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Review: Junction X by Erastes

Set in the very English suburbia of 1962 where everyone has tidy front gardens and lace curtains, Junction X is the story of Edward Johnson, who ostensibly has the perfect life: A beautiful house, a great job, an attractive wife and two well-mannered children. The trouble is he’s been lying to himself all of his life. And first love, when it does come, hits him and hits him hard. Who is the object of his passion? The teenaged son of the new neighbours.
Edward’s world is about to go to hell.

Review by Ruth Sims

Webster defines “inexorable” as “not to be persuaded, moved, or stopped : relentless.”

I have always been drawn to books and plays with that quality. Erastes’ Junction X pulled me in from the first page. I have known for a long time that Erastes is an excellent writer, whether her protagonists are working at a forge, being tortured by a religious zealot, or any of the other trials her characters are heir to. Junction X doesn’t have the protagonist being tortured by outside forces. He is tortured and broken by the cruelest Inquisitors of all: love and his own conscience.

English Family Man Ed has a good life, to all outward appearances he has a perfect life. Success. A fit and gorgeous wife. Twins he adores. Friends. Respect. And as the reader would expect, this man with the perfect life, has a dark secret: his strictly-for-sex relationship with Phil, a former neighbor and long-time male friend. (Neither of them is gay–of course–though Ed is sometimes touched by doubt on the matter.) Whenever the opportunity presents itself, Phil initiates quick, risky sex with Ed in public places, where discovery is always imminent, and Ed never refuses. Love never enters into their relationship, though Ed has a guilty conscience that pokes at him a little–just not enough for him to call a halt to his risky behavior.

Everything changes when Ed glimpses and then later meets and gets to know the new neighbors’ seventeen-year-old son, Alexander. Alex is beautiful with the fleeting and impossible beauty of the very young. Ed is a bit stunned by the speed and completeness of his sudden infatuation with Alex. In no time at all, Ed starts to build “what-if” fantasies about Alex. There is, he convinces himself, no harm in it. No one will ever know. But not long after, it becomes apparent that Alex is constructing his own fantasies … about Ed. During this time, Alex becomes is befriended by Ed’s wife and idolized by the twins.

The inevitable first kiss, given by Alex, throws open the door which hides the impossible fantasies and they become real, taking shape in secret, furtive meetings filled with lust-love. Inevitably, there is one tryst too many, one scheme too many, one declaration of love too many, one denial too many. It’s inevitable that the fragile house of deception will crash around them. It’s inevitable that someone will pay for the crime of love in all the wrong places, with the wrong person.

The end is a shocker.

If you want a book with heart, compassion, and reality coupled with love fantasies divorced from reality, and if you can accept a story with inter-generational love and sex, then Junction X is for you. You will never forget it.

This is the most literary, most riveting, most heart-rending story Erastes has written.

Author’s website

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.

Review: Muffled Drum by Erastes

Bohemia, 1866

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

Buy from Carina Press  –  Amazon Kindle

Erastes’ Book Swap

Kindle: (you’ll need to have a kindle to swap)
Samurai’s Forbidden Love [Katana Duet]  by Jarun, Silapa
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
Sins of the Cities of the Plain by Jack Saul
Missouri by Christine Wunnicke
The Master by Colm Toibin
Last Gasp (PDF) by Erastes, Charlie Cochrane, Chris Smith, Jordan Taylor

PRINT
Frost Fair by Erastes
Mere Mortals by Erastes

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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: Mere Mortals by Erastes

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

Review by Jane Ellsworth

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

Amazon UK    Amazon USA

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

Day One and we are off!

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The List – Revisted

The List has been fiddled with and I’ve put it into historical order.

We have:

Anthologies
Ancient World
Dark Ages
Middle Ages
Renaissance
17th Century & Regency
18th Century
19th Century
20th Century

Then, ebooks (which I still need to put in the same order), graphic novels, free fiction, text books.

I hope it is a little easier to navigate – when I started the List, I had no idea it would get so big and get bigger and bigger every month – it’s fabulous and it’s all thanks to YOU the readers for wanting to read more of it and convincing publishers to publish more of it.

I’ve also added the star value where a book has been reviewed, not only on The List, but also to the Review Done page (which I may also put into date order when I summon the energy, who knew we’d done so many reviews?)

I also need to polish up The List because I started to get date-blind and couldn’t remember when the Dark Ages began and started and the Middle Ages and when they bled into the Renaissance.  There’s plenty of time!

Anyway – enjoy – and don’t forget, please let me know if there’s a book I’ve missed off!

Erastes

Review: Forbidden Love (anthology) – Various

Four m/m stories with a historical flavour by Stormy Glenn, H. C. Brown, Anna O’Neill, Aleksandr Voinov.

(I’ll only be reviewing 3 of the stories, as the Poisoned Heart, by Anna O’Neill is a time-travelling/paranormal story, so doesn’t qualify for review here.

Review by Erastes

My Outlaw by Stormy Glenn

After getting injured and losing his horse during a cattle drive, Daniel Branson is ordered to ride the stagecoach back home. Little does he realize that it will put him in the hands of the notorious outlaw, Black Bart. And the handsome outlaw has plans for Daniel that don’t involve holding him for ransom!

Quite a simple erotic story, cowboy Daniel is captured by the handsome Black Bart and Bart proceeds to sexually abuse Daniel, bordering on rape, without caring or not whether Daniel is that way inclined and of course Daniel loves it.While you might roll your eyes (like I did) and think this is yet another “rape turns to love” stories you’ll be pleasantly surprised with this one as the twist caught me by surprise. Well written–not exactly a ton of historical context, but hot, funny and touching at the same time. Three Stars

Forbidden by H.C. Brown

England 1075—Sir Renoir Danier finds himself in an intolerable situation when he is ordered by King William to marry an elderly Spanish countess. Five years earlier, he met the great love of his life, Sir Sebastian. This deeply sensual dark angel taught him all that a man could give to another. Renoir became a slave to his erotic punishment. After a month of bliss, Sebastian sailed to Spain. Will he return or leave Renoir with a shattered heart?

First of all I have to say that I didn’t like the faux olde worlde English, which was used not only in the speech, (Mayhap it is best) but unforgivably–in the narrative! (He oft’ wondered).   It’s a difficult line to walk, I know, but back in 1075, the protagonists would not be speaking any kind of English that we would understand, and I prefer to see speech patterns indicate a sense of antiquity rather than sticking in random “antiquated” words that actually wouldn’t  be used until a much later time. (for example, mayhap is from the 16th century.) It’s a personal dislike, but prithee don’t forsooth and nuncle me. It’s horrible.

However what really  let the story down from the beginning was the appalling research, or more to the point, lack of it.  The thing reads like fanfic of Kingdom of Heaven crossed with George RR Martin’s Westeros saga.  The facts in the story were ludicrous.

El Cid was NOT the Spanish ruler. Not at any time, and although he conquered several cities and took them for his own fiefdom, that wasn’t until much after the time when this story is set–he didn’t rule Spain. There was no Spain as we know it. Just warring fiefdoms, and a fight to rid the country of the Moor. In that light, it was bloody unlikely that the cream of Spain’s knights were in England training for a tournament.  William the Conqueror had only been in charge for 9 years, and I can’t see him welcoming a load of heavily armed Spaniards in.

In another light – Knight’s tournaments did not become an international event until the 12th century. Cologne (as in perfume) didn’t exist, and there was no way to spray it onto someone! Ye earlie atomiser!  There are many other problems, but there’s no point listing them. The whole thing was full of holes.

The trouble with erroneous facts in books that call themselves historicals is that they are self perpetuating.  I’ve seen this happen in hetereo-historical fiction and it drives me insane that we are seeing this kind of thing happen in gay historical. If one author writes a thing, another believes it, passes it on and I’ve seen readers say that they believed a thing just because they’d seen it written about so many times.  (for examples, see Georgette Heyer.)  “if it’s written about it must be true.”  er. no.

The sex is hot, if mildly implausible (sex on a galloping horse) and that’s the best thing I can say about this one. Two Stars.

Deliverance by Aleksandr Voinov

William Raven of Kent joined the Knights Templar to do penance for his sins. Formerly a professional tournament fighter and mercenary, William is brought face-to-face with a past he’d thought he had escaped.

Quite the most historical of the three stories that I read. There’s a good feel of time and place, deft mentions of the organisation of the Templars and other factions without being too info-dumping and the characters, particularly William, are real-life men of their time, not 21st century insertions. He’s a man riddled with guilt for his homosexual activity, and it’s realistic angst in that time and place. Not only is he in danger of being punished by the Templars (being expelled from the Order would be the mildest of punishments) but it’s impossible to separate law and faith in the 13th century, and Voinov, sensibly doesn’t try. Not to everyone’s taste, perhaps, but to take out either part of the equation would unbalance the story. This is a time when the seven deadly sins were as real to these people as the ten commandments.

Another touch I liked was the mention that it was less monstrous for William to have sex with servants or prostitutes – there’s the whole “the penetrated is a lesser man” stigma which was very real, and by being the top to Guy–a nobleman, a knight– William feels he dishonours him.

The sex when it comes is very nicely done, hard, muscled knights wrestling with each other, I was reminded forcibly of the nude wrestling scene in Men In Love, although with men who matched my memory of that scene, not the rather flabby and pale actors that really acted it out.  A good ending too, in my opinion, taking into consideration the time and place–although other readers might feel short changed. Four Stars

Overall two of the three stories get a thumbs up, and if you enjoy Edo-period Japan, you’ll probably like this anthology, it’s just a shame that the one story brings its score down one star to Three.

Buy from Noble Romance

Review: Rainbow Plantation Blues by Robert L Sheeley

In 1850, Jonathan Thomas, a young, personable, and aristocratic Southern gentleman, has returned to his antebellum home from an Ivy League school in the North. His father is dying and Jonathan is sole heir to the family’s lavish, prosperous, and renowned Rainbow Plantation. While up North, two major revelations had seriously shaken his self-image. His exposure to Northern abolitionism had permanently shaken his outlook on slavery, the South’s “peculiar institution.” Worse, he had begun to believe he might be a sodomite, a most wretched creature reviled by the customs of nineteenth-century American society

Review by Erastes

The book begins in a familiar fashion, the heir to the estate returns – upon his father’s death – from travels abroad and mixing with people in North America. I was expecting him to storm in, disgusted with the owning of other humans, so I was pleasantly surprised when he didn’t.

BTW – I didn’t know whether his name “Jonathan Thomas” was a deliberate joke or whether it was one of those sad accidents and that a John Thomas doesn’t mean the same in America as it does in the UK, but it did make me laugh.

He is conflicted, but he’s a lot to be conflicted about–his homosexuality, and his desire to repress it and have a “normal” life, the pressure on him to marry and continue his family’s line, his relationship with his father, his missing (presumed dead) sister, and his attraction to, not only a man, but a “sub-human” – Kumi, a handsome black slave he used to play with when they were both young boys. I was impressed with this being brought up. Jonathan isn’t a “crusader” (thankfully) and when he does begin to realise that his way of life is wrong, he makes a decision that seems very real – and broke my heart, too!

The book covers a lot of issues, and I think that’s part of my problem with it, it tries to do too much in not enough space. With a book that wants to cover this breadth of topics it really needed to be at least twice as long because much was glossed over and not given enough time to develop. The pace seems breathtaking and I found myself going “hang on, his mother’s dying and he’s doing this?” or “shouldn’t he be mourning?” and (in the case of the love story) “What!? they’ve not said two words to each other!”

On that point, the love story is one point that doesn’t convince. We are told that Jon loves Kumi but we aren’t shown it. Other than a couple of stilted conversations and an short voyeuristic sex scene, there’s nothing in the book (and there was the opportunity) to show the development of the relationship. I think readers will feel cheated at this lack, and annoyed that so many other issues stepped in the way, and because of this, the ending left me a little baffled.

Editing wise, the self-publishing leaves a lot to be desired, but this could be dealt with if (and I’d like to see this happen) a publisher were to take it on–there are two new publishers concentrating on “writers of colour” and this would be a good addition, dealing with a subject many would find uncomfortable.

It sounds like I didn’t enjoy the book, and that’s not true – I did. I learned a lot of things I didn’t know about the era, I loved the “shock” that comes towards the end and I learned a few new words (sockdolager being one.) It’s clear that Sheeley has done the research necessary. I would recommend it to anyone interested in this time of history. It’s just a shame that the little flaws let it down.

Author’s Webpage

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Review: Transgressions by Erastes

transgressions1642, England: David Caverlys strict father has brought home the quiet, puritanical Jonathan Graie to help his dreamer of a son work the family forge. With war brewing in Parliament, the demand for metal work increases as armies are raised.

The fair David is drawn to his fathers new apprentice. And though his father treats them both as if they were brothers, Davids feelings toward the shy Jonathan develop as they hide their growing physical relationship. Until the fateful moment when local gossips force Davids father to banish him, to protect the family name.

Freed, directionless, and whimsical, David is eager to experience the drama and excitement of war, and follows two soldiers headed for battle, but the reality is a harsh awakening for his free-spirited nature. Seizing the opportunity to desert, David heads to London to lead a secret life, unaware that Jonathan too has left the forge in search of him. Lost and lonely, the vulnerable Jonathan quickly falls in with the Witchfinders, a group of extremists who travel the country conducting public trials of women suspected of witchcraft. Jonathan is drawn to the charismatic Michael, finally embracing a cause for truth so wholeheartedly, he doesnt recognize the dangerphysical and emotionalthat Michael represents. For the fanatic puritan is desperate to purge Jonathan of his memories of David in any manner possible….

Review by Hayden Thorne

The greatest pleasure in reading an author’s published fiction is seeing his progress as an artist from the good ol’ days to the present. Being able to say, “Hey, I knew him when…” To be followed by “Oh, how he’s grown up.” The last bit was saucy, but you know what I mean.

Erastes’ Transgressions might be the most recent book of hers to be released, but it’s one of the earliest works of fiction she’s tackled. And, yes, I knew her when…she was struggling with this puppy, once upon a time. It’s an enlightening experience, seeing her development since Standish and how this book bridges her debut and her most recent novella, Frost Fair. One can see the growth and the not-quite-there bits.

The most significant thing about Transgressions is its complexity as a historical novel. Compared to Standish (and I apologize for making occasional references to her other works, but it’s necessary in this review), Transgressions is a great deal more sweeping in its scope, given its chosen period. Even with the more important events such as the English Civil War and the fall of Charles I, we’re still treated to the smaller, more mundane day-to-day routines in the farm, in London, and in towns and cities beyond. The historical details are meticulously researched and well-used, without a single item thrown in just for the sake of showing off what the author knows. Now as I’m more of a 19th century enthusiast and know precious little of the English Civil War, I can’t argue for or against the accuracy of her period details, but knowing Erastes, I’m confident of the book’s faithfulness to the 17th century. That said, one wouldn’t really notice those period details, as they’re skilfully worked into the scenes so that they’re practically invisible, while still creating a very authentic feeling in the background.

Readers need to be warned that, given the civil war, they will be treated to very descriptive scenes of bloodshed, maiming, and death. There’s also a pretty fascinating look at the near-haphazard battle training of a ragtag group of men whose alliances are torn and who are completely at the mercy of bullies who press civilians into fighting. Those scenes are some of the most effective and most impressive to me, and what follows after Cromwell’s victory – the hanging pall of paranoia that grips England – is palpable. It’s not an exaggeration to say that one can almost smell the fear, the constant nervousness, the growing mistrust among ordinary folks. In these instances, Erastes engages all our senses in experiencing the horrors of war and the greater psychological horrors of what follows after.

As heroes, David and Jonathan are not as sharply defined along black-and-white lines as Rafe and Ambrose, but you still get the “golden beauty” and the “dark, brooding youth” (who isn’t handsome but is still attractive and is more than capable of catching one off-guard with his charms in surprising ways). Their physical attributes also, like Rafe and Ambrose, dictate their behavior to an extent, with Jonathan being the dour puritan who’s all fierce passion unleashed, while David’s the beautiful, carefree, selfish hedonist. Even their suffering while apart is somehow affected by their physical qualities as well as their temperaments. Whether intentional or no, each man seems meant to follow a distinct path that becomes almost a complement to his nature and his looks. Jonathan gets himself embroiled in a fanatical group of witchfinders, while David gets stuck in a lifestyle that’s more earthly, more sensual, yet unsatisfying.

