Review: The Pretty Gentleman by Max Fincher

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

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

ebook – 306 pages

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Website

Buy at Amazon UK | Amazon USA |

Review: Brook Street: Rogues by Ava March

London, 1822

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

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

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

ebook only: 28,000 words

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

Buy at Carina Press

Review: 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: 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: The Layered Mask by Sue Brown

Lord Edwin Nash has been sent to London by his father, threatened with disinheritance unless he finds a wife. Lord Thomas Downe sees through the mask Edwin presents to the world and leaves Edwin powerless to deny his love.

Threatened by his father with disinheritance, Lord Edwin Nash arrives in London for one season to find a wife. While there, Nash discovers he is the lamb, the sacrifice of the society matrons, to be shackled to one of the girls by the end of the season.

During a masquerade ball, Nash hides from the ladies vying for his attention. He is discovered by Lord Thomas Downe, the Duke of Lynwood. Nash is horrified when Thomas calmly tells him that he knows the secret that Nash had hidden for years and that he sees through the mask that Edwin presents to the rest of the world.

What will happen when the time comes for Edwin to return home with a suitable bride?

Review by Erastes

Just look at that cover! It’s absolutely beautiful. Sumptuous and completely in line with the book it’s mouthwateringly beautiful. It just proves that you don’t need headless torsos to illustrate gay romance. Well done, Silver Publishing. This book, incidentally, is part of 3 book anthology (all of which are available as standalones) and are linked. Two of which–this one, and The Slave’s Mask by Patricia Logan–are historicals. They seem to be using the same cover for all.

I haven’t read any of Ms Brown’s works before, simply because I spend so much time reading gay historicals and reading other stuff that I never get time to read any contemporaries at all, but what I’d heard had been good. And it’s pretty well deserved, I think. This is–forgive me if I’m wrong–her first foray into a gay historical and although it’s a simple plot and not a very long read it’s a very good effort. There’s a fair amount of careful research shown, which was appreciated. The patronesses are mentioned at Almack’s which is a rare enough occurence, and the waltz is shown as a seditiousness, whereas so many Regencies have this dance included as a matter of course.

As to the characters, though, I didn’t get swept away by either of them. Both of them seemed to be privileged and rather whiny young men–knowing their duty to their dynasties and being dragged towards it kicking and screaming. This leans more in the direction of Pride and Prejudice’s “I’d rather marry for love, thank you” which at the time was itself a rarer concept than marrying for the family’s benefit.

Thomas finds Edwin “perfect” and that “he had never met anyone like Edwin Nash” after two short conversations and a kiss–so there’s a good smattering of insta-love here. They didn’t set me on fire, but they were nice enough, I just found them rather dull together even though they seemed to turn each other on sufficiently. There’s a riding scene which seems to have absolutely no point at all, and in a short book, that’s not needed.

There’s also the ubiquitous upper-class male knocking-shop which is a trope I’m getting heartily sick of.  This is not the author’s fault of course, and it’s nicely described but it has become a trope. However I suppose men have to bonk somewhere, but I wish someone would do it elsewhere. Anywhere. There are several clubs of this type in London, according the owner of the one that Edwin and Thomas visit–a certain Lord Leicester, who was once Thomas’s lover (giving as a soupcon of conflict in the form of jealousy from Edwin before it dissipates). I found it amusing that one of the Leicester’s men was called Lester. Perhaps the author didn’t know how Leicester was pronounced!

This is quite a nice book, don’t get me wrong. It’s well researched and the love story is sweet and I’m sure people will like it, it’s just that there are a lot of gay Regencies around now and they are all coming out a bit samey these days. It just didn’t say anything to me that was new or refreshing, and I was a little bored. I’d read another by Ms Brown though, were she to write one.

Author’s website

Silver Publishing 

 

Review: My True Love Gave to Me by Ava March

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

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ava March’s website

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

Review: 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

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Review: A Devil’s Own Luck by Rowan McAllister

William Carey has played many roles in his thirty-two years of life. Though born to privilege, he fled his disapproving family and, purely out of spite, devoted himself to a life of danger and infamy. William never thought twice about his self-destructive behavior until he met a passionate woman who showed him how to harness his rebellious nature and return to London, his family, and society as a respectable gentleman of fortune.

But William’s beloved wife is six years gone, and with her his joie de vivre. William devotes his days to the pursuit of empty pleasure until the night William’s brother asks a small favor by which William meets a young man who ignites a spark in him he’d thought long extinguished.

Stephen is fiery and passionate, handsome and mysterious-exactly what a fallen devil needs to stir the ashes of his heart. Unwilling to lose that spark now that he has found it again, William devises a scheme to claim Stephen for his own, but Stephen is beyond reluctant, with another benefactor and secrets he will not share. William will need more than cunning to win Stephen’s trust and love. He’ll need all the luck he can get.

Review by Erastes

This had an interesting premise, if a little bit tropey—personal companion being “lent” by someone to the main protagonist in exchange for a debt/hate and loathing inevitably turn to lust and then lurve—but I found it hard to get past the opening chapters to find out this much.

The opening I found very stodgy, and the exposition was hard going as it was almost entirely exposition. The beginning chapter was a bit bloated and made the mistake so many books do of explaining so much about the protagonist in one lump instead of just Getting On With The Story. We are told so much and not shown it, when the first section of infodump could have been handled with just one conversation between the rakish William and his pompous brother Horace. In fact it was a good 11 Kindle pages (hard to tell with ebooks!) before a fact popped up to make this possible a different kettle of fish to so many stories set in London 1820.

Sadly, the first chapter goes on in this vein, telling us so much that I began to find it rather tedious. We are told about William’s wife, Williams’ “secret house (which bizarrely he lets his brother’s carriage drive him to) where also bizarrely his his servants, Stubbs and his wife, live and then, when the second chapter opens, he’s at the opera and we missed out on the Stubbs interaction!

The second chapter doesn’t open any more promisingly. We are told how he had

“regretfully informed each of them (three women of easy virtue nicknamed the merry widows) that he had family matters to attend to, they had whispered promises in his ears and ghosted fingers across his body at every possible opportunity.”

This all would have been better as showing. Added to the fact that William has—when entirely alone and: in order:

Chuckled to himself
gave a small wicked smile
Shivered in mock revulsion
Gave a self satisfied grin
Shook his head
Stroked his chin
Shuddered
Smiled sadly
Shuddered (again)
Grinned a little (in a graveyard)
Grimaced (again)
Groaned and adjusted himself
Smiled in spite of his discomfort
Grimaced in distaste (again!)

I seriously fear for his sanity—or his safety because anyone spotting him GURNING the way he is would consider him possessed. All this in just over one chapter. I wish authors would use their observation and see how people behave when they are alone. They don’t groan, smile, grimace etc etc. Not normally, at least and this just makes him look like a loony.

Then when he does seek out the man he wants to get some letters back from – guess what? There’s oodles of more DESCRIPTION. I can honestly say that by this point I was screaming at the book, wanting some actual showing, a conversation – anything. Not just page after page of description. In fact the entire scene of him arriving at the club and seeing his quarry, all of this is dealt with in description. It’s just too much.

However, when eventually something starts to happen it turns into a solid readable erotic romance which I’m sure that readers of the genre will like–and it does improve so much I’m kind of wondering how the beginning wasn’t clubbed by the editor.

The main protagonist, William, is just the kind of hero I like, a bit morally ambiguous, with a dark past who is street savvy and has feet in society and the mean streets. I didn’t mind the instant-love reaction he has to Stephen, because he’s been alone, playing the dissolute loner, for a long time since he lost his much-beloved wife. Despite the stodgy start, I found myself eventually really wishing him well and 80% through the book actually worrying how this would be achieved, despite knowing that it would.

Stephen could have been presented as a weepy wailing omega, but he isn’t. He’s fiesty, angry and prickly–William calls him his hedgehog and prefers him prickly to anything else.

There’s secrets which are (quite rightly) not revealed until the end, and by that point I was totally enjoying the book.

Technically there were a few issues, the editing isn’t top notch, American boo-boos here and there like “block” and “whiskey” and “gotten” but I have to say that despite the doughy beginning I enjoyed reading this and if you like a very erotic gay Regency, you’ll like this a lot.

Details about Rowan McAllister

Buy at: Dreamspinner Press

Review: Kindred Hearts by Rowan Speedwell

Charming rascal Tristan Northwood seems to have it all: an ancient name, a noble inheritance, a lovely wife, and a son he adores. Women love him, men admire him, and it seems there is nothing he can’t do, whether it’s seducing a society wife or winning a carriage race. Little does Society suspect that the name means nothing to him, the fortune is in his father’s controlling hands, and he has no interest in his wife except a very distant friendship. Society bores him, and he takes dares because he only feels alive when he’s dancing on the edge… until his wife’s brother comes home from the wars.

Decorated war hero Major Charles Mountjoy jerks Tris out of his despair by inspiring feelings of passion Tris had never suspected himself capable of. Almost as terrifying as those feelings for Charles are the signs Charles might return his affection-or, even worse, that Charles sees the man Tristan has been trying so valiantly to hide from the world.

Review by Erastes

This has the feeling of a “proper” Regency, and as a comparison, if you liked the Regency work of Lee Rowan, G.S Wiley, or Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon you’ll definitely like this. It has all the elements in place for a “nice” traditional Regency – an arranged marriage, a brooding rake, clubs and ballrooms etc etc–but it doesn’t stick to the rules for too long thank goodness!

That’s not to say it isn’t flawed, but in this case the good definitely outweighs any faults–I can’t go so far to say “the bad”–because the flaws are like little touches of inconsistency, like the faint taste of cabbage in your burgundy or something like that. It’s not bad–at all–it’s very enjoyable, but time and again I was jolted when the writer was doing something nice which many readers would really enjoy.

So, we have Tristan Northwood, a deeply unhappy man who drinks and tries to earn himself the reputation of a Rake. He has Father Issues which is very sad, because they are not really merited. His father–as many fathers would have done at the time, being left with a small boy he probably had very little to do with–had to concentrate on running a huge estate and didn’t have time to spend time with his son. However Tristan, an only son and the heir to the Baronetcy, takes this hard and feels himself badly done by.

He’s not a very good rake either. He doens’t seduce and violate the innocent, he doesn’t leave behind a string of broken hearts and hymens and desperate ex-virgins who then are left in a delicate position. He always sleeps with either the willing experienced lady or willing and bored married women and–thanks to very good advice given by his father, always uses protection and always makes sure his bed partners are satisfied first before allowing himself to climax. So, for a Rake, he’s a Thoroughly Nice Chap.

The arranged marriage is a success, in as much as Charlotte (or Lottie) doesn’t like all that marriage act stuff and the couple are as fond of each other as any couple who only met once before the wedding have a right to be.

This part of the book was a little bit too long for my liking, the gay love interest was mentioned a couple of times (Lottie’s brother) and it was obvious that he was going to be The One to finally make Tristan realise he was looking for love in all the wrong places but the pre-marriage discussion and post marriage stuff took up about 20% of the book and I found I was a little restless, because I don’t read a gay romance to read about hetero marriage and babies. However I should grow up, because this section was good, necessary for character development (in particular Lottie’s) and the author was skilled enough to keep to her guns, and spend the time to start with book in the way she wanted to do.

I liked all the characters a lot, particularly Lottie who is absolutely deadly sensible–in a Charlotte Lucas kind of way. She knows what she wants and she doesn’t want the moon, and in the long run it’s probably better the way her marriage goes than marrying for love. I also liked that Tristan was such an arse at times, and wouldn’t listen to reason, rather than just being changed in his character by lurve.

The research is well done and applied with a light touch, enough to ground us to the era without plastering on thick descriptions of carpets, carriages and chairs. There are touches such a Belcher handkerchief and references to Darby and Joan which are perfectly in tone, and some Heyer style slang, but not enough to make me want to punch anyone.

Some of the vernacular was a tad too modern for my taste, but it’s very sporadic and it was probably Just Me Being Picky–things like “he washed up” which to an Englishman means something different from an American and “I wrote you” rather than “I wrote to you.”  Small things, picky things yes, but the quality of most of the book made them stand out like blemishes on a catwalk model.  I wasn’t absolutely sure about the medical details–it was clear the author had done her research on many things, her treatment of Waterloo seemed to be very solid–but considering that Waterloo is forty years or so before the revolution of medical care, with Nightingale’s and Mary Seacole’s reforms–the scenes of rather clean injured bodies and the careful use of lint etc seemed a little too advanced for this time and place.

The use of food, though. A recurring problem with historicals…Ham and Eggs and Toast and Tea for breakfast…Today, yes. 1815. No. Far too much tea all round, in a time when it was so prohibitively expensive it was locked away to keep the servants from touching it, one wouldn’t have tea willy nilly as here.

I particularly liked the relationship between Tristan and his father, it wasn’t an easy fix–and I particularly liked the way that Tristan remained quite staunchly anti his father for quite a long time, even though the rest of his family was aware that the old man actually adored his son, but had no idea how to show it.

I’m sorry to say though, there was far too much weeping for my taste. Even though Tristan keeps asserting that he “was never a watering pot before he met Charles” he tends to burst into tears a great deal, even after he got over his overwrought state. Charles, too becomes uber weepy at times, and I really can’t manage two men in bed, weeping all over each other.

The other issue I had was the OK Homo. Everyone is OK about the Homo. Tristan’s wife (understandable, perhaps as she already knew her brother was homosexual) the companion, all the servants. Even when they are discovered with their hands in each other’s breeches by a fellow officer who is disgusted, angry and horrified–he is converted to their love by the realisation that they are devoted to each other. Too many people know, that would–in real life–have really led to problems.

The best parts of the book for me–and it’s all pretty good, despite my tiny gripey gripes (they seem like bigger gripes than they are)–were actually the conversations that Charles had with his fellow soldiers and officers. They were solid, and utterly believable, peppered with news of the war and the machinations of Wellington and others. I think that if Ms Speedwell was to write a pure historical at any time, she’d do very well.

If you like this era, you’ll certainly like this one a lot. Highly Recommended, despite my small niggles.

Amazon UK    Amazon USA

Review: A Gentleman and His Jockey by JM Cartwright

Jockey Gem Hardaway has a race strategy that will not only carry him and Pilate to victory, it will also show that he’s the best jockey at Templeton Yard. Lord Templeton, the Earl of Vickers, knows exactly what he wants to have happen at the racecourse. He demands Gem’s obedience.

When an unruly horse intervenes, the Earl insists on a meeting of the minds. Gem is shocked to learn exactly what that entails.

Review by Erastes

A very basic little short story about a jockey who likes men and the description of a race and the consequences of him not obeying the instructions of the horse’s owner regarding that race. Basically build-up, race, sex but it fills ten minutes of your time. I wouldn’t say it’s worth actually paying for,and I’d baulk at paying $2.29/£1.40 for it (even though I did!) 99c would be a much more reasonable price, and even so it’s not much for that price.

There’s no real grounding as to when and where the story takes place, just some generic racecourse during “the earlier days” of racing—I’m guessing early Victorian perhaps or Georgian. Nothing wrong with it but nothing to write home about either.

Author’s Website

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Review: Convincing Leopold by Ava March

Mr. Leopold Thornton finally has the man he’s loved for a decade, yet he can’t believe his good fortune. A reformed rake and a conservative solicitor? Can it possibly last? To add to Leopold’s worries, Arthur’s spending more time at the office…with a handsome new secretary. Desperate not to lose Arthur, Leopold does the only thing he can think of – use pleasure to keep him.

Mr. Arthur Barrington truly wants their relationship to work. Sinfully beautiful and devoted to him, Leopold’s the opposite of Arthur’s staid ex-lover. And Leopold’s given up his old vices, putting those concerns to rest. Yet lately, all Leopold wants is sex – in the study, in the carriage, and at Arthur’s office, no less. The sex is amazing, but juggling demanding clients and a demanding lover leaves Arthur exhausted and worried perhaps he and Leopold aren’t suited after all.

It takes one disastrous night for Arthur to realize how much Leopold means to him. But convincing Leopold he loves him, all of him and not just his body, proves difficult. For Leopold’s disappeared and Arthur hasn’t a clue where to find him.

Review by Erastes

As I’ve said often on this blog, I’ve enjoyed Ava March’s stories, particularly her “Bound” series quite a lot.  She does her research, and her characters are memorable and vivid. When it comes to erotic+Regency there’s  no-one as consistent.

But whereas the  characters in “Convincing Leopold” are just as memorable and vivid, I didn’t enjoy this novella quite as much as I have the others. It’s not for a lack of research. Her prose hasn’t suddenly gone out of the window, I think it was simply that I wanted to knock these characters’ heads together and say “oh for God’s sake, you had no problem communicating in “Convincing Arthur“, so why are you both behaving like a couple of wet blouses?” Here there is angst and moping and sulking and not much else.

Arthur has a problem with work/life balance, which is a bit of a modern concept, and Leopold is needy, clingy and is behaving like Russell Brand on Viagra. Arthur is finding it hard to do all the work and hours necessary to bring him legal practice up a notch, and all Leo wants to do is fuck all night. Eventually Arthur snaps and pushes Leopold out of bed. Feelings are hurt and tantrums ensue.

 

And that’s it, really. I admit I was disappointed that the conflict didn’t amount to more than this—because Arthur’s ex, Randolph, is sniffing around—the man who really broke his heart during “Convincing Arthur” and he could have caused real problems this time around. But this is solved altogether too neatly and the ending, and the solving of all the internal conflict was solved in a rather baffling way, for me. It probably showed Leopold having grown up, but it was all a bit lame.

That being said, if you liked any of March’s other books, you’ll probably like this one, because there is a lot to like, from ballroom to bedroom, and we all know she can write many smoking hot sex scenes in a smallish novel without repeating herself or boring the reader, but it just didn’t work for me. It was far too much angsting and not enough plot and external conflict.

Author’s website

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Review: Bound Forever by Ava March

Lord Oliver Marsden’s life is perfect…well, almost perfect. His bookshop is doing well, his bank account isn’t empty, and his nights are filled with a deliciously dominant man…who tends to be a bit too domineering outside of the bedchamber. But Vincent loves him and that’s all that should matter. Right? And of course, Vincent still firmly holds the reins of control. Yet while Oliver feels Vincent is finally ready to give himself fully to him, to make good on the offer Oliver refused a year ago, the looming threat his lover could someday be forced to marry keeps him from tugging the reins from Vincent’s grasp.

Then Vincent receives a letter that changes everything. Oliver seizes the moment and pushes Vincent toward a night neither of them will ever forget. Yet come dawn, Oliver awakens to an empty bed. Lord Vincent Prescot knows he loves Oliver. The man’s his best friend and he trustshim. So why does submitting to Oliver leave him so shaken? It doesn’t take him long to find the answer, yet his solution could drive his lover away for good.

Review by Erastes

This is part of a series, and previous books in the series were enjoyable: Bound by Deception and Bound to Him.

