Review: On a Lee Shore by Elin Gregory

“Give me a reason to let you live…”

Beached after losing his ship and crew, and with England finally at peace, Lt Christopher Penrose will take whatever work he can get. A valet? Why not? Escorting an elderly diplomat to the Leeward Islands seems like an easy job, but when their ship is boarded by pirates, Kit’s world is turned upside down. Forced aboard the pirate ship, Kit finds himself juggling his honor with his desire to stay alive among the crew, not to mention the alarming—yet enticing—captain, known as Le Griffe. 

Kit has always obeyed the rules, but as the pirates plunder their way across the Caribbean, he finds much to admire in their freedom. He deplores their lawlessness but is drawn to their way of life, and begins to think he might just have found a purpose. Dare he dream of finding love too? Or would loving a pirate take him too far down the road to ruin?

ebook  - 289 pages (approx)

Review by Alex Beecroft

 First Impressions

 I love the cover – all that gold and rigging and lovely ruffly shirts. A proper naval jacket immediately catches my eye, but the piratical scarf and the fact that that’s clearly not a naval ship (with those crows’ nests) already suggests an interesting conflict.

My initial impression that this was going to be a romance between Kit and his delightful fashionable friend Tristan. The two of them had such chemistry that I was quite sad when currently turned-ashore Lieutenant Kit got a job as an elderly gentleman’s valet and set sail for the Leeward Islands. But soon their small merchant vessel is attacked by pirates and Kit is taken captive aboard the Africa, captained by the gentleman pirate La Griffe (Griffin to his friends.)

Kit is gay, but he has all the ingrained prejudices and internalized homophobia appropriate to a naval officer, for whom sodomy is a hanging offence. I liked the fact that he did not experience a sudden inexplicable change of heart on simply seeing Griffin.

I also liked the fact that Griffin is a cut above some romance-novel-pirates, who would think nothing of a bit of dub- or even non-con. I really dislike the whole ‘irresistible alpha male semi-forces himself on other bloke, confident he will like it in the end, and of course he does’ trope. It’s one of the things that generally puts me off pirate novels – all that threat of rape. Fortunately Griffin is too proud to force himself on an unwilling partner, which means that instead we get a relationship of slowly developing respect between the two men.

Kit is put to work doing such things aboard the pirate sloop that he can be trusted to do without sabotaging the ship or damaging his own honour. This gives rise to another of the great joys of the book, which is the fact that even without the m/m romance element this is a wonderful Age of Sail novel. I would almost go so far as to say that it’s an Age of Sail novel with m/m romance elements rather than a m/m romance-novel with AoS elements.

Elin Gregory’s research is impeccable, her scenes of shipboard life are endlessly engaging, full of lively characters, great nautical battles and intrigues and raving sailing. Anyone who has enjoyed Master and Commander, or Hornblower, would enjoy this novel as a thoroughly entertaining bit of historical swashbuckling.

The romance is slow developing, but I think it’s all the more convincing for that. Both men have time to show their finer qualities, which in both their cases are fine indeed. They also have time to work through their issues, making the development of the love between them more easy to believe. By the end, when Griffin is betrayed by one of his own men, it’s just as easy for the reader to be on the edge of their seat with nerves about how he will ever come back as it is for Kit.

Speaking of swashbuckling, there’s something satisfyingly old school about the ending, where by old school I mean ‘reminds me of classic pirate films like Captain Blood’. It’s a delightful twist, completely unexpected at least by me, and yet properly foreshadowed early on, so that when it does happen you go ‘oh, so that’s why…!’

To sum up. I can’t actually think of anything bad to say about this, other than that the pace and emphasis of the story is more that of an Age of Sail novel than that of a romance. To me that makes the book all the better. Lots to read and get your teeth into as well as a proper pace for the psychological journey Kit has to go on. But those who prefer a more wham, bam, thank you man pace may find it a little slow going. My advice would be to relax and enjoy the ride, because what a ride it is.

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Review: Promises Made Under Fire by Charlie Cochrane

France, 1915

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

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

ebook and audiobook- 18,000 words

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: The Low Between by Vivien Dean

It was supposed to be simple.

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

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

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

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

ebook  - 144 pages

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Website

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Review: The Pretty Gentleman by Max Fincher

Erotic sketches, a blackmail letter, a closeted aristocrat, his ambitious lover, and a sacrificial murder. Love, betrayal, deception and vengeance in Regency’s London’s art world.

George Rowlands, an aspiring young painter and apprentice to his father in the Haymarket theatre, meets Sir Henry Wallace while drawing the river at Richmond. Wallace invites George to his home in St. James’s square to draw his collection of sculpture and his good-looking valet Gregorio Franchese. Securing him a place to study painting at the Royal Academy of Arts under the eccentric Gothic painter, Henry Fuseli, George meets the mysterious John McCarther who befriends him. Meanwhile, Lady Arabella Wallace records in her diary her suspicions about her husband’s night-time absences and his ‘enthusiasm’ for his new protégé. George discovers his every move with Wallace is being watched after Wallace confesses his love for him.

ebook – 306 pages

Review by Erastes

I’ve been musing a while as to whether I should still be reviewing self-published books on this blog, and the editing–I’m sorry to say–on this book has pushed me so close to the edge of deciding, it’s only going to take one more like this to get me to fall off the fence one way or the other. From the huge list of helpers, encouragers and friends that the author lists in his acknowledgements, you’d think SOMEONE might have pointed out that he has a comma abuse problem. As well as subject confusion, and many other issues such as random tense changes, homonym mistakes and typos.

Sidebar: Self Published authors. I’m sick of this. Don’t go skipping towards self-publishing with the attitude that by not having to give most of your royalties to your publisher you can coin it. Think rather that you should be paying a fucking editor the money your publisher would have. Because? If you skip this, cut corners and think gleefully at the money you’ve “saved” you’ll produce a shoddy product which no one will bloody BUY. Rather defeats the object. I apologise for losing my temper, but this book really tipped me over the edge, and when you review books and you read so many self-published books which clearly are not ready for publication, and there’s so many authors doing good work, it makes me mad.

That all being said, there is something to like in this book. If it had not had that kernel of promise I would have either not reviewed it at all, or dismissed it with a half of one star for putting words in a line–kind of the equivalent of putting one’s name at the top of an exam paper, but there is talent here, there is a knack for description and the ability to communicate a time and place. It’s just a shame that the shoddy workmanship drags it down.

The other main problem is the pacing; putting aside all other issues, if this had been the type of polished self-publication–as say, The Painting was–I would still have problems with the execution. It’s possibly the most realistic Regency set book I’ve read, the research has been done mostly impeccably and you really feel that–with the descriptions of the grit and grime of the streets and the dark, candlelit rooms that you are in a time before gas lighting and electricity. But the first half of the book is so painfully slow and laboured if I hadn’t been reviewing it I would have given up, and I almost never feel that way. There’s just nothing much going on–George meets Wallace by chance whilst out painting the landscape and so slowly you can almost see the glaciers growing faster they move to a position of artist and patron while George falls in love with Wallace. Apart from one instance where George follows Wallace in stalkery fashion to Vere Street and another time he sees someone he thinks is following him, for over 50 percent of the book nothing much else happens. Oh, there’s attendance at art school, and the occasional party, and endless pages of George painting and sketching–all interspersed with the increasingly paranoid journal entries of Wallace’s wife, but there’s no real sense of foreboding or even burgeoning love on either side. George tells us he’s (probably, how can he tell?) in love with Wallace on numerous occasions, but he doesn’t really give any reason for that, nor is the reader given any. Wallace, for me, was a thoroughly objectionable, spoilt brat who wants everything his own way, and everyone to agree with his own opinions. He’s not even depicted as being entirely mesmerising which would explain why George falls so completely under his spell.

As I said, there’s a lot of historical detail in the book, most of which is accurate as far as I could tell–I wasn’t knocked out by modern language or attitudes. But many of the touches which the author obviously wanted to put in so we can tell he did the research were a bit superfluous and I was often thinking – “yeah, ok, nice scene, good description, but what’s the point of it in the plot?” I also rolled my eyes at George being paid £200 for his very first portrait and then wondering how he was going to live – the minimum conversion of that sum of money is well over £11k so it’s unlikely he’d have had any money problems for a good long while.

The major conflict, when it happens is not unexpected, but is actually well-handled. Wallace proves himself to be the git I took him to be all along which was gratifying, at least. I think what the author was aiming for was a gradual escalation of the plotline as after the middle of the book things start to kick off, but the beginning needs to have some acceleration rather than pages of walking around painting and or looking at things.

So, I’m torn about the book. On one hand it’s well done to the extent of the feel and the paranoia and the atmosphere of the times, but the painfully slow pacing would make it a do not finish for many. I would probably recommend it as a read if you can get past the pacing – AND if you are prepared to put up with the legion of grammatical errors throughout. I would advise the author to get it very carefully proofed by someone who knows how to punctuate, at the very least. A neatly edited version of this would have earned a 3.5 but as it is–specially the conversion from PDF to Kindle where all the double Ts were entirely missing–I can’t give it more than a 2.5

Author’s Website

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Review: Lord of Endersley by S.A. Meade

Will the passion ignited during a violent uprising survive the rigid confines of Victorian society?

Jacob Endersley is glad to escape the confines of his family home for the exotic and dangerous beauty of India during the glory days of the Raj.

Marcus Billington, an Army officer, is tired of the stifling social mores of life in a British enclave. When the Sepoy Uprising of 1857 leads to chaos and bloodshed, the two men seek the safety of Agra and find refuge in each other.

Once the rebellion is quashed, Jacob returns to England while Marcus remains in India. They have no hope of a future together until Jacob learns that Marcus has returned to England. When they meet again, Marcus makes it clear there can be nothing between them and Jacob returns to Endersley resigned to a solitary life until Marcus arrives out of the blue and then everything changes.

ebook and paperback – 161 pages

Review by Erastes

Now here’s something rare – I might even say unique! A gay historical romance set during the Indian Mutiny, a period that fascinates me and evokes the mysterious, the strange and the exotic. Jacob is the eponymous Lord of Endersley who has come to India to sort out a cousin’s finances and meets up with Captain Marcus Billington and sparks fly almost from the first.

I have to say that I was impressed with S.A. Meade’s writing. It’s nicely descriptive without being over the top, and with the exception of a couple of repeated sentences that a good editor should have winnowed out, she manages to place the reader in the stifling, lung drowning heat of India. The weather is almost a third character because everything one does in India is pretty much done in tandem with the weather. It’s excellent the way Meade notes small details such as the women struggling to deal with “roughing it” after the rebellion starts–struggling with their dresses for a start–without making such small details interfere with the flow of the story.

The romance trundles along nicely–I loved the way that they weren’t able to leap into bed together and have night after night of passionate sex, that the social structure of the time made this almost impossible and that it was clear that they had to be careful and circumspect all of the time. The couple of times they did get together were cleverly managed and quite believable. The one thing I didn’t really understand though was why they didn’t get more than one opportunity to use the little shack they used just the once. The ubiquitous handy vial of oil is really beginning to bug me, the more of these I read.

The one thing I would have liked more of was the rebellion itself, and the reasons for it, as there’s no explanation of it and the reader would come away from the book no wiser than when they started. I don’t believe that fiction books should be history tomes, but I do think they should reflect the situation. Englishmen and women talked a lot about the natives and there could easily have been club talk and gossip as to what was happening in the wider scheme of things. Sadly there’s not, and Jacob simply does guard duty. The infuriating thing is that when he leaves the fort after the rebellion has been put down, we get this sentence:

It seemed an anticlimactic moment after months of near starvation, close calls, death and privations.

And I agreed with him entirely, because we’d seen nothing of all this, and whilst I don’t think a blow by blow account of daily life at the siege of Agra would have been suitable for a romance–although there are books that get away with it– I would have liked to have seen something of this. Nothing is mentioned of the magnificent Agra fort either–other than one of the small pavilions along the walls, it surprised me that Jacob never gave any description of the wonderful interiors instead of moping around in the heat.

Only fifty percent of the book takes place in India; the rest plays out in England where again, the weather and the descriptions really anchor the reader in the sense of time and place. It’s a gasp of fresh air after the suffocating warmth of India and I laughed at Jacob already complaining about the chill when he’d spent all that time longing to be home in a cooler climate.

The dance between the two of them once they got back to Blighty became a little tedious for me, and it sadly was a case of rinse and repeat once back in England, including the hurt/comfort aspect. It was all “no no, we mustn’t” “but why not?” “no no, I must go” and so on and so on. It’s a convenient conflict, but it’s not terribly interesting reading. In fact I found much of the British section really boring, most particularly the chess match the two men have which is described for pages and pages and pages and I simply couldn’t see the point of it, as there wasn’t any sub-text dialogue going on at the same time, which you’d expect there would be.

The historical feel is quite well done, but it did tend to dip into a 20th/21st century vibe from time to time, particularly when the two men were “talking it out” some of the phrases were quite anachronistic and modern in feel

I am guessing–as this is the first part in a series–that the title of The Endersley Papers will become clear, and I have to say that as a personal niggle the title “Lord of Endersley” does nothing to evoke any interest in this book. Neither the title nor the cover give any hint of the exciting backdrop of the Mutiny and that’s a shame because I’m sure more people would try it if that was made a tad clearer.

Overall I enjoyed reading this, and I gobbled it up wholesale which is a good sign believe you me! I think that anyone who’s looking for a well-written romance will love this. I look forward to the next parts.

Author’s Blog

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Review: Secret Light by Z.A. Maxfield

Rafe Colman likes his life. He has a nice home, a good job, and a wonderful dog. But he’s exhausted by living a lie. When his home is vandalized because of his perceived German ancestry, he can’t even share the irony with friends.

Officer Ben Morgan falls for Rafe’s dog first, but it isn’t long before he’s giving her owner the eye. He thinks they have more in common than the search for Rafe’s vandals, and he’s willing to take a chance and find out.

If life in 1955 is tough on a cop in the closet, it’s even tougher on a refugee who’s desperate to hide his roots and fit in. Rafe knows from tragic experience how vicious prejudice can be. Every second with Ben is stolen, every kiss fraught with danger.

When Ben’s partner threatens to ruin everything, Rafe and Ben have to fight to protect what they have but they’re tired of hiding their secret light.

ebook only  258 pages

Review by Gerry Burnie: This review was previously posted on his own book blog in July 2012

Editorial comment: The Goodreads’ posting of this book comes with a caveat, i.e. Publisher’s Note: This book contains explicit sexual situations, graphic language, and material that some readers may find objectionable: male/male sexual practices,” which I find ‘objectionable’. Were this a heterosexual story with heterosexual ‘sexual practices’ would it have the same caveat? I think not. Therefore it is demeaning at best.

This is the second of Z.A. Maxfield’s stories I have reviewed (see: St. Nacho’s, February, 2010) and I am happy to say that Secret Light [Loose ID LLC, 2011] is generally of the same well-written calibre.

Set in 1955, a period when the memory of WWII is still fresh in many people’s minds, we find Rafe Colman, an gay Austrian DP (displaced person) with his own, tragic memories of the war. These include the death of his parents and the murder of his dearest friends, a gay couple, and so he is understandably and profoundly affected by these events.

As is so often the case (it certainly was in mine) he has learned to cope by adopting a persona that ‘fits’ mainstream expectations; especially for a single man–nice guy with an eye for the ladies, friendly with everyone but seldom personal, successful with a medium-high profile. The problem with role playing of this nature is that it sublimates the real person inside, and no one can be allowed behind the scenes for a closer look.

Of course, this doesn’t prevent some busy bodies from drawing their own conclusions, rightly or wrongly, and from acting on them on account of prejudice or spite. So, when Colman’s house is vandalized because he is perceived as ‘German,’ the police become involved in the person of officer Ben Morgan; a closeted gay man, himself.

Call it “gaydar,” or whatever, the two of them come to recognize themselves in the other, and a relationship is formed based on mutual understanding, honesty and caring. It is not all cotton candy and roses, however, but at least the promise of an HEA ending is there.

While the plot circumstances aren’t particularly original, as they were in “St. Nacho’s”, the same attention to detail and atmosphere has been used to give the reader a sense of time and place. The character-development is also topnotch, which adds greatly to the credibility of their actions, and the pace allows the reader to appreciate both these aspects.

The drawback for me was the somewhat obvious story manipulation, resulting in resolutions that were just a bit on the convenient side. I hasten to add that these were not incredible in nature, but they were noticeable enough to affect my score.

Altogether, though, I have no hesitation in recommending Secret Light as an enjoyable read for all its great parts.

Author’s website

buy at Loose-ID

Review: The Red King by Rosemary O’Malley

A man abused and discarded is left to rebuild himself with naught but vengeance in his heart. A youth cruelly torn from all he knew and loved is cast adrift with no hope for the future. What will happen when Fate thrusts them together?

He is known as Ruaidhri and his extraordinary strengths and stamina are said to be born of the Devil. His ferocity is matched solely by his ruthlessness. For seven years, he has sailed his ship the Taibhse with one goal in mind: to avenge the years of torment he suffered at the hands of a depraved Danish lord. He has one final plan to succeed, but he searches yet for the implement.

His family destroyed by violence and his body enslaved to a brutal master, Andrew’s future promises only misery. He is saved from this desolate fate by a pirate captain with fiery hair and an ultimatum; help him achieve his revenge and go free, or be sent to a horrific, painful death. As Andrew struggles with the choice of slave or assassin, he finds that all is not as it seems aboard the corsair’s ship.

Pain is tempered by pleasure and loss consumed by love in the flames stoked by…The Red King..

ebook only – 320 pages (approx)

Review by Erastes

I always enjoy a well-written nautical adventure and this doesn’t disappoint. It’s clear right from the beginning that the author knows her subject and while I’m clueless about knots and lines and sheets I don’t really care about that stuff in the long run, as long as the book appears to know what it’s on about. Perhaps some expert sailor will find mistakes “a Xebec isn’t rigged like that” blah blah but I don’t know and with all else going on in the book I don’t particularly care. It reads like it does and that’s good enough for me!

The trouble with many nautical books-and I’m assuming that this is a hangover from all those hetero romances where the feisty heroine is dragged onboard by a scurvy but dangerously handsome captain and sparks fly–is that they tend to have the same trope which is exactly as described above, but with a feisty, or otherwise young man captured by that ubiquitous captain. This starts out like that but moves into different territory soon enough not to bore.

Here we have Andrew who is not-quite-a-monk and whose ship was waylaid by pirates.  Andrew – as these captives often are – is beautiful and everyone wants either to rape him or to protect him. I know it’s hard (cough) for a man to be without sex for a long time, but surely not every sailor automatically turns to gay rape rather than the alternatives.

Andrew, as the trope demands, starts out as particularly feeble–although that didn’t stop me from liking him. It wasn’t his fault he was raised gently by monks, after all. He mans up quite quickly which I approved of, and his character arc is fun to read, and he’s soon topping from the bottom and we find he’s not as feeble as we thought.

“I was raised by simple men, not simpletons!”

he says at one point and I cheered. There’s a bit of that problem with age and consent though, he’s 18, and of course has to be for American audiences, but at that age he’d be considered completely grown up in the 17th century, and it seems odd that despite raised by monks he never got around to taking holy orders, as that was his aim when in his monastery.

We get the first inkling that Andrew might eventually be swayed by the Captain’s lust quite quickly in the book.

“This was the captain? This man who looked like barbarian but was tending his wounds with the gentle touch of a Holy Sister? Where am I?” Andrew asked again, pulling his hands out of the man’s grasp. His touch, while gentle, was…disturbing.

Yes. the dot dot dots of foreshadowing!

The captain himself, Ruaidhri  or Rory, the Red King himself, is a larger than life character and one we can quite believe in, those of us raised on stories of Henry Morgan and Edward Teach. He’s a protector as well as a pirate and his aim is to kill a man and he is quite willing to use Andrew to do it. He has the fanatical devotion of his crew, and they are a great mixed bunch of miscreants too.

