Review: Promises Made Under Fire by Charlie Cochrane

France, 1915

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

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

ebook and audiobook- 18,000 words

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Website

Buy from Carina Press

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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

Buy at Amazon UK | Amazon USA| Amber Allure

Review: Skybound by Aleksandr Voinov

Love soars.

Germany, 1945. The Third Reich is on its knees as Allied forces bomb Berlin to break the last resistance. Yet on an airfield near Berlin, the battle is far from over for a young mechanic, Felix, who’s attached to a squadron of fighter pilots. He’s especially attached to fighter ace Baldur Vogt, a man he admires and secretly loves. But there’s no room for love at the end of the world, never mind in Nazi Germany.

When Baldur narrowly cheats death, Felix pulls him from his plane, and the pilot makes his riskiest move yet. He takes a few days’ leave to recover, and he takes Felix with him. Away from the pressures of the airfield, their bond deepens, and Baldur shows Felix the kind of brotherhood he’d only ever dreamed of before.

But there’s no escaping the war, and when they return, Baldur joins the fray again in the skies over Berlin. As the Allies close in on the airfield where Felix waits for his lover, Baldur must face the truth that he is no longer the only one in mortal danger.

Available from Riptide Publishing.

Review by Sal Davis

Let’s cut to the chase. I’ll just nail my colours to the mast and say I absolutely loved Skybound, no ifs, buts or maybes!

Okay, fangirly moment over. Now I’m going to say why I think it’s such a good read.

First of all – the cover. Jordan Taylor has really delivered the goods with this deceptively simple monochromatic image of a climbing plane. No idea what type it is but I’ll lay good money that it’s both relevant to the story and a spot on accurate depiction of its kind. The strong type, echoing the ‘military armour plate’ design at the edges of the image to contain the bold outward bound diagonal of the plane, the subtle background saltires that draw the eye back into the image, the warm tone of the author’s name – a very clever and visually satisfying piece of work.

I would think that the amount of fact checking for this story was enormous but it’s expressed in tip of the iceberg fashion. The sense of time and place is established economically but without resort to cliche. The language is also economical, precise, considered, yet detailed. Care is taken in describing the little things, important things – a book, a meal – that take the characters mind off the War, though the thought of it is never far away.

Written in first person present from Felix’s POV, the book plunges straight into the action with a breathless sequence as Baldur’s squadron comes in to land. Felix impressed me very much by getting on with his business despite his anxiety to be sure Baldur wasn’t injured, but he won my heart completely with his thoughts about the Karl May books he still reads, thrilled by the close friendship between the protagonists, dreaming of similar acts of selfless devotion, but with too much humility to cast himself in the role of the sacrifice. He never doubts that his love for Baldur will be unrequited so expresses it with the care and devotion with which he repairs, maintains and fine tunes Baldur’s plane. When his peaceful reflection is disturbed by Baldur, who plonks himself down and bums a cigarette, Felix is unprepared and is made to feel foolish. That Baldur is interested in him is shown subtly by signs that the reader can pick up but that baffle the inexperienced Felix. It’s a tender moment and sets up the relationship well for the action to follow.

Since the POV is Felix’s, we never get to see what he looks like. He is a little smaller than Balder, who shortens his stride so Felix can keep up, and has very short hair. Balder’s appearance is described a little more fully but the important things to Felix are not what one normally finds in romances. I particularly enjoyed how Felix made particular mention that Balder’s very short nails are cut rather than bitten, with all that implies of self control and nerve.

Felix spends a lot of time reflecting on their situation, which could have felt contrived but actually suits his character. He is a man apart from his fellows and recognises that distance in Balder too, though he is too naive to realise what it means. Balder won my heart too by the care he takes in allowing Felix the time to realise and his kindness once the connection is made.

The last days of the war were horrifying enough without the added problems offered by starting a proscribed relationship, yet the two lonely young men are unable to resist when an opportunity is offered. As the story progresses, tensions are drawn between love and duty, and the recognition that while honour is absolute, it’s worth taking chances to grab what little comfort they can. Felix and Baldur are in an impossible position and as it comes down to the wire, the question is not will they survive but will they die together or apart, killed by the Americans or the Russians.

When one spends the last third of a book sick with worry, and occasionally hyperventilating a bit, one can assure the author that they are doing it right! It’s a “rush through to the end, then re-read immediately to savour it” kind of book. I wish it was on paper so I could cuddle it. No hesitation in giving this five stars.

Review: Beyond the Spanish Road by Annie Kaye

Javier is fulfilling his parents’ wishes by serving as a soldier in the Spanish army—a duty that will take the young swordsman far from his beloved home and family to a planned invasion of England. In France, his unit awaits the arrival of the Armada, and it is there, near the shore of the English Channel, that Javier meets Gaspard, a local merchant who has the face of an angel.

Long ago, when he realized he would never truly love a woman, Javier resolved to remain celibate. What sparks between him and Gaspard shakes that determination to the core, a love that grows until it will no longer be denied. But their situation is impossible: Gaspard is intent upon having an heir, while in Javier’s future, war looms closer every day.

Ebook only –  60 pages

Review by Erastes

I learned something with this little book – I’d never heard of the the Spanish Road, and I went to look it up and found it was a well travelled military route and the main way that Spain moved its troops from Spain to the Low Countries. Obviously they were at war with France a lot, so it was imperative to get out of the country, which only has one major border to mainland Europe quickly and in very large numbers. Sea travel was more impractical as it was slower than the Spanish Road, but also couldn’t carry the numbers that were needed. There, now you’ve learned something too.

The blurb pretty much sums up this little novella. Javier is a nice protagonist; rather naive to be honest but likable in a nice but dim way. I found it rather amusing that once he realised his attraction to men he decided to be celibate–No sex for me! Ever!–and then the first time he’s offered it on a plate the vow is dropped like the hottest of bricks and it’s la la la all the way to love and ejaculation.

The very very insta-love was a tad implausible, even more so because both parties remained passionately in love with each other for years without ever seeking out anyone else for a bit of ‘oh-la-la’ and I have to say that I found Gaspard’s rejection of Javier after their one night pretty amusing (for the wrong reasons) as I said out loud “typical man!”

The writing is good, fluid and the writer has a bent for romance. In fact, lovers of romance will probably like it a good deal, as it is very romantic with plenty of feelings and lots of weeping and super sex – even on a beach. But the details were too off for me to really let myself go, and I wanted more, to read about an era I knew little about. They are able to leave camp without permission just about any time, and the two lovers ride from Dunkirk to Calais overnight — seemingly cantering the whole way–which is ludicrous without killing the horses, it’s about 30 miles and the roads wouldn’t have been good. They make love all day on the beach somewhere, and don’t seem to have to worry about being overlooked. Today, perhaps that might be possible, but back then the English Channel would have been stuffed with boats and shipping and sailors were pretty observant and had spyglasses!

Then they galloped 30 miles back. Sigh.

I also couldn’t understand, why the fireships that the English sent to destroy the Armada, were seen in Dunkirk, when the Armada was said to  be in Calais! I would have thought that the English would have got as close as possible to the Armada before setting the fireships off, not left them to drift 30 miles where they could have beached or hit just ordinary shipping. The Spanish troops at Dunkirk were blocked by flyships, so perhaps that’s the confusion.

I won’t dwell on more inaccuracies because it’s clear that this book is really about the undying romance rather than the adventure, and that’s a bit of a shame, because the writing is good and I for one would really have appreciated more of the nitty-gritty details such as camp life (such as the reason why Spain was accepted in the Low Countries was that they paid for everything) and the journey from Spain itself. Instead of which it’s rather papered over in a hurry to get to Dunkirk and meet the object of Javier’s affection.

I also–like Gaspard–was surprised that Javier had remained in France for years and had never tried to see him. Which sort of left a lot of the Happy Ending to rely on coincidence and luck, but it was a happy one, so people will be satisfied.

Overall, it’s a wasted opportunity for the author to have really got her teeth into a subject that has never been tackled in gay historical fiction before–but it’s an enjoyable and highly romantic read so give it a go, I’d say.

Author’s Website

Buy at Dreamspinner Amazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: The Slave’s Mask by Patricia Logan


American blockade runner, Captain Anthony Charles, has made a fortune in gold, running guns and other contraband between England and the Confederate States in 1863. He craves a young submissive man. Francois, a young prostitute, might be just the man to satisfy all of Anthony’s taboo desires.

Infamous American blackguard and blockade runner, Captain Anthony Charles, has made a fortune in gold, running contraband between England and the Confederate States at the height of the Civil War in 1863. Anthony knows good brandy and fine cigars and his English clients appreciate him for it, but the captain also craves young submissive men. When he wins a young prostitute at an auction, Francois becomes his slave for seven days.

Francois has turned to prostitution to survive, but he is more than a whore. While most men who enjoy his favors treat him cruelly, he is stunned by this temporary owner’s kindness. Being a slave to this blue-eyed Master is no difficult task. Both men find that love may not be as elusive as they thought. Will the separation of oceans and time test their love or bring pain beyond bearing?

Ebook only – 86 pages

Review by Sal Davis

This book is the middle one in the Masquerade Trilogy. All three bear the lovely cover designed by Reese Dante and the other unifying element is a masked ball held by the Downe family. This book takes place some years after the first in the series.

Captain Anthony Charles, blockade runner, smuggler and all man, is in London to celebrate a successful voyage by finding his preferred prostitute of choice – male, young, beautiful and submissive. In fact he’s so much of a man that he repairs to his cabin to have some quality time with Mrs Palm before he goes to the whorehouse. Francois is just what he requires, with a quivering eagerness to please fostered mainly from previous ill treatment, and Anthony’s previous activities in no way blunt his desire. The beautiful prostitute falls hook line and sinker for the blue-eyed captain, while, by the end of the first encounter, the larger man acknowledges that the smaller man could easily fulfill his deepest most secret desires.

There is some minor conflict when someone tries to make a move on Francois but that is soon resolved and we get down to the business of the book, which is a celebration of the varying ways two men can express their desire and the growing romance between the lovers.

Since that was the book’s aim, it succeeds admirably. The sex scenes are many and frequent, using a flashback during a part of the story when the lovers are not together. Most of the period detail is set dressing but there were bits I liked very much – brief scenes on board Anthony’s ship, descriptions of house interiors – but I felt I was in historical fantasy land rather than seeing a true depiction of life in Victorian London.

That prostitution was rife in the capital is well known, and it’s reasonable that the many ships that docked in the Pool of London would disgorge their crews, every man desperate to work off his appetites. That Anthony found Francois, a young man who was well up for what Anthony had in mind once he’d got the hang of it was sheer good luck and I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if Francois hadn’t been available and some other less compliant boy had been handed over to Anthony, as on previous occasions. Even Francois though eager eventually, was very anxious at first but was given little choice. Anthony, frankly, came over as a dick, though obviously a fine, upstanding, prodigiously endowed one. As the hero he could be forgiven much, but it amused me that he considered everyone but himself to be lechers and I reserved my sympathy for Francois.

Historically I found the setting confusing – for instance, it is 1863 and King Edward VII is on the throne of England. The author must have intended this but I haven’t been able to work out why. If the story was overtly steam punky then I’d know it was an AU scenario. But everything apart from the monarch seems to be in accordance with mid-19th century history, unless my sparse knowledge of the American Civil War is letting me down. I would have loved to have seen a bit more of the Civil War action but I got the impression that it was mostly a cool way to separate the lovers for a while.

Naturally they are reunited and naturally they have their HEA, and I’m sure that the story is hugely popular. It deserves to be popular because it is written with such joy and I think readers who like a lot of detailed sex scenes and a lite approach to history will enjoy it very much.

Couldn’t find a website for this author.

Buy at Silver Publishing | Amazon UK | Amazon USA

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: Convict Ass by Martin Delacroix

Kurt Delay has just served thirty months in prison, on an arson conviction. He’s on parole and crazy about his new lover, Eli, who’s also an ex-con. Passion between Kurt and Eli burns hotter than Kurt’s conflagrations; love between Eli and Kurt seems full of promise. But when Kurt’s former cellmate, Harold Grimm, comes between Kurt and Eli, the two are forced into desperate actions. Can they save the life they’ve built together? Set in 1965 Florida, Convict Ass offers a glimpse of a peculiar brand of love shared only by men who’ve done time behind bars

Ebook only, 86 pages (approx)

Review by Erastes

I admit, the title put me off a little, as I had visions that the book would be a novel-sized version of a John Patrick sex story full of unpleasant euphemisms and the like.

So I was actually quite pleasantly surprised to find a decent story and a character–whilst I couldn’t warm to in many respects–was interesting enough to keep me reading. In fact only a small proportion of the story takes place in prison, which made the title slightly a mismatch.

Kurt is an arsonist–but of course, he’s a “good” one. He makes sure no one is hurt by his fetish and gets sexually aroused by his fire-starting. This is set in the 60′s so there’s no psychiatrist around to try and get the obsession out of this mind. He’s simply tipped out into society and other than a corrupt parole officer, left to fend for himself.

He doesn’t consider himself gay. He’s had one sexual experience before prison, and that was a blowjob from a simple girl, so as far as he’s concerned he’s as straight as they come. When he gets “protection” from Harold Grimm (good name) in prison, he has a good streak of self-preservation, he rolls over (as it were) and does what has to be done. Harold is the worst kind of lover, not caring about anyone else’s pleasure but his own, and the sex is pretty graphic, and forced/dub-con/rape/ but not played for titillation.

