Author Interview – L A Witt

comfy chairMy guest today is a best-selling author best known for scorching erotica and erotic romance, writing both M/F as Lauren Gallagher and M/M as L A Witt. Her series of novels – Rules of Engagement, Cover Me, The Distance Between Us, Changing Plans and, with Aleksandr Voinov, The Market Garden – all have an avid following. In addition she has written many standalone works to delight her readers ranging from speculative fiction to steampunk and back via historical and contemporary romance. Her latest release, co written with Aleksander Voinov, is Unhinge the Universe, an exciting historical drama set in 1944.

Welcome L A and thanks for agreeing to the interview.
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Author Interview with Adam Fitzroy

comfy chair

My guest today is Adam Fitzroy, author of five non-erotic M/M romance titles available from Manifold Press. Romances set in the White House, on Flanders Fields and on the border of England and Wales, some contemporary, some historical and some BOTH, have met with critical acclaim.  Thank you, Adam, for so kindly agreeing to answer my questions.

- Hi, Elin; it’s lovely to be invited, thank you!

Elin: You have written contemporary stories and historicals, which do you prefer? Do you find contemporaries easier to write than history?

Adam:  No, not at all.  In fact I’m far more at home with historical subjects, and I think the reason is that I’m a bit of a dinosaur; with contemporary subjects I have to keep reminding myself that the characters will have access to mobile phones, computers, the internet and so forth, and that they will be able to find things out quickly which would have taken a previous generation weeks or even years to discover.  I like a slow pace of storytelling, something that will be an immersive experience for me when I’m writing it and will hopefully be very much the same for the potential reader, and that somehow seems to be at odds with the faster pace of contemporary life.

Elin: When writing historicals, what do you enjoy most about the process? Do you enjoy research for its own sake?

Adam:   I love research; I love solving little problems and discovering how things would have been done in a bygone era.  To me, learning about a ‘new’ historical era is like learning a new language; I need to acquire a lot of information before I can write so much as a single word.  What job or profession would my characters have had, for example, and what would they have earned; how would they have made a journey from Point A to Point B and how long would it have taken them?  I’m also fascinated by historical diet, furniture, houses, clothing … and the fact that, whatever their trappings, human beings are essentially the same and have the same or similar hopes and dreams, fears and failings throughout history.  I love getting inside their heads and understanding their concerns, seeing how like us they are – and, in other ways, how very different.

One place where I draw the line in historical fiction, though, is with language – there is absolutely no point in trying to write historically-accurate dialogue full of ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ because it runs the risk of sounding like a bad parody of Shakespeare; a far more straightforward course is to stick to relatively simple English and indicate to the reader by the subject matter they’re discussing that these are not contemporary characters.  Ellis Peters did this to good effect in the ‘Brother Cadfael’ books, which in my view makes it an example that’s very well worth following.

Elin: I’m fascinated to see that you have set a romance in the White House with the President, no less, as one of the protagonists. What inspired that story?

Adam:   I’ve been a bit of ‘Presidency buff’ ever since I was a child, and I love the whole panoply of White House life – the staff, the settings, the prestige and the power – although I must admit that I’m less enthusiastic about the actual politics; I just see the Presidency as the American equivalent of royalty, with similar glossy trappings under which are very often flawed human beings.  I adore movies with a White House background – and as you can probably imagine I’m a huge fan of ‘The West Wing’, too – and basically with ‘Dear Mister President’ I set out to write the story of the kind of movie I would really like to be able to sit down and watch.  That’s my starting-point with most of my books, in fact; I try to write something that would be entertaining to me if someone else had written it.

Elin: Your novel Make Do And Mend is set during the early part of the Second World War in rural Monmouthshire. Can you explain why you chose such an unusual place to set the story instead of a more glamorous location?

This farmhouse, the site of a former youth hostel, is the site Adam chose for the fictional Hendra.

Adam:   There were two main reasons; one was that – as far as I knew – nobody had ever done it before, but the other was the old advice about ‘writing what you know’!  The location where the story is set is not a million miles from where I live, and I often pass through it by train – which you might think would lead to a superficial acquaintance with the area at best – but I’ve been doing so on a regular basis since the 1980s and it’s sunk in gradually, somehow, by osmosis.  I’ve also covered a lot of the same ground by car and also on foot, I should add – I walked the Wye Valley some years ago – and read up quite a lot about it.  Eventually I became fascinated with one particular valley, one particular road, one particular location … and over a period of several years the story of Harry and Jim slowly took shape in my mind.

Looking back towards the Hendra from the road to “Sermon Pass”

 

Elin: I can understand that Adam. It’s one of my very favourite places. Now, could you give me a reading recommendation, either in your genre or out of it? The type of book you would wade through a flood to rescue.

If you enjoy reading about men coping heroically with impossible situations you will enjoy this book.

Adam:   There is one book above all others that always springs to the forefront of my mind when this sort of question is asked, and it’s the one I would take to the legendary BBC desert island with me – Nicholas Monsarrat’s ‘The Cruel Sea’.  It’s probably the book that’s had the profoundest effect on me since the day I sneaked my father’s copy out of his bookcase when I was a teenager.  Monsarrat’s unsentimental style, his eye for detail and his characters – together with the overwhelming conviction that he has been in these places and seen these things for himself – combine to produce not only a powerful and absorbing narrative but also, looked at in another light, an example of the kind of book I would give my eye-teeth to be able to write.  He portrays, strongly and convincingly, the sort of devoted relationships between men that are all about love and not even remotely about sex; Erikson and Lockhart, for example, are closer to one another than they are to the women in their lives – and there’s Ferraby and his affection for his young friend Rose, too, which I’ve always found extremely moving.  I must confess that the surnames Lockhart and Ferraby appear in ‘Make Do And Mend’ as a direct tribute to ‘The Cruel Sea’, which some readers may have spotted.  Other favourites may come and go over time, but this is one book that will most definitely remain with me forever!

Elin: What’s next from the pen/word processor of Adam Fitzroy? Can you tell us about it or do you refer to keep the details to yourself until the work is finished?

Adam:   I’ve recently started – and it’s giving me a bit of trouble at the moment – a book about two male teachers of different ethnicities who meet and fall in love while working in a school in the East End of London in 1966.  They bond over trying to create – completely from scratch – a school cricket team, using the most unpromising materials.  Cricket is among my many enthusiasms, and in a way it’s odd that I’ve never written anything about it before, but of course it offers an ideal meeting-point for people from completely different cultural backgrounds.  I would like the book to be about unconscious prejudice of all sorts – whether originating in race, gender, age, social class, sexual orientation or anything else – but hopefully not ‘preachy’ in any way; it’s enough, I think, to show that sometimes people’s unthinking predispositions can be overturned, and it needn’t be by any great dramatic revelation – just gradually learning a little bit more about their fellow human beings.

Elin: Could we please have an excerpt?

Adam:   This is from ‘Make Do And Mend’ – the air-raid sirens have gone off during the village Christmas Dance, and the characters are sheltering in the crypt of the church:

Like all such occasions, it was almost fun at first; they crowded together in the vault, and it soon became warm enough to be comfortable, and for quite a while there was nothing but silence overhead.  Someone had brought over a set of dominoes and the top of a long-deceased Lyon’s slab tomb was turned into a table where the game was played with great enthusiasm; Gwen and the ward sister – her name was Hilda, it transpired – were deep in conversation; Blanche leaned against Kitty and fell asleep, and Kitty in turn leaned against Jack.  Harry, under some obscure compulsion not to rest even for a moment, circulated slowly like the host at a particularly unsuccessful party; he and the vicar, working together as if they had rehearsed it, stepped gently over stretched-out legs, found Alka-Seltzer and headache tablets and extra blankets, distributed magazines and sandwiches and light conversation wherever appropriate.  By the end of the first hour, however, when optimism had turned to resignation and novelty had already begun to pall, there began to be a minor rumble of discontent amongst the ranks.  People had already started to talk about making a dash for it back to their own homes – to pets shut in, to children being looked after by neighbours – when the sounds of approaching violence became audible in the distance.  Parry ARP, out in the graveyard with his fellow wardens, twitched the curtain aside to say “Here they come”, and husbands pulled their wives closer to them and friends pressed tightly against one another’s shoulders in order to be in contact with someone, anyone, in a time of fear.  The church may well have stood for a thousand years before tonight, but it would be no proof against a direct hit; if that happened, there would be a thousand years of solid masonry and carved oak down around the ears of the shelterers in an instant.

Harry’s father had been killed in just such a way, barely eight months before, when seven hundred German bombers had torn out the historic heart of London; crushed in the ruins of the library at Gray’s Inn, he had died surrounded by the things and places he had loved the most.  Harry, however, could not simply stand still and wait for the same to happen to him.

“I’m going outside,” he said quietly to the vicar.

Eltringham glanced assessingly around the vault; Gwen and Hilda were looking calmly in their direction, but nobody else seemed to have a single thought to spare for either of them.

“All right,” he replied.  “I’ll come with you.”  And they pushed through the blackout, up the twisted stairs, emerging into the chill graveyard where they joined Parry ARP in a little sandbagged redoubt tucked into the angle between nave and transept.  There was already an ominous droning in the air, accompanied by a series of far-off thuds that certainly betokened nothing good.

“They’re coming up the railway line,” said Parry.  “From Pontypool.”  And even as he spoke the separate impacts drew nearer, stitching along the valley with an almost paralysing slowness, bombs falling repetitively one by one by one in a long and deadly rhythm, flashes of light sometimes perceptible where they fell.  “It’s mostly farmland over by there,” he added hopelessly.

“What can I do?” asked Eltringham, in a distracted tone.  “Whatever can I do?”

“Pray, vicar.  That’s all any of us can do.”

“Mr Parry, I’ve been praying continuously since 1939!”

“Well, sir,” replied the warden, “no offence, but I’m afraid it isn’t working.  Maybe you’d better start praying a little bit harder?”

The engine note was clearly identifiable now.  “Heinkels,” said Harry.  “I just wish there was a moon.”

“And I wish there was no war,” responded Eltringham, gripping his arm above the elbow with bony fingers that dug in and stayed clamped there as the thundering menace drew closer, juddering in the tight air, vibrating through ground and stones and bones and blood and souls.

“They’re going over the mountain,” Harry realised at the last moment.  “Over Hendra.  Over the quarry.”

They were above the village, two of them, three, maybe more, ripping holes in the sky, dropping fire from a great height, screaming from darkness into darkness leaving chaos and death behind them.

Somewhere high up on the mountain flames blossomed and rose quickly, and then were gone.

“Jim,” said Harry.

Idiotically, he began to run.

###

You can buy Make Do and Mend here:

http://www.manifoldpress.co.uk/2012/10/make-do-and-mend/

Follow me at the following sites.