Lovers of yaoi will like this as it has very much a yaoi feel, particularly at the beginning where the naked innocent, who looks a lot younger than he is, is predated upon by “grown up” men. But I think lovers of shipboard romances will like it a lot too as there’s enough salty action to satisfy. There didn’t seem to be a lot of actual managing the ship–this tends to happen in books I’ve found. More chat than hauling on lines, but ships seem to sail themselves for the most part except in battles or storms! There are one or two tiny tiny instances which made me suspect this was converted fanfic, mentions of apples for example and people simply saying “Pirate” at each other, but if it is then it’s very well converted as never once did I see parallels in characterisation as I have in other books I’ve reviewed.

The growing relationship between Andrew and Rory is nicely done. There’s a rather delicious scene where Andrew tells Rory about a monk in the abbey who had confessed to wanting to kiss his bare bottom which is titillating and far more sensuous than many love scenes I’ve ever read. The fact that Andrew can’t see the effect he’s having while telling the story is quite squirmingly nice. All in all, there was rather too many sex scenes for me, but they aren’t really gratuitous, they do all lead forward in a progression, but well, there are a lot–although well written.

Description is pretty great throughout, to be honest. Without pages of the stuff, O’Malley manages to bring out the huge ocean, the huge sky, the hot claustrophobia of Algiers, the scent of a horse, the noises of the market. I could very easily see this transfer to a great graphic novel, as there’s images here in abundance. It’s much much more than a romance, there’s adventure and danger and philosophy and Cromwellian history and all sorts but it’s certainly never dull.

In fact, I thought I was the master of torturing my heroes especially when they look set for a happy ending, but O’Malley beats me hands down, she had me begging the book for a happy ending, which is something I never do. The ending for me, though, was a bit too drawn out and I got rather impatient with it and found myself skipping to get to the conclusion.

Editing is good, a couple of jarring instances -”lightning” was spelled “lightening” throughout for an example, compliment/complement being confused and some phrases that needed a firmer editing such as:

Rory quelled his sudden, urgent desire to kiss those lips and carry Andrew to the nearest couch with difficulty.

For those who need to know such things, there is one hetero sex scene in the book, and Rory as a ten year old had been taken and used by an adult. These scenes are short, rightly disturbing and not at all for titillation and are dealt with in memory segments. There are some unpleasant scenes towards the end too which if your squick factor is quite low you might want to avoid, but I hope it doesn’t put you off trying the book.  I’ve seen this book labelled BDSM on some sites but I certainly would not label it thusly. BDSM for me means a relationship and the abuse featured here is certainly no relationship, it’s abuse and shouldn’t be prettified.

Overall this is very enjoyable book, one that surprised me with each successive scene for the variety and scope. It should appeal to you whether you like your gay historicals to be well written, exciting, adventurous, factual (as far as this landlubber could ascertain, anyway), romantic and/or sensual. Well done, Ms O’Malley!

No Website that I could find.

Amazon UK | Amazon USA |

Review: The Celestial by Barry Brennessel

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

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

Paperback and ebook – 192 pages

Review by Michael Joseph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy from  Amazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: Brook Street: Rogues by Ava March

London, 1822

Two of London’s most notorious rakehells, Linus Radcliffe and Robert Anderson, are the best of friends. They share almost everything–clothes, servants, their homes, and even each other’s bed on occasion. The one thing they don’t share: lovers. For while Linus prefers men, Robert prefers women…except when it comes to Linus.

As another Season nears its end, Robert can’t ignore his growing jealousy. He hates watching Linus disappear from balls to dally with other men. Women are lovely, but Linus rouses feelings he’s never felt with another. Unwilling to share his gorgeous friend another night, Robert has a proposition for Linus.

A proposition Linus flatly refuses–but not for the reasons Robert thinks. Still, Robert won’t take no for an answer. He sets out to prove a thing or two to his best friend–yet will learn something about the heart himself.

ebook only: 28,000 words

Review by Erastes

As my reviews have shown in the past, I’ve enjoyed Ava March  very much – she’s come to me to represent for me the “woman who specialises in gay regencies” but perhaps it’s time she took a holiday and tried another time era, because with this and the last one (Brook Street Thief) I feel that somewhere she’s lost the spark that made me find her so enjoyable. I’m hoping it’s a minor glitch, and perhaps it’s because she rattled out these three books (Thief, Fortune Hunter, Rogues) too quickly to develop, but her previous books had much more depth and distinct personalities and these three, particularly this one seems rather homogenised. In fact, once I’d started the review I had to reopen the book to re-read as I went because the protagonists are quite forgettable and I couldn’t remember what had happened from my reading it a week before.

However, perhaps I’ve missed the irony of the titles, but the protagonists in “Thief” wasn’t a thief and these guys weren’t exactly rogues. Rakes, yes, sleeping around like billio, wham bam thank you ma’am (and Sam) but that’s not how I’d term rogue in a Regency. I was expecting, I have to admit, highwaymen or generally Bad Eggs. But they are gentlemanly gentlemen, rakes, yes, both in love with each other and too daft to admit it. Not my idea of rogues, to be honest.

And that’s the crux of the plot, really. That’s not a bad thing, it’s a perfectly acceptable trope, but with March I’d become used to expecting a little more, and she has done that particular trope herself before.

There’s none of March’s previous trademark BDSM in this, perhaps to appeal to a wider audience, so if you are expecting that, it’s not there.March’s writing is good, there’s no doubt about that, and she’s easy to read while still keeping a good flavour of the historical. She doesn’t do Ken-doll historicals where modern men strut their stuff on the Regency stage. She’s a safe pair of hands in Regency England, the balls (you know what I mean) are well described, the dialogue is close enough to be realistic without boring the reader by being too flowery, and the details here are there are enough to anchor the reader in time.

But…this didn’t do it for me. I couldn’t care less what happened with the protagonists and it was obvious to me what would happen. Perhaps it’s because March did these books as a series and did them too quickly, or perhaps her real heart is more with her BDSM stuff, I don’t know. Out of the 3 of the books in the series, I’d rate “Thief” as the best and perhaps this one as the weakest. That’s not to say it’s not a decent read and probably will be enjoyed by a good many people, but I was disappointed.

As an aside to Carina Press, I wish they would put their “coming soon” blurb at the back of the book, because I for one hate having to skip through seven or eight pages to find the beginning of the story, and of course, in no time at all the newsletter is out of date anyway, as this refers to the month of May and I read this in August. In a year or so, that would be even sillier.

Author’s website

Buy at Carina Press

Review: Lost and Won by Sarah Ann Watts

‘There was a battle and you lost.’ Philip prayed never to see Francis again. Now the man who stole his heart is his prisoner, staking his life on Philip’s honour. All Philip has to do is let him go.

 1651: the Battle of Worcester is lost and won. Charles Stuart is a fugitive with a price on his head and Cromwell has the ‘crowning mercy’ of victory. Philip, a sober, respectable young man, fought bravely for the parliamentary cause and is looking forward to peace at his own hearth.

Francis, his lover and childhood friend, returns to make peace with his dying father and to give back Philip’s heart.

Soon Philip finds himself reluctantly sheltering a royalist spy and protecting the witch in his family.

Philip’s duty is clear and Francis staked his life on his honour. All he has to do is let Francis go. But how can Francis ask Philip to deliver him to justice?

Novella (79 pages, 16k words) ebook only

Review by Erastes

As far as I can ascertain, this is the author’s second offering (the first being a short story) but this is her debut book – and what a debut it is. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, as it’s verging on the literary side of romance but that fact merely underlines–in my opinion–this author’s talent. My mental ears were pricked when I noticed that it had been edited by Joanne Soper-Cook who is a major literary talent herself, and so I had good expectations going in and boy, I wasn’t disappointed.

It’s a very simple tale, of a Roundhead (Philip) returning from the war and encountering a lost love, (Francis) who is — of course — a Cavalier, how they interact when they meet and Philip’s thought processes throughout. Does he protect himself and hand Francis (who’s a very wanted man) over to the militia? Should Francis break his allegiance to the new King, now hiding in France and stay with Philip?

The story–although quite a small novella of 16K words–manages to convey a great deal, not just of what is going on right now, but hints at such a wealth of back-story that I admit to–once again–wishing that the author had written the whole book, not just what really amounts to a longish short story about one part of these men’s lives, because this could easily fill a novel and more.

The atmosphere and the scene setting are blooming marvellous, and you can tell from the prose–and from the author’s blogspot–that they’ve put in a hell of a lot of research because the details are rapier sharp. From the description of ragged lace, to the weather and the interior of the houses–we are very firmly in 17th century England, and not here via Hollywood either. Next to Maria McAnn, I’ve not read anything in this era that evokes the sense of interior darkness and the constant paranoia that anyone would have had who had any brush with the two sides at this time in English history.

For those of you who buy a book with an eye to the sex, you’ll be disappointed, because it’s sparse and vague – but if you don’t get this because of that, you’ll be missing out. As the blurb suggests, there’s a mere hint of a paranormal element, but it is cleverly done, and given the times it could be entirely subjective rather than “a real witch” so I’ve chosen to ignore it.

There are some portions of the book which, due to the fractured dialogue (which makes it realistic, if somewhat tricky to read) and allusions to things the reader knew no wot of, that at times made it confusing. However, I am quite sure that on a second read it would iron itself out, and that each subsequent read would probably reveal more and more to a reader which is something I love about books like this. I’m sorry to say that due to time constraints, I have only read this once so far, but it’s a keeper and I’ll be reading it again very soon. Watch out for this author, I think she’s going to be good.

Author’s Blogspot

Buy at: Silver PublishingAmazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: The Last Concubine by Catt Ford

When Princes Lan’xiu’s brother delivers her under duress into General Hüi Wei’s harem as a political offering, her only question is how soon her secret will be discovered. She is under no illusions: when the general discovers she is actually a he, death is his only future—though he doesn’t plan to make it easy. Lan’xiu has dressed as a woman all his life, but he is no damsel in distress. He can swing a sword with the best of them. 

General Hüi Wei has everything a man could want: power, wealth, success on the battlefield, and a harem of concubines. At first, he regards Lan’xiu with suspicion, but he finds himself strangely drawn to her. When he discovers the beautiful young woman is actually a man, his first reaction is to draw his sword. Rather than waste such beauty, he decides to enjoy the spirited Lan’xiu’s submission—and ignites a passion and desire deeper than anything he’s felt with other wives. But court intrigue, political ambitions, and the general’s doubts may be too much for their love to overcome. 

Paperback and ebook – 220 pages

Review by Erastes

Ok, I’ll say it up front that this book is schmoopy. So if you like schmoop you are absolutely guaranteed to like this.

But it’s also a damned good story, with wonderful characters, a good plot and an adventure to boot. So if you don’t like the over-schmoopy, which I don’t, much, then you won’t be disappointed with the rest of it, so give it a go.

Oh dear, I seem to have done my summing up paragraphs at the beginning. You’ll want a review now. Ok. Here goes.

I hadn’t read the blurb at all when Dreamspinner sent me this book for review, and it was with a couple of other gay historicals so I was about three chapters in and I thought “Where is the gay in this gay historical?” I was getting sort of annoyed about having read something that I thought was het (nothing against het, it’s just that I have such limited reading time) when all became clear and boy, didn’t I feel stupid.

The description of a medieval Chinese society is well done. Ford is clever, having most of the action taking place within a palace and further in, within the locked and gated women’s quarters where only enuchs, women, guards and the General himself can visit.  With this device she can concentrate on the relationships within those walls, the paranoia and fear of the women and the way they interact without having to do much about the ever shifting allegiances within China itself.

I’m not sure when this is set–there’s a mention of Sun Emperor Ju, and the only Ju I could find was around the 600AD time, so that would seem to work. I know absolutely nothing about the country other than from Pearl S Buck’s books and the few gay historicals there are, but this reads every believably, but I assume it’s AU rather than historical as I couldn’t find any mention of the General either, sp if that is important to you, you might want to avoid.

The characters, as I said were pretty great all round. There’s a rather unfortunate Dragon Lady stereotype and perhaps I’d like to have seen more motivation for her general evilness than simple jealousy and obvious madness, but First Wife Mei Ju, Fifth Wife Bai and all the other concubines and wives we meet are individual and interesting in their own way. The deference and customs are shown gently and without tub thumping exposition and I really did fear for Lan’Xiu’s life, both before her denouement and afterwards. It also shows a good blurring of genders, as Lan has been brought up one way and prefers to act and dress like that, and Ning, her eunuch – who I would really like to have seen a lot more of, because I think he may have a fascinating back story, and we were teased with it, and then it was snatched away–is referred to as the third sex, but is really not that at all, but perhaps something else. It makes you think, which is a good thing in a book.

The uber-schmoopyness comes in after Lan and Hui Wei have consummated their relationship. There’s instant lust and instant love for both of them which I could easily believe from Lan, because she had been starved of physical contact and affection, but I wasn’t so convinced as to why Hui became quite so besotted quite so quickly. He had one night with Lan, and then stayed away for quite some time, so it didn’t seem very realistic. Plus of course he really should have questioned why he was in love with Lan when for so long he’d been heterosexual and (as far as we are told) has never fancied men, despite being surrounded by them 24 hours a day. He does question it a little, but it’s brushed aside. The sex scenes are rather over-blown because of this over-romantic, lovey-doveyness, and although I could understand the use of the “mine, mine” “yours yours” claiming trope because of the nature of literal ownership of women by men at the time, I can’t say I’m won over by it, however true to the time.

The parts I liked the best were the action scenes, one of which is towards the beginning and the major one towards the end. I could really see this as a Chinese action film, one of those legendary ones where everyone jumps impossible distances, hair flying in the wind and gorgeous costumes. Oh yes, and for costume buffs, the descriptions of the Chinese ladies’ outfits are to die for.

So yes, to sum up again, thoroughly enjoyable and I recommend that you give it a go. I could have done without the over-lovey-dovey, but it fitted the story.

Author’s Blog

Buy at Dreamspinner |  Amazon UK |  Amazon USA

Review: Lord and Master by H.C. Brown

Lord Reynold Wilton, fearing exposure after a public argument with his sex slave, Lord David Litchfield, leaves England for the Americas. On his return, he finds his delicious man in the hands of a brutal sadist. In a time when homosexuality is a hanging offense, Reynold must use every trick in the book to regain the possession and trust of his young lover.

Approx 150 pages – ebook only

Review by Erastes

I’m not a great fan of BDSM, and that’s partly because it does seem to be almost mandatory in gay Regencies these days, and partly because so many don’t know, care, or are bothered to know about BDSM, the way it works. Happily, though, HC Brown either knows the genre, or has researched it enough to convince. My heart sank with the first lines, which jumps straight into a caning scene, but it’s soon clear that this is pain and punishment being meted out in a way that’s beneficial (if that’s the right word!) and consensual to both parties.

Lord David has been abandoned by his Master because of his possessive behaviour, and has been left alone in London. Another Master has taken him on, bound him with his debts and claims a ten year contract with him. Sadly, this Master is a man given only to his own violent pleasure with no consideration for his sub, and worse, he’s sharing him with his equally violent friends. The plot revolves around how Lord Reynold saves David from the brutal Lord Hale.

Although I enjoyed the story, I found that I couldn’t engage with anyone except the wet-lettuce Lord David. I didn’t really understand why the man stayed with an abusive sexual partner, but then I have about as much submissive in my soul as a rock. If he broke his contract–Hale could hardly come out and “out” David to the police, without incriminating himself. He had no fortune, being a 3rd son, so if he was disinherited it would hardly make much difference.

But it was Lord Reynold I didn’t like the most–closely followed by his good chum Lord John.

Reynold staggered me. He purports to be in love with David (who for some reason he continues to think of as an innocent) and when he rescues David the first time, David is traumatised, broken and clearly says he doesn’t want any contact–and what does Reynold do?  He says “I don’t want to fuck you, I just want to love you” and proceeds to suck off, masturbate and satisfy himself on David’s inert body. Then when David reiterates his wishes, saying he’s lost all trust in any master, all Reynold can do is whine that David has rejected his “love.” It didn’t endear me to him at all. David asks for their relationship to be exclusive, and that he needs to trust Reynold once again, and the first thing Reynold does is to shag Lord John and tell David.

Then there’s the attitude to women. Granted, I know that women were not exactly equals in the 18th century, but I don’t like every character in the book, including fathers and prospective husbands treating them and speaking of them as though they were rubbish. Both Reynold and John go through a lengthy and rather unnecessarily detailed “courtship” of two ruined socialites who they intend to marry and raise their by-blows as their own. Women are universally referred to as “chits” which really applies more to children, but overall there is no respect shown for women which put me off the main characters greatly.

What’s really wrong with this book, though, is the editing-which is just appalling. I’m surprised because Noble Romance usually produce more tightly edited books. The amount of errors left in the book are quite inexcusable for a publisher of the size of Noble. Homonyms misused (discreet/discrete for one), misspellings throughout (The Tattler, Blackfrier’s Bridge) and comma abuse which had to be bad, because even I noticed it. There’s a Duke who changes into a Baron and then back to a Duke in one short scene, and constant references to “sadists” which of course was impossible for at least another hundred years. It’s a shame because it kept pulling me out of what was generally a quite engaging book.

The descriptive passages are well done, however, and the dialogue, in the main, tries hard to be Not Modern and succeeds pretty nicely. The sex scenes are well-written and intense, and although they didn’t float my boat, I’m sure people who enjoy flogging and restraint and all that will enjoy them. I could have done with less of the rape scenes, to be honest, however lightly they were described, they were described. As I said at the top, Brown seems to know about–and indeed, according to her website, specialises in–BDSM erotic romance so as far as I can tell she gets the mindset right. However, it was an enjoyable read, despite my issues with it. A better edit would probably have upped the mark by a half point, though.

Author’s website

Buy at Noble RomanceAmazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: His Heart’s Obsession by Alex Beecroft

Kingston, Jamaica, 1752

Robert Hughes, a lieutenant–and rogue–in the British Royal Navy, is in love with his gorgeous fellow officer, Hal Morgan. Hal only has eyes for their captain–a man who’ll never share their inclinations. Night after night aboard the Swiftsure, it kills Robert to listen to Hal’s erotic dreams of a man he can’t possibly have. Determined to protect his friend, Robert stages a seduction.

But Hal demands proof of love before he will submit to the rakish Robert.

Mission accepted. After all, how hard could it be to show what’s inside his heart? Yet Robert’s move to claim Hal’s love leads to the threat of exposure, and mortal danger from the French. Will a heart obsessed ever accept defeat?

Review by Sal Davis

Isn’t that a gorgeous cover? Sunlit ship and compass rose and the tenderness of that pressure of nose and chin on the nape of the neck. No cannon fire, no flashing cutlasses and a pretty good indication of the content.

This is the most obviously romantic of the author’s stories. It is about love – unrequited aching passion that drains souls of joy and makes every waking moment a torment.

Hal Morgan adores the captain of the Swiftsure but William Hamilton only views him as a most trusted friend and subordinate and, to add insult to injury, consults Hal about the best way to court a girl! Hal suffers for his love – OMG how he suffers – little knowing that there is another man in the next cabin just desperate to show him a good time.

That man is Robert Hughes, a landlubber promoted over Hal’s head, a practical joker and an unashamed voyeur. When first seen – peering through a hole he has made in the partition wall between the two cabins so he can evesdrop and observe Hal’s wet dreams – Robert comes across as unpleasantly creepy but then Hal’s self indulgent moanings over the oblivious Captain Hamilton are a bit creepy too and last a lot longer.

I’ll be honest – it didn’t take me very long before I wanted to give Hal a damned good smack and tell him to man up. I was rooting for Robert for most of the book especially when he came to the decision that the only way to win Hal was to show him that he could take their shared profession seriously. I also really liked Captain Hamilton, who came over as a decent, god fearing, naval professional.