He’s relieved to be released, and freed from Harold, and utterly amazed to find Harold sobbing like a baby when he’s about to lose Kurt. Kurt has never had love, and that’s something that annoyed me from page one, not that he hadn’t had love in his life, but that he banged on about at every available opportunity. We really only need to be told this sort of thing once and it’s done with such tub-thumping heavy handed clumsiness at the beginning of the book I wish I had a drinking game going for every other time it’s mentioned. Yes. I get it. He’s had a bad life. No one’s loved him. That’s why he’s such a bad boy (I assume, although this isn’t actually explored). Boo hoo.

Part of the reason that this annoys me is that PING! on his first foray into the outside world he meets a young man (Preston) on a bus who invites him round and in about three minutes flat Kurt’s in love with and living with (on a weekend basis) Eli, Preston’s room mate. They fall in love pretty much immediately which shortened the book significantly. I think I would have preferred Kurt to at least have a bit of a life–taking into account the end of the novel–before getting into what was for him at least, a monogamous relationship (Eli’s on the game).

As the blurb suggests, the big spanner in the works is Grimm being released from prison and it’s no surprise that he tracks his lover down and expects their relationship to continue where they left off. How the two men deal with this problem leads to how the novel ends and let me warn you here and now although the protagonists don’t end up killing themselves, it’s not a good ending, even though Kurt is pretty phlegmatic about it.

I really couldn’t warm to Kurt–or in fact, Eli as it was basically his idea of the solution, and he was swept along with all Eli’s return to his arson. They aren’t sympathetic characters and other than loving each other, we are given no reason to find them so. When they aren’t burning down buildings, all we are shown them doing is having long, hot sex, or in Kurt’s case, being lazy and refusing to do any chores around the house.

However, I am making it sounds like a bad book, and I don’t think it’s that at all. I think that had I edited it (and the editing is pretty good on a copy level) I might have asked for more of an exploration of Kurt’s obsession with fire, and more detail on an everyday level because it’s all a bit two dimensional for the characterisation. But the story is pretty absorbing, I kept reading because I wanted to know what happened next and how the dilemma was solved and the historical details–most particularly the aspect that Kurt had been inside during the early part of the sixties and had a culture shock upon release. I would have liked to have seen more of that.

If you can stand coercion-sex and don’t expect a happy or satisfying ending, then give this one a read, although you might feel as miserable afterwards as I did, even if Kurt didn’t.

As an aside, I hesitated to review a Noble Romance book given the problems there, but as the company has a new CEO who seems to want to move the company past the stigma the previous CEO has left him with, I  decided to go ahead. It’s a decent enough book and doesn’t really deserve to be plastered with the sticky mud of a CEO losing her professionalism.

Author’s website

Buy from Amazon 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: Maroon: Donal agus Jimmy by P.D. Singer

The best jobs in 1911 Belfast are in the shipyards, but Donal Gallagher’s pay packet at Harland and Wolff doesn’t stretch far enough. He needs to find someone to share his rented room; fellow ship-builder Jimmy Healy’s bright smile and need for lodgings inspire Donal to offer. But how will he sleep, lying scant feet away from Jimmy? It seems Jimmy’s a restless sleeper, too, lying so near to Donal…

In a volatile political climate, building marine boilers and armed insurrection are strangely connected. Jimmy faces an uneasy choice: flee to America or risk turning gunrunner for Home Rule activists. He thinks he’s found the perfect answer to keep himself and his Donal safe, but shoveling coal on a luxury liner is an invitation to fate.

Review by Erastes

It wasn’t until I’d finished this book that I realised that it was actually quite short at 70 odd pages. However it doesn’t read short and it’s well worth every penny of the price. Somehow the author manages to squish a lot–a lot–into those 70 odd pages. But while this would be noticeable with some authors–I often come away from novellas thinking that the walls are being squashed the book could explode into a novel very easily–this is deftly done and it doesn’t seem that it’s wearing boots several sizes too small.

And this is moot, because there was a lot going on in Belfast at this time. Not only were the shipyards the envy of the world, pushing out ships like shelling peas and creating the gargantuans of the shipping world at the time–in particular the White Star Line including The Olympic, the Britannic and the Titanic–but there was unrest (as there had been for centuries) as Ireland chafed against the British yoke.

And it’s into this powder keg Singer drops her story–a simple gay love story which is tender and sweet until outside forces compel them to act in ways that will put their relationship at very great risk.

What I liked most of all about this book is the subtlety of the prose–please do not be put off by what I say here, but Singer weaves the flavour of the language and the rythym of the Irish into the third person narration. Not so much as–say–Jamie O’Neill, but enough just to lift the prose above the ordinary. It’s not there all the time, but it’s a delight when you catch a taste of the lilt. I enjoyed this hugely.

The research, while relayed entirely within the story (no Dan Brown info dumps here, and that would have been the choice of some authors, I know) the author has done a lot of work to learn about the interiors of these ships, the men that worked on them and how things were done, how they were built, how they were launched, tested. It’s great to ride along with Jimmy and Donal as they build these monsters: you can almost see the superstructures rising higher and higher above the dockyards.

You can also understand the duality of the situation, too. Here’s a highly skilled craftsman like Donal, capable of creating the most beautiful woodwork for the first class cabins, and he’s hardly making enough money to support himself and his family back home. He’s forced to take in a room-mate to make ends meet, whilst millionaires will use his washstands on the ships, paying prices for one journey that would keep a dozen families in food and heat for years.

Despite the fact that the book fits its bounds so well, despite the breadth of topics covered, I would have liked more, it’s impossible not to want more when something is this well written. I don’t know P.D. Singer’s work–I beleive this is her first gay historical–but if she writes another I will be snapping it up immediately.

I recommend this book highly, and I’m sure you will enjoy it.

As for the “Maroon” – this is one of Torquere’s bizarre themes, I don’t get why it’s sub-labelled “Maroon” in fact I actually thought that it was part of thee title until I looked up the book on the website. However, it’s not the author’s fault. I wish Torquere would stop doing this sort of thing. At least they’ve given this book a decent cover and not one painted by someone’s four year old. Neither is it the author’s fault that Amazon has the wrong title up on their sites!

Author’s website

Amazon UK   Amazon USA  Torquere

Review: Half a Man by Scarlet Blackwell

Traumatised by the nightmare of trench warfare in France, Robert Blake turns to rent boy Jack Anderson for solace. Neither man expects their business relationship to go quite so far.

It is 1919, less than a year after the end of the First World War with a recovering Britain in the grip of the influenza pandemic. Crippled veteran of the Somme battle, Robert Blake, is looking for someone to ease his nightmares of France and his guilt over what happened to his commanding officer. He turns to educated rent boy Jack Anderson for physical solace, not expecting how deeply the two soon become immersed in each other’s lives.

Review by Erastes

Rather a touching premise, a tart with a heart and a man paralysed from the waist down. You don’t at first (or rather I didn’t) twig that Jack Anderson is a prostitute but I suppose these days he’d be called an escort. He provides companionship and relief if needed from discreet and wealthy men. He hasn’t been soured by his life as a renter, and is both professional and attentive.

He’s called to the house of Robert Blake, who we discover is in a wheelchair. The two men meet once a week, a little tea and cakes, some sex and after a week or so they realise that they are becoming fond of each other.

It started well, and I was encouraged that this was something a little different, even though the tropes are well known, but sadly enough the men soon started to weep all over the place and to once they got into bed the old fanfic favourite chestnut of  “Come for me, [name here] both trends in m/m which I’m thoroughly tired of.

I liked both protagonists, Robert particularly because he seriously thought he was entirely useless to anyone being in the state he was and many men did–and do–think like this. Legs and cock not working=end of the world, and I can understand this. The interactions between them–and I don’t mean just the sex scenes which are detailed and many–are well done and believable when there’s no crying going on.

I enjoyed the read, but it’s not a keeper for me, I’m afraid.

However, it’s well-written, and thoroughly romantic with very little conflict so I’m sure that the readers of a more romantic brand of gay historicals will like it a lot. It’s not so over-the-top romantic as to spoil the story, so I did enjoy it. I also enjoyed that the ending was left a little in flux, and that Robert’s problem wasn’t magically cured entirely by all the gay sex.

Overall, well worth a try-out.

Author’s website

Silver Publishing

Review: By Honor Betrayed by Alex Beecroft

1748

Lieutenant Conrad Herriot and Seaman Tom Cotton have been master and servant for over a decade, and friends for almost as long. When Tom is injured during a skirmish, Conrad forgets himself and rushes to Tom’s side, arousing suspicion about the true nature of their relationship.

All Tom wants is the chance to consummate their love and embark on a new life together, outside the law that condemns them. Yet he fears Conrad won’t risk his career and his honor to become Tom’s lover.

Conrad believes his lust for Tom will damn his soul. There’s also their difference in class—a gentleman doesn’t socialize with a common tar. As Conrad struggles to refute the gossip on the ship, he must decide whether to commit the crime the crew’s already convicted them of, or part from Tom for good to save both their necks…

Review by Erastes

Just a small niggle, and this is nothing to do with the review or the mark – but I fail completely to see why Carina insisted on the American spellling of “honor” on the title and the blurb, and then used English spelling–including “honour” in the book itself. Very odd indeed. (plus the year is wrong, the book is set in 1750) Bad Carina, no biscuit.

I had to have some niggles, after all, because there’s not much else to niggle about here. Lovers of Alex’s writing–whether you like it for the mile deep descriptions, conflicted officers, multi-faceted characters–it’s all here.

Conrad is, as most people were, god-fearing and believing in concepts of immortal souls and all that jazz. He’s been humming and hah-ing about letting his manservant (horrors!) Tom know that he finds him quite delightful for many years and it takes a big sea battle for his feelings to surface–much to the chagrin of the captain and the amusement of his crew (leading to a subsequent lack of respect.) The irony is that he’s already been suspected of the crime–suspected and judged by his shipmates–and he hasn’t actually done anything. Stung by the injustice, and in danger of having Tom forcible separated from him by the captain, Conrad decides he’d rather be hung for a sheep than a lamb e.g. he might as well do the deed, if he’s already assumed to have done so. Better a short life but a merry one, as it were. Or, as he puts it should he:

“…save his heart and lose his soul? Or save his soul and lose his heart? “

The book is–I think–told entirely from the 3rd person viewpoint of Conrad, and although that felt right for the length of the book, it meant we did get a little shortchanged with getting to know Tom. All we had to go on was Conrad’s perceptions of what Tom thought and felt.  This actually pays off nicely at Tom’s reaction at the climax of the book, so I can see why this device was used, but it still leaves Tom as a little bit of an enigma in these days of dual pov books.

As usual, Ms Beecroft’s prose stuns with its seemingly effortless phrasing. Some of the descriptions are so beautiful I felt like giving up writing forever, but then her writing always makes me feel like that. She manages sometimes to mix descriptive words that are so wrong, but in her hands they feel entirely right. It’s a real gift.

Sex-wise, I think this is probably the smuttiest book that Alex has ever written, as she leans towards the more veiled sex scene as a rule, but the sex here is postively coarse (but great!). To quote one of the judges on Strictly Come Dancing “It was filthy and I loved it!”

I did feel the book was a little short, but I’m not going to mark it down for that, it was written deliberately as a novella and you can’t squeeze a quart into a pint pot. With the word count that she has, Ms Beecroft has done marvelously, and her naval descriptions — as always — are first class. There’s a bit that actually made me feel sick (sea-sick, that is) with a fantastic section where the protagonists are in their cabin and the ship is literally rolling and pitching on near enough a 90 degree angle – the floor becomes the wall and then goes all the way back. The casual way the experienced sailors deal with this, holding fast to the lines of the hammock — and each other — shows skill to portray without being confusing. It was so well done that I could feel every gravitational pull–and consequently felt rather queasy. It amused me how much more realistic it was done well in prose, than on the USS Enterprise, where everyone just leans from one side to another!

If you haven’t encountered Alex Beecroft’s longer works, particularly the Age of Sail novels (False Colors, Captain’s Surrender) then this is an excellent introduction to her remarkable talent at a reasonable price.

Amazon UK   Amazon USA

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Home Fires Burning by Charlie Cochrane

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

“This Ground Which Was Secured At Great Expense”

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

“The Case of the Overprotective Ass”

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

This Ground Which Was Secured At Great Expense

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Case of the Over-Protective Ass

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy at AllRomance ebooks    Amazon UK  Amazon USA

Review: Earth and Sun, Cedar and Sage by Margaret Mills and Tedy Ward


Gideon Makepeace grew up in Bill Tourney’s Traveling Wild West Show, so he knows Indians better than a lot of folks of his day. He and his half-breed lover, Jedediah Buffalo Bird, are traveling east to New Orleans where Gideon hopes they’ll find a home together, safe among the crowds of the big city. But it’s winter in the desert and a storm is blowing in, so when they run across Kingman, Arizona, just before Christmas, they decide to take their chances and hunker down for the holiday.

Review by Bruin Fisher

This novella was written before ‘Well Traveled’, but serves as a sequel – or even an extended epilogue, since it tells what happened next to Gideon Makepeace and Jedediah Buffalo Bird. I gave Well Traveled five stars because I consider it to be exceptional. The writing is first rate, fluid and eloquent, the characters believable, the historical setting solid without being intrusive, and the story involving. I am not surprised to find the same qualities in this much shorter story, less than eighty pages in the PDF version, compared to nearly three hundred pages in Well Traveled. If you enjoyed that book you’ll certainly want to read this, if only to check up on your friends, see that things turn out okay for them. If you haven’t read Well Traveled, I recommend reading it first, and indeed before reading this review since it will inevitably contain some spoilers for the other book.

