was given no reason to forgive Nathan particularly as he cared far more for sex and Yousef than for the horses, and I found the ending a little odd, along the lines of Outer Limits or Tales of the Unexpected– the whole thing didn’t really gel together for me.

Author’s website

Buy from Dreamspinner Press

Review: The Painting by FK Wallace

Stefan, a naive young Pole, meets Gunter, an artist in 1930s Berlin. Their passionate love affair is overshadowed by the rise of the Third Reich. Denounced to the Nazis, they are sent to Auschwitz as pink triangle prisoners.

Some things even love cannot withstand.

Forty years later Stefan returns to Poland with one question: when you have nothing left, how can you prove that love ever existed?

Berlin in 1936; optimism fading, the freedoms of the Weimar Republic little more than a memory, yet the inhabitants of the city blind themselves to the approaching disaster. The Painting is a story of love, of survival, of a life lived at the mercy of the most terrible events of the twentieth century.

http://www.thepaintingnovella.com

Review by Erastes

Hidden away on Lulu and Smashwords there are quite a lot of gay historicals. I often search through those sites in case I find anything that seems promising, and often I do, so it is a worthwhile endeavour. This title, however, came to my notice through an industry friend Leslie Nichol who said it was a heartbreaking read, but well worth it.

The subject matter of the first half of the book certainly will put many people off from attempting this book, but I urge you to put that aside, be brave and to try this book out.  The issue of Paragraph 175, the Pink Triangle and the camps has been dealt with in many memoires and textbooks, but few fictional representations as far as I am aware. The play and film “Bent” deals with it fantastically, too—and this book has something of the feel of Bent to it—only it’s not quite as devastating to read. This should be obvious as I did say that the first half of the book deals with the camps, and so the book moves on from that point.

It’s the story of Stefan Brukalski, Polish born and raised—he comes to Berlin in the early 1930’s because he’s heard that it is a city bursting with inspiration and creative life. The book opens with him at a pavement cafe, at the end of his tether and deciding to return to his home town in Poland, because Berlin has changed drastically since he heard tales of how liberal and fun she was. The Night of the Long Knives put paid to much of the liberalism, and the city is beginning to learn how to live in fear. It is at this cafe where he meets Gunter, a man 14 years Stefan’s senior, a painter, who picks him up, takes him home and they begin a passionate and heartfelt affair. Stefan becomes a German citizen to be able to stay in the country with Gunter, and both men (as they had little choice in the matter) join the National Socialist Party, Stefan as a clerk, and Gunter as an architect/planner.

By the time the war begins, it is clear that Gunter is tortured by some secret he can’t and won’t divulge, and their relationship takes a nosedive, but Stefan holds on, trying to be strong for them both. Then one day storm troopers close off the street and arrest everyone they can. Stefan hides in a hidden place in the house and waits but the scare is enough for them to decide to split up for safety. Homosexuals are being rounded up, being put into camps, and they think the safest thing to do is to separate.

It’s after this that everything goes to hell, for our two main characters (and everyone else) and the section regarding Stefan’s arrest and consequent experiences in Auschwitz are bravely done. The author seems to have reined back a little on what she could have written, but what she puts down is probably worse, because the imagination takes over, filling in the details from every newsreel and documentary our generations have seen, the generations who were not there. I think, though, that the author hints at the worst of it, and although the chimneys are described and the smoke, I didn’t really get the sense that Stefan knew what was going on. I think Wallace was relying too heavily on what the reader would actually know, and felt that she didn’t need to spell it out. Perhaps that’s the right approach. I don’t know.

But it’s this reining in that troubles me for the entire book in general. The description of Berlin as it turned itself inside out from a free-thinking, artistic haunt where anything goes and wilkommen, bienvenue, welcome, to a police state, and then a city under threat of attack was not sketched out for me in enough detail. Most of the pre-war/pre-arrest sections are spent closeted away in Gunter’s apartments and I for one would have liked to have been shown more of the city. It is said that they rarely went out socially, for fear of giving themselves away, but I’d have liked to have seen even the shopping trips, and the like. We are told what’s going on, but we aren’t really shown it.

Aside from the camp sections—which, as I said—probably benefit from veiling the reader from day after day of the horror, the book runs like this with telling rather than showing, and we race along from the end of the war, careering into the fifties and sixties and seventies in a breathless rush, not really showing the passing of time, the changing of the fashions, the ideals in the country where the book takes place. I would have expected some social commentary on England, to be honest. There was a nice touch where the police call on Stefan after his story hit the headlines, and he panics that he’s going to be arrested, no charge, and dragged away, but of course—it’s England and nothing much happens at all. But England would have been such a haven (in comparison to Communist Poland or post-war Germany) and it’s not explored at all.

The book deals with a lot, family issues, people doing things because they had no choice, survivor guilt, and much much more—and with the weighty issues it has to cover it can’t help but skimp on some of the human detail.  I for one would have liked the pace to slow after the 1950’s, to show us him bringing up his niece in more chapters than we were given, but we leapt forward seven years in each chapter and it didn’t help to get me connected to Hannah at all, or to get a sense of that, for 14 years or so, he lived a happier life. It didn’t explain his rise as an author, and that’s something I’d have liked to have seen.

Perhaps it should have been two books. It reads as a family saga, and I’m a great lover of family sagas, and would happily read a book three times the size, watching the years go by. I felt a little cheated because I seemed to be there for all the terrible things that happened, but there must have been so much kitchen-sink sweetness and pleasure in Stefan’s life as Hannah grew up. He deserved that, and the reader deserved to share them with him.

There’s no mention of change in the political atmosphere regarding homosexuality in England either, even though Stefan doesn’t further that side of himself for many years, he would have—surely—noted the changes in the law as homosexuality finally became legal in 1967, even if it was only to himself. I’d expected this because Stefan was a Pole, and Poland (under Polish government) had no anti-homosexual laws.

Don’t get me wrong: even though I felt a lack of detail, this is still a beautifully written, thoughtful book. The ending sections, particularly, are touching and utterly believable. The theme that arises—although, once more, I would have liked a little more emphasis on the theme earlier in the book—of finding that  Stefan had begun to wonder if he had invented Gunther, to give his own life some focus, is warming and heartbreaking. I was happy for Stefan when I closed the book, but I wasn’t sobbing like a baby, and really—I think I should have been.

