Leslie Nicoll’s Book Swap

Poisoned Ivy by Scot D. Ryersson
The Arsenic Flower by Scot D. Ryersson
Hidden Conflict by Alex Beecroft, Mark Probst, Jordan Taylor, and E.N. Holland
The Painting by F.K. Wallace
Kindred Hearts by Rowan Speedwell

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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.

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

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

The Stories:

Tributary by Erastes

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

The White Empire by Chris Smith

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

Sand by Charlie Cochrane

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

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

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

The Ninth Language by Jordan Taylor

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

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purchase from the publisher

Review: The Gentleman and the Rogue by Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon

When war veteran Sir Alan Watleigh goes searching for sex, he never imagines the street rat he brings home for one last bit of pleasure in his darkest hour will be the man who hauls him back from the edge of the grave.

A night of meaningless sex turns into an offer of permanent employment. As Sir Alan Watleigh’s valet, Jem offers much more than polished boots and starched cravats. He makes Sir Alan Watleigh smile and warms his bed. Just as the men are adjusting to their new living arrangement, news about a former soldier under his command sends Sir Alan Watleigh and Jem on the road to save a child in danger.

The journey brings them closer together as they travel from lust toward love. But is Sir Alan Watleigh’s love strong enough to risk society discovering the truth about him?

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

This is the second historical I have read from these authors (the first was Seducing Stephen) and I have to say, on the basis of these two books, Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon are quickly earning a space on my “auto-buy authors” list. Brava, ladies!

Similar to Seducing Stephen, the core of The Gentleman and the Rogue is about a slightly older man who is jaded and discontent; he meets a younger man who re-introduces him to joy and happiness in life. In The Rogue and the Gentleman, the older man is Sir Alan Watleigh, formerly Captain Watleigh, who has returned from the Iberian War, injured and ill and also family-less. The younger man is Jem, a prostitute that he picks up, intending on one night of sexual release before he commits suicide. Jem very quickly gets under Alan’s skin, however, and over the course of the story becomes an essential part of Alan’s life.

Jem is a terrific character. He’s funny and kind and full of love. It’s not hard to see why Alan falls for him. Alan is taciturn and reserved. He acts like the military man that he was and Jem makes it his mission to get Alan to smile—at least once in a while.

Jem has wonderful interior and exterior dialog. In his mind, he wonders about Alan and makes up all sorts of funny nicknames for him—Lord Bumbuggerer is my favorite. He also shows his insecurities and his fears, wondering if, at any minute, Alan will suddenly change his mind about the life he is living and return Jem to the streets of London from whence he came. Exteriorly, he tells Alan stories, shares his thoughts and opinions and eventually, his love. Alan, for his part, slowly comes to trust and accept Jem, ultimately realizing how important he is in his life.

The story has two very distinct parts. The first half concerns the developing relationship between Alan and Jem. In the latter part, the situation referenced in the synopsis, “news about a former soldier under his command sends Sir Alan Watleigh and Jem on the road to save a child in danger…” comes into play. This structure was interesting. In the first part of the story, the conflict came from the interactions between Alan and Jem as they established their bond as lovers and the boundaries that must exist, given the time and place in which they were living (Regency England in 1813). But, in the second half, the conflict came from their quest to save the child in danger and not from some sort of misunderstanding or blow-up between them. I appreciated this as I find “the big misunderstanding” trope to be overused. On the other hand, there was a distinct change of tone in the book—much less sex in the second half and much more adventure and derring-do, with Jem in particular putting his life at risk to save the young girl, Annie. This two-part structure didn’t particularly bother me, but some readers might find that it makes the book feel a little choppy. I note it here as a caveat but not a criticism.

Overall, I really enjoyed this story of two men from very different walks of life who meet, develop an attraction, fall in love, and share an adventure that further cements their relationship. The writing was crisp and solid and the fast moving story kept me completely absorbed from the very first page. Highly recommended.

Buy at the Loose Id website

Review: The Year Without a Summer by G.S. Wiley

Lieutenant Robert Pierce of the Royal Navy was raised in the shadow of his father, a great admiral, and has spent his life on the high seas fighting the ships of Napoleon Bonaparte. When he loses a leg in battle and is confined to land, Robert is devastated. Taken in by his sister Maria, Robert faces the infamously cold, wet summer of 1816 trying to adjust to his new life. It’s made all the gloomier by his worry for his best friend and lover, Lieutenant John Burgess, who is still at sea…until a visitor brings a bright ray of sunshine into Robert’s overcast life.

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

What happens when a career naval officer is grievously wounded and unable to return to active duty? That’s the question that is explored in this short novella.

It’s the summer of 1816, the famous “year without a summer.” Lieutenant Robert Pierce is at his sister’s home, sitting by the fire and watching the rain. He had been a career naval man, joining as a midshipman at age fourteen, until a plank of wood pierced his thigh and his left leg had to be amputated, high enough that a prosthesis was not possible. So he’s become a cripple, living with his sister, and no clue what he is going to do with the rest of his life. He does have a small inheritance from his father the Admiral and could afford to take a wife, burdening her instead of his sister. Trouble is, Robert has no interest in women. The love of his life, John Burgess, is a lieutenant aboard the Dauntless and that is who he wants to be with. If he can’t have him, is life worth living?

The story is told mostly in flashbacks, of Robert and John meeting and beginning their affair. The scenes of them together are beautiful and I loved John’s voice: “I am completely besotted with you, Mr. Pierce.” The writing is evocative. There is a scene in Italy where I could smell the lemons and see the blue sky. The cold, rainy summer in England was also well portrayed, as was Robert’s depression and unhappiness. The ending was melancholy and bittersweet, but completely realistic. And there was even, maybe—a little glimmer of hope, or at least understanding. That managed to keep me from being a sobbing mess.

This is the first story I’ve read from author G.S. Wiley and I definitely look forward to more. Wiley definitely brought the era and characters to life and I don’t have any quibbles with the historical accuracy. I’d like to read a historical story from this author with more depth and complexity; I hope one is in the works.

Buy from the publisher, Dreamspinner

Review: Lessons in Seduction by Charlie Cochrane

This time, one touch could destroy everything…

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

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

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

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

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Voyageurs by Keira Andrews

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

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

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy from Torquere

Review: Lavender Boys by S.E. Taylor

Brock Evans heads for Hollywood in 1935, hoping to be the next Clark Gable, and meets another would-be star in Randy Pearce, who works as a soda jerk while awaiting his big break. It’s love at first sight, just like in the movies. But the path to stardom in Hollywood is not quite that easy. Brock finds a job as a florist shop delivery man and gets to meet some of Hollywood’s favorites, one of which finally gets him a screen test at a major studio.

Randy finds an agent who gets him a screen test, too. It turns out Randy is a ‘natural,’ but the big studios don’t want any more homosexual male stars after some previous bad experiences. What kind of Hollywood ending is in store for Randy and Brock, who are hiding their romance, their secret trips to the Lavender Lounge homosexual bar, and their homosexual boss and landlord with whom they live?

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

Having just read a very good story about Hollywood in the fifties (Sticks and Stones, reviewed here) I was looking forward to Lavender Boys, hoping it would live up to the same standard. Alas, it didn’t. The story was unrealistic, predictable, silly, and not very well written. This is the author’s first book and it is always exciting to test the unknown waters of a new writer, especially in the genre of historical m/m fiction. It saddens me, then, when the book is not one I can recommend which is the case with Lavender Boys.

The synopsis, above, pretty much tells the whole story, except for the anti-climactic and unrealistic HEA ending. Basically, Brock and Randy meet, instantly fall in love, and set out together on their big Hollywood adventure. They have one lucky break after another. Even when things don’t work out quite right—such as when Brock blows the screen test arranged for him as a favor by Myrna Loy—it doesn’t really matter because it is just a sign that that was not how things were meant to be. No sadness, no introspection, just an “Oh well, golly gee, at least we have each other!” and on to the next adventure. Any time conflict or danger threatens their lives, it is dealt with in a paragraph or two, meaning the reader doesn’t have to suffer any angst, either, just like Randy and Brock.

