Review: The Low Between by Vivien Dean

It was supposed to be simple.

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

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

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

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

ebook  - 144 pages

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Website

Buy at Amazon UK | Amazon USA| Amber Allure

Home is the Heart by J M Gryffyn

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

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

ebook only – 100 pages approx

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy from Dreamspinner Press

Review: King of Angels by Perry Brass

the story of Benjamin Rothberg, a 12-year-old master of shape-shifting, of changing identities while steadfastly grasping the unique features of his own. The child of a marriage between a handsome Northern Jewish father and a classic-WASP-beauty Southern mother, Benjamin must change identities from Jewish to non-Jewish, from being a smart, precocious self-aware kid to masquerading and passing as a regular boy, from growing into a sexually curious (and possibly gay) young man to experiencing a fragile adolescent innocence, almost in love with a pretty girl.

Set in Savannah, Georgia, during the tumultuous Kennedy years, King of Angels explores the role of Southern Jews in the still-segregated South, the explosive race relations and racial consciousness of this era, and the emergence of a genuine gay community with its own honest, outsider viewpoint. It is also a realistic story of the underground world of boys who must fool their parents and each other in order to achieve any form of unguarded closeness. As a half-Jew attending Holy Nativity, a Catholic military school in Savannah, Benjy will form some of the most important friendships of his life, and experience the full brutality of boys bullying each other. He will also become aware of many forms of seduction and attraction: the seductions of a secret sexual life in the school, the seductions of his own heart taken with a quiet handsome Puerto Rican male student, and the attractions of the Spirit itself in all of its revealed forms. This is truly a novel about the mysterious origins of identity and belief, in a questioning heart and questioning time, while growing up in the changing South in the early 1960s.

Paperback and ebook – approx 400 pages

Review by Erastes

The story is narrated by Benjamin Rothberg and it starts when he’s quite young, from his first memories of his mom and dad. It’s an engaging voice and easy to get into as you work your way through his early grade school years. He’s a Jew — or rather his father is a Jew even if the household doesn’t exactly keep a fully Jewish house and he learns about duality of personality very early on as his father is Leon when he’s being more Jewish and Robby when he isn’t. Benjamin considers himself a Jew–and he’s sent to a Catholic Military Academy (which accepts other faiths) he finds that duality even more pronounced.

I found it a little heavy going because like many memoire-type stories, it struggles as to whether it wants to tell the story from the actual point of view of a 13 year old boy–which may have lent it more weight–or from a hindsight perspective, told from an adult version of Benjy. I never quite felt it knew where it wanted to be as it tended to waver between the two.  The trouble with having a child’s pov is that you can’t have them understand much of what goes on, and the trouble with hindsight is that you can imbue your child protagonist with a much too knowing persona – this manages both at times.

Be warned that most of the sexual interaction  although it’s pretty lightly (although not lightly enough I think) described is between young kids. Benjy isn’t even 13 before he’s jacking and blowing his friend and having it done back to him. There’s very broad hints and rumours that many of the monks are child-abusing but thankfully this is not described at all.

There is a lot of repetition which I found an interesting device after three mentions and intensely irritating after about ten mentions. We don’t need to be constantly told that his mother is a social lightweight who seems to do nothing more than attend a country club and drink Salty Dogs (although what these are is only explained quite late on, and for my mental health I wish they had been explained earlier) with her friends and we don’t need to be constantly told about Benjy’s father using two different personas. It became rather wearing after a time when I was still reading these two same facts more than half way into the novel.

Other than the two facts above, Benjy doesn’t seem to describe his parents–he calls them by their first names (in the text, although not, it seems to their faces) and I found that odd, it’s not like he’d gone to any particular progressive school and he wasnt a rebellious kid with weird ideas (like Eustace for example from Prince Caspian). The parents simply spawn on the page as the Salty Dog drinker airhead and the big looming man that Benjy adores for some reason.  I would have liked to have seen them, particularly at the beginning, more often on the page, giving reasons for Benjy’s opinion on them.

The story itself doesn’t actually pick up until about half-way either when an incident at Summer Camp throws the whole military academy and Benjy’s life into a turmoil, plus the fact that his home life begins to fall apart at the same time.

One thing I felt was sorely missing was a real sense of when this was all occurring. If you passed a blind eye over the fact that no one had mobile phones or game consoles then this really didn’t feel rooted in American 1960′s. Perhaps that’s partially because of prejudices towards Jews and Catholics and gays are still sadly similar today as they were back then, but it’s partly also to do with the fact that much of it takes place at the Military Academy (which, like Public Schools in the UK can have a timeless feel) and indoors at people’s houses mostly in tents or bedrooms. Surely kids would have been listening to music, watching TV shows of the time, talking about Space and goodness knows what? There’s one instance where his mother has the radio on in the car and she’s listening to the Beatles, but really, that was a rare instance of pop culture. It needed more of a flavour of the time to make you feel you were there along with Benjy. These kids only ever seemed to talk about having sex with each other who was queer and who wasn’t.

The kids seemed impossibly knowing, too. I guess that the book is semi-autobiographical perhaps because Brass was half-jewish and grew up in the same area, but when I was 12 I certainly wouldn’t have been having the  same conversations about life and theology these kids were having. Or about having sex with each other and who was queer and who wasn’t either, to be frank.

It makes it all sound as though I didn’t enjoy the book at all, but that’s not true, I did like the voice, and although the whole religion thing left me cold as I couldn’t care less about it, the story was interesting enough to stick with, for all the niggles I had.

One thing I could have done was the tagline to the novel it’s officially called “King of Angels, A novel about the Genesis of Identity and Belief”

Well, really. Thank you, Mr Brass because I am obviously too dumb to have picked up on that, and with that swipe you’ve put off many of your potential readers who will think it’s far more preachy than it is, or some kind of religious text book, and you’ve insulted those who will read it, because you’ve already explained what it’s about. Those who haven’t been put off by that dreadful cover, at least!

Benjy does go through a lot, but as with many first person child narratives, it all felt very remote to me. Even his sexual experiences–which I clearly remember mine shaking me to my core at that age–don’t really seem to register with him.  Perhaps that’s because the author didn’t want to describe a 12 year old having mutual masturbation and blow jobs in any detail, but it’s more than that, there’s no aftermath to it even when he’s pretty much forced–although he denies he was afterwards–to have a blowjob by a much older boy. He says he “weirdly likes” the boy, although for the life of me I couldn’t see one reason for that, and no reason is given other than he likes him. He tends to drift in and out of his relationships with just about everyone, and as often happens in books with the main protagonist Benjy is irresistible, and just about everyone wants to be his friend or have sex with him, monks, older boys, girls, you name it. He’s told it’s because he’s got a “seducing” air but it struck me as Gary-Stu-ism, along with all the other things he could do with no effort at all.

It’s a shame that he was quite so intelligent and so knowing because when it comes down to it, this is a coming of age-coming of religion-coming of self-coming of gender book and I felt that Benjy had no doubts at all, and that he didn’t really cross any great Rubicon to be who he was because, as several people said in the book, he already knew who he was from the beginning.

Well worth a read, but it didn’t set me on fire.

Author’s Website

Amazon USA Paperback | Kindle

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: The Celestial by Barry Brennessel

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

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

Paperback and ebook – 192 pages

Review by Michael Joseph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy from  Amazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: The Pleasuring of Men by Clifford Browder

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

Paperback and ebook: 232 pages

Review by Elliott Mackle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy at:   Gival PressAmazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: Convict Ass by Martin Delacroix

Kurt Delay has just served thirty months in prison, on an arson conviction. He’s on parole and crazy about his new lover, Eli, who’s also an ex-con. Passion between Kurt and Eli burns hotter than Kurt’s conflagrations; love between Eli and Kurt seems full of promise. But when Kurt’s former cellmate, Harold Grimm, comes between Kurt and Eli, the two are forced into desperate actions. Can they save the life they’ve built together? Set in 1965 Florida, Convict Ass offers a glimpse of a peculiar brand of love shared only by men who’ve done time behind bars

Ebook only, 86 pages (approx)

Review by Erastes

I admit, the title put me off a little, as I had visions that the book would be a novel-sized version of a John Patrick sex story full of unpleasant euphemisms and the like.

So I was actually quite pleasantly surprised to find a decent story and a character–whilst I couldn’t warm to in many respects–was interesting enough to keep me reading. In fact only a small proportion of the story takes place in prison, which made the title slightly a mismatch.

Kurt is an arsonist–but of course, he’s a “good” one. He makes sure no one is hurt by his fetish and gets sexually aroused by his fire-starting. This is set in the 60′s so there’s no psychiatrist around to try and get the obsession out of this mind. He’s simply tipped out into society and other than a corrupt parole officer, left to fend for himself.

He doesn’t consider himself gay. He’s had one sexual experience before prison, and that was a blowjob from a simple girl, so as far as he’s concerned he’s as straight as they come. When he gets “protection” from Harold Grimm (good name) in prison, he has a good streak of self-preservation, he rolls over (as it were) and does what has to be done. Harold is the worst kind of lover, not caring about anyone else’s pleasure but his own, and the sex is pretty graphic, and forced/dub-con/rape/ but not played for titillation.

He’s relieved to be released, and freed from Harold, and utterly amazed to find Harold sobbing like a baby when he’s about to lose Kurt. Kurt has never had love, and that’s something that annoyed me from page one, not that he hadn’t had love in his life, but that he banged on about at every available opportunity. We really only need to be told this sort of thing once and it’s done with such tub-thumping heavy handed clumsiness at the beginning of the book I wish I had a drinking game going for every other time it’s mentioned. Yes. I get it. He’s had a bad life. No one’s loved him. That’s why he’s such a bad boy (I assume, although this isn’t actually explored). Boo hoo.

Part of the reason that this annoys me is that PING! on his first foray into the outside world he meets a young man (Preston) on a bus who invites him round and in about three minutes flat Kurt’s in love with and living with (on a weekend basis) Eli, Preston’s room mate. They fall in love pretty much immediately which shortened the book significantly. I think I would have preferred Kurt to at least have a bit of a life–taking into account the end of the novel–before getting into what was for him at least, a monogamous relationship (Eli’s on the game).

