Review: Promises Made Under Fire by Charlie Cochrane

France, 1915

Lieutenant Tom Donald envies everything about fellow officer Frank Foden–his confidence, his easy manner with the men in the trenches, the affectionate letters from his wife. Frank shares these letters happily, drawing Tom into a vicarious friendship with a woman he’s never met. Although the bonds of friendship forged under fire are strong, Tom can’t be so open with Frank–he’s attracted to men and could never confess that to anyone.

When Frank is killed in no-man’s-land, he leaves behind a mysterious request for Tom: to deliver a sealed letter to a man named Palmer. Tom undertakes the commission while on leave–and discovers that almost everything he thought he knew about Frank is a lie…

ebook and audiobook- 18,000 words

Review by Erastes

Anyone who has read and likes Charlie Cochrane will be expecting quality and a sweet romance and you definitely won’t be disappointed in this book. She is consistently good and I always start one of her books with a sense of pleasure. I have to say I ended this one in that state too.

Frank is everything Tom would like to be. He sees the best in things, and can laugh even in the trenches, in the worst of conditions. To do otherwise, he tells Tom would be a road to madness. Tom is much more realistic and finds the war and the conditions next to unbearable.

Such a set-up could be a very hard read in other hands, but Cochrane deals with it well. Somehow she doesn’t lessen the impact of the horror–makes it very clear to us how badly Tom is affected by events that transpire–but it’s dealt with so wonderfully and subtly that it wouldn’t put the most ardent anti-war reader off. It takes skill to do this–a rare skill–which is why most WW1 books are  a much more harrowing read. Tom is living a life not lived; chances never taken, risks never risked and there are instances in his life which therefore he regrets for inaction. And now he’s in the middle of action of a very different sort, he can’t see beyond the end of the next minute.

It’s almost a coming-of-age story, in a way, as Tom has to solve a little but rather satisfying mystery (as the reader should twig onto the truth a long time before Tom) and when he does his life begins to change and he gets the chance to finally risk all for his future happiness.

Told in first person, Tom’s head isn’t the happiest place to be. He suffers (with a good portion of stiff upper lippiness) with a fair smear of depression although he does his duty, even when it’s unpleasant. He doesn’t particularly want to go and see Frank’s family but he does his duty even though the loss of Frank has hit him hard, so hard that only really his parents know how much it’s affected him.

It’s this repression that Cochrane manages to portray so very well. The fact that Tom and Frank had shared a trench and command for a good while but the repression of both men meant that they knew almost nothing about each other–not really–and they couldn’t trust each other enough to let each other know about their secret lives. She really gets into Tom’s mind and is utterly convincing as he unravels the tangle of Frank’s life.

As much as I enjoyed much of the Cambridge Fellows series, I prefer Cochrane’s standalone books. Her writing gets stronger as she finds her style (although she’s just as capable of contemporary, fantasy and historical) and gains strength and confidence in her writing. This is–to my mind–one of the most mature pieces she’s produced, and is romantic enough for those who seek it but thought provoking enough for those who want a more gritty read.

Author’s Website

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Review: Sail Away by Lee Rowan

Corrupt governments, divided loyalties,lovingly exchanged gifts, astral travel and sensual love; not to mention a sailors unwanted little lodgers are all combined in this charming and entertaining collection of short stories by Lee Rowan, plus an extra treat from Charlie Cochrane.

THE CAPTAINS COURTSHIP
Set in 18th century New England amid revolutionary rumblings, The Captains Courtship is a nicely written and well researched traditional romance.

Cynthia Lancaster is a well brought up English girl living with her father, Edward and her grandmother in New Jersey. Her father is eager for her to marry the unprepossessing Mr Humboldt. But when Cynthia meets the handsome and dashing Commander Paul Andrew Smith when he intervenes in an argument between Edward, a loyalist and and two staunch Patriots,she is immediately smitten.

Now, with the help of her grandmother, Cynthia must attempt to persuade her father that the commander would be a better match than Mr Humboldt.

SEE PARIS AND LIVE.
Christopher St.John, the young Baron Guilford is asked by his mother, the Dowager Baroness, to travel to Paris to supervise the safe delivery of her shipment of brandy. But France is embroiled in Revolution and dangerous ground for an English Aristocrat.

Once there however, Kit meets Zoe Colbert, an extremely pretty,if rather forward young woman who immediately invites an astounded Kit to bed. Events take a turn for the worse for Kit, however and his sojourn in Paris turns out to be longer than he anticipated.

CASTAWAY.
Forbidden love aboard His Majesty’s Frigate, Calypso. When Lieutenants David Archer and William Marshall are washed overboard during a fierce storm at sea, the two find themselves stranded on a desert island. Away from the prying eyes of their shipmates David and William are able to express their love for each other without fear of punishment and almost certain death.  And for a while at least they can live out their fantasies in this tropical paradise until help arrives.

ALL SOULS.
When David Archer is confronted by the apparition of the man whom his lover, William Marshall killed in a duel, he instinctively realises that his friend is in mortal danger. Together David and William must fight the strangest battle of their lives. Will the love they have for each other help them to survive the night, and beat this most deadly of enemies?

GIFT EXCHANGE,TOKEN OF AFFECTION,FORTUNES FAVORS,TOUCH.
Four short stories featuring Davy and William celebrating Christmas, Valentines Day, risking a  ‘quickie’ in a skiff and enjoying some shore leave… and much more besides.

Reviewed by Grace Roberts

I really enjoyed this collection of stories.Beautifully written and well researched, the author Lee Rowan has delivered once again with some classic romance and adventure set on the high seas, in the American colonies and in Paris during the ‘Terror’.

Two of the stories (The Captains Courtship & See Paris and Live) are M/F and the rest are M/M, but don’t let that put you off. I did find that a little disconcerting at first but the author writes in both genres so well, I was able to put aside my bias and enjoy them just as much as the M/M stories. And I love the book’s cover. Nice and clean and uncluttered, and no naked torsos.

Set in the pre revolutionary American colonies, The Captain’s Courtship is a very traditional romance with the requisite handsome hero and a heroine who, though no raving beauty, has attributes which far transcend mere physical attraction. A strong will for one thing, and a determination to marry the man she loves and not the man her father wishes her to wed. Here also is the ubiquitous wise old grandmama colluding with her grand-daughter in her ambition.

As I said, a very traditional romance and a very charming read.

The one quibble I had with the next story, See Paris And Live was the main female character.I just couldn’t take her seriously at all, and I didn’t like her. I tried, but it wasn’t to be. She came across as arrogant and manipulative, and I found the scene where she entices a not unwilling Kit into bed five minutes after meeting him slightly unbelievable.

Later in the story, she voices concerns about the loss of her virtue, and how it would affect her father. Hmm, one can’t help but feel she should have thought of that earlier. But perhaps it was a case, for her at least, of not knowing when she may end up riding in a tumbril to the guillotine, so live for the moment. But I didn’t like it and I found it mildly off-putting.

It’s a decent story with a good, solid plot and we even have Kit undergoing Trepan surgery after a skirmish with revolutionaries.

The next four stories Castaway, Gift Exchange, Fortunes Favors and Touch feature Lieutenants David Archer and his shipmate, friend and lover,William Marshall, the stars of Rowan’s Royal Navy Series.

Castaway has the two being swept overboard during a fierce storm and managing to stay afloat by clinging onto a chicken coop. Washed up on a desert island, the two men battle to suppress their feelings for each other with some slightly comical results. While one leaves the sleeping quarters,where they share a hammock, to supposedly relieve himself among the bushes, the other takes the opportunity of his friends absence to relieve himself in a different way. (His father once told him to do it privately or ignore it) Only later do we discover what Davy has really been up to in the shrubbery. They do eventually stop beating about the bush, ho hum, throw caution to the wind, and consummate their love. And with no threat of Article 29 to bother them and no one to witness the act, they have a lovely frolic on the beach. Very sweet, very sexy,a lovely story with a very surprising ending. I certainly didn’t see it coming, and you may need a hanky or two.

Gift Exchange begins with a charming and affectionate letter from Davy to his mother thanking her for her Christmas gift of a marzipan rabbit, underclothing and woollen stockings.

He shares his gifts with William, and in return,William gives Davy a gift he’ll never forget in a beautifully written scene of illicit passion which, because they are on board ship must be conducted in silence.Difficult for Will, not so much for Davy who’s mouth is er, busy elsewhere.

My favourite after Castaway was All Souls. The author has obviously researched the subject of Astral Travel very thoroughly and whether you believe in it or not, it makes this story a gripping read. Its the first time I’ve seen anyone mention the Silver Cord (the mystical cord which attaches the corporeal body to the spirit. A sort of umbilical cord) for many years. Writers rarely mention it in fiction or in reports of so-called actual occurrences of Astral Travel.  But it enables Davy to float from one deck of his ship to another just by the power of thought. Marvellous, this is a sea faring adventure with a difference. I loved it. And it has a very satisfying ending with love triumphing over adversity and avenging spirits.

Token of Affection and Fortunes Favors have our heroes once again exchanging cute little gifts for Valentines Day and taking a newly repaired skiff for a practice run, and in Token, there are plenty of Bottom puns from the two while discussing Shakespeare, and a mention of a ‘New little mid- Beecroft’ who could play Puck, and looks the part but has an unfortunate stutter. Oh dear!

The first sentences in Fortunes Favors raised my eyebrows a little with the ‘Carry On’ type double entendres. Upright Shafts and Wet Leather! But no, tis only our intrepid twosome rigging up a mast when, having risked a ‘quickie’ behind a tiny island in the Calypso’s newly repaired skiff they are caught in a sudden squall. There’s more talk of Yardarms with er rosy tips etc plus the lovely, vivid line, ['Their] love being no less sincere for being hasty; like a hummingbird hovering in flight to sip nectar’.

Touch blew me away with it’s lusciously sensual and highly evocative sex scene. Playful and raunchy without being smutty or crude, it’s erotica at it’s tasteful best,and is written with skill and finesse.

Finally, With All My Worldly Goods I Thee Endow-Including Livestock By Charlie Cochrane.