Adam’s blog:  http://www.manifoldpress.co.uk/2012/10/make-do-and-mend/

Adam’s LJ:  http://adam-fitzroy.livejournal.com/

Adam on GoodReads:  http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3513066.Adam_Fitzroy

Adam’s Author Page on Amazon:  http://www.amazon.co.uk/Adam-Fitzroy/e/B00BF045YG/

I’m afraid I don’t do either Facebook or Twitter … still too much of a dinosaur!

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Many thanks for joining us today, Adam, and good luck with the WIP.

Review: The Low Between by Vivien Dean

It was supposed to be simple.

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

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

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

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

ebook  - 144 pages

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Website

Buy at Amazon UK | Amazon USA| Amber Allure

Author Interview – Lisa Henry

My guest today is Lisa Henry, resident in Australia but her imagination roams the world and the genres from contemporary drama to ancient history. Her work has received glowing reviews and has been picked as The Romance Reviews top picks.

Thank you very much, Lisa for agreeing to answer my questions today.

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Elin: Do you have a crisp mental picture of your characters or are they more a thought and a feeling than an image?

Lisa: I like to know what makes my characters tick, but I never have more than a vague idea of their physical descriptions in my head. I’ll write sticky notes about eye colour, hair colour, and who is taller than who (otherwise I’d get mixed up when it comes to love scenes) but that’s about the extent of it. When I read I usually like to fill in most of those gaps for myself, and I think a lot of readers do. Sometimes when an author reveals their inspiration for a character I’m very surprised. Wait, that’s not how I pictured him at all!

Elin: Do you find there to be a lot of structural differences between a relationship driven story and one with masses of action?

Lisa: I tend to write relationship driven stories rather than action, simply because I think I’m better at it. I love reading a great action sequence, but I do find them trickier to write. In an action driven story you have to keep a very tight pace, and one piece of action has to lead directly to the next and so on. In a relationship driven story you’re allowed more space to breathe and reflect, I think, which suits my style more.

Elin: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Lisa: I’m a pantser who is attempting to be a reformed-pantser, but I have found that whenever I attempt to sit down and plot, I get bored with it because I just want to dive right into the writing. So instead of working more at the beginning with plotting, I work more at the end with brutal editing. There is often very little in common between my first and final drafts.

Elin: Villains – incredibly important in fiction since they challenge the main protagonists and give them something to contend with beyond the tension of a developing relationship. What sort of villains do you prize? A moustache-twirling nightmare or … ?

Lisa: I love villains, but no moustache-twirlers for me. I like my villains to be more complicated than that, and I think it’s important to remember that “evil for the sake of evil” is incredibly rare. Most villains don’t think they’re evil, which makes them much more terrifying. The closest thing I’ve ever written to a moustache-twirling villain would be Vornis from The Island, but even he’s not evil just for the sake of it. He makes examples of the men who cross him because it is necessary in his line of work. He happens to enjoy it as well, but it’s not done without reason.
I think Nero is one of history’s most fascinating and complicated villains, because he really did start out with so much promise and so many good intentions. Because of that, it’s tempting to be somewhat sympathetic towards him: you can see how the people around him poisoned his mind, you can see how tormented he was, and you can see how power corrupted him. That aside, he was a complete monster by the end, and deserved to die.

Elin: Do you enjoy research for its own sake or do you just do what is necessary for each project? What was the most interesting fact you discovered in the course of your research that didn’t make it into your novel?

Lisa: I can get totally lost in research, because it’s all too fascinating. I love learning about how everyday people lived, and I try to get the details right. I have a by-no-means-comprehensive list in my head that I need to check off before I feel comfortable writing about an historical period. It includes things like what did they use instead of toilet paper, what did they use for birth control, what did their shoes look like, what did their houses look like, and what did they eat for dinner? I think you have to know the basics before you can attempt to recreate a world, even if those details don’t make it to the page.

One of the most fascinating things I learned about Ancient Rome that never made it into He Is Worthy — and was never going to, I just got completely sidetracked — was about cosmetic surgery. Yes, in Ancient Rome you could get breast reductions, nose jobs, and eyelifts. The Romans knew about blood and circulation, and even how to reshape cartilage, but given that they didn’t know about germs, or have much in the way of anesthetic, I imagine you would have to be very brave or very desperate to go under the knife.

Elin: Short vs long – which do you prefer to read/write?

Lisa: I prefer to write long, but I’ll read anything. As long as the story pulls me in, I don’t mind if it’s a tiny piece of flash fiction, or War and Peace.

Elin: Would you say that a short story is harder to write than a long one?

Lisa: Absolutely! For me, at least, which is why I generally write long. Short stories require almost a different skill set. They have to be sharper, and neatly honed, if that makes sense. I like that in longer works I can detour a little bit, and see where it takes me. It probably comes back to being a pantser rather than a plotter.

Elin: Put together your ideal team of men – drawing from all and any walks of life, fictional or non-fictional – who you would want to come to your rescue if menaced by muggers/alligators/fundamentalists?

Lisa: I’m going to choose all fictional, since my chances of a happy ending are stronger there. I think Dean from Supernatural would be great in the case of both muggers and alligators, and demons of course, but maybe not fundamentalists. In the case of fundamentalists, I would want a Special Ops team including James Bond, Boromir from The Lord of The Rings, Daryl Dixon from The Walking Dead, and Jack Bauer from 24. And, just to cover all bases, the Scarlet Pimpernel. Oh, and Moriarty from the BBC’s Sherlock. I want him planning the entire operation.

I don’t think I’ve left any room for error there…

Elin: “Had we but world enough and time” and no other commitments, is there anything you would write that you’ve been eyeing and putting off because it’s just too big a project?

Lisa: I want to write a series of novels set in the one universe, full of political machinations that would make the Borgias proud. At the moment I’m leaning towards space opera rather than historical, because that way I can do all the world building myself, and fit all the pieces together without having to worry about historical accuracy. But I wouldn’t say I’m putting it off because it’s too big a project — I’m putting it off because I keep getting distracted by new, shiny ideas.

I’m also being plagued by plot bunnies for a sequel to Dark Space, an m/m romance that came out in December. I’ve never written anything before with the intention of writing a sequel, so this feels entirely ambitious for me. But Dark Space has been so well received, and I loved writing in Brady’s voice so much, that I just know I’m going to have to go back to that world.

Elin: Borgias in space? You can put me down for one of those.
When you have been writing a scene, have you ever scared yourself/upset yourself so much that you decided to tone it down a bit?

Lisa: There was one scene in an earlier draft of He Is Worthy that I cut, because it was just too much. I wanted to show Nero’s brutality, so I had a scene written from Aenor’s POV where another slave was turned into a human torch. When I’d finished it was just too horrible, so instead that scene was cut down to the one sentence where Senna is in the gardens and sees the remains of the slave. I didn’t want to shy away from showing how monstrous Nero was, but that scene was just too upsetting.

Elin: I’m very glad you didn’t put that in the book. The little bit you did include was upsetting enough, though necessary, I think, to get across just how perilous a slave’s position was in that society. What are you working on at present?

Lisa: At the moment I’m in the process of editing The Good Boy, co-written with the amazing J. A. Rock, which is a contemporary m/m with a BDSM theme, which will be released around March by Loose Id. I’m currently writing another historical, set in Wyoming in 1870, with the working title Sweetwater. My MC, Elijah, is partially deaf thanks to Scarlet Fever, and finds himself having to choose between two very different men with two very different agendas.

Elin: Could we please have an excerpt?

Lisa: I’ll go with Sweetwater, since this site is all about historicals! This is the (very unedited) opening scene:

1870, South Pass City, Wyoming Territory

A spray of blood hit his face like hot rain, and Elijah Carter clamped his mouth shut.
“Hold him! Hold him!”
The rope had slipped when Dawson made the first cut, and the yearling was trying to buck them off now. Elijah and Lovell had it pushed against the fencepost and were trying to hold it there, Lovell against its hindquarters and Elijah shoulder-to-shoulder with the yearling. Elijah didn’t know which of them had the worst end of it. He wasn’t sorry to be out of the way of those back legs, but if the swinging thick skull of the panicked animal collided with his, he’d be in real trouble. Elijah pushed his forehead against the yearling’s neck. Closer was safer, if they could hold it.
Dawson was drunk, probably. His hands shook too much, and they were weak too. He’d been a good butcher once, back when Elijah first started working with him scrubbing the floors and the counters in the shop and doing the deliveries. Then Dawson’s drinking had picked up, and now he couldn’t even slaughter a yearling without fucking it up.
Elijah’s cheek scraped against the coarse coat of the yearling. He smelled blood and dust.
The yearling pitched forward and Elijah’s grip slipped.
“I said hold him, you simple deaf cunt!” Dawson grunted.
Elijah didn’t need to see the shape of Dawson’s mouth in the lamplight to make out the words. He’d heard the insult often enough.
Hot blood washed over Elijah’s fingers. He dug his boots in the dirt, fighting against the struggling animal. The yearling bellowed — a long, high-pitched sound that vibrated against Elijah’s face, his hands. It moved through him, and jarred his bones.
Elijah closed his eyes as Dawson’s knife passed close in front of his face. He hoped Dawson wasn’t drunk enough to take his fingers with the next cut. He hoped the lamp hanging off the fence gave enough light for Dawson to finish the task.
Working in the dark was dangerous, but it had to be done. The beasts were mavericks, brought down from the hills into South Pass City. They had to be slaughtered and butchered under the cover of the night, and served up on dinner plates all over town before the sheriff came asking questions.
Elijah hadn’t seen the faces of the men who’d herded them into town. There had been maybe four of them, all wearing their hats pulled low. In the darkness, they could have been anyone. Elijah hadn’t stared. It was safer that way. He’d stayed out of the way while Dawson had done business with the men, then Lovell had come to fetch him. And here they were.
The yearling bellowed again.
Blood again. A flood of it this time, as free flowing and hot as bathwater poured from a kettle. It turned Elijah’s stomach, and he fought the instinct to pull away.
The yearling sank to its knees and Elijah went forward with it. He could hear its heartbeat echoing inside his skull, in panicked counterpoint to his own. It beat slower, and slower still.
Elijah was slick with blood. He shifted back, his body aching. He kept one bloodied hand on the neck of the yearling, his fingers splayed. It was too weak to struggle now. Its ears flicked back and forth and its eyes rolled.
The yearling’s breath came in short pants. So did Elijah’s. Kneeling together in the dirt, they waited. Blood, black in the night, pooled around them.
Dawson laughed, lifting his arm to wipe his sweaty forehead on his sleeve. The blade of the knife made an arc in the scant lamplight. Dawson’s skin was yellow and puffy these days. His gut was bloated. Elijah had read enough of Dr. Carter’s medical books to recognize it as cirrhosis. Dawson was an asshole, and every day, every drink, he was closer to death. Elijah had more sympathy for the yearling than the butcher.
The yearling sighed, stilled.
Lovell dropped a hand on Elijah’s shoulder. “We’re done.”
Lovell never treated Elijah like a fool. Never pulled his mouth into exaggerated shapes to mock the way Elijah spoke. Never laughed at him or slapped him in the head for being slow to understand.
Elijah rose to his feet, bracing himself against the dead yearling. The beast felt more unyielding now than when it had been struggling against them. Dead things always did. The difference between alive and dead was both infinitesimal and immense: the tiny space of only a single heartbeat was as wide as an abyss.
Elijah spat, and wiped his hands on his bloody apron for all the difference that it made.