Hollywood circa 1935 is evoked by dropping famous names throughout the book. Joan Crawford, Myrna Loy, Fred Astaire, Cary Grant and others I am forgetting (there were dozens of them) all make guest appearances. They all love Randy and Brock because they are as cute as buttons and besides, Brock looks just like Clark Gable! This is a source of endless amusement to the stars and the basis of more than one practical joke. It’s a pretty open secret that Randy and Brock are lovers—not too hard to figure out since they call each other “Baby” and “Sugar” every single time they open their mouths, no matter who they are with or what they are doing—but the stars are all willing to look the other way on this issue because “the boys” are so adorable and besides, it’s the big studios who act like Neanderthals on the homosexual issue, not the free-thinking, open-minded and very liberal movie stars.

Um, right.

As I said, the story lurches along from adventure to adventure with no discernable plot. The writing is amateurish and the dialog inane. Things that might have been interesting to read about, such as Randy having a bit part in a movie, happen off page. They talk about the movie and go to the premiere but the actual filming experience is written away in a sentence or two.

I did enjoy the character of Gracie the housekeeper, only because her ruminations on “the queers” that she worked for were so over-the-top. She was disgusted by the stains on the bedspread and fretted about scrubbing her hands after cleaning the bathroom. However, because she was a source of conflict, she was very quickly given the axe, never to be heard of again. Oh well. Once she was gone, the story settled right back into its banal predictability.

All in all, there is not much in Lavender Boys to recommend. It fails as historical fiction and it’s not a particularly entertaining story, either. I suppose for readers who like super-sweet love stories it might appeal, but for me, it was too much sugar and not enough spice.

Buy at Torquere

Review: To Hell You Ride by Julia Talbot

Big Roy is a hard rock miner with a not so secret love for the theater, so when he hears a new troupe of actors are coming to the Telluride opera house to put on a Shakespeare play, he saddles his mule and makes the trek into town to see it.

The play doesn’t disappoint, but the beautiful lead actor, Sir Edward Clancy, certainly does. Clancy is rude and arrogant, and Roy figures he’d never have a chance with such a man. He’s wrong, because Clancy needs some entertainment himself, being stuck in a Hellish mining town for the long, snowy winter.

Come spring, though, Clancy knows he’s going to want to move on, and he thinks Roy will be easy to forget. Then tragedy strikes, and Clancy has to rethink his entire life. Can these two strike gold?

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

“‘Thank the Lord and all the angels,’ as Big Roy Marsh would say. ‘A historical western that gets it right.’”

Edward Clancy looked up from his book. “What’s that you say?”

Roy Marsh looked at him. “I’m readin’ a review and she quotes me.”

“A review? Of what?”

“The book about us, of course!” Roy gave Clancy an exasperated stare.

“Which one?”

Roy wondered if Clancy was being dense on purpose. “Tis only one, as you know. Ain’t dozens of books ‘bout us. To Hell You Ride, the one by Miss Julia Talbot.”

“Ah,” said Clancy. “And what does she say? Is it a positive review?”

Roy nodded. “I’d say so. Five stars.”

“Five stars! A superior rating! That’s better than my last performance.”

“You didn’t rehearse enough for that one.”

“You were too busy keeping me busy.”

Roy blushed at that.

Clancy gestured towards the paper. “Go on, read some more.”

Roy cleared his throat. “‘Big Roy Marsh is a gold miner, working high in the mountains above Telluride, Colorado. On Saturday, he likes nothing better than to ride his mule, Annie, into town, stop for a shave, haircut and perhaps a bath, then put on his ‘Sunday go-to-meeting clothes’ and head to the theater.’”

“That’s what you still like,” Clancy interrupted.

Roy nodded. “I surely do, even if you do make me wear a suit.”

“You look particularly fine in a suit.”

Roy blushed again. He looked back down at the paper. “‘On this particular Saturday, Roy is transfixed by the performance of Sir Edward Clancy in the role of MacDuff. He accidently bumps into the actor the next morning and wishes to pay him a compliment, but Sir Edward arrogantly brushes him aside.’”

Clancy frowned. “Why did she have to include that?”

“It’s true. You were arrogant.” He continued reading. “‘When a comment about Sir Edward’s rudeness makes it into the paper, Clancy decides he requires a personal apology and sets out to get it, which becomes the basis for an amusing encounter between the two men.’”

“Amusing, hmm? I thought it was odd.”

“Amusing or odd, you couldn’t get enough of me,” Roy said.

It was Clancy’s turn to blush.

Roy turned back to the paper. “‘Roy and Clancy are the unlikeliest of lovers, but Talbot tells their story deftly, moving from a relationship built on carnal lust and a base desire for each other to one of a strongly shared love and mutual need.’” Roy’s brow furrowed. “Sounds a little personal, here.”

“Well, if you didn’t want it to be personal, you shouldn’t have shared so many details. I told you to be a bit more circumspect.”

Roy looked at his lover, his lips tightening into a hard line, but didn’t say anything. “‘The reason why this story works so well as a historical western, as opposed to a story that takes place in the old days, is the way the author effortlessly evokes the time and period. Little details bring the frontier town of Telluride to life, with its wood-framed buildings and muddy roads leading high up into the mountains. I particularly loved this line, ‘Only thing he’d taken had been his own shoes and coat, assuming them after he was out in the hallway, bright with its fancy electric lights that looked so odd to Roy. Any light that didn’t flicker with the wind just oughtn’t be trusted.’” Roy looked at the electric lamp at his elbow, then looked at Clancy. “Not sure why she’d comment on that,” he said. “Still think it’s true.”

Clancy smiled at him. “Oh, my rough miner. You never change, do you?”

“Do you want me to?” Roy asked.

Clancy shook his head. “No,” he answered softly.

Roy took a minute to compose himself, then picked up the paper again. “‘Themes are beautifully woven throughout the story, such as shaving and bathing. At the beginning, they are impersonal acts between Roy and the barber—a business transaction. Then they become erotic moments between the two main characters and ultimately, an act of caring and love, when Edward bathes Roy after a life-threatening accident.’”

Roy stopped. “Well,” he said.

“Well,” Clancy replied.

“I didn’t know we was being erotic,” said Roy.

“I didn’t know we had themes, but I suppose I should have figured it out, given my prowess in the acting profession.”

Roy chuckled. “Gotta hand it to you, Clancy, you ain’t ever been one to hide your light under a bushel.”

Clancy pointed to the paper. “Go on. Is there anything else?”

Roy nodded. “‘All in all, this was a thoroughly satisfying novella. Colorful, well-drawn characters, a totally engaging story, historical details that were pitch perfect in pulling me into turn-of-the-century Colorado. Having read a number of Westerns that come nowhere near this standard, it was a true pleasure to stumble upon this unexpected gem.’” Roy stopped reading. “Guess she liked it.”

Clancy nodded. “With a review like that, I suppose I shall have to stop ignoring this book and actually read it. Do we own a copy?”

“Yup,” said Roy. “It’s in the bedroom, next to the bed.”

“Will you fetch it for me?”

Roy shook his head mournfully. “Now, Edward, you know I ain’t your manservant, here to do your fetching. You can go get it for yourself.”

“I suppose I shall have to do that.” Clancy brushed an imaginary piece of lint from his trousers. “Perhaps you will accompany me?”

“To the bedroom?” Roy asked.

Clancy nodded. “Some of the things you read reminded me of memories that have, um, quite aroused me. I think, perhaps, some recreation is in order.”

“You mean getting fancy?” Roy winked.

“You know precisely what I mean, my love.”

Roy stood up. “You lead the way, honey,” he said with a smile.

“I don’t need to be asked twice,” replied Clancy, as they headed out of the room, the newspaper forgotten on the chair.

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Review: The Lonely War by Alan Chin

The key issue keeping the U.S. armed forces from going beyond Don’t Ask Don’t Tell to give gay servicemen equal rights is a blind fear of love relationships forming, not between enlisted soldiers but between officers and soldiers, which would undermine the chain of command. The Lonely War tackles this topic head on. It tells the story of an enlisted sailor who falls in love with his executive officer. When the crew of the USS Pilgrim become POWs in Changi, a notoriously brutal prison camp, this sailor is elevated though hardship and love to discover his inner resources and extraordinary courage, allowing him to sacrifice himself to save the life of his beloved. Like most war novels, The Lonely War envelops all that is unique to war, the horror of battle, overcoming fear, the cruelty of soldiers, the loyalty and camaraderie of men caught in a desperate situation. Yet, it stands alone in two important ways. First, it is a passionate story written about a tender love developing between an officer and an enlisted man, revealing a rare and dignified portrait of a couple struggling to satisfy desire within the confines of the military code of conduct. Even more importantly however, it describes the heart-wrenching measures of how much one man will sacrifice to save the life and reputation of the man he loves.