As the blurb suggests, the big spanner in the works is Grimm being released from prison and it’s no surprise that he tracks his lover down and expects their relationship to continue where they left off. How the two men deal with this problem leads to how the novel ends and let me warn you here and now although the protagonists don’t end up killing themselves, it’s not a good ending, even though Kurt is pretty phlegmatic about it.

I really couldn’t warm to Kurt–or in fact, Eli as it was basically his idea of the solution, and he was swept along with all Eli’s return to his arson. They aren’t sympathetic characters and other than loving each other, we are given no reason to find them so. When they aren’t burning down buildings, all we are shown them doing is having long, hot sex, or in Kurt’s case, being lazy and refusing to do any chores around the house.

However, I am making it sounds like a bad book, and I don’t think it’s that at all. I think that had I edited it (and the editing is pretty good on a copy level) I might have asked for more of an exploration of Kurt’s obsession with fire, and more detail on an everyday level because it’s all a bit two dimensional for the characterisation. But the story is pretty absorbing, I kept reading because I wanted to know what happened next and how the dilemma was solved and the historical details–most particularly the aspect that Kurt had been inside during the early part of the sixties and had a culture shock upon release. I would have liked to have seen more of that.

If you can stand coercion-sex and don’t expect a happy or satisfying ending, then give this one a read, although you might feel as miserable afterwards as I did, even if Kurt didn’t.

As an aside, I hesitated to review a Noble Romance book given the problems there, but as the company has a new CEO who seems to want to move the company past the stigma the previous CEO has left him with, I  decided to go ahead. It’s a decent enough book and doesn’t really deserve to be plastered with the sticky mud of a CEO losing her professionalism.

Author’s website

Buy from Amazon UK  |  Amazon USA

Review: The Auspicious Troubles of Chance by Charlie Cochet

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

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

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

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But when there’s phrases like this:

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

Chance rather loses some of his street cred.

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Website

Buy at Dreamspinner Press | Amazon UK | Amazon USA

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


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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tina Anderson’s Website

Linsley Brito’s Deviant Art Page

Buy at Amazon UK    Amazon USA

Review: 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

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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: Whistle Pass by KevaD

On the battlefields of WWII Europe, Charlie Harris fell in love with Roger Black, and after the war, Roger marched home without a glance back. Ten years later, Charlie receives a cryptic summons and quickly departs for his former lover’s hometown of Whistle Pass. 

But Roger Black isn’t the lover of Charlie’s dreams anymore. He’s a married, hard-bitten political schemer who wants to secure his future by destroying evidence of his indiscreet past. Open homosexuality is practically a death sentence, and that photo would ruin Roger and all his wife’s nefarious plans.

Caught up in foggy, tangled events, Charlie turns to hotel manager Gabe Kasper for help, and Gabe is intrigued by the haunted soldier who so desperately desires peace. When helping his new lover places Gabe in danger, the old warrior in Charlie will have to take drastic action to protect him… or condemn them both

Review by Elliott Mackle

The set-up and first chapter of this caper historical are so convincing and cleverly done I thought I’d stumbled onto something wonderful. Unfortunately, eight fast-moving introductory pages do not a successful, or even a comprehensible, novel make.

The hook: Charlie Harris, a lonely bachelor lumberjack, spurned by his army lover at war’s end, receives a two word message: “Need you.” In the past, these words were the signal for sex between Charlie and his battlefield body-buddy, Roger Black. Now, ten years later, assuming the note is genuine, Charlie drops everything and takes off for Roger’s home town, Whistle Pass, Illinois.

The setting is small-town Midwestern America, 1955. The narrative tone, descriptions of landscape and criminal and political shenanigans, however, are more reminiscent of shoot-’em-up western frontier fiction and cowboy movies set a century earlier. Like most such genre confections, much of the action and dialog are overdone and forgettable.

The gist of the novel is a cascade of bloody fights and violent confrontations, faked battles, misidentifications, truck shootings (they shot horses, didn’t they?), empty threats (Roger’s wife Dora proposes to kill someone who’s already dead), a daring escape from a homophobic mob and assorted, mostly unconvincing homo- and heterosexual love scenes. Finally, the fade-out that unites the new lovers, macho lumberjack Charlie and prissy, closeted, beaten-to-a-pulp hotel manager Gabe, comes off as almost a parody of every HEA ending ever written.

Better editing might have helped. Abrupt changes in point of view are distracting. “LT” for Lieutenant (not once but several times); an incorrectly composed newspaper headline, and occasional metaphorical howlers (“Gabe’s heart thumped like the leg of a rabbit in heat.”) suggest that more care might have been taken in the preparation of the finished product. On the other hand, misspellings are few and some of the characters’ voices are lively and distinctive. The cover art, which suggests little about the novel itself, is attractively dreamy and masculine.

Author’s website

Buy at Dreamspinner Press   Amazon UK  Amazon USA (available as print and ebook)

Review: Bonds of Earth by G.N. Chevalier

In 1918, Michael McCready returned from the war with one goal: to lose himself in the pursuit of pleasure. Once a promising young medical student, Michael buried his dreams alongside the broken bodies of the men he could not save. After fleeing New York to preserve the one relationship he still values, he takes a position as a gardener on a country estate, but he soon discovers that the house hides secrets and sorrows of its own. While Michael nurses the estate’s neglected gardens, his reclusive employer dredges up reminders of the past Michael is desperate to forget.

John Seward’s body was broken by the war, along with his will to recover until a family crisis convinces him to pursue treatment. As John’s health and outlook improve under Michael’s care, animosity yields to understanding. He and John find their battle of wills turning into something stronger, but fear may keep them from finding hope and healing in each other.

Review by Sally Davis

The somewhat bleak black and white cover of this book caught my eye when it was released so I was delighted to be asked to review it. The unusual image might be passed over in favour of something more colourful but these two hands delving into the earth are appropriate for the story on more than one level, both evoking the torn up ground of the Western Front during the Great War and the garden that is so important to the story.

Michael Macready is the main protagonist and point of view character. He is an intelligent young Irish American educated well beyond his humble beginnings. But his studies were interrupted by the Great War and Michael has abandoned his ambitions, returning to what he knows – a job at the St Alexander bathhouse in the village where he works as a masseur and takes tips for sexual favours. The blurb suggests that he is losing himself to pleasure but Michael only bestows it on others. His experiences during the war have made him, he feels, a hollow shell.

Then fate intervenes in the form of self-righteous uncle Padraig who arranges for him to obtain the post of gardener at the country home of the wealthy Seward family. There Michael meets John, a broken man, and finds that his massaging skills can be put to good use.

At 240 pages this isn’t a quick read, but nor it it one to be rushed. Much better to take ones time and savour the elegant prose and the pin sharp descriptions. Michael and John are sympathetic without being mawkish – in fact John is a bit of a handful. Prickly, bad tempered, refusing either help or pity, John takes a long time to relax enough to accept the physical relief that Michael’s skill can offer his damaged muscles and even longer to acknowledge the relationship that grows between them. Meanwhile Michael does his best to tend the garden as well as John while fighting back the memories that the raw earth and John’s scars keep bringing back to him.

There is a very good cast of supporting characters – Michael’s and John’s families, their friends and John servants. I adored Millie, the manager of the bath-house with her careful maquillage, and, in complete contrast, Thomas Abbott, the Seward’s general factotum with his stiff manner and dreadful driving. One of the pleasures of the book is in finding characters mentioned at the beginning coming back to play an important role later.

The historical details, and especially the medical ones, are used deftly to give the story a sense of place and purpose. Sometimes the medicinal or massage terms are a bit heavy but on those occasions we are in Michael’s head and the complexity is appropriate. We are being shown just how much more he is than he appears on the surface and it works well, whereas in another context it might have felt over done.

The author doesn’t allow her protagonists the luxury of an easy way out. Both, but particularly Michael, have to pay for their pleasures, but I found the ending very satisfying. I think this book deserves a “Highly Recommended” rating.

Author’s Blog

Available in Paperback and ebook format.

Buy at: Dreamspinner PressAmazon UK,   Amazon USA

Review: Purgatory: A Novel of the Civil War by Jeff Mann

During the Civil War, two young soldiers on opposite sides find themselves drawn together.

One man, Ian, is a war-weary but scholarly Southerner who has seen too much bloodshed, especially the tortures inflicted upon the enemy by his vicious, sadistic commanding officer, his uncle.

The other, Drew, is a Herculean Yankee captured by the ragtag Confederate band and forced to become a martyr for all the sins of General Sheridan’s fires.

When these two find themselves admiring more than one another’s spirit and demeanor, when passions erupt between captor and captive, will this new romance survive the arduous trek to Purgatory Mountain?

Lammy-winning author Jeff Mann’s first full-length novel brings two opposed war heroes together in a page-turning historical drama of homomasculine love.

Review by Elliott Mackle

For many Southern Americans, especially those of us descended from generation upon generation of British, Irish, Scots and French forebears, the American Civil War (A.K.A. The War between the States, The War of Northern Aggression, The Late Unpleasantness) is never far from our thoughts. Like a movie within a movie, a looped tape, or parallel reality, the war—its causes and outsize characters, its victories and defeats, the awful aftermath of Reconstruction and segregation—are endlessly replayed, debated, mourned, celebrated and reenacted. It’s almost as if, by turning up new bits of information or reimagining the details of crucial events, we might alter the outcome for the better.

Even today, some of us retain memories of the war. My maternal great grandmother was born in slavery times. Her father, a Confederate officer, was part of the Army of Tennessee that withdrew south prior to the battles of Kennesaw Mountain and Atlanta, and she remembered and later wrote about being a child of the war. When she died in Nashville in 1950, I was in the house, a ten-year-old doorkeeper attending to worried callers. In her last delirium, I was told later, she mourned not two dead husbands, not parents and friends, but the five Confederate generals who died during the Battle of Franklin in 1864. I remember that.

Jeff Mann’s spectacular adventure-romance, Purgatory, creates war-related images and incidents I’d never imagined; characters who may have existed but who, until Dr. Mann conjured them out of history books, fevered dreams, blood-lusty desire and poetical sensibility, never appeared on any printed page, at least that I’m aware of.