At the conclusion of Well Traveled, Jed and Gideon have only just come to the decision that they want to try to be together despite the prevailing prejudice against Indians, and the impossibility of being open about their love. But we have no idea how that will go, how they will achieve it or how long it will last. Earth and Sun, Cedar and Sage takes us a little way into that journey, although I think there’s scope for a further book or two in the series. The story revolves around a stop on their travels, first at a small town and then at a farmstead in the area. We get to learn a little more about Jedediah and his background, and some more about Gideon too, which helps to explain their actions and attitudes. The two men become even more likeable the more you get to know them.

I did have trouble with one aspect of the plot, though:

Early in the story, Jed appears with a bleeding lip and Gideon asks him about it:

He noticed the thin dark line of blood at the corner of Jed’s lip. “What happened?” he asked, low and angry because he already knew what had happened. And they’d hardly been in this town an hour.

“Nothing you need worry on,” Jed said just as softly. “Let’s go.”

Both Gideon and the reader are left in the dark about what happened. About half-way through the book, we read this:

He didn’t know whether to sneak back into that town and buy Jed a new pair or beat the tar out of whoever’d done this and take Jed’s gloves back for him.

But up to this point we hadn’t been told that Jed’s gloves were missing. And we never get to learn how Jed got a cut lip, or whether the theft of the gloves had anything to do with it. The missing gloves get their own sub-plotline, and at the end of the story the sheriff has recovered them and persuades two local lads to apologise to Jed for taking them – but there’s no mention of a fight unless it’s implied in

“Sorry we did that”… “didn’t know you was a performer.”

Unless I’ve developed a blind spot, this is a plot hole and it rather detracted from my enjoyment of the story – I care so much about these characters, and particularly about Jed who’s taciturn and inscrutable but definitely the nicer of the two, and I want to know what happened to him and whether he fought back and that his assailant eventually got his come-uppance.

I didn’t mention it in my review of Well Traveled, but that title wasn’t great. It was informative – it’s a story that revolves around travelling – but hardly intriguing or interesting. and because ‘traveled’ is spelled differently in Olde England it doesn’t look right to an English eye. The title of this one, Earth and Sun, Cedar and Sage, is certainly intriguing but not exactly memorable or informative, although the Cedar and Sage reference is explained in the story. The first few times I tried to bring the title back to my memory, I was trying to fit Sand and Sea into it somewhere.

I did mention in the review of Well Travelled that Catt Ford’s artwork for the cover was well done, appropriate and evocative. This book has a rather generic photograph on its cover. It’s not a bad cover like some, but it’s not, I think, an asset to the book, doesn’t catch your eye and make you pull the book off the shelf and flick through it with a view to buying.

I’m recommending this book to anyone who enjoyed Well Traveled. Its writing is of the same high standard. The plot hole which tripped me up, however, loses the book a star so it will have to be satisfied with only four.

Authors’ Website

Dreamspinner   Amazon UK   Amazon USA

Review: Long, Hard Ride by Keta Diablo

Grayson Drake has been sent by a covert spy agency from the South to break Marx Wellbourne out of Elmira Prison at all costs.

Ordered to return Wellbourne to Richmond so the Confederate Army can pick his brain about the maps he’s memorized, Gray soon discovers Marx is courting death from malaria and pneumonia. To complicate matters further, the decadent, gorgeous Wellbourne is none other than the same man he coveted from afar four years ago in a Charleston brothel.

Pursued by the villainous warden of the prison, Major Britton Darkmore, nothing is as it seems when intrigue, suspense and raw passion collide on the long, hard ride back to Richmond.

Review by Bruin Fisher

From the blurb above: “Marx is courting death from malaria and pneumonia”. Courting death in my version of the English language is daringly taking risks that could cost one’s life. Malaria and pneumonia don’t count. In the hands of a master, inventing new uses for words can work, Shakespeare did it and his usage stuck. But here it makes for difficult and laboured reading. Several times the sound of a cough is described as a chortle – which I always thought was a kind of laugh, but what do I know? I quite like this: one of the characters wakes up

“Sore and dogmatically stiff, but nothing a dip in the river and a hot meal wouldn’t rectify.”

And

“He’d checked the bottle of quinine before their trek to the river only to find it empty. Another conundrum.”

If you’re going to read this book you will have to cope with a lot of flowery prose, some of which doesn’t make much sense, such as this:

“Gray lingered between darkness and light it seemed for eons. He likened his re-emergence to that of a drowning man who’d thrashed and clobbered his way through the claws of a cloven-hoofed demon.”

and a thin plot, and characters who act without much apparent motivation. If you can get past that, there is some mildly enjoyable reading in the middle part of the book when the two main characters are fleeing their pursuers and failing to decide whether they like, love, distrust or just hate each other.

Grayson Drake is a physician from the town near the prison, and also an agent of the Confederates (Gray, see?) sent to spring the man the blurb describes as ‘the decadent, gorgeous Marx Wellbourne’ from prison. He has to get him back to Confederate territory for de-briefing, since he has information about battle maps which will, apparently, change the course of the war. We don’t ever discover quite why it will change the course of the war, and when he finally hands it over he points out that it’s months old.

Wellbourne is, apparently, gorgeous although he’s skin and bone after a starvation diet in prison and “two days in the sweat box had greatly compromised his maladies”. He’s also well-born (Wellbourne, see?), having inherited a big southern estate and slaves although slavery is, of course, abhorrent to him – after all his name’s Marx. We are not, however, given any evidence that he’s decadent. He’s a corporal which seems to be an elevated rank although in the Confederate army it was only one grade up from the lowest enlisted man, the private. His vocabulary includes shit, and bugger, and fuck, and Jesus and Christ used as expletives, which doesn’t quite ring true considering he’s a Southern Gentleman and not a mill worker from the North of England. He has heroically helped ten other prisoners to escape and for his trouble ended up in the ‘sweat box’, presumably a punishment cell of some sort, and contracted pneumonia, and malaria, apparently from drinking the water from a frog-infested pool – no mention of the usual mosquito bite transmission method. Why the poor frogs are implicated, I can’t say.

Gray gives Marx a forged pass hidden in a Bible to get him through the front gate of the prison, and a Union soldier’s uniform with a knife in the pocket, but no help with getting past the locked door of his cell. We’ve been told that the door is heavy, and metal, and incorporates metal bars, and that it is unlocked by inserting a key (but apparently there’s no need to turn it) and it can then be opened despite its weight by pushing with a toe. Gray has hinted to the guard that Marx may be very infectious, and dying, and warned him to keep well away from the prisoner, despite which Marx convinces the guard to hold his hand and read to him from the psalms, and then he threatens him with the knife until he hands over the keys.

We have to assume that the rest of the escape goes smoothly, because the next chapter begins when Gray and Marx rendezvous in woods and begin their ‘long, hard ride’ to Richmond, Virginia, pursued by the prison warden, Major Britton Darkmore (he’s the baddie, Darkmore, get it?) who considers their capture so crucial that he’s abandoned his prison and searches the towns on their route house by house with a posse of soldiers to help him. It’s difficult to see why Wellbourne’s memorised battle maps, months old, can be quite so important to Darkmore or to the Confederate ‘covert spy agency’ either. Are there any other kinds of spy agency?

Wellbourne and Drake have seen each other before, in a brothel they both frequented. Now they are attracted to each other despite their continuing distrust of each other – although Drake has sprung Wellbourne from prison and is doing his best to get him back to his own lines, which would be enough reason to trust each other, you’d think.

They pause on their journey and Wellbourne’s exhausted condition doesn’t prevent them having energetic sex. A day later Drake has been shot in the chest and they get the wound treated by an Iroquois healer, a friend of Gray’s whose camp fire “flared in the middle of a small clearing. Behind it stood a lean-to, the slanted mud and straw roof sagging like his Aunt Rosie’s tits.” Aunt Rosie, I should point out, plays no further part in the story – very wise of her, I’d say.

They’ve smelled the smoke of the fire from a distance but apparently their pursuers missed it so they can spend some time and recuperate. The next day they have more energetic sex despite the chest wound. The sex scenes are among the better passages of the book, although there’s a hint of BDSM which never really takes hold. These are two men physically attracted to each other but there’s no affection developing between them.

The day they strike camp and continue their journey, Gray has pain in his arm, but he “rotated his arm in a circle and realized most of the pain stemmed from stiffness”. Nevertheless he apparently loses the use of it for the next few pages and there is no further mention of the bullet wound in his chest. Marx’s pneumonia and malaria seem to be better, too.

So: can I recommend this book to you, dear reader? Umm… well, No. Sorry. It’s rubbish, poorly written hokum. None of the characters are particularly likeable, there’s no satisfactory resolution of tension, very little plot (I’ve told you nearly all of it) and although civil war dates and events are mentioned there’s nothing about the characters or their dialogue that anchors them to the early 1860′s. I give it two stars because the cover art is attractive, although the man in the picture looks about a hundred and fifty years too modern. Oh, and the punctuation is immaculate.

Author’s Website

Buy from Decadent Publishing 

Review: Placing Out by P.A. Brown

At the age of ten, Dylan Daniels was a placed-out kid sent from New York’s Five Points to a family in Nebraska. But Dylan ran away at the age of eighteen when he realized he preferred boys and didn’t want to be a farmer. Once he made his way to Hollywood, he wound up as a popular and high-class hustler with a number of wealthy clients.

Now in 1933 near the end of the Prohibition Era in America, Dylan meets Ben Carter during a bar raid. Ben, who’s a six-year veteran of the LAPD and deeply in the closet, is instantly both attracted and repelled by this beautiful man. Between them they struggle to overcome the barriers that keep them apart, including Dylan’s career, and Ben being in a brutal squad that frequently raids pansy bars and beats the patrons, which tears Ben apart.

Will Ben let Dylan’s love heal him or destroy him altogether?

Review by Sally Davis

Sometimes just getting the text to a story is a bonus. The cover of the book is uninspiring and I think I enjoyed the beginning of the story more without having read the blurb. The story is written partly in first person from Dylan’s point of view and partly from Ben’s POV in third person. I’ve seen reviews that claim this change of POV is confusing but I found it an interesting way of emphasising the great differences between the two characters.

Dylan’s voice changes as his story progresses from that of the defiant uneducated foster child to that of the young man with ambition to rise above his current station. He is practical, and has no illusions about how long he has before he’s too old to reap the benefits. Once his looks are gone his hustling days will be over so he has a limited amount of time to make his pile. His loneliness comes across quite strongly too – he is hungry to be loved and that he pretends when he is with one particular client that their comfortable cuddling doesn’t have to end, that they can be as he puts it “a forever couple”, is very sad.

Ben is lonely too, but that is because he is living a lie. Part of Red Squad, a special task force that breaks strikes and raids gay bars, he can barely admit even to himself that he is “queer” until the stress of the lying gets too much and he finds his regular lover Kevin for some brief and intense comfort. He hates what he does for a living, hates the way he is expected to join in the laughing brutality of his fellows, but he daren’t show any reluctance to conform. Then they raid a bar and he lays eyes on Dylan – the golden boy – and Ben’s life of lies becomes even more complicated.

This is a short story – only 40 pages including the extras at beginning and end – and I don’t want to give any more of the plot away. Let’s just say that I loved it and I’ve spent some time thinking about Ben and Dylan and what may have happened after the end of the story. I’m planning on working my way through P.A. Brown’s backlist.

Author’s Website

Available from Amber Quill Press in their Amber Allure line

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Keta Diablo – The Devil’s Heel

Five years ago Drew Hibbard dismissed Rogan Brockport from his life. Now, they meet again at the Governor’s Ball and Rogan will know the reason for the abrupt, unexplained cut. After Rogan saves Drew’s life during a pirate raid, he kidnaps him and the perfect opportunity to extract answers from Drew is finally at hand.

Betrayal
Retribution
Undying Love
The Devil’s Heel

Review by Emily Gained

Sadly, during the first few pages, I discovered that this wasn’t the kind of book I’d normally choose to read. First of all, there’s more purple prose than I can stand on an empty stomach (I found the previous book, “Magnolia Heat” less afflicted by that, so one of them might have benefited from a good editor or simply a different process/taste in the author).

To me, the prose wasn’t just purple, it also confused the hell out of me. Here’s a representative sample right from the start:

“From the lofty balcony, Rogan Brockport watched the merriment in the crowded ballroom and squelched a smirk. Polite society would be astonished to discover he found their existence mundane and tedious.

He lifted the goblet of burgundy to his lips, took a sip, and smiled. The foremost reason for his appearance tonight, and the object of his intense perusal, had finally arrived. The parchment in Rogan’s vest pocket—a summons from the Governor—rustled when he pulled himself from the railing and devoured the man’s beauty.

The young widower, Drew Hibbard, wound his way elegantly through the crowd, nodded to several bystanders and stopped briefly to present a white-gloved hand to the fools of Virginia’s Parliament.

Attired in an ensemble fashioned after the London gentry—a mauve silk coat and matching breeches—a dreamlike beauty enveloped Drew. His midnight hair glimmered beneath the crystal chandeliers, and although Rogan couldn’t see his soulful eyes at the moment, he knew from memory they matched to perfection his dove gray waistcoat. A bevy of flushed maidens surged forth and surrounded him, their peacock fans fluttering like leaves caught up in an eddy.

In mourning after the death of his wife six months ago, Drew’s self-imposed exile had not diminished his allure or his captivating magnificence. Christ, the man embodied beauty.

Rogan fought an overpowering urge to quit the balcony and seek him out, gaze into the gunmetal eyes, lose his soul in the shimmering, long, black hair, and watch his spine stiffen when he offered his hand. Drew’s distress over seeing him again would be palpable, and equal to his. He had a score to settle with the meretricious widower and he’d waited a lifetime, it seemed, for tonight.”