This extra little vignette is typically Charlie Cochrane. Her wit, humour and sense of fun abound in every sentence as Davy attempts to rid Will of some unwanted little visitors…..head lice. Great fun to read and is a lovely, jolly finale to a book which I enjoyed immensely. Eight cracking tales with plenty of action, adventure, love, lust and humour, Sail Away has something for everyone between it’s covers. Available from Amazon at £4:53 for the Kindle edition, it’s also available in paperback, (a bonus these days) for £8:99, which is a little pricey, but for this collection I reckon it’s well worth it.

Lee Rowan’s Website

Buy at Amazon UK,  Amazon USA

Goodwill To All Men

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Welcome to The Advent Calendar 2011!

The posts will go up around 14:00 hrs GMT daily – so no peeking in advance! And we will know if you try! Come back daily to check for new posts, and every day there will be a prize up for grabs for at least one person.

There will also be a BIG FESTIVE MYSTERY PRIZE (ok, not that big) so there will be a question posted every day. Save them up, email them in to me on Christmas eve on erastes at erastes dot com and be in the running for a bag of goodies.

   


       
         
   
     
Double day!

   

Double Day!

 

Review: Home Fires Burning by Charlie Cochrane

Two stories, two couples, two eras, timeless emotions. 

“This Ground Which Was Secured At Great Expense”

It is 1914 and The Great War is underway. When the call to arms comes, Nicholas Southwell won’t be found hanging back. It’s a pity he can’t be so decisive when it comes to letting his estate manager Paul Haskell know what he feels before he has to leave for the front line. In the trenches Nicholas meets a fellow officer, Phillip Taylor, who takes him into the unclaimed territory of physical love. Which one will he choose, if he’s allowed the choice?

“The Case of the Overprotective Ass”

Stars of the silver screen Alasdair Hamilton and Toby Bowe are wowing the post WWII audiences with their depictions of Holmes and Watson. When they are asked by a friend to investigate a mysterious disappearance, they jump at the chance—surely detection can’t be that hard? But a series of threatening letters—and an unwanted suitor—make real life very different from the movies. 

Review by Erastes

Let me say up front that I thoroughly enjoyed both books, as I expected I would. I just didn’t enjoy the overall experience as much as I thought I would.

The trouble for me came with the stark differences in tone. I can see possibly why this was done, to offer some light relief in the second story to compensate for the pain of reading the first one, but I found the disconnect a little too much. The light frothy feel of the second book seemed to lessen the really true impact of the first, and that was a shame. I wish I had read them the other way around.

This Ground Which Was Secured At Great Expense

You can usually assume that any book dealing with the Great War is going to be a harrowing story, unless the writer doesn’t do their job properly and this one is no exception. Don’t be put off–this deals as lightly as it can with the actual job of soldiering in the trenches, and while there is description of the environments and atmosphere of that time, it won’t make you go cold in sheer horror as some books have done.

One thing that struck me as I was reading was the way that Cochrane’s writing has evolved over the years that I’ve been reading her. She could always write a good yarn and she’s always been on my list of Must Reads but this book shines for me as the best thing she’s ever done.

She doesn’t take the easy option with this book–e.g. that of one man meeting another, having conflict in the war, and despite all odds coming through to find his true love. That, married to the wonderful writing, would have been sufficient–but (and forgive me if I’m wrong here) Cochrane for the first time decides to explore some flawed characters. In fact, this darkness had begun to creep into the Cambridge Fellows series towards the end, and that’s what made it fascinating for me, but Cochrane shows true strength of prose as she explores the love square, one must call it I suppose, between Nicholas, Paul, Phillip and Fergal.

The most touching moments for me were those between Nicholas and Phillip, and the way the story has them coming together (as it were) due to many reasons: war, anger with another, loneliness and just damned human need.

As you can see, there are too many people in the equation to have a realistic gay historical romance ending, so you’ll already realise that choices have to be made and something’s gotta give. I won’t spoil it, but it’s wrapped up very deftly, without cloying into saccharine sentiment and my eyes were moist, which is always a good ending for me.

Absolutely marvellous read–please do not miss this one. I can only hold my breath to see where Cochrane goes next.

The Case of the Over-Protective Ass

We are back on familiar ground here, as Ms Cochrane demonstates her skill at sleuthing. Our heroes, both stars of the silver screen, and protected as much as possible by their studio are in love and having a rather lovely affair, although as discreet as possible.  They are asked by a theatre impresario, to find his missing secretary and the game is afoot.

I quite liked Toby and Alasdair, but I didn’t warm to them the way I warmed to Orlando and Jonty from The Cambridge Fellows series, they seemed a bit too similar to the Fellows – not altogether surprising, I suppose, being two sets of homosexual sleuths deeply in love with a penchant for innuendo and double entendre. But I would have liked them to be more distinct from their Cambridge counterparts–to have voices more their own.

However, the story is engaging, with one mystery spilling into another and the progression of it is nicely handled with no sudden incomprehensible jumps as the reader is kept nicely informed of progress all the way. There was one glaring error I spotted, and that was Alasdair speaking of the Aunt’s will a couple of pages before said aunt and said will had even been discovered by Toby, but that was all. The editing slipped a little here and there, with a few missing punctuation marks, and the wrong homonym used at one point.

But as a piece of entertaining crime-solving fiction, I recommend it highly, the protagonists are amusing and sweet in turns, although the sex was a little over-stylised for me (compared with the more subtle and almost glossed over scenes in the first story) but the mystery rumbles along at a good pace never making the reader bored.  I could quite easily see these characters having their own series of books, but I hope that doesn’t happen and that Ms Cochrane investigates and develops the growing power of her writing as shown in “This Ground.”

It’s just that overall, I couldn’t gel the two stories together, I think I would have liked (as in Ginn Hale’s Wicked Gentlemen) two novellas relating to the same characters, or–if about two sets of people–two novellas more similar in tone. Not necessarily both about the Great War, but The Case of the Over Protective Ass didn’t have the impact it should have if it had been a readalone, because of the power and strength of the first story.

I liked both stories, but have to give “This Ground” a resounding five stars, as I couldn’t get it out of my head afterwards but “The Case of The Over Protective Ass” only gets a four. Overall, the duet of stories gets a 4½ and a highly recommended.

Buy at AllRomance ebooks    Amazon UK  Amazon USA

Gay Historical Panel at GLBT UK MEET

On 23rd July, the 2nd annual GLBT UK MEETUP was held and it was a resounding success. In a year we went from 12 attendees to over 40 and we are planning even better next year.  Here’s the panel hosted by Alex Beecroft, Charlie Cochrane and Erastes. Hope you find it useful.

Alex Beecroft: Characters in your Historical Novel

1. What makes a historical feel like a historical? Characters.

If you were to ask me “what is the most important part of establishing your book as a historical?” I would have to say “it’s the characters.” I really don’t think that any amount of scene setting, even if it’s done in the most exquisite detail and with scrupulous historical accuracy, can convince the reader that they are in another era the way you can by having a character whose attitudes are historical and firmly embedded in their time.

I have read books where the setting certainly appeared to be 100% authentic and full of detail, and yet the characters who moved through that setting were so modern in their thoughts and actions that the overall experience of reading the book was similar to going to a mediaeval theme party. Where the character doesn’t match the setting you get a sort of cognitive dissonance that just screams fake fake fake, and it’s almost worse – imo – when the author has clearly got all the other stuff right. If they’ve gone to all that trouble and researched their physical world so well, it makes it even more jarring and unpleasant to see it populated by characters who would fit right at home in a contemporary if they only changed their clothes.

Some historicals I’ve read go as far as having aggressively modern main characters – characters whose role appears to me to walk through their world criticizing the way everyone else behaves and holding them up to 21st Century standards. These are the characters who are horrified at the barbaric practices of the doctors of their era (forgetting that these practices are the pinnacle of modern knowledge to the rest of their society,) who are unaccountably squeamish about standard forms of discipline (such as giving a child a thrashing, clipping a disobedient wife about the ear, or flogging a criminal) and who, for some reason, know better than everyone else in their society about matters of hygiene and diet, and are not ashamed to look down on their ignorant compatriots with all the smugness of a different century.

I mean, yes, if you really hate a particular era so much that you’d enjoy writing a book about how rubbish it was, by all means do so. But don’t create a character who could not have existed in that time to do it with. It would be far better to use a modern main character, who came by his attitudes honestly, being sent back into the past by freak wormhole incident or TARDIS.

2. So how do you write characters who don’t think like modern people?

This is tricky of course because you as an author think as a modern person does, and – as a modern person – you abhor many of the attitudes of the past (such as gay people are rubbish, women are rubbish, slavery is necessary, leeches are good for you etc.)

The first thing you have to do is to parcel all that up and leave it aside for a while, while you read as many of the original sources as you can get hold of. If the original sources exist, then listen to the voices of people from that century. You usually find that in some things they are indistinguishable from the voices of modern people – they still worry about their appearance and their income and what their families are up to. They have the same needs for love and wealth and respect that we have. But if you listen harder you can start to pick out the framework of assumptions that governs the way they go about fulfilling those needs.

For example, I read a journal of an 18th Century woman bewailing the sexual double standard between men and women – so far so modern – but she concluded that men ought to behave with more chastity rather than women with less. So far so unusual, so strange – so much an attitude that if you read it in a book you would be instantly convinced that you were in a different time. Just a little throwaway thought, and it’s different enough from what we take as written nowadays to make you feel like you’re in a different time.

Or, for a different example, it’s become quite fashionable to claim that Ancient Greece or Rome was a sin-free happy time for gay people. But that’s because we’re modern and we’re not paying attention to the nuances. Suppose you’re an Ancient Roman senator, and you fall in love with a barbarian gladiator – you’re fine if you want to be a top, but shame, shame upon your name and your ancestors if you don’t. There’s another attitude that makes no sense today, but if you based your characters internal or external conflict on it then the book could only be a historical, because it’s a conflict specific to that time.