The time and place: March 2, 1865, the Battle of Waynesboro, Virginia, and skirmishes thereafter, which will culminate at Appomattox the following month. The result: Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s forces are destroyed, with many killed and 1,500 captured, by the superior forces, masterful maneuvering and plain good luck of Union Major General Philip Sheridan’s gunners and cavalry divisions. General Early and his staff manage to escape, as do Mann’s fictional, untidy band of about two dozen half-starved volunteers from the Greenbrier country in West Virginia.

Among them soon arrives a lone Yankee prisoner, Drew Conrad, 20, a giant of a man, a Pennsylvania farm boy captured in the ensuing melee by the squad’s cruel, prudish, unbending leader, “Sarge” Erastus Campbell, who happens to be the uncle of the narrator, a bookish, bespectacled and diminutive private named Ian Campbell.

The man’s big and blond. His hands are tied in front of him and tethered to Sarge’s saddle horn. He’s bare-headed, cap lost in some scuffle, I guess, dressed in Union blue and muddy boots, and he’s gasping and stumbling, trying to keep up with the horse’s pace.

Oh, God, not again. A man that young and brawny, that’s the kind of prisoner Sarge tends to keep. I know what’s coming next, and it makes my belly hurt. Sarge has done this before, despite the proper rules of combat. No one in the company’s got the guts to object. Guess they’re afraid if they do, they might end up suffering like the Yankees. Besides, most of them enjoy the spectacle and convenience of a helpless foe to focus their rage on. The war’s been going on for years; despair and exhaustion make men mean.

“Ian! Get over here!” Sarge yells. I lope over just as the Yankee slips in the mud, falls onto one knee, then hits the ground face first.

Sarge, it seems, has a taste for torturing prisoners, a kink his nephew soon discovers in himself. In rapid succession, Ian becomes his brother warrior’s keeper; briefly and only partially unwillingly, his tormentor, and finally his lover.

The love scenes early in the novel are just that: tender explorations of feelings, touch, breath and warmth:

I slide against him, tugging my blanket off the cot to supplement his; I pull the doubled wool over us, tucking it around his bare shoulders. Then I do what I’ve ached to do for days: I slide one arm beneath his neck, wrap the other around his bare torso as best I can, considering my significantly smaller frame, and hold him close, his broad back pressed against my uniform jacket. Surely he can feel the physical evidence of my excitement against him, hard inside my wool pants, but, if so, he makes no objections, and besides, it’s my heart and not my groin that rules tonight. As much as I want to make love to him, it’s comforting, not fucking, he’s asked for, and that’s what he’ll receive. I may be an accomplice to torture but I still have some honor left.

The narrative line is a tale of retreat, survival, hardship and last-minute escapes punctuated by scrapes, repeated torture of the unfortunate Yankee, and stealing, begging and bargaining for food.

One of the most memorable images is that of an attractive young female trader who transports hams, coffee, fried pies, beef jerky and other comestibles under her voluminous skirts.

Food plays a big part in the novel. For men living out in the open, a hoecake or biscuit and a slice of warm bacon might be the difference between starvation and carrying on another day. When supplies run low, the soldiers are forced to consume such dainties as roasted rat with peanut sauce and weevil-infested hardtack. Dr. Mann’s well-known interest in traditional Appalachian fare gives the novel a kind of edible sub-plot. Among the sources listed in the bibliography, cookbooks and culinary histories far outnumber the works devoted to sex and everyday military life. Not surprisingly, the only other sympathetic male characters in the novel, besides Ian and Drew, are Rufus, the cook, and Jeremiah, a soldier whose brother left home after being caught kissing another man. Against the orders of Sarge, they conspire with Ian to share enough food and drink to keep the prisoner alive.
Sarge, whose wife was shot and killed by a Yankee soldier, seems to believe this loss gives him a pass to massacre the Union Army—one captive at a time. Drew, Ian explains to his prisoner, is one of a succession.

“Sarge has his fun for two or three weeks, till the prisoner dies on him after such steady abuse, or till Sarge gets bored and murders him. I’m in charge of them while they last. I keep them tied, I feed them, I mend them as best I can for Sarge to beat on and break down again. And eventually, I bury them.”

Sarge, in other words is a coward and petty tyrant with no further interest in facing the enemy. On several occasions he and his men hide behind trees and rocks, silent and still, as figures such as George Custer and Philip Sheridan ride by. Might a few choice shots, even then, have changed the course of the war? Probably not, but Sarge is unwilling to risk his own skin even on that faint chance. His excuse? That he’s shepherding his ragtag band toward Petersburg, there to join forces with the larger army for the ultimate battle that may turn the tide of history.

That he spends considerably less time traveling than attending church, drinking whiskey and torturing Drew gives lie to his stated intention.

The varieties of torture are manifold. Drew is whipped with Ian’s leather belt and Sarge’s bullwhip. He is strung from a branch, tied to a tree and “bucked”—bent over a sawhorse and tied to it. He is kicked, punched, slapped, pissed on, spat on and insulted verbally and physically.

On at least three occasions, Weasel-Tooth George, the most repellant of Sarge’s men, proposes to “poke” the gagged prisoner’s naked, bleeding ass as further proof of Confederate scorn. Here Sarge draws the line. Ian, a bit later, does indeed poke his by-then willing lover, albeit under very different circumstances. There are no complaints.

Drew is presented as herculean, a giant rippling with muscles, an Achilles. And yet he has a softer side:

“I didn’t take it. I cried when your uncle whipped me and I cried when I was bucked. I break easy, Ian.” Drew’s voice is low, shaky. “I may look strong, but I’ve got this scared little boy inside me. His tears shame me again and again.”

From what I know of Dr. Mann, both as an admirer of his work and as a fellow laborer in the garden of Southern fiction, it’s clear that Drew is here speaking in the author’s voice. Purgatory is a celebration of much that not only fascinates but drives the author: bondage and submission, the eroticization of pain, mountain men living the outdoor life, traditional food well prepared and enjoyed, the love of one man for another, and the quest for the precisely right word or phrase.
Full disclosure: bondage and pain hold little interest for me. Culinary matters, military adventure, manly love and good writing, on the other hand, define much of my own life and work. Were Purgatory merely a succession of torture scenes interposed with stealthy hand-feedings of the captive, I wouldn’t bother with it.

Mann, however, has more in mind than mere flesh, blood and spit-roasted rabbit. Drew is presented early and often as a Christ figure. Toward the end, he is forced to march carrying a thick branch tied across his shoulders and outstretched arms:

Drew’s brow furrows. He grunts, tries to rise, sags beneath the wood’s weight, then, heaving himself to his feet, straightens up, white teeth gnashing the rag and grim determination stiffening his features.

With this image of the suffering innocent stumbling toward Golgotha (Purgatory the place is in reality Purgatory Mountain, Virginia), the reference is clear enough, as it is in soaring earlier images such as this:

If Drew’s torment reminded me of Christ’s before, it does even more so today. During his week of captivity, his beard has filled out and his hair has grown shaggier. He’s like a German-blond version of Jesus. This morning he’s white, bruise-violet, and gold, a cuffed, rag-gagged, black-eyed savior wrist-tethered to my cart, trudging beside me along the road to Purgatory. He’s naked, save for slave-collar, layered bandages—those with which I’ve plastered his lash-maimed back, those which I’ve knotted into a makeshift loincloth around his hips—and a spare undershirt I’ve torn into pieces and bound about his feet. All that are missing are the crown of thorns and the Cross. Or rather, those take another form, the racked and bruised body he carries stiffly down the road.

Mann’s writing combines elegance and earthiness in realistic passages that move the action along swiftly and dramatically. A professor at Virginia Tech, Mann has taught such courses as Appalachian folk culture, gay and lesbian literature and creative writing. His familiarity with Southern history and American lit enrich and color the narrative. Whether intended or not, the cast of characters recalls that of Melville’s Billy Budd, with Drew the Billy-Christ martyr figure, George the repressed Claggart and Sarge an unreflecting Captain Vere. The novel’s last page, in which the lovers try to imagine the future, calls to mind nothing less than Prior Walter’s blessing in the final scene of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America.

Still, Dr. Mann didn’t quite convince me to suspend my disbelief in the possibility that even a strong young man could be kept on the edge of starvation, forced to sleep naked in the snow, marched mile after mile tied to a cart and whipped into bloody insensibility on an almost daily basis—and walk away from it so easily. Occasionally, the succession of BDSM incidents reminded me of the kind of porn in which each of the partners enjoys five or six explosive ejaculations and then, after a few hours’ sleep, repeat the exercise. Could happen; feels improbable to me.

As does some of the language. Despite his book-learning, it seems doubtful that Ian would know and correctly use the word “trauma.” It’s just possible he might be on familiar terms with Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

No matter. For lovers of gay historical fiction, fans of BDSM action and open-minded students of the Civil War, Purgatory is required reading.

Author’s Website

Buy at: Amazon UK   Amazon USA (available in paperback and ebook)

(Bear Bones Books is an arm of Lethe Press dealing with Bear Fiction)

Review: The Master of Seacliff by Max Pierce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

Amazon UK    Amazon USA (available as paperback and ebook)

Review: One More Soldier by Marie Sexton

It is 1963. Being gay is a sin against God. And twenty-eight year old mechanic Will meets Bran for the first time.

Over the years a close bond forms between them despite the seventeen year age difference. Will teaches Bran to swim and helps him with homework. The years pass, Bran drops out of school and moves away.

Then Bran comes home. Can Will move past their age difference? And if he does, how can he keep Bran in 1970 America?

A beautifully told tale of love and loss told from the viewpoint of a deeply closeted gay man at the very beginning of the American Gay and Lesbian Rights movement

Review by Erastes

This little novella surprised me. For some reason I had the preconception that it was by an English author, one that writes Age of Sail and so in that, I’ve obviously got my Marie’s muddled (sorry to both of you) so when I encountered a bitter-sweet (be warned) love story with a rather worrying start:

I first met Bran eight years ago. He was eleven years old.

I was twenty-eight.

But this is all right, actually, because you are supposed to feel that prickle of unease, because that’s exactly what the narrator is attempting to explain. Will, the narrator, is–if not entirely closeted, damned careful about what he does and where he does it It’s 1963 and Houston there wasn’t a lot of gay liberation going on. Hookups in discreet bars, blow jobs in cars–that’s the level of his companionship and he thinks himself lucky if he gets it once a week.