Ava March writes unashamedly erotic books and this one is no exception. From the first page we know we are in for a romp, and we aren’t disappointed. But March has talent when it comes to writing sex, she intersperses the action with input from the senses and this really helps us feel we are there along with the character. The heat of his lover’s erection on his skin, the chill of December air, a wrinkled cravat pulled from the floorboards, all subtle deft touches which stop this sex from  being just another sex scene.

I have to say that I’m probably not thebest person to review a BDSM book, because I don’t get the games, or the mindset involved, but it seems right—I understand Vincent’s reluctance to become a switch in their relationship when he’s been so happy being the dominant one, but I also understand that as he loves and trusts Oliver he wants to please his partner in as many ways as possible. But as I say, I don’t see why it’s such a huge issue as to nearly split them up, because it seems they are just finding conflict to beconflicted about.

The way the characters care for each other (just as well, after three books of submission, domination and flogging) is touching, and I liked the way they thought about each other’s daily lives, not just the way that their partner interacted with themselves. Vincent is concerned about Oliver’s shop, and his grandmother and wants him to be financially stable.

The way that Oliver refuses to submit to Vincent outside the bedroom interested me. As I said, I’m not an expert in the kink/lifestyle, but what I had been led to understand is that the Dom is the dom in every aspect, but perhaps I had been reading up on the more extreme paths of BDSM. Perhaps a switch relationship is possible, and I’m sure it is, all things are out there. I understood Oliver’s point exactly, as I would be much the same, so it did seem to me that what they did in the bedroom was more about games and less about a true D/s relationship.

The language remains nicely formal throughout, even when they are arguing—you really get a sense that these are men of their time, struggling with concepts new to them, and working around the difficult parts of their arrangement.

The small niggle is not enough to take the gloss of this series for me, and this installment deserves a five star–and if you haven’t checked out Ava March, then you really should.

Author’s website

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Review: Home is the Sailor by Lee Rowan

The fourth book in the Royal Navy series, Home Is the Sailor is set immediately following Eye of the Storm. After an unprovoked attack during peacetime — was it revenge for their abduction of one of Bonaparte’s top military scientists? — Commander William Marshall and his lover, David Archer, are sent into hiding at David’s ancestral home in Devon.

But this is no peaceful shore leave. With the best intentions in the world, Will has discovered that his fear of losing Davy is still stronger than his desire to keep Davy beside him on the quarterdeck. And Lieutenant Archer is having problems of his own — the family that seemed so rock-solid, if distant, is staggering under the loss of its eldest son and heir. Was it an accident… or murder? And if the latter, how will he ever prove it to an autocratic father who still sees him as the inept youngest son? Out of their element, Davy and Will are thrust into the role of sleuths while trying to determine what sort of future, if any, they may have together.

Review by Jean Cox

Lee Rowan was one of the first authors I read when I discovered gay romance. Before Forster, before Renault, I was reading Ransom and Winds of Change, and parts of those books stay vividly in my mind. So it was with a mixture of delight and trepidation that I approached Home is the Sailor, because you can never tell if this is the moment a series “jumps the shark”.

I should have had more faith in the author. The book is marked by all the things which make the Royal Navy Series enjoyable—cracking plot, believable characters, an ear for dialogue and a great sense of time and place. I’ll freely admit that I’m wary of reading stories set in historical England which aren’t by British authors. Too often I’ve ended up shouting at a book, “They didn’t have that word then. That place wasn’t even built!” but that doesn’t happen with these stories. If I can ask the author direct, do you just have an extraordinary, instinctive feeling for the Age of Sail or do you and that gang of Britpickers you mention in the acknowledgement really have to weed out many anachronistic moments?

The book starts with a bang, almost literally, as we’re flung into an engagement at sea, and with immediate hints of tension between Will and Davy. Will’s frightened for his lover’s welfare, which is no mental condition for a captain to possess going into combat. Immediately we see one of the strengths of Rowan’s writing; Will and Davy are men, fighting sailors, and their relationship never obscures that. No thinly veiled women masquerading, in this case.

The action soon moves ashore, where they encounter another perilous action to negotiate; a visit to Davy’s family home, Will meeting the family and discovering a house in mourning—and anguish. Will Marshall is a fish out of water socially and the middle part of the story’s tensions come initially come from his charting his way through unfamiliar waters and Davy navigating uneasy familial ones. Will is fiercely protective of his lover, determined to see him get his due and recognition within the Archer clan.

A series of suspicious deaths—and the chance to investigate them—brings a new challenge to our heroes. Will and Davy prove they’re more than up to the task, adept at spotting the clues which will solve not just this mystery but help to heal the deep and bitter wounds that lie within Davy’s family. In so doing, they risk their lives and happiness, but ultimately find the solution to both Will’s dilemma about going into action with his lover at his side and the need to maintain a public face which obscures the reality of their relationship. They—and Ms Rowan—handle the denouement neatly and pragmatically.

I know some readers are drawn to Rowan’s books for the gorgeous love scenes, but give me the domestic banter any day. And there are times, for example when Lady Virginia talks about the threat to her unborn child, that I hear resonances of Austen, as I also do in the dinner table dialogue:.

“But it must be so exciting.” Lady Eugenie leaned forward, fluttering her lashes at Will. “Did that really happen—the Frogs, the falling yardarm?”

“Any number of times, my child.” David received the expected glare for the endearment. “And eventually it ceases to be exciting and becomes just a part of the job. May His Majesty’s Navy be preserved from midshipmen who sign aboard for the excitement!”

There are extra little delights: the deft use of real characters, such as Sir Edward Pellew, in a way that doesn’t smack of their being included just for the sake of it and an array of minor characters, such as David Newkirk, who are skilfully and economically portrayed. Rowan is a good writer, a solid and reliable author in a genre that can vary from the sublime to the unreadable.

I suspect that Home is the Sailor will become my favourite of the Royal Navy series, eclipsing Eye of the Storm; I certainly hope it isn’t the end of Will and Davy’s adventures.

Buy at Cheyenne Publishing Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: His Client by Ava March

Mr. Nathaniel Travers has been visiting Madame Delacroix’s brothel for five years. On every visit, he requests the same man. Stunningly handsome and highly skilled, Jasper not only shares Nate’s fondness for wickedly erotic games and black leather corsets, but he’s become a friend. Someone he can talk to. Someone he can share a supper with. And Jasper’s the only person who knows Nate secretly harbors a love for his old childhood friend, Peter Edmonton.
Mr. Jasper Reed has been working at the house for a decade. He’s saved enough to retire, yet he remains at the decadent London brothel. Retiring would mean leaving Nate and the hope perhaps someday the rugged gentleman would stop pining for his best friend and realize he loves Jasper, just as Jasper loves him.
Review by Erastes

I like Ava March’s work. I can’t help it. I don’t know her, and I don’t like BDSM as a rule, but there’s something about March’s writing of the subject that gets under my skin and makes it tingle.

This is no exception, and I can say hand on heart that if you liked her other work, you won’t be disappointed with this.

It’s a tart-with-a-heart story. Jasper is a whore of ten years, a man who already has enough money to set himself up in a decent house and retire, but he hasn’t for one simple reason, Nathaniel, a regular client.

As with March’s other gay historicals, the sex is a large proportion of the story. Unashamedly erotic, this is what erotica is all about – somehow, although it describes all the action, it never seems crude or over descriptive, you are given just enough to turn you on, and never too much to turn you off. An excellent balance, and the roleplay seems very realistic.  I don’t know if men in Regency times ever did these things–although I can’t see any reason why not–but March’s descriptions are note perfect. I loved the ridges the corset leaves in Jasper’s skin, the descriptions of well-researched dildoes,the nightshirts and the ribbons. It summons images that are more than just arousing, they are beautiful.

You’ll probably need to like BDSM to like March’s books, and although I have to say that I don’t like BDSM in general – but March does manage to make me warm in places they set out to do, as well as having a decent storyline attached to them.

I spotted one tiny anachronism, and couple of typos, which stood out, but nothing worse, and your eye might skim them. Although I had to grin at a marble dildo being snuggly rather than snugly.

As for the characters: Jasper got on my nerves at one point as he kept prolonging the agony of separation, rather than making a swift cut which would have been more sensible, but he didn’t revert to uber-girliness thank goodness.

I would have liked some indication as to how he’d managed to turn himself into a facsimile of a gentleman – how he learned to read, how he changed his accent from common to cultured. I would liked to have seen Nate outside the brothel—particularly in the boxing club. It was a mighty different sport back then, as Nate’s injuries prove, and it would have been good to see a little of that.

The ending was all a little obvious—once Jasper had mentioned the village to where he was retiring to Nate—it struck me like a suicide who really wants to be found. He’d always be hoping that Nate would turn up, and that spoiled my belief that he wanted to break from Nate. It would have been harder for Nate to find him, in that case, but more proof that he wanted to find him. But the reconciliation was nicely done, no insta-love and throwing themselves into each others’ arms in a girly frenzy.

I think what annoyed me was that Nate—once he’d discovered that he wanted Jasper– just assumed that Jasper wanted him, and that was a little presumptuous, because really Jasper had never given him that impression—had been careful not to.

In fact when Nate—when trying to convince Jasper he’s serious says: “Have I ever shown myself to be fickle?” I had to laugh, because “YES, you did rather! You’ve been mooning over your best friend and then when Jasper takes a break your affections switch!” Jasper thinks that Nate has never been unfaithful, and that’s not strictly true because he’d been taking male whores while professing himself madly in love with his best friend. And even when Nate satisfies himself by telling Jasper that he loves him, he doesn’t care to inquire whether his feelings are reciprocated, that he loves Jasper is enough, apparently!

I’m being picky, though, partly, I suppose because instead of 124 pages, I would have liked 250 pages or more and that’s a good sign—when I want more, it means I really enjoyed it. This is the longest Ava March book so far, so I live in hope that one day I’ll have a paper made and full-sized novel by Ava March on my shelf.

Author’s website

Buy at Loose-ID

Review: A Promise of Tomorrow by Rowan McAllister

Lord James Warren, Viscount Sudbury, lives a quiet, safe, and predictable life alone on his estate in Suffolk, only traveling to London once a year to visit family and satisfy his more forbidden needs. But this year, his routine is shattered when his niece and nephew ask him to help a beautiful young man they’ve only just met.

Kyle Allen, alone and running from his abusive lover, stirs feelings in James he has long denied for fear of tarnishing his reputation and losing his family’s love. Though undeniably drawn to Kyle, James’s honor demands he keep that part of himself completely secret, even if Kyle is feeling the attraction as well, despite the pain and betrayal he’s recently suffered.

Assistance and a future for Kyle might be secured, but then they would face a choice: stay apart and continue leading half-lives… or risk everything for love.

Review by Erastes CHECK OUT THE PODCAST!

I really like this cover–it’s not a fabulous piece of art, but it really gives a flavour of what gay historical fiction is all about. You really get a sense that these men have taken pains to hide what’s going on between them, and that’s pretty rare on gay historical covers.

The book itself was a pleasant surprise; it’s a “proper” Regency in many ways–enobled head of the family doesn’t want to do what his family expect of him. For family, read “his sister”, who threatens that if he doesn’t come to London at least once a year and gets his head out of the country, she will invade his estate with a house party.  So he bows to the inevitable, dances and puts up with the danger of marriagable women trying to snag him for a month just to keep the peace.  It also means that he can visit the ubiquitous male brothel while he’s there, so he at least gets one shag a year–and it’s a way of life he’s learned to live with, and thinks that it’s the way he can manage to do. This–to the reader–is obviously wrong as the poor man is beset by male figures on the street as soon as he gets out of the carriage, so you know he’s very deeply in denial.

The interplay between the main character James and the rather sensitive Kyle is nicely done, James fancies Kyle, Kyle fancies James but neither wants to act on it. James because he knows Kyle has had a bad experience and it would look as if he was taking advantage, and Kyle because James is a Viscount, and Kyle is a lowly disowned son of a curate, and he doesn’t know if the man shares his proclivities–and so they dance around each other in a rather pretty way.

Kyle is a bit wet. Yes–I have a cheek to say that, having written a weepy hero myself.  But Kyle is not the worst I’ve seen, he’s not a total chick with a dick, and he’s not a real whiner like some other characters in other books I could mention.  I didn’t mind the hugging impulses and tears springing to eyes at regular intervals, but I need to point this out in case that’s not your bag. I wouldn’t call Kyle girly, but he’s not really in control of his emotions, so let’s leave it at that. Sadly, it’s at these wet moments that the prose slips into cringeworthy purplish such as:

Kyle‟s tear-filled eyes met his, and for an eternity, he got lost in liquid emerald and gold.

But these aren’t terribly frequent, thank goodness.

The characters were all a bit black or white – the baddies terribly dastardly, the goodies were all a bit too goody goody for my personal taste; the niece sweet, the nephew loyal and open-minded, and James is dependable and reliable; a good dutiful head of the family, the uncle to whom the twins can turn to–no matter how scandalous the subject–the man who will never let you down in a crisis. Other than his worry about his sexual preferences, I would have liked to have seen a little more three dimensionalism in the man. Perhaps a crack or two in his NICENESS. I’m not saying I wanted a rake, there are enough of them to go around and to spare, but no-one’s that nice. Even the prostitute that James frequents is a tart with a heart.

Some of the nomenclature of the nobility was a little off but that only niggles other writers, probably!

The main sex scene between the protagonists has a section which made my eyebrows raise, and caught me entirely off-guard. After all the sweetness and light, I wasn’t expecting the BDSM element, and wonder if it had been pasted on because of all the other BDSM Regencies. I found it mildly eye-rolling that James kept a vial of oil in his cabinet, when it had been explicity explained that he only had sex once a year, when he went to London. Perhaps he was a boy scout as a child.

But despite my niggles, I’m sure that if you liked authors such as Ava March, you’ll love this story. It didn’t set my world on fire, but it was a very enjoyable, decently written read. I know nothing about the author, but if she’s not English, then my hat is off to her, because it’s solidly researched and has a good English feel to it. If it is not amazingly inventive, then there’s nothing at all wrong with that–The Regency is a well worn path in romance fiction and it’s about time that gay Regencies started making a few traditions and tropes of their very own. Recommended.

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Review: A Secret Arrangement by Farida Mestek

Henry Chadderton’s father earned his wealth in trade, but he looks to elevate his son to the gentry through marriage into a titled family. And so it is that Edward Montford, the second son of an impoverished baronet, accompanies his twin sister Emma to London in order to introduce her to her future husband.

Henry neither appreciates being ordered around nor has any intention of marrying anyone. Then he meets Emma—and Edward—and falls in love with the wrong sibling, setting off a chain of events that will cause arguments, bloodshed, jealousy, and scandal. But Henry will endure it all if it will eventually lead Edward to him.

Review by S. Endicott

I’ve given this book two stars because it’s a remarkably good imitation of an antique style of writing. But its major virtue is also its major drawback, and shows why most writers don’t attempt a close imitation of period style. The author, who says her dream “is to build a Regency village, the aim of which would be to provide Regency-lovers from around the world with a veritable Regency lifestyle experience,” has immersed herself so deeply that she has written one hundred and fifty-nine pages of speechifying and run-on sentences and this makes for terribly dull reading.

I can appreciate the work this must have taken if Farida Mestek’s native language is not English (her bio says she lives in Ukraine), but it’s surprising that her editor at Dreamspinner didn’t encourage her to bring the language just a little more up to date and attempt to show, rather than tell. Many of the events in the story are seen only when the characters tell one another about them, and these people never use one word when fifteen will do. It was a struggle to get past the first chapter, and the going never got any easier—and this wasn’t helped by a prologue set in April 1810, two chapters in May of that year, and a third chapter that bounced back to April.

The story has a typical Regency plotline: the Montford family fortunes are on shaky ground due to the profligate habits of Sir Charles Montford and his equally improvident heir and namesake. Edward Montford, the younger of the two romantic leads, is the ingenuous younger half-brother sent to chaperone his sister Emma while she meets Henry Chadderton, the other m in this m/m. Sir Charles has arranged with Chadderton Senior that his daughter Emma will marry Henry and rescue the Montford fortunes, but Henry takes a gander at the two pretty young things, Edward and Emma, and decides Edward is more his type. Instead of honourably telling his father he’s not interested, he decides not to pitch woo to the lady, hoping that his abrupt retreat will give Emma a gentle hint. Unfortunately for him, Emma doesn’t take hints.

Poor Edward is stuck in the middle. He finds Henry quite charming (so we are told) but has no clue at all why the man won’t pop the question to Emma, since it’s supposed to be all arranged. His attempts to persuade the reluctant suitor to get back on-task don’t succeed, so Sir Charles sends his obnoxious heir to show his younger brother how it’s done.

Charles the younger is a complete ass. He seems to think that the way to fill a man with ardour is to threaten to put a bullet through him.

Edward looked from Emma to Charles, shocked. “Do you not find it extreme to duel with someone because he does not wish to court your sister?” he asked.

“He has to answer for the offence he inflicted upon our family,” said Charles frostily.

“What offence? His lack of interest in Emma?”

“His lack of honor! He broke his word as a gentleman and disgraced Emma in the eyes of society!”

“It was a private understanding between his father and ours, and if not for Emma’s vanity and conceit, which had her clamouring about their upcoming engagement at every gathering, no one in society would know of it!” said Edward, his breathing quickening. “He gave no word to break! Whatever bargain our fathers had struck between the two of them, it was done without his consent, and he had every right to excuse himself from the scheme that he found not to his taste!”

“He will answer for compromising Emma’s honor!”

“How in heavens did he manage to compromise her honor?”

“By withdrawing from the courtship he implied that her virtue was in question! He will take her as his wife or face the consequences.”

“This is ridiculous! A man should be at liberty to choose who he wishes to marry!” cried Edward.

He turned to his sister.

“Emma, I entreat you to be reasonable. Do not let our family’s obsessive gluttony for riches blind you! Chadderton should not be the one to pay for our indiscretions and squandering. Upon my word, this is hardly the best way to go about getting a husband. I should feel profoundly sorry for any young lady who could consider it a triumph to accept an offer of marriage that was enforced by her brother’s hand! Did Chadderton’s snubs and indifference make no impression on you?” he demanded. “How can you justify chasing a man who has made it abundantly clear that he has no interest in you? Emma! Where is your dignity? Your self-respect? Your pride?”

Emma either doesn’t have any or she turned Edward off halfway through that last speech, and who can blame her? Edward’s right, though—since Henry never proposed, or even asked Emma’s father for permission to court her, there were no grounds to challenge him to a duel. You don’t bag a brother-in-law with a pistol.
But the duel takes place anyhow. Chadderton delopes in the finest heroic style, but by accident or intent, Charles wings Chadderton and the result—for no evident reason besides getting Henry and Edward alone together—is that Edward winds up accompany Henry to his country estate, where they spend some time in cultural pursuits (Edward reads Shakespeare to Henry, Henry teaches Edward to shoot and gamble.) It’s kind of a shame that Mestek never actually quoted Shakespeare, because the sonnets would have brought some life to this extremely stodgy courtship. Anyone who is expecting any sex in this situation is going to be sorely disappointed. Edward blushes a few times, but that’s about the extent of it.