Considering it’s self-published it’s a bit of a jewel. The editing is top notch and the author has worked her socks off to get it in a state that—were it picked up by a mainstream publisher and i hope it might be—it would hardly need a comma moving.

It’s a challenging read, due to the subject matter, but don’t let that put you off. This book deserves as many readers as it can get and I look forward to a lot of eagerness to see what Ms Wallace comes up with next.

The author says she is negotiating to get the book into print format, but until then, there’s

Kindle  Smashwords

 

Review: Algerian Nights by Graeme Roland

In 1900, bored, wealthy Bostonian Perceval Fain finds himself in the French colony of Algeria, amusing himself with a number of local men, including members of the French military. Falling under the spell of his exotic desert surroundings, unfulfilled by his hedonistic lifestyle, Perceval meets an impoverished English artist, Preston.

At first the two men dislike each other and seem to have nothing in common. Almost against their wills, though, an attraction develops between them, fulfilling an enigmatic prophecy.

Review by Erastes

Well, going by the cover I didn’t think I was going to enjoy this–the cover won’t affect the score of the book, but shoving two headless six-packs over a desert doesn’t cut it these days–perhaps four years ago it might, but I think readers demand more, even for an ebook. The cover also doesn’t make it clear that it’s a historical, and may even put off the sort of reader who would actually really like this book, as it screams “gay porn” and not much else.

And that would be a shame, because this is quite a good historical romp. I use the word romp advisedy, because there’s a lot of sex in it, although I’d probably say that it’s not gratuitious, each sex scene does add something to the plot and characterisation, even if it’s only what a character thinks at the end of it.

I have to say that Fain was a fascinating character. A Dorian Gray without a portrait, a man who has decided to do pretty much exactly what he likes and has the money and prestige to back it up and to protect himself from the punishment the law may chuck at him. I liked particularly that he didn’t get away with this scot-free, that he was not received by polite society and that he was considered decadent and immoral and many other things by the American upper-classes. Think James’s Washington Square, then insert a slightly reined in Dorian Gray.

He’s accompanied everywhere by his lovely bit of rough, his valet, confidente and sometime bed-warmer Tommy who is himself a great character and if the author were to write any more about either of these I would happily read it. Tommy and Perceval (shortened to Perce, which annoyed me throughout, as Perce very much (for an English person) smacks of working class–the cat in “This Happy Breed” was called Perce) love each other and at first I thought that was the focus but their love, although real, is more friends with benefits, and the romance element came from elsewhere.

That pretty much sums Perce up, for most of the book. He’s loose-living, carefree and although he likes everyone he goes to bed with, or he wouldn’t go to bed with them, he’s never really formed a lasting attachment. He doens’t think that he feels the lack of this. He’s of the opinion that men aren’t naturally monogamous with other men and nothing that happens in the book convinces him otherwise, even at the end.

I’m in two minds about the level of OK Homo in the book. Granted that Perce makes sure that doors are locked and he usually has his trysts in places where he won’t be discovered, but there are several times when people are talking in public about male nudity, male attraction and male/male sex–for example Tommy and the painter Preston at the breakfast table. The author has been clever to set it in an out of the way town in Algeria, and that part of Africa was a magnet for gay men for decades because of the liberal attitude, but it’s all a bit TOO liberal, and male sex available just about everywhere. This, and the lack of any women characters, makes a little over-weighted in the OK Homo department.

It also didn’t seem to know exactly what it wanted to be. Half of the book was happy to be a good old sexual romp, with Perce leaping from partner to partners to orgy with gay abandon and the sex pretty well graphically described. This was fine, because that’s what I was expecting, something on the sexual level of The Back Passage (althugh without the tongue in cheek humour). But half way through the sex scenes were sketchily described along the lines of “they undressed and when they had both orgasmed…” which left me feeling a little cheated as I had thought this was supposed to be more of a one-handed read all the way through.

Everyone’s nice too. With his activities and lusts there needed to be some conflict, and it shows how much I enjoyed the story that I didn’t realise there wasn’t any conflict at all until after I had finished it. Everything comes easy to Perce, and with his looks and money that’s not particularly surprising, but it’s all too easy. Every man falls into bed with him without even being heterosexual, his gaydar is never off, everyone’s his friend, his servants are loyal and nothing bad happens.

However, considering that I didn’t even notice this until after I’d finished and had time to mull it over, I’m not going to mark it down much for that.

I think it could have done with a tougher editor as there are times when the passive voice is used pretty much exclusively “there was a and there was this and there was and it was and he was” etc etc and there are moments of head-hopping although they aren’t rife.

But all in all, a good edition to anyone’s library, and I encourage you to give this a go.

Amazon UK       Amazon USA    available in print and ebook

 

Review: Game of Chance by Kate Roman

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

Author’s website

Buy from Torquere Press

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

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

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Website

Amazon UK     Amazon USA

Review: Perfect Score by Susan Roebuck

Feckless, exasperating Alex Finch is a rich, handsome and talented singer/songwriter who longs for two things: a career as a professional rock singer, and to have his love for Sam Barrowdale reciprocated. But drifter Sam’s two aims are simply to earn enough money to pay his sister’s medical bills and to hide from the world his reading/writing and speech disability. At this time the word “dyslexia” is generally unknown so to most people he’s just a “retard”. From the severe knocks life’s dealt him, Sam’s developed a tough outer coating and he has no time for a spoilt, selfish guitar player.

Despite his defects, Alex’s love for Sam never wavers and when Sam unexpectedly disappears, Alex begins a somewhat bungling quest to find him, only to discover that Sam has a fearful enemy: Alex’s powerful and influential yet sociopathic uncle.

As Alex spirals downwards towards alcoholism, many questions need answering. Just why did Alex’s evil uncle adopt him at age eleven yet deny him any affection? And what’s the mystery behind Alex’s father’s death?

Both seem to face unbeatable odds. Are they doomed to follow separate paths forever?

Review by Erastes

I am going to enthuse. This–I know from people who complain that I’m too critical–is a rare thing, but I was so impressed by this debut novel I can’t not. It’s not perfect–and I can’t give it five stars for reasons I’ll explain later, but I’ll say right out that I consider it a must read and it has my highest recommendation. I will discuss plot points, so beware of spoilers.

The story hangs on either side of the Speak Its Name cut off of Stonewall. It starts in 1963 and goes on for twenty or so years.

It’s easy to get tripped up on “remembered history.” From experience I’ve found that writing recent history can be a lot harder than writing about several hundred years ago. It’s easy to take stereotypes and run with them, overdo the slang and the product references. Despite a teenaged Alex being full of “cool slang” in the first chapter, it doesn’t wallow in nostalgia and product placement.