~.~

Thank you, Lisa, that was terrific.

If you would like to follow Lisa online you can find her blog here, on Twitter as
@LisaHenryOnline and she hangs out on Goodreads a lot too.

He Is Worthy

Rome, 68 A.D. Novius Senna is one of the most feared men in Rome. He’s part of the emperor’s inner circle at a time when being Nero’s friend is almost as dangerous as being his enemy. Senna knows that better men than he have been sacrificed to Nero’s madness—he’s the one who tells them to fall on their swords. He hates what he’s become to keep his family safe. He hates Nero more.

Aenor is a newly-enslaved Bructeri trader, brutalized and humiliated for Nero’s entertainment. He’s homesick and frightened, but not entirely cowed. He’s also exactly what Senna has been looking for: a slave strong enough to help him assassinate Nero.

It’s suicide, but it’s worth it. Senna yearns to rid Rome of a tyrant, and nothing short of death will bring him peace for his crimes. Aenor hungers for revenge, and dying is his only escape from Rome’s tyranny. They have nothing left to lose, except the one thing they never expected to find—each other.

 

Buy “He Is Worthy” here:

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Review: The Pretty Gentleman by Max Fincher

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

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

ebook – 306 pages

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Website

Buy at Amazon UK | Amazon USA |

Review: Lord of Endersley by S.A. Meade

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

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

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

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

ebook and paperback – 161 pages

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Blog

Buy at Amazon UK | Amazon USA | Total e-bound

Home is the Heart by J M Gryffyn

The last thing war-weary veteran William O’Sullivan expects to find while walking his family’s property is the love of his life, but that is exactly what happens. Under the summer sun, well-born Irishman Will meets gypsy lad Brock, and the two are instantly love struck. 

Their newfound love may be rock solid, but so are the obstacles in their way. Will is expected to marry his childhood sweetheart and produce an heir for the family estate. Brock has his own waggon now and is expected to marry another Traveller.  The roads to their futures are embedded firmly in the past—and don’t include their love. Running off to America seems a perfect solution, but in the mean streets of New York City, they very quickly find that even a love as strong as theirs must be earned.  

ebook only – 100 pages approx

Review by Erastes

I really liked JM Gryffyn’s first book “The Wishing Cup” and I was eagerly looking forward to reading the second. Sadly I was disappointed by “Home is the Heart”

The writing is still good, there’s a flow to her prose that I like a lot but although The Wishing Cup managed a complete arc in a 100 pages, the pacing of Home is the Heart didn’t work for me at all. Perhaps it was the more static feel to the beginning–a young man stuck at home and travellers with their caravans. But throughout the book from literally the second scene it jumped around, introducing characters as though they rose from the grass and leaping from moment to moment with almost a dizzying speed.

The main protagonists literally meet and are just about having sex from second one. I’m not averse to insta-attraction but love, coupling and endless adoration from first sight is a bit too much for me. The author attempts to throw a couple of caltrops in the lovers’ path, but again, it’s sudden, seems shoe-horned in, and there’s no background to shore it up.

I think really, that there’s a point when a book simply can’t be done in 100 pages, not if the author wants to do the plot justice, and in this case to include sex scenes as well.  There’s too much here to be dealt with other than in this rather rushed way and it shows.

However, the research, particularly that around the gypsies, seems well done, I’m not familiar with the customs of the people, but what we are told seems to make sense.

There are a few minor quibbles, there are a good few Americanisms scattered around, like the dreaded “gotten” and a few context errors but all in all it is a sweet romantic tale and I’m sure that many will enjoy it. I can’t say I did, although that won’t stop me getting Gryffyn’s next book, as I’m sure that the promise of The Wishing Cup will bear fruit – it is a shame that this book didn’t live up to the promise.

Buy from Dreamspinner Press

Review: King of Angels by Perry Brass

the story of Benjamin Rothberg, a 12-year-old master of shape-shifting, of changing identities while steadfastly grasping the unique features of his own. The child of a marriage between a handsome Northern Jewish father and a classic-WASP-beauty Southern mother, Benjamin must change identities from Jewish to non-Jewish, from being a smart, precocious self-aware kid to masquerading and passing as a regular boy, from growing into a sexually curious (and possibly gay) young man to experiencing a fragile adolescent innocence, almost in love with a pretty girl.

Set in Savannah, Georgia, during the tumultuous Kennedy years, King of Angels explores the role of Southern Jews in the still-segregated South, the explosive race relations and racial consciousness of this era, and the emergence of a genuine gay community with its own honest, outsider viewpoint. It is also a realistic story of the underground world of boys who must fool their parents and each other in order to achieve any form of unguarded closeness. As a half-Jew attending Holy Nativity, a Catholic military school in Savannah, Benjy will form some of the most important friendships of his life, and experience the full brutality of boys bullying each other. He will also become aware of many forms of seduction and attraction: the seductions of a secret sexual life in the school, the seductions of his own heart taken with a quiet handsome Puerto Rican male student, and the attractions of the Spirit itself in all of its revealed forms. This is truly a novel about the mysterious origins of identity and belief, in a questioning heart and questioning time, while growing up in the changing South in the early 1960s.

Paperback and ebook – approx 400 pages

Review by Erastes

The story is narrated by Benjamin Rothberg and it starts when he’s quite young, from his first memories of his mom and dad. It’s an engaging voice and easy to get into as you work your way through his early grade school years. He’s a Jew — or rather his father is a Jew even if the household doesn’t exactly keep a fully Jewish house and he learns about duality of personality very early on as his father is Leon when he’s being more Jewish and Robby when he isn’t. Benjamin considers himself a Jew–and he’s sent to a Catholic Military Academy (which accepts other faiths) he finds that duality even more pronounced.

I found it a little heavy going because like many memoire-type stories, it struggles as to whether it wants to tell the story from the actual point of view of a 13 year old boy–which may have lent it more weight–or from a hindsight perspective, told from an adult version of Benjy. I never quite felt it knew where it wanted to be as it tended to waver between the two.  The trouble with having a child’s pov is that you can’t have them understand much of what goes on, and the trouble with hindsight is that you can imbue your child protagonist with a much too knowing persona – this manages both at times.

Be warned that most of the sexual interaction  although it’s pretty lightly (although not lightly enough I think) described is between young kids. Benjy isn’t even 13 before he’s jacking and blowing his friend and having it done back to him. There’s very broad hints and rumours that many of the monks are child-abusing but thankfully this is not described at all.

There is a lot of repetition which I found an interesting device after three mentions and intensely irritating after about ten mentions. We don’t need to be constantly told that his mother is a social lightweight who seems to do nothing more than attend a country club and drink Salty Dogs (although what these are is only explained quite late on, and for my mental health I wish they had been explained earlier) with her friends and we don’t need to be constantly told about Benjy’s father using two different personas. It became rather wearing after a time when I was still reading these two same facts more than half way into the novel.

Other than the two facts above, Benjy doesn’t seem to describe his parents–he calls them by their first names (in the text, although not, it seems to their faces) and I found that odd, it’s not like he’d gone to any particular progressive school and he wasnt a rebellious kid with weird ideas (like Eustace for example from Prince Caspian). The parents simply spawn on the page as the Salty Dog drinker airhead and the big looming man that Benjy adores for some reason.  I would have liked to have seen them, particularly at the beginning, more often on the page, giving reasons for Benjy’s opinion on them.

The story itself doesn’t actually pick up until about half-way either when an incident at Summer Camp throws the whole military academy and Benjy’s life into a turmoil, plus the fact that his home life begins to fall apart at the same time.

One thing I felt was sorely missing was a real sense of when this was all occurring. If you passed a blind eye over the fact that no one had mobile phones or game consoles then this really didn’t feel rooted in American 1960′s. Perhaps that’s partially because of prejudices towards Jews and Catholics and gays are still sadly similar today as they were back then, but it’s partly also to do with the fact that much of it takes place at the Military Academy (which, like Public Schools in the UK can have a timeless feel) and indoors at people’s houses mostly in tents or bedrooms. Surely kids would have been listening to music, watching TV shows of the time, talking about Space and goodness knows what? There’s one instance where his mother has the radio on in the car and she’s listening to the Beatles, but really, that was a rare instance of pop culture. It needed more of a flavour of the time to make you feel you were there along with Benjy. These kids only ever seemed to talk about having sex with each other who was queer and who wasn’t.

The kids seemed impossibly knowing, too. I guess that the book is semi-autobiographical perhaps because Brass was half-jewish and grew up in the same area, but when I was 12 I certainly wouldn’t have been having the  same conversations about life and theology these kids were having. Or about having sex with each other and who was queer and who wasn’t either, to be frank.

It makes it all sound as though I didn’t enjoy the book at all, but that’s not true, I did like the voice, and although the whole religion thing left me cold as I couldn’t care less about it, the story was interesting enough to stick with, for all the niggles I had.

One thing I could have done was the tagline to the novel it’s officially called “King of Angels, A novel about the Genesis of Identity and Belief”

Well, really. Thank you, Mr Brass because I am obviously too dumb to have picked up on that, and with that swipe you’ve put off many of your potential readers who will think it’s far more preachy than it is, or some kind of religious text book, and you’ve insulted those who will read it, because you’ve already explained what it’s about. Those who haven’t been put off by that dreadful cover, at least!

Benjy does go through a lot, but as with many first person child narratives, it all felt very remote to me. Even his sexual experiences–which I clearly remember mine shaking me to my core at that age–don’t really seem to register with him.  Perhaps that’s because the author didn’t want to describe a 12 year old having mutual masturbation and blow jobs in any detail, but it’s more than that, there’s no aftermath to it even when he’s pretty much forced–although he denies he was afterwards–to have a blowjob by a much older boy. He says he “weirdly likes” the boy, although for the life of me I couldn’t see one reason for that, and no reason is given other than he likes him. He tends to drift in and out of his relationships with just about everyone, and as often happens in books with the main protagonist Benjy is irresistible, and just about everyone wants to be his friend or have sex with him, monks, older boys, girls, you name it. He’s told it’s because he’s got a “seducing” air but it struck me as Gary-Stu-ism, along with all the other things he could do with no effort at all.