A collaborative review by Leslie H. Nicoll and Natasha Villion

Let’s start the year with a five star review, shall we? If you are hankering for a well written, historically accurate World War II story that will tug at your heartstrings, The Lonely War by Alan Chin should go straight to the top of your TBR pile.

I read and reviewed this book for jessewave’s site a few weeks ago and promised Erastes I would revise my review for Speak Its Name. Reviews here at the site were put on hold due to the Advent Calendar festivities and that turned out to be a fortuitous turn of events. One of the regular commenters at Wave’s site, “Tish” (Natasha), got in touch with me about The Lonely War. She had recently read and enjoyed another book of military stories, Hidden Conflict (which was reviewed here just a few days ago) and was interested in The Lonely War. But, she also had a personal history with Changi prison and wondered how explicit The Lonely War was. “Chin doesn’t pull any punches,” I said. “He’s pretty clear about what went on in the notorious POW camp.” Even though she had a few trepidations, Tish decided to read The Lonely War—and was glad she did. “This is definitely one of my top reads for the year,” she wrote me. “Maybe even forever—it’s that good.”

I asked Tish if she would write a review for Speak Its Name because I thought her personal experience with the prison (through her family) was an interesting context for reading the book. At first she demurred but then, with some urging from her husband, decided to accept my invitation. The following is her review.

~~~

This story both terrified and enthralled me. Maybe I should explain a little bit about who I am. I was born in Singapore to a Malay/Indian mother and a white Royal Navy father in the 1960s. So WW2 was still quite fresh in people’s minds. Singapore had expelled the communists and had moved away from British rule. It was a glorious upbringing but the underlying sadness of those that lived through WW2 was ever present.

Changi had become a full prison but the beaches around it were a popular swimming place for locals and us temporary locals. There were still small Malay villages with houses sitting on stilts with their palm frond roofs. The old men sat in the shade and watched the mad Europeans dash around the beach playing cricket and other English staple sports.

I was raised by a Malay woman who was both our amah (maid) and nanny.  She told my sister and me stories of the Japanese invasion of her island and how her father had helped smuggle British and Australian soldiers out of the prison and into Malaysia.

My mother told me stories of her father and grandfather and the torture they suffered at Changi prison during the war. They were accused of aiding and spying for the British, which they most proudly did. My great grandfather died during one of these torture sessions watched by his son, my grandfather.

I have yet to come across any Asian who is bitter about the war. Maybe they know more about forgiveness than I do.

This story, The Lonely War by Alan Chin, is about Andrew Waters, an Asian American seaman with the US Navy.  The book is written in three distinct parts. The first is set aboard the US Navy ship, The Pilgrim; the second, at Changi prison; and the third, in Japan, after the war has ended.

Raised in Thailand and forced to leave when it is invaded, Andrew tries to make a life for himself as a Buddhist and pacifist in the US Navy.  It was his American father’s wish that Andrew join the Navy and Andrew, being a good Asian son, complies. He is very well educated but not of officer rank. He struggles to maintain a polite distance from all the other men on the ship except one.

The first part of the story, while aboard the USS Pilgrim, has Andrew battling wits with an officer, who is both enthralled and confused by him. This part of the book sets the tone and pace of a love story that lasts a lifetime. It also shows what life was like for non-whites during WW2 and the way they were treated and what was expected of them. It is a good depiction of life aboard a ship of war. Part One ends when the ship is attacked and the men are taken prisoner by the enemy.

Part Two is set during the prisoners’ internment at Changi prison, run by the Japanese. For me, this section of the book was terrifying, as I knew from family accounts how ruthless the Japanese were. Even telling such a horrific tale, the writing was very tastefully done. Some of what is described is completely believable, such as the making protein from insects to trade among prisoners. In this part of the story, Andrew shines, although you might not realize it at first. His love for his officer makes him do something that changed him forever. I liked the way this part of the book unfolded and Andrew’s dilemma was handled. It wasn’t gratuitous or unbelievable. He kept the soul of himself intact and that alone made this section more believable for this reader.

Part Three is Andrew’s journey after the war; it is about promises kept and finding your humanity. His soul is shattered and bleeding. Andrew’s journey in body and spirit is harrowing. His loss and failings are heartbreaking and the writing is so true to his experience that it hurts to read. This kind, gentle, man has nowhere to turn and no one to turn to and it leaves such a bitter taste in your heart you don’t know if you can recover or if he can.

This part sold the story for me. It was so well written that you feel every blade in Andrew’s soul.

I know this story sounds more about war then love, but is it? The author Alan Chin, has written a very good story about WW2 from an Asian American perspective. It is a story of a life-altering experience during internment at one of the most barbaric prisons in Asia and redemption after the war. I found it a truthful telling of one man’s life and a faithful account of the war in Asia. I also found a love story that will stay with me long after the last page has been read. I fell in love with all these brave men and I wish them well wherever they might land.

~~~

At my jessewave review, I gave The Lonely War 4.75 stars because I had a few minor quibbles with some of the writing. While I still stand by what I said, I find I can honestly give the book 5 stars here at Speak Its Name. I was influenced by Tish’s strong reaction to the book and she told me in no uncertain terms it was a 5 star read for her. Also, the historical accuracy was outstanding and that, here at SiN, is the gold standard by which I judge a book and in that respect, it definitely earned its stars.

To conclude, let me repeat my closing paragraph from my earlier review:

I sometimes wonder why I like war stories so much, since I certainly don’t like war! Maybe it is because the well-written ones do so much to point out the futility and ultimate uselessness of killing each other; that being brutal and hateful is not the way to solve problems even when we are put up against evil people. But we persist. In The Lonely War, Chin makes us ask those hard questions again, framing them against the background of very real men caught up in extraordinary and terrible circumstances. He puts World War II on a human plane, which is, for the soldiers and sailors—men like Andrew—how it was fought. As I closed the last page, my heart ached for all of them.

I would suggest that a fitting resolution for 2010 is to put this book on your “must read” list—sooner, rather than later. It’s that good and Tish and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Amazon USA Amazon UK Fictionwise link (ebook)

Review: Cabin Fever by B.A. Tortuga

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

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

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Authors’ website

Torquere Press

 

Review: American Hunks by David L. Chapman and Brett Josef Grubisic


The “American hunk” is a cultural icon: the image of the chiseled, well-built male body has been promoted and exploited for commercial use for over 125 years, whether in movies, magazines, advertisements, or on consumer products, not only in America but throughout the world.

American Hunks is a fascinating collection of images (many in full color) depicting the muscular American male as documented in popular culture from 1860 to 1970. The book, divided into specific historic eras, includes such personalities as bodybuilder Charles Atlas; pioneer weightlifter Eugene Sandow; movie stars like Steve “Hercules” Reeves and Johnny “Tarzan” Weismuller; and publications such as the 1920s-era magazine Physical Culture and the 1950s-era comic book Mr. Muscles. It also touches on the use of masculine, homoerotic imagery to sell political and military might (including American recruitment posters and Nazi propaganda from the 1936 Olympics), and how companies have used buff, near-naked men to sell products from laundry detergent to sacks of flour since the 1920s. The introduction by David L. Chapman offers insightful information on individual images, while the essay by Brett Josef Grubisic places the work in its proper historical context.

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

American Hunks is a wonderful collection of photographs, spanning a bit more than a century from 1860 to the early 1970s. It shows muscular men in all their glory, starting with the early gymnasts and strongmen and moving on to bodybuilders and Hollywood stars with handsome physiques.

The pictures are drawn from the collection of author David L. Chapman, who opens the book with a wonderful memoir when he was eleven, in 1959, and wandered into a tobacconist and magazine store in his hometown of Chula Vista, CA. There, he stumbled upon the magazine, Physique Pictorial, with John Tristam on the cover, photographed by Robert Mizer. Chapman bought the magazine (which, given his age and the fact that the proprietor of the shop was blind, was amusing in and of itself) and in that moment, a collecting obsession was born.