It’s absolutely not an m/m novel. And for a debut novel this is very, very impressive writing.  Don’t make the mistake that “literary” means “I don’t understand a bloody word of this.” It’s readable without being coy or self-indulgent and you’ll be sucked in from the first chapter. The homosexual aspect–whilst actually being the core of the book isn’t the theme. It’s a love story, and the gender of the people involved doesn’t matter as much as the twisting and sometimes heart wrenching path they make while managing to not be together for one reason or another.

The story is told in three points of view. Alex’s story is in first person, Sam’s is in third, and there’s a final three chapter epilogue in first person by another character that I won’t list here. Don’t be put off by the rather literary device of mixing and matching the points of view–it works and it couldn’t work any other way. Alex’s mind is bright and colourful, full of self-indulgence, a selfish, rather spoiled young man who thinks more of himself than he has any right to be, and it’s his maturation that winds around the plot as he learns to care about other people instead of satisfying his own needs. Sam however is considered a “retard” — dyslexia was not as well-known a disorder as it is today, and anyone hearing his speak or seeing the way he interacts with the world would have thought he was educationally sub-normal. To have written his point of view in first person would have tripped this book up, and I think the readers would have been impatient with the way Sam stumbled over the words, even in his head. Doing it in third cushions the reader a little–just enough–from this mental and vocal confusion.

What wasn’t really needed then, in my opinion, was to be told at the beginning of each chapter, which young man it referred to–as only a few words in would have made it clear.

There’s a lot of layers to this book too. It’s not at all just a case of boy meets boy, boy loses boy, boy finds boy–but then I’ve already said it’s not a romance. (not a tragedy either, but that’s all I will say about the ending.) As the blurb suggests there’s a hell of a lot going on even without the tortuous way the young men never seem to catch a break. Even for a full-sized novel, it covers a lot of ground, has a lot of plot and I loved that, it really gave me plenty to get my teeth into.

What also impressed me was the sheer scale of the research involved. Not only does the history feel right–and that’s some doing in an era that went from the Beatles to the Space Age and into our technological era–but there’s dyslexia, chemistry, biochemistry, farming, mining, popular music and so much more, and if there was a bum note anywhere, I didn’t spot it.

Negatives, yes, there were a couple. There was a section–one of Sam’s–which was thumpingly subtitled “(ten days earlier)” and that jarred me. I wouldn’t have been so dim that I couldn’t have worked out we were skipping back to see what had happened to Sam at a slightly earlier point where we’d left Alex’s section. I was also a little bemused about the conflict Liza came up with, there didn’t seem that enough time had passed for her to be as sure as she was about that particular thing. (attempting to reduce spoilers here, but it’s difficult, :D)

There were a few–very few–typos here and there, but not enough to pull me out.

The ending–well, I absolutely don’t want to spoil, but I am pretty sure that (unless you are rabid about the falling into the arms and the HEA) you won’t be disappointed. The real kicker comes half way through the epilogue, which had me sobbing like a baby. I was railing at the end of the book proper and hating what had happened, but the explanation of the ending, and the way that it was concluded at the “proper” end was entirely right, and said buckets about the characterisation of Sam and the real coming of age of Alex.

There aren’t many books in this genre of ours that have me mulling over them after I’ve closed the book but this really got under my skin and it’s been eating away at me in the same way that “The Catch Trap” or “Brokeback Mountain” did.

Don’t miss this, because you’ll miss a real treat.  I can’t imagine what Ms Roebuck will come up with next, but I’ll be first in line.

Author’s Blog

Buy from Awe-struck Books (it’s only available in ebook right now, but the print version is due any time)

Review: Dulce et Decorum Est by JL Merrow

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

Dreamspinner   Amazon UK   Amazon USA

Review: Mere Mortals by Erastes

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

Review by Jane Ellsworth

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

Amazon UK    Amazon USA

Review: Lion of Kent by Aleksandr Voinov and Kate Cotoner

Squire William Raven has only one goal—to finally receive his spurs and become a knight. When his lord, Sir Robert de Cantilou, returns from a five-year crusade in the Holy Land, William wants nothing more than to impress him.

After Sir Robert’s return, noble guests arrive from France, bringing intrigue to the castle. William is oblivious to the politics, as he’s distracted by nightly visits from a faceless lover—a man who pleasures him in the dark and then leaves—a man he soon discovers is none other than his master, Sir Robert.

But William can’t ignore the scheming around him when he overhears a plot to murder Robert. He becomes intent on saving his lord and lover from those who would see him killed…

Review by Sally Davis

Mailed fists, velvet gloves, illicit passion plus the tension of a planned assassination attempt – Lion of Kent is a romping read and the authors have packed a lot into about a hundred pages.

First of all the cover made a very good impression on me. Lovely font, attractive design, two models suitably kitted out as hard man knight and pouty youth. Possibly, in retrospect, the youth is a little too pouty for William and the armour is way too late for 1176 but I can forgive Carina for that. From a design point of view, plate armour is much more interesting to light than mail. It’s a GOOD cover, so ignore the quibble.

The whole story is written from the point of view of William Raven. He comes across as a little out of place. He is older than the other squires, illegitimate, totally dependent upon the goodwill of his overlord for advancement. Consequently he has a huge chip on his shoulder and is willing to defend his honour against any perceived slight. He even challenges Sir Robert, verbally, when they meet. This is a young man desperate to prove himself, yearning for action and not overfond of thinking things through. I liked the character very much and loved the means the authors used to get this tension in him across:

The thought of fighting alongside his lord made William curl his hands as if to grip a weapon.

He’s ready to fight at the drop of a hat – or a gauntlet – but also has the nous to rein in his aggression when absolutely necessary.

Sir Robert, his master and eventual lover, is self-contained, self-controlled and civilised. I liked his ease with the French contingent and his forbearance under the verbal lash of his obnoxious churchman brother, Stephen. He also shows a lot of patience with hot-headed William. If there’s a war, I would like Sir Robert on my side, please.

Their relationship builds slowly leaving plenty of time to explore the other plot – the assassination of Robert – and didn’t ignore the illegality of what they were doing. The authors trod a fine line, using Roberty’s privileged position and the way of life at the time to allow the protagonists steamy encounters. For instance their first encounter takes place in the great hall at night. All the squires, men at arms, servants etc are bedded down together. The shutters are closed, the fire has died, the candles are out, the darkness is complete so nobody can see, and the sounds William and his visitor make are masked by those of other lovers nearby. This lack of privacy, appalling to our minds, becomes an aid to fulfillment in the hands of Kate and Aleksandr.