Of the two, I find Jonathan to be much better developed as a character, with his constant internal back-and-forthing and his ability to talk himself out of things though he does need a bit of outside help toward the end of his involvement with the witchfinders. David grows, yes, but his development is much slower than Jonathan’s. He comes across to me as being too immature, selfish, and dependent, and even at the last minute, before he flees England, he rejoices at his triumph over a woman who’s been obviously wronged and yet is generous enough to let her husband go. Though her role is tiny in the book, Catherine proves, in far less scenes, that she’s the “bigger man” of the two.

On the whole, the rest of the characters are somewhat unevenly developed, with Elizabeth Woodbine being the most problematic. Compared to the other side characters or even Michael, she’s so one-dimensional and so wicked that it’s clear she’s simply nothing more than a plot device that’s meant to drive the lovers apart, like Count Alvisi in Standish. What surprised me the most is that, after David leaves Kineton, there’s absolutely no reference about her from Jonathan’s POV, given the significance of her accusations that causes the breach between the young men. No repercussions from her family, no further confrontations between her father and Jacob over David.

Haldane fares a little better, but because he’s there one moment and then gone the next, one can’t really give him much credit than as a kind of a temporary bedmate for David till the next man comes around.

As evil incarnate, Michael is very impressive. One might argue that he’s also written as one-dimensional, but he’s a sadist, and sadists really don’t give you much room for deep discussions on character development. His psychology is simply too warped, too bizarre, to allow anything else. That said, his presence in Jonathan’s half of the story is frightening and forceful yet effective. And I’m not at all surprised to see him still leaving a psychological mark on poor Jonathan well after the fact. Of all the side characters in the novel, Michael, because of his psychosis, fascinates me the most.

Tobias, given the significance of his role, leaves me a little unsatisfied. He spends most of his time off-scene, and when his story finally unfolds, it’s near the end of the book as well as the end of his place in everything. We’re given a few glimpses into his mind, and those tend to happen after he and David suffer from a momentary falling-out. Yes, there are hints of a secret because he refuses to talk about his past while David’s always been open about his (for the most part, anyway), but we’re never given the full view till his last scenes, and his background’s packed in one chapter, almost like an afterthought. In fact, the resolution to his relationship with David feels a bit rushed or forced, so much so that while I understand that Tobias’ story is pathetic and realistic, not admirable – that he deserves readers’ sympathy – I find myself feeling a little cold toward him in the end. There just seems to be too little done, too late, in his situation, which is a shame, because I really wanted to feel for him, knowing that too many gay men in that period suffered the way he does.

There are a few problems involving lie/lay and loath/loathe in the text, but the presentation is very clean, and these issues didn’t detract me from enjoying the book. On the whole, I’m very impressed with Erastes’ efforts. There’s a definite growth in her skill as a writer with regard to world-building (or rebuilding in the case of historical fiction), but it’s far more evident in her atttempts at creating memorable, effective characters. One can see, despite some of the problems I noted (which seem worse than they really are when laid out in detail like this), an earnest effort at writing complex people with their individual stories shaded in gray. Emotions run high, but they’re more muted compared to Standish, less operatic and certainly more reflective of the mature restraint that one can see in Frost Fair. Seeing Erastes’ progress as a serious artist from book to book makes me wonder about – and look forward to – her next offering.

Buy the book: Amazon.com

Review: Confessing A Murder by Nicholas Drayson

Purporting to be an anonymous memoir found in an attic, its author is an arrogant but brilliant homosexual whose life has crossed with that of Charles Darwin with startling regularity.  He is writing it on a small island in the Java Sea of which he is the only human inhabitant. Aware that his life will soon come to an end, he sets out the true story of the theory of natural selection, confesses a murder of his own and provides a fascinating and delightful account of the plans and animals of the island

Review by Erastes

I’m afraid that this is another book that was loudly lauded by all and sundry but leaves me going “and?” When I see the books that people I know produce and then see this, which does nothing to me at all, emotionally or intellectually, I wonder what is wrong with the world.

I was almost tempted to wipe it from Speak Its Name’s list, because, as will be clear it is speculative fiction, but I think-because of the conceit used, it can remain.

It’s an interesting concept: the conceit is that the book is real, even the publisher’s note at the beginning goes into depth extrapolating on where and when the manuscript was found, how it was written, and on what–then goes into Darwin’s life, and the possibility that this account may or may not be real. There’s also an editor’s note, bylined by Mr Drayton explaining the way it has been edited. The point, ably made at least, was to show how Alfred Russel Wallace and (more famously) Charles Darwin, came up with two independent and similar Theories of Evolution. The reason of this book being that they both got the idea from the narrator of this manuscript. (who purports to be an illegimate scion of the Darwin family).

So I picked it up, more than intrigued. Seeing as it combines two of my interests, natural history and gay historical fiction, I felt that surely I was going to love it, but try as I might, I just didn’t.

The book is told in two interweaving sections: one describes the island, and with each segment that relates to the place where the narrator (who is never named) is marooned, he goes into detail of the completely unique flora and fauna found there. Vampyric plants which parisitise young birds (but keep them free from worms), swallows that hibernate in mud, minnows that can survive in near boiling water. Drayson is a naturalist and zoologist–has written a book about birds and one about platypuses–so I don’t doubt his descriptions of these animals that never were, it’s just that it’s not terribly interesting.

I think that it’s partly to do with his narrator, who comes across as being so bland as to be frightfully dull, and this shouldn’t really be. He’s homosexual, he’s known this from quite young and seems to have had no angst about this. He’s had an event-filled life, travelling from Shrewsbury to Edinburgh to Cambridge to South Africa to Australia, hinting only as the decadence and high life he leads. He started promisingly when he realises the power he has over men who find him attractive. he uses his wiles to punish, to tease, to demand–and in this way, he says, he can keep just about any man at heel. But it’s the bland way he describes it all, not only with the bare minimum of detail, but more dispassionate than watching a beetle die in a killing jar (at which event he cried, copiously.)

Perhaps this is deliberate, perhaps we are supposed to get that he has less enthusiasm for life than he does for beetles, I don’t know. But it’s not how it seems to me, I don’t think that’s what Drayson was aiming at. I think we are supposed to find him adventurous and driven, but frankly I found him boring beyond belief and I heartily wished he’d fall into the volcano himself.

I can compare this book to Philipa Gregory’s “Earthly Joys” which I rate more highly, where the themes of passion for the natural world, and a compulsion for cataloguing and collection are described side by side by an adventurous life, and in this respect Earthly Joys succeeds and takes fruit, while in my eyes, Confessing a Murder is not deemed for natural selection and, to stretch an analogy to its limits, should have withered on the vine.

That being said, if you have any interest at all in Darwin, Wallace and the Theory, you will probably find this worth a read.

Buy: Powell’s Books –  Amazon UKAmazon USA

Review: A Class Apart by James Gardiner

The Private Pictures of Montague Glover.

A Class Apart is a selection of photographs and letters culled from the archive of Montague Glover (1898-1983) documenting the intimate, rarely recorded lives of gay men in Britain from the First World War to the 1950s.  The book features Glover’s three obsessions: the Armed Forces, working-class men, and his lifelong lover Ralph Hall.

Review by Erastes

Who was Montague Glover?  No-one, really. But therein lies the reason why his legacy (boxes and boxes of letters and photos) is so very important in gay history. Just an ordinary man, a son of middle-class parents who was sent to a minor public school.

But by cataloging his life, collecting images of men, writing ordinary and heart-warming love letters, and most importantly by taking endless photos of men he found attractive, he paints a picture of a gay man’s life, well-adjusted and ‘ordinary,’

The book is photo-heavy, as you would expect and is split into eight sections and I’ll cover a few only.

The Story

Basic intro to the man’s life. An English middle-class life. The army straight from school and off to the trenches where he was awarded the Military Cross. Then university and 30 years as an architect. As well as his photos, he collected images of men he found attractive from newspaper clippings and magazines, seeing as homoerotic art wasn’t exactly freely available!

Rough Trade

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“In common with many other middle and upper class men of his class and generation, Monty Glover was principally attracted to working class men. Gardiner purports that perhaps this is because working-class men were “manly” and completely non-effeminate. Like all the photos of unnamed men in the book, it is unlikely that most of these young men were in fact homosexual, but rather approached by Glover and simply asked to pose. As a Brit it was fascinating to see the clothes, hats and shoes from the 20’s onwards, the detailing of the clothes (belts, scarves, boots) essential to any writer of historical men in these eras. Monty shows us delivery boys, postmen, barrowboys, farmhands – and soon you get a fair idea of Mr Glover’s taste in men! As well as candid shots of real people, there’s a lovely section of posed studio style shots, most likely done in Monty’s house, where young lovelies pose in various states of dress and undress. Prostitutes or just young men eager for a thrill, we’ll never know.

Soldier Boys

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Monty started taking photos of soldiers after he signed up in 1916, and in 1918, the year he was awarded the MC, he kept a diary, snippets of this are quoted in the book and show that although dealing with lice, rats, dead Bosche and horror on a daily basis, he still found time for love. It is at this time he meets Ernest (Ernie) with whom he has at least one “night of his life.”

Ralph

image00021Quite simply, the love of Monty’s life, and to look at him, it’s not hard to understand why. Coming from a working-class background, but with the looks of an Aryan angel, photogenic and very obviously hung like a donkey, Ralph is to die for. However, when it could very easily have happened that this younger man could have been nothing more than a kept man, staying with Glover for sex and money, it didn’t happen that way. This is very clearly a love affair with a capital L, which you cannot help but see in their extensive and lavishly adoring mutual love-letters. A large portion of these were sent during the second world war, when Ralph was drafted into the RAF in 1940. Indeed, it’s hard – reading a selection of these letters which are quoted in the book – to understand how these letters got past the censor! It’s wonderful that they did though, or we would miss out on lines like this written by Ralph to Monty in November 1940:

“Do you remember the old days when we first started darling.  I went back all over it again last night.  What a time we had in them days and I am sorry to say I am crying I canot hold it back no more my Darling. I love you my old Darling. I do miss you ever such a lot my dear as you know my dear.”

Monty and Ralph lived together (after meeting around 1930) for fifty years. The photographs of their lives together (other than the beautiful, posed, and artistic shots of Ralph) are ordinary and heartwarming for their ordinariness. Sitting in their sitting room, pictures of their bath, Ralph making toast, having breakfast, Monty shaving. Love in every image.

When Monty died in 1983, he left everything to Ralph, but Ralph went into a decline and died four years later.

Anyone with any interest in gay history will find this a resource they can’t be without, particularly if writing of gay men from 1910 onwards, anyone with an interest in photography will find it fascinating. But really, anyone with a heart cannot be moved by this book and the social record it has saved for posterity.

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Review: Oscar Wilde and the Ring of Death by Gyles Brandreth

Talented and witty, and with a fabulously successful play playing to packed houses, Oscar is the toast of the town. On one of his club nights he plays a game with his guests, “who would you murder” and sets into motion events which look like they will result, not only in his own death, but the death of his beloved Constance.

Review by Erastes

I had been looking forward to this book ever since I had finished the first one, Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders.

At the risk of sound like Oscar, sadly, the journey is so often much more fun than the terminus. Where the first book captured me with with its sparkle this one bored me rather than entertained.

While Brandreth does a good job of taking one on a tour of fin de siecle London (with a map, no less, this time!) and introduces us to many interesting characters, real-life ones and invented, I felt this book simply didn’t hang together in the same way that the first book did. I was often confused and whole scenes would go by which turned out to entirely useless in furthering the plot in any way.  I think that Brandreth was attempting, in a Christie fashion, to create red-herrings, but it wasn’t done with any conviction and I never once was led down any path. In fact, I went through the entire book not knowing, or indeed not even caring enough to suspect anyone at all.

What annoyed me particularly was that Oscar was not charismatic in this book, he was extraordinarily annoying. I am not enough of a Wilde fan to know whether the sayings he continually came out with were his own, or Brandreth’s, but I couldn’t help but think that most of the book was just Brandreth trying to be clever.  Literally nothing happened for half the book, and nothing appeared to be happening for the other half.

The denouement was a complete surprise because other than the smallest of clues, there was literally no indication that this person was marked as the murderer. I like to be surprised, after all isn’t that part of the fun of reading a murder mystery? but I don’t like to go WTF? HIM? WHY? When the big moment comes. I was still boggling, even after Oscar Explained It All.

I know that the tradition in some murder stories is to have the amateur sleuth amazingly clever and the police incredibly dim, but in this book, EVERYONE, from the police to Conan Doyle to Robert Sherrad (the narrator) are thick as two short planks, and the only one with two brain cells to rub together is Wilde.

Not that I wanted a gay story, as the first book had a strong homosexual theme, but with Bosie on the scene and with their affair obviously in full swing, I would have expected a little more to be made of that. What did amuse me, though, was that Bosie’s older brother was also suspected of ‘unnaturallness’ with a politician.

I’d say that if you really really liked the first one, then get this from the library before shelling out any money on it. I have to say, also, that I don’t appreciate the first eight or so pages of any book I read to be filled with reviews of that particular book.

Buy Amazon UK Amazon USA Powells

Review: Frost Fair by Erastes

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Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

Before the climate changed, Londoners were occasionally treated to a sporadic festival triggered by the freezing of the Thames River. This was known as the Frost Fair, where merchants hauled their wares onto the surface of the river, and citizens flocked to impromptu markets, drawn by the novelty and beauty of snow and the hastily-assembled stalls offering goods and food to the curious city dwellers.  The final Frost Fair lasted four days in February, 1814; it provides the backdrop and opening scenes for the book of the same name, authored by Erastes and published by Linden Bay Romance.

It is during the month of this unusual fair that readers are introduced to Gideon Frost, a young man struggling to maintain his printing business after his father’s untimely death. With blond hair and blue eyes, he has a fair complexion; he is also fair and honest in his heart and his dealings, although he struggles with some secrets that he harbors in his soul, namely, his amorous desire for one of his clients and his need to occasionally prostitute himself to wealthy men he meets on Lad Lane, in order to make ends meet.

Frost Fair unfolds over the course of a month and in that short time span, Gideon struggles with blackmail, betrayal, and deceit. He also falls in love, finds that love requited, then denied, then found again. All this, in a short novella! It is a satisfying read, in large part because of Erastes’ vivid characterizations and evocative descriptions of the time and place. I could feel the cold snow, hear the “clunk” of Gideon’s printing press, and see in my mind’s eye the locales in which he found himself, from grand homes to dark taverns. Mostly, I could smell the tang of the men who desired Gideon, with their advances both wanted and not.

I read the ebook version of the story and it was nicely formatted, although I wish the publisher would add a few conveniences for the reader such as a Table of Contents and links to navigate back and forth from the contents to the various chapters. Since a reader cannot flip through an ebook, such links make reading more akin to the paper experience. While I am on the subject of the publisher, I do have to voice my displeasure at the cover. It does nothing to convey the subject of the story and is a disservice to the wonderful tale inside. I bought the book because I enjoy Erastes’ writing; as a marketing tool the cover is not effective. It was only the author’s name that drew me in.

I have one tiny quibble and it comes near the end: there is a little loose end that is left hanging and it is disconcerting. I imagine the author desired some ambiguity (that seems to be an Erastes’ trademark) and I drew my own conclusions as to what happened. Still, it left a nagging feeling in the back of my mind which is why I comment on it. A wise editor might have pointed this out and it could have been fixed with a sentence or two—and the ambiguity preserved—but it was not. Erastes is a wonderful author and storyteller; this is a matter of craft that is easily repaired. I recently read Standish (by the same author) which I also enjoyed tremendously, but I have to say, I believe that Erastes is maturing as an writer and overall, Frost Fair is more well written. This is exciting because it gives me something to look forward to from this talented author and I hope that small errors such as this disappear completely in her future works.

I read Frost Fair first a few weeks ago and then, in preparation for writing this review, I re-read it yesterday, during an ice storm, which certainly put me in the proper frame of mind to enjoy a story set during one of the coldest winters in London’s history! The story, while cold and bleak in some parts, is warm and hot in others and left me, as a reader, feeling completely fulfilled.