3. Modern attitudes in historical characters.

This doesn’t mean that your characters have to have some kind of standard set of era-specific beliefs. In no age has everyone all believed exactly the same thing. For example, in the same century, there were people who loathed slavery enough to dedicate their lives to fighting it, people who dedicated their lives to fighting for it tooth and nail, people who might not have campaigned but who bought slavery-free sugar when they could, and a large set of people who were too busy with their own lives to have a position either way.

You can give your characters almost any attitude you wish, so long as you can show how they came by it given the conceptual framework within which they have to work. For example, gay people in the past had to come to some kind of reconciliation or rejection of their society’s views that allowed them to accept themselves, but how they achieved that will be specific to their time and society. They can’t – eg – say “God is love, therefore my love is holy,” before Christianity. They can’t say “this persecution is against my human rights,” before the invention of the concept of human rights.

On a less serious note, your characters probably shouldn’t say “ew, this cheese is full of mites, take it away!” in the 18th Century. In fact they should probably say “ooh, lovely, I do like to see a cheese with a bit of life to it. Bring me a spoon!” If they did, you’d certainly know you weren’t in 21st Century Kansas any more. And that is my whole point.

Erastes on Striking a Balance

I’m going to talk about balance, because sometimes I think writers have difficulty striking a balance when writing. not just historical either. It’s a Fine Line between THIS IS MY RESEARCH LET ME SHOW YOU IT  – and just getting the details right.

Don’t get e wrong—you got to do the research. You’ve got to try your very best to get those details right. Readers are forgiving if they can see you’ve worked like stink, but have made one or two silly errors. In Muffled Drum I made a big thing of the Red Light District in Berlin – and too late too late two people pointed out that the street I mentioned was actually in Hamburg and not Berlin.

But readers will be less forgiving if it’s patently obvious that you haven’t even bothered to use Google to check the most basic of facts.

But you shouldn’t over do relating that research to the reader and it’s this that is a little unfair to the writer, because you are going to learn a LOT more than you’ll ever put in the book.

I have to reference Dan Brown here, who does—and i have to grit my teeth to say this—write a damned good page turner. I actually own all of his books, because they are like crack. But whereas he writes a racketing good read and I for one can’t wait to turn the page and find out what’s happening next, he lets himself down with his signature move of telling us everything about everything.  I remember reading one of them, don’t know which…and it told you about the engine of the car he was driving and the type of plane he was on, down to –it seemed, every grommet and washer. I found myself flipping over pages of STUFF HE HAD TO TELL YOU BECAUSE BY GOD HE’D DONE THE RESEARCH AND YOU SHALL SHARE IT rather than simply absorbing some of the facts as the flavour of the book.

I got the impression that he was saying to the reader “Look, i slaved over this book. i did research about Russia and China and every conspiracy theory known to man. Look, I seriously worked hard. I spent hours in libraries. you need to see my research or you’ll think i just made it up!!!! It will all be wasted if I don’t write it all down!” and that’s not good, that’s not the message you want to give. I don’t want the author to intrude at all.

I can relate to this, and I felt much the same when I first started to write, but luckily my mother was around when I first started and she pointed out that we didn’t need to know every single detail and she went through and deleted many descriptive words and passages. After that I found it much easier. The trick to it for me was to walk across my own room and described how I did it. I left the sofa, walked past the tv and the dining table to the kitchen. What I didn’t do was to leave the Gillows sofa, walk across the Wilton carpet designed by XXXX in 1792 and the flat screen 32” plasma screen Sony TV (I wish) and into the bespoke B&Q kitchen stencilled with green and yellow flowers.

Modern books don’t do this (or at least they shouldn’t!) and so neither should historicals. Whether the chair is made my Chippendale or whoever doesn’t really matter. Unless it does, of course. If the story revolves around Chippendale and perhaps the theft of a chair made by him, or whether the provenance of the chair is IMPORTANT then that’s fine. But if the detail doesn’t add anything to the story — and in fact, as often happens (Dan, I’m looking at you) intrudes and distracts from the story — then leave it out.

It doesn’t mean that you can’t make the description lush and tangible. Alex, for example, particularly in her 18th century paranormal “Wages of Sin” WORKS magic with her details. How cloth feels, how candle light looks and smells (never forget the smells) what happens to wig powder when it rains. But none of it is infordumping. She is simply creating a real and entirely believeable and visual world that the 21st century reader isn’t familiar with. The details immerse the reader, so they are actually there, and they are participating in historical events rather than distancing the reader, and makingit more clear that they are simply reading a book.

A good beta is worth their weight in gold. A good beta (and not just one who will tell you how great you are!) will tell you if you’ve turned into Dan Brown and you are oversharing that research.

The depressing fact of life is, that 99 percent of the research you will do for your book will (should!!) never appear on the pages of your book, but you can’t skip that research because it will make your book and more 3-dimensional, and in response to that, more enjoyable to read.

 

Charlie Cochrane on Setting the Scene.

Erastes and Alex Beecroft had proper, typed up notes. I had scribbles, which I’ve just rescued from the recycling bin, and lots of busking, Gist of what I said was:

My heart sank at the start of Downton Abbey, when almost the first scene involved discussion of the Titanic sinking. Wouldn’t have been so bad if that had happened later, when we’d got to know the characters, and why it mattered to them, but as it was it just felt clichéd and lazy. Please, writers, if you can’t create a sense of era/place subtly, just put London, 1912 or what/wherever it is and get on with the story.

 

Also, can we have some less clichéd images/descriptions for setting place? Big Ben + Routemaster bus + cockney newspaper seller shouting “King Edward abdicates” = London, 1936 has been done to death. Anyway, using such obvious symbols risks making huge mistakes; I’ve read stuff set in the time of Queen Anne where the hero hears Big Ben striking (he must be psychic as it wasn’t even built then). Check everything, even the “obvious”.

The past can surprise us, though. I’d love to write a book full of seeming anachronisms (like watching a floodlit rugby match in 1880) so people could shout me down and I could prove them wrong.

It’s the people and how they think/act which best depicts an era. Go to contemporary sources for the best way of getting your head around this. For example, if you want to write about a late Victorian bank clerk, you could do worse than use Three Men in a Boat as your source.

There was more. There were jokes. Can’t remember a word of them.

Charlie Cochrane’s Book Swap

I have a print Downtime (autographed!) by Tamara Allen, which is dead heavy so I’d only post to UK.
Also have Victor Banis, The Man from CAMP (three short novs)

In return I’d only want print books, but would be happy not to have anything in return.

————————-

What to if you want any of these books

REPLY to this post with suggestions of what you have–it doesn’t matter if you’ve already had a post on the community, you can also offer your books on the replies. The owner of the post will then choose what they want (probably will take a day or so) and then I’ll connect the two of you and you can arrange your swap or gift.

Review: All Lessons Learned by Charlie Cochrane

He’s at the end of his rope…until fate casts a lifeline.

Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book 8

The Great War is over. Freed from a prisoner of war camp and back at St. Bride’s College, Orlando Coppersmith is discovering what those years have cost. All he holds dear—including his beloved Jonty Stewart, lost in combat.

A commission to investigate a young officer’s disappearance gives Orlando new direction…temporarily. The deceptively simple case becomes a maze of conflicting stories—is Daniel McNeil a deserter, or a hero?—taking Orlando into the world of the shell-shocked and broken. And his sense of Jonty’s absence becomes painfully acute. Especially when a brief spark of attraction for a Cambridge historian, instead of offering comfort, triggers overwhelming guilt.

As he hovers on the brink of despair, a chance encounter on the French seafront at Cabourg brings new hope and unexpected joy. But the crushing aftereffects of war could destroy his second chance, leaving him more lost and alone than ever…

Review by Erastes

I was expecting to have my heart put through the wringer with this book, and I wasn’t wrong. Charlie Cochrane warns, without too many spoilers that it’s a “three hanky read” and she’s not wrong. So if you aren’t a fan of angst, then stay away! There are hints in the blurb about the outcome, so don’t despair.

It is a brave thing that Cochrane does to build up characters and relationships over seven books only to tear it all down in the eighth–but it’s entirely right to do so because of the setting and the events that happened from 1914-1919. The book is set after the end of the Great War–the other great lie, that it was the “War to End All War”–and it’s all the shattered Britain can hang onto, because that’s the only thing that helps them make sense of what seems four years of senseless slaughter. To make things worse, many people who escaped being killed on the battlefield, including wives, husbands and children were wiped out in the influenza epidemic of 1919, further reducing an already battered population.

So we know from the outset—and from the blurb, that loved ones have been lost, although it’s more than the blurb hints at, so steel yourself for sadness.

Orlando’s reaction is entirely right. The Orlando from books 1 to about 3 would probably have retreated entirely within his mind and never come out again, but Jonty’s influence remains strong with him, and he’s able to cope on a day-to-day level  as long as he doesn’t allow himself to think too deeply—and that’s something a gentleman wouldn’t let himself do in public.  His initial interview with his—and Jonty’s—old friend Matthew Ainslie is perfectly pitched. What they can talk about and what they can’t, the feeling of unbearable, but gentlemanly repression. The way Ainslie has kept obituaries from the paper “in case you wanted to see them” and the way that Orlando takes them without reading them in public. This skill of writing shows a writer who completely understands, not only her characters, but the mindset of middleclass and upperclass England of 1919.

I’d definitely say to prospective readers of the series–don’t start with this one. That probably sounds unnecessary to say, but some readers will start at the end or in the middle of a series, but to get the full flavour out of this, you will need to get some of the backstory under your belt, because the impact won’t be anything like as powerful otherwise, and you’ll need to know who’s who–it might leave you feeling a little confused otherwise.

Here’s one part which had me sobbing like a baby:

Their eventual parting had been so painful, preceded as it was by snatched nights of shared passion and tender longeurs—giving and receiving each other’s bodies, lying in one another’s arms without speaking, reacquainting themselves with every inch of each other, lest they be parted. Lest they might then forget. The last meeting, on a crowded railway station, had been almost wordless, from both necessity of discretion and aching in their hearts. They had shaken hands, exchanged notes and gone off into the smoky night. And each note had been almost identical.