Great stuff.

Aleksandr Voinov’s website
Kate Cotoner’s website

Buy at Carina

Review: Young Man in Paris by Sophia Deri-Bowen

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

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

Review by Sal Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Raised by Wolves 2 Matelots by WA Hoffman

Buccaneer adventure/romance. The second of a series chronicling the relationship between an emotionally wounded and disenchanted English lord and an insane and lonely French exile, set among the buccaneers of Port Royal, Jamaica, in 1667.

Part two of an epic four part “love story for men” set amongst the buccaneers of Port Royal during the infamous Henry Morgan raids. It is the story of the relationship between two lonely and scarred men as they attempt to find happiness and peace through love and friendship. With adventure and romance, this chronicle explores questions and themes of gender, sexual preference, societal acceptance of homosexuality, survival of childhood abuse, and how to build a lasting relationship in a world gone mad.

Review by Gerry Burnie

Although I have been watching the Raised by Wolves series for quite a while, Matelots: Raised By Wolves, Volume 2 [Alien Perspective, 2007] by W.A. Hoffman is the first that I have read. To begin, I like the swashbuckling genre of buccaneers and pirates, and the romantic setting of the 17th-century Caribbean. Moreover, the author has done a fine job of describing both of these in colourful detail so that the reader becomes immersed in the story—the way a good historical-fiction should do.

And for those who enjoy character-driven tales, Will and Gaston’s are both engaging. Will is a romantic who lives and loves to the fullest. He’s also a keen observer of humanity, and seeks to understand the complexities of human nature, particularly when it comes to Gaston, who is the victim of a damaging past. In Gaston’s case it is not an easy quest, for he also suffers from a kind of madness that has been with him from birth.

It is here, however that the story suffers a debilitating set back. Will’s deeply held convictions regarding the human condition seem strangely anachronistic for 17th-century European thinking. After all, Europe was an exporter of human misery in the 17th-century, especially to the Caribbean. Moreover, as a previous reviewer has already pointed out, Gaston’s medical expertise seems anachronistically modern as well.

That said, Will and Gaston are still delightful characters, and perhaps even more endearing because of their very human foibles. Wills’ first person narrative also contributes to this, and adds some charming elements—such as saving a supporting character from being pressed only to find out that he doesn’t like him very well.

The secondary cast are all well-developed and interesting, too. The difficulty with introducing a large number of supporting characters is the risk of cluttering the story line, but here Hoffman has managed them all quite well, and made them all distinct as well.

An intriguing era, colourful setting and endearing characters, and altogether an enjoyable read. Enthusiastically recommended.

Amazon UK Amazon US

Review: The Wanderer by Jan Irving

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

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

Review by Sue Brown 4 stars

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

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

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

Author’s website

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Review: Arson! The Dakota Series 1 by Cap Iversen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: Living the Spirit: a Gay American Indian Anthology, compiled by Gay American Indians, Will Roscoe

“For centuries throughout America, both before and after the arrival of the Europeans, gay and lesbian Indians were recognized as valued members of tribal communities. Combining make and female roles, gay Indians worked as mediators, artists, healers, and providers for their tribes.” (from the back of the book)

Living the Spirit: a Gay American Indian Anthology, compiled by Gay American Indians, Will Roscoe, Coordinating Editor, St. Martin’s Press, 1988. Review by Tedy Ward

Rather by accident, several years ago, I found myself studying Native American cultures and writing about them. I did my graduate work focusing on European history, particularly the medieval and Renaissance periods, and while I took the requisite courses in American history, it wasn’t nearly as interesting to me as the darkly complex European periods. But when I started writing fiction, I found myself drawn to the period of American expansion referred to as ‘the American West’, a period from about 1830 to 1930 in which American ‘white’ culture spread itself economically, politically, and culturally across the wide plains and deserts of the heart of continental America.

Of greatest interest to me is the cultural clash between the indigenous peoples who lived there and the ‘American culture’ that moved in and took then over. The study of these Native American cultures – and there were far more than ‘one’ – is ongoing and probably always will be. Most of these cultures did not leave behind written documents, and the more they were exposed to ‘white’ culture, the more they changed, even when they didn’t want to.

Most of the records we have of the various cultures were left by Europeans and Americans who encountered them. It is from the French trappers who wandered through many of the Native American settlements that we get the word ‘berdache’, a term they used “to describe Indians who specialized in the work of women and formed emotional and sexual relationships with other men” (Preface, page 1). This concept, of the Native American acceptance of alternate gender and sexual roles, is the focus of the book Living the Spirit, compiled by Gay American Indians, Will Roscoe, Coordinating Editor, published by St. Martin’s Press, 1988.

The book is an interesting collection of modern writings from gay and lesbian Native Americans – poetry, short stories, essays – and historical studies of alternate sexuality in some of the tribes. “Tinselled Bucks: a Historical Study of Indian Homosexuality” by Maurice Kenny discusses the problems of lack of primary source material, and also the differences between the berdaches – men who lived as women and women how lived as men – and men and women living their gender roles who preferred to be sexually and emotionally involved with others of their gender and gender roles. He discusses the different terms and customs of berdaches in various tribes, as well as the levels of importance that many berdaches held in certain cultures, where they were often respected as people of great magic.

“Toleration of the berdache varied from tribe to tribe. Some tribes, such as the Illinois, actually trained young men to become homosexuals and concubines of men. The Cheyenne and the Sioux of the plains may not have purposely trained young men to become berdaches but certainly accepted homosexuals more readily than perhaps other tribes.” (“Tinselled Warriors”, page 26).

The thesis of “Sex/Gender Systems in Native North America” by Midnight Sun is as follows:

“Social, and specifically sexual, life is embedded in the economic organization of society – an organization that gives rise to a variety of cultural forms.” (page 32). This article discusses Native American sexuality as a function of the roles that men and women played in the survival of the various tribes. The author uses three specific case studies, of the Mojave, the Navajo, and the Peigan. All three tribes acknowledged cross-gender identities. “The Mojave believed that cross-gender individuals, especially hwames [female cross-dressers] were lucky in gambling and could become powerful shamans, while shamans and chiefs often married alyhas [male cross-dressers].” (pp. 37-38).