It’s a shame that he was quite so intelligent and so knowing because when it comes down to it, this is a coming of age-coming of religion-coming of self-coming of gender book and I felt that Benjy had no doubts at all, and that he didn’t really cross any great Rubicon to be who he was because, as several people said in the book, he already knew who he was from the beginning.

Well worth a read, but it didn’t set me on fire.

Author’s Website

Amazon USA Paperback | Kindle

Review: Secret Light by Z.A. Maxfield

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

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

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

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

ebook only  258 pages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

buy at Loose-ID

Review: Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars by Scotty Bowers with Lionel Friedberg

Newly discharged from the Marines after World War II, Scotty Bowers arrived in Hollywood in 1946. Young, charismatic, and strikingly handsome, he quickly caught the eye of many of the town’s stars and starlets. He began sleeping with some himself, and connecting others with his coterie of young, attractive, and sexually free-spirited friends. His own lovers included Edith Piaf, Spencer Tracy, Vivien Leigh, Cary Grant and the Duke of Windsor, and he arranged tricks or otherwise crossed paths with Tennessee Williams, Charles Laughton, Katharine Hepburn, Rita Hayworth, Errol Flynn, Gloria Swanson, Noël Coward, Mae West, William Holden, James Dean, Rock Hudson and J. Edgar Hoover, to name but a few.

“Full Service” is not only a fascinating chronicle of Hollywood’s sexual underground, it also exposes the hypocrisy of the major studios, who used actors to propagate a myth of a conformist, sexually innocent America knowing full well that their stars’ personal lives differed dramatically from this family-friendly mold. As revelation-filled as “Hollywood Babylon,” “Full Service” provides a lost chapter in the history of the sexual revolution and is a testament to a man who provided sex, support, and affection to countless people.

Review by Elliott Mackle

We knew that Randolph Scott and Cary Grant were housemates and longtime lovers. We knew that Tony Perkins and Tab Hunter were more than just close friends. And that the supposedly torrid romance between Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy was born in a Hollywood dream factory and acted out in the pages of fan magazines and gossip columns. In certain circles, the Duke of Windsor’s bisexuality seems to have been an open secret. Still, some parts of Scotty Bowers’ sizzling tell-all are pretty surprising. Here in the United States, especially on amazon.com, there seems to be an organized effort to one- and two-star the book to death—on literary as well as moralistic grounds. I couldn’t put it down.

Scotty Bowers spent his early years milking cows and tending livestock on the family farm in Illinois. Like many such youths, the facts of copulation and reproduction were to him simply facts of life, with no moral value attached. Although he noticed girls at an early age, and liked what he saw, his first sexual experiences were at the hands of a neighboring farmer, the father of schoolfellows, and he liked that, too. The pattern was set: sex was natural and necessary. Love was where you found it. His libido was high—three ejaculations a day was not uncommon in his twenties and thirties—and the handsome man he was to become was attractive to, and attracted by, men and women with exquisite taste (or memorable kinks) and the means to buy their own unfettered pleasure. Given the fame, variety and kindness of his partners, longtime sweethearts and wife, who could ask for anything more?

The opening is well crafted, with alternating chapters charting Bowers’ coming of age during the Great Depression and his experiences as a fighting Marine in the Pacific followed by almost immediate success as a stud-for-hire and date-arranger in the City of Angels.

After the farm was lost and the family moved to Joliet and then Chicago, Scotty followed an undercover but believable track of shining shoes (and accommodating the men who wore them), delivering papers (same scenario) and allowing pedophile priests to use his pre-adolescent body. His turf in California was a Richfield Oil station on Hollywood Boulevard near several major studios. One day, after he’d pumped gas into a very expensive auto at another station, the customer, a man with an unforgettable voice, tipped him twenty dollars extra and asked what he was doing for the rest of the day. Although Bowers had had sex with men in and out of the military service, and at that time lived with a woman and their daughter, this was his first paid trick with a male. His arrangement with the driver, married film star Walter Pigeon, was ultimately long- term and satisfactory on both sides, though hardly unique.

Scotty arranged to work the evening shift at Richfield. The station became a hangout for his ex-Marine friends, their girlfriends and buddies. Many of these attractive young people were long on time and short on cash. Scotty kept a little black book detailing who might be available for what sort of activity. Word got around. Tricks were arranged by phone as well as in person.  Scotty might tell an inexperienced customer the going price for what he or she required but he declares again and again that his was not a prostitution ring. He never took a fee or cut. He was merely the middle man for private transactions involving sex and money.

Although Bowers had enjoyed name-brand companionship during wartime shore-leaves (playmates Cary Grant and Randolph Scott, platonic pal Marion Davies), his numbers soared postwar. “Professionally married” composer, Cole Porter, for instance, had no hesitation in phoning Bowers to ask that he bring over three or four or seven or eight Marines to be serviced orally. Bowers became a confidante of the insecure Porter as well as a regular sex partner.

And so on, including George Cukor, ex-Marine buddy Tyrone Power, Edith Piaf, Raymond Burr, Vincent Price, Vivien Leigh (while husband Laurence Olivier was busy with call boys), Alfred Kinsey (as an observer) and visiting notables, including both Windsors. No need here to mention every trick, affair and arrangement. Or to assume that an old man’s memory is faultless and every word literally true.

Probably the memoir’s juiciest section concerns the Tracy-Hepburn ménage conducted in a cottage on director George Cukor’s estate. Although Bowers was a source for William J. Mann’s “Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn,” his own report on the so-called affair is more detailed and less nuanced than Mann’s. In short, according to Bowers, Hepburn was a full-time lesbian who called on him to provide younger, smaller, darker girls for her amusement whereas the married Tracy regularly summoned Scotty to help steel himself into the sort of drunken insensibility that allows closeted or bisexual men to claim that they “don’t remember a thing” the next morning. Oddly enough, Tracy is an exception to Bowers’ routine detailing of the whats, whys and hows of most of the stars’ preferences and peccadillos. “Nibbling on my foreskin” and “a damn good lover” are about as graphic as it gets. I’m guessing that Tracy was so habitually drunk that he was usually unable to either perform or fully enjoy Bowers’ considerable skills.

What’s not mentioned is almost as interesting as what is. Bowers eventually moved on from pumping gas to full-time bartending, catering, tricking with and liaison-arranging for Hollywood royalty. As far as I can tell, his career was entirely private and his sensibilities resolutely lower middle class. There is little or no mention of dining or meeting friends at such hallowed Hollywood hot spots as the Polo Lounge or the Brown Derby. Bowers doesn’t explain but my guess is that the managers of such high profile watering holes considered him persona non grata.

No matter. For us, the eighty-nine-year-old and his spicy memories are welcome guests. Would that all of us—and our favorite literary characters—could lead such a charmed, erotically charged and romantic life.

Buy:  Amazon UK | Amazon USA | TLA Video&books

Review: Skybound by Aleksandr Voinov

Love soars.

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

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

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

Available from Riptide Publishing.

Review by Sal Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: The Celestial by Barry Brennessel

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

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

Paperback and ebook – 192 pages

Review by Michael Joseph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy from  Amazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: Brook Street: Rogues by Ava March

London, 1822

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

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

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

ebook only: 28,000 words

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

Buy at Carina Press

Review: Virgin Airmen by Michael Gouda

After a short hiatus we are back and I’m kicking off with a short story set during the early 50′s in England.

It’s a bitterly cold Saturday evening when Michael Duggan, RAF aircraftsman second class, meets Jim Ross on a train station platform. Together they experience life in the forces—including a near-miss with death when their bombing range is destroyed by American “friendly fire.” After being split up by the subsequent disbanding of their unit, they are reunited just in time for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II—and decide to have a celebration of their own.

Ebook only – 40 pages

Review by Erastes

There’s one short review on the Dreamspinner site; it’s only a sentence, but I have to agree with every word. This little story has a lot of potential, but at $2.99 it’s a bit of a rip off.

This little story is set during the first wave of National Service in England which started up just after the war, and really there’s not much to say about it, being so short, as the blurb has pretty well outlined the plot, for what there is of it.

However, I did thoroughly enjoy what there is of it; I’m assuming, from the author’s bio (he was in the RAF and lost his virginity there) that it’s mostly autobiographical and that was interesting. There’s a real wealth of day-to-day detail which I liked a lot; descriptions of barracks, and the mindset of the National Service airman–amusingly taking time to fold their uniforms carefully over a chair (because they know all about uniform inspections) and the larking around (a way for mostly hetero men to get touched while hiding it under a silly game) that went on. The relationship described is pretty simple – as the blurb says, they meet up on their first day at camp and get to know each other but don’t consummate the deal until much later–but it’s nicely described. The men get on with their work and aren’t mooning around over each other or getting burgeoning hardons at any opportunity.

But while there is a real core to this short story, it doesn’t satisfy–and frustrated me–because there’s so much potential here and the author clearly has a wonderful insight into the National Service of this era and such descriptive flair to pull the reader in, really tight, made me care about the characters but then ultimately to end it all very abruptly, too abruptly even for a short story. The author may think that he’s written simply a story which needs to culminate in the main characters having sex but there’s too much else he’s explored for this ever to be considered “just an erotic short story.” The voice is excellent, and there’s humour and danger and companionship, which is a tough job for a story this length.

And yes, as for the price, I know that the author has no say in that, but Dreamspinner, you should be ashamed of yourself. The general price for short stories is $0.99 and this really doesn’t merit the $2.99 price tag. I was kindly given the book by the publisher for review, but at that price, for this length, I wouldn’t have bought it–and that’s a shame because I would have not discovered a writer with talent.

I shall certainly seek out more of Mr Gouda’s work, and I hope he does this short story justice one day and expand it into the novel that it really longs to be. I was torn between giving this a 3½ and a 4 star rating, and I’ve gone for the 4, because the problems with pacing and pricing can’t overcome the really rather nice writing.

No author’s website that I could find.

Buy from Dreamspinner

Brief Hiatus

Speak Its Name will be taking a brief break while Erastes gets her strength back. We have a lot of reviews and interviews to get through so please don’t think we are gone for good, but Erastes finds that she just can’t devote the time to it at the moment as her strength is not good.

 

Review: The Pleasuring of Men by Clifford Browder

In New York City in the late 1860s, Tom Vaughn, a respectably raised young man, chooses to become a male prostitute servicing the city’s affluent elite, then falls in love with Walter Whiting, a renowned scholar and lecturer who proves to be his most difficult client. Having long wrestled with feelings of shame and guilt, Whiting, a married man, at first resents Tom’s easy acceptance of his own sexuality. Their story unfolds in the clandestine and precarious gay underworld of the time. Through a series of encounters—some exhilarating, some painful, some mysterious—Tom matures, until an unexpected act of violence provokes a final resolution.