Diablo is going for the old shtick of an innocent (Drew Hibbard) being seduced by a rogue—a Byronic hero, dark and brooding and arrogant, but the effect fell completely flat for me. Both characters are so over the top that I just couldn’t connect to any of them. Rogan (not Josh) is the caricature of a rogue, so arrogant he makes your toe nails fall off. Domineering, so driven to get his man—willing or not—that he comes across like a psychopath.

Drew, while innocent and all appalled about how his ex-lover treats him (for example, he threatens to shoot Drew’s dog! Now there’s a sexy man you want to spend your life with) also needs Rogan’s cock so badly he turns into a whimpering, spineless wretch who loves getting semi-forced and semi-seduced. Hey, I love some good forced seduction with the best of them, but I found the characters way too over the top and the writing and set-up too melodramatic.

Plotwise, it doesn’t really matter what’s going on, because it’s all just stage dressing for the sex scenes. There’s some hare-brained scheme for Rogan to join a famous pirate, and he dances through that small challenge.

So when the famous pirate attacks Drew, Rogan can carry him off to safety for some rogering. The interesting plot-oriented scenes were brushed over and were clearly subordinated to the “romance” plot. Only, the “romance” plot in this case isn’t much of a romance, since the characters are so dysfunctional and dependent, nevermind completely controlled by their desire (read: hard cocks) that I didn’t believe for a moment that anybody loved anybody. In a way, the simpering spineless Drew deserves the domineering psychopath Rogan, but I really didn’t want any part in their relationship, let alone read about it.

There’s ample sex in this short piece, and if you don’t mind their rather unbelievable recovery period between the fucking and the purple prose and look for some historical porn to fill forty-five minutes of boredom, check this out. It wasn’t for me.

Author’s website

Noble Romance Publishing

Review: Colonel’s Treasure by Dirk Hessian

Young Rob Winston is deemed too small of stature and unsoldierly to take his place in the military ranks of the American Revolution. All he is seen fit to do is to become the sexual comfort and treasure of Colonel Seth Hampton of the army of General Nicholas Herkiner in the Mohawk Valley campaign. With the help of the Indian subchieftain and scout Otetiani, however, Winston endeavors, by taking on the role of spy, to show that his talents in enticing the desires of men are more than enough to turn the tide of war. At war’s end, however, he must choose between his colonel, the Indian chief who has mastered him, or the runaway slave, Jeremiah, to whom Rob himself has become a slave.

Review by Erastes

A short review for a a short novella. At around 17,000 words this story follows Rob Winston has he tries to help America win the war of independence–on his back.

It’s an erotic novel, rather than a historical piece, even though it’s set in 1775 and onwards, there’s plenty of sex on the pages but it’s more geared towards porn than erotica. The story starts with a rape (although some, as Rob’s reactions soon turn from “no no!” to “more more!” might call it “dub-con”) and progresses to him becoming a male prostitute, then becoming a Colonel’s sex toy (with all his platoon knowing about it) to participating in a bogus Native American sex ritual of group sex of rape and bondage.

I can’t say I enjoyed the story much, because it was a real case of OK Homo, one of those cases where everyone–be it black slave, Native Americans, loyal Americans, dastardly British–instantly wants this odd little milksop of a short-arse weakling of Rob Winston. A young man who is so runty that he’s not even considered for a soldiery which I know included much younger boys than him. He’s desicribed as being skinny and pale-white in skin colour–despite the fact he often works shirtless in the anachronistically democratic slave fields of a neighbouring farm–so he didn’t come over as being appealing to me.

His motivations were rather clouded. He starts off saying how much he wants to help the cause, because as I say, he’s been turned down for proper solider work, but as he goes on, he’s thinking more about the sex he can have rather than any good he can do.  When he becomes the “Treasure” of the Colonel named in the title, he professes to be really in love with him, but later actions show that he doesn’t care a bit. He wants to be some (and I’m quoting directly) a sex slave to someone, but he walks away from someone who offers him just that. Also, when he’s having some of this sex (and some of it is quite distasteful, with BDSM that isn’t BDSM but simply someone damaging another person who’s only willing for spying purposes) the camera pulls out of his head and we have no indication of what he’s feeling other than the times he’s enjoying it.

Overall, mildly uncomfortable to read, not at all erotic, despite it being more a sex-manual than a book showing the American War of Independence.

Dirk Hessian is a pseudonym for the author “Habu” which is also a pen-name. I’m not sure why–when Habu already writes gay historicals, s/he needs a further penname for the same genre.

Author’s website

Amazon UK    Amazon USA

Review: Pioneers by Lynn Lorenz

When Matt films a documentary of gay men living in New Orleans over the last fifty years, his first subject is none other than Sebastian LaGrange, his very own landlord. The elderly gentleman has lived through good times and bad, has seen and done it all, and Matt thinks he’s perfect for the project. Although Sebastian is initially reluctant, he comes to believe in the project, and opens up his life like never before, telling his story from the first time he kissed a boy, to the present.

What Matt uncovers is not only a history of being gay in their beloved city, but he unravels the mysterious past of one of New Orleans’ most desired gay men. Sebastian has been a friend and mentor to Matt and his partner Lane, and even in his old age, Sebastian has even more to teach them about love…

Available in Kindle format, 136KB

Review by Gerry Burnie. This review appeared on his website here.

There are a whole bunch of good things that can be said about “Pioneers” by Lynn Lorenz [Amber Quill Press, 2010]. To begin, it is superbly written. The syntax flows flawlessly, the characters are well developed, and the pace keeps the story moving along at a comfortable pace. All important pluses in my opinion.

I also found the era in which the story is set—i.e. the 1940s & 50s—a wonderfully nostalgic bonus. As the chief supporting character, Sebastian, says: “It was the fifties, lamb chop. One didn’t come out of the closet, one tiptoed out.” And, later, Matt observes: “That’s what I want to show with this film, baby. I want the young gay men of today to understand what the older gays lived through, how they survived. Or didn’t.” Having come out during the same era, I can readily identify with both of these sentiments.

Another appealing aspect is that the story deals with romance between older men; a somewhat unique topic for most writers of male-on-male fiction. In fact, the only other series that comes to mind is Ronald L. Donaghe’s Common Threads in the Life Series.

I do have a few minor quibbles, though. Although I understand the author’s intention to add dimensional depth to the characters, I found the switching of voices and times to be a little distracting. I also found the flashback scenes between Sebastian and his dead lover Frank, although a relevant to discuss the onset of AIDS in the 1970s, just a bit too lengthy and even saccharin at times.

I hasten to add, however, that these few, minor quibbles do not substantially detract from an insightful and altogether touching story.

Enthusiastically recommended. Four and on-half stars.

Buy at Amber Quill Press

Review: Violet Thunder by Kate Cotoner

Wu Jin has both brains and beauty. Though poor, his family are noble enough for Jin to sit the imperial examinations in the hope of obtaining a high-ranking government position at the court of Tang Dynasty China. When his parents are killed, Jin clings to his dreams, and travels to the provincial capital for the exams. Pursued by a sinister horseman into the forest, Jin seeks refuge at a tumbledown inn, little realizing that he’s entered the abode of a fox-spirit. Tian Zhen is a transcendental fox of immense power and considerable seductive charm. He’s startled when Jin sees through his illusions, and believes it’s Jin’s destiny not only to become his lover, but also to help him find a lost talisman, the symbol of Zhen’s heavenly role as the Guardian of Thunder. But convincing Jin won’t be easy, and the search for the talisman turns dangerous when Jin discovers it’s connected to the man who murdered his parents.

Review by Jess Faraday

This is a beautiful story on so many levels. The prose is smooth, lyrical, and lush, but never overdone. The characters, though recognizable to the m/m reader, leap off the page as delightful individuals. And the plot holds its own, side by side with the romance, rather than being dominated by it.

The best kind of complaint a reviewer can make about a story is that it’s too short. I would have loved to see this story expanded into a full novel. But that doesn’t mean that it was incomplete in some way. Far from it. In 65 short pages, the protagonist solves a mystery, finds his destiny, and gets an HEA. It’s short and sweet, and definitely left me wanting more.

The setting is well researched–geography, housing, dress, food–it even gives a thumbnail sketch of the intricate governmental system of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). With an expert hand, the author provides a three-dimensional social and geographical landscape, which gives all the information a reader needs without a single dry patch.

I enjoyed how the myth of the Huli jing, or Transcendental Fox wove itself through the plot. And speaking of the plot–a well-formed mystery with a splash of coming-of-age–it was solid enough to have been a good story even without the romance. But, I think most of us would agree, a good romance makes any plot that much sweeter.

I really can’t recommend this highly enough. And I can’t wait to read more from Ms. Cotoner. Five stars.

Buy at Torquere Books.

Review: Mergers and Acquisitions by Lucius Parhelion

Bob and Trip are best friends and business partners who are negotiating the sale of their company when Bob decides to come out of mourning for his dead wife, Melinda. Since Melinda was his cousin, Trip understands what Bob is going through, and while he figures Bob is as straight as they come, he has broken down and offered comfort at the risk of ruining their friendship.

When Bob finally does decide to turn his attention to love again, though, it’s Trip he finds himself caring about. Trip isn’t sure he can believe it, and he doesn’t want to lose what they do have together by rushing into things. Can Bob convince Trip that it’s not just a whim, and that they can find more together than a company merger?


Review by Sal Davis

Torquere has had a bit of a hiccup on their website. The cover displayed for Acquisitions and Mergers: The Four of Wands is actually that designed for Sanctuary: The Four of Swords. However the proper cover, I’m sorry to say, is no improvement. I turned the page quickly and got onto the good stuff.

The story is set in 1960. Dr Trip Doyle is an MIT man and a genius. His business partner, widowed Bob Eck, is negotiating the sale of D&E Optical Engineering to BTC, a company with access to defence contracts, desperate to get their hands on Trip’s patents. Trip is discreetly gay. Bob knows about it but they are keen that BTC shouldn’t know – the defence people wouldn’t like it.

That is one plot strand. Another is the affectionate relationship between brainy Trip and charming Bob, both of whom adored and mourn Melinda, Bob’s wife. Bob went through a very bad patch after her death and Trip moved in with him to keep him going. One night with Bob frantic and very drunk their relationship developed, Trip delivering, as they put it in the story, an ‘owblay objay’. Strung out by the tension of the sale, moving offices etc, Bob shocks Trip by declaring his love for him. The rest of the story concerns Trip’s somewhat drastic efforts to help Bob establish whether he’s straight and deluded or honestly has had a change of orientation, and Bob’s efforts to prove his sincerity in the face of everything Trip throws at him.

It has the trademark flashes of humour, the banter between the main characters, little period details slotted into the narrative and unfussy sex scenes. I enjoyed it very much but it was, perhaps a little lightweight. There were suggestions of plot at the beginning of the story that were disposed of very easily and I felt disappointed that more wasn’t made of them.

But it’s still a very good story with plenty going on in the 50 pages, well worth both the price and 3.5 stars.

Available from Torquere Press Inc

Review: Magnolia Heat by Keta Diablo

North Carolina, 1876: Rumors abound about the dark, mysterious Dominic Beresford in Chapel Hill. Their curiosity piqued, their libidos functioning on overload, Craven and Anthony are intent on obtaining answers about the supposed licentious gatherings taking place every weekend.

When the duo are caught spying on Beresford Hall, their punishment will be swift and severe, and in Craven’s case, dispensed by none other than the stunning Lord of the Manor.

What begins as penance soon veers off to a session of feverish passion where the avenger becomes the pawn in his own game

Review by Aleksandr Voinov

Note: This is the re-release of “Carnal Cravings” by the same author and “completely expanded and revised” according to the publisher.

First off, I haven’t read “Carnal Cravings”, but from what I could glean from various reviews (especially on Goodreads), all the things that bothered readers with “Carnal Cravings” have been taken care of in “Magnolia Heat”, such as the fact that the protagonists were under-age and apparently there were rather off-putting enema scene flashbacks in the previous version of this story.

Having not read the first version, I can judge this story only on its own merits. It is a, for the most part well-written, very short “historical” novella featuring two students who spy on a gay lord of the manor, get caught, get sexually abused (i.e. one gets whipped and fucked, the other ends up restrained and spit-roasted, that is, fucked from both ends).

A solid helping of modern people in costumes (research here has been minimal, the history is nothing but a veneer), which features instant love and instant monogamy, which some people find offputting. Personally, I’m tired of the device, as it’s often crammed into a very short length, such as this one here, where, after a night of passion and some fucking, characters discover they are endlessly in love and become exclusive.

If you want a quick dirty read on the – very soft – side of dub con and don’t mind some hilarious stylistic howlers, you can have fun with this.