The book has minimal text: a Foreword by Chapman and an essay, Flexed for Success: Consumer Goods, Pop Culture, and the Setting of Heroic Masculinity by co-author Brett Josef Grubisic. It is broken into seven chapters: The Pioneers (1860-1914); Hunks Make the World Safe (1914-1919); Jazz-Age Athletes (1920-1929); Depression Physiques (1930-1940); Supermen at War (1941-1949); The Age of the Chest (1950-1959); and Muscles à Go-Go! (1960-1969). The concluding pictures in the book are of an Austrian with an unpronounceable name who marked the end of normal

bodybuilding and the rise of steroid enhanced bodies. To those of us who appreciate the male form in its natural glory, the current crop of ‘roid puffed-up specimens are about as realistic as breast implants bolted onto a woman’s chest, and Chapman wisely left them out, letting the book end at its natural conclusion.

American Hunks is a large format book (8” x 10”) printed in full color on glossy paper. Many of the images are full-page and all have extensive comments in the picture captions, identifying the subject and photographer (when known) and additional contextual information. In addition to physique photographs, the book includes ads, magazine covers, movie posters and stills, postcards and a variety of other ephemera to illustrate the rise of muscular masculinity in popular American culture.

This 351 page book retails for $29.95 (US) which in my mind is a bargain; right now it is discounted at Amazon to $19.77 which is an absolute steal. For UK readers, it is available for pre-order at a price of £19.54 which isn’t quite as much of a good buy but still a pretty good deal. And let’s be honest, to have such an exquisite collection of handsome looking men to drool over—is money really the issue?

At Out.com, I found a slide show of pictures from the book so if you need any more temptation to add this book to your collection, go there and look at them. In the meantime, I’ve included a few of my favorites here, along with the captions (just hold your cursor over the picture too see the caption), to

give you first-hand impression of what the book is all about. Enjoy!

Visit Arsenal Pulp Press for more information.

Buy from Amazon USA and pre-order from Amazon UK

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review.

chauncey-gay-new-york3

Review: Death of a Blues Angel by Sarah Black

Rafael Hurt comes from Mississippi to play Blues guitar, and he’s hiding a dangerous secret. When a young girl is found murdered during Rafe’s first gig at The Blues Angel, Rafe and Deke Davis, a veteran reporter, have to find the killer before the secrets of the past explode into racial violence and destroy any chance for the love growing between them.

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

This story is a little more modern than many of the books reviewed at this site. It takes place in 1966 with the civil rights struggles of the sixties as its backdrop. That is an interesting time in US history and certainly provides a wealth of material for plot and characterization. Unfortunately, Death of a Blues Angel didn’t quite live up to that promise.

The story takes place in Washington, DC. Rafael Hurt has come to the city with three legendary blues players who are very old, very famous, and very black. Rafe is white and of course that brings up the whole “do you have to be black to play the blues?” meme. Deacon Davis, a reporter for an unnamed Washington newspaper, gets sent to the club by his boss for Rafe’s premiere performance. Why exactly he has been given this assignment is not clear to Deke or the folks at the club, so there is lots of “eyeing each other suspiciously” going on.

The story opens with the murder of a young woman and her body is found at the end of the evening, which drives the rest of the story as a murder mystery with racial overtones. It is written to be very murky with lots of crossing and double-crossing going on. Trouble is, the actually mystery wasn’t much of a mystery at all, so the story just seems thin at its conclusion.

And thin, I guess, is the problem. The story clocks in at 51K words. If the author had written another 20K or so, and put some meat on the bones of the plot, I think, overall, Death of a Blues Angel would have been much better. Black writes well—all she needed to do was write a bit more to move this from good to very good—maybe even great. But in this iteration, it’s not there.

I have two major complaints. First, the pacing. The first third of the story takes place over the course of one evening in the club—maybe six hours. Then, for the rest of the book, things speed forward, covering days, then weeks, in a matter of pages. There is an epilogue which covers years. Personally, this drives me nuts. If a story starts off such that it seems like it will cover a day or two or three, then that’s the groove my mind gets into and I can’t stand it when time suddenly starts racing by.

My second complaint is grammatical, to whit: if a character is speaking and that character’s dialog continues into a second paragraph, then at the end of the first paragraph, you omit the close quotes, but include opening quotes at the beginning of the second paragraph. This signals to the reader that the same person is speaking. My understanding is that this is a basic grammar rule but for some bizarre reason it was not adhered to in this book, so I was constantly being jarred out of the story since I repeatedly had to go back to try to figure out who was speaking. I am not quite sure how an error like this would slip by an editor, but it did, and it really damaged the pleasure of my reading experience.

This is the first thing I’ve ever read by Sarah Black, although I know she is a popular author with many fans. Overall she does write well and I’d be willing to give another story of hers a try. Which is probably pretty high praise given my two major beefs. Hopefully those were aberrations not to be seen again.

Would I recommend this? Yes for Sarah Black fans, yes for folks who like interracial m/m romance, yes for those who enjoy simple mysteries that aren’t too hard to figure out. On the other hand, if you want a story that explores racial issues in the turbulent sixties and paints a realistic picture of that time in history, this story will ultimately disappoint.

Author’s website

Amazon USA

Review: Say To Me Where The Flowers Are

Say To Me Where the Flowers Are
Augusta Li and Eon de Beaumont
World War II draws to a close. Hope and happiness are scarce on the streets of Berlin, but step inside one of the city’s celebrated cabaret nightclubs and one can escape the ugliness of war, if only for a few hours. Heinrich, a young German officer visits “Die Comedie des Lebens,” one of the most popular, each night for a chance to see Marika, whose music and heart he immediately falls for. Heinrich is a dream come true for the vocalist, but Marika keeps a dangerous secret and as the love between the two blossom, Marika worries that the secret may tear them apart. Torn between two lives, Marika must make a decision before it’s too late.
Review
We seem to be on a roll here at Speak Its Name, with lots of books that purport to be historical and are anything but.  I had the unfortunate experience of reading Say To Me Where the Flowers Are, the latest casualty in this trend of non-historical historicals. Lucky me.
The blurb states that WWII is drawing to a close so I would date this as 1944 or 1945. The location is Berlin. Now, I have only read about Berlin at that time, but by all accounts, it was a city at the tail-end of a war that the Nazis were losing, bombed and ravaged, its citizens barely able to eke out their lives.  At least that is what history tells us Berlin was like. In the world envisioned by authors Li and de Beaumont, we get this in the second paragraph:
He pushed the small round glasses he wore up his thin nose with one finger and read the gaudy sign that sparkled like a jeweled brooch compared to the gray city surrounding it. Die Komödie des Lebens, one of the many Cabarets that had popped up in the city, afforded the citizenry an escape from the fear and frustration so prevalent in the world. Inside a person could sit down, have a meal and a few drinks, and be entertained by an array of performers. Although the only performer occupying Heinrich’s thoughts as he descended the familiar steps into the Club was Marika.
Cabarets were popping up in 1944? I don’t think so. I almost stopped reading then and there, but I’m a good trooper and Erastes is a friend, so I plowed on.
Believe me, it doesn’t get better. People drink scotch and soda and gin and tonics (in Germany?) and eat steak and lobster and drink fine wine. Marika wears nylons and a garter belt. Everyone lives in nice, big, warm apartments with lots heat and running hot water. “Jewish sympathizers” conveniently appear on the sidewalk to shoot high ranking Nazi officers, allowing the cross-dressing hero/heroine to escape from his evil clutches. When said hero/heroine decides that it is too dangerous to stay in Berlin with his/her new boyfriend, s/he announces, “Let’s go to Amsterdam! There are plenty of people there like me, we’ll be safe!”, they are immediately able to procure tickets for the next evening’s train. And so on.
I’m sorry, but in my eyes, war is a tragedy and when writing story that take place in times of war, the historical context should be treated with dignity and respect. I’m not saying an author can’t write about the futility of war or its pointlessness, but to write a story that totally ignores the reality of what was going on is wrong. In fact, it’s more than wrong, it’s offensive.
The story was only 12K words and so much plot was crammed in there that of course, it was superficial and silly. When Heinrich finds out that the love of his life, Marika, is really Mark, he responds with a blithe, “No problem, I’ve known that all along,” and he’s instantly gay. That might work as the punchline in Some Like It Hot, a romantic comedy, but not in an alleged war-time drama.
I could go on but it’s pointless to do so. Believe me when I say that there is nothing that makes this book worthwhile. The dialog is silly (they all sound like present-day Americans), the history is nonexistent and the story is preposterous. Even the sex is dull. All in all, one star and a reminder to myself to pass on future books from this writing team.