I love you. Do not forget me. Love again if I don’t return.

I think we all know (without spoiling, because Cochrane has advertised widely for her readers to “Just TRUST her”) that the story must end well, and we also know that Cochrane wouldn’t do that to her readers—it would probably be romance suicide to do it, but even so the pathos of this story hits hard. The bequest to honey-buzzards will resonate with readers only who have read the earlier books, and the tender way Jonty  is discussed and remembered will make even the hardest hearted of us well up with emotion.

I’ve already spoken about the characterisation being pitch-perfect, and you never need to worry about Cochrane’s historical detail. She makes me laugh, actually, as from time to time something jars with me and I gleefully trot to the etymology dictionary only to discover that she’s spot on—one example was “foxhole”—i had thought this was a later term, but no, I should have known better, it was coined in WW1. The thing with a book like this is that you actually forget that you are reading something written in the 21st century. It’s so immersive, you just lose yourself within it, whether you are strolling along the seafront of Caborg or having a pint in the Holloway Road.

There was a little too much cosy chat too for me which lost my concentration at times, but I know that this will be the main draw for lovers of previous books.

I also felt that Orlando’s “sleuthing” was a little too easy in spots—coincidence plays a part and he only has to say something out loud for one of the porters to say “oh I know where you can find that out, guv’nor.” And he not only finds the man he needs in a neighbouring college but the details of one man in all of the war. Coincidence plays a large part in the remaining plot, and I’d complain more strongly about that had Cochrane not made this a feature in the previous books. I can live with it in a cozy novella, it’s almost part of the genre.

I wouldn’t say that this is the strongest in the series because it’s not as strong on sleuthing as the others—and I would have liked a little more mystery to balance the Jonty—Orlando plotline, but it breaks the mould in good ways. The whole arching story—whether or not this book will be the last Cambridge Fellows book or not—is compelling and sweet, although nicely toned in light and shade. This last book shows us that Cochrane is more than capable of stepping well outside the cosy mystery and dealing with the most disturbing of subjects, war, shellshock, duty and death—and of doing it every bit as well as writers such as Pat Barker or Susan Field. Bring hankies with you when you read it, but read it. It will touch you in many good ways.

Title is an ebook only at the moment but will be moving to paperback in a few months.

Buy at Samhain Amazon UK Kindle Amazon USA Kindle

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Review: Lessons In Trust by Charlie Cochrane

He thought he knew who he was. Now he’s a stranger to himself.

Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book 7

When Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith witness the suspicious death of a young man at the White City exhibition in London, they’re keen to investigate—especially after the cause of death proves to be murder. But police Inspector Redknapp refuses to let them help, even after they stumble onto clues to the dead man’s identity.

Review by Erastes

As you will know, if you are a regular reader of this blog, or any other m/m review site, The Cambridge Fellows series starring Orlando Coppersmith and Jonty Stewart has been a seven book series published by Samhain. This is the last in this set of books from Samhain. I won’t say “this is the last ever appearance from the boys” because I know that Charlie Cochrane is hoping to write at least one more, but that’s not in her contract for the seven books she’s done with them so far.

The series has been almost uniformly excellent—I’ve asked different people to review the books as they were released, to try and instil some fairness, but that didn’t make any difference, quality is quality and The Cambridge Fellow Series has been loved by one and all.

So it will be no surprise to you to hear that Lessons In Trust doesn’t waver one iota in that regard.

The story kicks off with the boys on vacation, staying with the Stewarts.  It’s 1908 and The White City ( a hundred acre site holding the Franco-British Exhibition) has just opened, and the boys are enjoying it every day. And it’s there that the murder mystery begins.

One gets used to the fact that, when a detective (or a couple of them in this case) are on the loose anywhere at all, wherever they go, they are bound to discover a murder. You would be a very stupid person to invite Hercule Poirot to your dinner party, and if I’d seen him entering a train or plane or boat I was on, I’d ask to change my passage to another day.  What Cochrane does is play with that that trope sufficiently to make a nice difference. When they do see the murder, they don’t realise that it is one, and rather than being encouraged to help with the enquiry, they are positively ordered away from it but a wonderful minor character, a policeman who insults the amateur detectives at every available opportunity.

Despite the novella length of this book, Cochrane packs a lot in. Not only do the doughty pair have the challenge of a baffling murder, but one of them has a crisis in his personal life which causes a real rift between the two of them.  I think it was this section that was the only part of the book I didn’t really get. At this point of their relationship, when they’d been through so much–I didn’t understand Orlando’s actions at all. However, it is written entirely in character, so it didn’t jar me – I wasn’t sitting there thinking “he wouldn’t have done that,” – rather “I thought you loved him more.”

As usual, the plot is nicely obscure for the fan of the mystery genre and as usual, there are some wonderful character portraits within the book, and people who love Jonty and Orlando’s gentle and sweet interractions won’t be disappointed.

I can’t mark this with any less than five stars, the weight of the series behind it, and the unfailing quality of the writing, the characterisation and the plotting won’t let me.

Buy at Samhain

Last Gasp by Erastes, Chris Smith, Charlie Cochrane and Jordan Taylor

Last Gasp, a series of four short novellas wherein we discover: four gay couples who struggle to find happiness during historical periods on the brink of change. Take a trip back to 1840s Hong Kong, Edwardian Syria, 1898 Yukon and 1936 Italy, and experience passion that will endure through the ages.

The Stories:

Tributary by Erastes

It’s 1936 and a generation of disaffected youth waits in the space between a war that destroyed many of their friends and family, and a war they know is bound to come. Guy Mason wanders through Italy, bored and restless for reasons he can’t even name, and stops at the Hotel Vista, high in the mountains of Lombardy. There, he meets scientist James Calloway and his secretary, Louis Chambers, and it’s there that the meandering stream of Guy’s life changes course forever.

The White Empire by Chris Smith

Edgar Vaughan sincerely believes that six-thousand miles is enough to give him a fresh start. Escaping in 1838 from the drawing rooms of Belgravia and the constraints of his landed family, he takes up missionary work in the trading post of Hong Kong. On arrival, he finds the region on the cusp of war; the Chinese Emperor has outlawed the importation of opium — the key link in the trade of the East India Company. Between Edgar’s sense of isolation, the sight of the puling opium addicts, and one memorable encounter with a man in a peacock waistcoat, Edgar finds himself embroiled in the very marrow of the British Empire’s machinations. He finds himself torn between espousing the expeditious whilst protecting his new acquaintance, and doing what is right and risking the wrath of the British Empire.

Sand by Charlie Cochrane

People come to Syria for many reasons; tourism, archaeology, or because they need to leave Edwardian England to escape potential disgrace. Andrew Parks is one of those, burying past heartache and scandal among the tombs.

Charles Cusiter has travelled here as well, as chaperone to a friend whose fondness for the opposite sex gets him into too much trouble at home. Out in the desert there aren’t any women to turn Bernard’s head – just the ubiquitous sand.

The desert works its magic on Charles, softening his heart and drawing him towards Andrew. Not even a potentially fatal scorpion sting can overcome the power this strange land exerts.

The Ninth Language by Jordan Taylor

Thousands of outsiders descend on Canada’s Yukon Territory during the 1898 gold rush, wreaking havoc on the landscape and the indigenous people who live there. Amid the backdrop of this once pristine land, a man struggling against the destruction of his home and culture finds himself indebted to one of the men causing it. These two strangers discover solace and wholeness where they least expect it: each other

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

As others have noted, anthologies can be a hit or miss or affair but fortunately that is not the case with Last Gasp, which consists of four excellent short novels that will keep any historical fiction fan happy for several hours of entertaining reading.

Three of the authors are familiar to me (Erastes, Charlie Cochrane, and Jordan Taylor); The White Empire by Chris Smith is her debut publication and it is an impressive first start. Although I enjoyed all four stories in Last Gasp, this one may edge out the others (by a hair) as my favorite. It was the longest and the most complex in terms of plot, with a little mystery, some suspense, more than a bit of moral ambiguity and, of course, a romance. I think, too, I am partial to the 1840s as a time period for a story so that added to my enjoyment. I look forward to Smith’s next published offering.

Jordan Taylor’s story was the only one that did not feature British characters and coming at the end of the book (I read the stories in order), it was a nice change. Her writing brought the Yukon Territories to  life and the push/pull conflict between the two main characters, Mitsrii and Troy, was palpable. Taylor is a new, young, and very talented author and I was excited to see her story was included in this collection.

Fans of Charlie Cochrane’s “Lessons” series will feel right at home with Sand, although the setting couldn’t be much further from St. Bride’s Senior Common Room! Even so, the writing was classic Cochrane with her signature funny turns of phrase and amusing expressions. Charles and Andrew quickly fall in love—some might feel a little too quickly, to the point of declaring themselves to each other and making what sounds like a lifetime commitment within days of meeting. I do think that Cochrane’s writing works a little bit better in longer-format fiction where she has time to carefully develop the characters and setting. Even so, I enjoyed this story very much and my little quibble is only a minor problem point in an overall excellent story.

Last, but not least (although it is the first story in the book), Erastes once again seduced me with her prose. While some writers excel at dialogue—and Erastes does fine in that respect—I love her beautiful descriptions of her characters, their locales, and their activities. Tributary did not disappoint. There was enough ambiguity to keep the story interesting and the uncertain future for the main characters certainly lived up to the premise of the entire collection—a world on the brink of change.

As historicals, the details were magnificent. Each story quickly pulled me into its world and kept me there. The characterizations, too, were excellent. At the end of each short novel, I wanted to know more, wondering what happened to the characters and where they moved on in their lives together—or maybe apart.

All in all, it is easy to recommend this collection. Fans of the authors will definitely want to add this to their “to buy” list. If you are a reader who says, “I’m not so sure about historicals…” this might be a good place to start, as the stories have enough variety and detail to give a good overview of what the world of historical fiction has to offer. The stories are full and rich and complete and made for a very satisfying reading experience. A definite keeper of four stories that I am sure to re-read. Brava to the authors, for a job well done!