Further plot complications from Emma and one of Chadderton’s less savoury friends do slowly move the story along, but by the time it gets to the end, with Emma and Charles safely disposed of and Henry and Edward getting ready to take the Grand Tour of Europe (in 1810?) I was fed up with the whole crew. Emma came across as yet another of those tiresome females thrown into a gay romance to make the guys look wonderful in comparison, and in fact every significant character in this story, other than Edward and Henry, was a shallow, selfish jerk to one degree or another—and Edward and Henry weren’t that much better. Edward seemed like a nice kid but he was painfully dim, and Henry’s treatment of Emma was genuinely boorish.

“When I set out to meet your sister I had heard much of her beauty. I was prepared to admire her without any danger of being taken in by her allurements, as I have long since discovered that such charms, though captivating and pleasant to behold, have no power over me. Imagine my astonishment when upon entering the drawing room with every intention of playing the part of a scoundrel at a later date, I perceived not one but two divine creatures, one of whom proved to be an immediate temptation….

“How alike your aspects appeared to me on first notice, and yet as I sat in front of the double vision and took in the whole picture, how different I found you. Your frank and curious air appealed to me instantly. You seemed unspoilt by attention and thus craving it. You spoke freely and unguardedly and gazed at me with such a flattering expression of awe and adoration that I could not imagine not pursuing your further acquaintance.”

This doesn’t sound like someone I’d want my brother or sister to marry—this is sheer selfishness. Later in the story, what appeared to be a generous gesture on Henry’s part was really just a means of buying off Edward’s father and sister.

Miss Mestek’s bio says that she has read Jane Austen’s novels many times, and her writing style is proof of that—but she lacks Austen’s human insight and ability to create three-dimensional characters, and she’s overlooked some things that Austen would never have bothered to explain because her readers in that era would have known about them–the legitimate grounds for a duel or the common presence of firearms. Explaining away a gunshot wound would not have required the elaborate charade of Edward going to Henry’s estate and making up some wild story. All that was needed was for Henry to say he’d had a mishap while loading his pistol. And that happy ending? In 1810 Europe was in the middle of the Napoleonic Wars, not the best time for attempting the Grand Tour. A little basic research would have prevented these errors.

Forced plot, weak characterizations, dialog that created a craving for strong coffee… this book never caught or held my interest and I would recommend it only to Regency completists.

Author’s website

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Review: Bound to Him by Ava March

Lord Vincent Prescot’s life couldn’t be better. Thriving investments, well-respected by his peers, and mind blowing sex with a man who submits to his every desire — what more could he want?

Lord Oliver Marsden should be more than happy with his life. He’s been in love with Vincent for over a decade and six months ago the impossible happened and they became lovers. But since then, nothing has changed. More specifically, Vincent hasn’t changed. Oliver has tried to be patient — it took a lot for Vincent to accept the fact he preferred men. But what felt like a tiny distance between them six months ago now feels like an ever-widening chasm. Why can’t Vincent stay the night? Is it too much to ask for Vincent to call him Oliver and not Marsden? He knows Vincent cares for him, but does Vincent love him?

Then Vincent’s father asks him for a favor — one that involves marriage. If Vincent agrees, he’ll have the respect he’s craved from his father his entire life but he could lose Oliver. Nor does Oliver make the decision easy. To keep Oliver, he’ll have to do more than deny his father. He’ll have to give Oliver his heart.

Review by Aleksandr Voinov

Lord Vincent Prescott has everything he could possibly want – he’s young, rich, handsome, intelligent and he has a friend, Oliver Marsden, who is his enthusiastic and loving sub and bottom in bed. The two men have a great sex life, but it’s all behind closed doors, because we’re in the Regency, where sodomy could be a hanging offence. While all that is mostly fine and dandy with Oliver, he does resent that he’s not getting as much back as he’s giving, and friction enters their relationship, which is made much worse when Lord Vincent agrees to his father’s demand to marry.

This is a captivating little novella which I enjoyed and kept reading well past bedtime (so much for ‘first five pages’). The characters are well-drawn and the writing is fully engrossing. The text has just the right amount of period detail that shows that the author knows her period, and watching a great writer spin their yarn is always enjoyable, regardless of the plot or the time period. I’m not well-versed in the Regency, but I found the setting believable as presented. The characters are interesting and layered – while Oliver is a sub and a bottom, he isn’t the mewling weepy doormat a lesser writer would have turned him into, and quite clearly has a pair (and uses it). And while Vincent is a kinky dominant and top, what drives him in the story are the desire to please, the need to fit in, and some serious abandonment issues.

There is a lot of explicit sex in the short (102 pages) story, and it’s well done and hot. Here, the sex reveals the characters, and especially the last scene serves as the pivotal moment when the relationship changes and develops beyond what it was.

Both men have to hide what they like and who they do it with, but that doesn’t make them coy about it at all. If there’s one issue I have, it’s that one. They behave like Regency men outside the bedroom, while inside, they speak and act like modern-day porn stars with the full repertoire of practices and the kind of dialogue that is pretty much to be expected. Of course that is a fine line – how to satisfy the demand for ‘hot explicit sex’ with a cast that has different sexual morals and habits, but then, I haven’t witnessed Regency-era gay sex, so whatever I’d assume about it is conjecture anyway and anybody’s guess is probably as good as mine.

Overall, I really liked this novella because of the strong writing, the well-drawn characters and the amount of period detail that all fuses together seamlessly and in that effortless way that betrays a great writer at work. Well done!

Note: This is a follow-up piece for Bound by Deception, reviewed by SIN here:
http://speakitsname.com/2009/01/12/review-bound-by-deception-by-ava-march/

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Review: Pride/Prejudice by Ann Herendeen

For readers who’ve loved Jane Austen’s most popular novel—the inestimable Pride and Prejudice—questions have always remained. What is the real nature of Darcy’s intense friendship with Charles Bingley, to explain why he would prevent Bingley’s marriage to Elizabeth’s beautiful and virtuous sister Jane? How can Darcy reconcile his own desire for Elizabeth with his determination to save his friend from a similar entanglement? What is the disturbing history behind Darcy’s tortured relationship with his foster brother, George Wickham? And what other intimacies, besides their cherished friendship, are exchanged between Elizabeth and Charlotte Lucas?

Review by Kalita Kasar

As the subtitle to this book says, this is a story of Elizabeth Bennet, Mister Darcy and their forbidden loves. A rewrite of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with the added premise that both Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet are bi-sexual and have enjoyed various affairs with other characters from the original novel in the time leading up to, and even after their meeting and stumbling through a comedy of misunderstandings to the happy estate of marriage.

I first heard about this book on Lara Zeilinsky’s readings in lesbian and bi-sexual literature podcast and thought that the idea sounded somewhat intriguing. I bought the book in hopes of finding within it’s pages a lesbian story which was hinted at in the reading given from the book on the show.

I was disappointed in that hope. The relationship between Elizabeth Bennet and her bosom friend, Charlotte Lucas is barely mentioned and most of the story is spent in exploring Darcy’s relationship with Charles Bingley and as such makes for more of a standard m/m romance with a few women thrown in to facilitate the men in hiding their true natures from society.

This book was a mixed bag for me. There were times when I found myself grinning from ear to ear, delighted as the action sparkled across the pages and led me to keep avidly reading on, but this was interspersed with long–interminably– long conversations between characters which had me wanting to skim past them to get back to the real action and meat of the story–that being the romance upon which this book was originally built.

Perhaps I am too much of a “Janeite,” but I really felt that this book did the original an injustice, reducing the delightful Lizzy from a worthy match for Darcy, to a simpering, silly bride of convenience whom (though he did seem fond of her) he only married because it was the perfect way for him to continue his trysts with Bingley who, as we know, marries Jane Bennet, Lizzy’s sister.

The story is well written, but could have benefited from having at least half of the over-long conversations removed The editing was as near to pristine as any book gets these days and what small errors I noticed were not too distracting.

However, I find it difficult to ignore that my feeling on finishing this book was one of relief at having finally got to the last page, rather than the satisfaction I get from finishing a good read.

YMMV.

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

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

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

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

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Tangled Web by Lee Rowan

Brendan Townsend is a young man who is very loyal to his friends. So when Tony—his best friend, occasional lover, and a complete screw-up—comes to him in trouble, Brendan is determined to help. Tony is being blackmailed by the owner of a “molly house”, the private club that Tony—and other like-minded gentlemen—frequent in order to indulge their entertainment needs.

Brendan is disappointed in his friend, but goes to seek the help of his older brother’s military commander. Philip Carlisle is a gentleman to Society, and also a man Brendan’s brother trusted completely and told his younger brother to seek out if he ever was in trouble. Philip is a 40-year-old widower, and finds himself charmed, for the first time, by an attractive young man. Brendan is likewise besotted with hero-worship, especially when Philip turns the tables on the blackmailer and saves the day for many of Society’s closeted sons.

What follows is a tale of desire, regrets, cross-country pursuit, hidden identities, lovers torn asunder then reunited, clever cover stories, and the requisite pistols at dawn.

Review by Hayden Thorne

The first thing that caught my attention when reading Rowan’s novel was the way it takes on one of classic literature’s favorite studies in dichotomy: city versus country. It’s a subject that’s always been a favorite of mine as well, and Rowan explores the diverging elements between the two in great detail.

A Regency fan wouldn’t be disappointed with the settings and their treatment. London’s full of activity of both high and low society. We see the wealthy dazzle each other in glittering ballrooms, dinner-parties, or St. James’ Park. In these scenes, we’re treated to character interactions reminiscent of Austen. There are a lot of playful exchanges. There’s quite a bit of witty banter among members of the Townsend family, and I was very pleased to see a good deal of attention placed on Brendan’s relationship with his siblings, especially Elspeth, his younger sister and to whom he’s closest. As expected from the titled, their cares are pretty much focused on the usual problems involving courtship and landing the perfect husband.

Those scenes, along with the more sordid ones involving molly houses, are laid out in vivid detail, with each scene sequeing nicely into the next, but without the clunkiness of too many details that’s always the danger in writing historical fiction. The study in contrast is just as sharp within London as it is between London and Kent. One moment we’re surrounded by wealth, music, and lively conversation; the next moment, we’re skulking around in shadows, walking past shut doors, and being surrounded by masked gentlemen. There’s a stuffy, claustrophobic feeling in those scenes, and even outside Dobson’s establishment, private lodgings – normally a safe haven – shrink under the strain of fear that dogs Tony and Brendan.

Kent, just like London, is beautifully drawn – an idyll in and of itself, with gorgeous expanses, untouched Nature, and peaceful solitude. And just like London, it also has its own dark side, with Carlisle helping the local magistrate solve a murder that has a connection with a smuggling ring. The oppressive shadow of exposure, disgrace, or worse, capital punishment follows Brendan and Carlisle to Kent, though its effects aren’t as immediate and frightening there as they are in London.

The relationship between Carlisle and Brendan begins on a business-like note, but its highlight is the connection they enjoy whenever they talk about horses. I love how those scenes unfold so casually, with each man gradually shedding layers of himself to the other. Even though they haven’t confessed their feelings to each other at that point, I still found those moments the most subtly romantic in the book, for their connection feels almost spiritual. In fact, I’d have been satisfied if they didn’t confess their love and simply carried on, their relationship deepening (perhaps without their knowledge) as they find greater commonality between them, though it would’ve stretched the story out much more.

That said, one of the difficulties I had with this book was the romance between Brendan and Carlisle after they reveal their feelings. I simply didn’t feel enough of a chemistry between them, partly because it’s pretty much Brendan who falls hard for Carlisle first, and the older man doesn’t really experience an emotional epiphany till late in the story. Once Brendan finally expresses himself to Carlisle, he starts behaving like a needy teenager in the bedroom, throwing himself at the older man, begging the latter not to be indecisive and so on, while Carlisle remains emotionally aloof and tentative (though the reasons are explored later in long introspective scenes). Yes, they make love, and Carlisle, for all his waffling, really does enjoy it and eventually realizes that he is in love with Brendan and that he needs to let go of his late wife’s specter. Despite that, however, there still seems to be something lacking in their emotional connection, which baffles me because I can’t really put a finger on what’s missing. And it’s because of it that the sex scenes have a bit of a jarring quality to them despite the fact that they’re very well-written.

There’s also a heavy-handedness in the novel’s focus on the dangers of homosexuality. Tony’s situation certainly makes that clear to the readers, but we’re constantly reminded of it through Brendan’s growing paranoia in London, Dobson’s cynical approach to his business, Carlisle’s accounts of soldiers being hanged, and Brendan’s godfather’s threats (directed at Dobson). Then there’s Elspeth and her engagement, her happy prospects a depressing reminder of the kind of world to which Brendan doesn’t belong and the loneliness and isolation (if not a loveless marriage) that define his future. While I think it’s great that such an important issue isn’t ignored or glossed over, it can drag a good story down if overdone – especially since, in this novel’s case, Rowan gives Kent (an understandable refuge for a couple like Carlisle and Brendan) a nicely realistic treatment as an alternative to London. Simply showing that the danger of discovery can creep into a quiet country retreat would have been enough to ground home the dangers after all that’s happened in London.

Minor niggling involves occasional dialogue that sounds more contemporary than the rest and the use of “college” versus “university.” The shifts in points of view also happen without a scene break, which can lead to somewhat confusing reading at times. But those didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of Tangled Web. On the whole, I found the story engaging and wonderfully surprising (i.e., in the subplots involving smuggling, the Townsend family, and Carlisle and Brendan’s love of horses), with Rowan’s approach to the romance refreshingly different despite the problem I had with regard to the characters’ chemistry. She shows a lot of respect for Regency England in her detailed exploration of so many disparate scenes, so much so that each location becomes a character itself, adding more dimension to the world against which Brendan and Carlisle’s stories unfold.

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Review: Madcap Masquerade by Persephone Roth

When Loel Woodbine, Duke of Marche, receives news that his great aunt has engaged him to a young lady he has never met, he’s a little nonplussed. His lifestyle doesn’t exactly lead itself to entertaining the fair sex; in fact, he prefers to devote his attentions to men rather than women. However, Marche owes his livelihood to his wealthy aunt—indeed, he loves the old dragon – and he knows that he must fulfill his duty and marry Miss Valeria Randwick.

Marche never expects to be completely bowled over by his young bride when he meets her at their wedding ceremony, but she is the most beautiful, untouched creature he has ever seen. Given his preference for men, he is extremely surprised by his intense reaction to her. That is, until he finds out that his new wife is actually Valentine Randwick, Earl of Blythestone, who is disguised as his sister in order to distract attention from her elopement with a commoner.

Having been raised among monks, Valentine is innocent in the ways of the world. He knows that his reaction to the man he calls husband is unnatural, but he can’t deny the intense responses of his heart and his body to the man. Valentine doesn’t exactly enjoy the dresses and the corsets, but if Marche wants to continue the charade, he is willing. Before the two men can settle down into their own version of wedded bliss, however, Marche’s aunt is murdered, and blame is pointed at none other than Marche’s lovely new bride.

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

I have a feeling that Madcap Masquerade is book that people will either love or hate. For me, my opinion doesn’t go all the way to love, but I enjoyed it and found myself re-reading big chunks of it prior to writing this review, which is always a personal subconscious sign that I liked a book quite a bit.

Now, let’s get some details out of the way. This is a Dreamspinner “Timeless Dreams” title that comes with the disclaimer that, “…these stories celebrate M/M love in a manner that may address, minimize, or ignore historical stigma.” So, historical fiction purists be warned: this book may not be your cup of tea. But if you can get past that issue or don’t really care, you might enjoy this book as much as I did.

I will admit, I started reading this as a “straight” (well, gay) historical. At about the one-third point I thought things were getting a little preposterous and I was feeling annoyed, but I kept going. Then, I looked at the cover: Madcap Masquerade. Aha, I thought—maybe the author’s intention was to have this be a madcap romantic comedy. So I adjusted my thinking and kept on reading. As a “madcap” story it worked better, but this is probably the biggest weakness of the book. I think it is tough to be really funny with themes of murder, embezzlement, and betrayal. Certainly the author kept a light touch but it makes it hard for the story to be completely “over-the-top” which is what it needed to be to truly succeed as a comedy. On the other hand, if you read it as a mostly light-hearted romp and don’t dwell on the serious stuff, it mostly works.

What I liked the best was the interaction between Valentine and Loel and fortunately, they get a lot of page time which went a long way to keeping me interested in the story. They meet for the first time at their wedding, where Valentine is disguised as his sister Valeria. When Loel kisses his bride at the ceremony, she swoons. He takes her into the vestry, locks the door, loosens her corset and realizes that she is really a he. He’s a little surprised at this turn of events but not totally unhappy as he likes what he sees in Valentine, with his long dark hair, coltish frame, and violet eyes.

Valentine, for his part, is totally surprised at his reaction to Loel’s kiss (he had an erection) and Loel’s frank admission that he prefers men over women. But he’s no dummy and he realizes he needs to continue the charade for at least a little while until Valeria is safely married to the man she really loves. Once that happens, Valentine can sort out what he will do with his life and next steps.

Loel decides he wants to get Valentine into his bed but then surprises himself by starting to fall for the young man before the seduction occurs. Valentine also realizes he is developing very strong feelings, very quickly, for the man he is married to. Instead of ignoring each other or their emotions (and having some sort of blasted miscommunication; none of that here, thank God), they talk; Loel tells Valentine he’ll teach him about physical intimacy and “the ways of the flesh” while Valentine, in turn, will teach his husband and ultimate lover what it truly means to love someone. This was the strongest theme of the book and one that I felt was carried through very consistently and made the book work for me. Val and Loel are a good pair and as they get to know each other better and fall deeper in love they ratchet up the banter and witty dialog as well as the heat of their sexual encounters. Like I said, when they were on the page, I devoured every word; when they were absent, I tended to read a little faster.

The writing is colorful. Some may say too colorful to the point of being purple, but it didn’t bother me. I enjoyed the elaborate descriptions of clothing, food, and interior decorations. Granted, during some of the sex scenes there were velvet sheaths and throbbing rods which I know are an instant turn-off for many readers but for me, it worked as part of the overall florid narrative.

All in all, I liked this book and would recommend it with the caveat that it is probably not for everyone. I would suggest reading an excerpt—there is a lengthy one at the Dreamspinner site to give you a feel for the author’s writing style. It appears that this is Persephone Roth’s first book and as a debut, I think it succeeds although as noted above, it’s not perfect. Even so, I look forward to more stories from her in the future. And as a final note, I love the beautiful Anne Cain cover, even though in my mind, I pictured Loel (he’s the blond) as a slightly larger and perhaps more mature man. But that’s a really minor quibble!

Disclaimer: Erastes sent me this book as a PDF for review but I ended up buying the Kindle version for myself (nicer formatting) since I enjoyed it so much and wanted to have a permanent copy in my archive.