World War II draws to a close. Hope and happiness are scarce on the streets of Berlin, but step inside one of the city’s celebrated cabaret nightclubs and one can escape the ugliness of war, if only for a few hours. Heinrich, a young German officer visits “Die Comedie des Lebens,” one of the most popular, each night for a chance to see Marika, whose music and heart he immediately falls for. Heinrich is a dream come true for the vocalist, but Marika keeps a dangerous secret and as the love between the two blossom, Marika worries that the secret may tear them apart. Torn between two lives, Marika must make a decision before it’s too late.

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

We seem to be on a roll here at Speak Its Name, with lots of books that purport to be historical and are anything but.  I had the unfortunate experience of reading Say To Me Where the Flowers Are, the latest casualty in this trend of non-historical historicals. Lucky me.

The blurb states that WWII is drawing to a close so I would date this as 1944 or 1945. The location is Berlin. Now, I have only read about Berlin at that time, but by all accounts, it was a city at the tail-end of a war that the Nazis were losing, bombed and ravaged, its citizens barely able to eke out their lives.  At least that is what history tells us Berlin was like. In the world envisioned by authors Li and de Beaumont, we get this in the second paragraph:

He pushed the small round glasses he wore up his thin nose with one finger and read the gaudy sign that sparkled like a jeweled brooch compared to the gray city surrounding it. Die Komödie des Lebens, one of the many Cabarets that had popped up in the city, afforded the citizenry an escape from the fear and frustration so prevalent in the world. Inside a person could sit down, have a meal and a few drinks, and be entertained by an array of performers. Although the only performer occupying Heinrich’s thoughts as he descended the familiar steps into the Club was Marika.

Cabarets were popping up in 1944? I don’t think so. I almost stopped reading then and there, but I’m a good trooper and Erastes is a friend, so I plowed on.

Believe me, it doesn’t get better. People drink scotch and soda and gin and tonics (in Germany?) and eat steak and lobster and drink fine wine. Marika wears nylons and a garter belt. Everyone lives in nice, big, warm apartments with lots of heat and running hot water. “Jewish sympathizers” conveniently appear on the sidewalk to shoot high ranking Nazi officers, allowing the cross-dressing hero/heroine to escape from his evil clutches. When said hero/heroine decides that it is too dangerous to stay in Berlin with his/her new boyfriend, s/he announces, “Let’s go to Amsterdam! There are plenty of people there like me, we’ll be safe!”, they are immediately able to procure tickets for the next evening’s train. And so on.

I’m sorry, but in my eyes, war is a tragedy and when writing story that take place in times of war, the historical context should be treated with dignity and respect. I’m not saying an author can’t write about the futility of war or its pointlessness, but to write a story that totally ignores the reality of what was going on is wrong. In fact, it’s more than wrong, it’s offensive.

The story was only 12K words and so much plot was crammed in there that of course, it was superficial and silly. When Heinrich finds out that the love of his life, Marika, is really Mark, he responds with a blithe, “No problem, I’ve known that all along,” and he’s instantly gay. That might work as the punchline in Some Like It Hot, a romantic comedy movie, but not in an alleged war-time drama.

I could go on but it’s pointless to do so. Believe me when I say that there is nothing that makes this book worthwhile. The dialog is silly (they all sound like present-day Americans), the history is nonexistent and the story is preposterous. Even the sex is dull. All in all, one star and a reminder to myself to pass on future books from this writing team.

Available for purchase (but really, you don’t want to do that) here.

Disclaimer: A free copy of this ebook was provided to me by Erastes, owner of this site, for this review.

Review: The Lord Won’t Mind by Gordon Merrick

Looking at The Lord Won’t Mind from a historical perspective

Title: The Lord Won’t Mind
Author: Gordon Merrick
Published: 1970; republished in 1995
Length: 255 pages

Charlie Mills and Peter Martin are both young, handsome and well-endowed. They meet and fall madly in love. The book follows Charlie’s path from a closeted gay man to a person who accepts himself. Charlie is terrified of rejection, especially that of his rigid, moralistic grandmother whom he loves but who expects him to marry and have children. Charlie at first attempts to live a double-life, expressing his homosexuality through acting and painting. But his life is incomplete without Peter.

Charlie eventually throws Peter out and marries a woman to protect his reputation. Charlie’s wife later suspects his homosexuality, and perpetrates a horrific act of violence on her husband. As Charlie works through the aftermath of the attack, he slowly comes to realize that honesty and self-acceptance are the only way out. Charlie finally confesses his love for Peter, and they move in together.

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

I have a review posted for The Lord Won’t Mind over at reviewsbyjessewave. There I critique the book from the perspective of being an important piece of gay literary history; for this critique here at Speak Its Name I’ll consider it as historical fiction, because, bottom line, that’s what it is—or at least supposed to be.

The story allegedly takes place in the late 1930s. It opens at Charlie’s grandmother’s summer estate in Rumson, New Jersey. Unfortunately, there seems to be a great deal of confusion on this point. Googling the book and reading various synposes and descriptions posted here and there, many people (wrongly) state that the book is the story of two Ivy League college students in the 1960s. Looking at the original cover of the book, it is easy to see how someone could make this error. Their hair, oxford cloth shirts with rolled up sleeves, no ties…the casually tied sweaters tied over their shoulders—yup, definitely preppies from the 60s. I might even have dated one or both of them.

But what about within the pages of the book? Doesn’t that give any clues? Not really. There are vague mentions of “the war” but no one actually ever goes away nor does anyone get killed. Keeping with the sixties theme, it could have been the Viet Nam War, so that’s not really a hint.

Dress, technology, locales? All vague. Park Avenue is Park Avenue; Charlie and Peter dress to look sharp but nothing that particularly ties them to the era; they talk on the phone and drive cars. In fact, near the end of the book, they drive back and forth to Stamford, Connecticut (from New York City) twice. I vaguely wondered when gas rationing began—after the attack on Pearl Harbor, I later discovered, so even that wasn’t a giveaway clue.

Manners of speech—Peter says “Golly” a lot and sounds like Mickey Rooney in the old Andy Hardy movies. They call each other “darling” (endlessly) which reminds me of the Nick and Nora Charles movies. So maybe that would be accurate to time. But then “baby” creeps in and worse, “darling baby.” Maybe that’s just sappy speech but it doesn’t sound historical to me.

Sexual behavior—Charlie and Peter have lots of sex and use a lubricant. Was that term common in the 1930s? I don’t know. K-Y jelly (water-based) was invented in 1917; Vaseline (petroleum-based) was invented in 1872. I know that in my experience, I used “Vaseline” as a generic term for years; it wasn’t until the spread of AIDS and the need to use water-based products with latex condoms that the word “lubricant” became more common in the vernacular. However, the author, Merrick, was gay and he might very well have been traveling in different lubricant-circles than the ones I inhabit so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.

On the other hand, Charlie’s wife takes him to task that he doesn’t pleasure her enough and give her enough orgasms. She even suggests that he might read a book on female sexuality. In 1939? I don’t think so. Remember that the Kinsey reports didn’t come out until 1948 (men) and 1952 (women). Thus I don’t think Hattie’s admonishment to Charlie rings true for the time. In fact, her comment sounded like it came straight from the pages of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, published in 1969. For me, this was definitely an anachronism.

So how can Merrick write a historical fiction book and not have it be…historical? A couple of points might provide insight. First, Merrick went to Princeton in 1938 and dropped out during his junior year. In the book, Charlie has just finished college. So Charlie is clearly drawn from Merrick’s life experience. Since he was there, and lived it, it is not surprising that details get omitted in the telling of the tale—they are not in the forefront of his mind. Second, for people reading in the 1970s, the forties were only three decades prior. They probably remembered those days quite clearly—I know my mother would have (and I am sure she read this book—but I am wondering how she kept it hidden from me!). Thus readers in that era did not need the historical grounding that we in 2009 might require. Last—even though the story is set in the thirties, it could be any time. Time and place is really irrelevant. I think Merrick just set it when he did based on his own life experience, as noted above.

So tallying up: historical evidence: a few words, such as “Golly” and “Darling.” Anachronisms: female orgasmic behavior and the cover of the book. Neutral: places, clothing, transportation, communication (telephone), mentions of “the war.”