Purchase from the publisher

Review: Lessons in Seduction by Charlie Cochrane

This time, one touch could destroy everything…

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

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

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

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

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samhain Publishing Buy from All Romance Buy from Amazon (Kindle)

Author Interview: Charlie Cochrane

February’s Interview is Charlie Cochrane, interviewed by Chris Smith. Enjoy!

Chris Smith: So, today I’m interviewing the inestimable (take that as you will) Charlie Cochrane. Charlie, back in the mists of time, when you were once a young Cochrane, did you ever expect to be writing gay romance, let alone one of the most loved series out there?

Charlie Cochrane: No.  Or perhaps maybe. Like many teenagers I wrote bad slash (mine was vaguely Lord of the Rings influenced)  that got put away until I was grown up enough to be able to make a reasonable attempt at it.

Chris Smith: I’m feeling rather a late developer — only got into slash in my 20s. So, when did you decide you were “grown up enough” to attack writing again?

Charlie Cochrane: When I’d read all the Archie/Horatio (Hornblower) fanfic that was available that was good enough to read, and decided to try my hand at producing my own. So I started with fanfic (still dabble sometimes) and then began to play around with my own characters

Chris Smith: And from thence Jonty and Orlando sprang fully formed like whatsit and thingammy from the head of Zeus?

Charlie Cochrane: Absolutely.  Artemis.  No. Athene.  Her. They did. Like they’d always lived in my head and wanted to emerge.

Chris Smith: Was it messy? Who cleaned up afterwards?

Charlie Cochrane:  Not as messy as childbirth,  and I have cleaners who come in fortnightly so I left it for them.

Chris Smith: I’ll keep that in mind (crosses childbirth off of list of things to do). So, suddenly you have two blokes living in your head, and pretty disparate blokes at that. What on earth made you think that not only should they get it on like Viagra based bunnies (note to people who have not read Charlie’s work — Viagra is anachronistic and bunnies hardly feature) but solve mysteries on the side?

Charlie Cochrane: Ah well.  Wish fulfilment of what I wanted to read, maybe?  I’m a great fan of classic mysteries – Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Ngaio Marsh –  and I’d have loved to see a duo like Wimsey and Vane or Alleyn and Troy but gay, so I had to invent them myself. And I love Cambridge so that seemed to be the right location.

Chris Smith: Oh I’m glad you explained that — I’ve always loved how Jonty and Orlando are not a horrible pastiche of Holmes and Watson. They are so very much their own characters. So, where did your love of Cambridge spring from?

Charlie Cochrane: Ah,  well.  Back in 1976 New Hall college decided they’d be mad enough to allow me to come and take my degree there. New Hall is modern but I spent a lot of time in the older parts of the University and the older colleges.  These became the models for St Bride’s.

Chris Smith: Somehow a young Cochrane stalking the talent in the other colleges is not entirely beyond imagining. But how does someone go from studying (mathematics?) at New Hall to being both one of the busiest real life people and most prolific M/M authors out there? It seems like you’ve a new ebook coming out every month or so!

Charlie Cochrane: Not beyond imagining and entirely accurate -  you weren’t stalking me were you? You weren’t born I guess. I studied science, not maths. Not clever enough for maths. LOL About the business,  yes, I sort of had this mad idea that life might get slower at 50 but it just expanded in all directions. Don’t forget I did a lot of writing before I was ever published. A lot of these stories were half finished in my files, waiting to be taken out and used at the right time.

Chris Smith: I was born in 1981 — so you figure! And I’m pretty sure you’re damn clever enough. Am pleased you did not turn out to be a mathematician. They scare Chris Smith. And I’ve seen a photo of you. YOU LIE about the expansion in all directions. Widthways I am most definitely envious! You mean there is a TROVE OF COCHRANE LURKING ON YOUR HARD DRIVE?

Charlie Cochrane: It’s the expansion of activities that keeps me so thin.  And the hummingbird metabolism. You should see the middle Cochrane; eats like an elephant, built like a racing snake. There’s a fair amount in my hard drive – half written things and little ideas mainly. Less than there was – a lot of it has already escaped. Nothing too worrying though.

Chris Smith: I’m now imagining these files fleeing into the air, screaming FREE! FREE! I’m not going to ask if you’ve the denouement to the Cambridge Fellows Mysteries on there, because I’d be damn sad knowing THAT it was going end, let alone how you’d got there, so let’s wander along to your other short stories. How do you make these so brilliant? It’s most unfair.

Charlie Cochrane: I think that’s starting off in fanfic, you have to make a short piece interesting. Like me. I’m a short piece. LOL. Vertically challenged. I love writing short stories, so easy to make them flow. More than 25000 words is hard work.

Chris Smith: The grounding of fanfic is great isn’t it? But what would you say is the biggest difference between professional fiction (by which I mean you’re contracted to a publisher with external editors) and fan-fiction?

Charlie Cochrane: For a lot of people it’s quality of finished product.  Not for everyone – some people write fanfic that’s as well presented and checked, etc as pro fic.

Chris Smith: As in, because of publishers there is a built in filter in pro-fic that prevents one from having to go through fanfiction.net in search of gems. There are gems there, but they’re not always easily visible.

Charlie Cochrane: The main difference for an author is that you can’t use ‘shorthand’. By which I mean you could start a story saying ‘Hi Ianto. Where’s the rest of them?’ Jack looked around the hub. ‘Gwen’s gone off with Owen somewhere and I’ve no idea where Tosh has got to’. Everyone reading the fanfic would know who you meant.  No need to set up character etc. If you started a story ‘Hi John. Where’s the rest of them?’ Freddie looked around the Strom. ‘Clare’s gone off with Terry somewhere and I’ve no idea where Lola has got to’ everyone would have lost interest by then.

Chris Smith: Well said! So, what’s next on Cochrane’s calendar?

Charlie Cochrane: Depends when you post this interview. LOL.  Feb 14th I Do Two is due out. 16th Feb Lessons in Seduction comes out.  Cambridge books out in print this summer. I’ve  got a couple of WWI things I’m working on which don’t have a home yet.

Chris Smith: And I’m sure you can teach us a bit or two about seduction! And I’m so pleased to hear about print — I’ve got a few books in e-books and print, and I have to say I much prefer the real feel of a book in my hands!

Charlie Cochrane: I prefer real books too.  I’m a great ‘bath-time reader’.

Chris Smith: Me too. There is something quite horrible about the thought of a kindle in the water. Horrible, slightly tingly, and very expensive.

Charlie Cochrane: And very predictable given my innate clumsiness.

Chris Smith: So, oh great Cochrane, I have one last, horrible, and completely unpredictable question to ask. Who is your favourite referee?

Charlie Cochrane: Is this a trick question? The one and only Nigel Owens, whose boots I am not fit to lick.

Chris Smith: Would you, if given the opportunity?

Charlie Cochrane: Lick his boots? Maybe. Clean them — definitely.

Chris Smith: Anything else you want to proclaim to the world before I leave you in peace to watch 30 men in short shorts grope each other in the name of sport?

Charlie Cochrane: I don’t think so. Except to say thank you for being such a good interviewer

Chris Smith: No, thank you for being such a good interviewee. The cookie is in the post!

———————

Charlie’s website http://charliecochrane.co.uk/

Review: Lessons in Temptation by Charlie Cochrane

He thinks he has everything. Until someone tries to steal it.

Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book 5

For friends and lovers Orlando Coppersmith and Jonty Stewart, a visit to Bath starts out full of promise. While Orlando assesses the value of some old manuscripts, Jonty plans to finish his book of sonnets. Nothing exciting…until they are asked to investigate the mysterious death of a prostitute.

Then Orlando discovers that the famous curse of Macbeth extends far beyond the stage. It’s bad enough that Jonty gets drawn into a local theatre’s rehearsals of the play. The producer is none other than Jimmy Harding, a friend from Jonty’s university days who clearly finds his old pal irresistible. Worse, Jimmy makes sure Orlando knows it, posing the greatest threat so far to their happiness.

With Jonty involved in the play, Orlando must do his sleuthing alone. Meanwhile, Jonty finds himself sorely tempted by Jimmy’s undeniable allure. Even if Orlando solves the murder, his only reward could be burying his and Jonty’s love in an early grave…

Review by Erastes

I think I’m going to have to either go round to Charlie Cochrane’s house and stop her from writing anything else, or stop reviewing her books on the site because it’s becoming embarrassing as to how much we all like them.  I even get different reviewers to review them, but it makes no difference.  We all love ‘em, and that’s no exception with this book.

First of all, let me advise you that, as the blurb hints, these books are part of a series.  (I’ve even made a category now, to make them easier to find.) However, they are so skilfully written that they can easily be read as a standalone, and Cochrane manages this (somehow) without any infodumping and pages of “this is what happened in previous books.”  There is enough information, woven in with a deft hand, to tell you who these guys are, what they do, a touch of their previous adventures and that’s it.  And that’s excellent, because they are only 100 pages or so, so the last thing you need is 20 pages of info thrown at you.

That being said, despite the fact that they can be read as standalones, you’ll be depriving yourself if you read them out of turn, or only read one in the series.  There’s an over-reaching arc to the series, and with a romance, that’s a difficult thing to achieve.  After the happy ending of the first book you’d think that there would be nothing else to tell about the characters. Well, you’d be wrong. So wrong.

Cochrane must have had the same grandmother as mine, (“keep some mystery, dear!”) or be related to Gypsy Rose Lee or something because she knows just how to string her readers along, and each book–like the best burlesque dancer–reveals a little more about these characters, a little more of their backstory–sometimes to their own detriment.  What’s great about Jonty and Orlando is that, despite being deliciously affectionate with each other and really and truly soul-mates, something you never doubt–they are both rather flawed young men.  Part of this comes from their pasts, both have a little darkness they are fighting with, and part of this comes from the necessary unworldliness (Orlando more so than Jonty, but all academics have a particular oddness) that living in a secluded community like a Cambridge College will bring.