I enjoyed the story and, as usual, was blown away by the language, clear and precise yet somehow luxuriant. The historical details were nicely presented, not so much as to make me feel educated but enough to place the action firmly within its period. I wish we had been shown a bit more of Robert’s change in attitude to his profession and I was looking forward to a bit more shipboard heroism than I got, BUT the novella is designed to be a romance and I don’t think any romance reader will find anything to criticise as the two young men arrive at their accommodation.

Buy at Carina

Review: The Auspicious Troubles of Chance by Charlie Cochet

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

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

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

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But when there’s phrases like this:

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

Chance rather loses some of his street cred.

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Website

Buy at Dreamspinner Press | Amazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: Solemn Contract by Morgan Cheshire

Solemn Contract

Connecticut, 1720: In an attempt to give his family financial security, school master Jem Bradley hires himself out as an indentured servant – and thus begins an odyssey which will take him to the small settlement of Kennet and a burgeoning friendship with enigmatic blacksmith Will Middleton.

Trouble is never far away, however, and when Jem is accused of committing a bloody murder his future begins to look very bleak indeed…

49,000 words/226 pages

Review by Michael Joseph

James ‘Jem’ Bradley would do anything for his sister Meg. She’s the only family he has after the two of them left their family in old England and immigrated to pre-revolutionary New England. They left over their father’s objections to Meg’s plan to marry Neil Iveson, and it seems daddy may have been right. Neil has taken all of their money, and borrowed more, to invest in a failed get-rich-quick scheme. Now the creditors are knocking at the door and threatening to send Neil to debtor’s prison. With two children to support, there’s no way Meg could survive on her own without Neil. The only way out seems to be for Jem to sell himself into indentured service for five years to pay off the debt.

Jem finds his indenture through one of the owners of the shipping company where Neil works, Amos Tanner, who is looking for a worker for one of the other farmers, Dan Wallace, in the inland settlement of Kennet. Although Tanner negotiates the indenture for Wallace, he sets his own sights on Bradley. Tanner, the father of two sons, has ‘unnatural desires’ as they put it, and Jem flames his desire like no-one else has for years. Tanner escorts Jem back to Kennet and turns him over to Wallace.

Dan Wallace is a lonely and somewhat bitter man. His wife and children were killed by Indians many years ago, and since then the man has grown gruff and demanding. Lacking much experience, Jem at first seems to be in a very uncomfortable position, but his eagerness to learn and his gentle nature soon has Wallace warming to him, and the two men settle into a close relationship almost like father and son.

It can’t last, and one day Tanner returns, demanding that he needs Jem to work on his own farm. Tanner is an important man around Kennet, and he holds the mortgage on Wallace’s farm. Wallace has no choice but to sign over Jem’s indenture to Tanner. The greedy Tanner soon makes it clear why he really wants Jem, and to increase his hold over the young man, he tells him that he has bought up all of Neil’s markers. If Jem doesn’t cooperate, Neil will be sent to prison and Meg and the children will be out on the street.

Tanner bides his time for a little while, but when he finally makes a move on Jem, the young man strikes out at him. Seeing the altercation, but not knowing the reason, Tanner’s two sons come to his aid. With the help of his sons, Tanner beats Jem severely. Only the timely arrival of the town blacksmith Will Middleton prevents it from going further. Middleton takes Jem back to his own place, where he calls on Doctor Powell to see to the young man.

Without even knowing the reason for the altercation, Middleton is dead-set against Jem returning to Tanner to work, even with the indenture. Jem doesn’t tell Will what else Tanner holds over him, or why. As Jem begins to heal, a solution is hit upon when Middleton finds out that Jem was a teacher before entering into his indenture. The town needs a teacher, so Will resolves to purchase Jem’s contract and put him to work in the school. Much to Jem’s surprise and relief, Middleton and Powell convince Tanner to part with the indenture.

Jem settles down into the happy role of teacher for a while, but then news comes that Tanner has been killed, with an ax, and Jem was seen in the area with an ax at the time. At the hearing to determine if there’s a case for Jem to answer, the man he was cutting wood with in the forest comes forward to provide his alibi, but not before one of Tanner’s sons accuses Jem of having made unwanted advances to his father. Everyone in town knows about Tanner’s beating of Jem, but nobody had known the reason for it.

With his alibi, Jem is released but his reputation is in ruins after the false allegation of Tanner’s son Virgil. It isn’t long, of course, before the school board dismisses him, and once again he’s left with no occupation. Jem thinks it would be best if he left Kennet, but Will won’t let him go and holds the indenture over his head to keep him around. Middleton’s obstinacy seems unreasonable to Jem, who feels that the longer he stays, the more Will’s reputation will be harmed. But it both men had an epiphany during the ordeal of the hearing. They’ve realized that they love each other, although each is afraid to do anything about it for fear of what the other will think.

I was quite pleasantly surprised by Solemn Contract. The plot kept me guessing, which is always good. Every time I thought it was heading into familiar territory, it veered off in a different direction. I wouldn’t say it was unique, but it avoids a lot of clichés. The main character Jem remains sexually ambiguous for more than half the book, which adds to the mystery about where the story is heading. The plot is complemented by a writing style that flows easily. The author has thankfully eschewed any attempt at trying to render early eighteenth century speech, and delivers both the dialog and narrative in simple modern English which somehow manages not to seem out of place.

The story is not without a few flaws, although they are rather minor. The first is Jem’s alibi for the murder of Tanner. The man who provides it, Zeb, is never mentioned until Jem is taken into custody. I literally had to stop and think, “Zeb? Who’s Zeb?” when Jem suggests that he can provide an alibi. Zeb makes his appearance at the hearing only after all the damage is done, and then promptly disappears again. He’s only mentioned once more in passing a few pages later. It all seemed rather odd, like a last-minute contrivance by the author that wasn’t fully fleshed out. The entire circumstances of the alibi come as a surprise. It seems like they could have been set up better.

The other issue is with Jem’s sister Meg and her family. Remember, he cares about her so much that he has sold himself into indenture to make sure her husband is kept out of prison. He writes to her when he is working for Wallace, and even mentions some irregular communication while he is at Tanner’s, but after he’s beaten, there’s no further mention of any letters. Even after Middleton wrests the indenture away from Tanner, we still don’t hear anything more about Meg and Neil. If Amos Tanner was telling the truth about buying up Neil’s debt, then his vindictive son Virgil might well have sent Jem’s brother-in-law to prison, yet the whole question is left hanging. Even when Jem wants to leave Kennet, there’s no mention that he might return to his family and his old life. The whole reason he’s there in the first place is almost completely forgotten.

Even with the flaws, I found Solemn Contract a rather enjoyable read. While the characters and the plot are not entirely unfamiliar, they’re put together in a way that at least seems fresh. A solid four star read.

You can find out more about Morgan Cheshire at her blog.

Solemn Contract may be purchased from Manifold Press |

Review: Brook Street: Fortune Hunter by Ava March


London, 1822

Impoverished Julian Parker returns to London with one goal: marry an heiress. He’ll do whatever it takes, even if it means denying his desire for men. After all, with a fortune comes happiness and social acceptance–which have eluded Julian his entire life.

The only things a vast fortune has brought Oscar Woodhaven are greedy relatives and loneliness. At twenty-one years of age, he has everything a man could possibly want–except someone to love him. When he meets devastatingly handsome Julian Parker, he believes his luck has turned.

Between Oscar’s lavish gifts and their searing-hot nights, Julian is caught between what he thinks he needs and what his heart truly desires. But when a betrayal threatens to tear them apart, Julian discovers he’ll do whatever it takes to convince Oscar the greatest fortune of all is love.

Ebook only-44,000 words

Review by Molly Hart

Review in a nutshell: “You’ll find boredom where there is the absence of a good idea” (Earl Nightingale).

I’ve read Ava March’s stories in the past and enjoyed them. She’s well-known for her historicals that pair hot sex with fluid, extremely readable writing, and so far hasn’t disappointed me when I was looking exactly for that mix of sex and readability.

Fortune Hunter is a bit of a different animal (though March is very good when she gets naughty). This was the first time I was actively bored by the story and struggled against a great deal of resistance to pick it up again after reading about thirty pages—not a good sign, despite this historical romance being relatively short at 44,000 words.

The story is set in 1822 in London, amidst Regency high society. Enter the characters. The first one is Julian Parker, impoverished and from the wrong branch of the right family, he is looking for a rich heiress to marry despite being gay. The second is Oscar Woodhaven, rich but unhappy and lonely (and generous to the point of naïveté). After having been introduced at one of the big society dos, Julian moves in with Oscar, who showers him with attention, favours and gifts of a new wardrobe and a gold watch with diamonds and a meaningful engraving.

I found the introduction confusing; there were a great many people and as a reader I was given no chance to care for one of them. Nobody seemed particularly motivated to do anything, and the characters’ attitudes were bland and a bit boring. The only source of interest was Julian’s nervousness about fitting in, but that’s only entertaining for so long. The characters sounded too much the same to help with distinguishing them, so I ended up confusing them (and the minor characters) at the start, which didn’t help.

Once Julian and Oscar are indoors, the focus shifts to “will then, won’t they”, or at least to “when will they”? While March does a good job of evoking Regency characters, sentences like “You are more than welcome to fuck me until I can barely walk tomorrow” sound like spoken/thought by very modern men, and the modern thoughts and sex dialogue sits oddly with the overall Regency setting, which becomes wallpaper-thin at this point.

That brings me to another issue I had with the book. The characters stay indoors most of the time and the wider Regency world feels claustrophobic and inconsequential. People only care about gambling and the marriage market, which is about as dull as it sounds. The romance starts off well with very little doubt or tension, and both lovers are perfect specimens, despite one or two hang-ups that are woefully underplayed. In the end, I didn’t care about either of them and wasn’t invested in them finding each other or happiness.

At about 50% in, I was ready to simply scroll through to get it over with, but just before the temptation became too strong, things began to happen in the story, wrenching my interest right back into the novella. Julian makes a mistake; he has to choose between his lover and his social aspirations. Suddenly, the wheels are spinning, characters are affected by what they are doing, and they are on a learning curve, which meant I finished the book and was even decently entertained in the second half.

After the lovers break up, both realize they have to grow up. Julian attempts to better himself by honest labour rather than by marriage, and Oscar learns to be less trusting and naïve. This could have been great, but it’s told rather cursorily as a summary, whereas I would have enjoyed watching the characters grow and develop, so I felt cheated out of seeing them become better versions of themselves. They meet again, they talk about what went wrong, and the reader does believe that they’ll fit much better together now. Happy ending.

Rating this was a challenge. I was leaning towards a 2.5 but felt guilty for giving Ava March anything under a 3, but I also think that readers getting bored is a valid reason for dissatisfaction. Thankfully, the turnaround in the second half meant that it was a decent read overall, which I rate at 3, but not riveting (a 4) or outstanding/memorable (a 5) for this reader. I won’t be reading the other parts in this series.

Author’s website

Buy at CarinaAmazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: Captain Harding and his Men by Elliott Mackle

When a C-130 bound for Southeast Asia explodes on takeoff at remote Wheelus Air Base, Libya, handsome, hard-charging Captain Joe Harding instinctively realizes that the cargo list—“medical supplies and radio tubes”—was faked. When Joe’s newly-married workout buddy does a swan dive off a fifth story balcony in downtown Tripoli, Joe refuses to accept the semi-official verdict: suicidal depression. And when Joe’s tennis partner, the son of the American ambassador, decides to celebrate his eighteenth birthday by appearing unannounced at Joe’s BOQ door, the potential difficulties of their love-match must be addressed––seriously and without delay.  

Continuing the adventures and misadventures begun in Elliott Mackle’s award-winning “Captain Harding’s Six-Day War,” Joe and his fellow officers and airmen contend with a highly decorated but sexually abusive wing commander (who happens to be Joe’s boss), a closeted Pentagon official fighting to save his career, a CIA agent who may be an imposter, and shipments of British weapons that fall into the hands of anti-royalist rebels.  When a kidnapping goes terribly wrong, Joe must fight for everything he holds dear: duty, honor, country and love. 

180 pages, published by Lethe Press, available in paperback and ebook

Review by Erastes

Some books take a while to get into–not so anything I’ve read from Elliott Mackle, and this is no exception. Right from the get-go we are thrust into Captain Harding’s narrative (first person) and within a very few pages, even if you hadn’t read the first in this series (Captain Harding’s Six Day War) you are up to speed with the good captain and his sit-rep. (ho ho, using jargon because of the military theme.)

In this book he’s up against some very powerful forces, the CIA, the American Ambassador to Libya, his cute boyfriend’s parents (one of whom is the Ambassador) and a shadowy plot of stolen weapons, a suspected coup, and silenced (murdered) soldiers. Harding doesn’t want to save the world, particularly, but he’d like his own to continue relatively unendangered. But seeing as his Lieutenant-Colonel knows he’s gay, and there’s also a straight buddy who knows his secrets, a beat-off buddy Major, a 17 year old boyfriend and more skeletons in his closet than Hercule Poirot, things can often get a bit hairy.

The main thing I’ve gleaned about Captain Harding and his book is that I NEVER want to get into the forces, and that goes double for being an officer. The level of intrigue, political shennanigans, hypocrisy and downright double dealing that goes on makes my head spin. I doubt that all units are quite as much as a hot-bed as Wheelus is in the late 1960′s but I bet a fair lot of it goes on wherever you are. People have secrets, a lot of secrets and they’ll keep them until they think by spilling them they can save their arses.

It’s the way the Harding deals with it all that makes this fascinating reading. He’s not an angel, and he certainly doesn’t have any “Give Me Honor or Give Me Death” going on, but in the main he’s a really great guy, and he wants to do the right thing and has to work damned hard at making it happen. He’s human–he wants to protect his friends but he has a real human streak of self-preservation, he isn’t likely to throw himself in too much harm to do it. Although he might, it just depends if he has to do so to protect those he loves.

And there’s the “and his men” tag – and where it comes in. Harding is pushing 30 and as full of testosterone as any man of his age. Despite the fact that he thinks that Cotton Boardman is “the one” they are both pragmatic about their situation–Cotton is 17 at the beginning of the book and they both want to wait until he’s “legal” (or as legal as he can be–that is, where it won’t make Harding feel so guilty–e.g. 18) and after a couple of unsatisfactory sexual try-outs, and getting caught sharing a hotel room by Cotton’s father, they cool it for most of the book while Cotton goes back to school and Harding waits on tenterhooks hoping his career won’t cascade around his ears, not knowing when or even if he’ll see Cotton again.

So Harding keeps himself busy and his sex-drive under control (mainly) by “rub-downs” with a Major, and fuck-buddy sessions with an enlisted airman on TDY (temporary duty) for six weeks at Wheelus. If he gets too desperate, there is a steam-room on base where there’s usually someone amenable to a little relief, and a bar in town but both are far more risky. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t take risks and it’s one of these times that he meets a real Alpha male who gives him such a sound going over that he’s dizzy from it, wondering if Cotton is the one after all. But it’s this stranger that turns the tide of the investigation Harding is doing, and the man that will be instrumental in cracking the case, but not until everyone has gone through hell.

Just another year in Harding’s life!  I absolutely love these books, and I really hope that there’s going to be a third in the series. The writing is crisp and realistic for men (and women) in the situations that you find them in. The mystery is worth of Raymond Chandler as it twists around, buries itself in official red tape and forged documents, and the characters are fully rounded and fully flawed.

I have no hesitation in awarding this our five star rating. More please, Mr Mackle.

Amazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: Journey to Rai-Lay by Michael Joseph

Journey to Rai-Lay is the sequel to Journey to Angkor. It follows Henry, whose brief affair with Piero causes the Sicilian to be sent off on his journey to Angkor. Separated from the man he thought he might love, blaming himself for it, and still under the thumb of his uncle, Henry spirals into a deep depression, seeking sex in the underbelly of London’s docks, where more often than not he’s beaten and abused. But it’s while nursing a beer in a seedy docklands pub that Henry meets James Brooke.

Henry’s chance meeting with Brooke launches him on a journey of discovery. A journey that has him learning the ropes as a sailor, and learning more about himself and what he really needs. Sometimes we find what we need in the most unlikely places.

ebook only–122 pages

Review by Erastes

This is a sequel of sorts to Journey to Ankhor which I reviewed last year. I say of sorts because it follows Henry’s story who Piero left behind in England, and doesn’t feature Piero in person at all. For those who have been, or who would like to go to Singapore and Rangoon and other places in the area, it’s written by a man who has been based in Bangkok for 20 years and his experience helps. He writes well and descriptively and it’s clear he’s been to many of these places. He works as a travel writer and it shows.

But while the scenery is hotly pretty and the sex pretty hot, I had two problems with this book, one of which is probably more subjective than the other. Firstly, it’s again (I had the same problem with the first book, if I remember)  more of a travelogue than a novel, and doesn’t go into nearly enough detail to be a proper travelogue, so it falls between two stools and doesn’t really succeed in either genre. Basically nothing much happens. The only conflict–other than Henry “running away” from his not-actually-very-wicked-at-all-Uncle in the first place–is when he’s swept overboard when pirates attack the ship he’s on. As with so many other characters in books, he’s taken on the ship in the first place knowing nothing, learns how to do everything with no real problems at all, and makes friends wherever he goes.

After he’s swept overboard he floats around for two days before being washed up on a beach and amazingly the village he’s rescued by is manned (scuse the pun) by men who prefer men, and these men all welcome him with open arms. It really stretches the bounds of imagination here. To be washed up exactly there has the same coincidence factor as Doctor Doolittle sticking a pin in an entire atlas in order to find the Giant Pink Sea Snail. If Henry had, perhaps, heard of this village, if it had been a dangerous journey or trek to find it, and he’d arrived half dead but having achieved this aim, it would have been 1. more believable and 2. more of a story.

As it is, there’s a lot of making love, picking fruit, making love, picking fruit and then two journeys to visit the parents of each protagonist where some stuff is eaten and no-one cares that they are shagging like rabbits in a wooden bed on wooden floorboards, not even the Victorian parents of Henry. Nothing dreadful happens and they return to their fruit picking to live endless and dreary lives full of amazing sex. A couple of things struck me as the weeks went on in the book were:

1. Why he took so long to start learning the language – long after he’d started a relationship with one of the natives and

2. why it took him so long (people arrived on the island to “rescue him” before he really thought it necessary) to think about other people and how worried and sad his parents and friends would be having thought he had perished at sea. It was hugely selfish of him.

It’s not a bad book, and it absorbed me enough to keep me reading but if I hadn’t been reading for a review I would have given up because the second major problem I had with this book was the editing. I can excuse a few typos scattered here and there but there are just so many here that it seems that it wasn’t even run through Word, or had even the most cursory “here, mate, have a look through this and point out the typos” wasn’t done, let alone any kind of professional editing. There are just too many errors to be excused. I don’t think the word “led” was ever used when “lead” could be put in there instead. So many words missing, so many letters missing “The could see the gathering dark clouds ahead of them.” is just one example. So many misspellings, it was simply inexcusable. I can understand that professional editing for self published authors can be out of the price range, but there are many people on the internet who would be happy to enter into a quid-pro-quo arrangement editing books. Even a grammar check on Word would have found many of these mistakes.

It’s a shame because Joseph lets himself down in this respect and readers are unlikely to have the patience I had. I found that instead of letting myself read and enjoy the story–even though it was slightly uneventful it did show that Joseph’s credentials as a travel writer were solid–I found myself tensed up waiting for the next mistake, which did, I’m afraid, happen on just about every Kindle page.

The historical time line has been altered, but Joseph mentions this, which is helpful, and I wish more authors did the same.