In Navajo culture, cross-gender people were called nadle:

“Because they were believed to have been given charge of wealth since the beginning of time, a family with a nadle was considered fortunate and assured of wealth and success.” (p. 41).

The Peigans, whose culture placed more importance on the role of men and the masculine-warrior ideal, had the ‘manly-hearted woman’, who was, unlike with the Navahos and Mojaves, not a sexual identity but an economic one. The ‘manly-hearted woman’ was a woman who dominated her husband but who was respected by the tribe because she was able to win and control property in traditionally masculine ways – inheritance, ingeniousness, and gifts of respect. The discussion of this article centers mostly on the roles that sexuality played in the respective tribes, and how equal the respect for women and men were, which seems to be dependent on whether the tribe supported itself through farming and agriculture (Mojave and Navaho), where women were often seen as equals to men, or hunters (Peigan) where men were more important and allocated more power and control.

“Strange Country This: Images of Berdaches and Warrior Women” by Will Roscoe, the contributing editor for the book, is a collection of short essays about cross-gender people in specific tribes, as seen in primary sources from European and American explorers during their early exposures to these tribes. Most of these essays are accompanied by pictures, either drawings or photographs taken at the time of these encounters or soon thereafter. There are twelve different Native American tribes represented in these essays and illustrations, covering all regions of North America. “Ever Since the World Began” is a collection of myths and tales from ten different tribes involving their cross-gender members or icons.

The second half of the book is a collection of autobiographical essays, short stories, and poems written by contemporary gay Native Americans; while many of them are modern, they often include family histories that discuss life on the reservations in the mid-1900s if not before, and the struggles that gay Native Americans faced then and now as their tribal culture has changed, taking on the values of the European and American culture.

This anthology isn’t technically an academic study; while some of the essays have internal notes, they don’t have individual bibliographies which makes it difficult to find the primary sources. That said, the history is fascinating, especially the individual views into various tribes and how tolerant and receptive they were to the ideas of homosexuality and cross-gender roles. To be clear, not all tribes were tolerant; the respect and tolerance varied depending on the tribe and how balanced the roles of women and men were in the tribe’s survival.

Overall, it is an interesting read, and a good resource for Native American concepts of sexuality and gender roles. It’s a little dated, politically as well as historically, and I’d very much like to see an new anthology from the Gay American Indians Organization, especially with the more recent interdisciplinary studies between anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians. It’s appeal may be a little more specific than other books studying gay history, as it’s focus is on gay Native Americans, a very select group historically and currently, but it’s also an interesting look at how a dominant culture – in this case, European/American ‘white’ culture – interprets and eventually changes and redefines other cultural values.

I’d rate this at a 4; it’s informative and engaging and in many ways, a view into an alien world.

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Review: Precious Jade by Fyn Alexander

Jade Swift has always wanted a man to fall madly in love with him and make him his own. He wants to be mastered. When he meets Marcus Wynterbourne, a dominant man with a passion for the whip, it is love at first sight.

Marcus is an MP, gay, and trying to live as freely as he can in 1885 when his sexuality’s not tolerated and his association with the beautiful Jade leads to rampant speculation. Hurt by a past betrayal, and unable to accept Jade’s loyalty because of his flirtatious nature, he casts Jade out of his house.

But Jade loves his Master and wants only to please him. Determined, he will do what he must to win his Master’s trust and restore his reputation amongst others who would ruin him.

Review by Jess Faraday

Goodness, how I enjoyed this.

BDSM romance is a category that I think, in careless hands, could go cringingly wrong. However, the author does a superb job exploring the emotional complexities of the relationship between the two main characters. Even if a reader has no personal interest in BDSM, the author’s sensitive treatment of the emotions underlying the POV character’s desires could make most readers, I believe, at least understand why someone else might. And this is not an insignificant achievement.

The POV character, Jade Swift, is larger than life. Although I thought there was too much weeping on his part, he is absolutely irrepressible. I loved him from the start, and rooted for him until the very last word.

The plot was a standard romance plot…well, sort of. Boy meets Master, boy loses Master, boy wins Master back. But the complexities specific to the master/slave relationship kept it from being stale.

If that’s not enough, the prose is delightful: clean, strong, but with character and flavor. There were a few typos, but they appeared to be software-generated rather than author-generated.

And the sex was hot.

In general, I found the book to be very well researched in terms of historical fact and physical surroundings. However, there were a few social inconsistencies that really got on my nerves, and these were what kept me from giving Precious Jade that fifth star.

First, I found it hard to believe that MP Marcus Wynterbourne’s mother would hire such a flamboyant creature as Swift for her son’s live-in secretary, when she is working so hard to dispel rumors of her son’s taste for young men. I found it impossible to believe that someone of her status would hire any sort of person with no experience and no references.

I likewise found it unlikely that two men, one with no experience in service, could walk up to the door of the Royal Pavilion, ask for jobs, and get them. And an unannounced visit from one of their mothers–especially when the PM and MPs are there for a conference? I don’t think so.

I probably would have overlooked the anachronistic use of the word “queer,” but it was used with such unrelenting frequency that it jolted me out of the story and straight to a dictionary. The first use of the word to mean “homosexual” (adj.) was recorded in 1922. The noun usage (both are used here) not until 1935. Admittedly, most readers probably wouldn’t have bothered, but it was the frequency that drove me to it. Likewise, the term “Nancy-boy” (1958, though “nance” was coined in 1883).

But other than these things, I found the story very well researched. And what was not researched well rankled less than it might have if the story hadn’t been so enjoyable, the narrator so engaging, and the writing so clean and sparkling.

So I’m giving it four stars, because it’s extremely well executed, I adore the protagonist, and it’s a really good story. And in the end, these are the things that count most for this reader.

Buy from Loose I-D

Review: Sam’s Hill by Jack Ricardo

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

*Available in Kindle format, 382KB

Review by Gerry Burnie

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

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

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

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

“The order came. “Tear Cartridges.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Home Station on the Prairie Series-1 and 2 by Kara Larson

Home Station on the Prairie

The Nebraska territory is a lonely place for young Jamie, who longs to be a Pony Express rider, but only manages to take care of their horses. Still, he has the ponies, and his father, and before he knows it he has Thad, a boyhood friend from back in Iowa.