The books could easily be a mish mash of schmoop and sentiment, as the men are delightfully sweet with each other (when all is going well and they are in private) but there’s always a tinge of that dark hiding behind them.  Orlando is racked with guilt that he hasn’t been able to help Jonty deal with the terrors of his school years, and Jonty’s incandescent temper often threatens the subtle thread between them. And they never let their guard down, always aware of what discovery of their love would mean.

Ok – so on with this book specifically.  Straight away we are led into Jonty and Orlando’s world. This time they are working away on location in Bath. What I love about Cochrane’s work is that she uses locations that she knows and loves. Places she’s been regularly–like Jersey in Lessons in Desire–and can describe in all weathers and moods.   Bath is a Regency staple, of course, but it was nice to see it 100 years later, and see the differences.

As the title implies, there’s temptation on the menu in the form of the deliciously handsome bundle of gorgeousness, Jimmy Harding.  An American who has an earlier friendship with Jonty.  Orlando hates him at first sight, which causes friction, but then Jimmy makes it more than clear to Orlando that he’s going to make a direct play for Jonty and the sparks begin to fly.  You don’t come to the Cambridge Fellow’s books for the sex, by the way, the love scenes are veiled and shrouded in imagery, but none the less emotive for that.  The themes of love vs sex and loyalty vs temptation are well explored too; there were times I wanted to kill Jonty, I have to say.

This alone would be more than enough plot for most people, particularly in a novella of this size, but Cochrane isn’t that complacent.  Her guys are detectives and so not only do they have to cope with the danger of Jimmy Harding, but to solve the 25 year old murder of a prostitue that seemingly no-one or everyone about.   The mystery is a good “cold case” with no-one being entirely truthful or complete in their information with the two detectives, red herrings and blind alleys galore, which should satisfy the lovers of the genre.  If I have one niggle in this respect it’s simply my doubt that any prostitute would turn down any offer of marriage to a wealthy and respectable man on the chance that she might land another.

Cochrane’s writing style is subtly omniscient at times, which I happen to like a lot, but it may not appeal to those who prefer a tight third person point of view which never veers from one person at a time.  I think it suits the tone and the setting of the books, however.

Highly recommended and I look forward to the next book enormously.  I just need to find another reviewer–however if the standard continues this high, I’m sure they’ll love number six in the series as much as I loved one to five.

This being published by Samhain, the ebook is available now, with a wait of around a year for the print edition.

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Review: Lessons In Power by Charlie Cochrane

The ghosts of the past will shape your future. Unless you fight them.

Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book 4

Cambridge, 1907

After settling in their new home, Cambridge dons Orlando Coppersmith and Jonty Stewart are looking forward to nothing more exciting than teaching their students and playing rugby. Their plans change when a friend asks their help to clear an old flame who stands accused of murder.

Doing the right thing means Jonty and Orlando must leave the sheltering walls of St. Bride’s to enter a labyrinth of suspects and suspicions, lies and anguish.

Their investigation raises ghosts from Jonty’s past when the murder victim turns out to be one of the men who sexually abused him at school. The trauma forces Jonty to withdraw behind a wall of painful memories. And Orlando fears he may forever lose the intimacy of his best friend and lover.

When another one of Jonty’s abusers is found dead, police suspicion falls on the Cambridge fellows themselves. Finding this murderer becomes a race to solve the crime…before it destroys Jonty’s fragile state of mind.

Review by T J Pennington

This book contains the best warning label I’ve ever seen: Warning: Contains sensual m/m lovemaking and hot men playing rugby.

I freely admit that I have not read the first three books of the Cambridge Fellows Mysteries and that I know nothing about rugby. That said, I was relieved to discover that you don’t need to have read the previous mysteries or to be a rugby fan to comprehend–or, indeed, to savor–this book.

The story starts in February 1907 at St. Bride’s College, Cambridge, when Matthew Ainslie, a professor at University College London, comes to his friend and fellow professor Jonty Stewart, asking him (and, by extension, Jonty’s lover, Orlando) to investigate a murder. The suspect? Alistair Stafford, Matthew’s old lover–and more recently, his blackmailer. Complicating matters is the fact that Stafford was in Jardine’s company shortly before the murder, that they had exchanged words concerning the way Jardine had treated Stafford’s sister, and that Stafford had threatened Jardine’s life. Nevertheless, Matthew has heard Stafford’s story, and while he knows that Stafford is both vengeful and spiteful and is quite capable of crime, he honestly doesn’t believe that the man is guilty of this crime. And he isn’t willing to stand by and let Stafford hang for something he didn’t do.

The murder victim–and I found this to be an artful touch–is no more a sympathetic character than Stafford is. He is, or was, Lord Christopher Jardine, one of those who sexually abused Jonty Stewart at school–in fact, the first one who raped him. Of all the people in the world, Jonty has the least reason to care who smashed in Jardine’s head…and the most cause to celebrate.

But he does not. Like Matthew, Jonty is an honorable man who believes in doing his duty, even if he finds it unpleasant. “I wouldn’t want his killer going free just because the victim was such a toerag,” he says to Orlando. “Truth above all, it has to be so.”

Yet at the same time, he’s deeply conflicted; his memories of the rape and torture he underwent at school are a torment, both physically and psychologically. “I can tell myself we’re serving justice and that I don’t want Matthew’s friend unfairly convicted,” he says a bit later. “But when it comes to it—when we have the man or woman in our grasp—I have no idea how I’ll react.” And he prays to the Lord Almighty for help, saying that he knows he’s supposed to forgive those who have sinned against him, but that this feels impossible.

I think that it was at that point that I started to love Jonty. I cannot resist flawed but honorable characters who will do what is right even if it hurts. Given the popularity of antiheroes, such protagonists are not easy to find.

The investigation–which has to be carefully timed to take place on weekends and holidays, the only times that Drs. Stewart and Coppersmith aren’t working, a detail that both amused and pleased me–then begins…with the assistance of Jonty’s brother and father, who, respectively, share a club and a Savile Row tailor with the victim.

(It’s worth noting that though Jonty’s parents are aware of his relationship with Orlando, Orlando himself–after four books–is only just beginning to build some kind of relationship with his lover’s father and seems a bit overwhelmed by Jonty’s mother. Despite the fact that the Stewarts are nice people who love their son and want him to be happy, and despite the fact that Orlando likes the Stewarts, things are both amiable and a little awkward. I liked that; it was positive and yet believable.)

The early evidence, unfortunately, doesn’t so much favor Stafford as indicate that others might have wanted Jardine either dead or permanently blackmailed. Another man who’d helped Jardine rape and torture younger boys at school says that he wanted to confess what they’d done, while Jardine did not. The two men argued loudly enough for anyone inclined toward extortion to hear them. Stafford’s sister let herself be seduced by Jardine, thinking that he would marry her, and was furious when he refused to do so. Finally, Jardine had at least one unidentified visitor on the night of his death.

In addition to the mystery, a number of other things take place–a rugby match between the English department and the mathematics department at Cambridge; confrontations between Jonty and Timothy Taylor (Jonty’s second rapist and one of the chief suspects in Jardine’s death); seductions and attempted seductions by Orlando; and Jonty suffering flashbacks due to what we’d probably call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. And that’s before there’s a second murder…which brings Jonty and Orlando under the scrutiny of the police.

I must mention that an American reading this book may trip over a couple of phrases–not because of any flaw in the writing, but because Americans probably won’t recognize rugby slang. I wished, more than once, that there was a rugby glossary in the back of the book; there were many times when it would have helpful. For example, when I read this sentence:

…a cannonball came flying across the field to take him, itself and the ball firmly into touch.

Orlando was winded, the rugby ball flew away, then the cannonball got up with a big grin all over its gob and said, “Sorry, Dr. Coppersmith, don’t know my own strength,” without meaning a word of it.

Now, the problem with this passage is that I don’t know what a cannonball is in this context, though I presume it’s a rugby term. So I was picturing an English football flying down the field and hitting Orlando in the stomach like, well, a cannonball. I was a bit thrown, therefore, when the cannonball turned out to be a person…albeit one described as having a grin all over ITS gob rather than HIS.

However, this is quite a minor detail; the book overall was excellent. One of the most delightful things about this book is that despite the fact that there is plenty of tension and despite Jonty having plenty of reason to be frightened and unhappy, the characters retain their sense of humor–even under the most trying circumstances. For example, while talking to one of the men who connived at the sexual abuse of a number of young boys at Jonty’s school, Orlando, irate on Jonty’s behalf and frustrated beyond words, thinks: I’ll kill him now and make it look like his aunt was responsible. Which is such wry and Saki-like statement and such an implausible scenario–the aunt in question being elderly, proper, and a tad dotty–that it surprised me into laughing.

Finally, I must mention the cover. The cover by Scott Carpenter is truly beautiful–an image of a young man gazing at an old-fashioned classroom, and underneath that, a realistic sketch of a college with the legend “A Cambridge Fellows Mystery.” The cover is washed in sepia tones, but with color accents and shadows in key places that make both the classroom scene and the sketch of the college at Cambridge both more vivid and more solid. All in all, the art deftly hints at some of the plot, one of the main characters, the importance of the setting and the genre of the tale while stating, “I am a good, solid, classy book. You would be proud to be seen reading me.”

I give it five stars, and wish that the book had been longer.

Author’s website

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Review: Lessons in Discovery by Charlie Cochrane

Orlando’s broken memory may break his lover’s heart.

Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book 3

Cambridge, 1906.

On the very day Jonty Stewart proposes that he and Orlando Coppersmith move in together, Fate trips them up. Rather, it trips Orlando, sending him down a flight of stairs and leaving him with an injury that erases his memory. Instead of taking the next step in their relationship, they’re back to square one. It’s bad enough that Orlando doesn’t remember being intimate with Jonty–he doesn’t remember Jonty at all.

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

Lessons in Discovery is the third book in the Cambridge Fellows series by Charlie Cochrane. In the first book, Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith meet and fall in love; in the second, they go on holiday together; and in this one, Orlando falls down the stairs and conks his head. As a result, he becomes amnesic and totally loses his memories of the past year, most notably his friendship with and love for Jonty. Also in this book, just as in the prior two, Jonty and Orlando put on their detective caps and solve a mystery. The combination of the sweet affection and a mystery works well for this series and makes the books very entertaining and enjoyable as quick, easy reads.