ISBN: 978-1-60202-157-0

Available in print ($14.99) and ebook ($5.99) directly from the publisher: http://www.lindenbayromance.com/product-frostfair-7265-145.html

Leslie H. Nicoll is the owner of Maine Desk LLC, an editorial writing and consulting business located in Portland, Maine. She is also the Publisher for Bristlecone Pine Press, an ebook publishing imprint and subsidiary of her business. While she desires to write fiction, she seems to have more success in the non-fiction world. Her latest books (both 2008) are The Editor’s Handbook, co-authored with Margaret Freda and published by Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins and The Amazon Kindle FAQ, co-authored with Joshua Tallent and DeLancey Nicoll and published by Bristlecone. For more, please visit www.mainedesk.com and www.bcpinepress.com.

Review: Gerard and Jacques Vol.01 & 02 by Fumi Yoshinaga

Blurb: The heroes of this story meet in a rather unlikely place – a brothel. Gerard, after deflowering the young aristocrat-turned-prostitute Jacques, pays to free him from his profession and spares him a life of selling his body to survive. Jacques shows up at Gerard’s door soon after, willing to work to repay his debt, not knowing that he would soon be tangled up in a web of romance with his new master.

Set in the years around the French Revolution, Gerard and Jacques is a story we’ve all seen before – Jacques is a young man sold into prostitution for whatever reason and comes across Gerard, a man who takes him away from all this (not before raping him, though; this is yaoi after all). “Unlikely” isn’t exactly a word I’d have used either, I’ve read so many books where brothels are involved.

Gerard wants to humiliate Jacques, to make him realise that he might as well be a whore, because he’s of no use—as an ex-aristocrat—for anything else. The boy surprises him by working hard around the house.

Jacques had my admiration for battling on with his chores, until it transpired that he’d learned to shoe horses after just being shown once. Hmmm. I’m not looking for a huge amount of realism in yaoi novels but this really annoyed me. I’m forced to admit that there are aspects of manga that I really don’t like, such as the cartoony faces of surprise like this—I know there’s probably a huge tradition behind this, and it’s what the readers like and expect, but as a grown adult who has jumped from childhood comics to graphic novels with an interim of many decades, I can’t acclimatise to it, and it pulls me from the more realistic drawings that the rest of the novel is drawn in.

I also don’t like the words to describe the actions. If the pictures are drawn well enough, and they are, I don’t need the words “JERK UP!” or “STARTLE!”to describe action.

There’s no real story here, though, in volume one. It’s a little plot, interspersed with backstory, mainly relating to Gerard who was married once.

I’m not enamoured of the homosexual image either – as expected Jacques, being the uke, is unwilling and resentful of his new master. He finds the advances distasteful but in secret he feels a sexual attraction growing – this is expected in the genre, I suppose. However as Gerard’s backstory emerges we find that he was pretty much hetero, but was “lured into m/f/m” by his “evil wife.” When the other man makes advances to Gerard on his own, Gerard rejects these advances calling them filthy.

The sex scenes are a little more explicit than I’ve seen in other yaoi-almost accurate cocks and such like.

There were interesting sections—discussions of politics, literature and philosophy – and I’d have liked a bit more politics and a bit more plot but then that’s probably just me.

Volume 02 was marginally more interesting, but rather repetitive and dull in parts, whole pages of just the same expression, or so it seemed to me, and the plot jumped all over the place which made it very confusing.

I did like the drawing in the main (apart from the aforementioned funny faces) the period clothes were beautifully done, although I’m no expert, and there were touches of humour that really made me smile but all in all the whole angst angst he raped me no no no no oh maybe angst maybe i love him angst angst thing just wasn’t for me. I just think I’m not a natural yaoi reader, I’m afraid.

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Review: A Perfect Waiter by Alain Claude Sulzer

Translated from the original German by John Brownjohn.

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

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: The Leather Boys by Gillian Freeman

They’re Britain’s ‘Wild Ones’ – the motorcycle cowboys who live for gas machines and faster girls – who ton-up along the Motorways, terrorising drivers and defying the law. Who experience sex too young, marry unthinkingly and live only for the next kick – whatever or whoever it is.

The Leather Boys is a savage, brilliantly told novel of these aimless young men and women. It is also the story of Dick and Reggie and the strange, twisted love that developed between them.

Review by Erastes

First off let me say that the first cover (with the girl) couldn’t be more erroneous of the title and the content of the book. I couldn’t scan my cover in, and couldn’t find a picture online. The blurb is pretty ghastly too making it sound like a British version of the Hell’s Angel’s books so popular in my girl’s school in the 1970’s. I object hugely to the term “strange, twisted love” because as you’ll see it’s nothing of the sort. The second cover is the original one, when the book was posted in 1961 it was published under a (jokey) masculine pseudonym. Nothing changes, eh?

The book is an essential read for anyone who might be interested in the late 50’s and the youth of that time, it may come over as rather quaint to Americans, because I’m sure that American bikers were never quite that shy and gauche as some of the characters here.  Although – sorry to disappoint you once again – this isn’t exactly about biker boys either.  Hell, could a book and a blurb and a cover BE more misleading?

Anyway, there’s not much to the story, really. Reggie is married but dissatisfied. His wife has told him that she’s pregant with another man’s child so he leaves her.  He meets up with Dick, another biker, who lives with his ailing grandmother in a typical two up  two down terraced house with no loo but the one outside.

When the two young men do get together it’s not accompanied by pages of pre-kiss angst. They are friends, and neither of them see much further than that. Reggie has moved in with Dick, and as was more common in those more innocent times they sleep in the same bed.  One night it just seems right and they kiss. Any sexual conduct is off screen, but is clearly alluded to afterwards. Dick is the one who asks “is this love? And do you think of me as a girl?” and Reggie, who is far more pragmatic simply says “of course not – you aren’t the right shape.”  Dick voices his confusion by saying that he thinks it’s strange that neither of them want to start playing the girl, by putting on lipstick and stuff like that. There’s none of the questioning of self and identity that we see more often in more recent coming out books. Dick loves Reggie and that’s it, really. For better or worse.

They decide-not just for the sake of their relationship, which they are aware they can’t share with anyone-but also to get away from Reggie’s wife, and Dick’s grandmother, and the book winds to a terrible conclusion, sadly in keeping with most gay novels of the time.  It is interesting to note that the film – which is well worth seeking out if you can get hold of a copy – has a completely different ending and one that disgusted me more than the end of the book.  In the film (as in the book) Dick goes to the naval yard to inquire about signing up with the Merchant Navy, and while he is there he meets up with a few of the other homosexuals who band together and all know who’s who.  In the book Dick simply wonders at these men – almost like a different species.  He realises then that although he is homosexual – that he’s not like these camp men, neither is Reggie and hopes they’ll be left in peace onboard ship.  However – in the film, the director makes that the end – Dick decides that he can’t accept that camp lifestyle and walks away from Reggie forever.

This doesn’t ring true with the depth of feeling in the book, and I don’t know why they changed it. Perhaps it was the only way to get the film made – in 1964(!) Dick was far too much in love with Reggie to have done this, and the last few pages of the book convince any reader that he never would have done that.

It’s a lost world – Britain’s Gone with the Wind. There are no more leather clad gangs who frequent coffee bars.  The day of the outside toilet are gone forever and Britain has lost that tang of innocence.  I remember the early sixties (just) but it takes the film to put it clearly in the mind of anyone who wasn’t around then. The empty roads, the way people lived, I don’t often advise reading the book and watching the film, but for anyone interested in the social history of this time, I highly recommend doing both.

The book is – in its way – comparable with Renault’s Charioteer, and certainly deserves to be as popular and as lauded as that book. Perhaps the prose isn’t quite as beautiful, perhaps the heroes are dirty, criminally minded and working class – far far below the lofty heights of Ralph and Laurie, but for my money it’s every bit as good and deserves to be back in print, not labelled as pulp – but a modern classic.

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Review: Oblivion by Harry J Maihafer

On Saturday, January 14, 1950, at 6:18PM, Cadet Richard Cox left his room at theU.S. Military Academy at West Point to goto dinner with an unidentified visitor. The man was supposedly someone Cox knew when he served in Germany. Cox never returned from that meeting.

Thirty five years later, a retired history teacher named Marshall Jacobs decided to pursue the mystery that had been a national story. Jacobs plunged into a labyrinthine search of Army and FBI records – and what began as a hobby became an obsession. After piecing together the puzzle for seven years, he found the one witness who enabled him to bring the case to closure.

Review by Erastes

An interesting find, this. The story was pointed out to me by a friend with a penchant for random surfing and it sparked my interest. I looked into it a little more and found this book which I promptly bought. I believe it’s out of print, but I picked up a copy for pennies.

Richard Cox is the only West Point Cadet ever to have disappeared without trace for for many years the American police, the Criminal Investigation Department and the FBI were involved in trying to track him down. It brings to mind just how easy it might have been (or might still be) to disappear in a country as large as the States.

But – did he disappear or was he murdered? The theories are thick and fast and the amount of threads that lead away from Cox’s last sighting are legion. The trail leads to New York gay bars, Washington spy masters, German secret missions and even behind the Iron Curtain.

There were a few questions I would have asked, however – why on Earth did West Point allow people on site that they didn’t know? Why didn’t this mysterious visitor give his full name and why didn’t anyone ask it? Why wasn’t a certain woman’s second marriage investigated? I suppose it was all a more innocent age – I bet that West Point is a little more rigorous in their security now.

The book was, for me, a real page turner – I had an idea from the reviews on Amazon that many people were not convinced or impressed by the Marshall’s conclusions – but that’s the great thing about conspiracy theories one can form one’s own and you are unlikely to be proven wrong.

I would like to think that – in these days of computers, networks, DNA testing and the like, that someone will – once again – pick up the enormous body of research compiled by Marshall since 1985 and seek out a more definitive answer, and proof that Marshall’s conclusion was the true one. Because I’d like to be sure what happened to Cox – it’s impossible not to want to know for sure by the end of the book.

Despite the labyrinthine tangle of facts, Maihafer catalogues the case well without too much irrelevancies and it kept me absorbed right until the very end. If you are a fan of cold cases, conspiracy theories and other subjects of that ilk – then you’ll probably enjoy this.

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Review: The Keeper by Kalita Kasar

Cobbler’s apprentice Thomas Williams is on his way out for the night when he’s stuffed into a carriage and whisked away from the staid life he’s always known. Stolen away from his Quaker master, Thomas is sold into the household of Leon Chambellan, a Frenchman also known as the Keeper.

Caught up in the latent sensuality of the keeper’s home, Thomas finds his resistance slowly crumbling, and he submits to Chambellan’s charm. Pursued by his new master, jealously hated by this rival, Alex, Thomas must learn survive in a world completely alien to anything he has known before. A world of beauty, brutality, rivalry and intrigue that threatens to destroy him before he can win his rightful place at Chambellan’s side.

Review by Erastes

First the cover: Bafflingly it is not at all representative of what I found inside, as the book tells me it’s based in 1772, so the appearance of medieval helmet, chain mail and a broadsword on the cover was peculiar. Publishers will need to learn that it’s not only the words that need to be accurate!

This is an erotic novel, so if long sexual scenes with strong BDSM themes aren’t really what you are after, then it’s not the book for you. We are thrown into the action almost immediately as – not knowing Bilbo’s warning about being careful about stepping outside your front door, Thomas is swiftly kidnapped by a press-gang. However, unlike Benjamin York, a real-life cobbler’s apprentice of the same era, who was pressed and sent to the Colonial war, Thomas is lucky that he’s pretty for he’s taken as a sex-slave to Chambellan: kidnapper, white slaver and Monsieur of a bawdy house for homosexual men.

There he encounters all manner of pleasure and pain, is strangely drawn to Chambellan “The Keeper,” repulsed by Alex, one of the “groomers” and meets the alluring Lucien.

What struck me almost immediately was Thomas’ surprising passivity. I, as a reader, had to assume that the reason that this nineteen year old man, (who had been working as a tanner and cobbler for ten years, and would be pretty damn strong), didn’t attempt to escape or overpower his captor when he was alone with him, was that he was a Quaker. This is actually the case, but we aren’t told of his reasons for his passivity until page 52. He even thanks the man for his hospitality of his kidnap.

I didn’t like the rapes either. Thomas says no, but he’s raped anyway, and as is often the case in fiction, he enjoys it whilst finding himself repulsive for doing so.

I know that I was supposed to find Chambellan darkly attractive but I couldn’t. Apart from raping Thomas (and supposedly every boy who he has ever enslaved) and being a white-slaver, when Thomas asks him to send him home, he says that he’ll release him back to the press-gang if Thomas wants it. That’s a nasty thing to say, and then he stomps off when Thomas complains he’s been raped and says that he “won’t do it again.” What’s more disturbing is that Thomas then longs for him to come back.

Chambellan actually says “You know there are only young men in my household and none of them is compelled against his will.” Which made me go WHAT!? I rather think that imprisonment and sexual coercion upon young men who say “no” counts as “against his will,” Chambellan.

I did like that this was on the cusp of slavery being abolished in England, and that also the very real danger of running a “macaroni club” is mentioned, these issues should never be completely forgotten in gay historical fiction. I liked the prose too, mainly – it was the other issues that stopped me enjoying the book.

Sadly, there’s also the usual problem with Torquere’s editing. I don’t like to keep mentioning this in Torquere’s reviews but they do themselves no favours. As they are already infamous for bad editing, you would think that they would work doubly hard to ensure that stories are as without error as they can be, but it seems not. This story is less than 100 pages long, so there’s no excuse for things like “he had long brown hair that was tied back in a cue and “he lay on the bed, his eyes closed, abandoned,” to name but two

I actually felt bitterly sorry for Thomas, and wanted him to escape from his plight – and from the much worse one that he falls into later, too. I wanted him to get safely home – not to Chambellan, but to his apprenticeship because frankly he deserved neither the frying pan, nor the fire.

Whilst the writing is pretty good, and there’s no doubt that Ms Kasar is a good story teller I’m afraid I didn’t find this erotic or romantic – it’s eroticised Stockholm Syndrome and that’s not any more arousing to me than eroticised rape, but your mileage may vary.

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Review: Sandals and Sodomy (anthology)

Review by Erastes

I don’t often comment on a book’s layout but this one deserves it. It’s beautifully done – a tasteful cover to complement the mention of Sodomy and a restrained, classical theme inside. Books aren’t often this pretty. Well done, Dreamspinner Press.

Greeks Bearing Gifts by D.G. Parker

Young Antenor of fallen Troy faces violation and death, only to be rescued and enslaved by a gruff, older Greek, a hard-bitten soldier in the king’s good graces. What Antenor does not expect is Calchas’s good heart that sees him through shipwreck, marooning, and rescue.

I was expecting another sex-slave-who-comes-to-love-his-master story and was pleasantly surprised when it didn’t go exactly the way I envisaged. It turns into a decent adventure which I found very readable. The period details are few, but not so very vague as to be completely unfocussed in time. If I have a quibble it’s the fact that Calchas admits to have been an erastes “many times” and yet he has been at the Trojan siege for at least ten years. He’s described as “older” but I’m not convinced that he could have entered into an erastes/eromenos arrangement “many times,” as it often lasted for more than ten years itself.

It’s a great little story, sweet and surprising in turns.

Troy Cycle by Dar Mavison

When the gods abandoned men during the battle of Troy, the greatest of those men – Hector, Odysseus, Paris, Achilles – schemed to end the war. Amongst themselves they waged war both vicious and tender in a desperate attempt to achieve peace, a peace that for some would only be found in death, leaving others to discover it in new life. But no one would ever be forgotten by the other three.

This is an AU story, Trojan fanfic if you will, a scenario where Paris, instead of being rescued by Aphrodite during his duel with Menaleus is captured by Odysseus and delivered to Achilles

It’s an interesting take on the relationships, however, for all the warping of the story, Paris’ relationships with his father and brother are examined – and Achilles’ thoughts on the other people in the saga make sense. There’s explicit incest too between Hector and Paris, for those who find that unpleasant. I thoroughly enjoyed that part. However it’s a little difficult to see Hector (in the light of what that civilisation thought about the “female or passive role” in homosexual sex, that the receiver was weaker and of a lower status than the giver) bottoming for Odysseus.