Author’s website

Noble Romance Publishing

Review: This Rough Magic by Josh Lanyon

Wealthy San Francisco playboy Brett Sheridan thinks he knows the score when he hires tough guy private eye Neil Patrick Rafferty to find a priceless stolen folio of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Brett’s convinced his partner-in-crime sister is behind the theft — a theft that’s liable to bring more scandal to their eccentric family, and cost Brett his marriage to society heiress Juliet Lennox. What Brett doesn’t count on is the instant and powerful attraction that flares between him and Rafferty.
Once before, Brett took a chance on loving a man, only to find himself betrayed and broken. This time around there’s too much at risk. But as the Bard himself would say, Journey’s end in lovers meeting.
Review by Sal Davis
Once again there was no cover with the review copy, so April Martinez’s cover came as a nice surprise once I started poking around the Loose Id site. There’s quite a lot in this picture that comes directly from the book and the faces of the two models suggest the somewhat overwrought sensitivity of Brett and the more hard-nosed approach of Neil. This depiction is much more modern than what I was imagining while reading. J.C.Leyendecker’s work doesn’t appeal to everyone, but I found it very handy to have those cocked hatted, high collared, buttoned up, hair slicked back, be-spatted images in my mind’s eye as I read Mr Lanyon’s story. There’s one particular image of 2 men talking to each other on a sofa [sadly, it is not public domain] that gets over the formality of the time in a way that pouting lips and bare shoulders don’t, even if they are beautiful. These were the days when a man wouldn’t step outside without a hat, no matter his income, and the Brett Sheridans would come equipped with gloves, watchchain, buttonhole and cane and a whole array of behaviours that seem pointless and persnickety nowadays but were just a way of life then.
The blurb is slightly misleading in that it suggests that the story is very much from Brett’s point of view. Not so – we get a look into both protagonist’s minds, and very nice too, in alternating chapters. In fact the story begins in the most traditional way possible for a tale about a private dick [am I allowed to say that on SiN?] with a first page from Neil’s point of view that could have come from Chandler or Hammett, except it has the delicious substitution of a homme fatale instead of the more usual female love interest. Not that Brett is that dangerous, poor dab. He is a young man with the weight of the world in worries on his shoulders, some of which I can’t mention due to spoilers. Suffice is to say that he is engaged, but his heart isn’t in it and he has some worries about how his body will cope as well. Tough guy Neil is as different from him as can be and one of the joys in the book is seeing how the two characters play off against each other, developing trust and reliance on one hand and the protective urge on the other.
But the story is not solely a romance. There’s a good plot on several levels, an excellent cast of supporting characters and several BIG surprises. I’m not one of those readers who pores over every little clue to try and solve the mystery before the denouement, I just let the story happen and go ‘oooh’ with each revelation. [Lazy? I prefer to say I move at the author's pace.] I enjoyed it immensely – definitely one for the “Read-Again” folder!
Buy at LooseID

Review: Muffled Drum by Erastes

Bohemia, 1866

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

Buy from Carina Press  -  Amazon Kindle

Review: A Strange Love by Georges Eekhoud

A very early gay novel, originally published in 1900, by a Belgian writer with the first English translation in 1908, set in 19th Century rural Flanders. A gay count returns after years abroad to an isolated uptight community where his love for a peasant boy brings furious attacks by fanatic and bigoted villages whipped up by the girl he spurned. The count’s gay education of his peasant boy includes the history of the boy-Emperor whose lover voluntarily joined him for beheading. This pioneer work of fiction was among the first novels to focus unapologetically on gay relationships and the author, a distinguished Belgian literary figure, faced legal prosecution for this book. Georges Eekhoud (1854-1927), a Belgian poet and novelist, became known as the editor of the Antwerp Precurseur, from which post he passed to the position of literary critic of the Etoile Belge.

Review by Erastes

I had to do a bit of research on this book, because it predates pretty much all of the gay fiction I know of, and I simply hadn’t heard of it, so I’ll talk about that before I do the review.

It was published in 1899. Eekhoud is the premier literary figure of the age in Belgium and very famous. He was well-known for his pieces describing peasant life, such as Campine. He wrote in French, and there is a free copy of the book–in French–on the Gutenburg website for those who might prefer to read it in the original. It was titled Escal-Vigor and I’m not sure how the title changed to A Strange Love. It–like many other books–was prosecuted in court but there was a literary swell of support, and Eekhoud was acquitted without a stain on his character. Shame more books didn’t get the same support!

The story concerns the young Count Henry Kehlmark who comes into his inheritance at quite a young age, and who is more than a little spoiled. This doesn’t make him a monster, but it does make him the kind of young man who wants to do what he likes. He lives quite a wild life and then suddenly he decides to retire to his country estate taking with him his housekeeper Blandine, a young woman with whom he had a brief affair in his youth, and Landrillon, his manservant. It is there, whilst being introduced to the neighbourhood, he meets and falls  passionately in love with Guidon, the son of the local burgomaster.

You can see by the illustration on the cover how this ends, which is badly, but that’s no real surprise, as far as I know Maurice was the first (and only for a long time) which dared to give gay men a happy ending. The story itself, while quite simple, has a lot of themes, such as the nature of loyalty, ambition, and what is true friendship. There’s (possibly) the first faghag in Blandine–who loves Henry to distraction, so much so that she stays with him, despite knowing that she’ll never have him, even before she finds out his true nature.  She is, however, angry at the way Guidon has usurped her as his best friend, and is alarmed at the gossip in the village–which is inflamed by the disloyal Landrillon. But when Henry explains it all to her, (with a rather disturbing confession that he lusted at one point over pre-pubescent boys but got control of this problem) she accepts him for what he is, and vows to stand by him, and will be friends with Guidon.

What I liked about this book was the way that Henry was no longer ashamed of his predilictions. He’d spent years hiding his nature–trying to “pass.” Making jokes about men like himself, pretending to leer at women with his friends and thinking he was truly alone in the world. But he came to terms with himself and his feelings and when he meets Guidon, he sees it as fate, something that was truly meant to be. Guidon was not an innocent that he had corrupted, but a man with similar desires. The ugliness is all perceived by the outside forces. The priest who wishes to destroy Henry, the dismissed servant, the woman (Guidon’s sister, Claudie) who wants Henry for herself.

This ugliness reaches a head, with the final chapter of the book, and it’s clear who the real monsters are.

The language is rather hard to take, and I wonder how faithful the translation is. It’s a curious blend of slang and thees and thous. It’s rather over flowery but not a difficult read because of that, just a little smirk inducing at times. Luckily there’s little conversation between Guidon and Henry because I couldn’t have taken much of the earnest declaiming. Even the huge argument that Blandine and Henry have is exquistely formal.

The edition I have is the plain green cover version, also found on Amazon, and the preface is most peculiar. It doesn’t give any indication as to who wrote it, and it’s almost as impassioned as the book itself, resorting to hyperbole and many many exclamation marks. It’s worth a read, but isn’t exactly instructive about the book, the time of its writing, or much about the author, prefering rather to bang on about how worthy the book is and how many other gay writers came before and since. The facts about the book I had to find elsewhere!

I can’t give it a high mark, because to the modern eye, and certainly compared to Wilde or Forster the prose doesn’t hold a candle to them (although the French itself might be beautiful, so if you do read it, let me know) but it’s an important book in the genre and if you get a chance to get hold of a copy and are interested in the development of gay literature then it’s worth seeking out.

Amazon UK      Amazon USA

Review: A Faint Wash of Lavender by Lucius Parhelion

Post World War Two finds Laguna Beach in its heyday as an artists’ colony. Tony runs his uncles’ Grocery store in the town where a man of his bent can hide among the eccentrics who call the place home, including his Aunt Cora, who’s in charge of this year’s Pageant, where denizens of Laguna Beach recreate great art.

Tony’s carefully laid out life is about to take a hit from old army buddy Ben, who comes and stay while he sorts out his life. Tony doesn’t have a problem helping out an old friend, but this particular old friend comes with pitfalls. Ben is Tony’s type, and always has been. When Tony and Ben are asked to participate in the Pageant, they’re thrown into each other’s arms, literally. Will Tony be able to keep Ben in the dark about his ‘lavender’ tendencies, or will Ben himself have a few confessions that are sure to knock Tony for a loop?

Review by Erastes

Right off I’ll say that Parhelion hasn’t yet struck a bum note with me, and this is no exception. Somehow Parhelion manages to write cleary, beautifully and believably about post-war eras and settings that not many authors are dealing with.

On the surface this is a simple enough story, Tony meets up with old ex-regimental mate Ben who he served with in the Second World War. Tony knows that he fancied Ben during the war, on top of the hugely strong bond they made fighting side by side across France and Germany but he thinks that–at the distance of a few years, and knowing that Ben is planning to become a missionary within a religious sect–he can have a good visit with his friend and send him off again, without revealing his feelings. The problem is that Tony is living in the artist/performance neighbourhood of Laguna Beach and this is the underlying subtext of the book.

Without this clever subliminal subtext it would just be a case of best friends realising they want each other, but it’s made much more because of it. It’s a social group Tony feels comfortable with when he’s alone–the faint wash of lavender relates to the slight swishiness of his aunt’s friends, some more obvious than others. But when Ben arrives, Tony is concerned that Ben will pick up on the lavender tint of his friends and put two and two together.

It’s an interesting look at a burgeoning gay community, although too brief, I felt. I got the impression that Parhelion was going for, that of men who were allowing themselves to be a little more obvious in what they deemed a slightly safer environment, but the characterisations of the lavender washed themselves were a little too thin for me and smacked of stereotyping. I don’t think this was at all Parhelion’s aim, but the time allowed, given the length of the novella, didn’t give any possibility of seeing them in anything but 2d. It’s a shame, because that’s rather the crux of this sub-plot, that Tony feels comfortable in this mildly outre atmosphere, but is also struggling with the fact that as a manly man he should be ashamed of his friends. But as we don’t see his friends that much, this fact falls a little short.

Tony and Ben are depicted beautifully. The dialogue hits notes that seem just right, not too girly and not too porn-slanted. The way they eventually confess to each other that they are pretty sure they are gay is believable. And the device (the pageant) where Tony has to admit to himself that he hasn’t lost any of his yearnings for Ben is well done. There’s an amusing line about The Last Supper which made me snort tea through my nose, too.

The rest of the story is so readable, it’s hard not to gush. I wish I was more of a literature teacher so that I could dissect Parhelion’s style and work out what they are doing that’s so right, but I can’t. If you haven’t read any Parhelion, start here and then I guarantee you, you will seek out all the others. I don’t know who you are, enigma that is Parhelion, but keep on doing what you’re doing. (although, give us a novel, one day, please?)

Author’s Website (out of date)

Buy from Torquere Press

Review: Pleasures with Rough Strife by JL Merrow

One chilly night just before Christmas in 1922, eighteen-year-old poacher Danny Costessey comes to regret his impulse to climb a tree to fetch some mistletoe for his mother when he falls, breaking his leg. He doesn’t expect his luck to change when he is found by the furious gamekeeper who’s long hated his family. However, when he is taken to the manor house, the reclusive owner, Philip Luccombe, takes an interest in Danny rather than condemning him for his actions, and it surprises them both when that interest turns into something more.

Review by Jean Cox

Pleasures With Rough Strife is a short (around 13000 words) novella, set in the early 1920′s, a world where the aftermath of both WWI and the Spanish flu are keenly felt and the traditional deliniation of role of master and servants has yet to disintegrate.

JL Merrow depicts the world well, with elegant prose and dialogue. Not for her the clunky references to current events in order to set the era. She writes simply, cleanly and effectively – an economy with words that other writers could take note of. I love the humour in her work and the little affectionate nudges towards other stories – the appearance in this one of a butler called Standish made me smile. The origins of some of the names amused me too; I believe the author hails from the Isle of Wight, so having a character called Luccombe was a neat touch. That’s the sort of thing this reader appreciates.

In such a short story, it’s hard to discuss the plot without major spoilers, so bear with me on the sparcity of detail. Daniel Costessey poaches on the local estate, to help support his widowed mother and siblings. Drayton (the gamekeeper and enemy of the Costissey family) finds him injured and unexpectedly takes him to the owner’s house to recover. Philip Luccombe has become a recluse, pining for a lost love and being protected by his staff, including the formidable butler Standish. Two of these characters find a relationship developing, a relationship that crosses more than just social boundaries.

Plus points:

Apart from the general quality of writing, the story moves along at a good pace, the characters are well drawn, and the setting appeals to those of us who love early twentieth century England, a time of loss and wistful remembrance. Fans of hurt and comfort based stories will not be disappointed.

The depiction of era is consistent (not always something to be found in historical fiction) and the pervading sense of Christmastide, hope in the darkness, works well.

Minus points:

The lack of structure; at novella length, the tale pans out in a series of short scenes, some of them very short. This led at times to a sense of the story being a bit too fractured.

It was also a touch predictable–I’ve read a number of JL Merrow’s stories and what I’ve appreciated is her ability to produce the unexpected (her wonderful story in I Do Two is a case in point). I kept waiting for that here and it didn’t happen.

For what it is–a seasonal short–Pleasures with Rough Strife is perfectly fine and as a historical romance it’s well written. I just wish it had shown some more of the trademark Merrow touches.

Author’s Website

Buy at Dreamspinner Press

Review: Dulce et Decorum Est by JL Merrow

The First World War cast a long shadow, and in the winter of 1920, it’s still at its darkest. When solicitor’s clerk George Johnson moves into new digs, he’s instantly attracted to friendly fellow lodger Matthew Connaught, who lost an arm in the Great War. As the two become inseparable, George begins to wonder whether it’s just friendship that Matthew feels for him or something more. And if it’s something more… can George risk a revelation of his shameful past?

Review by Erastes

A seasonal story, this. I believe that it was planned to come out at Christmas to take advantage of the Christmas market and those who like to read seasonal stories. However, don’t let that put you off because it’s not offensively so with holly draped in every scene and enough sugar to bring on diabetes.

This is a very nicely written story which just happens to have a Christmas section. In truth it could have been set at any time in the year.

I’m a bit of a sucker for post war stories, because they have the capacity to evoke great hope and regeneration and so it is with this book. One character is getting away from something, and the other protagonist has every reason to shut himself away and hate the world in general. It’s a refreshing change to find that he doesn’t and is–as many young men would have had to do in 1920–simply getting on with his life. So many books concentrate on the negative aspects of WWI injuries and mental incapacity, and while there is a touch of that here, it’s not enough to weigh it down with bleakness.

Neither does it take it to the opposite extreme. It could have been extremely sappy, but it avoids that–and I think that’s managed because Merrow writes the stiff upper lip and youthful breeziness of English young men very well. They don’t slip into stereotype either, nor wallow in too much angst or emotion, and in this it is nicely balanced. There are some frankly sweet moments, but it is a seasonal story, so I’ll forgive it.