Paperback and ebook: 232 pages

Review by Elliott Mackle

Emotionally as well as financially prostrate by the early death of a husband who suffered heavy losses in a financial panic, a once stylish widow elects to rent out a room in her brownstone mansion in order to help pay bills, keep up appearances and support her two schoolboy sons, Stewart and Tom Vaughn.

The place: East Twenty-fifth Street, Manhattan, just off fashionable Fifth Avenue. The new roomer: Mr. Neil Smythe, a young gentleman of means and style. Although roughneck elder brother Stewart wonders if the newcomer’s subtle scent is “cologne or “‘hair slime,’” Tom, the novel’s narrator, is instantly smitten.

A clean-shaven man of twenty-two, he was tall and thin, with smooth skin  and wavy long blond hair. He came to us [for the initial interview] correctly  dressed in a gray frock coat, fawn trousers, and black pointed shoes, with a scarf  pin and cufflinks that glittered, and a boyish look that I, myself sixteen, found  stupendously appealing.

A bargain is struck and Smythe soon moves in. The observant Tom is fascinated to discover the irregular hours the new roomer keeps: breakfasting out, leaving again in the late afternoon or evening, always dapper, well groomed and elegantly dressed. Sometimes he stays away all night and is delivered home in a horse-drawn cab. On occasion, he leaves town for a week or two, directing that his mail be forwarded to chic resorts such as Long Branch, New Jersey.

Although I know next to nothing about the attire of sporty Manhattan young men in the late 1860s (Browder pays great attention to tightly tailored trousers, silk cravats, waist-length jackets and walking sticks), other period details ring true to this American ear. Stephen Foster’s popular parlor song, “I Dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair,” is cleverly transposed into “I Dream of Johnny” by a lederhosen-wearing singer in a louche bar, the Lustgarten or “pleasure garden.” The reading matter of Tom’s pious mother consists of temperance tracts, abstinence cookbooks, the then-current bestseller Little Women and maudlin poetic musings on death and religion. No wonder both sons turn out to be something other than church-going drones: one a bullying stock broker with a taste for flashy women, the other a kept boy.

When an adventurous schoolfellow describes his night-time outings to various low bars and clubs, the virginal Tom begs to tag along. Amazed at the sight of men dancing together, men dressed as women and lisping boys making leering passes at older gentlemen (and vice-versa), he is at once shocked and convinced that this is a part of the life he wants to live.

Neil Smythe naturally turns up at the Lustgarten. In short order, Tom discovers that Smythe earns his living as an employee of Young America Messenger & Courier Service, a bribe-protected front for a call-boy operation owned by corrupt politicians and businessmen. Enamored of Smythe as well as his money, clothes and freedom, Tom asks to be taught the tricks of the trade of the b.b. (“beautiful boy,” the other categories being masculine, muscular “sturdies” and effeminate “poufs”) and to be enlisted into the ranks of Young America. Smythe is happy to oblige. During a series of one-on-one sexual seminars, both discover areas of sensuality in which they do and definitely do not wish to indulge. Few but very important physical areas, as events prove. (Spoiler details stop here.)

Once Tom settles into his role as a b.b. for hire, and learns the ropes of sexual commerce with a variety of clients, mostly grey of beard and wealthy enough to double his fee when well satisfied (which is almost invariably the case), it is time for him to meet the client who will change his life forever.

Whether by design or lack of passion for the task, the author’s sexual vocabulary is modest, as are the descriptions of the acts involved and the physiques of the men and boys who perform them. “Spent” and “come” are used interchangeably; “erection” and “sweat” often figure in the proceedings. As for “pleasuring,” however, it is sometimes difficult to know whether the method employed is manual, oral or both.  In several instances I was unable to decide exactly who was doing what to who.

Fair enough. There are readers who prefer that a veil be drawn across the details of carnal commotion. But while a great deal of detail is given over to apparel and the decorative details of houses and hotel rooms, the physical descriptions of Tom’s clients when undressed are skewed to wrinkled old men, jolly fat men and corset-wearers at the expense of manly men with hairy chests, thick thighs and memorable, well-educated hands and other instruments of pleasuring.

Said clients are amusingly assorted: A wealthy European who masquerades as an aristocrat and hires young “friends” by the week; a rowdy, randy lawyer who demands energetic action in chambers; a powerful, elderly millionaire who is excited only by insults and verbal threats; even Mrs. Vaughn’s vaporous pastor, the Reverend Timothy Blythe.

After a series of try-out appointments and teasing references to a particularly interesting potential client by Neddy, the panderer-in-chief, Tom is sent to the townhouse of Walter Whiting, a scholar, lecturer and connoisseur of Greek language, renaissance culture and man-boy love. The early scenes between the two are worth the price of the book. The well-bred, properly-raised Tom’s willingness, nay eagerness to use coarse language with married, erudite Walter is hard to swallow at first, though swallow it I did. Such are the duties of a conscientious reviewer.

After the studious Tom corrects Walter’s misquotations from Keats and owns up to four years of Latin at his academy, the older scholar agrees to tutor the intelligent boy in Greek language and such higher forms of culture as Socratic love. One look at a reproduction print of a Greek urn’s decoration, however—it depicts a bearded, seated man fondling a standing boy—almost immediately turns the action into a literal erastes-eromenos moment. Walter strips Tom, seats himself on an ottoman and the two create their own, very passionate Grecian “ode.”

To a degree, this is contemporary erotic romance dressed in nineteen-century clothing. Hints of the twenty-first century sneak in, such as a reference to “truffled chicken … permeated with an earthy mushroom savor that was to die for.” Nonetheless, the author, an experienced poet, ghost writer and specialist in mid-nineteenth-century New York culture, brings the sordid underworld of Young America, the Lustgarten and Yankee-style man-boy love to life. The writing is generally crisp and well edited, so much so that when a clunker such as the following turns up, it all but stops the flow of what’s meant to be action:

“Excellent. Now if you’ll just follow me back to the viewing room …”

He raised a section of the counter, so I could pass behind it and follow him  down a short passageway to a room in back. We entered; he closed the door.  Having a skylight, the room was flooded with light.

Fortunately for the reader, such lapses are few. I did feel that the narrative dragged a bit toward the end and I remain unconvinced that Tom would make the one real mistake that lands him in so much trouble. But I have to admit using a similar device in my own fiction so perhaps my hesitation is merely a matter of style.

This is a valuable foray into a little-known aspect of American history, a pleasurable tale peopled by living, breathing boys and men, a recommended read. Ignore the cover which has little to do with the story. Go buy.

Buy at:   Gival PressAmazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: Beyond the Spanish Road by Annie Kaye

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

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

Ebook only –  60 pages

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

Then they galloped 30 miles back. Sigh.

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

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

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

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

Author’s Website

Buy at Dreamspinner Amazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: The Slave’s Mask by Patricia Logan


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

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

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

Ebook only – 86 pages

Review by Sal Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Couldn’t find a website for this author.

Buy at Silver Publishing | Amazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: The Last Concubine by Catt Ford

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

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

Paperback and ebook – 220 pages

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Blog

Buy at Dreamspinner |  Amazon UK |  Amazon USA

Review: Lord and Master by H.C. Brown

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

Approx 150 pages – ebook only

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

Buy at Noble RomanceAmazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: All the Beauty of the Sun by Marion Husband

Soho 1925

Two young men meet – for one of them this is love at first sight, for the other only lust and guilt…

In 1925 Paul Harris returns to England from self-imposed exile in Tangiers for an exhibition of his paintings.  He leaves behind Patrick, the man he has loved since they met in the trenches in 1918, needing to discover if he has the strength to live without him and wanting to explore the kind of life he might have lived had it not been for the war.  In Bohemian Soho, Paul meets Edmund whose passionate love changes Paul’s idea of himself.  With Edmund, Paul begins to believe that he may have another life to live, free of the guilt and regrets of the past.  But the past is not so easy to escape, and when Patrick follows Paul to London a decision must be made that will affect all their lives.

281 pages. Available in ebook and paperback

Review by Erastes

This is a sequel of sorts to Husband’s “The Boy I Love” which I reviewed in 2007. It’s a little confusing because the three books in the series, “The Boy I Love”, “Paper Moon”, and “All the Beauty of the Sun” were written in the order above, but the timeline is: “The Boy I Love”, “All the Beauty of the Sun” and “Paper Moon”. This is important if you were setting off to read them all in order–and I highly recommend you do because these books are stellar. Simply the pinnacle of gay historical fiction.

Husband’s prose suits me perfectly, I’m quite aware that this more literary style won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but I find  her level of detail, her love for the minutiae in the depth of great emotion to be one of her greatest assets. She’s not content with someone walking with some distress through London streets; with skillful use of layering detail on detail she brings the scene to live through sights, scents, sounds, even touch. The effect of this is not only to show the protagonists emotional state, which literary fiction must rely on, but to immerse you entirely into the scene, sometimes you feel so close that you wonder that the characters can’t see you, peering in on them.

Paul Harris, whose story is more or less the mutual thread in the series, has returned from Tangiers, where he’s been living in exile with his lover, Patrick, in order to show his war paintings in a London gallery and hopefully to sell them. He’s uncertain as to whether the trip was sensible–he’s an ex convict, and would be in danger one again should his homosexuality be exposed again–and he’s left Patrick behind. He is anchored with Patrick–Patrick was his sargeant in the war, and Paul learned in the trenches to rely on Patrick–and it is Patrick that pulled Paul out of more than one terrible problems in the previous book.

Sadly though, Paul is very much “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you are with” so anyone who dislikes this ethos might want to avoid.

His story interweaves with the others in the story. Ann, the “good time girl” and artists’ model, Lawrence, straight but probably more on  his wavelength than any, the gallery owner and artist, Joseph Day, love rival for Ann, and Edmund, public schoolboy and bi-curious gay virgin. Some of it is written in third person, some in first, some in stream of conciousness, so if that literary style isn’t for you, you might not want to try it, but I think you should because the writing is so utterly beautiful.

Even when it is recounting the worst of times–death in the trenches being one dark subject, the prose remains clear and honest. This isn’t–for those who find World War One unreadable–something that dwells heavily on the trenches. It’s mentioned and obviously the effects of the war still resonate with everyone, physically and mentally, but it’s not the only factor. Paul has more demons than just the war, oh yes indeed.

I can’t help but care for Paul passionately. I felt tremendously sorry for him, and the things he does in London were unwise, but I felt he was a leaf, blown about by fate and he didn’t have the fibre to hold himself upright. I think any pretty young man would have captured him. Despite what he purports to feel about Edmund, I was never fully convinced–I don’t think he could separate love and sex, and Edmund was relatively untouched by the war. He lost a brother, but he was too young to have been in himself. Perhaps it is that aspect of Edmund that draws Paul, like a moth to a flame.