While I have been thoroughly entertained by all three books, if I had to rate them as to my favorites, Lessons in Discovery would be at the top of the list, which surprised me. I’ll be honest – I enjoyed book number two (Lessons in Desire) but it had moments where it was a little too sweet and slightly over the top, at least for me. I worried that if Cochrane kept on this trajectory, with the plot of Orlando losing his memory, Lessons in Discovery had the potential to veer either into the realm of completely saccharine or totally maudlin. Fortunately, my fears were baseless.

Orlando does lose his memory, yes, but what he doesn’t lose is the maturity and insight into his own personality that he has acquired through his friendship and love for Jonty. As a result, his re-discovery of himself is very compelling. I’ve occasionally thought of Orlando as “a lovable goof,” which is endearing, but sometimes seemed at odds with his keen intelligence and analytical mind. In this story, he has grown up and he realizes it. He is able to reflect on issues of friendship, loyalty, sexual awareness, and his own repressive childhood with new eyes and new emotions. I’ve always liked Jonty as a character but by the end of this book, I really, really liked Orlando which speaks to just how well characterized he was through Cochrane’s deft writing.

Jonty and Orlando re-establish their relationship (I don’t think I’m giving too much away by saying that, since there are four more books planned in the series) but they also create a network of family and friends who understand about their “secret.” Personally, I think this is realistic. Even though, throughout history, many gay people were persecuted and imprisoned because of their sexuality, I think that there were many who were able to live normal lives without the condemnation of society. My reasons why Oscar Wilde couldn’t, and Jonty and Orlando can, are more than I want to get into in this review. Rather, my point is that Cochrane has set herself up very well for the future books. Jonty and Orlando turned the corner in this book and became rich, well-developed, three dimensional characters and I look forward to reading more about them as they live their lives together.

I also think the mystery in this story is the best of the three. Orlando is tasked with solving a 400 year old historical puzzle which, of course, is very well suited to his mathematical abilities. If another contemporary murder had happened under Jonty’s and Orlando’s noses, as did in each of the previous two books, I think that would have stretched the bounds of plausibility. On top of that, the mystery itself was intriguing and very cleverly written and had lots of interesting tidbits of English history.

I particularly enjoy Cochrane’s writing style which reminds me classic English mysteries such as those by Agatha Christie. She has lots of funny expressions and clever turns of phrase which sound very British and very “I say old chap” –at least to this American reader.

All in all, this is a lovely series of books: charming and tender, full of loving affection between the two main characters. I highly recommend them.

NB: Lessons in Discovery has recently been re-released by Samhain Publishing. I had read the earlier Linden Bay version and read the new Samhain version for this review and I didn’t really see any major differences between the two, aside from the new cover. In an email message, the author confirmed that this was correct: except for correcting a few minor typos, the books are essentially the same.

Buy the ebook from Amazon or through the Samhain’s website.  A print version is scheduled for publication in 2010.

Review: Lessons In Desire by Charlie Cochrane

Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book 2

With the recent series of college murders behind him, Cambridge Fellow Jonty Stewart is in desperate need of a break. A holiday on the beautiful Channel Island of Jersey seems ideal, if only he can persuade Orlando Coppersmith to leave the security of the college and come with him. Orlando is a quiet man who prefers academic life to venturing out into the world.

Within the confines of their rooms at the university, it’s easy to hide the fact that he and Jonty are far more than friends. But the desire to spend more time alone with the man he loves is an impossible lure to resist. When a brutal murder occurs at the hotel where they’re staying, the two young men are once more drawn into the investigation. The race to catch the killer gets complicated by the victim’s son, Ainslie, a man who seems to find Orlando too attractive to resist. Can Stewart and Coppersmith keep Ainslie at bay, keep their affair clandestine, and solve the crime?

Review by Erastes

I have to say I dislike romance blurbs with questions, because due to the restrictions on a HEA, the answer is pretty much answerable at the first page, but that wasn’t going to stop me enjoying Charlie Cochrane’s second outing with her Cambridge Fellows, as I had enjoyed book one immensely.

Right from the word go she had me hooked, as Jonty and Orlando’s banter made me smile–I love the way that Orlando is shocked at the very idea of going AWAY for a holiday–and how Jonty loves to tease him. After all, the man nearly freaked out at eating outside of Hall in the first book.

Jersey then, seems a very suitable compromise. English enough to be reassuringly familiar, but with enough of a tang of France to give a flavour of being “abroad.”

The charm of Cochrane’s writing, specifically with this series, is not reliant on action, gun fights, car chases and explosions, but takes you back to a time where life was slower, where you changed for each meal, where life was regulated by the gong, manners and polite conversation.  Cochrane does this so beautifully that to there are scents of such classics as Rattigan’s Seperate Tables or The Raj Quartet. (Both would have been improved with a repressed gay love affair of course.)

Their time on the beach brought tears to my eyes, to be honest, because I was raised by the seaside and I miss doing all those simple things like throwing seaweed, exploring rock-pools and terrorising crabs. Cochrane knows her Jersey, having been there many times, and the scents and the sounds of the place fairly bounce from the page.

I love the humour in Cochrane’s work too, Jonty often puts his foot in it, causing Orlando to storm off in a huff, it’s gentle, English humour but it made me giggle a lot, and I had a smile on my face for a lot of this book. Orlando’s reactions to Ainslie’s attempted seduction was priceless.

All this and a murder mystery too, which I’m saying nothing about in case I spoil it.

What I like about the series is that Cochrane doesn’t give us everything at once. Orlando is like a nervous virgin–and although he’s participated in much with Jonty he hasn’t consummated their love affair entirely. More of the men’s backstory is revealed and slowly the relationship takes tiny steps forward, or perhaps three steps forward and a couple back.  Readers coming to the Cambridge Fellows wanting pages of graphic monkey sex will be disappointed, but readers who enjoy a slow burn and exquisite knife-edge sexual tension will appreciate it hugely.  Cochrane can do no wrong.

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Review: Regeneration by Pat Barker

Craiglockhart War Hospital, Scotland, 1917, where army psychiatrist William Rivers is treating shell-shocked soldiers. Under his care are the poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, as well as mute Billy Prior, who is only able to communicate by means of pencil and paper. Rivers’ job is to make the men in his charge healthy enough to fight. Yet the closer he gets to mending his patients’ minds the harder becomes every decision to send them back to the horrors of the front; Regeneration is the classic exploration of how the traumas of war brutalised a generation of young men.

Review by Charlie Cochrane

It’s always a joy to discover an author about whom you think ‘I must get more of her books’. Regeneration isn’t the sort of book I normally read, so when I picked up a copy all my hopes were pinned on it being as good as the quotes on the back suggested. It was.

Ms Barker has an enjoyable style, tells a cracking story and treads the right side of the line of credibility with the use of real characters among her original ones. Sassoon, Owen and Graves are believably portrayed, and the names they drop into conversation seem natural rather than being forced as they often are in ‘faction’. I had expected to be most involved with the War poets, but found myself instead intrigued by Dr Rivers, a distinguished neurologist and anthropologist, who wrote about Sassoon as ‘Patient B’ in his book ‘Conflict and Dream’. Rivers’ treatment of and compassion for his patients is in sharp contrast to some of his colleagues, and a number of the ‘cures’ inflicted on the shell-shocked veterans make uncomfortable reading. If you retain any illusions about the ‘glories’ of WWI, this book will help you lose them.

Regeneration may not seem an obvious candidate for a review at this site, but the presence of Sassoon – an admitted homosexual – and Owen and Rivers – probably homosexually inclined – justify it. Not that anything more explicit occurs than slightly coded references to their past activities and present attractions. The sexual heart of the book lies in the story of Billy Prior, who carries more than one chip on his shoulder, has some sort of strange psychological condition of which we’re only given glimpses and whose war experiences continue through all three books in this trilogy.

If you’re looking for either raw or romantic m/m passion you won’t find it here, but if you’re interested in the relationships between people and like to try to fill in the gaps (rather than being told exactly what people were feeling at any given time) this will appeal. The thing I’ve taken away from the book is exactly this sensation of trying to fill in the jigsaw. Sassoon seemed to want Rivers to be a father figure, but what role did Prior have in mind for his psychiatrist? Was Owen attracted to Sassoon or was it merely hero worship? And, most intriguingly, how much attraction did Rivers feel for his patients?

Regeneration is the first in the trilogy which includes The Eye in the Door and The Ghost Road

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Review: Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault

At 20, when his reign began, Alexander the Great was already a seasoned soldier and a complex, passionate man. This novel tells the story of the boy Alexander, and the years that shaped him.

Review by Charlie Cochrane

It seems illogical to read a set of books starting with the last and working back to the first, but with Mary Renault’s Alexander trilogy it almost feels the right way round. There are no real spoilers – this is based on history – and by reading about the older Alexander before the younger, the reader can look for clues in his childhood to the construction of his character. For example, there’s a scene in Fire From Heaven where the boy prince meets some Persian visitors and is intrigued by the handsome eunuch who attends them. This makes more satisfying reading against a background of knowing The Persian Boy – otherwise it might be read, passed over and the significance lost.

Fire from Heaven is written in the third person narrative style of Funeral Games and chronicles the wars and intrigues of the great man’s formative years, but it’s a more satisfying read. There isn’t the confusing panoply of characters and there are plenty of tender moments between Hephaistion and Alexander. Miss Renault’s characterisation is, as usual, spot on and her skill lies in giving her readers, in a short scene or a few words, a clear and deep depiction of her protagonists. King Philip, Olympias and Demosthenes are particularly well drawn in a book of well portrayed characters.