When he meets Bran–the eleven year old–it’s not at ALL in a sexual manner. The young boy attaches himself to Will for a week or  two as he’s new to the area and makes a nuisance of himself, but by the time school starts, Bran finds his own friends and their paths meet as rarely as you would expect people living in the same complex might meet. Bran does odd jobs for Will from time to time, taking in the mail when he’s out of town, that kind of thing. Then, when Bran leaves school before his senior year and takes up ranching, Will doesn’t see him at all for a few years.

It’s when Bran does return, changed out of all recognition, that the trouble starts, and the slightly unsettling beginning comes into its own. Bran is handsome, bronzed, muscled and entirely unrecognisable as that skinny and irritating kid that Will taught to swim and sometimes helped with homework. Will finds himself attracted to Bran, and it’s soon clear that Bran feels the same way and won’t take “no” for an answer.

Will is uncomfortable getting close to Bran, and he does fight it (not for terribly long, it has to be said, but it’s a short book!) and he has to try and see two Brans–a kid, and a grown up. Bran emphasises that he’s eighteen now but we hit the old bump in the road with that. It’s a sop to the publishing industry of 2012, and has no relevance to what was going on in the late 196os. Bran could have been 22 and it would have been every bit as illegal, after all.

The book could–were it not for Bran himself–be swept aside with a shrug that this is like many other coming of age/first time/friends becoming lovers books. There are many tropes that you could hang onto it. But don’t write it off and don’t be put off by the age difference. What the author does is something very clever–she shows the generation gap–not just between the ages of the protagonists, but the mental attitide of the protagonists. It’s difficult to say more without spoiling the crux of the story, but Bran became (impressive for such a short novella) one of those characters that get under the skin and stay with you long after you’ve started to read something new.

By using Bran in this way, the author has shown the tide of gay liberation–although only the sussurating damp edges of the waves down in Houston–but he points with enthusiasm to the world beyond, sure that “things will change” in his youthful enthusiasm. It’s what happens at the end which gives the title its double-edged poignancy.

As I say–it’s bittersweet–and were this a longer novel and written in the 70′s it probably would be a gay classic today. It would be easy for this book to be entirely overlooked and I beg that you don’t allow that to happen.  If you steel yourself for a non-romance ending I am quite sure you’ll be as impressed with this as I was. I shall snap up any further gay historicals Ms Sexton may come up with!

Author’s website

Ebook only Silver Publishing    Kindle UK     Kindle USA

Review: Bone Idol by Paige Turner

Book one in the Past Perfect Series

Love stripped down to the bare bones.

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

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

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

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

Review by Sal Davis

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

Published by Total-eBound (ebook)

Review: 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

Buy at Torquere

Review: Quatrefoil by James Barr

Phillip Froelich and Tim Danelaw are irresistibly drawn to each other. Both are in every obvious respect what is generally considered masculine, and live and work in a completely normal man’s social and professional world. Other men respect and admire their courage and ability and even their physical prowess. Women are very much attracted to both of them. 

Tim, the older of the two, has already recognised and resolved the problem of his sexual deviation. Phillip has not. A product of rural life, with is patriarchal background, he has a fierce contempt for ‘queers’ and at the same time a deep and secret dread that the germ of homosexuality may be buried somewhere within himself. One or two incidents in his life have shaken him profoundly and have made him determined ruthlessly to crush any tendencies in himself as well as to avoid any close relations with other men. He is engaged to be married as soon as he is discharged from the Navy, and he intends to rear a big family, to take over the operations of his family’s bank and other interests, and to become a responsible and civic-minded leader in his community. 

As the story opens, he has almost reached the refuge and security he has so carefully planned. But then he meets Danelaw. From that moment the struggle begins – a tense and shattering emotional upheaval composed of aversion, self-contempt, admiration and – finally – love.

Review by Erastes

Written in 1950, and set in 1946, I didn’t really have any doubt as to how the story would end. It was rare to find a book written in this time which had a happy ending, so if that’s all you want from a book, this isn’t for you.

It’s one of those books that you really should be reading if you want to write in this genre, not because it’s a work of genius but because it shines a light on times and a mind set that no longer exists in our Western world.

It’s very much a coming-of-age story. Despite being 23, Phillip Froelich (pronounced Froylich) comes over as young for his age. At the beginning of the book he’s seen leaving his ship under a cloud and heading to Naval Headquarters to face a General Court Martial for striking a superior officer–namely his captain. If ever there was a protagonist likely to alienate the reader, it’s Phillip for at least half of this book. He’s just horrible. A terrible snog, a real prig, prickly, rude to just about everyone and thinks he’s better than just about everyone. As the blurb explains he considers himself to be a MAN, fully masculine and he has a loathing of “nancies.”  He made a close friend on board his ship, but repulsed him violently when he made a pass at him. He knows that men of that persuasion are attracted to him but he blames them, he sees nothing in himself that he can blame for this.

So when he meets Tim Danelaw, rich, urbane, seemingly easy in his own skin, and giving off more than mere signals that he’s interested in Phillip, Phillip is thrown, because some deeply buried part of him is responding. The rest of the story is the journey that Phillip takes, mentored patiently by Tim, to accept himself for what he is .

It is a dated book–I can’t see any men of today having the kind of philosophical conversations about homosexuality that these two men have, and it’s not a particularly easy read, as some of the concepts were a little beyond me. But it is interesting to see–in a world where the homosexual community had yet to become in any way cohesive–how some men viewed homosexuality, even when it surfaced in themselves. I found it disturbing that even Tim–the more rational and knowledgeable of the two–considered anything but a ‘intelligent’ meeting of minds and bodies would be depraved and base. Whether that was the opinion of Barr I don’t know. I have to wonder what he’d think of some of the community these days!

The characterisation is masterful. I’ve already said that Phillip is absolutely loathsome at the beginning–and indeed for much of–of the book. That he does mellow, and begin to look around him and to realise that there is more available for himself than he had plans for. He thinks he’s tremendously ambitious, but his house in that respect is actually based on sand and it takes Tim to point this out.

The way Tim guides and moulds Phillip is beautifully done, too. He is truly an Erastes to Phillip’s Eromenos. He somehow understands Phillip’s mind perfectly (or almost so) and knows when to push and when to let the young man find his own way. It is through Tim’s eyes that we see Phillip in his home environment–and discover many of the reasons why he is the way he is at the beginning of the book.

As well as the slow and tender growing relationship between the two which takes the entire book, there are a good handful of other subplots all fuelled by characters as three dimensional as the main protagonists. I won’t go into them because it would far too spoilery.

Although I found it a little hard to get involved with–purely because of my dislike of Phillip–by the middle of the book I was entirely hooked and couldn’t bear to get to the end because I had a pretty shrewd idea of how it was going to go and I was heartbroken to find I was right. That being said, there’s a fair pinch of hope at the end too, so it’s not all gloom and doom.

If you can get hold of a copy at a reasonable price–try Abe Books or the Book Depository–then do grab it, because it’s a really lovely long, plotty and literary read and if that’s your bag, you’ll hoover it up.

Don’t be put off by the frankly revolting cover, having read it, I think Phillip would be horrified at it!

Amazon UK    Amazon USA

Review: The German by Lee Thomas

From the Lambda Literary Award and Bram Stoker Award-winning author Lee Thomas come a new thrilling novel. 1944 – Barnard, Texas. At the height of World War II, a killer preys on the young men of a quiet Texas town. The murders are calculated, vicious, and they are just beginning. Sheriff Tom Rabbit and his men are baffled and the community he serves is terrified of the monster lurking their streets. The only clues the killer leaves behind are painted snuffboxes containing notes written in German. As the panic builds all eyes turn toward a quiet man with secrets of his own. Ernst Lang fled Germany in 1934. Once a brute, a soldier, a leader of the Nazi party, he has renounced aggression and embraces a peaceful obscurity. But Lang is haunted by an impossible past. He remembers his own execution and the extremes of sex and violence that led to it. He remembers the men he led into battle, the men he seduced, and the men who betrayed him. But are these the memories of a man given a second life, or the delusions of a lunatic?

Review by Erastes

It took me a good while to read this book, since I started it in July 2011 and finished it in December! In my defence I wasn’t reading it all the time, I don’t read that slowly, honest. It was that I was expecting it to all go a lot darker than it did (although it does go to some dark places) and I’m happy that my anticipation didn’t match what actually happened. Although, as I say, it’s not full of fluffy rabbits.

Ok, so basically it’s set in 1944 in a smallish Texan town and is told in three different POVs:

Tom Rabbit: the sherrif. 3rd person past tense.

The German: first person diary entry

Tim Randall: first person past tense.

Now, don’t let this put you off, as it’s absolutely the best way to tell this convoluted and highly interesting story. Like many places in America, the small town has a German community and suddenly young men are dying in horribly mutilated ways and evidence found on the bodies points to the fact that it’s a German murderer. Thus begins an exquisite tale of paranoia, prejudice and a study of how a community can tear itself apart under all sorts of justification.

The German of the title is Ernst, who is clearly a troubled, and yet a good man at heart. He writes in his journal of his past–memories of serving in an army, commanding man, many many men, and a betrayal, a court martial and–and here’s where it’s delightfully opaque–an execution which he seems to have survived, despite the terrible bullet scars on his body. He lives across the street from Tim Randall, an ordinary young man growing up in a small town and with his father overseas serving in the war, at daily threat from “the Krauts”.

Tim’s interaction with Ernst is light. Tim is curious about his neighbour but he doesn’t bother him, although when they do meet up Ernst tries to educate the boy about prejudice and hate. Sadly, although at first Tim appears to see the sense in this, his father is declared “missing in action” and Tim’s grief and fear is channelled in the only way it could be at this time and place–directly towards Ernst.

I loved the feeling of paranoia and claustrophobia here. The way Ernst is pretty much trammelled and keeps to himself for very clear reasons. He frequents a bar from time to time but mostly stays indoors or sits on the porch or swims in the lake. He does have male company occasionally although for most of the book this is with men who are disgusted with their own urges–which puts Ernst off from wanting to see them again.