Recommendation: if you are in the mood for a gay soap opera with lots of melodrama, sex, and a happy ending, read the book. If you are interested in a slice of gay literary history, give it a go. If you want accurate historical fiction full of interesting details, you probably should pass. For me, one and two outweigh three and thus I think it’s worth reading. Four stars.

Note: The book was originally published in 1970 and re-published by Alyson in 1995. Although it is out of print, it is easy to find used copies. I bought mine for this review off Amazon for less than $5. And–I bought the book so that serves as my disclaimer.

Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: Divided Hearts by Terry O’Reilly

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

When Jonathan and Nathaniel part ways, Nathaniel heads for the Ohio territory and a new life with Robert. Robert soon realizes his friend will never reciprocate his love fully. What can he do? Robert agrees to help the English translate in their negotiations with the Shawnee and in doing so meets Red Horse. Now there are two men living with Divided Hearts.

Review

Divided Hearts is one of the stranger books I’ve read in awhile. Let me try to explain.

Divided Hearts is the sequel to Awakening, which I read and reviewed earlier at this site. I had some issues with Awakening but was sympathetic towards the two central characters, Jonathan and Nathaniel. I also liked Robert, the young man with an Indian mother and English father who becomes an apprentice to Nathaniel in his cooperage. Awakening ends with Nathaniel and Robert heading off to a new life and some sense that there are lots of broken hearts littering the ground.

As Divided Hearts opens, we discover that Nathaniel and Robert are living in the Ohio Territory. It’s not exactly clear where they are living since very little description is given of their surroundings (in the village? Out in the woods?) but they have a house that they share and seem to be content. Robert longs for Nathaniel and Nathaniel is still longing for Jonathan. In a moment of weakness and need, Nathaniel invites Robert to bed with him; they have sex and Robert says “I love you” but Nathaniel doesn’t respond.

Time passes, which is described as “years.” Robert begins sleeping with Nathaniel more frequently but still does not receive the declaration of love that he longs for. Robert is trying to decide if this is his lot in life—“an unequal love”—when all of a sudden, on page 30, we have the first of several “jarring interludes.”

If you go back and re-read my review of Awakening, you’ll notice that I advised readers to skip the Afterword because I felt it was an unnecessary and intrusive add-on that ruined the bittersweet ending. Well, the author either didn’t read or care about my suggestion because in Divided Hearts, the “afterword” has become a series of jarring interludes that are peppered throughout the book. In these, the author flips to the present time and shares details of his life with his husband, Drew, and their seeing eye dog, Jive. Drew, who is blind, acts as the cheerleader for Terry’s writing (the interludes are written in the third person). Drew and Terry discuss the evolving story in such a way to make sure that we readers, in case we are too dense to figure it out on our own, know exactly what is going on. The interludes become increasingly irrelevant and personal (Jive’s week-long bout with diarrhea; Terry’s ill-advised one night stand with his boss) but they also have a train wreck quality. I actually began to look forward to them, more than I enjoyed reading the story because the story was…boring.

Yes, boring. As with Awakening, the writing is wooden and flat. People talk to each other, they ride around on horses and that’s about it. The sex scenes are the only lively part of the narrative. They do have a little passion and flair but that’s not enough to sustain a reader’s interest for 164 pages—at least not this reader.

Divided Hearts is supposed to be a historical fiction but the only thing that makes it historical is a very brief mention of the coming Revolutionary War, transportation is by horse, and the fact that Robert is running around with the Shawnee in parts of the US that would eventually become Ohio, West Virginia, and Virginia. This is faithful to US history circa 1758 so I guess O’Reilly got that right, but none of this history is presented in the story—I just looked it up on Wikipedia. No detail, no description, no little flourishes that make historical fiction fun to read.

The story wraps up with not one but two happy-ever-after endings which makes Drew very happy (revealed to us in yet another interlude) but left me shaking my head. Now, here’s my paradox: I feel bad giving this book a bad review because the author seems like a genuinely nice guy (he shares quite a bit of personal information in the course of the text). But he really needs to find an editor/mentor who will help him with polishing his writing and storytelling and give him some good, honest advice, ie, “The interludes don’t work, Terry. Leave them out.” O’Reilly seems to have good ideas for stories but at the present stage of his authorial development, he is unable to convey them effectively, which is why I can only rate this book at 1.5 stars.

Available from Aspen Mountain Press

Disclosure: I received an ebook review copy of Divided Hearts from Erastes, owner of this site, who had also previously given me a copy of Awakenings, also for review.

Review: The Golden Age of Gay Fiction

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

It was the first great explosion of gay writing in history. These books were about gay characters. They were written mostly by gay writers. Above all, they were for gay readers. And, as this entertaining chronicle of the emergence of gay literary pride makes clear, it was a revolution that occurred several years before Stonewall!

Their characters were mostly out or struggling to get out. The books were definitely out—out on the revolving paperback bookracks in grocery stores, dime stores, drugstores, magazine agencies, and transportation terminals across the nation for youths and senior citizens, in the cities and the rural areas alike, to find and to devour.

Here 19 writers take you on a tour of this Golden Age of Gay Fiction—roughly the period between the first Kinsey Report and the first collection of Tales of the City—paying attention to touchstone novels from the period but, even more, highlighting works of fiction that have been left unjustly to gather dust on literary shelves.

Written by authors, scholars, collectors, and one of the publishers, their essays will inform you. They will sometimes amuse you. They will take you into literary corridors you only suspected were there. And the some 200 illustrations, chosen for their historical as well as their artistic interest, provide a visual record of why this was the golden age.

REVIEW:

Pop Quiz: You enjoy reading m/m romances and gay fiction. Which of the following describes the depth of your familiarity with the genre?

A. You name it, I’ve read it, the more obscure, the better.

B. I’ve read Maurice and bought a used copy of The City and the Pillar off eBay to read…someday.

C. I read Brokeback Mountain in The New Yorker back in 1997 and that got me hooked.

D. I never heard of m/m until #amazonfail last spring – that’s when I read False Colors.

Whether you selected A or D or fall somewhere in between, run, don’t walk, to your favorite bookseller to order a copy of The Golden Age of Gay Fiction. If you are solely a reader, or a reader and writer both, this book is an essential resource that provides context and understanding for the gay fiction genre.

Edited by Drewey Wayne Gunn, the book is a collection of 22 essays from 19 contributors, organized in four sections: I) O Brave New World; II) “I Know It When I See It”; III) Frightening the Horses; and IV) Secrecy and Adventure. The Introduction by Gunn grounds the reader as to the purpose and scope of the book: a comprehensive review and analysis of gay fiction from its Golden Age, dated as 1948-1978. The books reviewed include “the pulps” – paperback novels that were cheaply printed, broadly distributed, and widely read. While often not paragons of great literature they were extremely influential in bringing gay writing—and many gay men—out of the closet. Gunn notes that “scholarly” writing about gay literature has largely ignored these books; bringing them to the forefront and recognizing their importance is a major strength of The Golden Age.

The essays are uniformly well written and interesting; some are funny, some are serious, depending on the topic at hand. On Being There…Or Not by William Maltese had me laughing out loud. Lonnie Coleman Remembered by Nowell Briscoe was a touching memory of an author who is now, unfortunately, largely forgotten. I particularly enjoyed Conversation in a Coffee Shop by Dennis Bolin. He notes that in any serious conversation about “important” books that one “must” read, six titles always rise to the top: Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote; The City and the Pillar by Gore Vidal (both published in 1948); Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, published in 1956; two from the sixties, City of Night by John Rechy and Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man; and last, but not least, Maurice by E.M. Forster, published in 1971 but written in 1914. Bolin bought all six, read them, and discusses them thoroughly. I freely admit that I have gaping holes in my own personal “must read” background—take me out and shoot me, I’ve never read To Kill A Mockingbird—but I’ve filled those holes (sort of) with essays like Bolin’s. So, thank you, Dennis, for doing the hard work since now I don’t have to. I probably won’t bother trying to plow through Pillar; I’ve never been much of a Vidal fan, anyway. But A Single Man sounds interesting and I may dig out my old copy of Maurice which is packed away in the attic for a second re-read, almost forty years later.

One bonus for readers is that many of the books discussed are being re-issued in new editions, so titles that catch your attention may be readily available in print and for some of them, as ebooks. Have you always wanted to read The Man from C.A.M.P. by Victor J. Banis? You can. Other Voices, Other Rooms has the “scandalous” picture of Capote with his bedroom eyes and come hither stare, only this time it’s on the cover, not the back.