Amazon UK Amazon USA Dreamspinner Press ebook Dreamspinner Press print book Amazon (Kindle)

Review: An Improper Holiday by K A Mitchell

As second son to an earl, Ian Stanton has always done the proper thing. Obeyed his elders, studied diligently, and dutifully accepted the commission his father purchased for him in the Fifty-Second Infantry Division. The one glaring, shameful, marvelous exception: Nicholas Chatham, heir to the Marquess of Carleigh.

Before Ian took his position in His Majesty’s army, he and Nicky consummated two years of physical and emotional discovery. Their inexperience created painful consequences that led Ian to the conviction that their unnatural desires were never meant to be indulged.

Five years later, wounded in body and plagued by memories of what happened between them, Ian is sent to carry out his older brother’s plans for a political alliance with Nicky’s father. Their sister Charlotte is the bargaining piece.

Nicky never believed that what he and Ian felt for each other was wrong and he has a plan to make things right. Getting Ian to Carleigh is but the first step. Now Nicky has only twelve nights to convince Ian that happiness is not the price of honor and duty, but its reward.

Review by Erastes

At last–a Regency that reads like a Regency!  K A Mitchell was not an author known to me, so I was pleasantly surprised to be drawn in immediately with dialogue that was perfectly formal and with a real sense of time and place.

It’s quite nicely researched, and I wish I had that to say more often.  Usage of the word “marquisate” for example which is entirely correct, a journey by carriage to Derbyshire over vile, rutted roads which took days–and extended further because of the inconvenience of Ian’s sister–rather than hours.  It’s touches like this which really bring a book to life. (See my recent rant on horses!!)

It’s good too, to see an disabled hero.  So many books have entirely whole officers returning from the war, and dealing with an amputee is realistic and refreshing in this genre.  In fact Ian is quite a delight, having:

gone from reading classics in his purple robes to the buff and scarlet of a second lieutenant, with no time at all to learn how to converse with a lady. What did one say in such a case?

I love the way he fills in the backstory between himself and Nicholas in deft, episodic touches which pull the reader along like Scheredzhade did with her murderous husband, so we never feel we are being dumped with the backstory, or pulled out of the present narrative with a break in the action, as if often the case with “Parted Lover” stories.

The language is perfectly apt for the period, not so olde -worlde as to be inaccessible, but a great balance of formal narrative and speech and some really lush description, so well painted that you can really see exactly what’s being described, like this section which makes me feel very sorry for the poor servants.

Lacy clumps of snow still fell, yet slowly enough that the cobblestone path was well-cleared by servants wielding stable brooms. Hundreds of candles in the chapel threw enough light to gild the small drifts with a gold luster. Such a view coupled with the light scent of horses from the brooms made Ian fancy the sight and smells recaptured the Nativity.

He’s emo, yes, but it works very well, and that surprised me, as so many times I find an emo protag to be annoying as hell. But Ian is not whining; he’s realistic and fatalistic.  He thinks he’s seeing it clearly. Nicholas has responsibilities now he’s the Marquess, and their youthful love affair, however torrid, cannot possibility resume, however much Ian would want it to.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, and there’s much more to the plot, and more character involved–all beautifully fleshed out, and none of them just wallpaper, than the blurb or my clumsy review shows. But I’m not going to spoil it for you, and if you enjoy a regency with a strong flavour of the time, well-researched history that layers itself onto the page without you even noticing it’s there and a protagonists that you will be crossing your fingers for–hoping that they will get their well-deserved happiness, then you are going to love this.

The cover is quite silly, of course, but you can’t have everything.

Author’s website

Buy from Samhain

Review: Finding Jason by Lyndi Lamont

When Jason Huxley, Regency dandy and man-about-town, acquires a new valet, he finds himself fighting the unnatural inclinations he thought he’d outgrown.

Alfred Threadgill lost his first lover at Waterloo, but now wrestles with his desire for his new employer. He suspects that finding Jason could be the best thing that ever happened to him. But first Jason must find himself.

Review by T J Pennington

The character of Jason Huxley did not, initially, make a good impression on me. This has little to do with the writing and far more to do with me. You see, the first paragraph states:

Jason Huxley was a lucky man. He had health, good looks, an adequate income and a beautiful and enthusiastic mistress. There was no earthly reason why he was filled with ennui.

Speaking as someone who has ill health, average looks and a highly inadequate income, I saw no earthly reason for Jason to be filled with ennui, either. I would relish being bored to tedium by such good fortune. Since I have a hard time pitying someone who has everything that I lack, my immediate reaction was, “Hey, if you don’t want good health and an adequate income for someone in high society, I’ll take ‘em!”

By the next page, Jason has spotted his old friend and “partner in a youthful indiscretion”, as the book calls it, Michael Penrose. Michael, it develops, is terrified of women and would rather face Napoleon’s hordes than attend a dance. And, after Michael gets snoggered on brandy back at Jason’s house, Jason invites him to sleep it off in his (Jason’s) bed. Michael does, falling asleep almost immediately.

What follows is a scene between Jason and Michael, who are talking as they lie naked beside a river. This threw me a bit at first, as I wasn’t sure whether it was a dream, a flashback, or a scene taking place some months in the future. But as the conversation continued, I realized that it was either a memory or a memory-dream of the last time that Michael and Jason were together before Michael went off to war.

In what I thought was a nice touch, dream-Michael asks dream-Jason to come with him; even if Jason’s father won’t buy him a commission, he can still join as a volunteer. It pointed out quite nicely that the two didn’t have to be separated, that Jason could follow his lover into the army and onto the battlefields of Europe if he so desired.

Jason refuses on the grounds that his parents would be furious (he’s the only son and needs to produce an heir), but at least one of his motives is selfish–”[h]e liked his comforts too much.” I knew at that moment that Jason would not have a happily ever after ending with Michael or anyone else until he learned to love someone more than himself.

After a seduction scene when he is half-asleep and a voluntary scene of mutual masturbation when he is wide-awake, Jason is forced to confront the fact that yes, he’s still as attracted to men as he was in his schoolboy days, and immediately proposes to his mistress, Rosalind, thinking that surely this will be the solution. Rosalind, fortunately, is a sensible and realistic sort who doesn’t confuse sex with love. When Jason protests that he adores her, she responds thus:

She turned to face him, expression serious. “No, Jason, you do not. If you did, you would not have gone off with your military friend last night. You are fond of me, as I am of you, but that is all.”

Outraged by what he sees as the loss of Rosalind’s affection, Jason storms off. Hurt and puzzled by this and by Michael’s actions, he retreats to the family estate in Cheshire, hoping that once he gets away from London, his attraction to men will simply fade into the background once more.

Several months later, after a short scene between Michael Penrose and his valet in Belgium–the two are physically lovers, but Alfred Threadgill’s deep love for his employer is not reciprocated–Michael returns from war and has a reunion with Jason, despite the fact that Jason said quite firmly that he never wanted to see Michael again. And he asks Jason to look after Alfred for him. Jason, unwilling to deny Michael anything, promises to give Alfred a try.

Someone who likes a great deal of sex with his or her fiction would find this tale ideal; virtually every conversation is followed by a much longer and fairly intense sex scene, which usually reveals the depths of emotions that at least one of the parties cannot admit possessing.

Personally, I would have preferred that the story be longer and show much of what was only mentioned in passing: the friendship and love affair of Jason and Michael at school; the affection and trust between Michael and Alfred that never quite turned to love on Michael’s part; Jason fighting his growing attraction to Alfred. We’re told that all this has happened, but, for a reader, telling doesn’t pack nearly the punch of witnessing key events or of seeing emotional intimacy bloom between characters.

Jason’s issues with sexuality rather jumped out at me. He thinks a great deal about what it means for him personally to want to bed men AND women. This is not a thought process or attitude of that era. Modern people define themselves in terms of who they sleep with or who they want to sleep with. Someone of the Regency era would have seen it in terms of society–what is society’s attitude legally, socially and religiously? How will I be treated or punished for these desires? I can understand Jason struggling over the fact that he wants to sleep with men even after his schoolboy days, especially in view of the penalties–but the fact that he likes sleeping with women as well would not have caused any questions in his mind, because, by his time’s definition, that was part of being a man. The struggle would not have been “oh no, I’m attracted to men and women, what does this mean for me and my identity?” because the concepts of homosexuality, bisexuality and sexual identity didn’t exist then. Jason is, essentially, a twentieth to twenty-first century man who has been transported to the Regency era.

And I was, I confess, a bit irked about Jason’s eventual renunciation of his mistress. It had already been established that Jason liked women as well as men, and was an only son and was going to have to marry and produce offspring. Jason knew the first and accepted the second, so it was rather jarring when Jason gave up Rosalind for the sake of Alfred. I’m sure that some people were strictly faithful their same-sex lovers; it just doesn’t seem to fit here, given what we’ve been told of Jason, his background, and his family’s dynastic expectations.

However, the writing overall is good, and the author has done her research on historical detail, if not historical attitude. I particularly liked the details of the molly house to which Alfred flees–it’s not the elite sex club for gentleman that so often appears in gay romances and erotica, but a low-class brothel on the poor side of town, complete with “wedding chapel” for temporary unions.

I give it two stars–it’s not a bad short story. And I’d like to see what the author could do if she had time and space to fully show her characters’ emotional pasts.

Author’s website

Buy at Amber Allure, Fictionwise or Kindle

Review: Convincing Arthur by Ava March

Mr. Leopold Thornton missed his chance ten years ago. He isn’t about to let this one pass him by.

Given Leopold’s reputation for vice and debauchery, Mr. Arthur Barrington has a fair idea why the sinfully beautiful man invites him to his country estate. A shooting excursion? Unlikely. Especially considering Arthur is the only guest invited to the estate. He shouldn’t consider the invitation, but a few days of mind-blowing sex could be just the thing to help him get over the heartbreaking end of a ten-year relationship. Then he can return to London to his thriving law practice, and quietly search for an amiable man who understands the meaning of the word discreet and who recognizes the value of commitment.

There was a time when Leopold wasn’t such a rakehell. When every night didn’t end with an empty bottle of whisky. When he believed in the rewards of patience. When he didn’t give himself over to just anyone who’d have him. Old habits die hard, especially when tempted by six feet of solid muscle, but Leopold will only have a few days to convince Arthur he can be the man he’s looking for — that his love is genuine and he’s worthy of Arthur’s heart.

Review by Erastes

Leopold thinks he’s been stood up, and he drinks and paces in his study.

This book starts promisingly Leopold is quickly introduced and we get a measure of the kind of man he is, one that will sleep with anyone, male or female.  He blew his chances with the man he’s been obsessed with, Arthur Barrington, ten years ago and now Arthur has broken his his lover of ten years, he’s hoping to get him at last.

Leopold then goes on to mentally castigate his rival, Amherst: the man who has been with Arthur for ten years and whom Leopold finds objectionable because Amherst has loose morals.  At least Leopold has the grace to realise that this is a little bit of the Pot calling the Kettle black!

Her research and detailing is impressive, solid and convincing.  There’s no extraneous description, to my eyes, just enough to give a feel of the rooms and the decoration without a list that sounds like a Gillow’s catalogue.  Little touches like game shooting in November.  I’ve seen books where the men go grouse shooting in June!  There’s a nice smattering of language of the time too, but it explains itself in context, so you aren’t forced to rush off to find Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

He recognized the name—Madame Delacroix’s, a decadent West End brothel with a near-endless supply of beautiful women, and according to rumor, a handful of handsome, accommodating men as well. At least Randolph had the good sense not to go to some nunnery in the stews. Those places were rife with diseases.

Ava March writes well, and I’ve enjoyed her other historicals that I’ve reviewed on the site–my major gripe would be one that I’ve said many times before, that I feel a little cheated with a story of a mere 80 pages, and this story particularly deserves more to do it justice.  The author goes to great pains to explain that these two men have a history, have known each other for ten years, and that Arthur trod the virtuous path while Leopold was gobbled up by a corrupting London and they went their separate ways.  We are told details about Arthur’s relationship with Randolph and I’m left thinking “But I’d like to KNOW about this, not just get told about it!”  There’s more than enough material here for a novel.

Because we are told, not shown, all this detail – the story folds in on itself and was for me, little more than a PWP–and that takes the pleasure out of the journey for me.  They are at it like bunnies in chapter two, in fact. And three….

But that aside, it’s well written and the personal longing for a big meaty novel from Ms March doesn’t stop her smaller works being an auto-buy for me.

Author’s website

Buy at Loose ID

Review: Another Chance by Shawn Lane

Ten years ago, Aubrey St. Clair, Viscount Rothton, watched the man of his dreams, Daniel Blake, the Earl of Graystone, walk out of his life after a brief sexual encounter. Now Graystone returns to London after the death of his wife and Aubrey is given another chance with his dream man. But Daniel is determined he will have only one night of sexual bliss with Aubrey and then they must once more go their separate ways.

Review by Erastes

This is a short erotic story – around 40 pages and due to that, it does feel a little rushed.  There’s a flashback at the beginning which zips by at breathtaking speed, cramming in a sex scene when really I’d like to have got to know the characters, at least a little.  This frantic pace continues as we are flung into a graphic heterosexual sex scene which jolted me as I really wasn’t expecting it, and the publisher’s page says m/m, no mention of het or bisexuality.  So if that’s not your cuppa tea, I’d recommend avoiding this.  Then almost instantly we find out that Aubrey has children with this woman he’s having sex with (who we’ve hardly been introduced to), so it’s all a bit too much for the length of story.

What annoyed me is that if Aubrey was so taken with Daniel – WHY hadn’t they seen each other for ten years? It seemed improbable, both from the point of view of the ton, which was madly incestuous and everyone knew everyone else (just read Vanity Fair) or from the point of view of lust, attraction and friendship. Why were they attracted to each other?  Why did they fall out? This is skated over, but never truly resolved, pushed aside for the sake of more sex.

The second half of the book is stronger in this respect, with some characterisation coming into play and some insight into why these two men like each other. Personally I’d prefer this to be at the front of the book as I find it difficult to empathise for characters I know nothing about.  Even when the characters begin their path to reconciliation I still wasn’t convinced, two sexual encounters don’t equal “I want to spend the rest of my life with you,” I need a bit more explanation than that.

It has a Regency feel, so readers who love the genre will probably like this, a couple of things that didn’t fit, like all the men in the ballroom dressing in black, which would certainly not have been the case, and the scent of citrus blossoms in England (bwhahaha!!!) but otherwise it works all right.

It’s more of a wallpaper historical than I’d like–modern guys having sex, thinking about cum and prostates, having blowjobs and rimming each other which would have been pretty unlikely–but anyone looking for hot sex in costumes will enjoy it.

Buy Ellora’s Cave

Review: Pure Folly by Madelynne Ellis

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Available at Total E-Bound Publishing

Review: Object of his Desire by Ava March

It’s the last night of a week-long house party in remote northern England. Every sensual delight imaginable is right at Henry Shaw’s fingertips. Yet all he wants is to be with his host, the deliciously handsome and enigmatic Arsen Grey. Henry’s certain it’s love, not mere infatuation. He’s also sure it’s hopeless.

Review by Erastes

As the title suggests, Henry has an object of his desire – and that is Lord Somerville, Arsen Grey, who, at the beginning of the book is his acquaintance, his fencing partner but not his lover because he’s convinced that Somerville is a woman’s man.

At first I wrote this book off an enjoyable romp, pure and simple; a quick set up, a bit of pre-sex angst and then lots and LOTS of sex which is exceedingly well-written and most arousing.  There’s even real breeches ripping, which raises a cheer.

Encouragingly, the book tips towards an interesting direction half way through and it was at that point, I thought, that the author missed an opportunity to create huge conflict–but it didn’t sustain and the moment passed in a heartbeat and the protagonists talked out the problem. Shame!

Although a fun quick read (about 90 pages) I was disappointed with the themes I’d seen done again and again–surely we are still a young genre that we can have more than (a) Great House (b) Orgy (c) BDSM ?

Certain things threw me, a few inconsistences, a couple of confusing modifiers and my pet hate tiny tiny sentences–that’s a personal dislike. Hate. Them. Also no consideration is taken for the difference in the worth of money from 1821 to now – Henry’s ex-lover is said to owe Somerville £10,000(!) which in today’s money, equates to (depending on which index you use) from £800,000 to around £8,000,000 … Again, small niggles, but it’s the sort of thing that, despite the hot sex, will throw out an experienced reader of historicals.

What saves this from a lower mark is the sheer quality of the writing. Ms March–despite the restrictions of length and the over-familiar themes–forces the reader to care about the characters but getting deeply into their point of view and making them ride the emotions with them. I admit to feeling every nuance of anger and fear and lust that Henry felt and that is what I always look for in a book.  Definitely worth a read.

Buy at Samhain Publishing

Review: Bound by Deception by Ava March

Lord Oliver Marsden has a secret. He’s been in love with his childhood friend for years, to have one night with Lord Vincent he masquerades as a whore at Vincent’s favoured brothel. When Oliver arrives at the bedchamber, he’s in for another surprise. Restraints and a leather bullwhip? Apparently Vincent isn’t as conservative as he appears.

How will Oliver reveal himself to his friend without losing his respect?

Review by Erastes

Rather more a longish short story than a novella, despite it being about 80 pages long, this is definitely an erotic story, so those looking for a very VERY hot ride will like this a lot. It certainly made me warm in places that make me happy!

As the blurb suggests, Lord Oliver uses a ruse to get his friend Lord Vincent (more on the lords later) to shag him, and relies on the Lois Lane Blindspot™ which involves a dodgy accent, a dimly lit room and the removal of his spectacles to get Lord Vincent not to recognise him. The sex that ensues is BDSM but not so much to make you squirm uncomfortably, (my threshold for BDSM is pretty low, and I enjoyed it) and is excellently written, if a little predictable, and hot as hell.

The remainder of the story deals with how Oliver and Vincent act immediately afterwards, how they feel about those feelings and what they do to resolve the situation.

I have to say that I would have liked something a bit more meaty, plot-wise. There was a lot of possibility, father issues, gambling addictions, one of the characters was living on his uppers, the other was rolling in money–there was plenty that could have made a full sized novel, or at the very least a 40 or 50K word novella, so I was a little disappointed with the substance of the thing which was little more than sex-a little characterisation-sex.  That being said, however, I’ve read many books which are all sex and linked thinly by a balsa-light plot, and this–for some reason–seems heads and shoulders about that.  I think it’s the power of the characterisation, the POVs are deep and convincing, both in the bedroom and out of it and I found myself liking both main characters for different reasons and wished them well.

There were a few anachronisms here and there, such as “drawers” “precum” and “fluffy towels” and other small things.  I know that 90 percent of readers aren’t going to know or care about this sort of thing (what lunatic is going to know the history of towels after all, apart from another writer who has been there done that) but it’s likely to throw some readers off stride. The trouble is, of course, is that smaller publishers don’t have specialist editors–so there’s no real cure to this, but I would stress that American authors should move heaven and earth to get a Brit Picker. Meat is hung. A man is hanged!