If I have one tiny quibble is that the conflict was not sufficiently conflictly to really cause a rift. By the time it raises its head, the relationship between Matthew and George was strong enough to weather it and I never felt for one minute that rejection would be any part of an issue. I didn’t worry about their relationship, and that was a minus point for me. I wanted to say “Oh, Buck up, George!” at one point, because he spent a lot of time worrying about his problem which should have turned out to be a problem. But, again, it’s a short book (about 70 pages) and too much conflict would have marred the seasonal good feeling perhaps.

Overall, this is a nice seasonal story, beautifully written with memorable characters. Highly recommended.

Author’s website

Dreamspinner   Amazon UK   Amazon USA

Review: One Eyed Jacks by India Harper

A Civil War veteran and recovered opium addict, Adam Finlay, knows the cost of taking pleasure too far. In life, as in poker, he plays things close to the vest. The only way he knows to survive is to let no one in. Jackson Talbot loves a challenge. And no one is a greater challenge than the closed-off Adam Finlay. An awkward partnership gets Jackson’s foot in the door, but it will take every bit of skill he possesses to get any further with Adam.

Amidst the excitement of a high-stakes poker game, white lies and past mistakes threaten to destroy the fragile relationship the two men have begun to build. In the end, can two Jacks beat the Queen of Hearts?

Review by Erastes

I have to say I was easily sucked into this story because the whole idea of the paddle-steamers and the poker games that were played upon them fascinate me hugely, with the romance and atmosphere. In general, this book does well and it kept me interested although it was a little light on immersive atmosphere.

The two main characters meet believably and I enjoyed the banter between them. I found it a bit difficult to remember who was who–and I’m not sure whether it was just my attention span, or whether it was subject confusion,because there was a smattering of this here and there. I had to concentrate and think to myself “Which one is Adam again?” which pulled me out of the story from time to time. The description of their meetings is well done, although I would have loved more of the life of the paddle steamer but that’s just me–I’m greedy and if I find a nice novella, I always want a full sized novel!

I had a couple of major niggles which stopped this book from being a four star, which otherwise it deserved.

One was the money. I haven’t done the research to know how expensive these games were, but the “buy-in” for this particular game was $5,000 which struck me as a HUGE sum- worth around $500,000 in today’s money.  The plot point which causes the men to meet is that Jackson needs an extra  $200 to join the game and it struck me that if a man had $5,000 at this time, he’d hardly need to earn more, gambling. The winning pot was $250,000 which again was a king’s ransom at this time. ($28 million today–source: Measuring Worth). I think these amount are vastly over-inflated.

The other was the total disregard for the protagonists regarding sex–they hardly seem to care that they are on a boat with thin wooden walls and bounce and thump and scream and roar and fuck like rabbits and discuss their proclivities in public and with others.  At one point they fuck on deck in the open on a very crowded ship, and no measures are put into place to ensure their privacy.

The sex scenes however, because the erotic love affair is the focus, rather than the rather thin plot, are well described and nicely hot. Like many other recent books there’s a nod to BDSM which seemed a little pasted on, but I know many readers like bondage.

All in all,it’s an enjoyable and hot read which will occupy a good couple of hours and I do recommend it. It does teeter on wallpaper historical, but only just and there’s been sufficient research done to satisfy more picky readers, and less-picky ones will enjoy it a great deal.

India Harper is a writing collaboration between Philippa Grey-Gerou  and Emery Sanborne

Author’s website

Buy at Amber Allure


Review: All Lessons Learned by Charlie Cochrane

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

Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book 8

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

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

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy at Samhain Amazon UK Kindle Amazon USA Kindle

Review: Paper Valentine by AJ Llewellyn

London, 1840. At the height of Victorian hypocrisy, two men meet and fall in love. Their romance is forbidden, punishable even by death, but their passion blossoms thanks to a paper Valentine.

Saint Valentine’s Day has become a new and very popular day for lovers. Thousands of Londonites are clamouring for the ideal romantic gift. While men buy chocolate and posies, they yearn for something more unusual, more personal. Enterprising brothers Aldon and Samuel Barnaby hit upon the idea of paper Valentines, creating lavish presentations decorated with silk, lace, and paper flowers.

Aldon is fortunate to have his perfect valentine going to his expectant wife, Geneve, but Samuel still longs for his own true love, pouring his heart and soul into his beautiful creations. Samuel’s romantic verses inside his paper Valentines are in huge demand, yet not a single local girl can lay claim to his heart…because his passion lies not in a woman, but another man—Jude, a handsome but shy widower.

Jude’s heart, haunted by grief, hasn’t been ready to consider marriage again. But slowly, through his inclusion in the Barnaby family’s lives…and his frequent excursions to stop and stare at the Barnabys’ shop window…he begins to wonder in what direction his future lies.

Can Samuel possibly allow his heart to explore love with another man? Could Jude ever love him in return? He sends Jude an exquisite, anonymous paper Valentine, not suspecting that his entire world is about to be turned upside down…

Review by Erastes

Dear Cover Artists. Please take note of the dates of the iconic structures, particularly in London. I’ve seen the Houses of Parliament used in Regency fiction and now we have Tower Bridge on this one, which is a quite nice cover, except the bridge wasn’t even begun until 1886, 46 years after this book takes place.I’m surprised, seeing as how the publisher is British.

However, this anachronistic tone, (after all I wouldn’t mark the book down merely for an incongruous cover), continues throughout the whole of the book, and although I’ll mention some later, there are egregious errors on just about every page, which layered with the other problems with the book made this a really hard read for me. The editing isn’t too bad, apart from Jude’s coachman changing names half way through, but what this needed was a damn good historical edit and a Brit pick. I understand that a small publisher cannot afford specialist editors for every genre, but I think that they should be prepared to check the author’s facts and not take on trust the author has it right. One or two checks with this book would have revealed the fact that just about everything was wrong,and as such it reflects badly on the publisher, not just the author.

Aside from the appalling anachronisms, the book just didn’t work for me because there is actually no plot. One could say that I’m asking a bit much expecting much more than a Plot-What-Plot in a story of sixty pages, but I certainly do. Other writers such as Ava March are capable of doing characterisation, plot, complications, BDSM and sex in as many pages, so we all know it can be done. Here however, I’m not sure what exactly the author was trying to achieve, or what message might be being transmitted.

Half of the book deals with the aforementioned dinner party, and at least half of that wastes time and plot-time while Samuel goes to his brother’s house, helps cook(!) and rants on for pages about how beautiful, how clever, how good, how shiny his sister-in-law is. So much so that I assumed that there was some plot point to this, but no. Eventually the dinner party is gathered and we finally meet the other hero of the story, Jude Curtis. They get together with no discernible difficulties and engage in perfect insta-recovery sex whilst weeping a lot and calling each other “baby” and asking if each other are “OK.” As you can tell by this, the dialogue is pretty awful–in fact in the throes of passion Samuel actually says to Jude “You’re so clean.” which made me giggle. It’s not exactly love-talk.

The food in a book is important–espeically when the author has made such a big deal of it–literally the first 30 or so pages (half the book) concentrates on entertaining, so when all the details are wrong it’s such a waste of time and effort. Strawberries, cranberries and bilberries, all available in February. Gas stoves, the lady of the house whipping up a quick meal for twelve without hardly turning a hair after the servants have left, no-one except the lady of the house changing for dinner, despite it being an important dinner which she is holding to get her husband admitted to the Atheneum Club.

I’m not going to list all the anachronisms, it would take too long and would be unfair, but a few include making artists a major plot point. This is fine except the ones mentioned were hilariously Whistler (who would have been six at the time), Rosseti (13) and Holman-Hunt who was about 12. Then there’s mention of the Brotherhood of the Pre-Raphelites (which didn’t exist), gas stoves, mentions of “hotwired.” The thing is that the author goes into Dan Brown mode at times, describing in detail something historical that they think we’ll be interested in, such as a meticulous description of the first commercial stamp–the Penny Black–but the author didn’t take the two minutes it takes to do the research to find out that the stamp wasn’t issued until JUNE 1840, not February.

The sex (apart from the silly dialogue and much weeping) is all right, but for me it’s not enough to make the cover price worth while.

So, putting together the missing plot, the buildup of things that never became plot–the brother’s entry to the club, the making of the Valentines, the servant troubles–with the anachronisms on every page, I simply can’t recommend this as a historical. If you are only looking for some gay sex in costume, then you might enjoy it.

Buy from Total-ebound

Review: The Sheriff and Pirate Booty by John Simpson

Picture

The Sheriff

Life was quiet in Dry Oaks, Montana, and that was the way Sheriff Jeremiah Bates liked it. When a cattle drive hit town, he expected the usual lot of drinkin’, gamblin’, whorin’ cow hands – but the feelings cowboy Duke Milo aroused in him were anything but usual.

Review by Erastes

It piques the interest, I have to say, because I’m interested in the Sherrif and how he got to be there in a dead-end town where nothing ever happens and why he stays. I admit that I would like to know more about him, because he’s a good character. A taciturn man of few words works well in a short story.

The thing I find about it though, is that a short story should be something complete in itself–probably because I was raised on Maugham and Saki–this all seems a little pat. Man walks into a bar, picks up a cowboy and they have sex. If it was an uber hot erotic short story it would serve a purpose, but it’s not really written to titillate either. But what’s there isn’t bad and for $1.49 it will fill ten minutes or so–it just doesn’t say anything.

Editing leaves a lot to be desired which is a shame for something so small.

Three stars

Buy from Dreamspinner

Pirate Booty

Picture

Armed with a royal commission, former Royal Naval officer Captain Blain Stillwater undertakes a new adventure as a privateer in the Caribbean, charged with combating pirates and the Spanish. But while the commission includes a ship—it doesn’t include a crew. A search of London’s Newgate prison provides Stillwater his crew, but not his officers or a cook. Luckily he discovers Todd Myers, an experienced cook who spends his days in the galley… and his nights in the Captain’s cabin. But danger stalks the ship in the form of the Spanish, and life at sea is never smooth sailing.

Review by Erastes

First off, this is a romp. It is not going for historical accuracy. This is clear from the first couple of pages–more anachronisms than the whole of Braveheart. If you can get past that and are eager to get to the piratey goodness then that’s fine.

Blain sets off with a crew all set to plunder and as in the best of piratey fantasies, all the men (except one) is OK about men loving men. This will lead to a contented crew, apparently–and one handed contended readers, I’m sure!

The sex scenes are paramount here, and the story is wrapped around them, so much of the 70 pages consist of sex, but it’s hot and steamy and enjoyable. I think I would liked a bit more character development, but difficult in a story this short, specially a historical.

Regarding ships–I probably wouldn’t recommend this if you know anything about ships of the day, the small complement of crew and the small number of guns for for a galleon will probably chafe you, but if you are looking for a pirates of the Caribbean type of story with hot sexy sailors plundering the seas and each other then you’ll enjoy this a lot.

Three stars

Buy at Dreamspinner

Review: Home Station on the Prairie Series-1 and 2 by Kara Larson

Home Station on the Prairie

The Nebraska territory is a lonely place for young Jamie, who longs to be a Pony Express rider, but only manages to take care of their horses. Still, he has the ponies, and his father, and before he knows it he has Thad, a boyhood friend from back in Iowa.

Jamie has always found Thad fascinating, and soon the two young men strike up a friendship that might just turn into more. War looms on the horizon, though, and even as Jamie is realizing his dream of riding for the Pony Express, he knows his life is about to change drastically. Will he find a way to keep all he holds dear, including Thad?

Review by Sue Brown

This story is a little gem and I was really pleased to have the chance to read this tale and the one that follows, Little Family on the Homestead. The setting for Kara Larson’s story is the Pony Express in Nebraska. Jamie is a young man who dreams to be a Pony Express rider while he cares for their horses at the relay station run by his father. Kara Larson does an excellent job of drawing you into the world of the Pony Express run, its days numbered by the railroad and the encroaching civil war.

I got really caught up in Jaime’s dreams and desires, as he learns that riding between the stations in all weathers isn’t as romantic as he first believed, and the trials of his burgeoning romance with his boyhood friend, Thad. Kara Larson manages to interweave the harsh realities of their lives in with the joys and tears of their tentative relationship. I really enjoyed the way we see Jamie grow up in this short tale, from innocent boy to hardened veteran, coming home to turn the Midway Home Station into Patchwork Ranch, providing horse stock.

If I have one quibble it was that Jamie and Thad’s relationship seemed to take second place in the story, but I was kept so interested in the rest of the plotlines that it really didn’t matter.

4.5 stars

Published by Torquere

Little Family on the Homestead

Thad had thought that he was saying goodbye to Jamie forever when he left eleven years before. Like the Pony Express, their relationship was supposed to die out quietly, gracefully. What he hadn’t expected was how much Jamie Boyd and that little patch of Nebraska meant to him, and how much he wanted to spend the rest of his life on that Pony Express station turned homestead.

Eleven years later, and Thad’s happier than he’s ever been, helping Jamie’s cousin raise her five girls and making sure that Patchwork Ranch runs as smoothly as can be. But that all changes when Mattie Alden, the actual impetus that drove Jamie and Thad apart years ago, steps back into all their lives. With Mattie come complications, like men interested in both Jamie’s family and the ranch itself. Thad’s not the only one who has to make the journey of self discovery, but he’s not sure they’ll all survive the journey if they have to make it together.

Review by Sue Brown

Another lovely instalment in the Home Station on the Prairie series. Once again, I was easily drawn into the world of Jamie and Thad and the Patchwork Ranch. This time Jamie and Thad are settled together, with Jamie’s cousin and her children. I am pleased to see that in this book the relationship of two men takes centre stage.