All in all it’s well written, the dialogue is formal and fraught with politics and machinations. I particularly liked canonical Achilles who treats Agamemnon with disdain. However, I felt a bit lost at times – it’s clear that the author knows the saga inside out and I was floundering around trying catch the nuances of the dialogue: why so and so did this, why so and so said that, which is always a danger with fanfic and the reader isn’t as expert with the canon. It’s an interesting take on the Paris-Achilles-Hector triangle but for that’s its very well written I would have preferred an original piece. I couldn’t get past the “Yeah, but this changes the saga” part (although the last line really made me laugh out laugh. Genius).

Undefeated Love by John Simpson

The men of the Sacred Band of Thebes are remembered for their valor, their honor, their devotion to duty, and their great love for their partners. Alexandros and Agapitos found a place amongst them, but little did they know their love and sacrifice would face the test of war – and survive to shine eternally.

I was initially thrown by this one, as it seemed a little “Thebes High 90210″ with the two Jocks in the gymnasium who everyone loves and one of them saying that he had to brush his hair for ages until it was just right. Clueless in Thebes, I wondered? Then there’s a long and graphic sex-in-public scene and I sort of forgot about all that. However then the characters started to speak and I was jolted away again. There’s a difficult fine line to tread when one writes dialogue with characters from a time and/or a place where we wouldn’t understand them, and I’m afraid I found this over-affectionate and high-fallutin’ style of dialogue a little risible.

“That was incredible, Agapitos. My thanks for taking my seed into your mouth and making it part of your body.”

“Go on then. Deposit your seed deep within my bowels.”

The over-formal language put me off, and really, nothing actually happens other than the battle at Chaeronea and towards the end it slips in omniescent narration-style, pulling the reader out of the action completely. It’s more of a docu-drama sadly and failed to grip me.

Hadrian by Remmy Duchene

Roman Emperor Hadrian is all-powerful … and alone. But when Antinous trespasses into Hadrian’s bath, the ruler’s eyes are opened to a whole new world of love.

This starts well, with a believable introduction of Antinous to Hadrian – Hadrian insists on bathing alone, and that’s canonical from what we know of him, as he was a bit of a recluse and liked his solitude. However it slips when the sex scene begins as it all becomes a little 21st century with phrases like “Hadrian lost it” and “getting drilled”. And that’s all there is, really – just a short PWP introducing the characters to each other – I would have liked some plot, I have to say.

The POV is off-putting, I’m afraid with POV switches vacillating wildly between the two. And Hadrian allows Antinous to top him – which is a little unbelievable in the customs of the day. (It should be said that it was rumoured that Julius Caesar allowed this when he was a young man, and the rumour blackened his name all his life)

Short and a little disappointing.

After the Games by Connie Bailey

When the Emperor sends a beautiful concubine, Valerius, to the slave pens to slake the hunger of his fiercest beast, the fighter Alaric, he doesn’t anticipate that Alaric just isn’t interested. But to keep Valerius from being punished, the fighter keeps him close for one night, a night that turns from talkative to passionate.

Much more absorbing is After the Games. A successful gladiator is offered sexual tribute from his Emperor and tries to refuse it, and ends up sheltering a male concubine to (seemingly) save him being gang raped by other gladiators. It’s clear Ms Bailey has done her research and I learned things I didn’t know. This is a nice little story, as the concubine tops from the bottom as it were, seducing the barbarian gladiator in a Scheredzarde kind of way. It’s all very sensual and arousing, spoiled only now and then with silly euphemisms such as Alaric prodded the young man’s nether port with the head of his arousal. (shudder)

However – I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and thought it the highlight of the anthology; it’s highly erotic, with a keen sense of the storyteller’s art and a surprise ending which makes me hope well for the characters’ futures.

The Vow by Ariel Tachna

Adrastos still mourns his dead partner and lover, and he has hardened his heart and spirit to any other. Knowing his duty to bond and train a soldier, he reviews a trio of Army recruits, but he insists he will not choose one. Eager to prove himself worthy to serve the Army and Aphrodite alike, Erasmos presents himself for the final test…and finds that he, the petitioner, is the savior rather than the saved.

This is another bonded pair of soldiers story, and starts off, quite arousingly, with a group sex session – which, according to the author is the way the bonded pairs were chosen, (although the reader shouldn’t take this as fact.) Sadly, the editing – which has been fine up to now, falls down a little in this story and there are a few silly typos here and there. However, it’s an attractive tale, as Erasmos slowly works to heal the pain that Adrastos feels for the loss of his previous bond-partner using music and the inevitable baths! I particularly liked how this story explored the erastes/eronemos relationship in more detail than is often seen – how the responsibilities of the mentor for the pupil are laid out, and we see just what is involved in moulding a new citizen, and the problems that might arise when the eronemos is old enough to become the erastes to another.

This is another decent read from Dreamspinner, who seem to be going from strength to strength.

Buy the book: Dreamspinner Press Amazon UK Amazon USA Kindle

Review: The Squire by Shawn Lane

Duncan has been Sir William’s squire for two years. During that time, he has lusted after and been in love with the beautiful muscular knight. Too bad Sir William prefers fair maidens…

Sir William is called home due to the impending death of his father. On the journey, he catches his squire watching other men having sex and realizes Duncan is also ready for some love play. Once they reach the family’s estates, William and Duncan begin an affair of both body and heart. But the happiness they find together is short-lived when the king dictates that William must marry a suitable heiress.

Unable to bear his place beside William and his wife, Duncan flees. Can William find the squire to convince him their love is meant to be?

Review by Erastes

This is an erotic short novella/long short story set in the 14th century, and the heat level is right up there at the top end of the thermometer. I’ll say here and now that I enjoyed the story, and although it’s short and sweet, the author did all the things a short story should do with conflict, and resolution and I can’t fault it in that way at all. I enjoyed the sex too!

The characters were easy to get to know, and I particularly liked Duncan for all his enthusiasm and affection. His knight Sir William has a voice all his own, and I could really see him as described.

That being said, and as this is a historical blog, I have to mention some of the things that struck me when it became clear that this was simply wallpaper historical erotica – men in fancy dress having a lot of sex out ofthe fancy dress – and this could have been avoided.

Firstly, the speech. As the story is set in 1345 it would of course have been impossible to write the speech as it was unless you wanted ye olde Chaucerie erotica but there are ways to express a more formal way of speaking. It is also fine to have your characters speaking in modern (but not too modern please) ways of speaking – but to mix them up is jarring to the reader (or to this reader anyway).  One minute Duncan is sounding like a modern man; and then – almost as if the author was suddenly thinking “oops – got to remind the reader that this is in the past” words like “mayhap”, “swive” (when fuck (and making love) are used alternately) and “nay” are scattered throughout. I don’t mind one or the other, but not both.

The historical inaccuracies abound I’m afraid, enough to make a purist scream: Braes are referred to as ancient underpants but braes are actually hills, and I was a bit confused why the squire had hills around his ankles. The word for medieval knickers is braies. There’s mention of chests of drawers (no!) and a wardrobe (definitely not!) but most jarring is Duncan’s age. I understand perfectly why the author had to make him 18, (because most publishers insist on it as that’s the legal age in parts of the USA) but it makes little sense in context, and warping fact to fit modern sensibilities is just daft. Squires were 12 or so when they became squires (having been pages before this from the age of 6 or 7) so to say he’d only been a squire for two years stuck out like a sore thumb. This could have been avoided with a bit of alteration – say making him a squire since he was 12 although this wouldn’t have explained why he could hardly ride a horse.

The editing has to be mentioned too, I’m afraid. Amber Quill is invite only and self-proclaims itself as “The Gold Standard in Publishing” but there are too many typos for me to be convinced of the hyperbole, and in such a short story the quantity of errors, both in accuracy and in the text simply isn’t acceptable.

It’s hard to comment more on the plot, because of the shortness of the piece, but it hangs together well– and, as I said, the sex is red-hot so lovers of historical sex will definitely find this lights a fuse under them. For me though –although I enjoyed the erotica – it was the inaccuracies that spoiled it for me. It won’t stop me looking out for more of Shawn Lane’s work though, as it’s clear that he/she can tell a tale, in and out of the bedroom.

Author’s website

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Review: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

Like the comic books that animate and inspire it, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is both larger than life and of it too. Complete with golems and magic and miraculous escapes and evil nemeses, even hand-to-hand Antarctic battle, it pursues the most important questions of love and war, dreams and art, across pages lurid with longing and hope. Samuel Klayman–self-described little man, city boy and Jew–first meets Josef Kavalier when his mother shoves him aside in his own bed, telling him to make room for their cousin, a refugee from Nazi-occupied Prague. It’s the beginning, however unlikely, of a beautiful friendship. In short order, Sam’s talent for pulp plotting meets Joe’s faultless, academy-trained line, and a comic-book superhero is born. A sort of lantern-jawed equaliser clad in dark blue long underwear, the Escapist “roams the globe, performing amazing feats and coming to the aid of those who languish in tyranny’s chains”. Before they know it, Kavalier and Clay (as Sam Klayman has come to be known) find themselves at the epicentre of comics’ golden age

Review by Erastes

Well, perhaps I’m not as intelligent as the Pulitzer Prize-winner panel (no argument there) and perhaps being English had an affect on me reading this book, but it left me completely blank I’m afraid. Tom Paine says on the cover that “no book had made me cry more,” and I say… what? where??

So yes – the book didn’t move me, and that makes me an exception, but WHY didn’t it move me?

I suppose I was expecting “Amazing Adventures,” for a start. Perhaps the title is supposed to be ironic, and I can see that it’s obviously an affectionate reference to the comic book genre that the book represents but I didn’t find anything particularly “Amazing” in anything that these men got up to. Granted, Joe escapes from Prague in a quite unlikely fashion and he has about a week of adventure during his war-service in Antartica – but otherwise? Not so much. It’s simply a tale of them dreaming about comic books, drawing comic books, selling comic books and that’s about it. Perhaps I was already cynical with the Amazing title. Give me hyperbole such as “The League of Amazing Writers” and I’m already in Esme Weatherwax mode with my arms folded, thinking “Oh YEAH? Show me what you got.”

It starts very promisingly, with Joe’s escape from Prague and some rather lovely flashbacks involving Joe’s brother, experiments in Escapism and talks with his tutor – but once it gets to America and we deal with two person’s POV – that’s when it all fell flat for me. I never got sufficiently into the head of either character to understand anything about them, and that was frustrating in a novel which apparently had moved people to floods of tears.

There’s so much telling and very little showing. We are told how Joe is mourning for his family but we are never shown much manifestation of this other than wanting to beat up Germans; we are told how Sammy has struggled against “being a fairy” but we aren’t shown this either. He has an affair with a radio star and various other affairs are subtly alluded to (once) from his wife’s point of view but we are shown nothing of his struggle and apparent feelings of entrapment. The device of skipping forward 12 years after the war helps to create a barrier between the reader and the action, because as far as we can see Sammy has been doing a good job being a husband and father. If he’s been unhappy then this simply isn’t hinted at. His son is pretty well adjusted and his wife isn’t weeping into her coffee every night. This seems more unbelievable when you realise that the marriage is really only two people living together – good friends only. Where’s the angst?

There’s no doubt that the man can write, and I’d be a fool to say he can’t. It’s very readable and I read on simply because of this – not because I had the slightest interest what was going to happen next. In fact it seemed pretty obvious how the book was going to end, even from quite early on due to the clunky manner the way things were set up.

I admit that a lot of the mysticism and Jewish metaphor probably passed me by, the whole Golem thing was a bit of a mystery to me, the significance of the box that is delivered to the Clay’s at the end was baffling too – so perhaps I just missed the entire point.

I have to say that I liked the insight into the “Golden Age of Comics” and that was the most absorbing part for me; but even that didn’t entirely convince me, it all seemed a little sanitised, despite the author attempting to convince me of the long days of work, the smoky atmospheres and crowded conditions. There’s no camaraderie that I would imagine these young authors and artists would have had as they blazed their genre across America, and little sense of the growing fanaticism that comics engendered. There’s one nutty fan who objects to The Escapist bashing Nazis, but even that fizzles out and comes to nothing much.

I also liked the “Escapism” theme that runs throughout – everyone seems to be running from something, but frankly, the author didn’t paint in enough character detail for me to care deeply enough as to whether they did or not and as a consequence I closed the book with a feeling of “so what?” rather than any kind of emotion at all. Deeply disappointing, but I’d be interested to hear other people’s views.

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Review: Vienna Dolorosa by Mykola Dementiuk

Vienna Dolorosa by Mykola Dementiuk is a full-length historical novel set in Vienna, Austria, in an inner city hotel managed by a transvestite and doubling as a brothel for men who like boys dressed up as girls. The entire book takes place during a one-day time period — March 12, 1938, the day Hitler “invades” Austria. Told from the perspectives of twelve different characters including various hotel personnel, hotel guests, brothel employees and brothel clientele, we also have a talkative Viennese official, German police, Nazi SS, and a darling street boy.

This is a terrible book. Yes, that got your attention, didn’t it? I don’t mean terrible as in bad, though, obviously. Rather than it’s a gripping and terrifying read.

Terrible

1. distressing; severe: a terrible winter.
2. extremely bad; horrible: terrible coffee; a terrible movie.
3. exciting terror, awe, or great fear; dreadful; awful.
4. formidably great:

So I’m taking this as definition 4. Resoundingly.

The story takes places in about 24 hours of the Hotel Redl in Austria (Redl being the name of a homosexual who committed suicide in 1913) where Frau Friska Bielinska is the manager. It’s the day of the Anschluss – the day of the “reunification” (read invasion) of Austria by Germany. The city had been demonstrating against it, but gradually support and pro-Hitler force has grown to the stage where no-one dare speak out against it. Brownshirts prowl the streets beating up anyone they suspect to be Jewish (there’s a terrifying scene where Jews are put onto a merry go round which “can’t be stopped”) and are probably dead.

The Hotel Redl is a metaphor for the treatment of homosexuals/transvestites and many other types in German occupied territory. Every guest has something to hide, and every aberration from what the Germans consider the norm has been committed here. It’s difficult to describe the activities within the hotel without using language that might offend the gay readers as I don’t want to blanket them with the term “perversions” as clearly some of them – in our more enlightened world – such as enjoying men dressed as women, and homosexual behaviour – are not. However I must warn readers that there are also descriptive sections of necrophilia, rape, incest, suicide and murder.

It’s clear from the first page, being what it is and when it’s set, that this is not going to be a happy book. Yet Dementiuk does manage some incredible characterisation in very sparse prose. He paints his characters deftly, bringing them to life before our eyes with hard bold strokes rather than any flowery watercolour.

You feel for them all: from the pathetic Kaufmann who loved his boy-whore so much that he couldn’t bear to hear the boy call him old, to Kurt who struts around in his brownshirt thinking – all so wrongly – that it will save him from the SS when they discover him with his mouth on a man’s cock. (The SS was ironically founded by homosexuals, which was something I didn’t know). There’s Helmut with his breast fixation and Wanda with huge breasts but no interest in men. I could go on but I think you should discover them for yourselves.

There’s some wonderful narration too, and discussion of why some men dress as women, why some men want to pursue men dressed as women – which rather threw me out of the story when I first encountered it, but once accostumed to it it’s hard to look away and hard to be unconvinced by the arguments set down. If I disagreed with any aspect of the book it was the section with dealt with gang rape. I found it inconceivable that the raped woman would have climaxed with every man who raped her. Once – perhaps- one’s body is capable of betrayal, but women don’t work like that. More so that we are shown that this woman doesn’t climax “normally.”

My favourite character was the male-identifying-as-female Frau Bielinska who had such empathy and understanding even for the most troubled of her guests, but – although the characterisation isn’t deep (hard to do with 12 POVS) it’s convincing and you’ll find yourself empathising with them all and their doomed lives.

The most resounding feel of the book, however, is one of hopelessness; that the Juggernaut is coming and there’s no escaping its clutches. This is a book of people who have no hope – some who are running – some who have run as far as they can. A book about people completely unable to prevent something terrible they know is ahead, but how terrible it will be they can’t see, can’t possibly believe – or they’d be running harder and as fast and as far as they could.

Be brave and read this book. Yes, it’s hard to take, visceral and bloody and frankly disgusting in some of its clarity and honesty. But it needed to be this way. To not accept the fate of the Redl and consequently the true fate of many queers in Germany occupied territories would be to deny that any of this happened. Bravo.