But as I say, it’s a small nitpick, and I was impressed both by the writing, and the research that the writer had obviously done. It’s evident when an author has tried hard, as in this case, and when they’ve done the bare minimum or simply haven’t bothered at all.

Lovers of hot erotica will enjoy this a lot, and I’ll be watching eagerly for Ms March’s next work.

Author’s Website

Purchase from Loose-ID

Review: A Gentleman’s Wager by Madelynne Ellis

When Bella Rushdale finds herself fiercely attracted to handsome landowner Lucerne Marlinscar, she does not expect the rival for her affections to be another man. The handsome and decadent Marquis Pennerley, however, has desired Lucerne for years and when all three are brought together at the remote Lauwine Hall on the Yorkshire Moors, Pennerley intends to claim Lucerne. At the risk of scandal the contest leads to a passionate struggle between the highly sexed Bella and the debauched aristocrat. Ultimately it will be Lucerne who will choose the outcome, but his decision is bound to cause outrage and upset somebody’s plans.

Review by Erastes

“What’s this?” I can hear you shout. “That’s a M/F cover – what’s going on?”  Well, yes, it does have some het in it – quite a lot of het, to be honest, but this isn’t just another menage book. There is an established (if only if they did it once) homosexual relationship described and as such I think it deserves a place on the site.

This, let me say from the first, is an erotic novel. Whilst there is a plot running through it, (and it’s a much better plot than so many novels where sex scenes happen almost every other page) it’s an erotic novel – there’s sex from the first page just about, and sex almost to the last page. One could level accusations of anachronism for the “let’s stay in this big house and all have sex with each other a lot” but who’s to say that some people didn’t behave like this in private?

Yes, as expected, everyone wants Bella, and annoyingly, even the decadent, seemingly homosexual Pennerley is swept away by her “charms” (however well worn…!) but that’s to be expected in a Black Lace book – the heroine has to be irresistible.  But what I did like particularly about the book was the way Lucerne (however silly it is to be named after a bean) struggled with his feelings for Pennerley and those of Bella. At times he’s swept away by Pennerley’s seduction, and at other times he’s protective of Bella, and then jealous of her as Penerley starts to stalk (hur hur) her.

I was less impressed with Bella who – it seemed to me – would have not only slept with anyone who asked her (and she does, including the staff!) but would have gone off with any of them either. I was never really convinced that she loved Lucerne, and frankly I was cheering Pennerley on from the sidelines and hoped that he’d win Lucerne for himself.

It’s a hot and steamy one-handed read, which will appeal to people who like a lot of froth and a lot of sex – it will even appeal to die-hards who only read M/M.  Hell, I read it and enjoyed it, didn’t I? Can’t get more die-hard than that!

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Review: Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander by Ann Herendeen

HarperCollins Publishers
ISBN: 978-0-06-145136-2


Andrew Carrington is the ideal Regency gentleman: heir to an earldom, wealthy, handsome, athletic—and gay. When he decides to do his duty to his family, he wants marriage on his terms: an honest arrangement, with no disruption to his way of life. But in the penniless, spirited—and curvaceous—Phyllida Lewis, a self-educated author of romances, Andrew gets more than he bargained for, perhaps even love. And when he meets honorable, shrewd—and hunky—Matthew Thornby, son of a self-made baronet, Andrew seems to have everything a man could desire, until a spy and blackmailer tries to ruin him and his friends.

Review by T J Pennington (WARNING: Review has many spoilers)

I get the feeling that this book garnered the attention it did because the romance reviewers were, by and large, not familiar with stories involving gay or bisexual characters and therefore found this kind of romance new and daring. I, on the other hand, have read, proofread, written and published both, and I know a great many people who have done the same. Consequently, I’m not looking at this book as something innovative, but as part of a long-established genre.

Originally published by AuthorHouse on September 12, 2005 (and re-published by Harper Collins on April 29, 2008), it is the tale of a peer’s nephew named Andrew Carrington, who wants to marry a young woman named Phyllida Lewis. Andrew is rich and needs an heir. He’s also homosexual.

We know that the story takes place in 1812 because the Prime Minister is assassinated at the end of the book, and Spencer Perceval, the only British Prime Minister to be assassinated, died on May 11, 1812. Now…in 1812, mind you, when homosexuality was a hanging offense and even being rumored to be homosexual got you three to six months in Newgate…Phyllida not only knows that Andrew is gay but talks about it casually and states that she has no objection to men of that sort.

“Well,” I can hear people whispering, “perhaps Phyllida is ahead of her time. Perhaps she is simply less prejudiced than most people in her era. That’s possible, right?” But then the situation with Andrew and Phyllida gets better.

Phyllida agrees to consider Andrew as a prospective husband. He comes to her mother’s house to visit her. Her mother immediately leaves Phil without herself or another older woman as a chaperone (which would be enough to ruin the young woman socially) and exits stage left with Andrew’s friend and lover, Verney. Andrew and Phyllida talk, mostly about sex and marriage, for five minutes. Then he convinces her to sit in his lap, gives her a French kiss, puts her hand on his erection and starts pinching and stroking one of her nipples.

Five minutes after meeting her.

Now, I don’t know about you, but if someone started forcing me to stroke him and grabbing my nipple five minutes after meeting me, that guy would get a knee to the crotch and a punch in the nose. I cannot think of any society in which Andrew’s behavior is acceptable, never mind the heavily mannered world of the Regency. At the very least, I would expect Phyllida to slap the rude, crude bastard’s face and flounce out of the room, not press herself against his erection. This is a young woman who has already turned down one suitor for being “debauched,” after all.

Never mind the implication that gayness can be fixed by the right woman. Because Phil’s so awesomely female that she instantly turns Andrew, who has previously had no attraction to women, bisexual. *headdesk *

I could accept the idea of a straight man suppressing homosexual impulses for years until one day he couldn’t ignore them any longer. But that’s not the case here. What we have is a gay man in a heteronormative society which is strongly geared toward male/female pairings and marriages who somehow fails to notice until he’s in his mid-thirties that he’s actually interested in women as well as men. I cannot shake the feeling that Andrew should have recognized this attraction a little earlier.

Moreover, we get other contradictions. Phyllida states that she’s twenty-two and “not on the shelf”– which I think is supposed to mean that she’s not yet a spinster. However, the term and the attitude are both wrong. The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue says that at the time “on the shelf” meant “pawned.” And a woman of twenty-two, four years past her first season, would be decidedly long in the tooth as far as the marriage market was concerned.

Of course, the heroine is blessed with every virtue. We are told this before we are shown it. We are informed that Phyllida has inherited her father’s good looks and her mother’s brains, that she is independent, the picture of maidenly innocence, generous, dutiful, modest and the prettiest girl in the county. She is also a somewhat successful writer of gothic romances. The only reason that such a paragon is unmarried, of course, is not that no one has proposed–but that she has never found a man that she wishes to wed.

Phyllida is oddly knowledgeable about homosexuality for a young lady of her time, and oddly casual about it too. I found this jarring. I ended up reading over her first speech about Andrew several times. “Did she really say that the man doesn’t care for women?” I found myself asking. “Does she know what that means? And…wait a second! She ‘doesn’t have any objection to men of that sort’? Moreover, she comfortably engages in “a technical but spicy discussion of the safest way to express unnatural relationships between men, sexual acts not confined to the standard one between men and women, and other interesting topics” at her publisher’s. I tried to imagine Jane Austen or the Bronte sisters having such a discussion with their publishers, and nearly broke my brain.

As I read on, however, I learned that Phyllida’s attitude was not so strange. Phyllida, you see, inhabits the world of OK Homo. It is common knowledge that Andrew Carrington—whose name makes me think of the old soap opera, Dynasty–is a sodomite; this is established early on. Now, according to A History of Criminal Law: The Movement for Reform, 1750-1833 by Leon Radzinowicz, the penalty for sodomy and what was termed “the crime against nature” (a catch-all term which could mean oral sex, homosexual acts in general, bestiality…oh, and sodomy itself) was deprivation of clergy (no last-minute confessions or forgiveness from God, in other words) and death by hanging. Provided that penetration and emission could both be proven, both the top AND the bottom would be hanged…provided that the bottom was aged fourteen or over. If the bottom was under fourteen, he was not guilty of a felony, though the top was.

Yet, despite the fact that homosexual acts are allegedly a crime in this book, as they were in real life, nothing happens to Andrew—or to Monkton, Verney or any of the members of the Brotherhood of Philander. The gay club is never raided, though everyone knows it is a gay club and that sexual acts take place on the premises. Andrew’s younger brother is not only aware of his brother’s homosexuality, but—I suppose jokingly, though it’s not funny—asks Andrew not to expect him to service Andrew on his knees as one of his male lovers would. No, really. He says that.

“Just as long as you don’t ask me to do what your ganymedes do on their knees,” Richard said. “Although considering the fate you’ve spared me [by paying all his debts], I’d accept that as a fair trade.”

Nor is Richard the only one saying inappropriate things. Andrew’s sister Lady Fanshawe gossips about her brother’s sexual orientation to his new bride and thinks nothing of it. Phyllida herself speaks openly and before witnesses about Andrew having male lovers; she’s reproved for speaking “brazenly,” but Andrew suffers no adverse consequences at all. Indeed, his sexuality is discussed openly at dances, at parties, and at the theatre by all and sundry, and it is no more than a topic of curiosity—and a bet. Yes, all of upper-crust society is knows that Andrew has a taste for men, and is betting on whether or not he can consummate the marriage and get Phyllida with child. Phyllida is told about this bet on at least twelve separate occasions. Andrew’s sexual preference is certainly not a criminal matter; it’s a source of amusement. I could not help but wonder why the Brotherhood of Philander, with its devotion to secrecy, needed to exist in the first place.

As the book goes on, it becomes clear that not only is this the world of OK Homo, but also a large proportion of the cast is a) bisexual and b) attracted to everyone else. Phyllida starts things off by declaring that Lady Fanshawe, Andrew’s sister, is “magnetically, erotically fascinating,” which I think is rather hard to misunderstand. Andrew, of course, is proclaimed to be gay throughout but can’t get enough of Phyllida in bed, so I’ll say that he’s bi. An allegedly bisexual actor and his equally bisexual actress sister both find Phyllida charming and fascinating. Lord Isham, the founder of the Brotherhood of Philander is married, and his male lover, Lord Rupert, is the father of one of Isham’s supposed sons. Isham, Isham’s wife and Rupert give Phyllida marital advice and quite a lot of information about how their menagé a trois works. Andrew’s doctor is both the physician for the Brotherhood of Philander and one of Andrew’s former lovers, yet he finds Phyllida appealing and doesn’t doubt for a minute that Andrew could have fallen in love with a woman. And of course, Monkton—a self-described completely homosexual man who reminded me of the camp Anthony Blanche in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited –tells Phyllida after a few minutes acquaintance that she inspires irresistible lust even in him.

Please note that the common denominator for all of this het lust in the non-straight is Phyllida, for Phyllida is the anti-gay. It even says so in the text. Here Monkton speaks to her:

“Have you looked in the glass lately? I mean within the past five years? You are beautiful. Not perhaps in the current ideal, but in a much more meaningful way, a carnal way, that men find irresistible, even men like me, to an extent. For the majority, those who are closer to the middle of the spectrum, like Carrington, you must appear as a very dainty morsel indeed.”

Look at what Monkton is saying:

1) There’s a spectrum of sexuality—a concept that popularized by the Kinsey Reports [Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948 ) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953).] Monkton mentioning it, therefore, is a blatant anachronism.

2) The majority of people are in the middle of the spectrum and therefore bisexual. This is an anachronistic opinion based on an anachronism—heterosexuality would definitely have been regarded as the norm in 1812. And speaking of alternate sexuality to a respectable married woman after only a few minutes acquaintance? In the heavily mannered world of the Regency? This is not merely anachronistic; it is surrealistic.

3) Beauty means more if it inspires lust.

4) Phyllida is so desirable, she can even make a completely homosexual man lust after her and find her irresistible.

I dislike this last intensely, for it says that homosexuality is something that can be changed if a gay man just meets the right woman. This is not a pro-gay attitude; it’s a reactionary one. It’s the basis of the whole idea that homosexuality is a condition that can and should be cured. That such an attitude exists in a novel rife with homosexuality and bisexuality I find deplorable.

But Monkton doesn’t stop there. I could have passed off his previous comment as exaggeration or sarcasm if he had, but no.

“…you have true beauty, and wit and intelligence. And while you are neither spiteful nor cruel, you have not allowed your natural kindness and generosity to cloud the shining purity of your malice. There is a remarkable openness in your conversation, with just the hint of acid that makes for a perfect bouquet, like a dry wine of superior vintage.”

You would think that anything that praised malice and acidity would be a back-handed compliment at best. However, Monkton has already told Phyllida that he finds most women dull and insipid and that he likes her wit and her sense of humor, so this is praise for what ought to be a flaw, as well as laudation for all of her other virtues.

There were moments that I had to struggle to read on. For example, Phyllida’s mother “eye[s] her daughter in her lush nakedness with gloating admiration” and makes a point of cutting twenty-two-year-old Phyllida’s pubic hair…for no clear and convincing reason. She says that Andrew “won’t want a dirty bush down there”–but since Andrew has no experience with women whatsoever, I don’t see why he would care. It seems more like an excuse to get close to her adult daughter’s genitalia. I’m not a fan of incest, lesbian or otherwise…and yet Mrs. Lewis’s actions strongly hint that this is not your average mother-daughter relationship.

Herendeen also produces quite the worst sexual scenes and sexual descriptions I’ve ever read. The gay sex scenes are brief and vague to the point of non-existence and focus on Andrew verbally flagellating his partners for being willing to have sex with him. It reads as if the author has no idea how gay sex even works, anatomically and emotionally, and is trying desperately to skim over the details.

Yet the het sex is no better. In the honeymoon scene, Andrew coyly refers to his penis as his “beef bayonet,” and acts as if he thinks is a very witty and sexy phrase. He also compares female arousal to “ordinary female sliminess” and thinks of Phyllida’s dampness as “clear mucus.” I found it most peculiar that an allegedly bisexual man who described things in such terms would want to have sex with a woman at all. Phyllida, for her part, thinks of “fucking,” “screwing” and “rape,” terms which a gently reared young lady of the Regency almost certainly would not use, and observes that “[t]he sound of him pulling out” was “a sucking, farting sound.” If any of this sounds even remotely attractive, I’m not telling it right.

It’s very strange, incidentally, that Phyllida thinks in terms of marital rape. The concept simply didn’t exist during the Regency. I can remember when the question of whether a woman could be raped by her husband first arose, in fact—during the 1970s. Before that, a woman was legally presumed to be “in a constant state of readiness for her husband”–that her body was his property, and that by marrying him, she’d already said yes. That, given the time and the place, is the concept that Phyllida should logically have. She doesn’t have to like it, and I do not expect that she would. But she should be aware that any man she married would have total access to her body at all times, because that’s the norm for her world. Instead, she repeatedly protests, screams and whines that she’s been raped…after thinking, time and again, how much she desires Andrew, and after eagerly and enthusiastically responding to her husband’s advances. It’s mad, illogical, anachronistic behavior, and it makes about as much sense as a member of the Boston Tea Party protesting the war with Iraq.

However, when Phyllida actually is assaulted by her husband’s steward, she doesn’t even think of rape, although there is no question that is what he’s attempting. Even more ludicrous is the fact that the attempted rapist blackmails her into silence by threatening to tell all “[a]bout your sodomite husband and all his friends at the Brotherhood of Philander”–even though Phyllida knows perfectly well that everyone already knows about her sodomite husband and all his friends at the Brotherhood of Philander. An author cannot create tension by stressing a danger that’s already been shown to be negligible.

Not only is marital rape a topic in the novel, but so are inheritance, divorce and illegitimacy. Unfortunately, they, too, are mentioned in a way that betrays the author’s ignorance. Francis Newburn (Andrew’s uncle, the earl) states the following:

“Better have it out now,” Newburn said. “No point in having someone else’s brat inheriting the title when it’s too late to do anything about it. Better a divorce now than the entire estate passing to the by-blow of an actor or a libertine.”

Let me count the ways in which that little speech is wrong.

First, the matter of inheritance. Newburn has no sons of his own who would inherit the title and his property. His younger brother, Andrew’s father, would inherit, but he’s dead. Andrew, Newburn’s oldest nephew, is the closest male relative that Newburn has. Assuming that the closest male relative is eligible to inherit—which wasn’t always the case, but seems to be so here–Andrew will inherit both his uncle’s title and his uncle’s estate. The only ways that he could fail to inherit would be if he were a minor at the time of his uncle’s death (and even then he’d inherit when he came of age), a bankrupt, insane, or dead. Francis Newburn has no say in the matter of who will have the title after him. (And being a scandalous and disgraceful person never stopped anyone from inheriting, though Andrew doesn’t seem to know this.)

Secondly, Newburn speaks as if divorce were commonplace and easy to obtain. Prior to the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857, divorce was very, very difficult to get. It cost hundreds of pounds, dragged on for years and required the passing of a private act of Parliament. Only four women ever got divorces by act of Parliament. Furthermore, a divorced couple would not be allowed to remarry in the church, as their ex-spouses were still alive. This would rather inconvenience anyone like a peer or a peer’s heir, i.e. Andrew, who needed to sire a legitimate son.

Third, illegitimacy. If a wife had an affair and got pregnant–which Newburn is as good as telling Phyllida he thinks she’s going to do—it was up to the husband to accept or reject the child. If he accepted the child, the child was, under the law, his. (Before the days of DNA testing, it would be rather hard to disprove parentage, after all.) Newburn shouldn’t be focusing on Phyllida; he should be trying to persuade Andrew to reject any child Andrew isn’t absolutely certain is his, because Andrew is the one who can confer or deny legitimacy to his wife’s offspring.

Newburn is protesting situations that do not exist, and is proposing solutions that do not exist, either. I must say that I consider this strange for a work that has been described as “meticulously researched.”

There are other bits that make no sense in the social context of the novel. For example, the matter of servants. Andrew has a staff of twenty at his townhouse, including a butler. Yet no servant ever answers the door or announces visitors, as would be the duty of a footman or butler. Instead, guests—and I use the term loosely–just walk right in off the street and announce themselves loudly to all and sundry, in the hopes of finding the master or mistress of the house at home. (For some reason, Yardley the butler never locks the front door.)

Then, too, Andrew hires Nan, a scullery maid, to act as Phyllida’s lady’s maid. This is patently ridiculous; the two jobs were light-years apart in terms of training and social status. No jumped-up girl from the scullery, whose job would have involved stoking the kitchen stove, emptying chamber pots, scrubbing the kitchen and the pantry, setting the table and washing dishes, pots and pans, would ever be a lady’s maid. Ladies’ maids were companions to their mistress, second only to the housekeeper in terms of status. They took care of the mistress’s hair and clothes, packed for her, helped her change five or six times a day, and accompanied her on trips to country houses. It was an enviable position in the servant hierarchy, and everyone upstairs and downstairs would know it. For Andrew to promote a Cockney scullery maid to such a job, he’d have to be extraordinarily ignorant of the norms of his own class and society, extraordinarily insulting toward his new wife, or both.