The interaction between the sheriff and Ernst was masterful. Ernst so clearly in control and almost a little bored with the interrogation–he’s been interrogated before and by masters of the art after all. His frankness to the sheriff about his sexuality was a brilliant stroke–and the effect it had on the countrified and rather naive sheriff was an interesting study.

It’s not a pretty story in any aspect, nor is it meant to be, nor should it be, so be warned that the violence is graphic and literal and shocking. This is entirely right because it is shocking, what happens and who it happens to and why. It’s a terrible but sadly true indictment of human behaviour, beautifully observed and told with true skill.

If I have one quibble, it was the epilogue–the character it portrays didn’t strike me as having learned the lessons that he said he learned and it didn’t really ring true from what we’d seen on the pages previously. However that’s just a small quibble and won’t affect the score because the remainder of the epilogue was note perfect.

Just a note on the cover and the design. I’ve noticed with Lethe Press before that they take real pains over the design of their books. Not merely the covers–this one is perfect–but the font, and the design of the headers inside. It probably won’t show on e-readers, but the headings in this book are just amazingly good, and add another dimension to the book, and I wouldn’t have thought that was possible. So well done, Lethe Press.

Yes, there is — perhaps — an element of the paranormal here, but as it is completely subjective, I’m not hesitating to review it on the site and to recommend it to anyone.

Author’s website

Amazon UK      Amazon USA (available in print and ebook)

Review: Butterfly Dream by Dave Lara and Bud Gundy

At 6 years old, long before he discovers that he is gay, Banat Frantz learns that being Jewish in Hitler’s Germany is a bewildering crime for which he and his family must pay. Fire and loathing greet his emerging consciousness and a resourceful child begins to learn survival skills. Violently forced from their home and a successful business, his family immigrates to Holland but discover that they haven’t traveled far enough. They realize too late that Hitler’s mania would spread across a continent. The Nazis wrench the family apart, tossing them into the maw of the holocaust where only survival matters. Even in places where humanity itself chokes on the ashes of hatred, Banat realizes that he is gay and has fallen in love with another young Jew. The knowledge shapes his existence as he copes with the relentless horror of his life in a series of ever-more grim and nightmarish places until he finds himself in the hushed and gray world of Auschwitz, where silent screams fill every mind. But nothing can truly kill the spirit if it is filled with a longing for beauty. A young man of such sensibilities can forge moments of sublime bliss in whatever setting he encounters, and through a network of Jewish actors, writers, singers and intellectuals he learns that art can shelter his passions and that his very longing is his refuge. From his earliest memories of Nazi rallies that unleashed teeming hatred, to his redemption in a New York gay club, Banat Frantz lives an entire life before it ever really begins.

Review by Erastes

I find books about the concentration camps difficult to review and rate, let alone that they are often difficult–that is, painful–to read and this is no exception. One feels that one should have an automatic sympathetic response to the book, that one should praise it because of the subject matter, and by criticising it, one is somehow lessening the horror of what actually happened in Europe (and elsewhere.)

But although there was much to like about the book, I’m going to be critical too. Firstly, it’s another self-published book, and like nearly all self-published books (note I said ‘nearly’ before you get on your self-publishing high horse) the editing is appalling. Not merely shoddy, but absolutely unforgiveable. If the book had been through a second pair of eyes other than the two authors’ then that editor needs to have his/her red pen forcibly inserted somewhere. So if you are going to take on the book–and for some that will be a difficult decision, you’ll need to take onboard that not only is the subject matter tricky, but the editing will make you want to throw your e-reader at the wall.

Basically it’s the story of the Jewish boy, Banat, who, when the story begins is about six and he witnesses one of the rallies that Hitler was having in the 30′s. Things had already started to become difficult for Jews at this time, trading was limited and hatred was common-place and open. There’s a shocking scene where Banat was beaten up on the street by the father of a school-friend and no-one helps him at all. It’s a powerful scene, but was marred for me by there being no repercussions about it. Banat had been told to stay in, that it wasn’t safe–and although I’m sure his parents would have been less annoyed with him when he came back with a bloody bruised face, no mention was made of what happened when he did go home. There’s a lot of this kind of loose end stuff lying around which again, an editor would probably have helped with.

The problem I had with baby Banat, and again and again throughout the book is that I would have preferred it to be through the eyes of the protagonist himself. Instead of which, it’s written as a memoir, with all the hindsight and knowledge of what is going to happen and a knowledge of world events. It probably suits more people this way, but I think if Mockingbird had been written from the perspective of a older Scout it wouldn’t have had the same impact. The author as narrator can’t help but talk about things that are happening, that are going to happen, things that Banat could not possibly have known about and these intruded into his day-to-day experiences, when I would have preferred just to know about those experiences and not the world stage. We know what happened on the world stage, and on a small scale, those things only affected Banat in the way of him being Jewish.

However, as a memoir, it’s very readable–aside from the appalling editing. The concentration camp sections seem a little lighter than I was expecting. I’m not saying that I wanted in-depth descriptions of what Banat went through but really, other than a lack of food and warmth he managed to have a bit of a charmed life and drifted through the camps with what seemed very little danger to himself. Others disappeared but he not only survived–as people did–but he kept his father with him and remained in “safe” occupations for the most part. When he does mention the horror around him, like dead people littered around the camp its almost a surprise because the suffering hadn’t really been mentioned much before and I knew he had to be suffering every day.

So we can imagine Banat’s suffering, and what he’s going through, but I had to import it from information  gleaned from documentaries, books and films on the subject. Seeing as how terrible things didn’t happen to him–he’s even spared from being a bum-chum to a guard simply by saying “no thanks”–it then surprised me that he developed pretty bad PTSD after the war. He begins to suffer from “waking nightmares” and although I know his experiences in the camps could not have been good ones, because we aren’t told the horrors, his waking nightmares seem a bit over the top.

The days after the immediate liberation were a bit convenient. A group of them set off together–and the Russians don’t help them, being rather pre-occupied, and they find a camp where British soldiers had been held. There’s loads of food here, and they find a cow and a pig too. I found this a bit of a stretch, because why would the British soldiers–who they met later–leave behind so much food? Again, it’s all a little too pat, a little too charmed. He manages to get to Paris with no difficulty to retrieve his mother and getting the papers and money to return again is a piece of cake.

When he moves to America it’s much the same. He has more than enough money to live on as his father sends him loads, and when he does get a job it’s handed to him on a plate, and it’s a good job too.

It’s in New York where I noticed a large continuity hiccup and that worried me about the research for the rest of the book, as up to now I had been taking as gospel what I was reading was accurate as to dates and times. There’s mention of Caffe Cino – a cafe opened in 1958 by a retired dancer – and which became the birthplace of “off-off-Broadway” plays – but it certainly wasn’t around in 1948!

The ending is unsurprising, but sweet and all in all I enjoyed the read. I wouldn’t read it again though, even if the errors were taken out–and I highly recommend to the authors that they address this, it’s just too War-Lite for my taste.

Authors’ Websites: Bud Gundy  Dave Lara

Amazon UK   Amazon USA (available as print and ebook)

Review: Vagabond Heart by A J Llewellyn

Book one in the Pearl Harbor Series

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

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

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

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

Review: 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: Most Wanted by Barbara Sheridan (short story)

 

 

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

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

Review by Sally Davis

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

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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: The Shooting Gallery by Kate Roman

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

Review by Jess Faraday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purchase at Torquere Press

Review: 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: If It Ain’t Love by Tamara Allen (short story)

In the darkest days of the Great Depression, New York Times reporter Whit Stoddard has lost the heart to do his job and lives a lonely hand-to-mouth existence with little hope of recovery, until he meets Peter, a man in even greater need of new hope.

Review by Erastes

Tamara Allen is a very talented writer and doesn’t get the publicity she deserves. However, if there is any justice, word of mouth will continue to work for her and more and more people will come to her books. This is a perfect example, because it’s a free download and therefore a great introduction to her beautifully sparse, no word wasted style of writing.

Set in the 1930′s Depression it paints beautifully (if that is the right word) the struggle it was to live in New York at the time. We sometimes forget that the term “living on the bread line” meant exactly that. That you were dependent on free handouts of bread and perhaps soup if you wanted to stay alive. Today, it has rather blurred to mean the line between plenty and poverty, but that’s not where it started.

Some books take a long time to get going, and it can be a struggle to actually care two hoots about the main character–not so here, within 3 pages I was gripped by Whit and the world he lived in. I felt every cold gust of wind, every rubbery noodle, every insult, felt the shabby clothes he wore, his thin shoes, felt the despair he felt in slums and flop-houses he was forced to live in as–like millions of others–he was out of work.

Her prose, as I said, is clean and exactly enough and no more–this sentence echoes both Whit’s emotion, and the time he lives in:

Before shame could show through the ill-fitting nonchalance, Whit got up and headed for the door.

The first conversation between Peter and Whit is so crisp that it took my breath away. So many books–and we’ve all read them–have strangers talking like High School BFFs but this for me was on the knife edge of perfection. Anyone who says women can’t write men needs to read Allen–many would learn much.

Here’s a section that I particularly liked:

Only when evening shadows had grown thick enough to impress him with the lateness of the hour did the world regain his attention. Peter was a dark, warm shape pressed close, still catching his breath after Whit’s last successful effort to steal it, and Whit, drifting on the serene awareness that something wonderful had begun, wondered just how long the average miracle could last.

I won’t spoil the plot because it’s not big enough to really explain any of it without spoiling, and this is a short story that needs to be savoured slowly and read again and again. Suffice it to say that it manages in a mere 30 pages, conflict, misunderstanding, resolution, character growth, wonderful eroticism, heartbreak and a heart-warming twist that would make Ebenezer Scrooge reach for the Kleenex. And if you can manage all that in 30 pages, you hardly need a five stars from me. But it’s getting five stars anyway.

I wish I could write like Allen, and that’s the truth. Can’t recommend this any higher, and as it’s free, you’ve got no excuse not to rush off and read all 30 or so pages of it and then tell me I’m wrong, I dare you.

Author’s website

Free download here

Review: Well Traveled by Margaret Mills and Tedy Ward

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

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

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

Review by Bruin Fisher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He felt limp as a wet rope.”