There’s an excerpt here

Mykola Dementiuk was born in 1949 of Ukrainian parents in a West German DP camp, immigrating to America when he was two. After Catholic grade school & public high school in New York City, he graduated from Columbia University in 1984. A writer with varied employment, from gyro seller at
Lollapalooza to roustabout at the Big Apple Circus, Mykola helped create the magic of the Cirque du Soleil performances of “Alegria” in Santa Monica, Chicago, Washington DC, Boston, and New York with his electrical work. After suffering a massive debilitating stroke in 1997, Mykola eventually returned to writing, using one finger to execute the fantasies and psycho-sexual stories of his min
d.

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

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: The Erotic Etudes-Opus VI by E.L. van Hine

Robert Schumann, the Romantic composer, was a vibrant and complex man. Schumann’s public biography was carefully cleansed by his wife, his survivors, and his friends, but his own letters and diaries give indication of a series of passionate affairs with both sexes that sparked the creative outpouring of music that defined his artistic life. It is from these sources that author E. L. van Hine has imagined an erotic and inspired story of a remarkable, talented man. The Erotic Études Opus VI recreates many of Schumann’s intimate relationships in a series of 18 interlocking stories that span 40 years of his life, beginning in 1834 when he was at the center of both controversy and publicity in Leipzig, Germany. Arranged thematically and told in the first person, The Erotic Études Opus VI parallels the 18 section piano work, ‘The Symphonic Etudes,’ which was published in 1837 and dedicated to one of Schumann’s intimate friends.

Review by Erastes

Etudes: an instrumental musical composition, most commonly of considerable difficulty, usually designed to provide practice material for perfecting a particular technical skill.

I admit that I don’t know much about Schumann, and perhaps I should have learned a little bit about him before launching into this book, but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of it. However as a reviewer I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend that the reader at least know a little of him and his life before reading it, even though many (although not all) of the characters are fictional imaginings of the author.

It’s a clever little novella, split into eighteen ficlets, echoing Schmann’s Symphonic Etudes, eighteen studies as it were, following Schumann’s life from his life in his home town through his struggles to free himself from his family’s ambitions, to become recognised to gradual fame and fortune – but never – or so it seems, to find happiness.

Being “Erotic Etudes” gives a clue to what we are in for, and indeed most of the little studies are erotic in tone, and quite beautifully rendered, layered with an obvious knowledge of time and place. Some of the writing is at times heartbreakingly beautiful, and quite fitting for the story is heartbreaking too. Some books of this type (having small erotic vignettes strung together) are often not terribly interesting, but van Hine strings you along with Schumann’s life, dipping backwards and forwards in time which keeps the reader hooked and wanting to know more. The sex doesn’t jar, and the plot doesn’t intrude; there is a nice balance of each.

At first I was a little confused with the timeline, and the way it jumped from the time as a young man to his boyhood days and then back again, but this makes more sense as you progress through, and you see all the losses and grief that he suffers – and how this affects him and his mental processes.

As an imagined biographical account of Schumann, I think it reads very well although Schumann scholars argue long and hard to this day as to whether he was homosexual or not, and I enjoyed it greatly, and it works nicely as a portrayal of passion, too, of the need for physical desire, for love and for very great music. It inspired me enough to go and research Robert Schumann after reading it, so that can’t be all bad.

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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.

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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.

Review: Damned Strong Love by Lutz Van Dijk

Set in occupied Poland during World War II, this novel is based on the true story of Stefan K., a Polish boy who, at 16, fell in love with a German soldier. When their liaison was discovered by the Gestapo, the teen was tortured and sentenced to a labour camp, eventually escaping during the chaotic days before liberation.

It’s always hard to review true stories, because you can’t fault the history, or the plot. I do feel though that perhaps some of the heart went out of the story in the dictation to Lutz Van Dijk and then the translation because I was never really gripped by the love that Stephan undoubtedly felt for Willi G. Perhaps it’s because it was re-told from such a span of years, and a 16 year old’s love is difficult to describe when one gets to old age. I know I would find it hard, even to write out my own feelings, let alone transpose someone else’s.

I would have liked a little more description of the affair itself; not so much the sexual contact, but the meetings that they had, what they talked about and more about how they felt about what was happening to the world around them. I particularly liked Stephan’s description of his family and their relationship with him, especially with his brother Mikolai who is his first crush, until he meets Willi G.

Their discovery was caused by an idiotic love letter, sent from Stephan K to Willi G at the Eastern Front- and this surprised me – the fact that he’d make such a silly mistake – in fact his very naivety surprised me throughout, but it was another time and place and it’s impossible to imagine the mind set of a Polish boy in 1942.

Don’t let the subject matter of this put you off reading a copy if you come across it, because Stephan K doesn’t dwell too heavily on the (frankly dreadful) things that happened to him after his arrest and incarceration. One can’t really imagine what those years must have been like for him, and it’s probably better that we don’t.

Above all he comes over as an optimist, and although he doesn’t say that he found love and happiness in what he admits was a life in Communist Poland, I hope he did. He has campaigned for gay rights and was around to see the lessening of the restrictions in his beloved country.

I was touched by this book, and although it’s probably not for those who dislike “real, unpleasant, history” it opens a little window into a quite dreadful time but gives hope to the future – something that Stephan K never lost.

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Review: The Spartan by Don Harrison


Pantarkes’ goal is to enter the Olympics and win the laurel crown. But at the age of 16, after accidentally killing the son of a high official, Pantarkes is forced to flee from his native home in Sparta. For two years his Olympic dreams are postponed as he becomes embroiled in the wars and turmoil of the time. This brisk paced novel gives a vivid picture of classical Greece and the early Olympics, and of an era when gay relationships were a common and valued part of life.

Review by Erastes

As an adventure story it falls down, a little, although beginning promisingly, and I found myself thinking that at times it felt like a YA novel, which is not at all a bad thing. There are some sexual encounters but I’m sure it’s not too explicit for gay teenagers!

The pairing off ceremonies for Erastes and eromenos were particularly interesting and at time, amusing, as were the explanations of training for the various sporting events.

The blurb calls it “fast paced” and it certainly is. We are whizzed from Sparta to Thebes (with no description of the (probably) hard journey to get there – to Delphi and back to Sparta at breathless pace. There are few moments where the book takes a breather and I would have liked a few more spots where Pantarkes describes the life of the time, rather than just the wrestling and the games.

I’m no expert on the era at all, but for a layman, it certainly seemed to be well researched. Original names are interspersed throughout, but never in the manner where you have to rush to the computer to look up what a helot, porna or hetaira is. You learn them in context, or they are explained without jolting the reader from the story.

There are in keeping illustrations throughout, at the beginning of each chapter but would have made a valuable addition was a map of the Hellenic world as it was at the time, as there is so much travel, and interaction with many peoples of that world, it would have clarified a lot.

Published in 1982 by Alyson Books, The Spartan is not easy to get hold of, as it’s only available from second hand sellers. However, with a bit of searching you can find a reasonably priced copy and if you are interested in the era, and more importantly the history of the ancient games, it’s an interesting read, if a little youthful.

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Historical submission call – gay welcome

Lace and Blade
Closing Date August 1, 2008

Lace and Blade is accepting submissions for its second anthology of “elegant, sensual, romantic fantasy, emphasizing sharp verbal repartee as much as sharp pointed weapons, rapier rather than broadsword.”

Editor Deborah J. Ross is interested in “characters – both men and women – with vibrant personalities, complex, dashing, and very sexy. I’m particularly interested in stories that have magic and action, but in which conflict is resolved not by violence but by insight, creativity, and compassion. I’d love to see “win-win” endings, sense-of-wonder, plot twists and turnabout.

Alternate sexuality is welcome; eroticism a definite plus; exotic, non-Western European settings also encouraged. Please read the first volume to see what I’m looking for.” The deadline for submissions is August 1, 2008. There are no minimum or maximum lengths, though Ross says longer stories must be “extraordinary.” Ross will pay a 2 cents a word advance against royalties. The book will be released Valentine’s Day, 2009.

Complete guidelines are available at http://www.norilana.com/norilana-lb-guidelines.htm

Review: The Alienist by Caleb Carr

New York City, 1896. A serial killer is on the loose, gruesomely preying upon cross-dressing boy prostitutes. Police detectives are making no progress solving the ghastly crimes. In fact, someone with power or influence seems to be bent on silencing witnesses and thwarting any investigation. Reform-minded police commissioner, and future president Theodore Roosevelt is determined to catch the killer and assembles an unconventional group of investigators headed by “alienist” Dr. Lazlo Kreizler. In the 19th century, when psychology was in its infancy, the mentally ill were considered “alienated” from themselves and society, and the experts who treated them were known as “alienists.”

Review by Erastes

A real meaty read this – about 500-600 pages in paperback and all of them worth reading, it gripped me from start to finish, and for my money it deserved its 25 weeks in the Publishers Weekly bestsellers chart.

It’s not a “gay historical” per se – none of the main characters are gay, but young male prostitutes are being killed so it does offer a fascinating insight into a culture that is not much written about.

What makes it compelling reading is the “serial profiling is in its infancy” (that and just about ALL the modern policing techniques that the team use, like fingerprinting, time of death and all the things CSI take for granted.)

It’s really gruesome, as would be expected. Carr doesn’t flinch from his descriptions, and of course anyone who watches modern crime dramas won’t find this a problem in the slightest. There’s also a lot – a LOT of chat., which I loved, but someone wanting non-stop Dan Brown action won’t appreciate that. Although there’s a lot of tearing around in landaus and barouches and hansoms, it’s not fast paced as a modern thriller and neither should it be, either.

The killer leaves very little in the way of clues; no-one’s seen him, and the boys are seemingly snatched out of locked rooms. It’s how the team piece the case together that makes this a fascinating read, and for me to applaud it as a magnificent work of fiction.

The characters are all vivid and believable. From Lazlo, the Alienist himself, John Moore the journalist, Miss Howard, the bluestocking who takes a post as secretary in the hopes of being the first woman detective, the two Jewish forensic scientists and three members of Lazlo’s household. I identified with them all and wished them well (although doubting they’d all make it through the book unscathed)

As a historical author I can only sit here with my jaw dropped in envy. The research that this book must have taken must have been staggering. It’s not just a matter of learning 19th century police techniques, but there’s obvious intelligence about the whole psychology behind serial murders and the Alienists who study them. Then there’s an indepth knowledge of the powder keg of New York socio-politics and a clear picture of a city on the edge; dragging itself from incipient corruption into a more enlightened age. Add on rich descriptions of buildings and streets that are no longer there, what’s being built, who runs which district, gangs and thugs and whore-houses…. The list is endless and I am in awe.

Very cleverly too, it teases the reader with red-herrings, which,being a red-herring phile I followed to conclusion every time. Highly enjoyable.

If you enjoy crime fiction, and are one of the four people in the world who hasn’t read this, then I recommend it heartily.

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Review: Mr Clive and Mr Page by Neil Bartlett

It is Christmas Eve, 1956, and the reclusive Mr Page is remembering a dream from thirty years ago. The dream is about the rich and wild Mr Clive, a man who could have been Page’s twin, and what really happened to the beautiful white-haired boy who served in his house. And the dream is about Clive’s house itself–ostensibly modern and spacious but in truth deeply secretive, with its invisible network of staircases, corridors and hidden rooms. Neil Bartlett bears angry witness to the oppression of gays in the past and evokes their concealed world with dark, erotic tenderness.

Review by Erastes

I’ve just closed the book and am completely blown away.

It’s probably not for everyone, because it’s written in first person; is interspersed with (relevant) articles and news clippings; is written in a realistic diary-style; has a very campy-fussy-gay-man-tone and rambles quite extensively. But for my money it’s one of the best books I’ve read.

For a start it emphasises the very real fear that gay men were feeling in late 50’s England. Compare and contrast this with Isherwood’s bohemian gay life of A Single Man and you will appreciate the difference of Californian sun to the cold austere post-war severity and class-conciousness.

You’d think that – as the Labouchère amendment had been in place for 70 years – that the gay community (such as it was) would be a little more confident but for those who didn’t already know that was not the case, this book shines a light on the constant fear of discovery.

Mr Page is a wonderful character; from his first words “I’ve got the gas on, Lovely,” you immediately picture him: fussy, beautifully turned out, and alone. The entire diary is written with a core of the fear of detection running all the way through it, and he explains, just by the way he describes his life, why he’s so repressed because of the case of that household guard, those two navy boys, that man in the university – a catalogue of less fortunate men who have been “found out.” He even says that he can’t name names because if they found any of those names in this – they’d know. It’s a terrible thing to be so very afraid, afraid to love.

In a very real way, it reminds me of Rebecca; there’s a gothic feel to Mr Clive and his huge empty expensive house, and Mr Page even mentions the book at one point, which probably helps the comparison. Mr Page meets Mr Clive (a Gatsby type figure, apparent wealth and eccentric behaviour) outside the Turkish bath where Mr Pages goes every week. Although it’s very veiled (as Mr Page doesn’t want anyone getting hold of his memoir and naming names) it’s clear that the bathhouse is a meeting place, as such places have been in history.

Mr Page wonders why Mr Clive picks him up the way he does, first thinking that it is because they look so alike, but then realises it’s probably for other reasons. It’s not a friendship, never a friendship, but it’s compelling both to Mr Page and to the reader – and whether or not Mr Page’s reasoning at the end of the book- the reasons why Mr Clive did the things he did – are accurate, then that’s up to the reader.

The core of the book is one image: of one day in history 14 March – when Mr Page saw a blond man, naked, bathed in sunshine. This image is both a dream and a reality and what starts out as one certain image – what we think we know is happening – gradually unravels as Mr Page get more maudlin (fuelled by Christmas brandy) and we finally, tragically, understand what the image of the naked, blond man is really all about. You get a real feel that it’s the true meaning of the image that Mr Page has been trying to hide, but in the end, he had to get out.

I wish I could say more, but it’s difficult to do so without spoiling, despite the length of the book, it’s a very simple premise, fabulously written and I was jealous of every line. The ending had me sobbing, but not in a bad way, believe me.

This is definitely a keeper, a re-reader, an inspiration, and one of my essential reads.

I don’t often link to other sources, but I think that this essay on the book is well worth reading (after you’ve read the book, of course)

Buy: Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: A Cold-Blooded Scoundrel by J S Cook

In London, with Jack the Ripper’s crimes still raw in the great city’s memory, a well-known male prostitute is brutally murdered, the head neatly severed, and the body set on fire. Detective Inspector Phillip Devlin of Scotland Yard, mid-thirties and secretly gay, is called to the murder scene by plainclothes constable Freddie Collins, and soon both Collins and Devlin are caught in a web of intrigue as more savage murders occur. A Cold-Blooded Scoundrel resonates with the sights, sounds, and atmosphere of 1880s London. Witty and engaging, it unfolds the story of a man who must brave not only the killer but also his own inner demons in order to end the violence that is harrowing the city.

Review by Erastes

Oh… I started this book with such brio. It started (and continued for some time) so well. A bloody murder in Victorian London, lots of gore, a bloody thumbprint and a mad-man on the loose. I was certain I was in for a great ride. Sadly I ended up rather disappointed, but the ride was – in the main – enjoyable.

Inpector Phillip Devlin appeals. He’s taciturn to the point of silence and keeps a lot bottled up. He’s got secrets, and that doesn’t only include being homosexual in an era where the Labouchere Amendment has homosexuals running scared. He’s a pioneer in his field, without being a Mary-Sue or a carbon copy Holmes clone, even though he knows a little more about forensics and handwriting and the like than your average plod.

The other main character, and what one hopes will turn out to be Devlin’s love-interest, is Collins, the earnest and not-so-bright devoted assistant. Again, he’s well drawn, and he convinces in his dedication and loyalty to Devlin but I got rather annoyed with the fact that we were constantly told how not-bright he was, he didn’t seem any less dim than the inspector.  Collins holds a large…torch for his inspector but in the days of the Blackmailer’s Charter – when no proof was needed to destroy a career – he has been quiet for a long time, until matters start to turn which drag secrets out into the daylight and both men are suddenly aware of the other in new ways.

As I said, from the promising start it boded well. Good characters, excellent murder, a thinking gay detective, burgeoning evolution of forensics, a couple of resurrection men…

That’s good, and it seemed promising when he spotted strange substances under fingernails and gunpowder up noses … but – well, it just doesn’t GO anywhere.