Phyllida also isn’t familiar with the society of her day, though she should be. For example, she claims that the Season begins after Easter. This is erroneous. The Season began when Parliament sat for the first time. This could be anytime from after Christmas through January. Admittedly, things did tend to pick up a bit after Easter (and no wonder, given the difficulties of riding in a horse-drawn carriage across unpaved, unplowed, icy roads), but nevertheless, the Season started in the winter.

Stranger than the characters’ vast ignorance of the world around them are the odd contradictions in Phyllida’s personality. She’s a demure and innocent young miss while also possessing a fiery temper, coarse manners and cursing like a stevedore. She is supposed to be a businesswoman who deals with editors and publishers. Yet at the same time, she is so naive that she has no idea that the average upper-class Regency woman is NOT wearing a “low-cut bodice that expose[s] the top of the nipples” or a “net tunic over the sheer underskirt through which the dark triangle at the top of her thighs showed as a dim shadow” in public.

This is not to say that diaphanous clothing never existed in England. It did, circa 1789, during the Directoire period. However, it only lasted a few years. “[B]y 1812,” writes Venetia Murray in An Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England, “they [N.B. the English] had gone back to their false bosoms and familiar corsets.”

You would think that Phyllida would recognize that the diaphanous clothes are of a fashion twenty-three years out of date. Most young women would stick at wearing the hopelessly out-of-fashion garments that their mothers used to wear. And surely a young woman brought up in a small, conservative village would press for something slightly more modest. The only conclusion I can draw is that Phyllida is the Regency’s proto-nudist.

I have mentioned Phyllida being a writer of gothic romances. There is nothing wrong with that; gothics were indeed being written at the time. However, gothic fiction of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was very different from the stories that Phyllida writes. Books that readers of gothics would have read—for Frankenstein, The Vampyre, tales by Hawthorne and Poe, as well as Jane Austen’s parody of gothic fiction, Northanger Abbey, had not yet been written in 1812—would have been The Monk (1796) by Matthew Gregory Lewis, The Italian (1797) by Ann Radcliffe, Clermont (1797) and The Children of the Abbey (1800) by Regina Maria Roche, and Wieland (1797) by Charles Brockton Brown.

But Phyllida does not write about terror, curses, ghosts, demons, madness, the evils of science, or the power of the Devil, which would have been typical for gothic fiction. No. She writes about the villainous Lord Iskander who wants Melisande, a woman he is holding captive and with whom he has already had orgasmic sex, to give him a blowjob.

This might qualify as gothic romance nowadays. It is not, however, what would have qualified as gothic back then.

As for sex being so blatantly portrayed in a novel of the time—not in a mainstream press. Possibly in an underground press, but not a mainstream one. The precedent was set in 1727 when Edmund Curl, an English publisher, was convicted for disturbing the peace for publishing Venus in the Cloister, in which two nuns merely talk about sex. Obviously, disturbing the peace is not a felony, and yet a lawsuit is a lawsuit. I doubt if Phyllida’s publisher would agree to publish anything that might get him, his publishing company or foolish Phyllida into legal trouble; mud has a nasty habit of sticking.

Phyllida also speaks of earning her own income through writing. This made me hurl the book across the room in fury, for it’s blatantly wrong, as the 1836 Caroline Norton case attests. Caroline Norton was a member of upper-class society who tried to separate from her husband. After she left her husband, Norton made it impossible for her to see her children, cut off all access to the marital property and charged Caroline and Lord Melbourne with adultery. The court case was unsuccessful, but it wore on for years. Caroline tried getting a divorce from Norton on the grounds of cruelty after the adultery case ended. She failed, for his behavior was not considered cruelty under the law.

Without any other income, Caroline began selling stories and poems. However, Caroline was still legally married—and her husband, as was his legal right, claimed a great deal of what she earned as his property.

The Caroline Norton case was the impetus for reform of the laws regarding married women and property. And the laws were changed, yes. But the Married Women’s Property Law was not passed until 1882…seventy years from Phyllida’s time.

So Phyllida, like Caroline Norton, has no legal rights. Any money she earns from her books belongs to Andrew. Phyllida’s contract with her publisher is now null and void, because any contracts made by an unmarried woman dissolved the day she married; all of her property was belonged to her husband. And Phyllida cannot re-negotiate a new one on her own, for no married woman could make a contract without her husband’s consent, or sign one without her husband being co-signer. It’s most peculiar that the author missed all of this, seeing as how it impacts her subplot of Phyllida as writer. It’s not as if the information were inaccessible. I found it in two minutes.

I must add that Phyllida has a most peculiar morality. She doesn’t understand why her husband’s brother, Dick, is considered a rake when he’s notorious for seducing women and, on at least one occasion, got a widow pregnant with his illegitimate son. I was under the impression that this was the kind of behavior that one could expect from a rake. As far as Phyllida is concerned, however, Dick just likes women, and what’s wrong with that? She also considers Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to be guilty of two sins—the sins of disbedience to their parents and another that isn’t specified…though she seems unaware that the two were married. At the same time, she gets sexually turned on by seeing a young allegedly bisexual actor dry-hump her husband in front of her, and, when the actor apologizes for his behavior, tells him with a soft smile, a laugh and shining eyes, “There is nothing to forgive, Mr. Powyl. I am delighted that Andrew has such an interesting friend.”

Phyllida reminds me very strongly of the original characters who populate every fandom—the ones who are shy yet outspoken, happy yet harboring a secret sorrow, loving yet friendless, calm but ill-tempered. The author seems to want her to have things not only both ways, but every which way. I kept wishing that Herendeen would pick one set of traits for Phyllida and stick with them for the rest of the book.

Also, there is a great deal wrong with Andrew. He is continually presented as having come to terms with his sexuality and having absolutely no shame, yet he angrily addresses the men he has sex with as “sluts” and “whores,” and curses Harry Swain, when he receives Harry’s “Dear John” letter, as a “whoring cunt” and “a goddamned two-timing bitch.” He does this whether he’s talking to a rentboy, an actor or a fellow nobleman. (Personally I found it interesting that all of the words that Andrew uses to revile men are words about women. This goes a long way toward dissuading me that he likes or respects women, much less loves Phyllida.)

He also spends a great deal of time brooding about whether the alleged love of his life, Harry, has been physically faithful to him for the three years that he has been in the army. Yet Andrew has been rather blatantly unfaithful to Harry Swain…with, as near as I can tell, half the male population of England. Nor does he bother to write to the man he supposedly loves and tell him, “Oh, by the way, I’m married now, but don’t worry, I still love you.” He is, to be blunt, a selfish and emotionally frozen creature who lacks the ability to speak to anyone he’s been physically intimate with as if they are human beings.

Yet, at the same time, Andrew behaves like a stereotypical queen. He not only bursts into tears when Harry breaks things off with him because Harry’s fallen in love with someone else—and after three years of playing around, I can hardly believe Andrew is heartbroken–he also goes into shock and needs brandy to revive him, then vomits and faints. This doesn’t fit Andrew’s previous behavior; I can only conclude that Herendeen thinks that this is how a gay man, regardless of his personality, would inevitably act under emotional stress. More practical questions— such as “Why didn’t Andrew enlist in the same company as Harry, if he wanted to be with Harry?” and “Why didn’t Harry get any leave in three years?”–are simply never answered.

Quite a few other stereotypes are trotted out and claimed to be facts, too. For example, Andrew’s doctor, Reginald Stevens, informs Phyllida that “[t]hree years is a ridiculously long time to hold onto the memory of a love affair,” though it’s clear that the love affair ended that morning and not three years ago. Nor does Stevens qualify his statement by adding that it’s a long time “if one of the men is away at war” or “given the fact that couples who love each other can’t be together openly.” This sounds like a reiteration of a stereotype I remember hearing when I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s: that homosexual men simply could not commit in any relationship. Phyllida, for her part, wonders whether Harry Swain played husband or wife in his relationship with Andrew…another persistent stereotype.

And then there is Matthew Thornby. He is allegedly the love of Andrew’s life, though he doesn’t show up until almost three hundred pages in. I was not convinced that Andrew loved him; he acted the same way toward Matthew that he did toward all of his sexual partners, swearing at and reviling him. That he was sexually attracted, I had no doubt. I simply did not believe that Andrew could be in everlastingly true love with Matthew after a little small talk and a quick screw outside. I think that a little getting to know each other and building a friendship between the two men would have been nice—but no. Sex first.

Herendeen cannot seem to keep details about Thornby straight. He bounces between speaking the King’s English flawlessly and dropping into the broad accent of a Yorkshire farmer—as if everyone from Yorkshire spoke the same way. He’s described as being quite wealthy, the son of a baronet who earned his money through cotton and of sufficient social stature to attend White’s and Almack’s…yet Andrew tries to hire him as his secretary for two hundred pounds a year on the grounds that “it’s more than you’re getting now” as “a wage slave, grubbing in that wretched warehouse in the City or wherever you go.” And oh, yes, he’s quite serious. He’s trying to place his lover in his household, yes, but Andrew really thinks he’s doing the man a favor by giving him a good job. Andrew never wonders once how anyone who “grubbed in a warehouse” could afford to associate with him in the first place.

But then, there is a lot of confusion in this book. On one page, Phyllida is punching her husband for having sex with her; a few pages later, she’s dreaming about how amazing the sex felt and wondering when they’ll do it again. In another section, Phyllida and Nan dress up like men so that they can get into the Brotherhood of Philander to spy; a page or so later, she’s teaching Nan, one of their neighbors and Nan’s male prostitute lover how to read by using one of her novels as a primer. There is talk about lords wanting a career in politics (members of the peerage couldn’t run for the House of Commons), a muddling of corporal punishment and capital punishment, the suggestion that peers were exempt from hanging (they weren’t—though they were entitled to be hanged with a silk rope rather than one made from hemp), and a convoluted spy plot that involves a government official who deals with espionage putting a spy of French ancestry in Andrew’s house as an employee, and the spy then trying to blackmail homosexual men who are very obviously out. The spy, Philip Turner, was passing on coded messages about the Brotherhood of Philander—no, he didn’t know anything about it until he was brought to the club. Turner is completely straight and repulsed by homosexuality; no, he’s bisexual; no, he’s homosexual and repulsed by women. Turner is an English agent; no, he’s an American and a former slave working for the French, but he’s still guilty of treason because he was spying on England.

The language, too, is somewhat jarring—inaccurate to a distracting degree. For example, there is a reference to a gentleman’s club for gays as “an exclusive madge house.” I looked it up in Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811). “Madge” was the slang term for a woman’s private parts. A “madge cull”–someone severed or separated from a woman’s private parts—was a male homosexual. So the club most emphatically has the wrong name—it might as well be called a pussy palace.

On the other hand, readers are also confronted with language that could not possibly have been used in 1812. “Gold digger,” in the sense of “woman who pursues men for their money,” was first recorded in 1915; “plaster saint,” in 1890; “teenager,” in 1941. “Making love,” in the sense of having sex, was first used in the USA in the 1950s; before then, it was a synonym for courting or wooing someone. “Migraine” is surprisingly legal—the word has been around since 1373—but I have to admit that I’ve heard the terms “megrims” and “sick headaches” used more often in books of the time.

A diligent proofreader who was unafraid to use a red pen would have done wonders…but this copy of the book was published by AuthorHouse, and AuthorHouse does not proofread, edit or even read the manuscripts they publish.

Doubtless at this point some people are fuming. I can hear them from here. “You’re being far too critical! She did her best! What do you want, a history textbook?”

No. No, I don’t. However, when a book is being sold as a historical novel—and the blurb cites the fact that this takes place in the Regency twice and praises it for “taking the reader to a little-known side of Regency life” once—I expect the novel to include well-written history interwoven with the plot. I do not like being jarred from a book with a reaction of “Wait, WHAT did the author just say?” every two pages or so. I don’t enjoy finding blatant error after blatant error in a book lauded for its attention to historical detail. What troubles me is that it wouldn’t have been hard to find and use correct historical information, and yet the author didn’t bother to do so—or, if she did, did not bother to incorporate it into the story. I am at a loss to understand why.

The writer herself says in an afterword that since the book is a romance, she considers it to be a form of fantasy fiction. This may well be her wish-fulfillment fantasy—given the idealization of her beautiful, virtuous, sexually desirable romance novelist heroine who is loved and wanted by all men, I don’t doubt it for an instant—but it is not fantasy fiction. That’s a different genre altogether. If the book is being sold as a historical, then saying after the novel is done that it only contains “elements of fact” and that she “wanted to create a mood, not a gussied-up history lesson” by using anachronistic language demonstrates rather clearly that Herendeen is writing in the wrong genre. She should not be writing historicals if she doesn’t want to bother with history or research. Since she could not be bothered to get one thing right in this book, and chose to make excuses for her sloppy work afterwards, I must conclude that she cares nothing for either.

Rating: one star. The best that I can say about it is that the work, at least, was Herendeen’s. It simply wasn’t good work.

A native New Yorker and lifelong resident of Brooklyn, Ann Herendeen has worked as a researcher for an urban planning consultant; an advertising media planner; a public and academic business reference librarian; a trademarks monitor for an intellectual property law firm; and a cataloging librarian specializing in natural history. Ann is a graduate of Princeton University, where she majored in English while maintaining a strong interest in English history.

Buy Phyllida & the Brotherhood of Philander from Amazon UK : Amazon USA

Review: Regency by Megan Derr

Review by Hayden Thorne

BOOK DESCRIPTION:
Four short stories and one novella with a regency flavor. A lazy prince and his stiff secretary have long despised each other, but the annual Masque changes everything. Gideon has always led a quiet life, free of scandal, until a carriage accident on his way home one night. Pierce has everything a young man could want – except the secret admirer he knows only through ardent letters. Jude is a notorious rake, but desperately bored…until during a chance encounter he impulsively offers lessons in seduction to an innocent young man. Bartholomew sees a chance to prove himself when his home is terrorized by a Highwayman – but the robber he encounters is nothing like what he imagined.

REVIEW:
I must confess that I’m rather puzzled by the book’s title since the stories themselves aren’t at all what one would expect in a historical collection. The book page on Lulu notes a “Regency flavor,” but whatever historical elements there are in the stories are so generic that they can easily be regarded as faintly Victorian just as they are faintly Regency. If anything, the collection of stories seems to be a hybrid of fantasy and contemporary with only a mild dash of historical fiction.

The first half of the book is comprised of short stories and the second half a novella, and all of them are in one way or another linked to each other. There are recurring characters that help carry the events over from one story to the next, which I think is a really clever approach. Instead of a collection of wildly diverging events, we’re given a string of romances, each segueing smoothly into the next.

Derr also writes in a strong voice that nicely catches your attention and holds it. That, in addition to the “narrative string approach” (for lack of a better term) to her book, however, doesn’t save it from a low rating.

To reiterate what I noted at the beginning – the book isn’t a historical despite the marketing tags used. Firstly, there’s absolutely no indication of place or even a specific point during the Regency that could firmly fix the events into a believable historical period. When one hears “Regency,” the first thing that often comes to mind is “England.” The stories, however, show no signs of anything English, despite the liberal use of “bloody” (as in “bloody hell”) and “pish posh” and a few antiquated turns of phrase that are distinctively English. Dialogue-wise, the characters sound more like American actors in fancy clothes, speaking in modern vernacular (there’s use of “Dad,” “Daddy,” and “snuck,” for instance) with a few English terms thrown in for period effect. What that achieves, though, is clumsy dialogue that at times sounds stilted and forced.

There are references to cravats, masques, gowns, carriages, tea, and so on, but they’re never detailed or given some degree of authenticity that would separate them from any other historical period. The Georgian and Victorian periods were all defined by the same things, after all (one more so than the other regarding different items). Factual errors bog the stories down in addition to the vagueness of period detail. In the first story, there’s a reference to tea as something that’s cultivated and blended in a temple somewhere north of the prince’s palace (the prince here being someone who’s not England’s Prince Regent). If these stories are, indeed, set in England, tea should have been imported from India and China.

The prince in the first story isn’t the Prince Regent, and all the stories, while addressing the scandalous nature of homosexual relationships, resort to extremes of OK Homo, which forced me to shift my perspective of the book from historical to fantasy. If the book were intended to be an Alternate History, there still should be specific indications of location and time against which we can compare the changes made in the actual historical events. If these stories were intended to be Alternate History, it would certainly make it understandable when two men publicly dance with each other as well as kiss each other not once, but twice in front of a crowd – yes, even in a masque. Again, there are no firm indications of an altered time in history, so as works of historical fiction, public displays of homosexual attraction are plain impossible.

The individual stories themselves certainly have a lot of potential though the writer depends too much on cliché, archetypes, and predictability. Secret admirers and misunderstandings tend to be pretty easy to figure out, and sometimes (as in the case of the first story) the character dynamics are exaggerated to lengths that strain credibility. The prince, for instance, and his secretary hate each other and verbally abuse each other, with their exchanges turning more and more cartoon-like in their over-the-top drama.

“Highness,” he said in a carefully level tone, “I know it’s difficult for you to do anything but sleep, eat, and rut, but you are one of the highest peers of the realm. Do try to act like it from time to time.”

“Then who would you harass and insult to death? I must give you something to do, since apparently you cannot even read a list of names without my assistance.”

“Damn it, Highness!” Rae slammed his hands down on the table, making the dishes rattle and his tea splash over the side of the delicate cup and onto the fine white linen table cloth. “I am an assistant, not a nursemaid. If you are going to be useless and insufferable, then take yourself off back to your bed and whores!”

Would a nobleman suffer himself to be treated that way by his secretary? While I could see Derr’s purpose in establishing a volatile foundation for a romance, the reasons given for each character (especially the nobleman) putting up with each other’s BS (as well as plans of revenge) are unconvincing, given the intensity of each other’s hatred of each other.

Regency is a very disappointing read overall. With her obvious talents, though, Derr is certainly capable of writing stories that better reflect her abilities.

Buy the book: Lulu.com, Amazon.com, Amazon UK (no link available)

Review: Speak Its Name by Charlie Cochrane, Lee Rowan and Erastes

A Three novella anthology from Cheyenne Publishing

Featuring:
Aftermath by Charlie Cochrane
Gentleman’s Gentleman by Lee Rowan
Hard and Fast by Erastes

Expectations riding on young Englishmen are immense; for those who’ve something to hide, those expectations could prove overwhelming.