I did find the relationships rather confusing, and they lent heavily on coincidence. Everyone seemed to know everyone else. Ann for example, who Paul has only met through Lawrence and Edmund, knows–and has had a relationship with–Matthew, a man who has spent years in hospital, the war drove him mad.

It’s hard to describe the plot, because other than the thread of Paul of Edmund there isn’t really much of one–but that’s no detriment. Rather it’s a “slice of life” we start watching these characters at a certain point, and we stop at a certain point. There’s no definitive ending, no neat tying up of plot lines, because this deals with life, and of course life doesn’t have genre ending.

All of the characters–and there are more than I’ve described, all of whom are connected to Paul in some way or other–are fully fleshed out, their actions and reactions explored and consequences–or the threat of consequences–worried about. I take my hat off to Husband, because she is a master juggler of plotlines, how she does it, and with such a deft touch is beyond me.

So, don’t miss this series–if you love the power of words, words rich in layer and tone without swamping themselves in the morass of “this is literature” you will love them. Can’t recommend them enough.

As a final note, I have to mention the covers. The trilogy has been republished by Accent Press with new covers and they are terribly misleading. On each cover (as you can see) there’s a close up of a beautiful woman with a war/London backdrop. Seeing that in a bookshop makes one think that you are getting a standard women’s fiction book or a romance. Granted, the back makes it clear that the story revolves around Paul and his loves but the cover? It’s baffling. If the publisher was actually afraid to put a picture of a man on “The Boy I Love” and “All the Beauty of the Sun” then it’s rather misrepresenting, and once a reader buys a book thinking it’s one thing and finds that actually it’s gay romance with some scenes with more description than the average non-gay-fiction-reader can cope with, they probably won’t come back. I would have much preferred a more honest cover, but this doesn’t affect the five star mark, of course.

Author’s Website

Buy at Accent Press | Amazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: His Heart’s Obsession by Alex Beecroft

Kingston, Jamaica, 1752

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

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

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

Review by Sal Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy at Carina

Review: The Auspicious Troubles of Chance by Charlie Cochet

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

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

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

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But when there’s phrases like this:

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

Chance rather loses some of his street cred.

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Website

Buy at Dreamspinner Press | Amazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: Solemn Contract by Morgan Cheshire

Solemn Contract

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

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

49,000 words/226 pages

Review by Michael Joseph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solemn Contract may be purchased from Manifold Press |

Review: Brook Street: Fortune Hunter by Ava March


London, 1822

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

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

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

Ebook only-44,000 words

Review by Molly Hart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

Buy at CarinaAmazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: Captain Harding and his Men by Elliott Mackle

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

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

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: Gypsy Heart by A.J. Llewellyn

Tinder McCartney thought he left behind his life as a gay male prostitute but soon learns returning to his old life may be the only way to save the man he loves…Tinder McCartney and his lover, Jason Qui, are adjusting to life in war-torn Hawaii following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Settling at first in Maui with Tinder’s father, they go back to Honolulu to meet with members of the new military government regarding their plans to blow up a major access road in Lahaina that would leave the islanders in Maui stranded and without access to much-needed shipments coming into the island.

Back in Honolulu, Tinder and Jason are dismayed to see how much their beloved home has changed in just a few short weeks. Jason accepts a dangerous sea mission feeling that as a Chinese immigrant, he needs to prove his loyalty to the US. He and the crew of the ship disappear, and are presumed to have been taken by Japanese forces. Tinder must decide what to do to help his lover.

When presented with the opportunity to return to his old way of life in exchange for information that will help him rescue his lover, he must decide how far he is willing to go to heal his gypsy heart and save the man he loves…

Novel length, ebook and paperback. Print version is “Pearl Harbor Vol 1 and includes Vagabond Heart and Gypsy Heart)

Review by Erastes

This is the second in the Pearl Harbor series of books by this author (the first being Vagabond Heart reviewed here) and it is often difficult to read the second book without having read the first one. So often a sequel is marred by the author info-dumping on the reader to give them the backstory, or they assume that the reader has read the first one and tell you absolutely nothing, leaving you with a sense of catch up. However, to my delight, A.J. Llewellyn does neither of these things, and imparts exactly the right amount of information, to my eyes at least, to have this book as part of a series, or ability to read as a standalone.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, and America’s subsequent entry into the war, Tinder McCartney has given up his whoring on Hotel Road in Honolulu and documents his life as he moves from Honolulu to Maui with his lover, Jason, to move in with his father and Linda, his step-mother. Not only are relations a little strained, as Linda doesn’t like Tinder and Jason that much, and she’s visibly shocked and in a lot of stress over the war. I know very little about this era, and this place. It’s clear that Llewellyn has done a large amount of research, for he isn’t a resident of Hawaii. He portrays the islands very well, and imparts a lot of information what it was like to live under the restrictions of very tough martial law–something that few of us have–or will, hopefully–never experienced.

I’m not saying that the historical details are spot on, but if there’s anything inaccurate, I didn’t notice. I never had a jarring moment where I had to reach for the laptop to check up a point. In fact I enjoyed the details very much; I could really see the crowded, standing room only diner, could smell and hear all the atmosphere of the sweaty, sailor-filled tattoo parlour and felt the fear of a man running home after curfew.

This isn’t a story about a man caught up in huge world events, but it’s an every day account of a family beginning to struggle as those huge events constrict and change their world. I suddenly realised how fragile an island economy was, how the expanded population was so dependent on trade and imports and although in this book (there are at least two more in the series) food is becoming precious, it isn’t yet scarce, you really get the feeling, as news of the Japanese advance reaches Hawaii, that things are going to get difficult for the inhabitants in no time at all.

Tinder and Jason help with the Home Guard duties, digging trenches and bomb shelters (which are promptly washed away, due to the Americans not understanding the island climate), and going on a survival course, teaching them to live off the land. Neither of them realise how useful these skills will be one day. As with the lack of info-dumping, there is, in this book, no “guide-book” feel as the reviewer found with Vagabond Heart. As Tinder moves around the islands, everything is described naturally–not in a way that instructs and therefore pulls the reader from the experience. And also, Tinder? Best protagonist’s name ever.

I liked the characters a good deal; Tinder is a guy who does what he has to do to keep his family safe–and it’s a real dilemma for him when he’s presented with an opportunity to do just that when he knows that it’s really, really wrong. He’s probably a little too nice, especially with his wreck of a step-mother, but he’s not syrupy–he still presents a few prickles when pushed. You don’t see that much of Jason but I shall enjoy going back and reading book one and learning more about him. The secondary characters, from Tinder’s father, Linda, to the various characters of Hotel Road are well painted and memorable.

My only problem is that sometimes it seems a little rushed. There’s many kitchen-sink details here, life more ordinary and sometimes they are introduced only to disappear again (two of them involve Linda) and not to cause any further ripples in the plot. I would have liked this aspect of the book to have been expanded, to have seen more of the day-to-day life, and the struggles as the war tightened everyone’s belts, and less of the obligatory long sex scenes. Another niggle is that whatever language Jason speaks–which I’m assuming is Cantonese or Mandarin–Kindle mangled it and it came out in complete gibberish.

But I recommend this as it’s an interesting read about a culture and lifestyle that is quite alien to many of us, and a part of Hawaiian life that Hollywood isn’t going to portray any time soon. This is definitely the best score for A.J. on this site, and that makes me happy, because we all want to read good books, right? I’m looking forward to reading book 3 in the series, which is Abiding Heart

Author’s Website

Buy at: Total ebound (ebook and print) | Kindle (UK) | Kindle (USA)

Review: Undefeated Love by John Simpson

Can love survive the horrors of a dictatorship and a concentration camp?

Two young men fall in love just as the Nazi Party is coming into power in Germany. One man is talked into becoming involved with the S.A., and then the SS while his lover looks on horrified. When their love is discovered, both men become the victims of the institution that one of them helped protect.

224 pages, ebook and paperback

Review by Erastes

There’s one major thing that should be key when one reads a book, and particularly a romance: one should care about the protagonists. Even if they are anti-heroes, you should care about them in some way.

Sadly this book falls short of doing that in rather a spectacular fashion by having a two-dimensional guy joining the SA (Sturmabteilung “Storm Division”) and then the SS (Schutzstaffel “Protection Squadron”) because he didn’t like to say no. Then of course he realises how fabulous he looks in his uniforms and he’s totally on board as a card-carrying member of the Nazi Party. In no time at all, he’s causing the deaths of 300 so-called-communists just because one of them demoted his lover from an “important” machine to one that just made drills. Overkill, much?  (He thinks to himself that he’s “not really a Nazi” but erm, sorry – yes, Kurt you are. You bought the uniform (or had them given to you as a present), you joined the party, you wore the jackboots.

I’m appreciative that he might have been afraid as to what might happen to him, but as there’s no actual context to give us that perspective i.e. we aren’t told about any of the gradual and terrible changes happening in Berlin, the things that would have made him scared to say no to Röhm, a powerful leader of the SA, (Simpson oddly spells this without the umlaut, and the editor missed this too, but more on the editing later) but other than the SA were “brawling in the streets” we aren’t told why Kurt is so petrified of saying no.

I’m afraid Kurt lost ALL respect for me the first time he used the excuse “I was only following orders.” He behaves like a schizophrenic, one minute holding his pistol to the head of men and threatening to blow their brains out (for gossiping about him in the bathroom as to whether he was Röhm’s lover, despite him knowing that’s what they’d think) and the next he’s charging about saving lives. But there’s no connect there, we are told that he’s scared, he’s happy, he’s mad about the uniform, but we aren’t shown these things happening. Add to that some very serious head-hopping–we can leap into four or five points of view in one small scene–and I found myself having to force myself to read on.

Editing was a real problem, the editor is credited in the book, or I’d wonder whether it had been edited at all. Subject confusion was one of the biggest issues such as:

“he was holding a cigarette holder with a lit cigarette” 

which is a good trick, if you can manage it.

or

he stared back into Stefan’s eyes, long and hard.

And some of it just doesn’t make any sense, as if it’s been translated

The show went on for just over two hours. When it was over and nobody was feeling any pain…

or

No one had the slightest guess as to who Kurt’s dance partner was

and so on. Too many to list. I suppose I thought Total-ebound would be better at this stuff, being British, but clearly not.