It just didn’t mesh. I was inspectin’ some detectin’ I suppose, seeing as how it started as such a classic detective novel but about half way through Devlin admits that all the clues he’s got lead nowhere and he’s baffled. And I was too – completely baffled!  I spent the next half of the book waiting impatiently for him to suddenly do a Poirot and say “Incroyable, I have been the imbecile! It’s all so simple!” but the eureka moment just didn’t happen and what started as Holmesian foresenic detection ended up in a sort of John Buchan style chase with everyone knowing what was going on apart from Devlin (and me). Very little is explained, very few loose ends were tied up and I was going “but.. but… what about the ambergris” after I’d shut the book in disappointment.

That being said, there’s some quite delicious writing in this, and all the characters are likeable and believable and very male in parts.  I think that I might just pick up some of Ms Cook’s other books to see what they are like, but having been raised on a diet of Poirot,Marple and Holmes – this didn’t really work for me.  I would be happier too, if the only 2 reviews on Amazon.com were not by the author herself!

Buy Amazon UK    Buy Amazon USA

 

Review: Oscar Wilde & the Candlelight Murders by Gyles Brandreth

This work is set in London, 1889. Oscar Wilde, celebrated poet, wit, playwright and raconteur is the literary sensation of his age. All Europe lies at his feet. Yet when he chances across the naked corpse of sixteen-year-old Billy Wood, posed by candlelight in a dark stifling attic room, he cannot ignore the brutal murder. With the help of fellow author Arthur Conan Doyle he sets out to solve the crime – but it is Wilde’s unparalleled access to all degrees of late Victorian life, from society drawing rooms and the bohemian demi-monde to the underclass, that will prove the decisive factor in their investigation of what turns out to be a series of brutal killings.

Review by Erastes

Knowing of Gyles Brandreth from the television and radio, I rather thought this book might be a little “sophisticated” for me. He’s a vastly intelligent man and, like Stephen Fry, he often loses me with his mind but I needn’t have worried, because The Candlelight Murders is an enjoyable – almost frothy – murder mystery of the old school and thoroughly enjoyable.

It’s obvious from the word go that Brandreth is a big fan of Oscar Wilde and he sets the scene well. The books are narrated from the Point of View of Robert Sherrad, a real life friend of Wilde’s, and right at the beginning Robert makes it clear that although he loved Oscar, he was not his lover. The narration style is worthy of Watson, bumbling a good 20 steps behind the genius of Wilde as he burns his way across the page, leaving epithets and witticisms in his wake – believably so, as Brandreth explains that he would trial his “stock phrases” on his friends and relations before using them in his published works.

Oscar is totally believable, you can almost visualise him, almost believe that Brandreth had spent time with the great man, because he’s portrayed here in all of his greatness and his ambivalence. His love for his family and his wife is clear and yet the darker side of his life is never glossed over, not completely. It is clear that Sherrad knows of his predilections and they threaten to break through at any time.

I enjoyed this particularly because I grew up with Sayers and with Christie, I love romping through a book, catching some of the same clues as the detective and feeling smug, but I also love being led down a blind alley and being throughly duped by a clever writer. This doesn’t achieve that totally, not – for example – in the same magnificence as “Ten Little Niggers” did, or “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd”, because I actually realised what was going on a couple of chapters towards the end. But it did a damned good job and once started it was impossible to put down.

The period detail is spectacularly well done, the demimonde feel of the fin-de-siecle cities, the descriptions of Oscar’s house, the dinner parties and most intriguingly the group of men who love boys is perfectly expressed. The cast of characters, ranging from the aesthetes to the grotesque as wonderfully drawn and suit the era and the darker undercurrents exactly.

Anyone who loves a good murder mystery will love this, and the homoerotic sublayers add even more flavour.

Buy: Buy Amazon UK Buy Amazon USA

Review: No Apologies by J M Snyder

Donnie Novak and Jack Sterling have known each other forever. Growing up together in a small Midwestern town, they were best friends. After high school, they both enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the same time, and somehow were assigned to the same company before being stationed on the U.S.S. Oklahoma together. One night on leave, Donnie crosses an almost imperceptible line between friendship and something more. A stolen kiss threatens to ruin what Donnie and Jack have built up together all these years, and the next morning, he can’t apologize enough. But a squadron of Japanese bombers has their sights trained on Pearl Harbor’s Battleship Row, and in the early hours of December 7, 1941, Donnie might not get a chance to set things right.

Review by Erastes

This is a short story, really – at just over 11,000 words, but thoroughly enjoyable too. It starts punchily and in a cinematic style, the two friends out with the rest of the shore leave sailors. Most of them getting drunk and getting off with the local women. Donnie isn’t, he’s too busy trying not to touch Jack and stare at Jack.  In fact the writing is quite cinematic all the way through – I really got a sense of the drunken band of friends, sticky cocktails and a warm Honalulu night.  Later we are “treated” to the terror of what happens during the raid and a very real feeling predicament for the two friends.

It could have been over-sentimental, but it wasn’t, which was right for the story being told – and sadly for our boys they didn’t get an opportunity to get each other’s kit off either, but that was right too, seeing as to what was happening!  I’m quite sure that they managed some “sack time” with each other at some point, even if I did feel a little sad to thinkwhat they were just about to get into, and hoped that they would survive to gettogether somewhere and somehow.

Well written and nicely described, from sailors in thin white cotton to the mess-deck breakfast I was thoroughly convinced and well worth$2.49 of anyone’s money.

Buy from Fictionwise 

Review: Honor Bound by Wheeler Scott

 

from the blurb: Christian has just come home to England, leaving his commission in the Army, so he can do his duty by the family now that his brother, the heir, is dead. Prodded by his crusty dowager of a grandmother, he sets out to find a wife and produce heirs. He thinks he’s done well for himself when he meets a wonderful young lady, someone he feels might help him forget Jamie, his fellow soldier and wartime love affair. Then Jamie turns up right under his nose, and Christian is faced with some hard choices as he has to decide how honor is best served. This traditional gay Regency proves that sometimes the ties that bind go beyond blood, and that even a man bound by honor might give up everything for love.

Review by Erastes

“Traditional Gay Regency” this ain’t. It couldn’t be further from one, and what is one of those, anyway? There’s only about ten or so in existence, to my knowledge.

I have to say that I came away feeling severely conflicted about this book. It seemed to want to conspire to make me dislike it and yet I finished with a feeling that I didn’t, overall. 

Firstly it’s in a very tight third person present tense, and I really don’t like the present tense for novels. It can work well in sections, and it can work brilliantly for short stories, but I find it very wearing for long pieces and there are some things that, when expressed in present tense, become clumsy and lose their impact.

Secondly it doesn’t have a depth of the time it portrays, and that’s partly due to the style of the writing (which I’ll come to later).  I found that with a little experimentation, I could switch “Peninsular war” for “Gulf War” and I wouldn’t have noticed the join much.  This is shored up by the modern feel of the writing and by the informality the characters show with each other.  The heroine “Danielle” (and I baulked right here, seeing as how she’d have been born in an age where the French were seen as murderous rabble – and would any parent give their daughter a French name?) insists that Christian calls her – wait for it - Dani. And yes, with that spelling. I was waiting for her sisters Brandi, Buffy and Britney at one point.  Now, while I’m happy to consider that Christian may have given into a strong willed girl who insisted on such informality in private (and they are in private far far too often) she would be and should be Miss Fields in public right up until the time their engagement is announced.

There are other infuriating anachronisms too, such as the time when Dani and family arrive at Christian’s mansion for a weekend and Dani’s maid has to lug “several trunks” up the same stairs that Dani is climbing with Christian. This is silly enough as 1. one trunk is heavy enough let alone several, 2. guests luggage and their servants would be round the BACK of the house, not being seen but then Dani and Christian go to assist the maid which had me beating my head on the desk.

However.

The writing borders on wonderful at points, and while it didn’t really suit the time and the subject, it was so impressive at times that I could almost forgive the errors.  It very much reads like a man suffering from PTSD, which I could very much believe he was, and that’s a neat twist on a Peninsular War soldier.

Here’s an example:

The first thing he does is look around, frantically searching, eyes tearing from the smoke that still hangs thick and heavy over what is left of the field they fought on. Nothing. He’s looking again, alarm thumping in his chest, when he realizes his shoulder hurts, a sharp stabbing pain.

His fingers come away stained damp and dark but when he presses into the wound again, harder, he feels its edges and realizes it’s nothing but a sharp gash, not even down to the bone. He starts walking, ignoring the sounds his feet make as they travel across the ground. There was a period, in the beginning, when he cared where he walked and rode, thought about what might be underneath him. He doesn’t anymore.

Death has passed from wrenching into the familiar, and he feels more of a jolt when they pass through towns where children still play, stunned by the sight of someone who feels free and safe out in the open.

The story runs with two seperate narratives, the present – where Christian goes home to try and do what his family want – and the recent past which explains his relationship with Jamie. Perhaps using two different tenses would have worked better in each seperate narrative, but they are both in present tense which is a little wearing and confusing.  It is muddied yet further by a further-back flashback which does slide into past tense.

Christian is suitably conflicted, if a little too angsty for my taste and towards the end I was a little fed up with his internal whining. The decision that he finally makes actually pleased me because although shocking to his family no doubt, was probably something that did happen, even in the best families.

It’s not an erotic love-story, for those of you who seek out this kind of thing, sex is inferred and full of imagery rather than description.

So, I would say, read it and make up your own mind.  I hadn’t heard of this author before, but I would (particularly if it was a modern story) try another of their works.  I can’t mark it higher than I have for the reasons that jarred me, but without the wonderful passages it would have got two stars.

Buy from Fictionwise

Review: Longhorns by Victor J Banis

 

Review by Erastes

From the blurb: The Double H cowboys are a tough bunch, and none of them are gay – exactly- but they have been out there on the prairie for several weeks, herding cattle, and new thoughts have begun to enter their minds. Enter Buck, a handsome young drifter with a silly grin, an unembarrassed penchant for being “rode hard,” and an instant hankering for Les

Well, howdy pardner, git yer six shooters, put on yer spurs, mount yer pinto, and meet me out on the plains because this here is classic and familiar manly territory, the land of the cowpuncher, the lassoo, the round-up and the stampede. Where men are men, a horse is a cowboy’s best friend, and  cows are nervous substitutes for da ladeez.

Um.

Except not. This is grand ole pulp and enjoyable as the rodeo ride is where the wind comes racing down the wossit – it doesn’t convince as accurate history.

Buck is a newcomer to Les’ round-up gang (yee hah) and is cheeky and sex-mad and determined to get laid by just about anyone.  He forms a fuck-buddy relationship early on, but his eyes and soon his heart is taken by the seemingly straight as an arrow Les, so he pesters Les to have his wicked way with him.

Pesters sums it up, too – as I did find him a pest, to be frank. If I’d have been Les I’d have sacked him (however good he was on a horse) or beaten him up, sharpish. He does the latter later on, and I’m afraid I actually cheered. 

It was unconvincing to me because I couldn’t get over the OKHomo. There’s this band of hard-ridin’, rootin’, tootin’ hombres in the prairie and they don’t bat an eyelid at this overtly queer cowboy who makes absolutely no secret about what he wants.  Not only are they all OK with it, but most of them are at it too. 

I don’t doubt that some did, but all of them?  Banis lost an opportunity for conflict here, as I’d much have preferred a realistic situation where at least some of them were violently antagonistic instead of taking bets on when Buck and Les get together. I hate to bring bi-sexual shepherds into this, but even in the 60’s this was a serious problem. I don’t want unremitting homophobia in my books, or angst angst angst either, but I do think that ignoring the fact that it could be dangerous to admit you were gay denigrates the genre.  Imagine what people would say if someone wrote a historical novel where everyone in, say, 18th century Alabama, married black people without even a second thought.

The anachronisms jarred me too – I know that a lot of people don’t care about this, but this is the blog relating to gay Historical fiction, and so I’m obliged to comment. Blowjob is an English Polari term not coined until the mid-20th century, boner is 20th century, Stetsons weren’t called that officially until the turn of the century, and so on and on.

However – putting all that aside, and if you treat this parallel to , say, an early John Ford movie – it’s as enjoyable as Stagecoach, and about as accurate. It’s a fun raunchy ride, but it didn’t do anything much for me, I’m afraid.  I’m more an “Unforgiven” kind of reader, and less “Young Guns.”

Buy:  ADL online    Amazon USA

Review: Cinnamon Gardens by Shyam Selvadurai

From the blurb: …Cinnamon Gardens is a residential enclave of wealthy Ceylonese. Among them is Annalukshmi, an independent and high-spirited young teacher intent on thwarting her parents’ plans to arrange her marriage. In a parallel narrative, her uncle, Balendran Navaratnam, respectably married but secretly homosexual, has his life disrupted by the arrival in Ceylon of Richard, a lover from long ago.

Review by Erastes

I found this a fascinating read, partly because I had only just finished Burmese Days” by George Orwell and the parallels are easy to see, even though it was obvious that they come from completely different directions. Both books deal with the English Raj – one in Burma, one in Ceylon – but one is written from the point of view of the priviledged and ruling whites, whilst Cinnamon Gardens is written from the point of the view of the privileged native population of Ceylon.

I knew next to nothing about Ceylon (this is set in the late 1920’s) and the insight that Selvadurai gives is like looking through a plate glass window into a world that none of us will ever know – like Mitchell’s land of knights and ladies, this is a another culture that is gone with the wind. However, although the blurb went on to say that it was a world where no-one can breathe freely, I didn’t really get an overwhelming sense of that, I was never really convinced that any of the characters (save for Belandran whose “face” is tremendous against the weight of love, responsibility, duty and family) were crushed and overwhelmed by position, caste or race. Not even the orthodox wives.

It seems from what I learned along the journey that the wealthy Ceylon of this time (for you don’t see the poverty in this book, the POV is purely from two rich people) were more racially integrated than I had seen in books dealing with other Asian countries; they intermarried with whites, and set themselves up as English, becoming Christian in many cases and changing their names to English names. In some instances the characters are related – and are seemingly accepted by- English aristocracy. Belandran’s wife visits a titled relative in England at one point.

After having read Burmese Days where the middle class whites consider the Burmans to be nothing but “niggers” this came as a surprise. I don’t doubt the author’s research – the afterword stated that he’d spent a year in Sri Lanka researching the book, and he was a native of the country, only leaving when he was 19. It was just a little surprising, that’s all.

What struck me was the complete LACK of the perception of colour and the barriers that it must, surely have made, in the book itself. Annalukshimi is a a school mistress under a headmistress called Miss Lawton, but you can’t assume that Miss Lawton is white – you only find that out later on, when Annalukshimi realises that her ambition to teach will be limited to the colour of her skin, no matter that Miss Lawton is helping to raise the education of girls in the Country. There’s Miss Lawton’s ward – Nancy – who I assume was white but turned out not to be. Because of the English names of a lot of the Ceylonese, it continued to be difficult to tell who was white and who was not. I was simply surprised that it did not seem to matter as much as it did in Burmese Days and other colonial books such as Passage to India and Jewel in the Crown

I was determined not to like Balendran because he had left behind his lover in England and “done the right thing”, followed his father’s dictates and had come back to Ceylon and married. But somehow he softened my resistance, and I couldn’t help, by the time the inevitable bitter sweet ending rolled around, to love him deeply for he had managed to make some kind of peace with himself in spite of all the obstacles he faced. His relationship with Richard was infinitely touching and there’s a moment in the hearing scene where I completely melted.

However, there was a niggling feeling that the characters held a little too much modern sensibility. One of the messages in the book (if I’m reading it right) was to show how Ceylon was taking its first steps to self rule and how the generational shift and education of its young people was helping that along, but it was slightly blurred for me that the young people did as they liked anyway and no-one seemed to care all that much.

The writing is fine – not (in my opinion, obviously) a masterpiece, but deftly done. There was, at times, a little TOO much description of saris and furniture and rooms and I had a Dan Brown flashback and felt that the author was so very intent on painting this world for the reader that he went a little too far.

The politics behind the whole regime change is interesting and detailed, although, again, there were a few times where I felt the the author was info dumping and it was refreshing when several of the characters were showing no interest in the politics, which felt very real to me. One of them even criticises Ghandi!