I do recommend the book for people interested in the area, or who enjoy a nice uneventful story with plenty of perfect sex, but a story to fire my interest has actually to have a story not just a documentary style of discovering new people and nothing happening. If you do try it, I’d advise you to wait until the author issues a new edition because I am sure any reader will find the legion of errors very distracting and perhaps off-putting. Edited to perfection this would get a 3½, but in the state it’s in now, I can’t give it more than 2½ which is a shame.

Author’s Website

Buy at  Amazon UK | Amazon USA | Gumroad ePub MOBI PDF

Review: Unspoken by R.A. Padmos

Stefan is a working-class man – or would be, if there was any work! – when he meets Adri and they begin an affair. Married with children, Stefan resists this development in a society where homosexuality is legal but scarcely tolerated. Nor does he understand when Adri warns him about the territorial ambitions of Hitler’s Germany, which their country will be unable to oppose. In a daily battle against guilt, poverty and other, more tangible enemies, Stefan and Adri struggle to hold on to a love which should never have existed at all – but which may be the only thing helping them to survive.

58,000 words/220 pages

Review by Michael Joseph

“Unspoken” is told from the point of view of Stefan, a 30-something working class man in a small-ish Dutch town. He is married with three children as the book opens, and if you asked him, he would probably say he’s happy, except for the problem of finding work to provide for his family in the middle of the depression. Stefan has done what was expected of him; he got married to a good woman, fathered children, and does whatever work he can find to put food on the table for them. He doesn’t know any better.

Then, one day in the dole queue, Stefan meets Adri, and it changes everything, or nothing. Stefan doesn’t understand his feelings at first, and Adri for his part takes things slowly. Unlike Stefan, Adri has always known that he prefers the company of men, and only men. His stepfather threw him out on the street when Adri’s predilections became clear, and he’s managed to survive thanks to the mentoring of other men like him.

Adri bides his time in part because he’s waiting until he’s 21 and completely legal. When he tries for his first kiss, Stefan is shocked, but not reviled. He’s confused by his feelings, as he remains for the entire book, which spans ten years of their relationship. Stefan is steadfastly loyal to his family, even though it’s obvious that his wife Marije’s feelings for him are no stronger than his for her, but his desire for Adri knows no reason and he can’t help but be drawn to the younger man.

You know those Bergman-inspired films of the 1960s, or even the parodies of them? You know, the ones where people just sit around, smoking cigarettes and talking? Sometimes the talk gets quite emotional, but in the end nothing actually happens. Well, that’s the feeling I had for much of this book. There’s a lot of angst from Stefan, as he’s torn between the duty to his family that his upbringing tells him is expected from a man, and his true love for Adri.

The younger Adri is a bit more worldly than Stefan, and he’s the one that initiates many of the discussions about what’s going on around them, such as Hitler’s rise in Germany. It’s also from Adri that we get lamentations about how homosexuals are second-class citizens who can’t, for example, get married. The discussions reflect the current debate over gay marriage. Now, the idea of two depression-era men discussing the merits of gay marriage in itself seems a bit unrealistic. These men have much bigger problems facing them. But, in a way, that’s almost beside the point. What struck me was that there was nothing new here. It’s still the same argument, and sending it back in time 75 years doesn’t change anything, and in the context it even comes off as a bit wingeing. As the discussions went on I began to wonder if the author really had anything to say, and with all the talking going on I started to think that the title, “Unspoken”, was some kind of joke I didn’t get.

Like those films I was talking about, “Unspoken” is told in a coldly objective, almost documentary-like tone that puts an emotional distance between the reader and the characters. Their drama is played out in front of us with a rather dispassionate voice. Not that there’s really much drama. The relationship has its ups and downs, as there are arguments and disagreements, and Stefan tries more than once to quit Adri, but it seems like they’re never put to the test, even though there are lots of opportunities. Early on, when a policeman catches them snogging in the park, they’re ‘invited’ down to the police station. But once they confirm Adri is of-age and ‘willing’ they let Stefan off with a slap on the wrist rather than charging him with public indecency. Likewise, when Germany invades and the two men are called up to defend Holland, they’re separated briefly but within a few paragraphs they’re back together again. More opportunities for a little drama are missed as the story plods along through the occupation.

To be honest, this book was headed for a two or two-and-a-half star rating, but it rather redeemed itself in the end. Hopefully it’s not too much of a spoiler to disclose that the two men survive the war. The issue here is at what cost. There’s a telling scene near the end where Stefan is leaving the park where he and Adri used to meet. The Germans have lost the war, but haven’t quit the city yet. Stefan has come to the park in search of fuel for the fires to keep them warm. He has taken the last scraps of wood from the bench where he and Adri once sat. The park has been stripped bare of anything that can be burned, eaten or traded in people’s desperate attempts to stay alive until the allies come. It’s a powerful metaphor for Stefan’s own emotions, which have been drained away by years of despair and worry over how to keep his family safe, put food on the table, and what will happen to his lover.

Adri is not quite the same person either. The open and optimistic young bohemian worked for the Resistance, and survived by learning how to hide things, even from his beloved Stefan. He talks of moving away once the war is over, starting a new life somewhere else, where he might even meet a man that he doesn’t have to share with a wife and children. Both men have survived, somewhat against the odds, but it’s taken everything they had, and it’s not clear if they have anything left for each other.

This is a hard book to categorize, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes it hard to suggest who the audience might be. It’s hard to call it romance, given the angst-ridden nature of the main character. You certainly wouldn’t call it erotica. The descriptions of the men’s many sexual encounters are as quick and furtive as the encounters themselves. It’s decidedly un-erotic. As history, much of it rings true, aside from the rather ‘modern’ discussions about gay marriage, but here we run up against the question of what it all means. I couldn’t help thinking the author was trying to say something, but perhaps that’s what the unspoken part is.

In the end, I’ve decided to give “Unspoken” three stars.

Find our more about R. A. Padmos at her blog.

The book appears to be available only directly from Manifold Press

Review: Christmas Wishes by JP Bowie

York 1922

Christopher Fielding has no choice but to spend Christmas with his family in York, away from William MacPherson, the biology professor with whom he has fallen in love. Finding his sister Nan in some distress over her pregnancy, Christopher makes a wish that all will be well with her and the baby, and another that William, traveling by train to his family in Scotland will be safe from the blizzard raging over the countryside.

As Christmas Eve approaches, William’s train is stranded in snow drifts and Nan’s baby is about to arrive prematurely. Cut off by the weather from a doctor’s help, the family is in despair, and Christopher feels that his wishes may not be enough. Perhaps what they now need is nothing short of a miracle.

(60 pages, ebook only, MLR Press)

Review by Erastes

This is a winter’s tale, a Christmas themed book (obviously) and as so is warm as mulled wine and full of Christmas cheer with a guaranteed schmoopy ending.

The plot is relatively simple, hard to be otherwise in sixty pages, but it does manage to pack a lot into those pages, some conflict, two red-hot sex scenes at least, a dedicated love affair and a lot of individual characters.

My problem was that it clearly states that it’s set in 1922 but the prose and dialogue smacks all too heavily of an earlier era. It wouldn’t be out of place in a Victorian setting. This more antiquated feel could be explained by Christopher being a college man, but everyone talks like it, and considering this is the Jazz Age (even in England) and the time of the Bright Young Things it seems odd.

This illustrates it well, I think.

“What would you like to hear, Mama?”

“Something sacred perhaps, Silent Night?”

“Oh, something more cheerful,” Horace exclaimed. “Deck the Halls or something.”

“I shall play them both–and Horace I expect to hear lots of fa-la-la-la-las from you in particular. Charlotte can assist you.”

“Splendid!” Charles Fielding, their father, rose to his feet. “Let’s all gather around the pianoforte and have a sing-along. It’s almost Christmas after all.”

There’s no mention of World War One either, which is disconcerting. Christopher is 27, so he should have served, and his elder brother is 30. Yes, it’s only sixty pages, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that the country had been ravaged by the loss of a generation, together with the ravaging of influenza so these things needs to have some nod given to them, even if it’s only to mention how lucky they all were to have made it with no casualties. I don’t expect there to be shellshocked ex-soldiers on every page, but some mention would have been more realistic and stopped it sounding like an Alternative Universe.

The love story was nicely told, and as I said, the erotica is hot. All in all it’s a decent little story and I think many people would enjoy it. You may not fancy reading about the snow and cold in June (unless you are from the antipodes) but I recommend you buy it anyway, tuck it away and pull it out of your stocking next Christmas.

Author’s Website

Buy at MLR Press

Review: The Hun and the General by Tristram La Roche

 Livianus is bored and longs for action. His reward for serving Rome is the governorship of a quiet corner of Gaul, but as he whiles away his days at his sumptuous villa, his thoughts turn to Attila the Hun, the feared barbarian with whom Livianus once enjoyed an intimate friendship. When a desperate emperor asks him to return to Pannonia to broker a truce with Attila, Livianus’s old passion flares.

Attila is losing the will to go on. He is tired of being a tyrant but his people’s future depends on him. The arrival of Livianus renews Attila’s spirit as he prepares to march on Constantinople. Livianus has nothing to bargain with, but when the emperor’s sister delivers a proposition for Attila, a new and brighter future seems to lay directly ahead. For the people, and especially for the two men. But the deadly hand of the emperor isn’t interested in peace, and as their plans are destroyed, only one course of action remains open to the Hun and the general.

Word Count: 28,173 (Etopia Books) available in ebook only

Review by Erastes

I had to say, once again I wasn’t filled with hope for a happy ending for this one!  I knew absolutely nothing about Attila the Hun other than I had been spelling it wrong all my life and that he probably had nothing in common with Yul Brynner. So I found the period interesting to read about. The voice is quite modern, in a way–which is certainly allowable when no one is speaking the language of the story any longer. The translation works well–it may not be in the words they actually used, but I’m quite sure the meaning still remains the same. There were a couple of too modern expressions that jarred, but in the main it works all right.

I found Livianus a bit difficult to like, and I think that’s possibly he’s a little more at arm’s length in the book, or it seemed so from my angle. The author is fond of Attila, and he’s anxious to portray him as a firm (very firm, and I don’t mean that as a double entendre, but more in the way of “you’ve pissed me off, so I’m going to impale you” kind of way) ruler but while being firm, as fair and just as any tyrant might be. He has an abiding passion for promoting and looking after his people. He’s caught in a dilemma in a changing world. Do the Huns continue their nomadic existence, continually fighting everyone who wants a piece of land in a world that’s rapidly filling up, or do they “do as the Romans do”, settle down, build stone houses, put down roots, establish cities? No idea if Attila had this crisis of confidence, but it’s convincingly put.  I rather lost my respect for such a ruthless tyrant when he got tears in his eyes when he had to part with Livianus for a few months, but then I’m hard-hearted.

I liked the way there was no attempt to pretty up the protagonists. We have a good idea of what Attila may have looked like and he’s portrayed in much the same way, scrubby beard and all. We are told that Livianus is an older man, too, although still fit and healthy–these are not young studs with buff perfect bodies, they are men who have been through campaign after campaign and have the scars to show for it.

It’s the slightly mangled history that I couldn’t get my head around. Knowing nothing about Attila, I went to look up the details afterwards, because the book had piqued my interest. Honoria was Valentinian’s (the Western Roman Emperor) sister, and not, as is stated Theodosius’s (Emperor of the Eastern Empire) sister. She wasn’t killed before Attila reached Constantinople, she was exiled (although possibly killed later, as she drops off the history books). The envoy that she sent wasn’t murdered by Livianus but returned to Rome and was tortured by Valentinian order to find out the details and then beheaded.

Now, I know that historical fiction often inserts a fictional character to take part in great events that happened, but I’d prefer that the events that are happening actually, you know, happened. Or the author adds a note as to why things have been changed.

There were a couple of other things that made me blink with surprise, one of them using mud as anal lubricant. It would be fine (I suppose, although i wouldn’t like to try it) with processed filtered mud you can buy from The Body Shop but mud from the ground–with all the grit? Ouchie.

Although it’s not a Happy Ever After, it’s a hopeful ending for the pair of lovers, although knowing the date of Atilla’s death, it wouldn’t have been very “ever after.”

So, all in all an decent enough romp through a small section of Attila’s life, but don’t take the history as gospel, but anyone who likes alpha men getting it on will probably enjoy it.

Author’s Website

Buy at: Amazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: Protection by S.A. Reid

When Gabriel MacKenna enters Wentworth Prison in 1931, he promises himself two things: never to be buggered and never to turn prison queer. Tough, smart, and ruthless in a fight, he quickly makes a name for himself inside. But Gabriel is serving two life sentences. And life is a very long time. Enter Joey Cooper. Trained at Oxford as a physician, the young doctor is innocent of prison culture and too handsome for his own good. Joey cannot hope to survive Wentworth without protection. And protection is just what Gabriel MacKenna offers. At a price…  102 pages

Available in paperback and ebook (Lyonesse Books)

Review by Erastes

This book is set in the fictional prison–says the author’s note–of Wentworth in England, a cross between Pentonville and Wandsworth. It’s an unfortunate name as I immediately thought of Wentworth prison from “Prisoner Cell Block H” the Australian show about women prisoners! However, as long as you aren’t as stupid as me, this won’t even occur to you. It’s clear the author has done their research, as the descriptions of the prison and the yard are pin sharp and detailed. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have a floor by floor plan pinned up somewhere.

The unfortunate first impression that this book gave me was that it hinged on one of the biggest tropes and personal squicks of mine, that of prison rape, and of Rape Turns to Love. I can work around it and suspend my disbelief usually, but the main trouble with this is that at 102 pages, there’s not enough space to have the characters turn around in their feelings. Yes, they do, but it’s too quick and in the case of Joey (the victim) rather unbelievable in light of what he’d been thinking up to that point. One minute it’s all “I’ll never forgive him, I’d rather die” and then the next minute he’s sucking dick like he was born to it. In Gabriel’s case it’s hinted as to why he pulled back from raping Joey every night, but again, this simply isn’t explored in enough depth to help the reader get over the fact that it’s an unpleasant trope. The fact that both men were aggresively heterosexual before entering prison adds weight to their love affair being far too quick.

HOWEVER, that being said, and once we get past this point the book is well-written and absorbing. I was drawn into the prison life, the claustrophobic feeling of never, ever being unobserved, even when you paid people to turn a blind eye. The petty injustices of the screws, the way that even with Gabriel protecting Joey he’s only as safe as the next five minutes (although this sense of peril did descrease as time went on) and the sadness of thinking of men incarcerated for decades, knowing no other home, growing old, remembering a world that no longer existed and dying there because there’s no way they’d be able to be released into 1936 when they’d been sentenced in 1888.

I have to say that I really warmed to their relationship, but I simply could not see any light at the end of their tunnels. Gabriel was sentenced to life, and Joey for 18 years. Even if they had stayed together for 18 years there could be no HEA for them. So be warned, there is no HEA, this is a love story, but absolutely not a romance.

Due to the almost entirely internal aspect of the prison life, there’s very little historical context other than the outbreak of WW2 (the book starts in 1936) so Reid doesn’t have to worry too much about historical detail, but what there is seems pretty good. The only thing that did amuse me was the campaign to ban “slopping out” (the routine of having a bucket in the cells, rather than a flushing toilet, and having to dispose of that bucket in the morning.) The reason I found it amusing is that even today, some prisons in Britain still do this despite the process having allegedly “been abolished” as late as 2004.

I know I say this often about novellas, but I think I’m justified with this, this book really really needed the extra space to develop. Not only would the coming together of Joey and Gabriel have been improved, but there’s so much else that had a lot of potential but didn’t get the space to fly. There are myriad other prisoners, as would be expected, and I would have loved to have seen more of the daily politics with–particularly as this isn’t a genre romance–little subplots to enjoy.

But this is–as far as I know–S.A. Reid’s first published gay historical, so I can live with it. The writing is impressive, the voices strong and the plot, while not given enough space to grow, is good enough. I think Reid has a real future in the genre and I look forward to their next book.

Buy at Amazon USA  | Amazon UK | Smashwords (ebook) Createspace (paper)

Review: Cawnpore by Tom Williams

After his time in Borneo with James Brooke, John Williamson travels to India. Working for the East India Company in Cawnpore, he struggles to fit in: a gay man in a straight society; a farm labourer’s son in a world of gentleman’s clubs and refined dinner parties; a European adrift in an alien land. But he finds he is good at his job, overseeing a colonial administration that has been running the country for a hundred years. He falls in love with the country and, in particular, with a young nobleman in the court of the local lord.

Successful at work and happy with his lover, he thinks he can finally meet life on his own terms. Then Indian troops rise in mutiny and the country is plunged into war. With the British Raj teetering on the edge of destruction and Cawnpore a byword for horror across the Empire, Williamson has to choose whose side he is really on.

In this sequel to The White Rajah, the fictional Williamson is caught up in real historical events which provide a thrilling background to his own story. Williamson meets some of the key figures at a crucial point in British history and witnesses events which shocked the world and shaped the future of British India.

Paper and ebook – 288 pages

Review by Michael Joseph

Cawnpore picks up more or less where the author’s previous work, The White Rajah, left off. Like the first book, this one takes the form of a memoir of the fictional John Williamson. Williamson has parted company with his employer and lover James Brooke after the inquiry into the battles that firmly established Brooke as the “White Rajah”. While Williamson is still in love with Brooke, the ghosts of all the people killed in Brooke’s name has driven a firm wedge between them.

With a generous severance from Brooke, Williamson could easily return to England and a quiet life, but he’s not quite ready to settle down and, intrigued by Brooke’s own stories of India, he decides to stop there before going back to Britain. In Calcutta, he applies to work for the East India Company and is surprised to find he is readily accepted and assigned the post of Deputy Collector in Cawnpore. While Brooke did not have a very high opinion of “the Company”, they have certainly heard of his exploits in Sarawak, and have a high opinion of him, and by extension, Williamson.

Although taken aback by his ready acceptance and the relatively high position granted him, Williamson soon finds that the work isn’t all that different than what he did in Sarawak. It suits him well, and although he is very much a square peg in a round hole, he gets along well with most people. One day his boss notes that Williamson is working just a little too hard, and takes him out to meet the Nana Sahib in his palatial home outside of Cawnpore. There Williamson meets Mungo, a young cousin of the Nana Sahib. There’s an instant mutual attraction between the two, and they soon become lovers.

While Williamson professes that Brooke is still the true love of his life, he is clearly deeply infatuated with the much younger Mungo. Like Brooke before him, Mungo becomes Williamson’s mentor, teacher and guide through the mysteries of Indian culture. With Mungo’s help, Williamson learns the language and soon with a little disguise can pass for a local. Everything seems to be going great, until rumors of discontent and outright mutiny begin to circulate throughout the colony.

Cawnpore is, at its heart, the story of the Indian mutiny of 1857, and in particular the massacre at Cawnpore, which is an episode of history I assume most British readers are familiar with. Williamson’s ability to pass for an Indian allows him to hide in plain sight among the rebels and observe both sides of the siege. Although Williamson’s escapades themselves seem improbable, he does relate the events of the siege and massacre in vivid, even alarming, detail that appears to be historically accurate.

Williamson of course survives the massacre and even provides information that helps the British rout Nana Sahib’s forces and re-take Cawnpore. But as the full extent of the tragedy becomes clear, he starts to fear for his own safety, as well as Mungo’s, in the face of the British fury. They flee to the countryside to wait hopefully for tempers to cool, and this is where the full tragedy of the story unfolds.

Cawnpore is, on the whole, a well-written adventure tale. In some ways, I think the author has improved from the first book. One of the issues I had with The White Rajah was the extremely timid way in which the relationship between Brooke and Williamson was described. It was clear that the two men were lovers, but for all the reader was given, it could have been a rather platonic relationship. In Cawnpore it’s much more clear that Williamson and Mungo have a very physical relationship. We’re not given detailed descriptions of what they get up to, but it’s still clear the two men share a physical bond as well as a deep friendship.