Aftermath
When shy Edward Easterby first sees the popular Hugo Lamont, he’s both envious of the man’s social skills and ashamed of finding him so attractive. But two awful secrets weigh Lamont down. One is that he fancies Easterby, at a time when the expression of such desires is strictly illegal. The second is that an earlier, disastrous encounter with a young gigolo has left him unwilling to enter into a relationship with anyone. Hugo feels torn apart by the conflict between what he wants and what he feels is “right”. Will Edward find that time and patience are enough to change Hugo’s mind?

Gentleman’s Gentleman
Lord Robert Scoville has lived in a reasonably comfortable Victorian closet, without hope of real love, or any notion that it’s right there in front of him if he would only open his eyes and take notice of his right-hand man, Jack Darling. Jack has done his best to be satisfied with the lesser intimacy of caring for the man he loves, but his feigned role as a below-stairs ladies’ man leaves his heart empty. When a simple diplomatic errand turns dangerous and a man from their past raises unanswerable questions, both men find themselves endangered by the secrets between them. Can they untangle the web of misunderstanding before an unknown attacker parts them forever?

Hard and Fast:
Major Geoffrey Chaloner has returned, relatively unscathed, from the Napoleonic War, and England is at peace for the first time in years. Unable to set up his own establishment, he is forced to live with his irascible father who has very clear views on just about everything—including exactly whom Geoffrey will marry and why. The trouble is that Geoffrey isn’t particularly keen on the idea, and even less so when he meets Adam Heyward, the enigmatic cousin of the lady his father has picked out for him… As Geoffrey says himself: “I have never been taught what I should do if I fell in love with someone of a sex that was not, as I expected it would be, opposite to my own.”

Review by Alex Beecroft

It won’t be any secret that I’m a fan of both Erastes and Lee Rowan, so I’ve been looking forward to this trilogy ever since I first heard that it was on the books. That’s an uncomfortable position to be in, or at least it is for me, because I’m always afraid that if I look forward to something too much, it will end up being a disappointment.

So colour me very happy indeed that this was nothing of the sort. All three stories are carefully observed, beautifully written and emotionally very engaging. All three also share an emphasis on romance, on following the burgeoning relationships of their protagonists through discovery, doubt, problems, conflicts external and internal, towards an eventual satisfying resolution.

Of the three, Aftermath is probably the one I liked least. I loved the setting! Who could not love flannel-trousered beautiful young men at university, strolling across the green lawns, talking about the meaning of life, while slowly, deliciously falling in love? My main problem was the structure. A flashback at the beginning left me wondering whether now was now or then was now or…. I got a bit chronologically confused as to when the shoes incident was happening. Reading back a second time I realised that that was the dramatic first meeting of the two heroes, but the impact was lost on me at the time.

Having said that, though, when I got my bearings, I became thoroughly invested in hoping that these two highly principled young things would throw their principles to the wind and settle down to making each other happy. Much praise to the author – whose first professional story this is – for making that happy ending so very much desired while also showing how unlikely, even impossible, it could seem. You can see both young men growing up even in so short a space.

Gentleman’s Gentleman by Lee Rowan is a delight from start to finish. It felt a little like watching an episode of the Lord Peter Whimsey detective stories, if Lord Peter had been secretly in love with his manservant instead of with Harriet Vane. I don’t mean that in any kind of derivative way, but more to illustrate the feeling of place, from the battlefield to the first class carriage of a train racing across Europe, to the final meeting with the spy in the hotel in Vienna. And yes, there was a spy too, and a snuff box full of cocaine, and secret plans that had to be retrieved and taken to the Embassy before the Germans got their hands on them… In short, it was an exciting read just at the level of an adventure story. But add on top of that the wonderful familiar-but-repressed relationship of Lord Robert and his manservant, the conveniently named ‘Darling’ (Jack Darling), and there’s a whole new world of entertainment.

I loved the many convincing reasons why neither man had acted on his attraction so far, and the equally convincing way that the story unravelled every objection, from Robert’s principles to Jack’s reputation as a ladies’ man. It’s obvious that both characters are already comfortable and well suited to each other – and I liked both of them very much – so the final coming together is a coming home for both of them. Beautifully done and very touching. And a big thumbs up for the excuse they came up with to tell Lord Robert’s matchmaking mama!

Hard and Fast by Erastes is also a story in which matchmaking family members have a big impact. In this case it’s Geoffrey Chaloner’s father who wants him to get married to Emily Pelham, despite the fact that Geoffrey himself is fascinated by Emily’s cousin, Adam Heyward.

Normally I’m not a fan of stories told in the first person, but this is just lovely! Geoffrey’s ‘voice’ is delightfully in character for a man of his times, but he still comes across as very much of an individual. A rather lovable, bemused, good humoured, chivalrous, but none too bright an individual. Adam too immediately leaps off the page as a fully rounded person; clever, cynical, defensive. And it’s a treat to find that Geoffrey’s father, Emily Pelham and Lady Pelham are well drawn, likable characters too.

This is another story where I was able to really luxuriate in the sense of place – the settings were so beautifully detailed and real. The writing managed to be lush but powerful at the same time. I did really enjoy the fact that Geoffrey, who is all kitted out to be the ‘alpha male’ of this relationship – he’s big, powerful, a trained soldier, and literally at one stage so moved by passion as to sweep Adam off his feet – is also such an innocent. Adam, the physically frail, slight, non-combatant is three steps ahead of poor dim Geoff at every stage. And speaking of sweeping off the feet, the passion between the two leads is breathtaking.

With three very high quality stories, I thoroughly recommend this book. It left me with a smile on my face that hasn’t worn off a day later, and I’ll be buying it myself as soon as it comes out in print.

Cheyenne Publishing Amazon UK Amazon USA

Erastes would like to blushingly say that the views of the reviewer are not necessarily shared by the management, however much the management appreciates said view.

Review: Honor Bound by Wheeler Scott

 

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

However.

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

Here’s an example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy from Fictionwise

Why here and not there?

 

by Fiona Glass

Reading through several of Erastes’ recent reviews, I’ve noticed anachronisms being mentioned: railways in a Regency setting, confusion over the rules of aristocratic titles, that sort of thing. In pretty much every case the book has been set in England but the author is American, and it just set me wondering why that is.

America has a rich history of its own, and for the European influx, it dates back to at least the 17th century, which would be fascinating to read about. In terms of homosexuality and social history, it shares many features with Britain. In both countries gay sex was illegal until the mid 20th century. In both countries homosexuality was generally disapproved of, and gay men had to hide their sexuality or risk arrest and a hefty jail sentence. So it can’t be a case of writers being limited to one particular country if they want to describe a certain set of historical events.

It must be a lot harder for an author writing about a country that’s unfamiliar to them, too. At the very least, it means a stack more research to do, a stack more little facts and figures to check before they can even set pen to paper – and a stack more chances to make those annoying mistakes that seem minor in themselves but can pull a reader right out of the book. At worst, it can mean trying to base a book on the unreal world presented in films and television, with all the pitfalls that can bring.

So, why do American authors of historical novels still choose to set their books in England? Is it a publisher-driven or a reader-driven demand? Is there a specific rule amongst publishers that a Regency must by definition be set in England (in the same way that Parma ham must come from Parma)?

I’d be fascinated to know!

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Review: Angel’s Evolution by T A Chase

“I’m a monster. Or so my father would have me believe. I’m imprisoned in a world I hate and fear. As heir to my father’s title, I’m expected to marry, but my secret desires may keep me from fulfilling those expectations. One night a stranger kisses me. In his touch, I see the possibility of a life beyond my prison. My name? Just call me Angel and this is my evolution.”

Review by Erastes

(Newly republished by MLR Press)

I believe that this is the first book of Chase’s that I’ve read, and the author has nothing to prove to me, it’s obvious that they can write. It’s the story of Angel who has been so badly abused by his father that he has no confidence in himself, and considers himself to be unclean – hardly surprising when subjected to such abuse.

Nice cover. The Liquid Silver one was pretty decent, but MLR have done well on this one, and I’ve often criticised their covers.

I was pleased that Angel’s Evolution seemed to be quite meaty -  less concentration on sex and more of characterisation.  But sadly, and this is (obviously) totally subjective, it was the characterisation that I couldn’t like.It’s not often that I read a book and simply cannot identify or empathise with the protagonist, but I’m sorry to say that when it comes to Angel’s Evolution I just couldn’t. Perhaps it was that the book is written in first person present tense, a very brave tense to choose, and not one I think I could ever attempt. For me, present tense has to be light and immediate, action filled – not a deep, very angsty and at times dark and violent tale. It’s hard for me to explain, but I always feel that the present tense is like constantly being on the edge of a precipice, and even the protagonist doesn’t know what will happen next.

But what happens here is that Angel is having such a bad time throughout most of the book and he (obviously) doesn’t know what is going to happen, he’s caught constantly in the present, and whines almost the entire way through the book.  I would have found it more effective if he had been looking back at his life with the benefit of hindsight, explaining his evolution and letting the reader share it, but he doesn’t. He just whines about all the crap stuff that is happening to him, whines (very much like Fanon Remus Lupin) about how he’s a monster, whines about how he’ll be infecting the man who seducing him into becoming another monster, and oh – how can you love a monster? and just… whines.  I was half way through the book when I had decided that, when his father had finished with the horsewhip, I wanted to borrow it.

I didn’t understand quite why Angel’s father treated his son so very badly. If he considered his son to be a perversion you’d think that - rather than treating him like a prisoner – he’d be eager to foist him off on the first fortune hunter that came along.   But no, the father locks him up in the country, doesn’t allow him to meet anyone outside the family, whips the boy’s back so badly he bleeds through his evening clothes and then moans when he doesn’t mingle in order to find a wife.  He was his heir, and even if you thought your son was a pansy would you really keep him locked away from society, dress him in rags and whip him daily?

There is a nice balance of plot and sex, too. Not sex heavy and when it does appear it’s gradual and nicely erotic without being graphic,  (Although Angel whines even here…)  intense, tender and passionate in turns.

There were a few other things that jarred me; Angel’s father wouldn’t be a Lord – he’s the brother of an Earl, so he’d be an “Honorable”,  improper use of the term “whipping boy” right at the start, misspelling of “whiskey” instead of whisky, the ubiquitous “gotten” which is always going to make me grind my teeth, and even the title is anachronistic, if you use the word as meaning a gradual change. There’s the inevitable OKHomo, Angel’s uncle is fine with it, Society doesn’t ostracize Duke Greyson for it despite it having hounded the fabulously wealthy William Beckford  and Viscount Courtenay into exile. But the writing and the Romance of the story is not spoiled by this. It is well written, and if I have not made that clear, then I apologise. The description is lush, detailed – she writes a real sense of place – you can see the ballrooms, smell the streets, feel skin and velvet under your hand. The point of view and tense help with this, of course and it’s very involved.

If you, unlike me, empathise with Angel and end up liking him, then you’ll appreciate the job Chase does.  It’s just not for me.

Author’s Website

Buy from MLR PRESS

Review: Discreet Young Gentleman by M.J. Pearson

All hell breaks loose when Dean Smith, Earl of Carwick, is tricked into being discovered in the company of Rob, a handsome male prostitute. Now Dean needs to repair his broken engagement to a wealthy heiress…and Rob is the only one who can identify the man who set him up, proving to Dean’s fiancée that things weren’t as they appeared.

The trip from Worcester to Bath turns into a journey of self-discovery, as Dean finds himself becoming increasingly attracted to Rob. His charming companion stirs feelings Dean has long kept repressed, but acting on them would make true the accusations that destroyed his engagement. Torn between duty and desire, Dean’s destiny lies in the hands of a Discreet Young Gentleman.

Review by Renee Manley

I’d recommend this book to those who are on the lookout for romantic stories and don’t really care about period details. That said, historical fiction fans who’d like to feel as though they’re momentarily sucked into the Regency may be disappointed.

The romance is sweet. The rapport between the two lead characters is deftly handled, with a lot of witty exchanges and clever asides. Dean, to quote Blackadder’s Prince George, is exasperatingly “thick as a whale omelet” but more in a cheeky and sympathetic sort of way. Because of bad experiences growing up looking the way he does (he’s a redhead with lots of freckles), he’s nothing short of difficult when it comes to making him see his attractiveness, esp. if the person trying to hammer sense into him happens to be a hottie hustler.

Robert’s the “mystery” man who’s got all the trappings of a Regency romance hero: dark features, hotness, a carefully guarded past, and the entire world is in lust with him. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) he’s a prostitute. He’s roguishly charming and is quite obviously Dean’s perfect match. The other characters are interesting as well, with a lot of emphasis placed on Erich, Dean’s coach driver (who also has an interesting past), and Dean’s numerous quirky uncles.

There were several places in the novel where I chuckled or laughed, too, and I appreciate that.

There were some problems, though, that kept me from fully enjoying the novel. From the get go, I didn’t see two Englishmen who lived in the Regency. I saw two contemporary American actors playing historical roles. Turns of phrases all over the place had a very strong modern American slant. Too strong, in fact, which made it very difficult for me to connect with the period. I thought it would get better after Chapter One, but it didn’t. In fact, there were places where it seemed to grow worse.

There’s a generous smattering of “my lord,” “hell and damnation!” and other historical “markers” (for lack of a better term) that reminded me that this novel takes place in England in the early nineteenth century. But that’s the problem. They were reminders and not simply a natural part of an appropriately dated dialogue.

Much of the novel takes place on the road as Dean and Rob travel to Bath. Along the way, they stop at different towns that boast some pretty special “treats” to any visitor, i.e., tourist attractions.

One other problem I had with this novel was what I call historical pedantry, in which the writer, for whatever reason, abruptly stops the natural flow of the scene by “lecturing” us about this, that, and the other, usually in the guise of dialogue that ultimately sounds stiff and artificial. For instance:

Rob nudged him. “Don’t step on the Prince of Wales.”

“What?”

“Look down. That plaque marks the grave of Henry VI’s son.”

“Right. The one killed in the Battle of Tewkesbury.” Despite himself, Dean was impressed.

The verger shook his grizzled head. “Nasty business, the Battle. Lancastrian troops sought sanctuary here, and were pursued right up to the altar by the Yorkists. The Abbey had to be closed for a month to be cleansed and re-consecrated, due to the bloodshed.”

There are several others that are similar, and while they provide a quick history lesson about the area, they do nothing for the story itself other than belabor the readers with the fact that, yes, Rob likes history and knows quite a bit of it. Now I think I can understand Pearson’s purpose, which is to add more mystery to Rob’s story. After all, how many prostitutes would know so much about the Wars of the Roses? But I found this method distracting and, after a while, irritating.

These history lessons are paired with ghostly hauntings that these inns, abbeys, and whatnot, are famous for, and being thrown together in a mix made me feel as though I were reading bits and pieces from travel guides. Clumps of facts and anecdotes not smoothly blended into the story–one moment I was setting myself up for some romantic fireworks, the next minute I was wondering if I were going to be quizzed on English history.

This novel could have done with a longer development of the plot instead, given all the side characters and their stories, which suffer from lack of proper exploration or no exploration at all. And that’s unfortunate because Pearson’s novel has a very promising idea behind it. Toward the final chapters, everything seemed so rushed. The underlying complexity in the plot is never given proper justice, and all we have left is a “breezy romance.” That’s not bad in itself, but if the novel teases us with interesting character histories as well as promising side characters, as a reader, I’d be disappointed if it doesn’t follow through.

Amazon UK    Amazon USA

Review: Standish by Erastes

Posted by girluknow

Standish is a lush, intensely romantic love story between scholarly Ambrose Standish and worldly Rafe Goshawk. Though the men are thoroughly unalike, the author does an excellent job of persuading the reader that theirs is a love almost predestined in its depth and steadfastness. Never once did I doubt that Ambrose and Rafe loved each other and continued to love each other, despite brief entanglements with other men in the course of the story. This was the story’s strength; the author has a distinct talent for conveying the passion between his characters.

At the same time, the various driving forces in the relationship are realistic. Jealousy and doubt cause separation, but the greater force of their love eventually brings them back into contact with each other. The two men behave as men, not communicating when they need to most, acting rashly when they shouldn’t, allowing pride to make a difficult situation worse, and occasionally succumbing to pure lust. The author did a good job of making me want to smack both men at various moments in the story. I was emotionally invested and if an author can make that happen, he gets big points from me, no matter what other errors I felt existed in the work.

The point of view switching was a little frustrating. Just when I was beginning to involve myself with the reactions of one character, I was abruptly handed over to another character’s internal musings. This prevented me from getting as attached to the characters as I could have been. I think Standish would be a more powerful reading experience had the author switched points of view chapter to chapter or at least scene to scene.

The author has a good grasp of realistic character development. I enjoyed seeing how much Ambrose changed from start to finish. I liked him much better as a person by the end of the story. He was stronger and wiser without entirely losing his romantic heart. His words to Rafe at the end revealed how much he’d changed and how much he hadn’t. I especially liked his last line of dialogue; both romantic and matter-of-fact. I felt the ways in which he’d changed did make him better suited to a lifetime with a man like Rafe. Rafe changed more slowly or was still the process of changing for the better by the story’s end. That was to be expected, considering his upbringing. He had much more to overcome, but I did feel he was beginning to overcome it just in time.

The author made character motivations clear to me in all but one instance. Alvisi’s motivations remained something of a mystery, so I felt perplexed by his involvement. I also found it bothersome that Rafe put up with Alvisi as long as he did. I understand that Rafe felt like a debased creature who deserved to fall into darkness, but most of the time, that seemed nothing more than a personal justification for satiating himself. He might have been suffering emotionally but he wasn’t suffering physically–to say the least. His grief and self-abasement would have made more of an impression on me if he had denied himself pleasure instead. Of course that wouldn’t have been as realistic, so maybe I’m being unfair. I just wanted to see a little more nobility on Rafe’s part, I guess. I wanted a sense that he was cleaning up his act, so to speak, instead of wallowing in debauchery disguised as some sort of penitence. I was mad at Rafe for that and mad at Ambrose for not really being fair to Rafe earlier on, though they were both just being human.

That the author made me care enough to be angry with her characters’ behavior says a lot about her ability as a writer. One other thing I wanted to briefly note is the author’s way with intimate scenes. The sex in Standish was scorching and yet did not go into so much mechanical detail that I got tired of it and wanted to skim. The author included the right amount of description and all the emotion needed to make such scenes meaningful. Rafe and Ambrose were very sweet together, when they were together. I really liked that Ambrose brought out the best in Rafe. I think that was part of why I was irked at Ambrose when he was upset with Rafe, though I appreciated that Ambrose needed to have a taste of the hard realities of life in order to come to a better understanding of Rafe’s frailties. I felt the author expressed all this exceptionally well and that made the ending all the more poignant.

The author included details throughout that provided a strong verisimilitude and evoked the era without overburdening the story. The characters behaved true to their time period in speech and manners (as far as I know) and yet they stayed accessible to the modern reader. That’s another difficult balance to achieve but I felt the author was successful in this instance. Despite the problems I’ve mentioned, I enjoyed the book. It was told with the sort of passion necessary in good story-telling, a passion that kept me reading despite point of view problems. I think if the author overcomes the frenetic point of view switching in future works, he has wonderful potential for continued success.