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

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

Review: Long, Hard Ride by Keta Diablo

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

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

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

Review by Bruin Fisher

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

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

And

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Website

Buy from Decadent Publishing 

Review: Placing Out by P.A. Brown

At the age of ten, Dylan Daniels was a placed-out kid sent from New York’s Five Points to a family in Nebraska. But Dylan ran away at the age of eighteen when he realized he preferred boys and didn’t want to be a farmer. Once he made his way to Hollywood, he wound up as a popular and high-class hustler with a number of wealthy clients.

Now in 1933 near the end of the Prohibition Era in America, Dylan meets Ben Carter during a bar raid. Ben, who’s a six-year veteran of the LAPD and deeply in the closet, is instantly both attracted and repelled by this beautiful man. Between them they struggle to overcome the barriers that keep them apart, including Dylan’s career, and Ben being in a brutal squad that frequently raids pansy bars and beats the patrons, which tears Ben apart.

Will Ben let Dylan’s love heal him or destroy him altogether?

Review by Sally Davis

Sometimes just getting the text to a story is a bonus. The cover of the book is uninspiring and I think I enjoyed the beginning of the story more without having read the blurb. The story is written partly in first person from Dylan’s point of view and partly from Ben’s POV in third person. I’ve seen reviews that claim this change of POV is confusing but I found it an interesting way of emphasising the great differences between the two characters.

Dylan’s voice changes as his story progresses from that of the defiant uneducated foster child to that of the young man with ambition to rise above his current station. He is practical, and has no illusions about how long he has before he’s too old to reap the benefits. Once his looks are gone his hustling days will be over so he has a limited amount of time to make his pile. His loneliness comes across quite strongly too – he is hungry to be loved and that he pretends when he is with one particular client that their comfortable cuddling doesn’t have to end, that they can be as he puts it “a forever couple”, is very sad.

Ben is lonely too, but that is because he is living a lie. Part of Red Squad, a special task force that breaks strikes and raids gay bars, he can barely admit even to himself that he is “queer” until the stress of the lying gets too much and he finds his regular lover Kevin for some brief and intense comfort. He hates what he does for a living, hates the way he is expected to join in the laughing brutality of his fellows, but he daren’t show any reluctance to conform. Then they raid a bar and he lays eyes on Dylan – the golden boy – and Ben’s life of lies becomes even more complicated.

This is a short story – only 40 pages including the extras at beginning and end – and I don’t want to give any more of the plot away. Let’s just say that I loved it and I’ve spent some time thinking about Ben and Dylan and what may have happened after the end of the story. I’m planning on working my way through P.A. Brown’s backlist.

Author’s Website

Available from Amber Quill Press in their Amber Allure line

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Lily White, Rose Red by Catt Ford


Grey Randall: Private Dick Casefile #1

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

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

Review by Sally Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Available from Dreamspinner Press

Review: Colonel’s Treasure by Dirk Hessian

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

Amazon UK    Amazon USA

Review: 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: Summer Song by Louise Blaydon

Billy Bronner is, to all appearances, every inch the 1950s American dream: handsome, clever, captain of the high school football team, looks good enough in tight jeans that people can even forget he’s Jewish. Then the new guy on the block, the enigmatic Leonard Nachman, turns his head, and over the summer Billy discovers a new world of romance and love—in a man’s arms. But when Kit O’Reilly, Billy’s best friend and shadow, comes home after spending the summer with relatives, he finds Billy acting… differently. Soon enough, it becomes obvious that this change is related to Len, and Kit will have to decide if he’ll accept the relationship Billy and Len have forged, or if he’ll push Billy and their longtime friendship away.

Review by Erastes

This is a rather ambitious book which works on most levels, but falls down on others, but it’s a very brave attempt and shows the author’s disregard to write within “normal” parameters.

The book is told from four points of view, Billy Bronner himself, his best friend Kit, his love interest Leonard and Kit’s girlfriend Caitlyn. They are all told in first person present, with the exception of Leonard’s which is done in the form of a diary, so is more past. I admit that this isn’t my favourite way of delivery, but done well it can be very effective and to be  honest it is done well, with gusto and determination, even if it was a little confusing, because unless the chapter was a diary entry, it took a paragraph or two to work out who was “talking,” and as Caitlyn’s POV doesn’t come in until over half way through the book it was a bit of a jolt–I couldn’t see what her point of view added to the story, actually and the book wouldn’t have lost anything by losing her chapters. However, the voices of Billy, Kit and Leonard are well-written and pretty distinct. Billy and Kit’s are quite similar, but that makes sense because they were raised together since they were very young–Leonard’s voice–he’s a preppy from a public school from the East Coast, even though he’s described as coming from the “North Coast” more than once(!) and his voice is more formal with less slang.

So Kit goes on vacation for the summer, leaving the restless Billy behind and while he’s away, Billy–who we are told has a bad boy reputation, but sadly this really isn’t shown–meets Leonard on the beach. They get to go swimming and start spending time together, and things move along from there.

There’s no “insta-love” – the relationship has eight weeks to blossom and to reach a place where there’s no going back, and both young men (both 17 for those who are sticklers for this kind of thing) are entirely clueless as to what’s happening to them. After the kissing starts they have to assess their own feelings and how they feel about this affecting their lives.

An important leg to the 3-way relationship is Kit–and how he discovers their relationship, how he deals with it and how his loyalty overcomes his disgust and discomfort.

Rather stereotypically, Leonard is more aware of homosexuality than Billy, because he went to a public school where these things are done but not discussed. Leonard is more analytical about it all, and goes to books to find out more.  It surprised me a little that he relied entirely on Catullus’s “pornographic” poems for his research on anal sex–and didn’t seek out (once he’d discovered the over-labelled “happy button” inside himself) books on anatomy to find out what it was.

Overall, the voices of 1950′s teenagers are pretty well portrayed, if–again–all a little stereotypical. Red Chevvies and sprayed on jeans and the like but I felt it was all a little too insular. This is 1955 after all and there was a hell of a lot going on in the world and America at the time. McDonalds were expanding all over California, Disneyland opened in Anaheim, Gunsmoke started, James Dean is killed. Yet none of these are mentioned, the only music that’s mentioned is “song by Elvis” not even the names of the songs. Considering that Billy is rather setting himself up to emulate Dean, I was staggered that no-one, not even Caitlyn was affected by his death.  I know that teenagers all over the world were pole-axed by that event. The book needed a lot more popular culture to ground itself in the era. It’s a bit like writing about youth culture today and not mentioning hip-hop or the hoodie.

I have to say also, Elvis didn’t have a hit until 1956, so. Oops.

That being said there are some great “real-teenager” moments like the following from Leonard: “I was going to say something else but I can’t remember what it was” (after he’d been describing Billy). There’s also a hilarious moment which made me laugh out loud when Billy describes himself as a free radical–typical teenager using the wrong term, to sound clever. However some–and quite rarely–of the prose slipped into modernisms–To name but two – Billy calls Leonard “passive aggressive” which being a phrase from the 70′s – no teenager of the era would have done. Similar “skank” is not a word used of women of these era.

It does tend to go on a bit at times, with the characters saying the same thing over and over again–and the whole pre-prom thing was tedious in the extreme. A more judicious editing needed, I think.

There were a couple of boo-boos early on which jarred me and made me wonder what kind of research I was going to encounter. The very first diary entry was 31st June… and then when the 4th of July is mentioned there’s no mention of the celebration at all. No picnics, no fireworks–considering that Leonard lived on a busy beach, that seemed rather incongruous. He and his mother went shopping–do shops open on the 4th? Leonard bewails the fact that photos can’t show the colour of Billy’s eyes and that was a bit odd, because colour photography was well advanced by this point in time, and French homework changed into Spanish.

The major problem I had with the book, and why it didn’t get a four or a four and half which it could easily have merited (with better research too), was the entire lack of conflict. Granted there’s a fair bit of angst from all four participants, which can get a little wearing over the course of ¾ of the book, but conflict? No. I was reading the story with the feeling of the sword of Damocles hanging over me, because everyone was talking about how dangerous it was for them to be doing the things they were doing, but no-one actually cares to do much to disguise it. The couple are constantly wandering into conveniently empty schoolrooms, making out on a secluded beach that only Billy can access, dancing together in a restaurant with no-one commenting, kissing in the dark where ONLY Kit ever catches them.

No one at high school notices their preferential behaviour, despite the fact that it’s obvious not only to Kit but to Caitlyn too. There’s a character introduced early on who I thought was going to be trouble, but he’s also clueless about the situation.  There’s no “normal for the time” paranoia and homophobia. Leonard even has to look up the law to find out what is illegal and what isn’t. Now, I can understand that kids in school and suburbs might not be able to get hold of literature explaining things, but I’m damned sure that everyone knew what a queer, faggot, fruit, pansy [insert your word of choice here] was.

It’s all a bit Happy Gay Days, a bit Grease without the harder hitting issues that Grease managed to deal with. I think the author liked her characters so much–and that’s understandable, they are all nice nice kids, that she simply couldn’t bear to have them beaten up, insulted, suspected, arrested, or in fact anything nasty happen to them at all. Which is a shame, because the ending didn’t have the same happy punch as it should have had because they didn’t go through the mill, or even drive anywhere near it. Even in the epilogue it’s only said that “they had a couple of close shaves.” That might actually have been the case for some gay men–I’m sure it was, but it doesn’t make for a gripping read.

All in all this is an enjoyable book, and I’m sure the lack of external conflict won’t worry most readers. I could see this book having sold to the mainstream, were the mainstream sensible enough to publish it. Recommended, but you might be mildly disappointed.

Amazon UK     Amazon USA

Review: Pioneers by Lynn Lorenz

When Matt films a documentary of gay men living in New Orleans over the last fifty years, his first subject is none other than Sebastian LaGrange, his very own landlord. The elderly gentleman has lived through good times and bad, has seen and done it all, and Matt thinks he’s perfect for the project. Although Sebastian is initially reluctant, he comes to believe in the project, and opens up his life like never before, telling his story from the first time he kissed a boy, to the present.