However, that said, the sexual relationship between Williamson and Mungo is not really at the center of the story. It doesn’t provide any of the key dramatic elements or move the story along. The friendship between the two is certainly key to Williamson’s ability to observe both sides of the mutiny and survive the massacre, but you could easily remove the gay element from the story and still have essentially the same tale. Cawnpore is, in many ways, an adventure tale where the main character happens to be gay, rather than a ‘gay’ historical novel.

So, where does that leave us? If you’re looking for a gay romance, you almost certainly won’t like this book, especially given the ending which is anything but happily-ever-after. Cawnpore will appeal more to someone looking for action and adventure tales of war. While I wouldn’t compare the writing of the two, this book is more in the vein of Mary Renault’s Fire From Heaven than most contemporary gay historical books. The writing is competent and sometimes vivid when describing scenes of battle, but it gets a little flat when it comes to the people and personal relationships. Once the mutiny begins, the scenes between Williamson and Mungo are quite short and even rushed when compared with the colorful descriptions of time spent with the Indian rebels, night raids or calvary charges.

Stories of battle and war aren’t exactly my cup of tea. I have, nonetheless, read quite a few of them. The ones I enjoy are carried along by the relationship between the main characters, which typically develops and changes over the course of the book, whether it’s the tried and true enemies-that-become-friends theme or something more unusual. This is the main failing of Cawnpore, for me. The relationship between Williamson and Mungo springs forth almost fully formed in an early chapter, and remains relatively unchanged for the rest of the book. Yes, there are arguments and disagreements, but they’re little more than lover’s spats.

Given the meticulous research and vivid descriptions of the mutiny, Cawnpore deserves three stars. I was tempted to give it more, but the flatness of the characters and lack of depth to the key relationship holds this book back.

Tom Williams has a blog, The White Rajah

Available from JMS Books | Amazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: The Absolutist by John Boyne

September 1919:20 year-old Tristan Sadler takes a train from London to Norwich to deliver some letters to Marian Bancroft, letters that she’d sent to her brother Will. Will and Tristan trained and fought together.

But the letters are not the real reason for Tristan’s visit. He holds a secret deep in his soul. One that he is desperate to unburden himself of to Marian, if he can only find the courage.

As they stroll through the streets of a city still coming to terms with the end of the war, he recalls his friendship with Will, from the training ground at Aldershot to the trenches of Northern France, and speaks of how the intensity of their friendship brought him from brief moments of happiness and self-discovery to long periods of despair and pain.

Review by Erastes

I’ve redacted a bit of the blurb because it gives away a major spoiler in the book, which is kept from the reader for almost half of the pages, so it seems a bit unnecessary to give it away so easily in the blurb. Cut for spoilers.

Continue reading

Review: The Walled Garden by F.M. Parkinson

William Ashton, retained as a gardener by Edward Hillier, discovers his new master to be a detached and driven man. Over the years, as travail and tragedy bring them closer together, he understands that they have more in common than he first realised, but the affection they feel for one another will be sorely tested by boundaries both of class and of rigid Victorian morality. Like the private garden behind the high walls their love must flourish only in the strictest secrecy – or else it will not do so at all.

102,000 words/380 pages /ebook only

Review by Erastes

I’m in two minds about this book.

While I have to say I appreciated most of the writing–which is deliberately done in an old-fashioned, if not quite Victorian style–this book annoyed me quite a lot for various reasons.

Firstly nothing much happens and while some may say that it’s simply a gentle, old-fashioned style it takes more than an old-fashioned style to create an old fashioned book.  Emma, Jane Eyre and books like that had plenty of things happening. Instead of things happening, this book contained what seemed like nothing much more than filler in many places–there’s a section where Hillier’s manager is getting old and gets replaced which is entirely pointless and dull for example and goes on for pages. The problem is that much of this filler is relatively pointless or if it seems to have a point, then it’s never followed up.

It takes the protagonists an endless age to get together, and that’s not exactly filled with angst filled nights, or rivals for affections, or anything particularly interesting. It’s simply because Hillier doesn’t find Ashton attractive until quite late in the day. To be honest, I can’t see what on earth Ashton saw in Hillier because his behaviour and attitude is pretty unpleasant–although he’s like that with more than Ashton. He’s much loved in the village which puzzled me because he wasn’t shown as doing anything for them other than at one point attending another pointless scenario–a ball on behalf of a campaign for laying drains. Other than that he does nebulous work “writing letters” and attending Parliament.

There’s an overuse of the hurt/comfort trope which raises its head not once, not twice but a colossal three times throughout the book, each time Hillier getting ill and Ashton running around getting him well and getting literally no thanks for it. This, aside from them having an argument, is the main use of conflict and together with lack of plot made for pretty dull reading.

However, although not very exciting–and we can’t always have post-chaise chases and gun fights in every book, it’s quite readable, and if it wasn’t for the final problem that had me grinding my teeth it would have got a 3.

It’s epithets. There are a record winning number of epithets in this book and I got to the stage of bursting into laughter when I found a new one. It’s like the author had had a rule sheet which said “you must never use the character’s name more than once on a page.”

Hillier is known as the lawyer, alternately, but Ashton wins the prize as “the broader man” “the gardener”, “the secretary” “the former gardener”, “the former secretary” and many many others. When there’s a scene with just the two of them it’s like there’s six people in the room. I hope, should Parkinson do another book, they will–or their editor will–ruthlessly red-pen this habit as it’s annoying as hell.

So while I appreciated the writing–mostly–the story didn’t so much grab me as much as mire me in treacle and I found it a heavy going read. But you might enjoy it more than I.

No website that I could find.

Buy at Manifold Press

Review: Shadowboxing by Anne Barwell


Can physicist Kristopher and Resistance member Michel find love and safety in the middle of World War II?

Berlin, 1943. An encounter with an old friend leaves German physicist Dr. Kristopher Lehrer with doubts about his work. But when he confronts his superior, everything goes horribly wrong. Suddenly Kristopher and Michel, a member of the Resistance, are on the run, hunted for treason and a murder they did not commit. If they’re caught, Kristopher’s knowledge could be used to build a terrible weapon that could win the war.

When Michel contacts the Allies, hoping they can work together, it isn’t long before the so-called “simple” mission becomes anything but. With both men realizing they can no longer ignore their growing feelings for each other,

Kristopher and Michel must fight—not just for a chance of a future together, but for their very survival.

Ebook and Print 266 pages

Review by Sally Davies

Dr Kristopher Lehrer, young, naive and intent upon his work, has no conception of the destructive potential of his research. Since he’s a physicist I’m assuming that he is working on the German equivalent of the Manhattan Project, though I don’t believe it’s ever actually stated. When he finds out that he’s not, as he thought, contributing to the sum of human knowledge but helping to build a weapon he is outraged and distraught.

Kristopher is a bag of nerves, but his paranoia is with good reason. He is being followed! One of the guards at his place of work, Schmitz, is showing a lot of interest in him. Luckily, when Kristopher’s panic makes a terrible situation worse, Schmitz shows his true colours. His real name is Michel and he is a member of the French Resistance, who was in the right place at the right time and able to take on the identity of the real Schmitz, killed in a bombing raid. He has been at the facility for six months, learning what he can, and has been ordered to steal the plans to the project but Kristopher convinces him to steal Kristopher too. The plan is incomplete. Vital formuli exist only in Kristopher’s brain. As if this isn’t argument enough, Michel fancies the pants of Kristopher, an attraction that has been growing over his months in disguise.

They go on the run, pursued by Holm, head of security of the facility and his scary assistant Reiniger, and assisted by three very nicely drawn strong women, and members of the Berlin Resistance. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Berlin, the team that has been sent to retrieve and verify the plans have problems of their own. Put together in a hurry they comprise two Englishmen, neither of whom speak good German, a Chinese physicist not qualified for field work, an American of Japanese-American extraction fighting his attraction for another member of the team and the leader, Matt, who is a bit of a loose cannon due to pyschological baggage he can’t shake off.

This spy caper is a detailed and meticulously researched account of an extraction attempt that goes horribly wrong. The trouble that the author has gone to with her research is clear. Official ranks, street names, medical details, routes and travelling times are laid out admirably. I felt confident that what I was being shown was a good picture of the scenes and situations through which the characters move.

The author also details the thought processes of her characters. I found it particularly interesting to see Holm’s point of view, and his absolutely sincere and uncritical devotion to his country. But elsewhere this is where the book fell down a little for me. Each action is mulled over and thought out – sometimes in the middle of what could have been quite exciting action scenes – and there were times where I found my attention wandering and I had to go back and re-read sections, skipping the internal monologue, to get a clear picture of what had happened. But the people who will be reading mostly for the romantic relationships won’t be disappointed. Emotions run at a high note and Kristopher and Michel are very tender with each other. The other relationship that developed in the latter part of the book is handled quite differently, which is good because very different personalities are involved. It should be noted that sex scenes are either non-explicit or fade to black.

The story arc is very good with plenty of alarms and excursions and various point of view characters that allowed some tense cliffhangers. I didn’t find the ending satisfying, in fact it was very abrupt. But this lays the story open to a sequel where, I hope, characters and readers will get more of a sense of closure.

Author’s Livejournal

Buy at Dreamspinner | Amazon UK | Amazon USA (ebook and paperback)

Review: The Amethyst Cat Caper by Charlie Cochet

Two years ago, Remington Trueblood left England and everything he held dear for the chance at a new life. Now the successful owner of The Purple Rose Tea House in Manhattan, Remi has come across the perfect addition to his business: a stunning amethyst cat. But Remi’s acquired something else with his latest purchase: the attention of the notorious Gentleman Thief!

Detective Stanley Hawk doesn’t know the first thing about tea. He’s strictly a java kind of guy. What he does know, is crime, and someone’s just committed one. As a Pinkerton’s, Hawk always gets his man, and when his investigations lead him straight to Remi, the words have never been truer.

Can Remi and Hawk resist each other long enough to figure out who the thief is and what the heck is going on? Or will the Gentleman Thief get his hands on more than just the Amethyst Cat? 

Review by Erastes

This is the second book I’ve read by Ms Cochet (When Love Walks In was the first) and like the first one, I was impressed, and also the author has a talent for creating characters and situations which we’d not only like to see more of – we can say that about many books – but which stories lead naturally to a conclusion, whilst still leaving the door open for More Adventures.

Set, like her other book, during the Great Depression in America, this deals with the top end of society. Englishman Remi (Remington) has left his wealthy family in England due to his incapacity to please his father–marry where ordered, continue the line, that kind of thing–and came to America and is living the American dream. He starts a tea house in the centre of Manhattan and it’s doing really rather well, making him a millionaire twice over in his early twenties.

So, although the struggling masses of the depression are mentioned a few times, you don’t really get to see them. This is a world of Hollywood style opulence, art deco interiors and shiny shiny things. And it’s described very well with just enough scene setting to see where we are, but not overdoing the detail by telling us who made every knick-knack and trinket.

The characters come to live quite beautifully on the page. Remi for instance, seen through the eyes of the burly detective Hawk is easily conjured to mind. Slim, wonderfully tailored and gorgeous to boot. It’s nice that he doesn’t consider the man’s wealth as part of the deal. What I particularly liked was that Remi was damaged a little, from his relationship with his family, and from the first man he ever fell in love with who “done him wrong.” Hawk, sadly, although I liked him as a character doesn’t have this particular depth and I bonded with him much less than I did with Remi. Hawk seems to get swept away with Remi so easily and the problems that their relationship might bring aren’t even considered until right at the end of the book. I think I’d have liked him to be a bit more noir, as I feel he considers himself a Sam Spade but he doesn’t come over that way, he’s more protective and lustful.

There’s a lot of eye colour detail too, which I have to say I’m over when it comes to romance novels. I don’t know anyone with violet or emerald eyes and I’d probably punch them if I did.

The story is good too, and tight, having a definite arc which begins and ends with exciting well-written action. Having struggled with action myself, I know how damned hard it can be to write when three men are struggling and there’s a gun involved, but Cochet pulls it off with cinematic style.

The third person is, of course, the Gentleman Thief and I was delighted when I entirely missed the clues as to who it might be and plumped for someone it absolutely wasn’t. That kind of red-herring-ism is a bit hit with me and I enjoyed guessing.

So, what with good period detail, movie-style flair, good characters and an ending which practically sets itself up for a whole series of “Capers” in the future, I have no problems with thoroughly recommending The Amethyst Cat Caper and look forward to more from Ms Cochet.

And it has to be said, because I’ve pointed out their errors so often, this was lacking in errors which was a refreshing change! I also liked the cover a lot, but sadly on Kindle it’s only in black and white.

Author’s Website

Ebook only.

Buy at Torquere | Kindle UK | Kindle USA

Review: Whistle Pass by KevaD

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

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

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

Review by Elliott Mackle

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

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

Review: Brook Street: Thief by Ava March

London, 1822

It was only supposed to be one night. One night to determine once and for all if he truly preferred men. But the last thing Lord Benjamin Parker expected to find in a questionable gambling hall in Cheapside is a gorgeous young man who steals his heart.

It was only supposed to be a job. Cavin Fox has done it many times–select a prime mark, distract him with lust, and leave his pockets empty. Yet when Cavin slips away under the cover of darkness, the only part of Benjamin he leaves untouched is his pockets.

With a taste of his fantasies fulfilled, Benjamin wants more than one night with Cavin. But convincing the elusive young man to give them a chance proves difficult. Cavin lives with a band of thieves in the worst area of London, and he knows there’s no place for him in a gentleman’s life. Yet Benjamin isn’t about to let Cavin–and love–continue to slip away from him.

Review by Erastes

This is the first of what will be a “Brook Street Trilogy” focussing on the Grosvenor Estate section of London in extremely expensive Mayfair. Brook Street: Fortune Hunter and Brook Street: Rogues being the next parts.

Ava March is reliably good. A safe pair of hands is how I like to put it. You know jolly well that if you liked her other books, then you are quite likely to be enamoured of the next one. She’s an auto-buy/read for me and I’m sure many people. She specialises in gay regencies, and she does it well.

But that being said, I have enjoyed all of her books, but sadly this one didn’t set me on fire. Perhaps it’s because the characters are so damned nice. I can tolerate niceness up to a point but I like to see the real grain behind the characters. These two guys seem to have no bad  points at all, even the thief character – Cavin Fox – doesn’t even thieve except when he gets really desperate. The love of a good man cures him of ten years of his nefarious existence almost overnight. It just didn’t gel for me in that respect.

I liked the way they met, and the way they got together in bed, but of course there was then pretty much insta-love which I’m thoroughly tired of . Benjamin has had sex with Cavin twice and they’ve hardly had any conversation when Benjamin realises that he loves Cavin. Nothing specifically against this book, as the writing is stronger than many many others out there, but it just strikes me as very teenage. I know that I went around thinking every guy I kissed or fancied was going to be the one and falling in love at the drop of a hat. I think that these days I want a bit more than love at first sight.

However, that’s a personal aside.You will more than likely have no problem with this at all.

What I like about March’s work is an uneven dynamic and although that’s usually achieved via BDSM she uses a different approach here, with an aristocrat and a man living in the dregs of society, but passing as possibly a merchant’s son due to his stolen clothes and false accent. When offered a place by Benjamin’s side, he obviously balks at the idea and this is what causes much of the conflict. I don’t blame Cavin for this – he would be uncertain as to how he could possibly fit into Benjamin’s world and knows that he’d never be able to repay Ben even for a small gift of something like clean clothes. I don’t seen Cavin as being overly stubborn here, just very sensible.

There were a few irritants thrown into the research, which is unlike March. One of them refers to the nobility. England does not–emphatically not–have Marquis. It’s considered a foreign title, and the equivalent would be Marquess. I can see how the confusion might arise, though, as Marquess does sound like a female title. But a female Marquess is a Marchioness… I know.  There were a couple of other niggles, such as a young boy walking from Mayfair to the Fleet Street area in an evening (a long way, about 3 miles and not at all safe) or the same young boy roaming around the Lord’s house making himself free with the very expensive tea. The meal at this point has a quite modern feel too.

Where Ava March shines is in her sex scenes and if you are looking for well-written, heat filled sex with graphic description to make you tingle you certainly won’t be disappointed. There’s plenty of it and it’s written extremely well with no hint of repetition. This alone sets March above many authors to my mind. She never skimps a sex scene, never makes them unnecessary and goes from kiss to completion with great gusto.

But all in all, I found this a bit hard going, and that’s probably because of the lack of external conflict–I thought there might be a break-in at one point but it didn’t happen–and the eternal niceness of both main characters. I don’t see why Cavin couldn’t find a job–he’d asked for a recommendation for his young friend Sam, so Ben would have easily have given him one. He was prepared to do anything, and in Regency London, there was anything but full employment.

This isn’t really a fault of what is excellent writing, but I’d have just liked a bit more excitement rather than nice people chatting to each other (they quibble with each other for nearly an entire page about sweeping up a broken plate, for example) and then having lots of very hot sex.

Author’s website

Buy at Carina Press

Review: The Sartorialist by Cecilia Ryan

When royal sartorial adviser Beau Brummell meets a pretty soldier at a ball full of people who have begun to bore him, he’s only thinking of a brief affair and the opportunity to prove that clothes make the man. When Toby turns out to be not only beautiful but kind and a generous lover, Beau finds himself falling fast. Though previously happy to let him have his fun, the jealous Prince Regent issues an ultimatum: Toby must return to France or risk being charged with treason. Knowing Toby is unlikely to survive, Beau begins a downward spiral into depression and debt. Surely he and Toby will never meet again….

Review by Erastes

I admit tip-toeing my way into this book, because I’m a big chicken and I want a book to be good and I’m often disappointed. However this novella won me over fairly quickly and I found myself wallowing in the lovely prose and enjoying the story a great deal.

It’s so rare to find a gay historical which is about a real-life person. In this case though, I haven’t seen anything to hint that Brummell was actually bisexual or gay, but it is believable–and many people flew under the radar, even famous people.

So what this little book does, it’s not very long at 66 pages, even for a novella, is write between the spaces in Brummell’s life–as there were a few unknowns about the man–and does it very convincingly.

The story starts towards the end of the long friendship that Brummell had with George Prince Regent and Prince of Wales. There are rifts between the two and instead of using Brummell’s changing political views as the basis for this, as the history books hint, Ryan has George being jealous of any relationship that Brummell has and is in love with him himself. This was probably the biggest stretch for me, as George was a notorious womaniser but if you can get over that fact then the rest is plain sailing.

At a party, Brummell meets Toby, a fictional character who–in place of the real guy who actually did–captured the French Eagle at Barrossa. He therefore is a bit of a celebrity and has been invited to parties which are out of his class. Brummell, as an excuse to get the know the young man better offers to “smarten him up” which the Prince agrees to, as Brummell is a dress advisor to many famous men and knows his fashion.

The main portion of the book is taken up with their relationship which begins with sex and grows into love — which was something I liked, particularly the first kiss which came a lot later, and the consequences of this love affair.

After they are parted, Brummell goes into decline and rather spoiled himself for me by weeping like a baby at every available opportunity. I know men do cry, but this is rather over the top and there’s quite a lot of it, in relation to the size of the book.

The prose however is very nice indeed, and anyone with an interest in this period, or gay historicals in general will probably like it a lot. It’s told in first person and really makes an effort to read as if it actually were a memoir of the time and the old-fashioned style was a big bit with me.

Not your standard romance–although the ending fits the genre–I recommend to this book highly and look forward to Ms Ryan’s next historical.

Author’s website

Available as ebook only

Buy at Dreamspinner Press, Amazon UKAmazon USA

Review: An Angel in Hollywood (Hurrah for Hollywood 1) by Parhelion

When confronted by a rampaging comic genius, what’s a studio publicity fella to do?