But if you want to see what Capote looked like on the original cover, then turn to page 27, because this is another wonderful feature of The Golden Age: more than 200 full-color illustrations of book covers, many of them which are now very difficult, if not impossible, to find. The amount of work that went into tracking these down must have been phenomenal and we all benefit by having them preserved within the pages of The Golden Age forever.

The Golden Age of Gay Fiction is beautifully designed. I love the font that was used for the chapter titles (which is the same as on the cover, in case you want an example). The cover painting was commissioned by MLR Press for the book and was done by an Ohio artist named Paul Richmond (who also did the cover for Zero at the Bone by Jane Seville, in case his style looks familiar). I read the book as a PDF for this review but I will be ordering a print copy for my collection. While it is available as an ebook, really, you need to have it in print to do it justice. It is worth the $70 investment.

Scholarship throughout the book is evident. References are cited and the back matter includes a ten page “Index of Fiction Discussed” which includes not just the index to the book but also complete bibliographic data for the books that are cited, even in a casual mention. The book also includes a bibliography of secondary sources for further reading. I am so impressed with the index and bibliography, I daresay they will become the gold standard for a comprehensive listing of gay literature, both fiction and non, for the time period covered in the book.

Last, the contributors, who are the heart and soul of the book. I am going to list them all at the end of this review because they deserve to be recognized. They have an eclectic mix of backgrounds and experience, ranging from authors, avid readers, and book collectors to known scholars and academicians. As noted earlier, the writing is uniformly excellent. Clearly all the contributors have a passion for their chosen topic. They also pulled off a feat that eludes many contributed non-fiction collections: the book is interesting and fun to read. This is not some dry, dusty tome that will be relegated to the libraries of esoteric researchers; rather, anyone who is interested in gay fiction, even if only marginally, will find something enjoyable to read in The Golden Age of Gay Fiction. I am willing to bet on it.

Kudos to Laura Baumbach and the MLR Press team for bringing this book to fruition. It really is a jewel in the crown of her published titles and she should be very, very proud of this accomplishment.

Gunn, D.W., ed. (2009). The Golden Age of Gay Fiction. Albion, NY: MLR Press. Contributors: Victor J. Banis, Dennis Bolin, Nowell Briscoe, Michael Bronski, Philip Clark, Fabio Cleto, Neil DeWitte, Dave Doyle, Jan Ewing, Drewey Wayne Gunn, Earl Kemp, Josh Lanyon, Rob Latham, William Maltese, Rob McDonald, Tom Norman, Joseph M. Ortiz, Paul Richmond (artist), Roger H. Tuller, Ian Young.

Note: This review is also posted at Reviews by Jessewave. Thanks to Erastes and Wave for allowing me to post in both places and further spread the word about this excellent book.

Buy at MLR Press

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Review: Lessons in Discovery by Charlie Cochrane

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

Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book 3

Cambridge, 1906.

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

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Pure Folly by Madelynne Ellis

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

When Alastair Romilly de Vere accepts a dare to spend a night in a haunted folly, it’s not the prospect of a ghostly presence that he finds daunting. Alastair is desperately in love with his cousin’s fiancé, Jude, the man who is to be his companion for the night; an attraction that he dare not confess.

When a spirit trapped within the folly takes possession of Jude seeking to end a century of torment, can Alastair face his fears, in order to save the man he loves? For only by surrendering his body, will he win freedom for them all.

pure follyA folly is a small ornamental building with no practical purpose; in Pure Folly, the structure is on the de Vere estate, abandoned and supposedly haunted. It is described as a Greek Temple but it has three towers with a magnificent view. I am not familiar with temples with towers but…whatever. The premise of Pure Folly is that Alastair de Vere and Jude Levenson have, on a dare, agreed to spend a night in the building. Alastair is terrified of the place and has been since he had a bad experience there when he was seven. However, he has the hots for Jude and that passion is forcing him to overcome his fear of ghosts. It turns out that, unknown to Alastair, Jude has the hots for him and sees this as the ideal opportunity—and potentially last chance—to make his move before he becomes engaged to Alastair’s cousin Charlotte.

And thus begins the story. The men settle in with their picnic basket and many bottles of wine. Alastair is in mental agony—wanting to confess his love for Jude but afraid that in doing so, he will lose Jude’s friendship. Jude, for his part, seems sort of oblivious and doesn’t pick up on any of Alastair’s hints, although it seems he is telegraphing his feelings rather blatantly.

They decide to explore the building. Apparently it was built by Alastair’s great grandfather and used as his private retreat—and of course, it hides his secrets. Down in the basement they find great-grandpa’s man cave and guess what! He liked men! He liked looking at them, he liked drawing them, and presumably he liked fucking them, although the great love of his life, Linley, seems to have been a cock tease extraordinaire.

Now, this is the part where the story took a wrong turn for me, and never really recovered. See, Alastair is worried that if he confesses his feelings for Jude, Jude will think he’s a disgusting pervert and will have nothing further to do with him. However, in the man cave, Jude is very interested in great-grandpa’s sketch books and the art on the walls. Don’t you think that Alastair might have taken that as a hint that, um, perhaps Jude is open to the idea of a little man-on-man action? Instead, Alastair, who, in one of his ruminations has revealed to us, the readers, that he knows he has homosexual inclinations, is the one who runs from the room, horrified at what he is seeing. Huh? It just doesn’t make sense.

Back upstairs, Jude makes a very bold move and gives Alastair a neck rub. That’s all that is needed to open the floodgates (neck rub vs. a man cave full of sex toys…I won’t even go there) and before you know it, true love has bloomed. Of course, we can’t get to happy ever after right away, so cue scary music…suddenly a ghost story happens. I think the ghosts had something to do with great-grandpa and Linley and exorcising their evil spirits from the building but it wasn’t nearly as entertaining as what came before so I didn’t pay much attention.

Once we got past the ghosts, the story wrapped up with a very quick and pat ending which was decidedly anti-climactic.

Now, if this review makes it sound like I hated the book—I didn’t. The writing was quite good and there was lots of very erotic sex, nicely described. I buzzed through it two hours or so (it’s a novella, about 30K words) and did go back and re-read the initial seduction scene a few times—yes, it was hot. I was just disappointed that the author had set herself up with the golden opportunity for some really fun action in the man cave (and hey, it could have been really kinky, if that’s the route she wanted to take) and instead, wasted it on a silly ghost story that seemed shoehorned in and not nearly as interesting as the living, breathing men she had created.

Would I recommend? If you are in the mood for some hot, steamy mansex and have a spare $4.15 (₤2.49) for the ebook, then sure. If you like your sex tamer and not too explicit, then you should probably give it a pass.

NB: Despite my use of modern terminology in this review, the story takes place circa 1840 and the author is careful and faithful to the time in terms of language, dialog, and descriptions.

Available at Total E-Bound Publishing

Review: False Colors by Alex Beecroft

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

False Colors, by Alex Beecroft, is one of two books recently released by Running Press in their new line of m/m historicals (the other is Trangressions, by Erastes). Two more books are scheduled to be released in the third quarter of 2009. I have read both False Colors and Transgressions and if these are indicative of the types of books Running Press will be publishing, we fans of the genre are very lucky readers, indeed.

False Colors is Ms. Beecroft’s second historical novel and like her first, Captain’s Surrender, it takes place during the time when the British Royal Navy ruled the seas and half the world—-the golden “Age of Sail.” The story opens in 1762 with Lt. John Cavendish receiving his first captaincy and an assignment to stop the Barbary Corsairs off the coast of Algeria. Alfie Donwell signs on as his first lieutenant and it is clear from their very first meeting that Alfie has eyes
for John. But it will be a long time, ie, the whole book, with lots of adventures and misunderstanding in between, before they get to the point where they are able to negotiate their relationship and realize how they feel about each other.

Because John and Alfie spend so much time apart, the book is very much about their individual journeys to discover who they are—-until they have come to this realization, they can’t really be together. It’s an interesting dynamic and Ms. Beecroft handles the character development skillfully, having both men grow and mature from page to page. John’s growth is fueled by some particularly horrific situations in which he finds himself, as well as working to cast off beliefs ingrained into him from his youth and family life. Alfie, on the other hand, matures by falling in love with another man (although he never really falls out of love with John). As I enjoy character studies, I found Alfie’s portion of the story to be a bit more engaging but really, we’re talking “great” and “greater”—minute gradations of difference in excellence.