The timeline is shaky, too. First of all, the book begins in 1929 and at the time, Röhm was in Bolivia–he didn’t return to Berlin until 1930 and didn’t take up his position as head of the SA until January 1931. Simpson brushes this aside, and in January 1931, Kurt has already moved from the SA to the SS as part of Hitler’s bodyguard. The errors ramble on, Röhm was shot by Lippert, not Eicke, The concentration camp section has continuity problems too, as they are arrested in 1934, get out in 1939, but we are told they were in the camp for two years! minute they were in there for four, perhaps five years, but they tell each other they’ve only been in for two. The major hurdle being that the concentration camp mentioned didn’t even come into being until 1936 – two years after Kurt and Stefan were put there.

I’m sad to say that the historical inaccuracies pile up until the last page.

The trouble is when you find this level of inaccuracy, you start to doubt everything and you find so much more wrong than you originally suspected. Things like the names of a plane, slipped in when Kurt travels to Munich, I looked up and found that they didn’t start manufacturing that type of plane until 1932. And the name of the plane is a Junkers Ju52 NOT a Junker Ju52. Why mention the plane at all if you don’t research it? It looks sloppy that you can’t even get the name right. I would expect any editor to check this kind of detail too–in this day and age you don’t need to be a historian to use Google, and “epublishers simply don’t have the time” or “why bother when an ebook will be forgotten in six months time” doesn’t cut it. Have pride in your product, or don’t produce it.

There is a plot here, and if I could care about either of the protagonists it would be an interesting plot–it follows the demise of the SA, the rise of the SS and the implementation of paragraph 175 (anti-homosexual law) throughout Germany. The thing is that it simply didn’t emote. I think this is due to a preponderance of telling, not showing. We are told that someone is “visibly scared” or visibly shocked or visibly angry, instead of the prose showing us these emotions. When the writer wants to emphasize the love affair he simply has his guys telling each other how much they love each other and having mind blowing sex (yes, even within the concentration camp.) A better edit would have smoothed this out, made it more believable and eased the author into showing us more.

The concentration camp section won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, there’s a lot of beating, and some rape, even gang rape (even though Kurt consents, it’s still rape, despite the “dubious consent” label put on by the publisher.) But even this section is held at arms length. I know that not everyone wants to read the worst of human experience, but if you are choosing a concentration camp as a setting for a romance, you cannot go prettying it up. Kurt turns into a veritable Mary-Sue here, saving Stefan (who seems to exist merely to nag, weep, suck cock, or to be saved) and their final journey is achieved – with just the two of them getting all the gear (uniform, money, forged letter of carte blanche from Hitler which of course everyone falls for, and ID papers) they need with no problems at all – with such ease it’s almost unbelievable. All I could see in my mind was the film “Bent” and the stellar and harrowing story told there, compared with this almost Disney version of the Great Escape with a happier ending.

There’s so little emotion in this book (other than the random outpouring of love between the protagonists), that it was so hard for me to warm to it. There’s no emotional fallout from the things that they have experienced and seen, no sense of loss for their friends (if any, it’s never mentioned) No details of the changes to their way of life (they continue to live together and sleep together and go snogging in public) no mention of the Jews – and the men come through to their happy ending with nary an emotional scar. Even the author’s note – usually the place where the author acknowledges their research, confirms that certain things happened, etc – is amusing as Simpson tries to convince us that Kurt’s defection and subsequent debriefing made a big difference to the war effort. I found this very odd–it would have been better in an epilogue, perhaps.

I suppose the main reason that I’m so disappointed with this book is that Simpson clearly has a flair for story telling, but there are so many obstacles that mar the path to him doing it really well, despite him obviously selling books. When I look back at the books of his that I’ve reviewed I say the same things every time, shoddy research, telling vs showing, head-hopping.  These are are solvable issues, and I hope that he finds an editor who can really help him mould his work into something to be proud of in the future.

I like the cover a lot.

Buy at Total eboundAmazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: Journey to Rai-Lay by Michael Joseph

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

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

ebook only–122 pages

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Website

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

Review: Unspoken by R.A. Padmos

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

58,000 words/220 pages

Review by Michael Joseph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The book appears to be available only directly from Manifold Press

Review: Games with Me (Vol 2) by Tina Anderson and Lynsley Brito (illus.)


Volume 2 of this gay historical drama continues with Dr. George Callahan certain that brothel-boy Jun is the one he knew as a child. When George attempts to better Jun’s life by buying his freedom, George’s intentions are marred by his addiction, and he risks losing Jun, forever.

Review by Erastes

This is volume 2 of what I assume is a two part graphic novel – and here’s the review of volume one. We really loved it here at Speak Its Name and we’ve been looking forward to part two for a long time.

This wasn’t a disappointment and well worth the wait. I read it ravenously first and then nice and slowly a second time, savouring the gorgeous art.

The set up in volume one, that of Dr George Callaghan knowing Jun is resolved, although that’s not really a surprise, but the story twists and turns in a satisfying way before we are given our ending.

One thing I really did like was the way the illustrations were very cinematic, such as sound effects like footsteps when dramatic tension was called for, and not too much of the labelled explanations of emotions, the art speaks for itself in that respect.

As I said, there’s a rather twisty plot, and a lot happens, with a good deal of backstory before we are done. The trouble I found was that there was so much to glean from this volume, that often I found myself guessing what was going on, or filling in gaps from the backstory and hoping I was right but not actually knowing. Perhaps it could have been extended to another volume, but that’s probably not feasible–I’m sure the logistics of getting a graphic novel out are tricky. But it did seem a bit rushed here and there, and a bit squashed for the amount of plot that had to happen. But that’s not really a detriment to the book.

I was surprised to find a few typographical errors, though. misused apostrophes and “your”/”you’re” confusion. With the small amount of speech in a book like this, there’s not really an excuse for these.

Jun is again, touchingly wonderful in this. George takes him out and about San Francisco–the poor boy has never seen a sunset, never been outside the brothel before and everything has a “wow” factor for him. Clothes, trains, traffic, people, he finds everything wonderful. Anderson being Anderson, she doesn’t whitewash problems in historical fiction. “Coolies” are less than second class citizens in this society and when Jun goes missing, the police admit that they wouldn’t waste time on the search, he’s only a coolie.

Due to the slightly squashed feel of the plot, trying to do too much in not enough panels, and the typographical errors, I’m going to mark this at 4.5 – but a resounding five stars for the two volumes as a set. There will also be an omnibus version, in print which I’m very happy about.

Tina Anderson’s Website

Linsley Brito’s Deviant Art Page

Buy at Amazon UK    Amazon USA

Review: Christmas Wishes by JP Bowie

York 1922

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

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

(60 pages, ebook only, MLR Press)

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

This illustrates it well, I think.

“What would you like to hear, Mama?”

“Something sacred perhaps, Silent Night?”

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Website

Buy at MLR Press

Review: The Hun and the General by Tristram La Roche

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

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

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Website

Buy at: Amazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: Protection by S.A. Reid

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

Available in paperback and ebook (Lyonesse Books)

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Cawnpore by Tom Williams

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

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

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

Paper and ebook – 288 pages

Review by Michael Joseph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Williams has a blog, The White Rajah

Available from JMS Books | Amazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: The Absolutist by John Boyne

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

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

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

Review by Erastes

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

Continue reading

Review: On the Trail to Moonlight Gulch by Shelter Somerset

It’s 1886, and Chicago is booming, but for nineteen-year-old Torsten Pilkvist, American-born son of Swedish immigrants, it’s not big enough. After tragically losing a rare love, Tory immerses himself in the pages of a Wild West mail-order bride magazine, where he stumbles on the advertisement of frontiersman and Civil War veteran Franklin Ausmus. Torsten and Franklin begin an innocent correspondence—or as innocent as it can be, considering Torsten keeps his true gender hidden. But when his parents discover the letters, Tory is forced out on his own. With nowhere else to go, he boards a train for the Black Hills and Franklin’s homestead, Moonlight Gulch.

Franklin figures Tory for a drifter, but he’s lonely after ten years of living in the backcountry alone, and his “girl” in Chicago has mysteriously stopped writing, so he hires Tory on as his ranch hand. Franklin and Tory grow closer while defending the land from outlaws who want the untapped gold in Franklin’s creek, but then Franklin learns Tory’s true identity and banishes Tory from his sight. Will their lives be forever tattered, or will Torsten—overhearing a desperate last-ditch scheme to snatch Franklin’s gold—be able to save Moonlight Gulch and his final shot at love?

Review by Gerry Burnie (this review was previously posted on his review site)

I’m a great fan of classic western tales, especially if they are accurately portrayed regarding setting and lifestyle, and in my opinion On the Trail to Moonlight Gulch, by Shelter Somerset [Dreamspinner Press, 2012] touches most of the right bases.

The story is about a lonely, tenderfoot Easterner, Torsten Pilkvist [I love the names], who naively starts a lovelorn correspondence, as a woman, with an equally lonely rancher, Franklin Ausmus, and when Torsten is forced to leave home he impetuously makes his way west to find him.

As improbable as this may seem, it nonetheless works because Somerset has done a superb job of bringing the loneliness of these two characters to life, and since we’ve all “been there,” so to speak, it is easy for us to empathize with them—i.e. the litmus test of a good writer.

Thinking Torsten is a drifter, Ausmus takes him on as a ranch hand, but Thorsten chickens out on telling Frank he is the ‘gal’ he has been writing to—setting up a conflict of significant proportions later on.

Of course, no good western would be complete without villains, and there are a whole cast of them in this story. The ring leader is a French Canadian by the name of Henri Bilodeaux who, along with others, covets the gold that still remains on Ausmus’ property.

What I liked

The writing is solid from start to finish, and the descriptions are not only vivid but also informative at times. Somerset has done his research well, and it shows.

For the most part the characterization is also done well. The good guys are principled but ‘human,’ which makes them all the more credible, and the bad guys are definitely bad. The author has also given Torsten a reasonable period of adjustment to fit into the role of ranch hand, rather than thrusting him into it as many writers do.

The other supporting characters, Wicasha the Indian and Madame Lafourchette, are a bit formulaic but nonetheless charming—almost de rigueur in a classic-style western of this sort.

Altogether, this is a delightful read for all those who like their westerns ‘classic.’ Four solid stars

Available in paperback and ebook (320 pages)

Author’s Blog

Buy from DreamspinnerAmazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: Shadowboxing by Anne Barwell


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

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

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

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

Ebook and Print 266 pages

Review by Sally Davies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Livejournal

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

Review: The Amethyst Cat Caper by Charlie Cochet

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

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

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Website

Ebook only.

Buy at Torquere | Kindle UK | Kindle USA

Review: The Forgotten Man by Ryan Loveless

In 1932, after Captain Joshua Pascal’s family loses its fortune, the Great War veteran’s sense of duty compels him to help his mother convert his childhood home into a Jewish boarding house. He’s lived openly as a homosexual among his friends, but now Joshua must pretend to be a “normal,” and hiding his nature is a lonely way of life. But in the middle of Chanukah, Joshua meets Will, a street musician with a ready smile, and wonders if he might deserve a chance at love.