However, that being said – I do recommend it. It’s absorbing and I don’t think you’ll be able to put it down once started. The characters stayed with me, and more than anything I’d like to sit down with the author and talk to him about it, and I haven’t wanted to do that for a while. Perhaps it’s a bit too short, or perhaps it’s the niggling modernism of the characters but I came away having enjoyed being in Cinnamon Gardens but ultimately a little unsatisfied.

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Review: Lieutenant Samuel Blackwood (deceased) by Emma Collingwood

Review by Erastes

HMS Privet has the reputation of being a cursed ship: every first lieutenant serving aboard her dies gruesomely. Lieutenant Daniel Leigh is determined to solve the mystery and volunteers for the place himself, putting his life in desperate danger. Little does he suspect that he will fall in love with the captain, John Meadows, and end up fighting not only for his own life, but for the soul of his lover, too.

Lieutenant Samuel Blackwood (deceased) – a Georgian ghost story featuring a cursed ship, a vengeful ghost, a haunted captain and a very daring lieutenant.

This is a really clever little book, and I wish I could have promoted this sooner as it would have made a great stocking filler for Christmas. It’s a tiny thing, no more than a short story at 76 pages, but it’s the sort of thing I’d, for one, like to see more of. It emulates the “Penny Dreadfuls” of a previous age, and the cover is amusingly designed. It even looks like it’s old, with the wrinkles built in.

The story is interesting and flows well, with an exciting finale that I particularly enjoyed. What I was left feeling, however, is that Ms Collingwood had the makings of a full-length novel in these pages and it would have been excellent to have had a much bigger read. I hope that she is intending to write more in this era because this whet my appetite for more please.

I wish, however, that this style had continued into the design of the book itself. I would have liked to have seen a more antiquated font, such as this type used on the author’s shop-site and a more standardised layout. This book is justified on both sides with a gap between each paragraph and that grated on me – it seemed too modern – not even in line with the ways that modern books are laid out. Perhaps it would have been too expensive to typeset in this manner.

That being said, it is well worth any afficianado of gay historical fiction – particularly those of you who love the Age of Sail – getting this as it’s a good story with an interesting, brave (some might say foolish!) protagonist. The illustrations (got to love men in naval uniforms!) are worth the price of the book, just on their own.

Buy from Amazon Germany     Direct from the Author

Merry Christmas Everyone

And a very happy New Year!

THANK YOU for supporting this new Blog and making it sucessful. Since its inception, it’s had nearly 13,000 visitors which is great.  People are referring to The List and reading the articles and reviews.  It’s also, in its small way, making a difference, and I’m proud of that.

I hope that 2008 continues the trend for an interest in Gay Historical Fiction, that more people write it, that more people read it, that publishers realise that people want it and that reviewers and magazines wake up that gay people can have romance too – and not just in the 20th century, either.

Roll on 2008!

Review: Captain’s Surrender by Alex Beecroft

Review by Erastes

From the blurb: “Ambitious and handsome, Joshua Andrews had always valued his life too much to take unnecessary risks. Then he laid eyes on the elegant picture of perfection that is Peter Kenyon.

Soon to be promoted to captain, Peter Kenyon is the darling of the Bermuda garrison. With a string of successes behind him and a suitable bride lined up to share his future, Peter seems completely out of reach to Joshua.

But when the two men are thrown together to serve during a long voyage under a sadistic commander with a mutinous crew, they discover unexpected friendship. As the tension on board their vessel heats up, the closeness they feel for one another intensifies and both officers find themselves unable to rein in their passion.

Let yourself be transported back to a time when love between two men in the British Navy was punishable by death, and to a story about love, about honor, but most of all, about a Captain’s Surrender.”

Now this is what I’m talking about. If you want a taste of what floats my boat when it comes to gay historical fiction, (no pun intended), then this is it.

I’m not mad on the cover, but that won’t be a surprise to any regular reader of this blog. It doesn’t sum up any part of the book (so readers – don’t expect nakedness on a beach somewhere), doesn’t look like the characters and doesn’t explain it’s a historical. I would find a detail of a naval captain (oo all those lovely brass buttons) to be much more sexy and more in keeping with the era – so if I hadn’t read the blurb I wouldn’t buy this.

But don’t let that stop you, for God’s sake.

There are so many reasons why I liked this book. The writing is formal enough to give more than a flavour of the era, but not so formal that you are tied up in huge run on sentences. If, like me, you are not an expert in the Age of Sail, it matters not. With Beecroft you feel that you are in a “safe pair of hands” right from the word go. In every scene there is enough detail to paint the pictures needed, and she paints them richly, but not so fussily that you roll your eyes and shout “enough about ropes and knots already, just cast off!” The blurb says “let yourself be transported to a time…” and that’s just what Beecroft does.

But be warned, this is accurate. Shipboard life was no picnic. Although in the main, English sailors were well looked after on good ships, even in good ships the discipline was unforgiving. The Captain of Peter and Josh’s ship is a tyrant of the first water and the punishments he metes out are over the top but historically correct and are described in some detail. At times it’s hard to read but I found it fascinating and illuminating to see such barbarism in a so-called age of enlightenment.

But what I liked most is that this is a story; granted yes, there is a romance at the heart of it, a coming of age romance if you like – implicit by the title; but the romance is not the mainstay of it all – there’s a lot going on and the threads work well together. There’s enough yearning and forbidden love to keep a m/m lover happy, but please note – this isn’t an erotic romance and if you are looking for more sex than plot you won’t find it here. The sex is present, not it’s not often, not graphic but it’s beautifully written. The second kiss for example is one of the best kisses I think I have ever read in an m/m book so far.

The author does some clever things with characterisation – she uses the minor characters to observe what’s going on and I really appreciated this. There’s one scene when a character is watching the goings on on deck and it’s truly nerve-wracking – I was right there with the watcher and was (almost) as worried as he was. I had (as had the character) been given the choices of what might happen but there was no way to know which way it could go. It’s a scene that wouldn’t have worked so well from either of the main protagonists point of view because they would have been thinking completely different things from the layman watching on. It’s hard to believe that, with this level of skill, that this is Beecroft’s first book.

Peter and Joshua are such excellently drawn young men, as different as can be – Joshua has experience and knows what he is, and although comfortable with that, he’s petrified of the very real danger that puts him in. The Navy at this time were generally less forgiving than the land-based justice system, and men could be hanged on the say-so of sodomy, rather than requiring any evidence.

Peter, however, has only had experience of women and his reasons for succumbing so readily to Joshua’s advances begin with friendship and then work rationally and logically to a passionate conclusion. Peter reminded me a little of Carrot in Discworld; “Personal is not the same as important” says Carrot and it could well be Peter’s motto. Without spoiling you for the plot, all I can say is that there’s a section just toward the end where the Peter is working all this out in his head and the decisions that he nearly makes made me hate him. I hated him merely for being able to consider the things he was considering, but it’s a necessary right of passage for him as he moves towards the reason for the book’s title.

If I have one quibble it’s that the middle section seemed rushed, and I had the distinct feeling that perhaps the book had been edited for length, and if so, that’s a shame. Again, without spoiling you for a very vital plot point, all I can say if that there is a lot dealt with in one chapter that, for my money, should have been given more time to mature and develop from all sides. I felt a little cheated after the wonderfully rich build up for the first half of the journey.

But, altogether a very good book, a definite keeper and one I shall read and re-read. It’s absorbing, well written and exciting. The only thing that stops it hitting five stars is the slightly rushed middle section. Any lover of historical fiction should love it, whether an afficianado of homosexual romance or not, and I look forward to Alex Beecroft’s next book with anticipation.

Buy Direct from the publisher

 

Review: Hot Valley by James Lear

It’s New England, 1861, and the troubles in the southern states seem a long way off for Jack Edgerton, the spoiled son of a prominent Vermont family. Howver, when he meets and falls in love with Aaron Johnson, the sexy son of a slave on the run from Virginia, Edgerton’s world is turned upside down. Separated by circumstances, the lovers pursue each other through the escalating madness of the Civil War and both find themselves forced to choose sides.

Review by Erastes

I was utterly enamoured and in love with Mr Lear’s last novel “The Back Passage” that I was over excited that another book was coming out. I pre-ordered.

Sadly, though, I was rather disappointed, because where TBP was witty and unique (whilst incorporating a series of fuck scenes to solve a mystery) this was nothing but a series of fuck scenes.

Whilst it won’t dissapoint readers who like a hot scene to excite them on every other page, that’s where the book failed for me.

In The Back Passage, the hero goes from sexual encounter to sexual encounter in his quest to find out clues for a murder in an Agatha Christie style romp and although the sex is possibly gratuitous its cleverly done and never feels like it. There’s also much wit and humour.

But Hot Valley – set in the American Civil war–felt to me that sex scene after sex scene after sex scene (…) were linked tenuously by the hero’s travels. It felt like the background of the war is added as an afterthought. It also feels hugely anachronistic as surely to Betsy 1860 America wasn’t so accepting of gay sex.

Every single man that Jack meets, from his co-workers, his father’s employers, drinking companions, fellow soldiers – everyone! Wants to (and does) have sex with him in many various ways. As much as I enjoy (heaven knows!) an erotic book, there is a case for Too Much – and I found myself hoping that the next man that Jack met simply wanted to have a chat. Or a cuppa tea. Or anything! I found myself skipping the sex to find the next piece of plot, which, as I’ve said before, always makes me feel that the reader is cheated.

I’m sorry, James, that I didn’t like it. I wanted to, but I was hoping for a good gay historical romp but didn’t find it in Hot Valley.

Buy at Amazon UK :   Amazon USA

Review: A Different Sin by Rochelle Hollander Schwab

 

Review by Erastes

Wow. What a read!  I had few expectations of this book – I’d seen it around here and there, in this limited genre the same books are bound to crop up from time to time – but the cover always put me off.  However, eventually I ordered a copy and it arrived  (and it’s a signed copy no less!) 

It starts simply and familiarly enough; our main protagonist, David, is the son of a plantation (and slave) owner.  He chafes against living at home and the hum-drum existence and wants more. But the twists start almost immediately and there’s a hell of a lot packed into this not very long book.

It would be almost impossible to write a book about this war without mentioning race and RHS meets this head on. David’s father has a shameful “secret” – which is no longer a secret – he fathered a child, Mike, from one of his slaves and has helped him escape from Virginia to Boston to become a doctor.  David lives under the impression that, as an artist and someone who has no interest in taking over the plantation, that Mike is the son that his father would have really wanted, especially now as he’s acknowledged him publicly.

David is offered a job on a New York paper and becomes friendly with Zach who he quickly becomes friends with and soon realises that his feelings are a little more than platonic.

The nice difference here is that the men aren’t the usual hairless 20 year old Adonises, (Adoni?). These are bearded men of their era in their late 30’s and early 40’s. Zach in particular is rather beary-hairy and the way that David fixates on his solid mature body is no less sexy than the endless stories of six packs and ridged hips.

The love story itself is familiar though, Zach is an experienced homosexual who knows what he is and he’s finding a way to communicate his preferences to others, finding others with his tastes in the big city. David has been unsatisfied with sex with women and doesn’t know there’s something missing. The difference between them is that when David does fall in love and into bed with Zach he can’t accept himself for what he is and he fights his “perversion” almost every step of the way. (This jarred me a little because I knew that the word pervert/perversion applied in this sense was anachronistic in itself and wish that (as Schwab has so much right) that she had found another word to use – because David uses it a LOT.)

He’s a very angsty man, and sometimes he was so repetitive in his angsting that I wanted to smack him.

He tries to break with Zach time and again, (despite knowing now that he loves him) as the country falls into conflict and then into war and then finally he can bear his own perversion no longer and volunteers to go to the front for the paper, despite having had it proved to him that he’s no hero.  He joins Grant and some very bloody history is recounted at this point, seen, on the fringes by David, and his new friend, Al.

I’ve seen this book accused of having “too much history” which has to make me smile – it’s rather difficult to avoid the history in the middle of Grant’s Wilderness Campaign!  However I know that military campaigns aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and despite having a penchant for Sharpe they aren’t usually mine, but here I really I enjoyed reading about an era that I only know from Gone With The Wind.  I didn’t know anything about the draft riots for example – and some of the violence, truthfully written, is quite hard to read.

People’s wildly varying attitudes to the black population are interesting, difficult to cope with, and inspiring in turns, and I admire that the author didn’t shy away from all this, as she could have done, she could have smothered a difficult and bloody time for all involved with a gay love affair in a wallpaper historical.  But she doesn’t, for my money – there’s politics, and the man on the street, and the soldier’s opinions about many different things.  I would have been happy if this book had been twice the length, to be honest – I find it hard to work out how she managed to cram so much in.

Yes, this is about love, but it’s also a message (that Zach mentions) that there are “different sins” and perhaps two men loving each other in private can’t compare with what America was doing to itself. It’s still easier for some Americans to see a man with a gun in his hand than another man’s hand, actually, isn’t it?

I also particularly liked the New York social scenes; they are entirely masculine – the only mention of women being when one of the group goes to a brothel.  The newspaper men meet up in journalists’ bars, men frequent gymnasiums and you get a real feel of hard bitten journalists working round the clock. Walt Whitman makes an appearance (at one point rather disturbingly kissing a young armless soldier) and there are hints of men meeting up in groups for possibly orgies, but as David turns the offer down, we never know. It is clear however, (Zach gives us broad hints of this) that there is a large and close homosexual fraternity in New York.

Anyway – all in all very enjoyable. However, I have to say- it has possibly one of the worst covers ever. I AM going to continue to critique the covers of these books because I think that it’s important. However, as one of the protagonists is a war artist in the American Civil War, I can’t help but wonder if this was deliberate and that the painting is supposed to reflect that.  However I hope that David’s art was a little better.  If I saw it on a shelf, there’s no way in God’s green earth I would turn it over to see what the blurb said.

And then I’d have missed an excellent book, which would be a criminal shame.  Historically weighty, yes, (for the size of it) but the theme of this blog is Gay Historical Fiction, and this book certainly is one of the examples I shall point to when I say “This is gay historical fiction.”

Buy: Amazon UK   Amazon USA

Review: While England Sleeps by David Leavitt

Review by Erastes

From the blurb:

At a meeting of republican sympathisers in London, Brian Botsford, a young middle-class writer and Cambridge graduate, meets Edward Phelan, an idealistic, self-educated London Underground worker. They share a mutual attraction. Across the divisions of class they begin an affair in secrecy.

But Edward posesses “an unproblematic capacity to accept” Brian and the love that dare not speak its name, whereas Brian is more cautious and under family pressure agrees to be set up with a suitable young woman. Pushed to the point of crisis Edward threatens to volunteer to fight Franco in Spain.

There are (to my perception, at least) a few inaccuracies in the blurb, but I won’t quibble over them. This is an excellent book which I devoured in two sittings.

It has a readability that draws the eye, and the narrator’s voice is completely convincing. It’s written in first person, there is a faux prologue “written” in 1978 where Brian explains that he’s now living in America and considers himself to be an American and an epilogue which looks back at 1938 from that fifty year gap. Both of these devices go far to convince that the book was written by Brian and not by David Leavitt.

Like “As Meat Loves Salt” (although not to the same extent) Brian is not a likeable or attractive character. A product of his class, he coasts through life, unlike Edward who takes what he wants with more enthusiasm, facing what he is face on. Brian still thinks that being homosexual is just something one did at school and that he would get over it, although it’s obvious he’s deluding himself. He’s a playwright, and he plays at it, having no drive to support himself; he sponges off his Aunt Constance (or “Inconstance” as he cruelly calls her, as she doesn’t pay him regularly enough for him to depend on her support. He mumps off his friends and generally won’t commit to one thing or another, which leads to the crisis event in the book – one which he will regret, and will haunt him for the rest of his life.

I found it to be tremendously absorbing, like the best of historicals, it immersed me in the era without info dumping. As I’ve said before, if a book reads like it was written in the time, rather than about the time, it earns big kudos from me. The class divide might be hard for non-Brits to grasp – but pre-war it was still more relevant than people would suppose. I felt ashamed of Brian’s inability to admit his affair to his own friends, but then found it perfectly acceptable to talk to Edward’s sister about it. I wanted to smack him with the clue-by-four several times in the book – but that’s ok – that meant that the author was doing his job.