Jamie has always found Thad fascinating, and soon the two young men strike up a friendship that might just turn into more. War looms on the horizon, though, and even as Jamie is realizing his dream of riding for the Pony Express, he knows his life is about to change drastically. Will he find a way to keep all he holds dear, including Thad?

Review by Sue Brown

This story is a little gem and I was really pleased to have the chance to read this tale and the one that follows, Little Family on the Homestead. The setting for Kara Larson’s story is the Pony Express in Nebraska. Jamie is a young man who dreams to be a Pony Express rider while he cares for their horses at the relay station run by his father. Kara Larson does an excellent job of drawing you into the world of the Pony Express run, its days numbered by the railroad and the encroaching civil war.

I got really caught up in Jaime’s dreams and desires, as he learns that riding between the stations in all weathers isn’t as romantic as he first believed, and the trials of his burgeoning romance with his boyhood friend, Thad. Kara Larson manages to interweave the harsh realities of their lives in with the joys and tears of their tentative relationship. I really enjoyed the way we see Jamie grow up in this short tale, from innocent boy to hardened veteran, coming home to turn the Midway Home Station into Patchwork Ranch, providing horse stock.

If I have one quibble it was that Jamie and Thad’s relationship seemed to take second place in the story, but I was kept so interested in the rest of the plotlines that it really didn’t matter.

4.5 stars

Published by Torquere

Little Family on the Homestead

Thad had thought that he was saying goodbye to Jamie forever when he left eleven years before. Like the Pony Express, their relationship was supposed to die out quietly, gracefully. What he hadn’t expected was how much Jamie Boyd and that little patch of Nebraska meant to him, and how much he wanted to spend the rest of his life on that Pony Express station turned homestead.

Eleven years later, and Thad’s happier than he’s ever been, helping Jamie’s cousin raise her five girls and making sure that Patchwork Ranch runs as smoothly as can be. But that all changes when Mattie Alden, the actual impetus that drove Jamie and Thad apart years ago, steps back into all their lives. With Mattie come complications, like men interested in both Jamie’s family and the ranch itself. Thad’s not the only one who has to make the journey of self discovery, but he’s not sure they’ll all survive the journey if they have to make it together.

Review by Sue Brown

Another lovely instalment in the Home Station on the Prairie series. Once again, I was easily drawn into the world of Jamie and Thad and the Patchwork Ranch. This time Jamie and Thad are settled together, with Jamie’s cousin and her children. I am pleased to see that in this book the relationship of two men takes centre stage.

While this doesn’t have the immediate freshness of Home on the Prairie, the plotline I particularly enjoyed about Little Family on the Homestead was the return of Mattie and the tension that brings to our heroes, particularly Thad. Thad was almost incidental in the first story and I was glad to see him develop more in this story.

Again Kara manages to combine historical detail with the development of the characters. Her deft touch shows in the roundedness of the secondary characters, including the children. Having children myself, the discussions about Santa Claus made me giggle, although I did question whether the children would actually know about Santa Claus and did some research to find out.

This is developing into a lovely series and I am looking forward to the next instalment from Kara.

4 stars

Author’s Livejournal

Published by Torquere

Review: Walking in Two Worlds by Terry O’Reilly

Lee Masters is fired from his cattle drive when his sexual orientation is discovered. Frustrated and angry, he rides to a mountain lake where he meets Running Buffalo, Tatanka, who is also exiled from his tribe for refusing to adhere to tribal custom for braves who prefer men to women.

They strike up a friendship, which readily turns to love. Their family is completed when a young Indian, Sleeps with Dogs, insists they take him home with them on their search for a home.

But within each there is an unanswered yearning for approval among their people. Where can they find the acceptance they seek? Will they forever find themselves Walking in Two Worlds?

Review by Sue Brown

I have a penchant for Westerns so I was pleased to be given Walking in Two Worlds, an historical Western which not only traverses attitudes to homosexuality within different cultures, but the added issue of our heroes coming to terms each other in an interracial relationship. Walking in Two Worlds tackles a difficult subject and on the whole handles it successfully, yet as a reader, occasionally there were things that threw me out of the world Terry O’Reilly was creating.

There are elements of Walking in Two Worlds which are outstanding, such as the attention to detail, which helps to place the reader firmly in the era. The author skilfully manages to blend the historical and racial detail into the storyline without ‘information dumping’, and I finished the book with a desire to know more about the Dakota and Hopi tribes. I was extremely impressed by sympathetic handling of the comparison of the three cultures, the two Indian tribes and the white homesteads. As I read I could see the good and the bad in each world as the cowboy and the Indian, and the young Indian boy, who adopted them, struggled to adapt.

Terry O’Reilly managed to draw me into the relationship of Lee Masters, a rugged cowboy, and Running Buffalo, Tatanka, a Dakota chief, both of them exiled from their worlds. I enjoyed the development of their relationship and the prejudices they encountered in trying to live together as a couple in the Indians tribes and white culture. The sex scenes were hot and managed to combine both the physical and emotional elements that I prefer.

The secondary characters were well-rounded and added to the storyline. Reading the blurb, I was dubious about the addition of the young Indian boy, Sleeps With Dog, however his story blended in smoothly with Lee and Tatanka’s developing relationship.

After all this, there were a couple of things that really set my teeth on edge. The idea of the rough-mannered Lee telling a man he had only just met that he loved him after their first night together just screamed ‘No’. Another one was Lee’s comment about something ‘tasting just like chicken’. It seemed a very modern comment and I found it distracting.

I found the ending rushed and almost a cop-out after the time spent with the rest of the story. I can understand why it ended as it did and it was in keeping with the book. It would just have benefited from more detail.

Walking in Two Worlds gets 4 stars because it drew me into another world and made me want to know more.

Author’s Website

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Review: Comstock by Aaron Michaels

Reggie Grayson has a secret admirer. A traveling Shakespearean actor in 1883 Virginia City, Reggie’s already been robbed at gunpoint by a masked bandit, and now he’s receiving drawings and roses from a mystery man who won’t leave his name. Is this any way to make his debut as a leading man?

Desperate to discover if his secret admirer is the ruggedly handsome man who watches the stage from the shadows of a private box, Reggie’s quest to meet the man of his dreams plunges him headlong into danger and intrigue in the lawless days of the silver rush on the Comstock Lode.