There’s a cast of secondary characters who are extremely well-drawn. In particular, I found myself going back and re-reading the parts of the story that featured Charles Farrant, Captain Lord Lisburn. He’s the Captain of the Britannia, the second ship in the story on which Alfie serves. He’s attracted to men and knows it but has done the things “required” of him to deny his homosexuality, including marrying, fathering children, and undergoing various “cures” from his physician in an effort to treat his “perversion.” All of this has created a man who is now, in his forties, angry, repressed, frustrated, and cruel. But he can also be kind, tender, and even loving, and flashes of this come through, when he lets down the wall he has so carefully built around his feelings. Of all the characters in the book, my heart ached the most for Charles and I wished his life could have been different. He deserved more than he got.

The story is carefully and thoroughly plotted. No loose ends, no characters swooping in from the wings to magically save the day. This is an improvement over Captain’s Surrender (which I enjoyed, but there were a few implausible moments in that book). Likewise, I think Ms. Beecroft’s writing has improved since her first book. She did tell me in an exchange of emails that she didn’t edit Captain’s Surrender as much as she wanted but I contend that it is not just editing differences between the two. In this book, Ms. Beecroft is more skillful in her writing and confident in her ability and it shows. Every word is precisely selected and there for a reason. It is a pleasure to read a book that is so beautifully constructed.

In sum, I highly recommend False Colors. My highest rating is what I call “the incredible sadness”—that feeling that I will never read a book again that is quite this good. Of course, I know I will but in interim I satisfy my longing by re-reading favorite parts and yes, re-reading the book. Which explains why it has taken me two weeks to write this review.  :-)

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Buy from: Amazon, Amazon (Kindle version), Sony Store (Sony ereader)

Review: Paper Moon by Marion Husband

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

When I volunteered to write a review of Paper Moon by Marion Husband, Erastes said, “Oh, wonderful! Another gay historical!” While the story is historical (it takes place in 1946) and does feature gay characters, I’m not sure that gay historical is the best description. Historical fiction that describes the experience of being gay in the mid-20th century might be more apt. Yes, that’s mouthful but it’s meant to convey that this is a story firmly rooted in reality in terms of the tale that is told; for those of us who enjoy “gay historical” be they romances, war stories, mysteries or whatever, it is probably a worthwhile exercise to touch base with reality every now and then and Paper Moon is an excellent book for that endeavor.

By way of context, I was rummaging around on the Amazon gay and lesbian best seller list and came across The Boy I Love, also by Husband. Having never heard of it, I did a little research and discovered the excellent review of it at this site (you can read it here).

I immediately downloaded the book (I have an e-reader, hooray!) and read it in 48 hours. Hooked, I dived right into the sequel, Paper Moon, as soon as I finished the first. Both are excellent but I would give Paper Moon an edge as being more well-written and slightly more satisfying, overall.

The stories take place 26 years apart and share a common theme: men coming home after the war and struggling to pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives. In The Boy I Love, the central characters were Paul Harris, his lovers Adam Mason and Patrick Morgan and Patrick’s injured brother, Mick; the war was World War I. Paper Moon is Bobby Harris’s story set in the year following the end of World War II. Like his father Paul, Bobby has come home from the war injured but his disfigurement is worse: Paul lost an eye but Bobby has been horribly burned when he crashed his plane. He describes his hands as claws and his face has melted away, crudely repaired by surgeons who have taken skin grafts from all over his body. His psychic pain is deep, too, but we learn as the story progresses that his self-loathing began long before the loss of his “beautiful face.”

In the first book, the homosexual characters were central; in Paper Moon they play a more tangential role, which probably is accurate for the time and setting. There are a few flamboyant “queens” (the “artsy” crowd) but for the most part, the gay characters are invisible and exist on a continuum from tolerated to despised. They work hard to keep their sexuality in the closet and blend in with “normal” society. One character from the first book has gone so far as to enter into a marriage of convenience, something I wouldn’t have expected of him.

This is a character driven story, which I enjoy. There’s not a lot of action, just the overlapping and interweaving tales of Bobby, Hugh, and Nina and the other people in their lives: parents, friends, former lovers, children, siblings. Not everyone is present in physical form but everyone is present in the story and with each turn of the page, a new layer is revealed, deftly told and subtly nuanced.

If there is any weakness in Husband’s writing is that her female characters are not nearly as complex as the men; Nina is the most fleshed out but still, she remains a cipher. One character who comes into the book at about the halfway point has potential, but even she is given short shrift. The rest of the women are like cardboard cutouts and one character from the first book never even gets mentioned—and her absence bothered me. Husband could have fixed it with a sentence, ie, She got run over by a bus, but she didn’t. Oh well, it is a minor irritation and didn’t strongly detract from my overall enjoyment of the book. To be perfectly honest, I find the men more interesting to read about, anyway.

All in all, I highly recommend this book. It had an incredibly satisfying, if slightly bittersweet ending that stayed with me long after I closed the cover.

NB: While this can be read as a standalone, I recommend reading it with The Boy I Love. Knowing the backstory of the characters who reappear in Paper Moon will enhance your overall reading experience, in my opinion. Conveniently, the two books are together in an omnibus that is available from various booksellers. E-book readers, like me, will have to buy both books separately.

To buy: Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk E-book at Amazon.com

NNB: Because I was curious about the author, I tracked down her website. I discovered that she had posted a short story that she wrote, The Lilac Tree, which inspired both of these books. You can read it here.  f you haven’t read either of the books, read the story first, then again after, and see if your perspective on the characters changes.

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Submissions call:GLBT Military History

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CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS:

MILITARY HISTORY NOVELLA ANTHOLOGY

A Joint Venture of

CHEYENNE PUBLISHING AND BRISTLECONE PINE PRESS

CHEYENNE PUBLISHING and BRISTLECONE PINE PRESS are teaming up for a special publishing project.  This joint venture will be an anthology consisting of three novellas. This submission call is to select two novellas (20,000 to 35,000 words) to be included with an already selected novella about the battle of the Little Bighorn.  The theme will be gay/lesbian military personnel in a historical setting.  Stories can be set in any era circa 1600 forward, up to and including the Viet Nam War. Military personnel can be interpreted to include soldiers, officers, and support staff such as nurses; key is that the action of the story takes place in a military setting during war, truce, or peacetime support. Any military conflict within the past 500 years (circa 1600 on) or country is acceptable. While sexual relationships can be discussed and intimate acts implied, we   prefer the material to be non-explicitly sexual in order to accommodate a young-adult crossover readership. Please note that the main characters must be gay or lesbian and issues regarding their sexuality must be a primary element of the plot. Cheyenne Publishing and Bristlecone Pine Press allow the writer complete freedom in regards to genre – meaning your story does not have to fit into any particular mold such as “happy ever after” – in other words, soldiers can die.

As this is a small press project, there will be no advances offered. Cheyenne Publishing will publish the print version and Bristlecone Pine Press will publish the e-book versions. Authors will be paid a flat fee of $250 upon final acceptance of a completed manuscript. Final contractual details will be negotiated at the time of acceptance; note that Cheyenne Publishing and Bristlecone Pine Press are not vanity publishers and follow standard industry practices with respect to publishing and distribution.

You do not have to complete the full manuscript in order to submit an idea for review. To be considered, send a 600-1000 word synopsis of your story and a sample of at least 5000 words to webmaster@cheyennepublishing.com and publisher@bcpinepress.com . Include “Military Historical Submission” in the subject line. Include complete contact information including name, address, telephone, and email address in the email. The synopsis should be included in the body of the email; the sample should be included as a Word attachment. Submissions not following these guidelines will be rejected without review.

Theme: Gay/lesbian, historical, military personnel

Length: 20,000 to 35,000 words

Submission deadline:  April 30, 2009 for synopsis; acceptance by May 30, 2009; completed manuscripts due August 31, 2009.

Projected publication date: January 2010

Submissions and inquiries email to: webmaster@cheyennepublishing.com or publisher@bcpinepress.com

Websites: www.cheyennepublishing.com

www.bcpinepress.com

Review: The Secret Tunnel by James Lear

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

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

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

ISBN: 978-1-57344-329-6

Buy: Amazon UK Amazon USA

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.

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