While this doesn’t have the immediate freshness of Home on the Prairie, the plotline I particularly enjoyed about Little Family on the Homestead was the return of Mattie and the tension that brings to our heroes, particularly Thad. Thad was almost incidental in the first story and I was glad to see him develop more in this story.

Again Kara manages to combine historical detail with the development of the characters. Her deft touch shows in the roundedness of the secondary characters, including the children. Having children myself, the discussions about Santa Claus made me giggle, although I did question whether the children would actually know about Santa Claus and did some research to find out.

This is developing into a lovely series and I am looking forward to the next instalment from Kara.

4 stars

Author’s Livejournal

Published by Torquere

Review: Walking in Two Worlds by Terry O’Reilly

Lee Masters is fired from his cattle drive when his sexual orientation is discovered. Frustrated and angry, he rides to a mountain lake where he meets Running Buffalo, Tatanka, who is also exiled from his tribe for refusing to adhere to tribal custom for braves who prefer men to women.

They strike up a friendship, which readily turns to love. Their family is completed when a young Indian, Sleeps with Dogs, insists they take him home with them on their search for a home.

But within each there is an unanswered yearning for approval among their people. Where can they find the acceptance they seek? Will they forever find themselves Walking in Two Worlds?

Review by Sue Brown

I have a penchant for Westerns so I was pleased to be given Walking in Two Worlds, an historical Western which not only traverses attitudes to homosexuality within different cultures, but the added issue of our heroes coming to terms each other in an interracial relationship. Walking in Two Worlds tackles a difficult subject and on the whole handles it successfully, yet as a reader, occasionally there were things that threw me out of the world Terry O’Reilly was creating.

There are elements of Walking in Two Worlds which are outstanding, such as the attention to detail, which helps to place the reader firmly in the era. The author skilfully manages to blend the historical and racial detail into the storyline without ‘information dumping’, and I finished the book with a desire to know more about the Dakota and Hopi tribes. I was extremely impressed by sympathetic handling of the comparison of the three cultures, the two Indian tribes and the white homesteads. As I read I could see the good and the bad in each world as the cowboy and the Indian, and the young Indian boy, who adopted them, struggled to adapt.

Terry O’Reilly managed to draw me into the relationship of Lee Masters, a rugged cowboy, and Running Buffalo, Tatanka, a Dakota chief, both of them exiled from their worlds. I enjoyed the development of their relationship and the prejudices they encountered in trying to live together as a couple in the Indians tribes and white culture. The sex scenes were hot and managed to combine both the physical and emotional elements that I prefer.

The secondary characters were well-rounded and added to the storyline. Reading the blurb, I was dubious about the addition of the young Indian boy, Sleeps With Dog, however his story blended in smoothly with Lee and Tatanka’s developing relationship.

After all this, there were a couple of things that really set my teeth on edge. The idea of the rough-mannered Lee telling a man he had only just met that he loved him after their first night together just screamed ‘No’. Another one was Lee’s comment about something ‘tasting just like chicken’. It seemed a very modern comment and I found it distracting.

I found the ending rushed and almost a cop-out after the time spent with the rest of the story. I can understand why it ended as it did and it was in keeping with the book. It would just have benefited from more detail.

Walking in Two Worlds gets 4 stars because it drew me into another world and made me want to know more.

Author’s Website

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Review: Dona Nobis Pacem by Willa Okati

Mute saloonkeeper Donnell knows all about prejudice; he’s had to battle it all of his life. He also knows how self-righteous and judgemental the people of the old west town of Nazareth can be, so he isn’t surprised when he sees them spurn requests for work from a man who walks into town looking to be all but on his death bed. Donnell takes the man in and nurses him back to health, falling in love along the way.  But is Donnell destined to have his heart broken?

Review by Jess Faraday

I feel badly that my first review for Speak Its Name is going to be largely critical. However, not all books were written for all readers. Even though the story didn’t work for me on a number of levels, there’s quite a bit in Dona Nobis Pacem to like. I’m certain that there are readers who will enjoy the story for its merits. Here are a few of them.

I’ve read a few other stories by Willa Okati, and the sex is always hot. It’s graphic, but not to the point where one is counting the pores on the hero’s…er…chin. So if you like some hot, well-described man-on-man nookie, you’ll find three very tasty scenes to sink your teeth into.

I also liked Nathan’s (the hero’s love interest) inner conflict regarding his attraction to Donnell. It seemed realistic given the time, place, and Nathan’s religious background. Although I thought this could have been drawn out and explored more, considering the brevity of the piece (100 pages and change), the amount of time spent on it was appropriate.

There’s a difference between historical romance and romance with historical flavor. SIN reviews historicals, so I read from this perspective. As historical fiction, this story really didn’t work for me. The main difference between a contemporary and a historical is setting, and the setting in this story was basically undefined.

References to a gold rush suggest that the story is taking place in the 19th century. Vague descriptions of a desert-like climate suggest that it was the California gold rush of 1848 (although the gold rush did not take place in the desert part of California), or possibly the Northern Nevada gold rush. But however one slices it, there was not enough physical, social, or cultural description for me to feel any certainty of time or place.

A few character inconsistencies also distracted me from the story. The hero, Donnell, seemed far too cosmopolitan for his circumstances. For an orphaned son of a prostitute in a one-horse town, he knew an awful lot about the world, including what color the Jamaican sea was, the weather in Texas, what blizzards were like (hint: blizzards do not take place in, or anywhere near deserts) and the works of Tchaikovsky (who would have been a child during the California gold rush) and Rachmaninoff (who wouldn’t be born for another 20-odd years). He also had a magnificent vocabulary, which, despite being mute, he managed to express flawlessly through gesture.

Moreover, in the beginning, it was stated that only Donnell’s adoptive mother knew about his proclivities–entirely believable for the time and place–but by the end of a month, this tough, old-West town had become remarkably OK HOMO.

As a light romance, the story fares somewhat better. Dona Nobis Pacem is a classic hurt/comfort tale: a story in which the plot consists almost entirely of one character nursing another through a Grave Crisis. Although the crisis was drawn out a lot longer than was realistic (one does not require a month–need I say it, in bed–to recover from heatstroke), H/C lovers may enjoy the plot. Unfortunately, there’s not much more to the plot than that. There is some attempt at external conflict with a wild-eyed preacher bent on taking Donnell’s land and claiming Nathan’s soul By Any Means Necessary. However, this conflict isn’t developed, and is dropped altogether without explanation in the last third of the book.

I would recommend this story for someone looking for a quick read, some hot sex, and a happy ending. But if you’re in the mood for a complex plot or a well-researched historical, this probably isn’t the book for you. 2.5 stars.

Buy from Torquere Press

Review: Comstock by Aaron Michaels

Reggie Grayson has a secret admirer. A traveling Shakespearean actor in 1883 Virginia City, Reggie’s already been robbed at gunpoint by a masked bandit, and now he’s receiving drawings and roses from a mystery man who won’t leave his name. Is this any way to make his debut as a leading man?

Desperate to discover if his secret admirer is the ruggedly handsome man who watches the stage from the shadows of a private box, Reggie’s quest to meet the man of his dreams plunges him headlong into danger and intrigue in the lawless days of the silver rush on the Comstock Lode.

Review by Erastes

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I rather liked the set up of this, a travelling understudy of the San Francisco Shakespeare Company out to gain his spurs in provincial theatres in the West, and at first I liked Reggie and his sense of doubt about his abilities and the way that a drawing from an admirer gives him impetus to do as well as he can. I cooled to him somewhat throughout the book as he struck me as rather self-centered, concerned with issues only pertaining to himself, his watch, his admirer, his performance blah blah — and when there’s a cave-in at the mine, Reggie paws over the drawings of himself left by his admirer and ponders about this rather than rushing out to see if there was anything he could do to help!

However the pairing was a little obvious, and if there’s a “mystery admirer” I’d like a wide choice of possible suitors or to drag out the mystery for a bit longer – but perhaps that wasn’t possible in a book of about 60 pages. And when they do get together, of course they are instantly in love, and I get a bit tired of that, as it’s a bit Romeo and Juliet instead of Deadwood, but that’s deliberately done, I think.

That being said, it’s a solid little story with good characters and a fine balance of plot versus romance, which again is tricky for a short book like this. Somehow the author manages to introduce a wrong that has to be righted, several interesting people, and the research seems well done. I did like the clever way that Cole’s motivations for what he did were actually exactly the same as something that Reggie had experienced himself, this gave a good reason for the empathy he feels in a tricky situation. There’s even an exciting finish and anyone who can balance all that in one book gets a tip of the hat from me!

The fact that I didn’t particularly like Reggie shouldn’t put anyone off buying and enjoying this book, because I’m sure you will.

There are a couple of editing and tense issues, which was a shame, but overral, I’d say it’s worth adding to your collection, particularly if you are a fan of Frontier fiction.

Buy from Torquere Press

Review: Fall of a State by Kate Cotoner

The desire of an emperor… Bored with his usual palace musicians, the emperor Liu Che is tempted by a new song from lowly qin-player Li Yan Nian. Yan Nian is also beautiful, and Liu Che is in the mood to take a new lover. His lovers usually come to him, but Yan Nian’s shy reticence intrigues the emperor.

The yearning of a man… Yan Nian has been in love with the emperor since he entered the palace. Regardless of his heart, he made a promise on his father’s deathbed to use his musical skills to bring his beloved younger sister to the emperor’s attention. However, Lady Li has no intention of becoming an imperial concubine.

The danger of love… An attack at a victory celebration heralds an attempt on the emperor’s life, and desire and yearning collide when it’s revealed there may be no way to protect all the hearts threatened by a plot to overthrow the state.

Review by Erastes

The author herself calls this book a “fluffy version” of the true-life affair between Lui Che, Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty of China and Li Yan Nian a court musician in the Emperor’s court. But I wouldn’t call it fluffy, as such. Perhaps it is a little rose-tinted, but there’s no way this could be labelled as “wallpaper” because of the solidity of the world painted around the characters and the obvious depth of knowledge that the author has. If you dig a little deeper into the “what happened to these characters in real life” then the happy ever after loses some of its gloss it has to be said.

It’s a shame, really, that this is almost a throwaway novella with a sharply erotic focus because Lui Che was a hugely fascinating man–and the way he shaped the Empire around him would be more than enough material for many, many books — and has been.

But what this book does–as an erotic novella–it does exquisitely well, and exquisite is a good word here, because the careful elegance of Chinese courtly life is described so beautifully that you can see every graceful movement of the courtiers, hear the swish of silk and brocaded satin as it sweeps along nightingale floors, and even smell the weight of history.

I don’t doubt the a man as powerful as Lui Che was could have had any man or woman in the kingdom, so his manner of “seduction” strikes true (that being said, it stretched my credulity a tad that he’d bother to go to Nian’s room in the musical quarter to have sex with him) and the interplay between them, particularly in the first sex scene is as taut as a guitar string and quite lovely. There’s some whipping, and even though it’s not my thing, I admit it’s gorgeously done, and you really get a sense that–as with the time period–Cotoner knows exactly what she’s doing and how to describe this play.

It’s a hard balance to do quite such an erotic novella of this length and still include enough plot and characterisation to keep you enthralled from beginning to end, but this manages it very well. Highly enjoyable. I hope that the author does a more detailed book in future of this era because I’d love to know more about it.

The cover deserves a special mention and is certainly one of my favourites this year. It really looks like it could have been done in the era concerned.

Interested in China and same sex relationships? Then read Kate’s article on The Macaronis.

Author’s Website

Buy at Dreamspinner Press

Review: Duke of Orleans by John Simpson

Twenty year old Richard Giles is living on the streets of London in the year 1660, scrounging for food and shelter the best he is able after the closure of his place of employment and death of his mother.

After being given shelter for the night by a kindly old man Richard is back on the streets when an unfortunate incident brings him into contact with a man who may just change the direction of his life, for the better.

Review by T J Pennington

John Simpson’s The Duke of Orleans reads, in part, like a history book…and not in a good way. The descriptions of the time and place are stilted, sounding as if they were chucks of an essay by a very earnest student rather than observations by an omniscient narrator or by the main character. For example:

Many turned to crime, becoming pickpockets and petty thieves, transforming the streets into a morass of corruption.

For those caught plying their trade, it was a stint in Newgate Prison, which far surpassed the definition of cruel in any decent person’s mind. Women and their children were housed along with common debtors in cellblocks considered to be austere at best, unless you had the coin. Then you could buy your way into the section of the prison containing upscale furnishings and comforts, while enlarging the pockets of the jailors whose tender mercies you were subjected too.(sic)

All of which is more or less accurate (“austere” is a remarkably charitable description of the Newgate cells)…but all of which is irrelevant, at that point. We know nothing about the the main character yet save his name, so we don’t care for him. And we don’t wonder if Newgate Prison will be a threat somewhat later. (It isn’t.)

We learn more about the main character on the next page. Unfortunately, the author has not mastered the art of showing rather than telling. We are told that he won’t steal unless he’s on the verge of starving; we aren’t shown him having an opportunity to steal and resisting it despite the temptation. We’re told that he sold off everything that he inherited long ago, though we aren’t told why. And finally we read a sentence that pushes us away from the time, the place and the main character: In the jargon of the day, Richard was a pauper.”

We learn that Richard Giles is the world’s most passive prostitute. His method of attracting business? Standing in front of restaurants and looking attractive and pathetic so that rich men will pity him, feed him and take him home for sex. This doesn’t strike me as a viable way of attracting multitudes of customers, especially if one is homeless, penniless and starving—when was the last time that you went out to dinner and invited a street person to dine with you?–but apparently it works for Richard.