Review by Erastes

I believe this book was out once with Torquere, but lucky you lot, if you didn’t manage to get hold of an ecopy back then (it was published in 2005 I think) there’s a free version on Parhelion’s website, together with the other books in the series which I’ll be reviewing at some point.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know I’m a bit of a fangirl of Parhelion’s. I have no idea who he or she is, and I don’t really care. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that it is an alter ego Whoever they are they can write and that’s all that matters.

Parhelion has a knack of immediately–immediately–being able to drop the reader into whatever period that’s being written about, and Parhelion writes quite a wide stripe of time eras, although mostly in the 20th century, which is rather neglected, so that’s wonderful.

In this instance we are in the early days of the Talkies, around 1926 ish and the scene is set for us immediately with no need for tub-thumping back story:

“Two, please.  Ah, how charming.”  Sidney Beck smiled as he checked his new cards.  It did not mean much.  He had beamed at everything he had been dealt all evening.  His large hands fanned his cards shut before he shoved more chips and markers into the pile in the center of the fancy mahogany table.   Across the green baize from him, my Cousin Vincent took a long puff from his stogie and tried to look indifferent.  The other poker players seated in the private room in the back of Vincent’s nightclub fell silent, waiting for him to make his move.

A fella who had already folded, a character who owned a couple of Southern California department stores, snapped his fingers for me to get him a refill on his drink.  While I poured him the house’s best substitute for rye at the private bar in the corner of the room, he gave me a smirk that I did not like.  I came back over to the poker table and stood by his chair, offering him nothing but a cold eye.  Not until the smirk slipped off his plate did I hand over his hooch.   Just because I was the stake for this hand of cards was no reason for me to take such guff.

I was used for a white chip back in 1925 after my oldest brother Frankie had shipped me out west to live with Cousin Vincent, the owner of three social clubs around Southern California.  Back home, our family firm was having a small misunderstanding with the Garibaldi Medical Supply Company and my mother had put her foot down.  She was still sore that I had gone to work juggling figures and guarding tank trucks doing delivery runs around Broadway rather than finishing senior seminary, even though I did not have a vocation and was already real tired of the Jesuits. 

I knew better than to explain that to Ma.  I was the baby of a family of six and had learned the hard way not to tell anybody anything.  You can bet I was not going to talk to Frankie about how hot I was to blow town and why.  So, even though I had heard that my cousin Vincent was both a sanemagogna and a loffari, I just kept quiet and climbed onto the train.

I love Angelo’s voice, it has real echoes of Runyonese, a lovely mixture of slang and over-formal words with few contractions. In stark contrast to Angelo, we have Sid who speaks just like you would imagine a thespian to speak, over-blown, blousy and full of literary allusions. When they do have a conversation it’s utterly delightful.

Don’t expect a traditional romance, in fact as endings go, it’s not a “romance” at all, but more realistic than that. It’s more a coming-out story, a bromance layered with many issues and Catholic guilt. Parhelion has a gift, like Renault, for putting a lot of story into things that aren’t really said, or are only hinted at, and when it comes to men talking–especially hard-boiled men like Angelo–that works perfectly.

If I had any issues with the book it was a little rushed and a little muddled. The characters have to solve a dilemma and that’s needed because it forces them into each other’s company for a length of time, but there’s almost a touch of slapstick and farce about it (entirely deliberate I’m sure, seeing as how when and where it’s set) but still, I found the almost Keystone Cops speed of how things went as they rushed around Los Angeles to be a be dizzying and confusing.

But overall, it’s well worth a read, and even better it’s free!

Parhelion’s website

Read here

Review: The Rise and Fall of the Sacred Band of Thebes by G.A. Hauser

In the year 338 BC on the plain of Chaeronea, a war was fought between the allied armies of Thebes and Athens, against the might of Macedon ruled by King Philip and his son Alexander the Great. In that bloody battle Thebes was defeated and lost almost every man of its exclusive fighting force called the Sacred Band.

Nikanoras, born the only son to an aristocrat, is sent to train with a mentor and find a male lover in order to be selected to serve with the Sacred Band of Thebes. Unknown to Nikanoras his mentor holds a treacherous secret over his father and is in love with his mother. After Nikanoras is sent away for training, his mother and mentor kill his father and hope Nikanoras will die in war. Throughout the murderous intrigue, Nikanoras’ one saving grace is his lover, beautiful Meleagros, the only thing in his life that is stable. Together they face their destiny- to live or die in battle.

Review by Michael Joseph

The Rise and Fall of the Sacred Band of Thebes opens on that fateful day on the plain of Chaeronea, when Philip and his golden son wipe out almost all of the Sacred Band. Almost all, for although badly wounded, Nikanoras still lives, much to his shame. Alexander finds him and has his wounds tended.

From that desperate opening scene, we flash back to Nikanoras’ childhood. ‘Nikki’ is the only son of the aristocrat Saliuikos. His mother Thessenike is a cold, uncaring woman, essentially leaving Nikki to be raised by his sister Euridises, who is almost 10 years older. As he enters his thirteenth year, Nikki believes that, like his father, he will one day marry, have children, and take his place as one of Thebes’ statesmen.

But much to his surprise, Nikki is turned over to the care of his father’s old friend Arybos, who will be the boy’s erastes as he is trained to take a place in the Sacred Band. This is quite a shock to the young man, who finds the idea of being a soldier and an eromenos to the old man rather repulsive. He doesn’t understand what could have brought about this drastic change of circumstances.

Unbeknown to Nikki, Arybos knows a dark secret that could destroy Saliuikos and his family. He holds Nikki’s father under his thumb, determined to take everything from Saliuikos, including his wife Thessenike, who is Arybos’ collaborator. Nikki’s only consolation is his sister Euridises, but soon Thessenike finds a husband for Nikki’s sister and sends her away. Her new husband, a powerful general, forbids Nikki from ever seeing his sister.

As a member of the Sacred Band, Nikki is expected to take a lover from one of the other members of the troop. From their very first meeting, Meleagros is enamored of the young Nikki, and sets about wooing him. It takes some time, but Meleagros finally finds a way to get Nikki to accept him as his lover. Nikki is quite cool at first, this isn’t the kind of relationship he expected to have, but as the years pass and he becomes increasingly isolated from his family, Nikki comes to realize Meleagros is the only only one who truly loves him. By they time they reach the plain of Chaeronea, the two twenty year-olds have a bond as strong as any other in the Band.

The story comes full circle to that battle on the plain against Philips forces. Held ransom like the other aristocratic Theban prisoners, Nikki is surprised when his freedom is paid for. Returning to Thebes, he finds a much different city, occupied by Macedonian mercenaries. He finds no welcome in his own home. The only one happy to seem him is Meleagros’ repulsive brother. Nikki finds himself more isolated than ever. While the ending is a bit of a surprise, you’d have to work very hard to convince yourself that it’s a happily ever after one.

There’s a really powerful plot line to this book, one of Shakespearean proportions. Indeed, Nikki is a brooding, indecisive Hamlet, whose ‘uncle’ Arybos plots to do away with his father and marry his mother. Only, Thessenike is less of a Gertrude and more of a Lady Macbeth. There’s also an almost Oedipal relationship between Nikki and his sister. Unfortunately, all this potential is let down by the storytelling. It never really grabbed me.

The problem, for me, was in the telling. The third-person narrative tells us everything. While Nikki remains clueless, we’re given all the intimate details of how his erastes and his mother plot against him. The evil plans, and the fact that Nikki is helpless to do anything about it, is hammered on repeatedly. I think the author was trying to create a sense of drama, but for me it had the opposite effect. The story really plodded along, as there was very little left to discover. I never really connected with Nikki. Meleagros is actually the more engaging character, but over the course of the book he’s all over the map emotionally, which left me a little confused as to his true self.

Having read Eromenos by Melanie McDonald not long ago, this book drives yet another nail into the coffin of the whole romantic notion of the erastes / eromenos relationship. It points out just how young – thirteen – the boys were when they entered into the arrangements, and that they often had no choice in the matter. I hope they never try to convince me Alexander was straight, because I don’t think I could cope with having any more bubbles burst.

Given the poor storytelling, this is a three star read at best.

G.A. Hauser’s website

Available as an ebook and in print

Amazon UK   Amazon USA

Review: Bonds of Earth by G.N. Chevalier

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

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

Review by Sally Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Blog

Available in Paperback and ebook format.

Buy at: Dreamspinner PressAmazon UK,   Amazon USA

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review by Elliott Mackle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Website

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

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

Review: The Master of Seacliff by Max Pierce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

Amazon UK    Amazon USA (available as paperback and ebook)

Review: Alike as Two Bees by Elin Gregory

Horses, love, and the tang of thyme and honey…

In Classical Greece, apprentice sculptor Philon has chosen the ideal horse to model for his masterpiece. Sadly, the rider falls well short of the ideal of beauty, but scarred and tattered Hilarion, with his brilliant, imperfect smile, draws Philon in a way that mere perfection cannot.

After years of living among the free and easy tribes of the north, Hilarion has no patience with Athenian formality. He knows what he wants – and what he wants is Philon. Society, friends and family threaten their growing relationship, but perhaps a scarred soldier and a lover of beauty are more alike than they appear.

Review by Michael Joseph

Anatolios and Philon are young apprentice sculptors in Classical Greece. Anatolios is a precocious boy of just 13 years. Philon is much older, around 20, and treats Anatolios like a brother. Their master Nikias treats both boys as his own sons. They are rather talented, and Anatolios may one day even surpass his master.

The young men and other sculptors are working on a commission Nikias has received from Eutychos, a rich trader who is building a new house that he wants to be sure will impress people. Given leave one day to take their lunch on the beach, the boys encounter a group of men riding horses. Among them is Aristion, Eutychos’ son, as well as his older cousin, Hilarion.

The scarred Hilarion is no beauty, but there’s something about him that makes Philon’s heart go pitter-patter. Apparently the feeling is mutual, but the two barely start their charmingly awkward courtship before they’re distracted by shouts of panic from Anatolios. Aristion, on his big horse, is bullying the young boy and nearly drowns him. Hilarion and his friends come to the rescue and berate Aristion for his bad behavior, but this only infuriates the spoiled brat.

A few nights later there’s trouble with the mules in the sculptor’s yard, and one of the panels Anatolios and Philon have worked hard on is broken. Philon is certain the Aristion is behind the trouble. A few days later, while all of the rest of the sculptors are up at the house site, Philon is alone when Hilarion comes calling. Hilarion admires Philon’s work, as well as the sculptor himself. They finally consummate their growing love in the heat of the afternoon.

The ending section contains a mild conflict, which ramps up the tension sufficiently, but never to put us in fear of the HEA.

“Alike As Two Bees” is a sweet little story. It’s quite short, even for a novella, which is usually a problem for me. But in this case there are no dangling plot lines, no mysterious back-stories crying out to be filled in or impossibly convenient coincidences. It’s a quite surprisingly complete work. I didn’t notice it until I finished the book and was digesting it for review, and perhaps it was even subconscious on the part of the author, but what she’s done is make quite effective use of archetypes. Aristion is quickly identifiable as the typical evil spoiled rich kid, Nikias the kindly uncle and Eutychos is the nouveau riche fat cat with more money than taste. None of this detracts from the story. It just helps to move it along by subtly giving us familiar character types we recognize and understand easily. The two lovers are drawn much more fully. You may not know them as well as you might like, but you know them well enough to care about what happens.

If I had to pick out one tiny niggle with the story, it would be with the one and only love scene. It’s communicated in such genteel language that it’s a little hard to figure out who is doing what to whom. But in a way it all fits with the sweetness of the story, so it’s a very minor flaw, at most.

This delightful little story definitely deserves four out of five stars.

Elin Gregory can be found on-line at Blogspot or LiveJournal

Amazon UK   Amazon USA

Review: A Private Gentleman by Heidi Cullinan

Painfully introverted and rendered nearly mute by a heavy stammer, Lord George Albert Westin rarely ventures any farther than the club or his beloved gardens. When he hears rumors of an exotic new orchid sighted at a local hobbyist’s house, though, he girds himself with opiates and determination to attend a house party, hoping to sneak a peek.

He finds the orchid, yes…but he finds something else even more rare and exquisite: Michael Vallant. Professional sodomite.

Michael climbed out of an adolescent hell as a courtesan’s bastard to become successful and independent-minded, seeing men on his own terms, protected by a powerful friend. He is master of his own world—until Wes. Not only because, for once, the sex is for pleasure and not for profit. They are joined by tendrils of a shameful, unspoken history. The closer his shy, poppy-addicted lover lures him to the light of love, the harder his past works to drag him back into the dark.

There’s only one way out of this tangle. Help Wes face the fears that cripple him—right after Michael finds the courage to reveal the devastating truth that binds them.

Review by Erastes

It’s not very often that I am charmed by a book almost from the first page–but this book blew a fresh wind into the rather overworked 19th century area of the m/m historical romance genre and I found myself won over and wooed.

I have to say that I took to Cullinan’s protagonist immediately. In fact I took to both of them because they were so refreshing in these days of perfect hunks of men. Granted they are both gorgeous as hell, but Lord George Albert Westin has a stammer that would make King George VI look fluent, and Michael Vallant wears glasses–without them, he’s as blind as Marilyn Monroe’s character in How to Marry a Millionaire.

These two disabilities are used with comic effect (without making light of the disabilities at all, I hasten to add) to get our two main characters into an amusing and tight situation where they get to know each other in a manner that I don’t think I’ve ever read before. In fact it’s the way that these two characters get together that was a refreshing change to read.

Both men–aside from their handicaps–are also damaged psychologically. I won’t reveal the nature of this damage as it would spoil a good deal of the plot but it creates the main part of the conflict in the book and due to both men’s inability to deal with real life in general nearly leads to their downfall.

There’s a good deal of research that’s gone into this book and it shows–but in a way that draws you in, intrigues you and makes you think “oo – I must look that up!” It’s not the kind of book that info dumps you with detail, rather, it makes the detail part of the story so you are mopping up facts about early Victorian London without realising it. I’m not sure of the exact date, but Euston Station is in existence, so it’s sometime after 1837.

There is a fair bit of weeping, and that would normally irritate me, but actually it works well here, and Ms Cullinan has worked to portray men who are at the edge of precipices they didn’t even know they were on, and it takes one small push to send them into the abyss. There’s a hugely touching scene in the Bodliean Library where Michael catches sight of himself in a glass case and metaphysically he almost disappears, because he doesn’t know who he is, and realises that he needs to “find himself” and I fully believed that he would break down at this point. It’s very realistically played. The psychology that is explored, in a time before everyone had a shrink, is well done and convincing.

I think I would have liked a little more interaction with Wes’s brother, and his nephew and even his father, because much of what we learn about the father doesn’t gel with what we actually see on the screen. But, the secondary characters are all well done, my favourite was Rodger, Michael’s procurer. Be warned, for those of you who will not read such themes that child abuse is a theme and although its never on the page and quite rightly horrific and not for titilation it is there and Samhain should drop their jokey “warnings” and put up some real ones.

I have one minor quibble, and that’s some of the language was a little modern, and there was a lot of talk of “blocks” e.g. He drove six blocks, and that kind of thing, which was a tad jarring but that’s not enough to dent the mark, because this was a pleasure to read and I hope Ms Cullinan continues to write historicals because she’s made a great debut into the genre with this one.

A lovely long read, with two protagonists thatwill have you rooting for them from the first, I highly recommend A Private Gentleman. It’s ludicrously cheap–and ebook only, and I hope that Samhain get this into print asap, because I want a forever copy.

Amazon UK   Amazon USA

Review: Solace by Scarlet Blackwell (short story)

Solace by Scarlet Blackwell

Down on his luck Victorian gentleman Dorian is looking for solace on Christmas Eve and finds it in the form of rent boy Benedict.

Review by Michael Joseph

It’s Christmas Eve in late-Victorian London. Dorian was once a gentleman of means, but now he’s alone and will soon have to sell his house in Chelsea. An unrequited crush on his houseboy landed him in jail. He managed to bribe his way out of prison, but he’s been disowned by his family and abandoned by all his friends. Dorian is strolling the streets of Whitechapel, looking for company despite the risk of the Ripper, when Benedict steps forward to offer his services.

Benedict is a young male prostitute, a “Mary Ann” in the language of the time used by the author, and Dorian is quite taken with him. Despite the risk, Dorian decides to take Benedict home, rather than just getting off in some darkened doorway. Back in Chelsea, Dorian takes Benedict twice in the drawing room, and it’s obvious Benedict is not “gay for pay” to use the modern expression. He genuinely prefers the company of men, and likes nothing more than having another man deep inside him. Dorian is so enthralled he asks Benedict to stay the night, and the following Christmas Day. Benedict readily agrees and they retire to the bedroom.

In the bedroom, things get mildly kinky, with a little bondage and spanking. Dorian becomes even more enamored with the young man, finding in him the potential for the kind of love he had hoped to find with his houseboy. He also begins to see that, despite his profession, Benedict has rarely known real pleasure.

The dreaded insta-love rears its ugly head in this story, but then this is a really short novella that sets a good pace. In print it’s just around 40 pages. I’m generally not a big fan of these shorts, which are all the rage now that ebooks rule. All too often it seems like the characters are one-dimensional and the plot full of holes. But Solace is complete, with a proper beginning, middle and end, with characters that are endearing enough. It’s short, but it is what it is, which is why I’ve given it a solid 3 out of 5.

Scarlet Blackwell

Buy from Silver Publishing

Review: My True Love Gave to Me by Ava March

Alexander Norton loathes the festive season. The revelry of the ton is a reminder of Christmas four years ago, when his first love, Thomas Bennett, broke his heart and fled to New York without a word. So when he encounters Thomas at a holiday ball, Alexander is determined not to let on how much he still hurts.

Thomas has returned for one reason only: Alexander. Having finally come to terms with his forbidden desires, he will do whatever he must to convince Alexander to give their love another chance. But instead of the happy, carefree man Thomas once knew, Alexander is now hard and cynical. Saddened to know he’s to blame for the man’s bitterness, Thomas resolves to reignite the passion he knows lies hidden behind the wall of disdain…

Review by Erastes

Part of the “Men Under the Mistletoe” seasonal anthology from Carina Press.

I’ve yet to be disappointed with an Ava March novella and if you like her previous work you’ll like this every bit as much. She’s rapidly gaining a reputation–at least with this site–for writing good solid trustworthy Regencies.

The twist here is that the couple have just begun a tentative relationship whilst at university–Alexander is sure of his feelings and desires but Thomas is repressed, used to always trying to please everyone, always sure of doing the right thing in public and the sudden realisation of what he’s about to do–when the pair of them slip off for a dirty weekend breaks  his nerve and he runs away, unable to go through with it, breaking Alexander’s heart.

I have to say that I did enjoy the book, but I felt a little disappointed. Not because there’s no BDSM in this book–which is a departure from the books I’ve read by Ms March before–but the story just didn’t grab me. Perhaps it was because it was a holiday story and is written to be heart-warming. So really I found it was a bit too predictable, and not really much going on. Thomas comes back from America, determined to apologise and win Alexander back, and it doesn’t take a razor-sharp mind to realise that that is what is going to happen. I would have preferred a bit more resistence, a bit more conflict. Perhaps another plot twist to prevent the inevitable happy ending until the bitter end.

March writes sizzling sex, and this book is no exception so people coming to the book for the coming won’t be let down.  But there was quite a good deal of repetition–telling us over and over how much pain Alexander had felt until I said outloud – “Yes! We get it!”

I also wasn’t really convinced by the “True Love” aspect. The men had been together–at age 19–for a mere two terms at university and had grabbed a few occasions for kissing and cuddling so it wasn’t as if they’d had much time to fall into true love. Then later, when the acrimonious discussion begins, Alexander says:

“I had to push, to cajole, to get every kiss, every touch from you.” I believe that there was lust, but it doesn’t come over as true love.

However, despite all my minor quibbles, they are pretty minor and although this wasn’t the best of Ms March’s books for me so far, it was solid and dependable and it won’t stop me reading her for great pleasure in the future.