It also brings the situation in Europe at that time into sharp relief, there’s a lovely sub-plot with a friend of Brian’s who is attempting to get a friend out of Europe which breaks your heart, and you, as the reader, knowing what is going to happen in a few short years, hold your breath and weep at the hopeless cause and loss of life that is the Spanish Civil War.

If you prefer to like your protagonists, then this book might not be for you, but if you want a meaty and rich story that takes you so viscerally into the period that you can smell the steam engines and feel the bubble of the champagne of the Fast Set, then you’ll enjoy this as much as I did. A definite keeper.

Buy at Amazon US: Amazon UK

Review: Earthly Joys by Philippa Gregory

Seventeenth-century England is the setting for this engaging historical novel based on the life of John Tradescant, a gardener of common birth who transforms plain plots of land into slices of heaven on earth. As vassal to the secretary of state, Sir Robert Cecil, Tradescant—who, as fate would have it, had no sense of smell—places his master’s garden above all else, much to the chagrin of his wife, Elizabeth, and young son, J. Tradescant’s affinity for botanicals is matched by his thirst for adventure; in the service of his lord, he travels to distant lands to defend his country’s honor (and collect cuttings of rare and exotic plants). When Tradescant is summoned by King James I’s closest confidante, the dark-haired and devious Duke of Buckingham, he is immediately taken by the nobleman’s beauty. Devotion soon turns to erotic obsession, and Tradescant must face the consequences of loving a fickle, heartless man.

Review by Erastes

I wouldn’t say “if you aren’t into gardening, don’t get this,” but you WILL appreciate it a lot more if you have an inkling of gardening and plants. It’s the story of a very famous – and one of the first “celebrity” gardeners, John Tradescant who was a gardener to many famous people during the reign of three monarchs, Elizabeth I, James I and Charles I.

She paints a very believable picture of John, his family and his life. John is a man who must belong to a master, that’s how his life has always been and that’s how he thinks his life must always be. He starts the book in the employ of Robert Cecil, building the gardens of Hatfield House and he is very close – a confidante and friend – to the great man. After he dies, John moves around from master to master until he is ordered to the new and fabulous estate of George Villiers – first Duke of Buckingham, the most powerful man in the land and favourite of the then King, James I. It is in Villiers’ service that he discovers a lot about the meaning of loyalty and a lot more about himself.

This is a “Romance” in both senses of the word, the author does a wonderful job telling a fair portion of Tradescant the Older’s story, although missing out some portions of it, to my disappointment and amusingly missing out that he actually looked like a pregnant goat, if the portraits of the day were to believed. It was easier NOT to look at what he looked like, because then it was easier to believe that the beautiful George Villiers would want to bed him.

I enjoyed it a lot, however, more – it has to be said – for the fascinating insight into the introduction of plants into England (he brought the first six horse chestnut “conkers” back to England for example, and lost money in Tulipmania) – rather than for the homosexual story. However, the litery license that Gregory takes by assuming an affair with Villiers works perfectly within the character that she has drawn and it’s a vital thread in the book.

Gregory writes convincingly and in a very approachable style although strangely I didn’t get addicted to this book in ways that I have with others. I had no desperation to find out what happened, even when I was in the early parts of the book. In fact it took me well over a month to read, while I read many other books in the interim.

Buy Amazon UK: Amazon USA

Review: Wicked Game by Jade Falconer

Niels got more than he bargained for when he broke into a certain townhouse in the fashionable section of London. The arrogant and dictatorial lord who caught him red-handed was more than willing to take advantage of the situation. Temporarily forced into a unique form of servitude, Niels learns more than he ever expected to about the decadent ruling class that he wants so badly to emulate. Masquerading as a foreign nobleman is easy for the charming Fin (sic) who grew to manhood on the streets of London, abandoned by the only family he had. But will his experience at manipulating people and winning their confidence help him with Richard? Or get him into even more trouble?

Elements: M/M, BDSM, Historical Regency Excerpt

Review by Erastes

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad book – but I did find it difficult to read, difficult to stay with and difficult to finish. For a start off, it’s NOT a Regency. In fact I don’t blame the publisher for thinking it is, because – like so many historicals – it’s a wallpaper historical and pretty hard to work out which era this IS in. I was more than half way through the book before I spotted a mention of trains and of Victoria Station which jolted me considerably – suddenly I had to jump forward to the Victorian era and re-set the story in 1862 onwards.

But really, that’s the only clue of the era – the historical background is almost invisible (unsurprising as most of it is set between the sheets) and you could remove the candles and carriages and you would have a modern romance with about four minutes editing.

From the first page I could tell this was going to be one of those books where the sex outweighs the plot and I wasn’t wrong, and apart from the last couple of chapters you could summarise this as “sex” and “shopping.” There’s sex near enough from the first page which continues almost non stop for about 40 or so pages as the reluctant thief is seduced and shown a good time by the randy lord. It starts in a promising fashion – the lord is suitably remote and brooding, due to a bitch of a mother – and the set up was a fun way to get Niels into Richard’s bed but I was expecting a bit more than “Niels gets jiggy with it pretty quickly.”

Don’t get me wrong. I like erotica – I do! It’s just that if I pay for a decent sized book (66,000 words) – and you can call me Ms Picky if you like – I actually like some plot with it. I feel a bit cheated if I find myself skipping entire chapters because the MC’s are “at it again.” It’s like buying a ham and lettuce sandwich and finding that there’s 10 leaves of lettuce and one wafer thin slice of ham.

I quite liked the characters despite all that. Richard was, as said before, nicely brooding and Niels, albeit pretty and virgin to men, is not your typical girlie submissive. I got the feeling that they’d be switching roles at some point. They act like men too in as much as they are totally incapable of saying what needs to be said at the right time, like “don’t go.” The two minor characters are nicely done, too, but this is one of the reasons that I can’t mark the book higher, because at 66,000 words, I’d expect more than four characters – it’s the marathon sex sessions that elbow any possibility of more plot/more characters out of the way, and that’s a pity.

No – or very little -OKHomo, which was a refreshing change – the characters are aware of the illegality of their liaison and the unlikelihood of their being able to just “set up house” together without major problems. But despite that, the anachronisms are legion, a duel in the late 19th century, when the last one was at least 10 years previous – characters saying “piss off”(1950’s) and “that’s brilliant!” and “sexy” (1925) just to mention a few. Oh and “gotten” but that almost goes without saying.

There are other technical problems, subject confusion abounds – and this is caused by switches in POV that make it very hard to understand who is thinking, who is talking. Reviews of Standish pointed this “sin” out to me, and now – as I attempt to keep faithful in POV for longer sections – I’m very glad they did. Phaze should have edited these switches out, especially when it led to me going “who’s talking? what’s he talking about?”

Falconer appears to be a collaboration of writers, as s/he speaks on her LiveJournal in the royal we. I think they aren’t bad writers, but they need to tighten up in a good few aspects, and then they’d have a book I’d really enjoy to read.

Buy from Phaze

Review: A Summer Place by Ariel Tachna

 

Review by Erastes 

From the publishers website:

Overseer Nicolas Wells had been coming to Mount Desert Island for ten summers to help build cottages for the rich and powerful.  Despite his secrets, he had grown comfortable in the peaceful little island town, getting to know its inhabitants and even to consider some of them friends.  The eleventh year, however, he arrived to startling news:  the island’s peace had been shattered by a murder.  At the request of the sheriff, Shawn Parnell, Nicolas agreed to hire Philip Hall, the local blacksmith and the probable next victim, in the hope that the secure construction site would be safer than his house in the village.  He never expected the decision to lead to danger. Or to love 

I slid into this book very happily because the writing is very nice.  Descriptive and sensual (as in of the senses).

There’s an excerpt here

There’s a sense of tension in the first chapter, with fog and a dangerous journey along the coast avoiding rocks, and I had great hopes.  I particularly liked the cover, too – absolutely no reason in the world why a m/m historical should have anything on it to indicate what it is.  I would, as a bit of advice to the publisher and author however, have made the m/m element a little clearer (or indeed clear!) in the blurb, it’s so veiled as to be almost invisible. 

On a personal level too, I would have liked a map – this story, set on an unfamiliar (to me) island in the Atlantic – seems to call out for a map.  (I like maps…)

Anyway – onward.  Overseer Wells arrives on  Island, and takes on the task of protecting known sodomite Philip from a man who has murdered his lover and seems likely to be targetting Philip (and maybe others) as punishment for his and their homosexuality.  (As an aside, “homosexuality” as a word, didn’t exist in 1880…) And it was here that we ran into the the almost inevitable OKHomo, I’m afraid, most notably because it is actually the town’s sherrif who asks Wells to take Philip into his work-gang because: “he’s done nothing to warrant being locked up”

I’m not an expert in American law, but I’m fairly sure that sodomy would have been illegal in Maine 1880? But the sherrif ignores the law, and the inhabitants of the island (mostly) seem fine and dandy with it, even the rough and tough tradesmen on the building site are with one small exception. Hell, I don’t think Maine is that accepting even today!

That aside, it’s obviously well researched and well written, but I found the opening third quite dull. What bored me was the constant ogling the characters did for chapters on end.  I would have actually been just as interested in reading about the building work, as well as the growing attraction between them but instead the main characters stare and ogle and lust after each other in a very angsty way “he’s beautiful, I mustn’t, he might not… I want…” for quite a long time, and it gets very repetitive.  There are also repetitive sections in the dialogue too, which should have been edited out – Philip asks Wells if he’s married and how long he’s been the boss of the crewmen and he says no, and ten years – a couple of pages later, Philip asks the same questions to someone else.

However, it does perk up, and what Tachna cleverly does is to set up a kind of Agatha Christie style murder mystery – insular and remote location with a limited cast list – but in order for this to work more effectively she needs suspects and there doesn’t appear to be anyone who isn’t OK with the homo, apart from one very obvious suspect (I’m not spoiling anyone here, it’s pointed out very clearly by the sherrif)

There are inconsistencies in the facts of the cases too, – I won’t go into details but they are little niggles which stand out, especially if one is enjoying the crime elements and trying to solve it.

But I’m being picky, and I’m being picky because this is a nicely written book, one of the better Romances I’ve read that has been written contemporarily and the author clearly has a lot of talent, and I enjoyed reading it despite its flaws. The sex scenes aren’t overdone, and are genuinely erotic rather than porny, although the story as a whole outstayed its welcome after the mystery was solved and could have been wrapped up earlier, dealing with the conflict that happens in the last 3 chapters more within the main body of the story, rather than after the denouement.

If you liked Ruth Sims’ “The Phoenix” you’ll like this too,  and I highly recommend it.  I certainly will look forward to what Ms Tachna and Dreamspinner continue to create.

Buy from the Publisher

Search Terms

Just briefly and to restore humour…

 These are the top search terms used to find this community.

“A Hidden Passion”

historical gay

as meat loves salt

HOMOSEXUALITY IN Jane Eyre

e.f. benson david blaize

boy man love

historical spanking stories

Jamie Fraser and Lord John

Ok. So where is the homosexuality in Jane Eyre please? I thought I could find teh slash in anything, but that’s got me stumped.

and Mr Spanking searcher?  There are some reviews to suit you, I hope you found them. Naughty boy!

Review: Indiscretions by Elayne S Venton

Indiscretions

Review by Erastes

From the blurb: In the Regency underworld, two covert Bow Street Runners discover mutual passion. Viscount Trent, renowned ladies’ man, has admired William Hall as furtively as Mr. Hall has lusted after the viscount. Only the affection for his mistress, Miss Anna Shaw, held Trent back from acting on his attraction, but William’s allure proves too strong. A determined woman, Anna is unwilling to give up her lover to—gasp—another man.

What’s a man to do when forced to choose? Keep them both of course, if he can make it work within the harsh strictures of London society. Jealousy and mistrust run rampant as his lovers vie for Trent’s interest in and out of the bedroom, the billiard room, the stable, the parlor…

When the current investigation threatens Trent’s life, will his lovers’ animosity work against them, or will they join in more ways than one?

I am on the fence with this book, I have to say. There were times I enjoyed it and times that I wanted to throw it on the fire.

That being said, let me say that it was quite an enjoyable read, eclipsing a few of the other “gay regencies” I’ve read quite adequately and could have been really good except for said annoyancies.

But let’s get organised.

The Cover. Ick. The cover was “corporate” Ellora’s Cave but in no way represented the subject matter whether it was male love OR a Regency Romance. The man with the towel (I’m fairly sure modern-type towelling-type towels weren’t around till after the Great Exhibition but I could be wrong – I do enough bleeding research without typing “history of towels” into Google!) seems to be looking in horror at where his bits used to be and the woman in the Victoria Secret black lace teddy seems to be as horrified. The one concession to an historical novel is the carved dowel on the bed. As a m/m reader it would not encourage me to buy it. As a historical reader: ditto. The blurb was pretty decent, but I found the “gasp” irritating and amateurish, it’s also not accurate as Anna was all for it, sensible girl.

Historical Feel

Good. Regular readers will know how I hate to flounder around in some vague time-miasma with an historical, so I was pleased to see “London, 1802″ as a starting date for this book. Good. An interesting period, rather too interesting for gay men – but with a lot of stuff going on at home and abroad.

The writer had obviously done their research. Several times I thought I’d seen an anachronism but on checking the facts (Thames River Police, founded in 1798 – Smugglers Proliferating because of the war, the word ogle which came into use a good century before this book) I was happy to be proved wrong and to find that the author had done the work. The period detail is there, deft little mentions of ladder-back chairs, uncomfortable coaches, and the like – enough to keep a feel of the period without info dumping or preaching.

The characters though, let this period feel down, big-time. They – like so many other characters in historical novels – are more akin to modern men in speech patterns particularly. In an age where it was almost a scandal to say “Damne” in public, I simply can’t see upper-class men saying “Jesus” “shit” and “fuck” – even to each other. Hell, I could be completely wrong – but we don’t know, and I consider it to be unlikely. I wish writers would attempt to keep to the language of the day – I for one would find it a lot sexier. I think female writers do this to show how “manly” their men are, but it doesn’t work for me.

There were also modern phrases: “Lord , save him from jumping Trent right now!” and “….wanted the complete package” and “ He didn’t want to share. Period.” (anachronistic AND American!) were but a few that leaped off of the page and made me squirm.

Also, centimetres weren’t used in England (we are still fighting them off even today), and “cum” wasn’t used at all until the 20th century, although “come” was. Silly errors which jar a reader and can easily be avoided.

But again, we come back at last to the almost total refusal to acknowledge that the 19th century was the most dangerous time statistically – to be a homosexual man. These men kiss in the street and the Bow Street Runners send them into a den of homosexuals to find smugglers, which seems odd that they would ignore one crime over another. The mistress doesn’t care, the servants are all deaf and blind, apparently. This does improve later in the book – and they start to acknowledge the danger, but it feels pasted on.

As for the plot, it’s decent enough – meaning there actually is some in between the long (and admittedly hot at times) sexual scenes.

But gah – did I get bored with all the cock throbbing… These men seem to have erections the entire time, and seem unable even to talk to each other or think of each other without thoughts of poking the other one up the “ass”. Even playing billiards by himself causes William to have “cock twitching” I am minded of Xander in Buffy “Hey, I’m 17. Looking at linoleum makes me wanna have sex.”

I didn’t like Trent, the Viscount, too much. He was a bit of a selfish git (leaving Anna, his mistress, unsatisfied at one point) although he behaved better with William, his male lover, but I never really warmed to him. He really did want it all his own way. I liked William a lot better, as he was wonderfully jealous and even attempted to let Anna hoist herself with her own petard when she started behaving irrationally. But I liked Anna the best (people faint as Erastes cheers for the woman) as she made the best of a bad situation, without being written as the bitch or the woman in the way.

I couldn’t warm to the names much either, Faith, Brandon, Trent – it was all a bit Buffy-ville, but then that’s just me and my antithesis to “romance” names. I know that some people like them.

But all in all, it gets a moderate thumbs up. The research is sound, but the period feel slips here and there. Ellora’s Cave published this one, and I am guessing that they don’t yet have a specialist editor for historicals with a good Brit-picking head. I’d read another by Ms Venton, as she writes well.

If you liked M J Pearson’s stories, you’ll like this book as much, if not more.

Buy: Ellora’s Cave

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