Well, a lord strolls by as lords are wont to do (he’s called “my lord” three or four times, so I presumed that he was intended to be nobility), sees Richard looking hungry and sad, and immediately invites him to partake of “some hot food and cool drink.” We get no sense that Lord X is looking for a bit of fun or that Richard is offering any. The man who owns the pub that they enter behaves believably, shouting at Richard to leave, as he doesn’t want paupers and potential thieves hanging about his pub. Of course, he is immediately smacked down by the lord for daring to suggest that he doesn’t have the money to pay and for criticizing the lord’s guest.

The lord, as it turns out, is not a lord. He is Henry Walker, merchant. He asks Richard why he’s on the streets and Richard recites his true biography. If the narrative had not told us that this was his real background, I would have thought that he had memorized a false story and was reeling it out for a customer. When questioned further about the job he lost, he slips from the formal recitation into 21st-century slang:“I kinda kept the records of what was made and who bought what we sold.”

Sadly, Simpson alternates between stiffly formal and anachronistic language and behavior throughout the book. The barmaid sing-songs, “May I take your order?” much as a waitress in today’s family restaurant would. Richard’s problem with finding employment is one that today’s homeless face; employers require an address for their records. I think that would have been less of a problem in the days when people could be hired on for X amount of hours and paid at the end of the day.

There’s also the problem of how much money was worth back then. Richard states that he came to London after he lost his job with only six shillings in his pocket. That doesn’t sound like much to us. But in 1660, £0 6s 0d would have the same worth of 2008′s £33.70 (using the retail price index) or £459.00 (using the average earnings of the time). Economist Jan Luiten van Zanden says that the income of an unskilled laborer on a construction site in Oxford, Cambridge, Dover or Canterbury was 12 pence (or one shilling) a week (worth £5.61 using the 2008 retail price index and £76.50 using average earnings); in London, the wage for an unskilled laborer was 20 pence (or one shilling eightpence) per week (£9.35 using the 2008 retail price index and £128.00 using average earnings).

So when Richard got to London, he was ridiculously well off. He had a small fortune in his pocket. And we haven’t seen any reason yet why he couldn’t live on that.

Walker takes Richard home. Not because he’s interested in men or boys—he states that openly—but because he “had a rough childhood and young adulthood.” I’m not sure what that has to do with anything, as Richard is neither a child nor an adolescent but a grown man. The housekeeper is only too happy to scrub and mend Richard’s clothes after a long day of work, just as Walker himself is only too happy to do a footman’s job and build the fire in the guest room that Richard is occupying.

The next day, though, Richard has to leave; Walker has relatives coming from York, and well, you know how it is. Richard, effusively grateful for the one night’s sleep, the bath and the newly mended, clean clothes, goes out onto London’s streets again. And that’s it. That’s the last we see of Walker until the end of the story, when Richard pops up again to tell him how well he’s doing.

Now that Richard is cleaner and more rested than he’s been in weeks, does he try to go get a day job somewhere, as would have been possible in his time? Does he tell a proprietor of a store or an inn that he’ll work for food? Does he go to a carriage house or livery stable and offer to help muck it out so that he’ll have somewhere to sleep for the night? Oh, no. He heads to Parliament to beg. And “[h]e hoped his clothes didn’t look too good for people to believe he was a pauper.”

When he gets to Parliament, he is “run off continuously by the local constabulary and finally threatened with arrest.” I’m not sure how that managed to happen, since Henry Fielding didn’t found the Bow Street Runners, an unofficial police force that worked for the Bow Street Magistrate’s office, until 1749 and Sir Robert Peel didn’t establish the Metropolitan Police Force in London—the first modern police force–until 1829.

Anyway, Richard gets rousted from one of the front doors of Parliament, so he starts wandering about in front of the more fashionable shops and gets splashed by a carriage drawing up to the curb. Richard charges up to the coachman and starts berating him. This is the point at which a “youngish” French noble (the eponymous Duc d’Orléans, who would have been twenty at the time of this story, and not, as the character later says, twenty-six) gets out of the carriage himself and goes over to talk to Richard. And he apologizes for the driver splashing Richard.

Philippe I, Duc d’Orléans

Let me repeat that. An aristocrat who is the younger son of King Louis XIII and his consort, Anne of Austria, the grandson of Philip III of Spain, the younger brother of King Louis XIV, and the Duke of Anjou and Duke of Orléans in his own right gets out of his carriage and apologizes to the poorly dressed commoner who is now soaking wet, covered in mud and shit, and screaming at his coachman.

Philippe (for that was the name of the Duke of Orléans) offers to make it up to Richard by buying him an entire set (read: suit) of new clothes. He also introduces himself as “Philippe, Duke of Orléans, Duke of Valois, Duke of Chartres and Lord of Montargis,” which is jumping the gun a bit; he was styling himself as Duke of Orléans as of February 2, 1660, but Louis didn’t grant his brother that title or any of the others until May 10, 1661.

Richard protests that he lacks “employ, money, or a place to rest each night” and that he’s “a non-person”—a word that didn’t exist in the seventeenth century—and, with that, tries to leave. The duke shouts at him not to do so…and Richard is instantly attacked by servants and shopkeepers who think that he’s trying to rob the duke. The duke explains that no, he wasn’t being robbed, he just wants to talk to Richard. Oh, and make him three sets of clothes. One in full evening dress.

While Richard is taking a bath in a washtub in one of the back rooms of this fancy tailor shop, the Duke of Orléans asks Richard what kind of work he’s looking for. When Richard says he can write and figure, Philippe hires him as a valet and personal secretary, despite the fact that Richard can neither read nor write French and says so. His appraising gaze as he looks at Richard’s naked soapy body says exactly why he’s hiring the man. He also notes that despite deprivation—and Philippe thinks to himself that he’s seen such deprivation before on the battlefield, though the first war that Philippe seems to have been in was the War of Devolution in 1667—despite it, Richard is “fairly well muscled.” He also talks to Richard about “the stunning beauty of your ass.”

Once the clothes are taken care of, Philippe explains to Richard why he’s in England—his brother and his advisors sent him to England to keep him from starting a civil war to grab the throne. This would be an interesting Dumaseque plot. Unfortunately, that’s all there is to it. The story contains no further information about a conspiracy to overthrow Louis or an upcoming civil war. Which is a pity. It would have made a compelling alternate universe story.

After a long section in which Philippe takes Richard to his ambassadorial residence, gives Richard all sorts of instructions about his duties and proper etiquette, and has a couple of meals with Richard (because servants always sat down and ate with their employers), Philippe finally asks Richard if he prefers men. Upon Richard admitting that he does, the Duke says that he prefers men as well…and would Richard “care to join [him] in bed tonight where we both can remain warmer?”

Of course Richard says yes, and of course Philippe assures him that nothing will happen that night…while at the same time asking Richard if he will be his “student in love.” You would expect that night to feature a passionate sex scene. But instead, Philippe curls up next to Richard and falls asleep. They don’t have sex until a week later—over the protests of Richard, who tells the duke, “I am not very experienced in the ways of physical love and I might disappoint you.” Um…Richard? Weren’t you working as a streetwalker earlier, sexually obliging men who would feed you?

After a couple of fairly standard sex scenes, Philippe tells Richard that he loves him and wants him to come back to France with him…as his lover. And, after a conversation with Charles II, in which Charles wants an Anglo-French alliance against Spain—never mind that an Anglo-French alliance already defeated Spain in the Franco-Spanish War in 1658 and England profited from that alliance in the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659—Philippe suggests sending Richard to Louis XIV as a messenger.

Of course, Philippe says, a mere commoner can’t meet with his brother. So Charles agrees to make Richard the Earl of Dunleavy. The title doesn’t bring Richard any land, but it does give him what Charles calls “a token”–one hundred pounds a year. According to Measuring Worth, that’s about £11,200.00 in 2008 pounds, using the retail price index, or £153,000.00 in 2008 pounds, using average earnings. (I wouldn’t mind getting that kind of “small token” each year myself.)

And, naturally, as the story concludes, it is implied that Richard and Philippe are going to live together happily for the rest of their days. Unfortunately, the only way that works is if you ignore not only Philippe’s marriage in November 1660 to Henrietta of England (called Minette, and mother of four of his children) and his later marriage to Elisabeth Charlotte of the Palatinate (called Liselotte, and mother of three more), but also the existence of the man who was allegedly the love of Philippe’s life, Philippe de Lorraine-Armagnac, called the Chevalier de Lorraine, whom Philippe met in 1668. The Chevalier was described as “fait comme on peint les anges”–”made as the angels are painted”–and remained with the Duc d’Orléans until the Duke’s death.

The story itself has problems. First, I must mention both the cover and the editing—which are not the author’s responsibility, but which do count, nevertheless. The cover is attractive, and looks as if it were modeled on the Running Press covers, but it is not even vaguely accurate; of the two men on the cover, the one on the left is dressed in what appears to be late-eighteenth to early nineteenth century garb, while the one on the right is clad in what looks like a black jacket and a white mock-turtleneck. Neither is wearing anything approaching seventeenth-century attire…or the long and elaborate curly wigs that were the hallmark of fashionable men’s hairstyles in the seventeenth century, either. And the editing is ill-done; there are many, many missing quotation marks, missing commas and commas inserted scattershot into the text. The errors were distracting and annoying; they kept pulling me out of the story.

As for the writing itself…well, as mentioned throughout this review, the story is very, very poorly researched; even the age of the bisexual Duc d’Orléans is wrong. The language is alternates between being stilted and being slangy and anachronistically modern. And the characters are not developed; we never get a sense of them as people with thoughts, likes, dislikes, hopes and fears. I’ve finished the book, but I don’t feel that I know Richard any better now than I did on the first page.

Finally—and this is linked to the lack of characterization–there is no overarching plot. The novella is, fundamentally, a series of anecdotes about a impoverished young man who is given everything that he could ever want because he is a wonderful, noble, humble and saintly person. We never see Richard being poor or unhappy or struggling or starving; we hear about it, but we don’t see him suffering. Richard, like many fairy tale heroes and heroines, is kind and courteous to the right mysterious old man and old woman (Henry Walker and the housekeeper Martha, respectively) and gets his heart’s desire. It is the Cinderella story with the wicked stepmother and wicked stepsisters left out.

And because there is no opponent, no antagonist, no threat to Richard, no conflict at all, and because Richard, who is the quintessential Passive Protagonist, never needs to accomplish any goals through his own efforts (and, indeed, never tries to do so), the story is not interesting. It’s a wish fulfillment fantasy—and while everyone on earth has daydreamed about getting wealth, power, the perfect job and the perfect lover, a daydream is not a fully developed story.

Because there are so many basic problems with the book, the most I can give it is one star.

Author’s website

Silver Publishing Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: Star Attraction by Jamie Craig

In 1955, Sam Coles is Hollywood’s newest rising star, and his latest role in Gordon Palmer’s movie, The Devil Inside, promises to send his popularity into the stratosphere. But Sam is less interested in the potential boost to his career, and more interested in his gorgeous co-star, Hollywood’s latest bad boy, Elijah McKinley.

Their careers rely on discretion, but Sam and Elijah cannot deny the desire between them. Stealing glances and casual touches between takes soon gives way to heated kisses and clandestine meetings after shooting.

But neither of them knows what will happen when filming wraps and their lives move in separate directions…

Review by Erastes

Oh dear – I’m not going to spend too much time discussing this. it’s a short novella which is short on everything except sex.   Calling it a historical was rather cheeky, because other than being told that it’s 1955, and Billy Wilder being mentioned, there’s absolutely nothing to anchor the reader in that glamorous time.

To say I was disappointed is an understatement, because I’ve read and reviewed many of Jamie Craig’s books and they’ve never dipped below “very good” They’ve always had a knack of being able to set the scene with the briefest of brush strokes, no matter how short the story. But with this, I couldn’t help but feel it was hastily converted from a contemporary movie story, because it had none of the flavour of the time its set in.  And that’s criminal, because this time in Hollywood was a time of such upheaval as it moved from the unrealistic glitz and glamour of the huge sets and dance numbers to the more realistic and gritty life stories. There’s no description of Hollywood, no cars, no clothes, no parties–nothing. Even when our heroes go to a movie premiere, we aren’t even told which one it was!

Storywise, we are just as short changed. It’s boy fancies boy, gets erections, hooks up after one conversation and spends a lot of time in bed with him before true love is declared about a week later. There’s absolutely no conflict, and I’m sorry, but even a one page short story needs conflict–and the 1950′s Hollywood is such a hotbed of hypocrisy and coverups that it would have been easy to miss one page of sex to create some.

All we are left with then, is the erotica, for it is simply an erotic tales where the large proportion of the book is involved in burgeoning erections and then pages and pages of sex.  Very nicely written sex; I’ll be the first to stand up and say that, but when it comes down to it these days, I think readers are looking for more than that.

Editing wise, it leaves a lot to be desired. Unwanted homonyms pop up such as principle/principal (which I could have glossed over easier had it not been about the acting profession), typos are rife and there are many grammar problems. It needed a much better editor. There are words such as “gay” and “straight” which weren’t in use at the time. It was probably these two words alone that made me think this was converted from a contemporary.  As for the editing – I’ve mentioned Amber Allure’s not great reputation at editing more than once, but clearly no-one’s listening. I wish they’d take off the tagline “the gold standard in publishing” and then I’d stop moaning.

If you want a sexy, racy read then you’ll enjoy this. If you are looking for a gay romance set in the period of such classics as East of Eden and Rebel without a Cause, then you are going to be bitterly disappointed.  This writing duo can do a lot better than this, and I urge you to read their other books and not be put off by this one.

Author’s website

Buy at Amber Allure

Buy from Amber Allure

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