What Matt uncovers is not only a history of being gay in their beloved city, but he unravels the mysterious past of one of New Orleans’ most desired gay men. Sebastian has been a friend and mentor to Matt and his partner Lane, and even in his old age, Sebastian has even more to teach them about love…

Available in Kindle format, 136KB

Review by Gerry Burnie. This review appeared on his website here.

There are a whole bunch of good things that can be said about “Pioneers” by Lynn Lorenz [Amber Quill Press, 2010]. To begin, it is superbly written. The syntax flows flawlessly, the characters are well developed, and the pace keeps the story moving along at a comfortable pace. All important pluses in my opinion.

I also found the era in which the story is set—i.e. the 1940s & 50s—a wonderfully nostalgic bonus. As the chief supporting character, Sebastian, says: “It was the fifties, lamb chop. One didn’t come out of the closet, one tiptoed out.” And, later, Matt observes: “That’s what I want to show with this film, baby. I want the young gay men of today to understand what the older gays lived through, how they survived. Or didn’t.” Having come out during the same era, I can readily identify with both of these sentiments.

Another appealing aspect is that the story deals with romance between older men; a somewhat unique topic for most writers of male-on-male fiction. In fact, the only other series that comes to mind is Ronald L. Donaghe’s Common Threads in the Life Series.

I do have a few minor quibbles, though. Although I understand the author’s intention to add dimensional depth to the characters, I found the switching of voices and times to be a little distracting. I also found the flashback scenes between Sebastian and his dead lover Frank, although a relevant to discuss the onset of AIDS in the 1970s, just a bit too lengthy and even saccharin at times.

I hasten to add, however, that these few, minor quibbles do not substantially detract from an insightful and altogether touching story.

Enthusiastically recommended. Four and on-half stars.

Buy at Amber Quill Press

Review: Mergers and Acquisitions by Lucius Parhelion

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

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


Review by Sal Davis

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

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

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

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

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

Available from Torquere Press Inc

Review: Long Journey into Darkness by J.W.

Long Journey Into Darkness is the dark tale of love and romance between cousins that turns fatal. Very Gay, Set in England turn of the century, coming to New York to start again only to be followed by the past, finding love and ………..there is however a little stage drama, murder and more.

Review by Erastes

First, the cover. Normally I wouldn’t have the cover reflect the mark because more often than not the author has no input or little—into it. However, as this is self-published I have to say that that it’s not really at all reflective of the book. In fact, the picture I received with the Kindle version is not this picture at all–it’s of a naked man sitting on a chair with his hand over his cock. That made me think that it was gay porn not “early 20th century homosexual drama.”

I’m not sure when it was set either, I thought it was Victorian, but the cinema is up and running, and the martini had been invented so it has to be after 1912.  That being said – there’s no mention of the war, so I think there’s something very wrong with the timeline.

If only that was the only problem!

Although the cover is not at all apt, the title certainly is. Because for me this wasn’t just a (very) long (or so it seemed) journey into darkness, it was a bumbling about in absolute darkness with no clue about what the heck was going on. The beginning is so jumbled, and so riddled with errors it’s pretty incomprehensible and I had to force myself to read on.

Basically a guy called Ethan Morris is on a train going to visit his lover. He calls into a house which we assume, as he’s expecting to see this Robert there, is Robert’s house, despite the fact that we told that Robert is rolling in money and this is a poor miner’s cottage. However there’s a woman called Edna there who tells him that all the posh furniture came as gifts from Robert and she and Robert are an item. This was odd to begin with because why would he be sending gifts to her in his house? Then Ethan gets on a train goes to a posh hotel in Liverpool, signs in under the name of Robert Morris (the guy and cousin he was in love with) but sends his luggage to the boat under the name of Ethan Morris. When he’s on the boat, he’s known as Ethan Morris to everyone and tells everyone that Robert is his cousin. Then a newspaper is read (the next day) that Ethan Morris had disappeared (which is daft to begin with, who’d care that quickly about a poor teacher?) and it’s a great discussion around the boat, but the discussion is about Robert Morris who’s missing, and not Ethan, despite what the newspaper said, and despite everyone on the boat knowing him as Ethan, and him actually being on the passenger list as Ethan, when he gets to New York, people call him Robert, and he’s known as having travelled out on the ship, despite being Ethan on the ship and everyone knowing that Robert was his cousin. *draws breath *

Confused? Yeah. Me too.

Even the ship changes its name!  If you read this, prepare to be more confused because by the end, if I hadn’t been holding my Kindle, I would have hurled the book out of the window.

The thing is that the prose itself–in spots–isn’t all that bad. There are some really nice passages and the normal narrative is quite readable, but I spent so long scratching my head and wondering if it all was meant to be confusing or whether the author just didn’t bother to get anyone to check it over (guess which one is probably true) that I couldn’t enjoy the bits that were half decent. And those that were decent were marred by typos littered about like confetti, incorrect homonyms and all sorts of grammatical horrors, such as using verbs as nouns for one.

We get passages like this:

“Edna was nothing to me but an interpreters of her sex.”

Whatever that means. There are many instances of words being used in the oddest ways. And I can’t tell whether it was a typo and the author meant “interpretation” or “an interpreter “or whether they were using the word in good faith, but didn’t actually know what it meant.

Another example of this – there are many – is

“He feed the linen-coated porters and dismissed them as rapidly as possible.

Which I cannot glean the meaning of at all. No, it’s not freed. Or fed.

The sad thing is that there’s a germ of a good plot idea behind all this camouflage, but I doubt most readers would get past the first section, and the plot hole, by the time he gets to New York, is enough to throw a horse through. All the confusion would have been cleared up by “And I’ll see your passport, please.” It’s a shame, because a damned good editor would have whipped this into a more comprehensible shape.

I wish I could say it improved as it went along, but it didn’t. People start conversing to him as men and turn into women, people enter his room who promptly disappear never to be mentioned again—nothing happens for chapters except chat and going out for dinner, anything interesting happens off page—continuity errors every time Ethan opens his mouth. There’s even one very amusing typo where the author has obviously done a search and replace a character name from Price to Brice – but didn’t check each one, as the word price is also changed to Brice, which took me ages to work out what the devil sentences like “They lacked the Brice to do so” and “the Brice of creation”. I admit to a titter or two when I worked it out.

Ethan as a main character doesn’t exactly shine—and I couldn’t like him, which meant I wasn’t invested enough in him to care whether he found love and happiness or not. Not only does he kill Robert off, but he then steals his money, uncaring or not as to the plight of the factory workers who were no doubt thrown out of work when the factory foundered due to his criminal action. I was rather surprised when he proves himself to be aggressively bisexual, to be honest, because it’s tagged as “Gay Romance.”

As such it’s blatantly mis-represented because he chats up two women, actively courts one of them to the extent that she says they should get married. He never even checks men out, other than one of the porters on the boat. Gay romance my left foot.

It was at this point when something absolutely incomprehensible happened. The woman, Luella, that he had been courting since meeting her on the boat entirely disappeared, never to be seen or heard of again. Instead of which, suddenly we get some guy Simon, who had never been mentioned before (and we are about 80% of the way through at this point) who apparently Ethan had been keeping in a cabin up north of New York somewhere. All the plot points that had belonged to Luella suddenly were transferred to Simon–the most notable of which was that a multi-millionaire promised to ruin Ethan if he didn’t stop seeing Luella, and a promise to burn the theatre down.  Suddenly, when Ethan declares he wants to be with Simon forever, they acknowledge that they’ll have trouble with the multi-millionare.

It’s pretty clear that the story started either as a purely gay romance and then author half-heartedly changed it to a hetero one to get published, and then only did a half-arsed job of converting  it back. Or the other way around.  Whichever it was, it put the nail in the  coffin for the book for me, and despite the rather interesting ending I ripped off half of the solitary star that the book had already earned.

I wish I could say more good about it, because I don’t like having to be so brutally honest, but I believe that with a good edit this could have been a much much better book. But as it is, I’d have to recommend that you avoid it altogether.

Review: Magnolia Heat by Keta Diablo

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

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

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

Review by Aleksandr Voinov

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

Noble Romance Publishing

Review: Silver Saddles by Cap Iversen

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

Review by Gerry Burnie

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

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

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

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

Amazon UK       Amazon USA

Review: This Rough Magic by Josh Lanyon

Wealthy San Francisco playboy Brett Sheridan thinks he knows the score when he hires tough guy private eye Neil Patrick Rafferty to find a priceless stolen folio of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Brett’s convinced his partner-in-crime sister is behind the theft — a theft that’s liable to bring more scandal to their eccentric family, and cost Brett his marriage to society heiress Juliet Lennox. What Brett doesn’t count on is the instant and powerful attraction that flares between him and Rafferty.
Once before, Brett took a chance on loving a man, only to find himself betrayed and broken. This time around there’s too much at risk. But as the Bard himself would say, Journey’s end in lovers meeting.
Review by Sal Davis
Once again there was no cover with the review copy, so April Martinez’s cover came as a nice surprise once I started poking around the Loose Id site. There’s quite a lot in this picture that comes directly from the book and the faces of the two models suggest the somewhat overwrought sensitivity of Brett and the more hard-nosed approach of Neil. This depiction is much more modern than what I was imagining while reading. J.C.Leyendecker’s work doesn’t appeal to everyone, but I found it very handy to have those cocked hatted, high collared, buttoned up, hair slicked back, be-spatted images in my mind’s eye as I read Mr Lanyon’s story. There’s one particular image of 2 men talking to each other on a sofa [sadly, it is not public domain] that gets over the formality of the time in a way that pouting lips and bare shoulders don’t, even if they are beautiful. These were the days when a man wouldn’t step outside without a hat, no matter his income, and the Brett Sheridans would come equipped with gloves, watchchain, buttonhole and cane and a whole array of behaviours that seem pointless and persnickety nowadays but were just a way of life then.
The blurb is slightly misleading in that it suggests that the story is very much from Brett’s point of view. Not so – we get a look into both protagonist’s minds, and very nice too, in alternating chapters. In fact the story begins in the most traditional way possible for a tale about a private dick [am I allowed to say that on SiN?] with a first page from Neil’s point of view that could have come from Chandler or Hammett, except it has the delicious substitution of a homme fatale instead of the more usual female love interest. Not that Brett is that dangerous, poor dab. He is a young man with the weight of the world in worries on his shoulders, some of which I can’t mention due to spoilers. Suffice is to say that he is engaged, but his heart isn’t in it and he has some worries about how his body will cope as well. Tough guy Neil is as different from him as can be and one of the joys in the book is seeing how the two characters play off against each other, developing trust and reliance on one hand and the protective urge on the other.
But the story is not solely a romance. There’s a good plot on several levels, an excellent cast of supporting characters and several BIG surprises. I’m not one of those readers who pores over every little clue to try and solve the mystery before the denouement, I just let the story happen and go ‘oooh’ with each revelation. [Lazy? I prefer to say I move at the author's pace.] I enjoyed it immensely – definitely one for the “Read-Again” folder!
Buy at LooseID

Review: A Faint Wash of Lavender by Lucius Parhelion

Post World War Two finds Laguna Beach in its heyday as an artists’ colony. Tony runs his uncles’ Grocery store in the town where a man of his bent can hide among the eccentrics who call the place home, including his Aunt Cora, who’s in charge of this year’s Pageant, where denizens of Laguna Beach recreate great art.