Review by Erastes

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I rather liked the set up of this, a travelling understudy of the San Francisco Shakespeare Company out to gain his spurs in provincial theatres in the West, and at first I liked Reggie and his sense of doubt about his abilities and the way that a drawing from an admirer gives him impetus to do as well as he can. I cooled to him somewhat throughout the book as he struck me as rather self-centered, concerned with issues only pertaining to himself, his watch, his admirer, his performance blah blah — and when there’s a cave-in at the mine, Reggie paws over the drawings of himself left by his admirer and ponders about this rather than rushing out to see if there was anything he could do to help!

However the pairing was a little obvious, and if there’s a “mystery admirer” I’d like a wide choice of possible suitors or to drag out the mystery for a bit longer – but perhaps that wasn’t possible in a book of about 60 pages. And when they do get together, of course they are instantly in love, and I get a bit tired of that, as it’s a bit Romeo and Juliet instead of Deadwood, but that’s deliberately done, I think.

That being said, it’s a solid little story with good characters and a fine balance of plot versus romance, which again is tricky for a short book like this. Somehow the author manages to introduce a wrong that has to be righted, several interesting people, and the research seems well done. I did like the clever way that Cole’s motivations for what he did were actually exactly the same as something that Reggie had experienced himself, this gave a good reason for the empathy he feels in a tricky situation. There’s even an exciting finish and anyone who can balance all that in one book gets a tip of the hat from me!

The fact that I didn’t particularly like Reggie shouldn’t put anyone off buying and enjoying this book, because I’m sure you will.

There are a couple of editing and tense issues, which was a shame, but overral, I’d say it’s worth adding to your collection, particularly if you are a fan of Frontier fiction.

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Review: Fortunes of War by Mel Keegan

In the spring of 1588 two young men fell in love: an Irish mercenary serving the Spanish ambassador in London, and the son of an English earl. Then Dermot Channon must leave England when the embassy is expelled just prior to the onset of war, and Robin despairs of ever seeing him again. Seven years pass, and when Robin’s brother is kidnapped for ransom in Panama in the years following the war between England and Spain, Robin sets sail with a fleet commanded by Francis Drake, hoping to bring home his brother. But soon enough the ship on which Robin is traveling is sunk by privateers — pirates led by none other than Dermot Channon. Reunited by a cruel twist of fate, the two men embark with passion on a series of swashbuskling adventures around the Spanish Main.

Review by Aleksandr Voinov

I enjoyed this book. The tale of Irish-Spanish mercenary Dermot Channon who, during a diplomatic mission, seduced Robin Armagh, son of an English earl. Love blooms, politics and war get in the way. This is a plotty, meaty histoprical novel that sees Dermot softened and committed and Robin grown up into Dermot’s equal.

I’m a sucker for gay novels where both men are equals. And also masculine. While Robin starts out as a young man, innocent and quite willingly seduced and taught about love, much of the novel is about negotiating the relationship, until both settle on the fact they are equals.

The historical detail rings true (the time is not my speciality, and I enjoyed it too much to go out hunting for inconsistencies). The novel has plenty of historical meat to sink your teeth into, from map making to types of ships. There’s plenty of conflict. English versus Spanish, Catholic versus Protestant, add privateering adventures and grim tales of rape and slavery, and you have a novel that will keep you turning pages.

In terms of gay history, the author shows us two different worlds. The continent, where gay sex is forbidden (the English court is a little more permissive) and is punished, and the Caribbean, where a captured man might end up gang-raped, and then the couples that form quite naturally while at sea.

This is also my first book by Mel Keegan, who’s been around a lot longer than most of the writers in the genre I’ve read, and I’m not disappointed. The style is quite different to what I’ve read recently for Speak Its Name. Keegan does a fair job making the prose sound archaic and infuses it with plenty of flavour. For the most part, that’s successful – there are some bits that clash a bit, but the energy and drive of the writing sweeps you easily past the rockier bits.

What does need work, however, is the editing. Punctuation is very hit-and-miss, and there are more typos than necessary. In addition, the book (I have the PDF) is strangely formatted, with blanks separating the paragraphs, and the lines ending sometimes after two thirds of the page rather than fill the whole breadth.

Some scenes feel quite repetitive, and there’s a scene when Dermot Channon, our hyper-virile proud Spanish mercenary, sulks and throws a passive-aggressive hissy fit that felt completely out of character and seemed to mainly serve to ramp up the conflict at a point in the book when both characters were without a care in the world.

In the end, this is a book that is interesting in a different way from those I’ve rated similarly. Keegan has a distinctive voice and a distinctive style and in terms of history and plotting, this is way more ambitious than most other books I’ve read in the genre. For that, I would have liked to give 4.5 stars, but the poor editing, formatting and the pretty weak cover shave off half a star. I will, however, seek out more books by Keegan and recommend this to anybody who is looking for a different voice, pirates and 16th century gay adventure and love.

Author’s website

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In the spring of 1588 two young men fell in love: an Irish mercenary serving the Spanish ambassador in London, and the son of an English earl. Then Dermot Channon must leave England when the embassy is expelled just prior to the onset of war, and Robin despairs of ever seeing him again. Seven years pass, and when Robin’s brother is kidnapped for ransom in Panama in the years following the war between England and Spain, Robin sets sail with a fleet commanded by Francis Drake, hoping to bring home his brother. But soon enough the ship on which Robin is traveling is sunk by privateers — pirates led by none other than Dermot Channon. Reunited by a cruel twist of fate, the two men embark with passion on a series of swashbuskling adventures around the Spanish Main.

A Room in Chelsea Square by Michael Nelson

Patrick, fabulously wealthy and with a good eye for pictures and young men, brings the impressionable Nicholas Milestone to London, intent on reducing him to utter dependence by playing on his naivety and greed.  But Nicholas proves to be not quite as pliable as hoped, and a witty social comedy develops as he struggles with the web that Patrick has so richly woven for him.

Review by Erastes

As promised, here is the second book written in the 1950′s – following on the from my review of what I found to be the rambly and uber-literary The Bitterweed Path.

Imagine Wodehouse set in the 1940′s with a gay main character as rich as Bertie and used to getting his own way in all things.  It’s not a comedy, as such, although it has some amusing moments, it’s more a witty satire and an exploration of a particular set of men–gay and otherwise–in 1940′s London.

Patrick is, as the first line describes: “very, very rich.” He’s currently single, and, as the book opens, he’s shopping for presents for a handsome young man he’s recently met in the country. With ease, using a wide net of ex-boyfriends, he arranges Nicholas a job at a tabloid newspaper to tempt him to London, and when he arrives, meets him at the station and inveigles excuse after excuse to prevent the young man starting work, moving him into his suite at a hotel, and lavishing an expensive lifestyle on him.