The key theme of the book is power struggles – the Macedonians against the Athenians for possession of southern Greece, Philip against Olympias for the loyalty of their son, Alexander against the world for his birthright and destiny. This is a case where the reality of historical events exceeds fiction – you couldn’t make up Alexander’s story and have the world believe it. Yet Miss Renault makes the man believable, all too human and fallible at times and yet a great king in the making. The other thread is the development of two great love affairs – Alexander and his army and Alexander and Hephaistion. The intimate scenes between the two lifelong friends are portrayed with tenderness and sensuality – as in The Persian Boy, much is conveyed in few words. The most intimate scenes are told from Hephaistion’s POV and are stronger for it – Alexander seems unknowable and is better revealed through the eyes of those who adore him.

My only criticism with this book is that the chronology of their physical relationship seems unclear. What appears to be a classic ‘first time’ scene follows a passage where the other young men pay up on bets that the two have gone to bed. One can’t criticise the prose, though, especially some of Hephiastion’s thoughts on his lover: “Hephaistion was thinking how fragile his [Alexander’s] rib cage seemed. How terrible were the warring desires to cherish and crush it”.

I would recommend Fire from Heaven to anyone who likes a good love story and who wants to see the story teller’s art at its best, a lesson in how less is often more.

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Review: The Persian Boy by Mary Renault

The story of the climactic last seven years of Alexander the Great’s life through the eyes of his lover, Bagoas. Abducted and gelded as a boy, Bagoas was sold as a courtesan to King Darius of Persia, but found freedom with Alexander after the Macedon army conquered his homeland. Taken as an attendant into Alexander’s household, the beautiful young eunuch becomes the great general’s lover and their relationship sustains Alexander as he survives assassination plots, the demands of two foreign wives, a mutinous army, and his own ferocious temper.

Review by Charlie Cochrane

This book took me forever to read, but not for the usual reasons – that it’s some disappointing tome that ends up mouldering half read on your beside table. With The Persian Boy, I kept going back over parts I’d already read, savouring the wonderful prose and characterisations. It’s a much easier read than the rather confusing sequel, Funeral Games, with its plethora of characters. The only problem with The Persian Boy is that it’s too short by at least half.

Written entirely from Bagoas’ point of view, the book is alive with simple yet effective descriptions of place and era. Mary Renault’s characterisations are, as always, a delight; she produces deep insights into the key players with just a few well constructed phrases. She captures wonderfully the duality of Alexander – military leader/man and proto-God – as she does the ‘almost love affair’ between him and his army. She doesn’t shrink from showing his feet of clay, even if the tale is told through the eyes of someone besotted with him. Renault’s skill is also evident in the way that, although Bagoas tells his own story, we are aware of his faults and weaknesses, even if he isn’t.

The key turning point of the story is when Bagoas meets Alexander, where autobiography turns to romance. He falls headlong for the Macedonian king, dedicating his life to the man’s love and service. Alexander’s tender response and the developing relationship is beautifully portrayed – the love scenes aren’t in any way explicit, but written with such skill that they’re still sensual. I know that Renault has been criticised for romanticising the relationship between king and eunuch, but Bagoas’ motivation and actions ring true to life, and he’s as believable as all the other characters woven in and out of the tale. This isn’t a history book – it’s a well crafted and incredibly moving historical romance.

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Review: Funeral Games by Mary Renault

After Alexander’s death in 323 B.C .his only direct heirs were two unborn sons and a simpleton half-brother. Every long-simmering faction exploded into the vacuum of power. Wives, distant relatives, and generals all vied for the loyalty of the increasingly undisciplined Macedonian army. Most failed and were killed in the attempt. For no one possessed the leadership to keep the great empire from crumbling. But Alexander’s legend endured to spread into worlds he had seen only in dreams.

Review by Charlie Cochrane

Alexander the Great; for the lover of history, adventure and valour, the name alone is enough to send shivers up the spine. Whatever one might think of his conquests – and how can we judge a man at a remove of over two thousand years? – what can’t be denied are his charisma and qualities of leadership. The supreme leader by example, the affection he was held in by his men is undeniable.

The love affair between Alexander and his army makes for one of the great historical love stories. Mary Renault explores Alexander’s story in the trilogy of books Fire from Heaven, The Persian Boy and Funeral Games. The last of these isn’t technically a gay romance, which might beg the question why I’m reviewing it here. It’s the sequel to The Persian Boy, which firmly falls under the Speak Its Name umbrella, and the suggestions of romance lingers.

Like the faint odour of a candle once the flame has been snuffed, the relationships of Alexander and Hephaistion, Alexander and Bagoas (the eponymous Persian boy) drift around this story too. I feel that’s enough to warrant at least a brief mention. Funeral Games is not an easy book to read, although not because of style. Renault was accomplished at capturing the atmosphere and spirit of an era and her characterisations here, particularly of women, are strong. Partly it’s the amount of incident and personalities crammed into a small book. I had to keep referring to the list of principal characters because I couldn’t remember who was who. And the events following the King’s death are harrowing, not least the treatment of Philip Arradaios, Alexander’s mentally deficient half brother, who becomes a pawn in the bloody power struggles around him.

The only character who seems to emerge with any credit is Bagoas himself, his love for and service to Alexander, even after death, his sole motivation. There are some lovely lines, such as Ptolemy’s thoughts on the grieving boy: “He had come remembering the elegant, epicene favourite; devoted certainly, he had not doubted that, but still, a frivolity, the plaything of two kings’ leisure. He had not foreseen this profound and private grief in its priestlike austerity.”

Just as in The Charioteer, Miss Renault manages to convey the deepest emotions in the simplest of words.

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Review: I Do! An Anthology in Support of Marriage Equality


0002kqd92Do you support the right of any human being to marry the person they love? The right to say ‘I Do’ to a life of commitment and sharing with that one special person? We do. All profits from this anthology will go to the Lambda Legal Fund to help fight Prop 8.

There are 2 historical stories in the anthology which are reviewed by Tamara Allen

Desire and Disguise by Alex Beecroft

Desire and Disguise is the plain-spoken title of Alex Beecroft’s contribution, a hurricane force story that knocks you flat. Robert Digby is young, healthy, and miserably celibate (if you don’t count the frequent, not-quite-satisfying relief he finds by his own hand). His wife, Lydia, has just endured pregnancy and childbirth in beautiful but hot and primitive Bermuda and she has been in no frame of mind to accommodate her husband during that time period. They’re at odds as the story begins—Robert aching with need and unrequited desire for his wife, Lydia angry and upset that her husband seems to have no regard for her feelings. I have to say that my sympathies were with Lydia and that I felt Robert had a thing or two to learn about putting himself in someone else’s shoes. To my pleasure, over the course of this lively, erotic story, he does learn, and in a most satisfying and entertaining way.

Beecroft does just a fabulous job of world-painting, with such vivid, living colors that the reader leaves his own world behind and resides within the world she creates. From Lydia’s sprigged cotton coverlet to Bill Wilkins’ crutch slipping on rounded cobblestones, to the ladies of the Walk with their Bird of Paradise feathers and powdered wigs, this story was a visual feast, even more so than the one I recall from Beecroft’s novel, Captain’s Surrender. In a lush, seductive setting that practically vibrates with eroticism, the reader does muster some sympathy for Robert, too. You can’t blame him, after a year without, for wanting to make some physical connection, even if it’s with a complete stranger. Beecroft so thoroughly convinces the reader of Robert’s state of near madness born of basic physical hunger, we believe it when he naively dives into a situation where he gets far more than he bargained for.

The Roaming Heart by Charlie Cochrane

Alasdair Hamilton, Toby Bowe, and Fiona Marsden are forever locked in a romantic triangle, but only on the silver screen in post-war Britain, where their popular films provide escape for a war-weary world. Cochrane’s tale begins with a fun twist and concludes with an even more delightful one, encouraging readers to daydream along with her in imagining what those wonderful old black-and-white films might have been like if they’d come about in a world less afraid of the different paths love can take and less squeamish about sexuality, generally. As delicately and deliciously layered as a pastry, Cochrane’s story invites the reader to consider the ways in which people must mislead their friends, family, and all of society, just to be able to live as their hearts guide them. Alasdair, Toby, and Fiona make do as they move from the chaste onscreen world to the “real” world where, for some of Cochrane’s characters, the acting is forced to continue. For some, the facade can only be dropped behind doors forever closed. It’s a situation all the more poignant in light of today’s lax onscreen rules. Movies today might be more eager to tell everyone’s story, but society is still quick to pass unjust judgment on those who don’t fall in love in the approved fashion.

Written in the same chummily engaging style as her novel, Lessons in Love, The Roaming Heart is pure fun to read. Cochrane’s affection for her characters shines through, as does her affection for romantic old films and their sometimes silly and repetitive plots. The ironies in her characters’ lives, including disparities in their war records, add to the sense of layers of deception going on. There’s a tremendous wistful quality to the story as Cochrane’s characters cope with the world’s expectations, keeping a sense of humor firmly intact; and when they finally rendezvous for that scene behind closed doors, we are allowed a heart-melting glimpse into the real romance before the credits roll.

I felt both of these stories were supremely fitting for an anthology in support of marriage equality. I haven’t yet read the other stories in this volume, but if they are anywhere close to as good as these two, this will prove to be the best anthology I’ve read in a long time. Consider also that the anthology’s profits will be donated to the Lambda Legal Defense to fight Prop 8 and you have all the more reason to purchase a copy.

In addition to the stories by Alex Beecroft and Charlie Cochrane, there are stories by Tracey Pennington, Clare London, Storm Grant, Lisabet Sarai, Sharon Maria Bidwell, Jeanne Barrack, Marquesate, Z.A Maxfield, P.A Brown, Allison Wonderland, Erastes, Zoe Nichols and Cassidy Ryan, Emma Collingwood, Mallory Path, Jerry L. Wheeler, Moondancer Drake, Fiona Glass, and Lee Rowan.

I Do is available now at Amazon or, if you prefer ebooks, at All Romance E-books.

Review: Lessons in Love by Charlie Cochrane

Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book 1

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

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

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

Review by E Louise van Hine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Three novella anthology from Cheyenne Publishing

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

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

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

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

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

Review by Alex Beecroft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheyenne Publishing Amazon UK Amazon USA

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

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