Tony’s carefully laid out life is about to take a hit from old army buddy Ben, who comes and stay while he sorts out his life. Tony doesn’t have a problem helping out an old friend, but this particular old friend comes with pitfalls. Ben is Tony’s type, and always has been. When Tony and Ben are asked to participate in the Pageant, they’re thrown into each other’s arms, literally. Will Tony be able to keep Ben in the dark about his ‘lavender’ tendencies, or will Ben himself have a few confessions that are sure to knock Tony for a loop?

Review by Erastes

Right off I’ll say that Parhelion hasn’t yet struck a bum note with me, and this is no exception. Somehow Parhelion manages to write cleary, beautifully and believably about post-war eras and settings that not many authors are dealing with.

On the surface this is a simple enough story, Tony meets up with old ex-regimental mate Ben who he served with in the Second World War. Tony knows that he fancied Ben during the war, on top of the hugely strong bond they made fighting side by side across France and Germany but he thinks that–at the distance of a few years, and knowing that Ben is planning to become a missionary within a religious sect–he can have a good visit with his friend and send him off again, without revealing his feelings. The problem is that Tony is living in the artist/performance neighbourhood of Laguna Beach and this is the underlying subtext of the book.

Without this clever subliminal subtext it would just be a case of best friends realising they want each other, but it’s made much more because of it. It’s a social group Tony feels comfortable with when he’s alone–the faint wash of lavender relates to the slight swishiness of his aunt’s friends, some more obvious than others. But when Ben arrives, Tony is concerned that Ben will pick up on the lavender tint of his friends and put two and two together.

It’s an interesting look at a burgeoning gay community, although too brief, I felt. I got the impression that Parhelion was going for, that of men who were allowing themselves to be a little more obvious in what they deemed a slightly safer environment, but the characterisations of the lavender washed themselves were a little too thin for me and smacked of stereotyping. I don’t think this was at all Parhelion’s aim, but the time allowed, given the length of the novella, didn’t give any possibility of seeing them in anything but 2d. It’s a shame, because that’s rather the crux of this sub-plot, that Tony feels comfortable in this mildly outre atmosphere, but is also struggling with the fact that as a manly man he should be ashamed of his friends. But as we don’t see his friends that much, this fact falls a little short.

Tony and Ben are depicted beautifully. The dialogue hits notes that seem just right, not too girly and not too porn-slanted. The way they eventually confess to each other that they are pretty sure they are gay is believable. And the device (the pageant) where Tony has to admit to himself that he hasn’t lost any of his yearnings for Ben is well done. There’s an amusing line about The Last Supper which made me snort tea through my nose, too.

The rest of the story is so readable, it’s hard not to gush. I wish I was more of a literature teacher so that I could dissect Parhelion’s style and work out what they are doing that’s so right, but I can’t. If you haven’t read any Parhelion, start here and then I guarantee you, you will seek out all the others. I don’t know who you are, enigma that is Parhelion, but keep on doing what you’re doing. (although, give us a novel, one day, please?)

Author’s Website (out of date)

Buy from Torquere Press

Review: Silver-Silver Lining by Lucius Parhelion

In 1958 meteorologist Dr. Rob Lanard is in Las Vegas to observe the effects of the first nuclear test explosions on the weather. His boss on this job is Dr. Phillip Argent. The two men share more than just their boredom on the job; they are both pitching for the same team, so to speak.

It’s not the kind of thing men of their position dare get caught at, though, and Rob and Phillip must perform a careful dance, making sure they don’t say anything that could give them away. Can a surprise day off and a storm conspire to let them get together the way they’ve been wanting to?

Review by Sal Davis

As usual I’m starting with the cover. I don’t know who designed it and, frankly, I don’t want to. It tries, but it’s a mess and does the story no favours at all. Luckily, this is a novella that can shrug off an infelicitous cover, more than holding its own just on the power of the story and quality of the writing.

In 1958, at the height of the Cold War, men associated in any way with the nuclear programme could not afford to come under suspicion of any activity that might render them a security risk. Dr. Rob Lanard, the POV character, is all too aware of this and it is interesting to see him identify the watchers and to see the safeguards he has put in place to protect his secret. Intelligent, accomplished and an asset to the programme, he knows none of that would cut any ice if it was discovered that he was a homosexual. It also makes courting very edgy and one of the joys of the book is the careful way the two protagonists sound each other out in such a way that if the other is straight the feather light come on can be easily dismissed.

Today it seems ludicrous that two men, friends and colleagues, would not dare to be in the same hotel room, even for the most innocent of reasons, for fear of arousing suspicion. So it is very satisfying that they not only manage to establish that their interests run along the same lines, but manage that much needed ‘alone’ time. The sex scene is of the ‘we haven’t much time so let’s not mess about’ variety and works very well for the characters involved.

The style of writing is snappy and sharp with just enough period colour thrown in to give it some flavour without being overwhleming or feeling contrived. For instance mention is made of the newly published “The King Must Die” as a must read. There are also some phrases that are placed just so perfectly that I read them aloud for the pleasure of hearing them said.

For the most part, the text was clean and easy to read and I only spotted one editorial problem, where it looked as though a couple of lines had been copy pasted out of order but I suspect it was deliberate and just didn’t work too well. However, there is one thing that really irritated me and that was down to Torquere again. At the end of each chapter – and at 50 odd pages did it really NEED chapters? – there was a box that said [Back to Table Of Contents]. I was just really getting into the story, reading fast and accidentally touched the box at the end of chapter 2 and – yes – was sent back to the table of contents. Infuriating! And not really necessary with a short story. /rant

Parhelion, yes. A definite re-read and I’ll be looking for other works.

Author’s website

Buy from Torquere Press

4.5 *

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: The Only Gold by Tamara Allen

New York 1888

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

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

Review by Sal Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

Buy at Dreamspinner Press

Review: House of Mirrors by Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon

Driven from his family when his sexuality is exposed, Jonah discovers drama, passion, and intrigue in a traveling carnival–and in the enigmatic owner, Rafe Grimstone. The preacher’s son and the lord who’s rejected his former life in England feel the heat of attraction from the moment they meet. Open-hearted Jonah is willing to risk hellfire and damnation for brief moments of pleasure with Rafe, but the older man is frozen in a past he can’t escape no matter how far he runs.

As Rafe struggles to choose between responsibilities of his present and his past, mysterious accidents assail the close-knit community of the carnival. Will the perpetrator be revealed before the traveling show is ruined, and will Rafe finally reveal his true self to Jonah or continue to mask his identity like the changing images in a house of mirrors?

Review by Erastes

I have thoroughly enjoy past forays by this talented team of writers and I jumped into this headlong, seduced by their past skill and the fact that I am a big sucker for circus stories.

I wasn’t disappointed. I liked the length–around 160 pages. It doesn’t rush into things and events are given time to mature, characters given space to develop. Secondly it takes the carny/circus theme and really runs with it. Rafe’s outfit isn’t a great big one like ones shown on Hollywood films, it’s a real “dog and pony show”–the “headline” act being just that, a dog and pony turn, there’s a magician, a strong man, a knife throwing act which perform in the show. In addition to that there’s the “freak show” which is hardly that at all. Over the past little while, they’ve lost their dwarf, and although he hasn’t told the Carny “family”, Rafe knows the show is losing money.

It’s a sad little outfit, to be honest which travels around Ohio, part of Indiana, and Kentucky. Playing to people who’s lives are so bleak and hopeless and miserable that even a poor little show with nothing much more than a couple of tents seems like something miraculous. There’s a scene at a funeral where this is so beautifully described you can see the por fabric of the people’s clothes, feel every bone in their starving horse’s ribs–people who are awed by the simplest of things, and grateful for it.

It’s this “Grapes of Wrath” level of detail that I loved most about the book; the main two characters, Jonah and Rafe are interesting, but they didn’t catch me on fire, and the romance was pretty predictable. However it’s solidly done, and no one will be disappointed by the set up and completion of the love story.  However, the other characters in the book were the genius touch. Mindy, the sour-tongued and loyal daughter of the previous owner, Sam the giant with health problems, the nebulous Parinsky, and Jamie the pretty woman with a big crush–and many others. None of them are skimped in favour of the main romance, and when something happens to one of them I freely admit I found myself crying without even realising it.

There’s a nice mini-mystery thread that runs through, and even with the limited pool of suspects the clues led me to the wrong suspect–and that pleases me.

What I didn’t like was (to me) a rather unsatisfactory ending. It seemed to go on for too long, as if desperate to assure the reader as to what would happen next and how. I found it unnecessary and bulky. I can understand the reasons why all the ends had to be tied up but after such deft and subtle storytelling it felt like the publisher had said “You can’t end it there, please let’s see what happens afterwards.”

But for all that, I find this a really well written book. Dee and Devon go from strength to strength and the maturity of much of the writing in this book is simply wonderful.  I have one plea. If Loose I-D don’t own the print rights to your books, girls, then please offer them to a print publisher because they will be keepers for many, me included.

Highly recommended.

Bonnie Dee’s website   Summer Devon’s website

Buy at Loose I-D

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