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Review: Historical Obsessions – A romantic quartet by Julia Talbot

Four historical tales. Gentleman of Substance, Post Obsession, and two shorter stories, Remembering Pleasure and Thrust and Riposte. In Gentleman of Substance, colonial America has never been hotter than when gentrified Michael meets country bumpkin Daniel and sparks fly. The two are irresistibly drawn to one another, but will their love ruin their lives? Post Obsession gives us Markus, a bored aristocrat who begins to receive some very steamy letters from an admirer. Will the intrigue and interest continue when he meets his mysterious writer in person? Remembering Pleasure sees Alistair forgetting what a man’s touch feels like as he does his duty to wife and title. He begins to remember the pleasure of it all when his best friend, Griff, sends him a very special stable hand to help him out. And in Thrust and Riposte, swordsman Rene Godard finds ways to challenge his young pupil’s tutor Owen Tregarth, at every turn. Whether fencing with swords or words, these two duel happily, but can they survive the trouble that comes with kidnapping and strife?

Review by Erastes

A nicely balanced quartet of historical stories of men in delicious costumes and frilly shirts which they shrug off on a regular basis! Talbot does a lot of things right in these stories, her characters are deeply sexy and memorable – and all different; the sex is hot and arousing without being coarse and there is plot which – more particularly in the two longer stories – is not neglected for the sake of the sex scenes which is often the case.

Thrust and Riposte is one of the shorter tales – and is a steamy story of tutor and fencing master who spar with words, spar with swords and then finally spar with… other kinds of swords. *cough* I am a complete ignoramus when it comes to fencing, but Talbot writes the fencing scenes very convincingly and I enjoyed them a lot. I couldn’t work out when the story was set though, as it mentioned The Promenade des Anglais in Nice which wasn’t named that until the latter half of the 19th century when it seemed to be happening in the earlier half.. But all in all, a good story, full of conflict and nice exchanges, both verbal and physical.

Post Obsession is a darkly wicked tale which uses letters as its theme. I have a particular weakness for epistolary fiction and plunged into this most happily. Markus, Viscount Farringdon, starts to get letters from a mysterious man, simply called “E” who seems to know his every move, especially those moves in certain male brothels. At first Markus thinks he’s going to be blackmailed but then he realises that the man is obsessed with him – a early stalker perhaps – and he becomes obsessed with finding out who his tormentor is.

It’s a nicely paced story, leading both Markus and the reader along by the nose and throwing out red herrings and clues as it progresses. The sex when it happens doesn’t disappoint, although I wasn’t turned on by the BDSM elements – there was rather too much talk of dark marks blooming on pale skin, but I realise that others will find that more than arousing, it just didn’t interest me.

Remembering Pleasure is the short story of Alistair, a repressed man who seems to have forgotten how to enjoy himself. He takes on Mick Cole, a gorgeous and darkly handsome stableman who he finds “abusing” one of the stable lads. Instead of chucking him out on his ear he finds himself drawn into Mick’s dominant sexuality and learns that he enjoys himself. Very erotic, and lots of spanking.

A Gentleman of Substance introduces us to Michael St James – a handsome dandy who has been banished from Boston by his father for his homosexual behaviour and has to join society in Virginia. There he meets the rough and handsome Daniel Calhoun, a well-heeled gentleman farmer who thinks more of his stock than he does of society, and Michael is piqued by the challenge that seducing the man would be. He sets out to tease and torment but gradually both men realise that they mean more to each other than that, and they have to make their decisions as to where their lives will take them.

This was the story I enjoyed most, although I was once again confused as to when it was supposed to be set. The back cover said “colonial America” but there were mentions of Empire dresses and roman hairstyles which only came to the fore in the Regency.

Overall, I like Talbot’s men very much, she doesn’t fall into the habit of having her men behave as anything else but men – they aren’t chicks with dicks which is a big point in her favour. I could smell the testosterone!

I’ve mentioned the not knowing what time era I was in most of the time and yes that did bug me. In three of the tales I was completely clueless as to when they were supposed to be set, and in the fourth the blurb seemed to be wrong.. In historical fiction I find this pretty essential, it’s not enough to give me verbal clues like carriages and duels, I want specifics. Some of the language jarred me: cut off sentences abounded, as did words in the narrative like t’was and t’would which were obviously put there to evoke a sense of olde worlde but they should have be confined to a character’s thoughts. But they appeared with annoying regularity in every tale.

But, an enjoyable, arousing anthology all in all, and if you are looking for a pretty decent historical read, with good characters and some deliciously erotic m/m sex, then I do recommend Historical Obsessions.

Author’s Website

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Review: Smokescreen by Stevie Woods

Lord Richard Douglas (known as Chard to his best friend Julian) has just returned from the continent with a new wife. Sir Julian – seeing them together realises he loves his friend in a way that would not be acceptable to law or society.

Review by Erastes

This is a very simplistic story which way overstayed its 12,000 words by at least half.

Quite readable, but no more than a PWP and very little porn to reward you for wading through the previous 11,500 words. It’s reminiscent of one of those Harry Potter fics where Sirius and Remus struggle with the realisation that they are gay and then end up boinking at the end.

And I couldn’t find anyone called after a type of spinach arousing… I’m not Popeye.

There’s far far too much angst. Six thousand words of repetitive angst where both men wankst on internally about how much they love each other and how the other one must never know and how it can never be when this could be dealt with quite swiftly, and have the story move along to some substance.

Another problem for me was that the author sets “Chekov’s gun” up in the first couple of paragraphs with a reference that Lord Douglas’ new wife is no better than she should be, but the gun never really goes off – so there was a promise that the plot could have been – well, a plot – but I was left feeling let down that there wasn’t any to speak of.

As to historical accuracy, I lost my eyebrows to my fringe a couple of times; there’s no mention at all of the fact that Europe is plunged in a bloody war for a start. Then there’s this quote which nearly had me ripping the thing in half

Softly interrupting, Richard asked, “Are you afraid?”

Julian frowned, puzzled. “Afraid?”

“The sentence is still death. I know it hasn’t been carried out in decades, but still, it would mean prison…Is that what’s worrying you?”

Julian was concerned, though. “Conviction is very difficult, but just an accusation…I just don’t want to ruin your life.”

Um – No. Sorry, Stevie Woods, but During the first thirty-five years of the nineteenth century more than fifty men were hanged for sodomy in England. The law had to prove BOTH penetration and ejaculation to make it a hanging offence – but a lot of accusations were reduced to assault with a sodomitical intent, which meant at least six months in prison, sometimes with the pillory and a very hefty fine.

http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/history/crime/crimes.html#sodomy

I suppose part of the reason that I do point this kind of inaccuracy out is that I don’t want gay regency to follow the leader in the way that some heterosexual regencies do – where Heyer is considered canon. It was illegal, it was a death sentence, to say nothing of queer bashing, and a complete loss of reputation.

Talking of penetration… When we get to the sex I found it more textbook than arousing, and found it a little bit strange that Julian, who had never done anything with men was (from what he’d learned in books – and I’d have liked to know which books?) more knowledgeable about what to do than Richard who admitted that he had had sex with men at least a couple of times before, and really, the men were a little too girly for my taste.

So all in all, I was disappointed. I’m always excited to find a gay Regency, but this just didn’t do it for me. But if you are a fan of angsty feminine men, and don’t give a stuff about period feel, then you’ll probably like it more than I did.

Author’s website

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Review: Sound and Fury by B A Tortuga

Running from his past, Declan Murtagh arrives in London and immediately sets it on its ear, earning himself so many duels with his temper that he never needs to shoot for target practice any more. One early morning assignation leads him to the most intriguing, and infuriating, man he’s ever met. Seth Rhodes.

Seth is a old rakehell, and he sees something of himself in Declan, vowing to take the young man in and teach him a few things about controlling his temper, polite society, and debauchery. When they come together it’s like lit gunpowder, but what will they do when their pasts catch up to them?

Review by Erastes

Once more I encountered a problem I see again and again with these gay historicals, that don’t tell you WHEN they are occurring. When you pick up a book at the library or in a bookshop you flip over to the back and read something like: Fresh from Waterloo -Captain Carter is ordered by Lord Wellesley to quell an uprising in the SoandSo province. Will Carter be able to infiltrate the warlord’s defences? Blah blah…

So we know where – and when – we are!

But this (and many others I read recently) has no clues as to setting it firmly WHEN. And call me picky, but I like to know! The early and mid 19 th Century was a hugely transformative century, the modern civilisation was being born and even 20 years here and there made a large difference to the fashions, the language, the transport etc.

So I had to ASSUME it was pre-Victorian, even Regency perhaps but I had no idea, and as I said, it’s about the sixth book I’ve read recently (more if you count the four short stories of J Talbots) that has this problem and I’m getting more and more sensitive to it. /rant

However, the books starts in a promising fashion, our hero Seth is acting as second to a friend’s duel. The antagonist Declan Murtagh (who is surprised that Seth knows he’s Irish!!…no jokes please) is a kind of D’Artagnan figure when we first meet him, and he admits that he’s been in eight duels in a fortnight. Seth becomes attracted to the young man, invites him back to the house for breakfast and Declan stays for good, and they are shagging before you can say “what era is this?”

If you like long long LONG sex scenes you’ll love this – the first sex scene goes on for 22 pages!!! – about 5000 words. I have trouble writing entire short stories of that length… The book is 35k words long approx and about 18k of those are sex. They are fairly hot, but really, who wants to wank for 5k??? Ouchie.

However – unless my version had something missing – I couldn’t find any actual plot at all. There’s a “conflict” shoe-horned in half way through which causes Declan to bolt but the resolution is weak and the reunion is unrealistic. After its promising start the book deteriorated into a series of rather strange arguments which seemed to have no point, a lot of scenes of the characters eating rather anachronistic things and the marathon love-making scenes as mentioned.

The writing isn’t bad, at all, it’s engaging and I warmed to both characters early on – surprisingly they are three dimensional but I’d like have have seen them given something to do other than.. well, you know. The trouble is that it got boring and I just thought OMG NOT AGAIN – flipped forward for pages – which meant I only read about half of this book at most because when I saw them (after a break of about five paragraphs) getting into another clinch I just kept turning pages until they’d both spent. Again.  It actually feels very much like a converted RPG, now I come to think about it.

If you want huge tender sex scenes, you’ll love it, but if you want some story with your sex you’ll be disappointed, it’s probably one of the longest PWP’s I’ve ever read.

Author’s Website

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Review: The Price of Temptation by M J Pearson

Stephen Clair, the notorious Earl of St. Joseph, has a lover he can’t afford, a social calendar that’s out of control and a libido that rules his life. If he can’t get control of all of them, he will fall into financial ruin. Could the youthful, handsome and dependable Jamie Riley be the solution to his problems? Jamie Riley has a secret that keeps him from accepting the sexual advances of his employer, Stephen Clair, and a past he would like to leave behind. But Stephen is a man who knows how to awaken a passion that Jamie has been trying to suppress, and carries a price that Jamie would rather not pay. But it isn’t easy to ignore passion, especially when it’s so temptingly close. Julian Jeffries, lover to Stephen Clair, has found a way of living the high life without lifting a finger. It isn’t until Julian notices that Stephen has been spending time with his latest employee, Jamie Riley, that he begins to worry about losing everything he’d schemed to have. Now Julian needs to find a way of getting rid of Jamie without raising suspicion. And, as Julian knows, the best way to do that is to dig into Jamie’s past and find something to use against him.

Review by Erastes

I won’t say I didn’t enjoy this, because I did. It was possible to unhinge my research head and treat it as a “romance novel” with all that that genre implies. Brooding hero, delicate (but rather stubborn) hero who isn’t going to let said BH get into his pants unless it’s true love – not if he can help it! (all whilst being swept along by his own desires)

So yes, it’s an enjoyable romance read. I liked the characters in the main. The BH (Stephen) was suitably brooding and sufficiently dissolute to make me happy. His kept man (Julian) was nicely venal without being a cardboard cut out and the hero (Jamie) was all right, although far the weaker of the main characters in my opinion.

Characters

I liked Stephen a lot. He was a product of his time and circumstances. He’d lost his family and was drifting further and further into dissipation and was more than ripe for True Love to Redeem Him. As much as I liked him he certainly deserved The Wet Fish Clue Slap around half way through, because he wouldn’t shake off the wastrel Julian he was hanging around with for the lack of anything better), he struck me as a very true man – being led around by flattery and his libido – and like a lot of rich men, he had lost the ability to tell whether affection was real or bought.

Jamie I never quite connected with, he held many of the attributes of the good romantic hero(ine), he was Good. He was self taught, (no education other than some old vicar in Yorkshire, but he could read Greek and was a published historian) He stepped into the running of great house and went from personal secretary to librarian to house steward, taking over Stephen’s budget and starting him on the road to solvency with a speed (the book encompasses about 3 months) and an ease that would have impressed even A Woman of Substance. But he didn’t impress me, I was a little bored with him – I never quite felt I knew him, perhaps it was his lack of flaws. He just started to get interesting towards the very end of the book, and I would have liked to have seen a bit more of that.

But overall, he was just a bit too passive for my liking, I have to admit.

There are many other secondary characters, which make for lively interaction. My favourite was Stephen’s Aunt Matilda.

Period Feel

It owed a healthy nod more to Heyer than to Austen, which was more obvious to me, (and to be honest I wouldn’t have been able to stomach), if I had not been reading my first Heyer at the same time as I was reading this, and therefore understood more clearly where the jargon came from.

The thing that jarred me is that really, the characters seemed to me to be modern day characters in a period setting. Their language vacillated from Heyerisms to Modern Day – “Jesus!” and “f*ck” are used as swear words, and someone says that they’ve “blown it” – another says he “needs to get laid” at one point, Jamie has a cute nose, and so on.

The household is so liberal it’s unrealistic – Stephen is not just casual or fraternising with his staff, he treats them as his equals, near enough, from the scullery maid upwards. (He’s an EARL) They all give him advice and he sits and chats and plays cards with them. I also couldn’t manage to believe that, in a society where buggery and sodomy was punishable with such regularity and fanaticism, that Stephen would get away with being a self proclaimed sodomite in 1816. Granted, being rich and influential, he might have been able to side step any conviction, but he would have been prey to blackmailers, scandal mongers and certainly ostracised from all polite society. He’d get away with it once, but not in a serial fashion in the way he does. Not without some other prop to sustain him – a great wit, a playwright, a bosom friend to Prinny, a huge and powerful family or something like that.

I did notice other small anachronisms and some sayings that are (as far as my research goes) only attributable to Heyer – but I only noticed them because of months of research into the same period so they won’t spoil the book for the general reader, and it will enhance the enjoyment for the Heyer-philes as they will find it familiar. There were however, some nice true details – the fact that the Elgin Marbles were in the British Museum in 1816, waiting for the Duveen Gallery to be built, good solid research into where Hanover Square is in relation to other streets in London.

However, as I say, it’s a decent enough read, although all in all I felt that it was all a little rushed and at 200 pages, it could easily have extended to 250-300 without harming the book at all, just to give us a deeper insight into the characters.

If you like m/m and you like Heyer, you’ll probably like it, but the anachronisms kept the rating down.

Author’s website

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Review: An Agreement Among Gentlemen by Chris Owen

Edward Munrow has had a change in circumstances. Going from being a gentleman of few means to being a wealthy land owner in less than a day is difficult enough to imagine, but being blackmailed into a marriage he doesn’t want by a Duke is just too much. Ned agrees to the marriage to keep his name out of the scandal sheets, and soon enough he is meeting Lady Jane, a member of the Duke’s family, and her son, Henri, the Viscount Langton. Langton is a delightful surprise for Ned, a young man just coming into his own, ripe for the sorts of debauchery Ned is best at.

Review by Erastes

First Impressions: I liked it. There were many things to like. *ticks off* Characters, the writing, the readability, and RED HOT SEX. I’ll say this upfront that Owen makes me jealous as his/her sex scenes are everything that I like to read, sensuous and steaming without being coarse in any way. I did have a few problems with it, however.

Characters: In the main – I did like the characters. I liked the rather juvenile behaviour of Edward – and Griffith (his man) is just uproariously brilliant. I know I’ve complained about some historical fiction being “Everyone’s gay and Everyone’s OK about it” before, (now officially known, in this blog as “OKHOMO”) but I couldn’t complain about it here. Edward DOES take steps to limit the danger from the outside world, as well as he can, at least, and Griffith, as I’ve said, is a comedy turn well worth the money of the book on its own. He verbally bitch slaps Edward at one point, and his digs and asides about his master’s behaviour (whilst still managing to be a servant and not a friend or lover) had me chortling.

I particularly liked that Langton was a “lamb with teeth” e.g that he had his own thoughts and ideas – and I preferred him at the beginnng of the book, he got a bit too pliant towards the end, and became a Truitt clone. However – I couldn’t imagine that any aristocrat – if I’m to take this as being 1840 and within living memory of the Napoleonic wars – would call their son Henri. That jarred me a little.

I liked Truitt a lot too, it’s sometimes difficult to discern the lines between characters in a menage-a-trois fic, but Owen manages to keep all the characters with their own personalities.

Setting: I have to make a point here, because I’ve read a few stories recently that have the same problem; when I read an historical book I like to know when it’s set.

The back of the book says AAAG is a “Victorian Romp” but I was completely confused–there was nothing to anchor me in the Victorian Age–and if it hadn’t said that on the back, I’d have assumed it was Georgian. The characters travel from Berkshire to London by carriage, so I can only assume it was right at the beginning of the Victorian era as the Great Western Railway was up and running by 1841.

I think it’s a case of the writers knowing their books too well and not actually sitting back and looking objectively at them and asking themself “will the reader get the era?” There’s no need to info dump or do “As you know, Bob” dialogue

It’s easy enough to ease the reader into a sense of time – and I for one feel unanchored without it. But perhaps it’s just me.

anyway – it’s a minor niggle and one that probably wouldn’t annoy 99 percent of readers.

The main problem that I had with the book is that it didn’t really have much of a plot. That didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the whole sexy romp as a whole, but it had me wondering when something would happen.

Chekov said: “One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it” ,and Owen sets up a conflict device in the very early stages of the book, but simply never follows through with it. I was waiting for that “gun” to go off, for the conflict to kick in, but it just never happened. Things just went from good to better to sublime for the characters, and in the end I couldn’t help but think that it was only all about the sex.

Writing: The writing was nicely balanced, a feel of the time, with a narrative voice that sounded and felt right, and excellent descriptive text. Owen writes quite cinematically if you know what I mean, and the surroundings and other characters are so well described without being at all heavy handed, that I could imagine what I was reading very easily. There were one or two minor Americanisms and one or two editing flutters but utterly minor.

If you like a nice uncomplicated love story with a lot of very well written sex then you’ll enjoy this. If Owen were to write another gay historicals I would certainly buy it without hesitation, but I hope that there’s more emphasis on plot and conflict next time.

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