 During the cold December nights they find comfort in each other. But the specter of the workhouse and the possibility of family and personal ruin hang over them, making their every move dangerous. Which would they rather lose: their lives as they know them… or the promise of a future together?  168 pages

Review by Erastes

It was great to find another book set in this era, as Prohibition/Depression America is a hugely untapped market and all in all I enjoyed this story. I felt that perhaps the few problems I found with it were maybe the length of the book, which made it a little difficult to take the characterisation and conflict deeper than it was.

I liked Joshua a good deal, he’s a man who has been shoved back into the closet because he’s had to move back home. Not that he was “out” of course, but having his own apartment in New York meant he had a little more freedom over his own life. Now, because his well-to-do family has lost all of its money, he’s living back in the large house with his mother and brother his personal life has shrunk to visiting “Shorty’s” – a bar which welcomes homosexuals and where he’s been having an on-off sexual liaison with one of the staff.

I liked his sense of obligation to his family without having the resentment that many of us show. That’s not to mean that he’s a saint, he’s grumpy and snappy like all of us. It was with his interraction with his family that one of the gaps showed, for me. The whole missing father arc seems to have been introduced and there’s an attempt to solve the situation, but it seemed to me as though it was a plot that was meant to do something, but really didn’t. I kept waiting for something to happen–good or bad–but nothing much did. When Joshua’s brother Asher fails in what he sets out to do the backlash is glossed over, we are told that Joshua looked after Asher, but that’s about it.

The thing is, I think, is that the book is bursting out of its “I’m a gay romance” skin because there’s so much extra world here: the club, the family, the father interest and the romance aspect suffers from all these interesting plot developments that don’t come to fulfilment and the other plots suffer a little because of the romance.

The second protagonist is Will–or Blue as Joshua first calls him, not knowing his name. He’s a new widower trying to protect and support a new-born child on the streets by busking and not doing terribly well at it. It’s not exactly a “gay for you” plot as it turns out that Will is bisexual, but had been scared senseless away from his gay leanings by his family at a young age, but it’s along the lines of “it’s not men, it’s just him (Joshua)”

I didn’t like Will as much, possibly because we are rarely in his point of view, but I found his constant running away to be irritating–added to the speed that they went from “I’m straight” to “I’m in your bed.” He blames part of his running away on the fact that Joshua was too uptown for him, but this class difference wasn’t really stressed–unless it was the oddly inserted riding scene which I didn’t see what it was demonstrating. If Joshua had been one of the top nobs in New York I’d have liked that to have been more illustrated, as it wasn’t really clear to me until Will starts angsting about it. Apparently too, both men had been noticing each other for a long while as Joshua passed Will in the street but this again isn’t particularly strong. He only really notices Will on the day that Will isn’t on the corner as expected.

The ending was a little odd, and how the conflict is resolved struck me as arbitrary and odd–plus there were a good couple of plot holes that stood out, Joshua would have known what he finds out (sorry to be vague) a lot quicker simply by going to the bar–the fact he stopped going made no sense at all.

I had a niggling feeling that it was converted fanfic, due mainly to the appearance of a military coat, and the fact there’s a character called Harper and the protagonist has a younger brother, but I’ve had contact with the author and they assure me that it definitely isn’t converted fanfic, so no worries there.

I realise that I haven’t said it very well, becuase I’ve been trying to work out why the book didn’t blow me away as much as it should have, but I actually did enjoy this book very much. The fact that it gets four stars despite all the issues I’ve pointed out here demonstrates that, I hope. It was a little schmoopy for me,  but there’s enough of a hard edge in it too, in all those plots which deserved more time and space to be explored, that pulled it out of the average. Plus a holiday themed book is allowed to be schmoopy by most.

I’m sure you’ll enjoy it if you try it out. Ebook only.

Author’s Blog

Buy from Dreamspinner  Amazon UK   Amazon USA

Review: Whistle Pass by KevaD

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

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

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

Review by Elliott Mackle

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

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

Review: Brook Street: Thief by Ava March

London, 1822

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

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

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

Buy at Carina Press

Review: The Sartorialist by Cecilia Ryan

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

Available as ebook only

Buy at Dreamspinner Press, Amazon UKAmazon USA

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

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parhelion’s website

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

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

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

Review by Michael Joseph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

G.A. Hauser’s website

Available as an ebook and in print

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Review: Bonds of Earth by G.N. Chevalier

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

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

Review by Sally Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Blog

Available in Paperback and ebook format.

Buy at: Dreamspinner PressAmazon UK,   Amazon USA

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review by Elliott Mackle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Website

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

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

Review: The Master of Seacliff by Max Pierce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

Amazon UK    Amazon USA (available as paperback and ebook)

Review: Abominations by Paul R Brenner

The year is 68 CE. Led by the fanatical Sicarii, the ideological dagger men, Jews seize Jerusalem, execute the Roman garrison, and begin to cleanse Judaea of all impurities and foreign influences, including Greek love. Nero sends Vespasianus with three legions to quell the revolt. Caught in this conflict is the Sacred Community of Men, whose leader is the man who was Jesus’ lover, and Joanna, in whose home was held the Last Supper with Jesus. To escape assassination, Jesus’ beloved flees Judaea for cosmopolitan Alexandria, where he has been accepted as a Visiting Scholar in the famous Temple of the Muses, the Mouseion. Within days of arriving in the city, fierce ethnic fighting breaks out between Greeks and Jews, disrupting his life and plans. Further complicating his life is Markos, the sexy, wealthy young Greek, who wants a relationship with him, Hakor, the young orphaned Egyptian boy whom he befriends, and Diokles, Director of Visiting Scholars, who takes more than an intellectual interest in him. He senses he is being followed without being able to identify by whom. When he and his friends are viciously attacked, they discover the Sicarii have him marked for assassination. Finally, to end the chaos, Tiberius Alexander, Governor of Egypt, recalls the legion from fighting bandits in the south of Egypt. As they attack the quarter, our hero is trapped and comes face to face with a Roman centurion with drawn bloody sword eager to kill. Will he survive?

Review by Erastes

It’s taken me a while to review this book because I wanted to be as fair as I possibly could be. At first I was mildly excited because although there are a couple of Jesus gay books they are more erotica than historical fiction. Abominations is very “closed bedroom door” which was an approach I liked and would have left room for the plot.

That is, if there had been a plot. I kept reading and reading in the hopes that some kind of plot would manifest itself, but sadly it simply didn’t. It’s simply a book about a bloke who travels about, meets people and does stuff. Content doesn’t equal plot.

It’s set about 30 years after Jesus (called Joshua in this) was killed and it covers some of his friends and disciples as they come to terms with his death and how the world is getting to know about him and how everyone has a different take on “who he was.” This, I found interesting. Even if Jesus was just a normal person, albiet wise and charismatic, there was going to be some confusion afterwards as gradually more and more people claimed to know who he was and what he stood for. This is illustrated well, as the groups of people grow and split apart as their opinions differ.

There’s an awful lot of theology in this, and I’m afraid I know nuffin’ about theology and religious history so whether the facts–or even the myths discussed–are accurate, I simply couldn’t tell you. I admit that I was taking it all on faith (scuse the pun) that Bremmer knew what he was talking about when a couple of large mistakes hoved into view and then I started to doubt it all. Someone with more knowledge than I would know whether there was a Sacred Community of Men (and one of women) and what they stood for etc. I admit I was a bit lost in this respect.

What jarred me more than anything was the entirely modern feel to the book. Now, I’m not expecting people to be speaking Greek, or Aramaeic or anything like that, but these characters were speaking “2011 San Francisco” as far as I could see, and you could pick any of them up by their “fabulous, darlings!” and transplant them to Castro and they would simply fit right in. No, I didn’t want everyone to be thee-ing and thou-ing, but I find it unlikely that everyone would be quite as flaming as they are depicted here.

Everyone is gay, too. Simply everyone. Everyone the narrator meets fancies him, or makes a pass, or leers over him, or offers himself up. He’s simply irresistible, it seems. The librarian is gay, all the soldiers they meet, chance encounters on ships and in cafes (in fact there are gay bars, for goodness sake) There’s a thriving gay community where everyone seems to know everyone else.  It was this very gay community (in Alexandria) that gave me misgivings, because I had read a lot about the Greek attitude to homosexuality and it didn’t strike me that it was particularly OKHOMO to this degree. Yes, men were considered to be the best teachers of the young (heaven forbid the women would be allowed to do it, after all as they weren’t really allowed out of the house that much) but an erastes/eromenos relationship was pretty unequal when it came down to it, the erastes being older and allegedly wiser. Here the men pair off according to whim and attraction–and love–and live together as easily as… men living in San Francisco. As far as I was aware men did not carry on homosexual relationships with men of equal age, in fact it was quite frowned upon.

The prose is fairly regular througout, despite the modern feel to it which jarred me on a basic level on just about every page. But the first major love-making scene (which, as I said above, are non-explicit) was so bloody hilariously written I ended up snorting tea out of my nose.

Here’s a snippet of the first part of it (and it goes on for several pages of my Kindle after this):

…our mouths open to each other, and all that has been

detoured, denied, disrupted,

unspoken, unapproached, untouched, unfilfilled, undone

erupts

in an

enmeshing, entwining, enwrapping, engulfing, enflaming

frenzy

of

touching, tasting, tonguing, teghtening, twisting,

savoring, sucking, swallowing, sliding, squeezing, squishing…

Hmm.

Add to all of this that the author got the erastes and the eromenos muddled up and presents the erastes as the younger partner, rather than the younger plus the fact the sailing ships (in first century AD) had portholes when they weren’t invented until the 16th century, -  and you’ll begin to see why I was doubting the research into the rest of it.

Continuing with the language, the author has attempted to flavour his book by chucking in Greek (and probably other, but it’s not explained what language they are) words at a fairly regular rate and at times it was intrusive and annoying, particularly with the over-modern language used throughout, and the “As you know, Bob” translations to phrases spoken. There’s quite a lot of “As you know, Bob” throughout as the backstory is explained which made me grind my teeth.

What I did like, though, despite my entire non-belief in the entire affair–was the way it made me think about the way word would have spread about Jesus after his death and how that people would shape the stories around him, even from the word go (let alone how they have been twisted 2000 years later.)  It’s clear from much of the book — and from the postscript — that the author has done a great deal of research, but whether he has actually portrayed first century Alexandria with any conviction, I really don’t know. Personally if you have any expertise in the era, I would be very interested to know your view on it, should you read it. It’s worth a look, I would say, for its rarity value. But it left me puzzled to be honest.

Buy at Amazon

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 

 

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