Ava March’s website

Buy as a separate novella (ebook only) See above for the anthology link

Review: Rag and Bone by J.S. Cook (Inspector Raft Mysteries #2)

Rag & Bone is #2 in the Inspector Raft Mystery Series.

Scotland Yard Inspector Philemon Raft arrives on the scene of a deadly fire in Whitechapel, only to find a much more sinister force at work, destroying lives with swift abandon – and a lunatic may help Raft capture the master criminal known only as “The Master.”

Review by Erastes

This is the follow up to “Willing Flesh” which we reviewed a while back. It’s taken me a disgustingly long time to get around to reading and reviewing the sequel and for that I apologise.

What I like about these two books (and I hope that there will be many more of them) is that they started out as rewrites of her two Inspector Devlin novels but instead of being faithful copies, they have been re-written to make them only vaguely reminiscent of their ancestry. If you’ve read book two of Devlin I think I can safely say that you will be happy about the denouement of Rag and Bone…

What I admire about J.S. Cook’s work is the sense of the grotesque–in a very good way. She takes a blending of Dickens, a touch of King, a taste of Peake and blends it all in in her own inimitable style. I absolutely adore her character description.  It’s not overdone in a Noir style, but she manages to give us an absolute certain description with a few deft sentences.

Raft was sitting is Sir Newton Babcock’s office, gazing at the floor and constructing patterns out of the carpet’s tortuous motif while the police commissioner wallowed up and down, looking very like a rhinoceros forcing its way through thick river mud.

What stops the book getting a five star from me is that fact that I wish JS Cook would trust her own talent and would create truly original characters as I know she is capable of doing. There’s too much Renfield in Rennie the lunatic, too much Holmes and Hare in Hoare, too much Dracula in “The Master” and so on and so on. Raft–who I believe JSC was modelling on David Tennant–develops a 3rd heartbeat and while I know all of these details could simply be labelled as an admiring nod to characters that JSC admires, for me it was irritating and kept dragging it back towards fanfic, and the book deserves much better than that. Perhaps thought it’s just I have too much inside knowledge and other readers wouldn’t even notice.

The editing leaves something to be desired, too – misused homonyms were picked up here and there manner born/manor born, reign/rein and the like and it needed a harsh eye looking over the plot, as things happened which hadn’t had any set-up, and some elements seemed rush,  pasted on and in the end weren’t really explained to my satisfaction. However it’s hoped there will be more of the series, so explanations may come later.

However, some authors with less talent would have a whole point taken off for these problems, J.S. Cook only loses half a point because of her consummate skill in her writing as a whole.

What shows clearly is Cook’s research. I know that she does much of her forensic research at home, making fake skulls, filling them with fake blood and then shattering them to study blood spatter–and other such home pursuits! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s almost impossible to imagine that she’s not only not as English as Miss Marple, but lives in a remote location on another continent. The way she covers police procedure and the forensic knowledge of the time rings very true. If I had one quibble it’s about her dialogue for some of the characters. At the beginning of the book two children are talking, children from the Whitechapel area, completely poor and uneducated. Their speech patterns are off, sadly–one of the children actually says “There aren’t any more” rather than “There ain’t none.” The dialogue of the children is very wobbly, careering from east end dialect and back again. A good English beta-ing would have been sensible, but then perhaps only English people would spot it.

The ending is not your typical romance ending, but then these books aren’t romances – they are crime drama, and while the horror that happens in the earlier incarnation of this book doesn’t happen, JS Cook doesn’t let her protagonists off lightly and the ending left me heartbroken in a good way and on tenterhooks for book three of the series.

You can read this as a stand-alone, despite it being part of a series, it works fine as it is, but I urge you to try out Willing Flesh first–if you are a fan of Victorian crime drama you can’t help but be impressed by Rag and Bone.

Author’s Website

Amazon UK Amazon USA (Print and ebook)

Review: One More Soldier by Marie Sexton

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

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

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

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

I was twenty-eight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

Ebook only Silver Publishing    Kindle UK     Kindle USA

Review: Bone Idol by Paige Turner

Book one in the Past Perfect Series

Love stripped down to the bare bones.

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

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

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

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

Review by Sal Davis

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

Published by Total-eBound (ebook)

Review: Gaius and Achilles by Clodia Metelli

Gaius and Achilles is a gay historical romance, set in Late Republican Rome, concerning the choices facing Achilles, a young aristocrat from Paphos whose life is thrown into confusion when he is captured by pirates and separated from his lover Hippothous.

He finds himself the slave of decadent Roman poet Gaius Manlius Torquatus, a sensitive soul, who must struggle with the conflicting demands and desires of his nature.

Achilles’ radical change in status from respected citizen to personal property forces him to struggle to redefine his threatened sense of self and ultimately to question what it is to be free.

Meanwhile, his lover Hippothous is facing his own perilous adventures and is determined to find and save Achilles at any cost.

Review by Michael Joseph

It’s not often anymore that a book catches me completely by surprise, taking turns that you just don’t expect an historical romance to take. “Gaius and Achilles” surprised me, and I don’t mind saying right up front it was quite a pleasant surprise.

We’re first briefly introduced to Achilles and Hippothous, two aristocratic Greek youths of Paphos, on the island of Crete. The two young friends consider themselves lovers, although Hippothous would prefer the relationship conform to Platonic ideals, while Achilles yearns for greater physical expression. The men are both selected to compete in the Pythian games, and set sail along with the cream of the island’s youth for Delphi. Unfortunately, they’re set on by pirates, taken captive and sold into slavery in Italy.

When we first meet Gaius, he’s whipping a slave boy, only it’s not really a slave, it’s his boyfriend Antyllus, and he likes it. Or, maybe he doesn’t. Antyllus was once a slave, but now he’s a free man with a successful acting career. Unfortunately, he’s a sadly damaged and self-destructive young man who can’t seem to stop playing mind games with his boyfriend Gaius (sigh, been there). Gaius is almost driven mad by his young lover’s mercurial temperament, but finally wises up and resolves to part company with Antyllus.

Gaius escapes to his country estate, which he hasn’t visited since he was a boy. His uncle, who raised Gaius when his parents died, used to look after the vineyard for Gaius but he has now passed away, leaving Gaius with the responsibility to look after the business which provides his income. Soon after his arrival, the estate is embroiled in turmoil. It seems the steward, Rufus, has purchased a new slave who is quite unruly, and has even tried to escape. Rufus wants to whip the slave into submission, but the more Gaius hears, the more concerned he becomes and so he asks to see the slave for himself.

The slave is, of course, Achilles and under questioning it becomes clear that Rufus has purchased the young man, at considerable expense using Gaius’ money, to act as his own personal sex slave. Achilles quite naturally balked at this. Rufus had, quite wrongly, assumed his new master would be some addle-brained upper class twit. Once he figures out what is really going on, Gaius has Rufus quite literally peeing his toga.

Gaius takes pity on Achilles, and tries to more gently ease him into his new life as a slave. He makes the young man is personal servant and treats him with respect. He is also strongly attracted sexually to Achilles, but Gaius has a surprisingly strong moral code, especially for a Roman. He won’t take any man, even a slave, without their willing consent. So, he sets about wooing Achilles, which doesn’t prove difficult. The young man, in spite of himself, is also attracted to his new master. Gaius gives the beautiful youth the physical expression of love that’s long been denied him, and allows Achilles to explore the darker desires he’s long suppressed. This is where things get really interesting, but Achilles can’t give himself totally to Gaius. He pines for his lost lover Hippothous, whose fate remains unknown to him, and he still rebels at the idea of his enslavement.

“Gaius and Achilles” is set at the very end of the republic (that’s the Roman republic, dears, this isn’t Star Wars fanfic). Julius Caesar is as yet an up-and-coming young politician, mentioned a few times in the story. The author, apparently writing under a pen name taken from the time of the setting, seems to be a serious student of the Greco-Roman period and has woven a rich background for the story. There are vivid details about the daily life of a country villa. Everything, right down to the foods eaten at every meal, rings true to me. It’s all delivered in a very readable style that never becomes pedantic.

The historic detail alone makes this a very capable story, but it’s the relationship between Gaius and Achilles that really sets this book apart as something entirely unique in my experience. Many ‘serious’ historical romances – those not intended simply as one-handed reads – often tread quite lightly when it comes to sex. Even when they do get descriptive, the sex is often rather vanilla. The depictions of sex between Gaius and Achilles is quite unabashedly detailed and erotic. But what really pushed it over the edge into something completely different, what made me stop and think “wow” when I realized where it was going, is that the sex between the two men moves quite firmly into the realm of BDSM (Bondage, Discipline and Sado-Masochism). That was really just totally unexpected in a historical romance set in ancient Rome. Non-consensual sex in a master/slave relationship is one thing, but consensual BDSM is quite another.

It took me a little while to see what the author was doing. This isn’t all about shock and titillation. What the writer manages to do is set up a rather exquisite tension between the two sides of Achilles’ personality. On the one hand, there’s his public persona, the free-born Greek aristocrat who can’t wrap his head around now being a slave, someone’s property, with no control over what happens to him. On the other hand is Achilles’ private self, with a sexuality at its core that has an strong need to serve a master. He finds strength in submission, and joy in the pain of a whipping. It’s the tension between these two opposites that sets the theme of the story.

It’s in the description of the BDSM scenes that I found the closest thing to a flaw in the book. There was something rather ‘modern’ about the scenes – safe words, boundaries and limits are openly discussed. These things are very important to the story, in making Achilles feel comfortable enough to submit to Gaius’ domination, but they still felt somewhat out of place in ancient Rome. Although the Romans left plenty of documentation about what they got up to in bed, I doubt we have the level of detail to know if they understood the importance of safe words. This wasn’t one of those things that jars you out of the story, it was more a slow realization, and frankly, once I noticed it I simply overlooked it and read on. It doesn’t really detract from the story.

In then end, I felt the author was acting rather more responsibly than most. I do read a fair bit of BDSM, and even review it for another site. A lot of what gets labeled as BDSM really isn’t. It’s non-consensual sex, sexual torture and even outright mutilation. In “Gaius and Achilles” the author has shown how two (or more) consenting adults can engage in extreme sex safely. She probably could have glossed over some of the safety details without detracting from the story, but I think it actually becomes more powerful the way it is.

Hippothous is not completely forgotten in all this. He’s constantly in the background, forming a wedge between Gaius and Achilles. We get regular updates on his adventures as well. He is first sold to a brothel, but he fakes a seizure his first night on duty and is promptly resold, this time to a merchant with need of a Greek scribe. This at first seems a more suitable position, but his talent soon lands him in trouble with the senior slave, who frames the lad for theft to get him out of the way. While awaiting his fate, which will be whipping, or worse, Hippothous is allowed to escape by his master’s daughter and soon falls in with a gang of bandits.

It becomes quite obvious early on that, for the story to resolve itself, Achilles and Hippothous have to meet again. When they do, Achilles is forced to choose between his friend and his lover, between the freedom of Paphos with it’s moral restrictions and life as a slave to Gaius allowed to explore his innermost desires. It’s not much of a choice, really.

This book pushed a lot of my buttons, and more importantly, it pushed a combination of buttons I don’t expect a single story to push. That said, I realize this book is not going to appeal to everyone. In fact, I suspect it’s going to be one of those stories that people either love or hate. There won’t be much middle ground. If you have a taste for extreme sex, you’ll probably like this book. If too much sex in a book is a turn-off, just don’t read it.

I decided to give “Gaius and Achilles” 4.5 stars. The main reason I’m not giving it 5 stars is that, while it’s a ripping good yarn, it didn’t really tug at my heart-strings (although other bits got fondled). There’s nothing I can really put my finger on to account for this, the characters are well rounded and likable. I suspect it’s down to the remoteness of the time and circumstances. I just couldn’t get into the head of an ancient Roman or Greek aristocrat, and I certainly have absolutely no frame of reference for what it’s really like to be a slave, with absolutely no control over what happens to me. Others might get into it more easily, and really be tugged by Achilles’s situation, so I don’t consider this a real failing of the book.

Clodia Metelli’s web site

“Gaius and Achilles” may be purchased from Smashwords or Kindle (ebook only)

Review: When Love Walked In by Charlie Cochet (short story)

Bruce Shannon is a Private Investigator dealing with case after case of missing persons and infidelity. None of which inspire warm, fuzzy feelings during the week of Valentine’s Day. Then again, Bruce isn’t exactly a fuzzy feelings kind of guy, which suits him just fine. He doesn’t need anyone anyhow, only his cat, Mittens.

That is, until the handsome Jace Scarret wanders off the streets and into Bruce’s life. Will Jace end up showing Bruce that maybe Valentine’s Day isn’t so lousy after all?

Review by Erastes

I love Noir. The films, the books. Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, Raymond Chandler and all that. I love the morally ambigious characters, the twisted plots, the fashions, the cars, the settings.

While “When Love Walked In” is almost a vignette from what my mind fills in as a much larger story, it screams through every blue-nosed automatic pore that the author loves the era, loves Noir every bit as much as I do.

We meet our protagonist, who is a cagey, irascible, caffiene driven private dick–Bruce Shannon. He’s recently lost his secretary who was, it seems, a treasure, and he’s absolutely lost without her (so often the way!) We learn about Bruce in these opening sections: we learn he’s untidy, eats unhealthily, works too much, dislikes much of humanity and loves his cat, Mittens. Mittens is the star of this story in my opinion and you’d have to be hard-hearted not to love her too.

While it definitely has a Noir edge, don’t go expecting anything really Chandler-esque about it. For a start it’s told in third person POV whereas many Noir detective books are first person to retain the bafflement of the detective and to portray the voice (think the original Bladerunner with the commentary). While this works for this simple Valentine’s Day tale of new romance blossoming, I think that were the author to do a full-sized detective novel, I’d prefer a first person approach. There’s no real conflict either, which I’m not going to gripe about much seeing as how the story is only 30 or so pages, but I’ve seen it done in books as short as this, so it is possible.

That being said, what is there is good with a capital G. The writing is crisp and immerses you in the period, the characters are distinct and believable (even the off-stage secretary and the one-scene cafe owner burst with life) and the burgeoning romance isn’t too much insta-love to be eye-rolling. Rather the characters are turned on by each other which is much more realistic.

The editing wasn’t bad–it’s been a while since I read a Torquere book, and was surprised only to find one misused homonym. However the price seems pricey for a short story–other publishers sell novellas for that price.

However, as a piece of fiction that will take you 20 minutes or so to read, it’s highly enjoyable, well-grounded in its period, written in a cinematic way that will make you relive the gritty days of the 1930′s depression and a solid little story. As I said above, it seems (and I hope this is the case) that the author has a lot more to tell us about the back story and the continuing story of Bruce–he would do very well, as many Noir detective do–in a series and I for one will be lining up to read it. More please, Ms Cochet.

Author’s website

Buy at Torquere

Review: Stone by Stone: A Novel by Stevie Woods

Can two men build a relationship when one must tear down each stone that the other has worked so hard to build?

In the year 1535, after a misspent youth, Brother Mark is a hardworking Benedictine monk toiling as a stonemason at Tavistock Abbey. There he finds himself irrevocably drawn to one of the men sent out by King Henry to audit the monasteries prior to closure. Andrew Cheyne is fascinated by the handsome young man and breaks down the monk’s boundaries with an ease that neither expected.

When Andrew returns four years later to finally close the abbey, each man must also come to terms with their past to attempt to plan a future they can share. But fate plays a cruel trick on them. Or, as

Mark wonders, is it God teaching him a lesson? Attempting to forget Mark, Andrew commences a brand new life, but fate has more lessons in store for him yet.

Review by Elliott Mackle

The most riveting historical fiction is set against what the Chinese curse as “interesting times” —wars, revolutions, disputes between rival princes, invasions by barbaric hoards and widespread piracy upon the high seas. For every pastoral-domestic Pride and Prejudice, I’ll give you five Gone with the Winds and six Tales of Two Cities.

Stone by Stone is set in the turbulent period immediately following King Henry VIII’s break with Rome and proclamation of himself as head of the Church of England. Henry, a profligate spender always in need of cash, saw the realm’s rich monasteries and nunneries as easy pickings. A program was devised whereby royal commissioners inspected these establishments, drew up lists of accounts and possessions, and gave abbots the choice of either turning over land, buildings, livestock, furnishings, art and manuscripts to the head of the new church – or facing trial and perhaps execution for heresy and failure to obey a royal command. Monks and nuns were simply turned out into the road, sometimes with a pension, sometimes with a trade to support themselves in the outside world, and sometimes not.

The king was then free to pay his debts with gold plate, priceless illuminated bibles, works of art, grain and cattle, and to sell or give the former cloisters and abbeys to those nobles and officials who had supported him in his long effort to rid himself of Queen Catherine, marry Anne Boleyn and produce a male heir.

Stone by Stone is based upon historical fact: the dissolution of Tavistock Abbey in Devon. Fictional and historical figures are nicely mixed. The last abbot, John Peryn, who surrendered the abbey in return for a pension of one hundred pounds, is sympathetically treated, and was a real person. The king’s henchmen, royal commissioner Sir Richard Louden and his assistant, Master Andrew Cheyne, are presumably fictional. They serve, however, at the pleasure of the quite real Thomas Cromwell, among the King’s closest advisors, who is also at the center of the international bestseller and Man Booker Prize winner, Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel. More on that below.

Stone by Stone opens with a short preface, contrasting snapshots of the protagonists: Andrew Cheyne, a confirmed bachelor, topping an anonymous male stranger in the flea-ridden back room of a tavern in Southwark, London; Brother Mark of Lydford, an apprentice stonecutter at Tavistock, awakening from a wet dream, guiltily savoring the pleasure of being fondled by another man. “He needed someone to love him—a man to love him. A man he could love. God forgive him…”

Brother Mark will soon get his wish.

The novel itself is divided into three parts spanning seven years. Sir Richard and Master Cheyne arrive at Tavistock during the summer of 1535. Cheyne, in order to better observe the easy lives of the friars, elects to sleep in a cell rather than the priory. He has hardly done more than drop off his saddlebags when he encounters Brother Mark. Their affair follows a familiar track: The Look. Instantaneous Mutual Recognition. The First Kiss. Solitary Masturbation (fantasizing the other, albeit including the very modern term “pre-come”). The Body-to-Body Kiss. The Initial Refusal (by Brother Mark) to Go Further. And so on to The First Encounter (very explicit undressing, sucking and fucking in the deserted library by candlelight).

After a few days, the inspection party must leave and the lovers must part. Brother Mark reflects thusly:

“He lifted his eyes heavenward and wondered, for maybe the hundredth time, why life was so complicated. Why couldn’t others see what now seemed straightforward to him. For some men, it was more natural to love a man. He had tried to blame the devil for his inclination, but everything was created by God, even the fallen angel. If one believed in the power of God, how could it be otherwise? God made nature, God made man, including those men who loved other men. Mark had come to understand the definition of what is ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ was made by man. Mark had found a measure of peace in accepting his own understanding of God—what He is, what He does and how He works.”

It hardly needs pointing out that this line of reasoning is modern, not renaissance, nor that the concept of homosexuality as a state of being did not exist until the nineteenth century. Randy monks, however, are stock figures in the comedy, fiction and art of many cultures, and Brother Mark is a particularly attractive example of the type.

Four years later, during the winter of 1539, Andrew Cheyne, now himself a king’s commissioner, returns to Tavistock to accept title to the abbey on behalf of the king, and to carry off the most valuable treasures. There is a good deal of discussion concerning administrative matters, valuations and pensions. While I understand that historical novels set in the distant past cannot succeed if cast in the exact language of the era, authors should make some attempt to suggest the flavor and accents of the characters within the narrative. Author Woods’s dialog is cast almost entirely in conversational modern English, some of it quite wooden.

The most egregious such lapse, among many, occurs during the initial exchange between the new commissioner and the abbot.