The book takes place over the space of a week, following Nicholas’ introduction into Patrick’s lifestyle, meeting his friends and resisting Patrick’s advances.  He’s not entirely the ingénue that Patrick imagines him to be however:

Nicholas had a thoroughly miserable bath.  He knew that he couldn’t evade Patrick’s advances much longer.  It was no good pretending that Patrick was going to support him from purely altruistic motives.  Patrick wanted his pound of flesh, he was was going to make sure he got it.  What did sex matter anyway?  It was a small price to pay for all the things that Patrick could offer him in exchange.

The novel was published entirely anonymously when it first came out and from the frank portrayal of gay characters you would think you could understand why, but it goes a little deeper than that.  In fact, it’s semi-autobiographical.  The introduction in the 1986 reissued GMP version  by Philip Core explains that “Patrick” is a thinly veiled portrait of Peter Watson: associated for a long while with Cecil Beaton, co-founder of the ICA and wealthy homosexual sponsor of Bacon, Colquhoun, MacBryde, Vaughan, Minton and other homosexual painters. Michael Nelson (the “Nicholas” of the book) was in reality pursued by Watson, who bought him Picassos and Sutherlands as part of his seduction technique.

Nicholas–like the real life Nelson–is prevented from starting at his Tabloid newspaper by the dangling of a greater carrot, a job on a new arts magazine “Eleven” (which was “Horizon” in real life) together with his friend Michael, Christopher Pyre (Stephen Spender in reality) and a former protégé of Patrick’s: the bon-viveur Ronnie Gras (Cyril Connolly).  It is Nicholas’ constant prevarication as to whether to succumb to Patrick’s gentle but lavish onslaught that eventually causes his downfall.

But aside for the historical interest, it’s a highly enjoyable and entertaining read, particularly because it’s written in the rather affected slang of the upper middle and upper class of the time.

And some dialogue must have been positively shocking at the time, although it probably went over the head of many, just as the outrageous double-entendres of Julian and Sandy slid past the censors in Round the Horne.  There’s one scene where Nicholas says he’s tired and Patrick advises he should rest, saying:

An hour on your back with your legs up will do you the world of good.

Much of the dialogue is hugely bitchy too, and I loved it, because that’s no exclusivity of being gay – that’s how people really talk.

I highly recommend this: It might be rather too English for many, but if you enjoy any films of Noel Coward or in fact any film that deals with this era of the aesthete then you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.  It’s also very interesting to compare and contrast with Mr Page and Mr Clive, which concentrates more on unhappiness and closeted misery, but then this book was written in the era, not about the era, so one wonders which one is nearer to the truth.

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Review: Lessons in Seduction by Charlie Cochrane

This time, one touch could destroy everything…

The suspected murder of the king’s ex-mistress is Cambridge dons Orlando Coppersmith and Jonty Stewart’s most prestigious case yet. And the most challenging, since clues are as hard to come by as the killer’s possible motive.

At the hotel where the body was found, Orlando goes undercover as a professional dancing partner while Jonty checks in as a guest. It helps the investigation, but it also means limiting their communication to glances across the dance floor. It’s sheer agony.

A series of anonymous letters warns the sleuths they’ll be sorry if they don’t drop the investigation. When another murder follows, Jonty is convinced their involvement might have caused the victim’s death. Yet they can’t stop, for this second killing brings to light a wealth of hidden secrets.

For Orlando, the letters pose a more personal threat. He worries that someone will blow his cover and discover their own deepest secret… The intimate relationship he enjoys with Jonty could not only get them thrown out of Cambridge, but arrested for indecency.

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

Lessons in Seduction is the sixth entry in the Cambridge Fellows series, and for me, it was the least satisfying, to date. That’s not to say it was a bad book—it wasn’t—and certainly fans of the series will want to add this to their collection. If you are new to the series, I would recommend starting with the first book, Lessons in Love and working your way through the prior five (Love, Desire, Discovery, Power and Temptation) before tackling this one. Although they can be read as standalones, I think there is enough character development between the lead protagonists, Jonathan Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith, that the series is more enjoyable read in order.

So, for this book. As noted above, a murder has occurred at the Regal Hotel. Jonty and Orlando, because of their growing renown as amateur sleuths, are asked to help with the investigation. Jonty’s father, Richard Stewart, also gets involved. Jonty and Richard are able to be themselves, but Orlando must go undercover as Oliver Carberry, posing as a dancing instructor and regular “fourth for bridge.”

Because Jonty and Orlando are forced to be apart for much of the story, the murder mystery takes center stage and that, for me, was one of the biggest problems of the book. One of the things that has really attracted me to this series is the interaction between Jonty and Orlando and because of their separation, much of that was absent. They few times they did manage to get together, they were so desperate for each other, they didn’t have as much of their usual funny banter. Jonty tried to poke fun at himself and their situation in one scene by pretending to be a caveman, but the humor felt forced and didn’t work—for me at least.

The murder investigation seemed overly complicated. Because they were at a hotel, there were dozens of guests who were all potential suspects and I’ll be honest, by about the halfway point, I had given up keeping them straight. Lady This and Sir That and ladies’ maids and sons and jilted lovers all paraded across the pages. Worse, this was a fairly cerebral investigation, in which clues were gathered during breakfast, lunch and dinner; while people were dancing; while people were playing golf; while people were playing cards; and once in a while, when folks took a stroll on the beach. After many repetitious scenes of characters chatting over tea, the entire narrative started to wear thin for me. Jonty and his father kept receiving notes warning them off the case, but I never really felt that their lives were truly in danger. If there could have been at least one late night chase across the golf course, or a few shots ringing out in the dark, it would have livened up things considerably.

That said, the writing is classic Cochrane, with funny little turns of phrase and wonderful descriptions of the various people, their clothes, and the locale. For her fans, this alone will be enough to draw them in and keep them reading and most likely ignore the problems I had with the story.

I think writing a series of books and keeping them fresh and interesting is a formidable challenge for any author. Cochrane set a very high standard for herself with the first five books, and I want to make it clear that this one, even though she’s fallen off the mark a little bit, in my opinion, is still very good. I am looking forward to seeing how she wraps this up in book seven, Lessons in Trust. I feel like the series is working itself to its natural conclusion and I look forward to reading the last installment.

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Review: Voyageurs by Keira Andrews

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

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

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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