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

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