“‘Abbot Peryn,’ Andrew said, keeping his eyes on the abbot, ‘I am Andrew Cheyne, King Henry’s Commissioner. I am here to facilitate the procedure.’”

Beyond the inelegant repetition, the line is laughable. Phrases such as “facilitate the procedure” date to the late twentieth century and today are taken seriously only by tin-eared bureaucrats and non-commissioned officers.

After a good deal of “Does he?” “Should I?” “Will he?” dithering, Andrew and Mark do get it on again, declaring their love and expressing it in as hard-core an erotic encounter as anything available in today’s one-handed-fiction magazines and websites. Stand warned.

Mark’s apprenticeship has been transferred to a civilian master mason. Forced to make a hurried departure on the morning of the abbey’s dissolution, he leaves a note in Andrew’s saddlebag explaining where and with whom he is bound. Naturally, there is confusion and the note is lost.

Andrew, having made enough in commissions over a decade or so’s service to the crown, begs to retire and is rewarded with the opportunity to purchase a confiscated country house and surrounding acreage at a bargain price. Lacking only one thing to complete his happiness, Mark, he spends a year searching unsuccessfully for the younger man and, at the end of part two, gives up in defeat.

The HEA conclusion is clear from the opening pages of part three. It is the summer of 1542. Thomas Cromwell is two years dead, beheaded after losing King Henry’s favor. Andrew, lonely but engaged in his new role as country squire, takes a wife, Emily, the daughter of a wealthy neighbor. Andrew is able to make love to her only by imagining he is topping Mark. When Emily becomes pregnant, Andrew realizes he must make improvements to his crumbling, drafty old house. Applying to the Guild of Stonemasons in nearby Plymouth, he is swiftly reunited with Mark, now himself a master mason, who agrees to oversee the necessary repairs.

Andrew and Mark are likeable characters, well worth knowing. The novel’s historical frame and narrative are skillfully constructed. The Tudor period is of continuing interest to English and American readers. Typos and misspellings are relatively few and minor—monks for monk’s, “pouring over” a set of drawings, for instance. Unfamiliar words—dorter, obedentiaries, carrack—can be puzzled out, though I’d prefer they’d been explained.

Simply put, however, author Woods has failed to imagine herself inside the abbey, observing and eavesdropping on men as they argue, pray to God, spy on each other and make love. So many details—stonecutting, modes of travel, a monastery’s daily schedule—are well observed. It’s thus too bad that much of the scene setting fails to rise much above the level of tourist guidebook. Too bad, also, that the lovers experience so little fear and danger, that there’s so little tension in the novel. Although Henry’s reign was marked by violence, disorder and officially sanctioned, often whimsical murder, little or no blood is spilled here.

Finally, a note on Wolf Hall. That novel follows Cromwell’s meteoric rise from battered village youth to King Henry’s chief minister and Anne Boleyn’s confidante. The success of the novel has prompted author Mantel to compose a sequel, “Bring Up the Bodies,” to be published later this year in both the U.S. and U.K. I have no idea whether the popularity of Mantel’s epic had anything to do with the conception of Stone by Stone, a sort of sidebar to Cromwell’s story. In any case, it is a compelling tale but one not perfectly told.

Author’s website

Buy at Amber Allure (ebook and paperback)

Review: Almost an Equal by Heather Boyd

When Nathan Shern, Duke of Byworth’s, empty sham of a marriage is threatened by a fellow duke he is naturally aggrieved. He cannot allow the potentially damaging contents of his wife’s diary to reveal the depths of their estrangement because exposure of his secret dalliances with other men would taint his innocent children’s lives. Not to mention end his life. So, without revealing his mission to his steward, Henry Stackpool, a man he trusts for everything else, Nathan undertakes to steal the diary back alone.

Former pickpocket and molly house whore, Henry Stackpool, works hard to keep his position as right hand to a moral man, the Duke of Byworth, but he fears his kind hearted employer is ill-equipped for a confrontation with his unstable opponent. Yet Henry cannot reveal his knowledge of the threat without exposing the secrets of his past or his keen interest in Byworth’s safety. So when fate places Henry in harms way, he risks his hard won reputation to retrieve the diary. Yet he too is held captive, and when Byworth comes to his rescue his lies are revealed.

Can Byworth forgive him for his deception and will Henry keep the country life he’s grown to love?

Review by Erastes

Sadly unoriginal story which I think I’ve read at least six times since starting reviewing the genre. That’s not to say that it’s not readable, because it is and at $2.99 it’s not expensive. But it says nothing new and the characters and plot are so derivative I got a little bored.

Two men who both fancy each other and of course neither knows and both think they have heterosexual inclinations, then there’s an intervention and suddenly PING they fall into bed together–they can’t even look at each other (including in front of the children which was mildly repellent, no control at all) without getting instant hard-ons. You know. Then when they do go to bed, rather than being “Almost an Equal” the servant goes from calling the Duke “Your Grace” to “Nate” (after being asked to call him Nathan.) And in a day or so they are madly in love. Of course. Sound familiar? Yes.

Oh, and course the Token Woman who is necessarily Evil.

Then of course there’s the obligatory BDSM elements which seem to be de-rigeur these days. It appears that you simply can’t be a Regency homosexual without either being a sadistic rapist OR wanting to play BDSM games.

At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, it’s self-published and yes, the editing is dire. The author clearly didn’t bother to have anyone check it over (or if she did, she needs to use someone else) because there are dozens of typos–lack of apostrophes where they need to be, wrong homonyms etc etc.  I’m this close from never reviewing self-pubbed books again at this point.

I found myself intrigued, though in some respect. The books is subtitled “The Hunt Club Chronicles book 1″ and Henry and his friend “Archer” were both whores at the ubiquitous upper class gay brothel so I would be interested in reading more about the background of the two men. It might have been better though had the saga started in the Club and shown how they left rather than showing it as backstory.

There is a large proportion of sex in the book, which will probably please many. The build up is teasing and then there’s many long, long scenes which are meticulously described and well-written. Although, once again, there’s nothing new here, the sex scenes were the best parts of the book for me.

I might try book 2 if it gets published, but if it’s not noticeably better than this I won’t be going on to book 3. Unmemorable.

Author’s website

Buy at Smashreads

Review: Achilles a Love Story by Byrne Fone

Achilles: A Love Story

By the author of American Revolution: A Gay Novel. The story of the war at Troy, as Homer’s readers all knew, was not only a tale of battles and exemplary heroism, but also a a story of love between men–of the devotion of Achilles, unrivalled hero, terrible warrior, and so it is said in legend, the most beautiful man in the world, for another great warrior, the handsome Patroclus. Their names resound in the catalogue of heroes and lovers and their tragic tale is one of the greatest, most emblematic, and earliest gay love stories ever told. In the “Iliad” Homer also tantalizingly hints at another love story, that of the handsome Prince Antilochus for Achilles, as it plays out against the legendary battles of the Trojan war that brought down a great kingdom and created one of literature’s greatest stories and most enduring legends. 

Review by Michael Joseph

The Greek era has always been one of my favorites for historical romance. Perhaps it’s because Mary Ranault’s Alexander books were the first historical novels with a gay bent I ever read, or maybe it’s just because it was a time when love between men was not only accepted, but almost expected. So I had high, perhaps unreasonable, hopes when offered “Achilles: A Love Story”.

This is the story of Homer’s Iliad, re-told from the point of view of Antilochus, a prince, the son and heir of King Nestor of Pylos. The young prince has formed a sort of obsession with the already famous Achilles, who is only two years older. Antilochus comes off as a bit of a stalker at first, determined that one day he will meet the object of his desire, and they will instantly become lovers.

Then comes news of the impending war. Kind Agamemnon comes to Pylos to enlist King Nestor’s support in the war against Troy. Nestor somewhat reluctantly agrees. He and Odysseus then embark on a tour of the other Greek states to garner their support. One of the stops is to be Pythia, where the support of King Peleus and his son the mighty Achilles will be sought. Antilochus naturally jumps at the chance to finally meet his lover-to-be, and begs to go along. Of course, once the party lands in Pythia, Antilochus is slapped with the cold hard reality of Patroclus. Somehow, the fact that Achilles already had a lover to whom he was practically joined at the hip had escaped the young prince.

Antilochus is crushed, but he doesn’t give up the determination to one day make Achilles his. First though, there’s a war to fight. Nestor, Achilles and the rest of the Greeks take off to fight, while Antilochus is deemed too young and left behind in the care of his mother. The prince cools his heels in Pylos for eight long years. His mother won’t let him leave to join the war without word from his father, and Nestor never sends for his son.

Tired of waiting and anxious to partake of the glory of battle, as well as win the heart of Achilles, Antilochus arranges to make his way to Troy with the help of a sexy sea captain. Arriving in Troy, the prince faces the wrath of his father, but Achilles intervenes and it’s agreed that Antilochus will serve as Achilles’ squire. Actually, he will serve both Achilles and Patroclus since they live together. At first this seems like a boon, but faced with the obvious love the two have for each other every day does drive home how impossible Antilochus’ hopes are, although he never gives them up.

Not that Antilochus doesn’t get to experience what Achilles is like as a lover. Achilles and Patroclus seem to have an ‘open relationship’ and Achilles takes Antilochus from time to time when Patroclus isn’t around, and apparently Patroclus also beds the prince at least once. Achilles does teach Antilochus the art of warfare, and eventually the prince returns to his father’s service to lead his own battalion as captain.

Antilochus fights alongside Achilles on occasion, and he is there to witness the capture of Chryseis, a priestess of Apollo. This is a pivotal event that sparks the tiff between Achilles and Agamemnon, and ultimately leads to first the death of Patroclus, and then Achilles. If you know the Iliad, even the Marvel Comics version, then you know most of what happens.

The author does a rather good job, on the whole, of capturing the epic style of the Homeric tales. This is in spite of a huge number of typos and a few seeming anachronisms – would King Agamemnon really say “we’re in a pretty pickle”? However, the authentic sound of the prose was not entirely a good thing. I found that the formality of the style put a distance between the reader and the characters. I never quite connected to Antilochus in the way I would have liked.

Of course, a lot of this is because the author doesn’t really share much of what Antilochus is feeling. He’s very good at bringing alive the blood-lust and fog of battle with some rather eloquent prose, but when it comes to love – what the book is supposed to be about – Antilochus gets very terse and even downright vague. You would expect someone so besotted with a man that when he and Achilles do couple, even if it’s not as lovers, you would think he would go on and on about it. But Antilochus gives us little more than a sentence or two. He has flings with others on occasion, but says no more about them and sometimes simply infers that he’s slept with a man without really coming out and saying it.

As for Achilles, he never really becomes a fully fleshed character. He remains more the mythical abstract object of Antilochus’ obsession rather than a real person, or demi-god. While Achilles is the key character in the story, he doesn’t actually appear in person that much. We spend more time getting to know Odysseus and King Agamemnon. In many ways, this book is more about the folly of war and the greed of men than about love, but then I don’t suppose many people would want to read a book titled “Agamemnon: A Drunken Sod.”

Given the degree to which any discussion of love was avoided, in the end I’m not sure what the “Love Story” of the title is alluding to, even after reading the author’s afterword. Is it Antilochus’ unrequited obsession for Achilles? That never seemed real to me, and hardly qualifies as a love story. No, I have a hard time seeing this book as a love story, or a romance of any kind. It’s a capable, though unexceptionable, piece of classical literature with a slight homoerotic bent, which is why I’ve given it three stars.

[Author does not appear to have a web site]

This book may be purchased in hardcopy or ebook form from Amazon (self-published)

Review: The Wishing Cup by JM Gryffyn

Orphaned as a boy and brought up by the crusty, disapproving Edward Collins, Dr. David Jameson may not know much about love, but he makes up for it with an encyclopedic knowledge of Egyptian history and language. Too bad his job as linguist for a team excavating in the Valley of the Kings puts him right under Edward’s nose. When the discovery of a rare artifact leads to a disagreement between guardian and ward, Jeremiah McKee, the team’s American benefactor, sends no-nonsense Jake Tanner to protect his investment.

David’s disappointment at not meeting McKee fades quickly in the heat of his intense desire for Tanner, who seems to be the only member of the team to give credence to his ideas. Push comes to shove when Edward discovers the burgeoning romance between David and Jake, but not everything is as it seems. Will David and Jake find more in Egypt than sand and strife? Something that, like the pyramids at Giza, will stand the test of time?

Review by Erastes

This is an impressive debut, with a sweet story which is allowed to build at a slow pace, rare for a novella of about 100 pages. I’ll say straight off that the author will certainly get my custom again on the strength of this. It’s not perfect, but it’s a promising beginning.

David is an ingenue, rather too innocent I think, at 23 years–specially for a young man who went to Harrow! He does say that men have made passes at him before, but he’s strangely asexual at the beginning of the book and starts only to have “strange feelings” that he doesn’t like to think too much about when a young Egyptian native asks him if he needs any company. Granted he’s been immersed in education for a good while getting his doctorate (don’t know if he’s too young for this) but you’d think he would have discovered his nether regions at some point.

When he meets the love interest, Jake Tanner, there’s a predictable instant PING of attraction between them both and David behaves like a startled deer for a couple of encounters which is all very sweet. However I wasn’t terribly impressed about them kissing in a public street in Luxor. There was no indication that they’d ducked down an alley or anything, and in fact Morris – another (luckily accepting) member of the dig – comes up on Tanner just after David has done his startled deer impression and run off–however Morris had seen what happened, and presumably half of Luxor.

As the blurb describes, once David does accept his nature and return the affection offered Damocles’ sword falls with them being discovered in snog-mode by David’s guardian, the irascible Edward Collins. This happens about half way through the book, so there’s a nice balance there.

The character development is a little one-sided. David grows up quickly which is expected, but I didn’t really see enough of Tanner to really know that much about him. It’s difficult to develop this kind of thing in 100 pages, but I felt the lack of it here.

There’s a nice flip and the story trundles along to a satisfying conclusion and all in all I quite enjoyed it. Ms Gryffyn has another one coming out in 2012, so I’ll be looking forward to that.

Aside from the undercurrent of OK Homo, there are a few historical boo-boos that marred my joy. So often authors don’t take into consideration the difference in the value of money then from the value of money now. For example, David worries if he’s got enough money to pay for a hotel room, Collins gave him £300. Well, considering that £300 then would be worth upwards of £13,000 now, I should jolly well think so. There’s an even bigger monetary cock-up later which could have been avoided with just a tiny search. Also, they stayed in the Hilton which didn’t exist in 1922. Sorry. Things that perhaps many wouldn’t spot, but anyone who reads historicals probably would.

I’ll also give a thumbs up for Dreamspinner’s cover, and the editing, which didn’t jar me once, and that doesn’t happen often enough in this genre.

Buy at Dreamspinner (ebook only)

Review: The Valiant One by Jay E Hughes

Ragnar, a hardened Scottish soldier, is indifferent to English rule of his homeland until he falls in love with Gylis McIvoy, a fellow Scotsman. They have a brief and passionate affair, but circumstances tear them apart permanently. Ragnar swears vengeance, and soon becomes a freedom fighter modeled on the recently captured and executed William Wallace.

Ragnar manages to raise a ragtag army that rains terror down on Longshanks’ occupying forces, but in the process, he has a chance meeting with the king’s son, Prince Edward of Wales. Sparks fly between them despite the impossibility of an English prince taking a Scottish enemy soldier as his lover—giving new meaning to “the love that dare not speak its name”. These two star-crossed lovers may cross swords on the battlefield by day, but they still manage to heat up the night.

Review by Sal Davis

Firstly the cover. On the whole I think the cover gives you a very fair idea of what you will get – battles royalty, richness and massive pecs. There’s something a little odd about the crown – it looks as though it is made for a much bigger head, but possibly this is a reference to the uneasy relationship between Prince Edward and Edward I.

As for the plot, the author is up-front about it on his website. He says he has written the “Gay Braveheart” (just as his novel “The Shunned” is the “Gay Witness“). His main character, Ragnar, is a Scottish freedom fighter driven to a vow of vengeance against the  English by the brutal murder of
his lover. In his quest for revenge he meets and falls for Prince Edward, who falls back equally hard, but their budding romance is almost destroyed before it starts by the continuing war between their two countries, plus some really bad judgement on Ragnar’s part. Readers who enjoy a HEA will be glad to hear that Ragnar doesn’t suffer Wallace’s gruesome fate. There is a full cast of supporting characters – King Edward ‘Longshanks’, Isabella of France (please note that there are some m/f sex scenes), Mortimer, various Scots and English courtiers, soldiers and mercenaries – and a complex series of rides, marches, counter-marches, plotting, betrayal, retribution and caber tossing (this is not a euphemism) bearing in mind that the novel is only about 140 pages long.

The historical content is problematical. Perhaps the best way to get this across is to say that the book is set in 1283 – the year before the birth of main protagonist Prince Edward. “Alternative universe” history might be a fitting description but this is VERY alternative. Ragnar’s uncle Angus, a key character who lost one eye and one arm (or, later in the book, one leg) to English archers, remembers Richard the Lionheart (a beloved and respected king who kept a dungeon full of young boys for his pleasure and nobody thought the worse of him for it. Edward feels that standards of tolerance have dropped). Ragnar wears a kilt and drinks lager . He also has a price on his head of “ten thousand pounds”. The English longbow ‘fires’ an arrow over one thousand yards and it is possible to lurk out of range until the archers shoot then charge in to get to grips with them. Hadrian’s Wall is in Yorkshire. Edward has read the Roman chronicles of Venerable Bede and Plautus. Men on foot can manage a three mile “charge” with enough breath to fight at the end of it. This is Hollywood ‘history’, as warned, about as accurate as  Braveheart and, as such, I would be able to accept or ignore it if the characters had engaged my sympathy.

Longshanks is an ignorant thug. Isabella is a treacherous, predatory adulteress. Mortimer is a tool in every sense of the word. That’s all fine because they are the villains and we need good villains. However, I found both the protagonists very unlikeable. Ragnar is brave and a good swordsman. He looks the part but it is actually what’s left of Uncle Angus who is the military mind behind his successes. The one time that Ragnar is in command on his own he becomes so distracted by Edward’s charms that he causes an accidental massacre. Edward is dainty, well dressed and well educated, but sexually predatory, careless of his lovers’s feelings and, quite correctly, prone to political intrigue.  While I found it possible to believe that he and Ragnar felt that ‘lust at first sight’ shock, I never ‘got’ why they might love each other. Yes, I know that love at first sight exists in real life, but in fiction I like there to be a good solid basis for it. I don’t want to be ‘told’ that they love each other, I want to be ‘shown’ and Hughes does a vast amount of telling in this story.

He also uses certain phrases ad nauseam - ragtag, for instance, appears every time Ragnar’s army is mentioned, and the phrase “stunning, pure white Arabian stallion” appears three times in one paragraph. As for the sex scenes, presumably Mr Hughes knows what is what, what is possible and what isn’t but I have to admit to feeling some confusion.

Amongst the titles I have reviewed fo SiN have been books that made me cry, or laugh, that have entertained, educated and enthralled me. Some have stayed with me to be mulled over again and again – a particularly interesting character, some superb description, a fine joke to be savoured, that fruitless ‘oh if only THIS had happened instead’ thought process where one wishes for characters to be happy despite it being impossible. I suspect that this book will stay with me a long time as well, but because of the involuntary yelps of disbelieving laughter I kept emitting and the astounded look on my master bowmaker husband’s face as I read him some of the longbow bits. I’ll also be thinking about all the authors who spend YEARS researching their historical novels and write with such care and respect for their subject then I’ll think of this one and I’ll weep.

So – in short – if you really enjoyed “Braveheart” but think Wallace should have boinked Prince Edward this might be the book for you, but, I’m sorry, it really wasn’t the book for me.
Published by Ellora’s Cave

Review: Quatrefoil by James Barr

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

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

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon UK    Amazon USA

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