Review: And There Was Silence by Louise Blaydon

Two years after the horrors of the Great War, Robert and Harry are fellow students at the University of Oxford, spending an idyllic day on the banks of the river. Robert idolizes Harry, though he’s sure the other man has no idea of his feelings. When Harry offers to take Robert out on a punt on the river, the afternoon takes a turn Robert never expected.

Short story, Ebook Only

Review by Erastes

This is more a mood piece and a soft-focus love scene rather than a short story, I felt. It had a taste of a missing scene from some larger work and I’d have liked to have read that larger work because this left me feeling – like one of the protagonists – rather unsatisfied.

The writing is pretty good and just the sort of thing I like, lush with description and heavy with summer:

They sat together at the river’s edge, lazily watching the boats go by. Robert’s feet, stretched out in front of him, were somehow damp, although the sun had been blazing all morning and dappled them now through the leaves, casting loose, blotted shadows that darkened their clothes like stains. Harry had taken off his shoes, setting them aside and drawing up his knees to dabble his toes in the grass. His hair was in his eyes, paled to its summer gold, and his sleeves rolled up past the elbow.

So I was drawn in immediately, and wouldn’t have stopped reading for a big clock.

There’s nothing much to it, lovely descriptions, Robert (as the blurb reveals) not knowing Harry’s predelictions and suddenly a stolen kiss in a punt (which struck me as a little incongruous due to all the “boats going by” — I was certainly expecting a furious shout of “you there, you cads, stop that unnatural behaviour” from the bank but nothing happened. Suddenly we are in Harry’s rooms and rather nice inferred sex is happening.

And that’s sort of that. If it had managed a real sense of a short story with a story to tell rather than a cliffhanger, I would have given this a five star for the sheer lushness of the writing, but it let me down with a bump and I wanted the whole book, and I hate always having to say that about short stories. Still it’s only $1.49, so I suppose I’m being greedy.

Author’s Website

Buy at Dreamspinner 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

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: Sail Away by Lee Rowan

Corrupt governments, divided loyalties,lovingly exchanged gifts, astral travel and sensual love; not to mention a sailors unwanted little lodgers are all combined in this charming and entertaining collection of short stories by Lee Rowan, plus an extra treat from Charlie Cochrane.

THE CAPTAINS COURTSHIP
Set in 18th century New England amid revolutionary rumblings, The Captains Courtship is a nicely written and well researched traditional romance.

Cynthia Lancaster is a well brought up English girl living with her father, Edward and her grandmother in New Jersey. Her father is eager for her to marry the unprepossessing Mr Humboldt. But when Cynthia meets the handsome and dashing Commander Paul Andrew Smith when he intervenes in an argument between Edward, a loyalist and and two staunch Patriots,she is immediately smitten.

Now, with the help of her grandmother, Cynthia must attempt to persuade her father that the commander would be a better match than Mr Humboldt.

SEE PARIS AND LIVE.
Christopher St.John, the young Baron Guilford is asked by his mother, the Dowager Baroness, to travel to Paris to supervise the safe delivery of her shipment of brandy. But France is embroiled in Revolution and dangerous ground for an English Aristocrat.

Once there however, Kit meets Zoe Colbert, an extremely pretty,if rather forward young woman who immediately invites an astounded Kit to bed. Events take a turn for the worse for Kit, however and his sojourn in Paris turns out to be longer than he anticipated.

CASTAWAY.
Forbidden love aboard His Majesty’s Frigate, Calypso. When Lieutenants David Archer and William Marshall are washed overboard during a fierce storm at sea, the two find themselves stranded on a desert island. Away from the prying eyes of their shipmates David and William are able to express their love for each other without fear of punishment and almost certain death.  And for a while at least they can live out their fantasies in this tropical paradise until help arrives.

ALL SOULS.
When David Archer is confronted by the apparition of the man whom his lover, William Marshall killed in a duel, he instinctively realises that his friend is in mortal danger. Together David and William must fight the strangest battle of their lives. Will the love they have for each other help them to survive the night, and beat this most deadly of enemies?

GIFT EXCHANGE,TOKEN OF AFFECTION,FORTUNES FAVORS,TOUCH.
Four short stories featuring Davy and William celebrating Christmas, Valentines Day, risking a  ‘quickie’ in a skiff and enjoying some shore leave… and much more besides.

Reviewed by Grace Roberts

I really enjoyed this collection of stories.Beautifully written and well researched, the author Lee Rowan has delivered once again with some classic romance and adventure set on the high seas, in the American colonies and in Paris during the ‘Terror’.

Two of the stories (The Captains Courtship & See Paris and Live) are M/F and the rest are M/M, but don’t let that put you off. I did find that a little disconcerting at first but the author writes in both genres so well, I was able to put aside my bias and enjoy them just as much as the M/M stories. And I love the book’s cover. Nice and clean and uncluttered, and no naked torsos.

Set in the pre revolutionary American colonies, The Captain’s Courtship is a very traditional romance with the requisite handsome hero and a heroine who, though no raving beauty, has attributes which far transcend mere physical attraction. A strong will for one thing, and a determination to marry the man she loves and not the man her father wishes her to wed. Here also is the ubiquitous wise old grandmama colluding with her grand-daughter in her ambition.

As I said, a very traditional romance and a very charming read.

The one quibble I had with the next story, See Paris And Live was the main female character.I just couldn’t take her seriously at all, and I didn’t like her. I tried, but it wasn’t to be. She came across as arrogant and manipulative, and I found the scene where she entices a not unwilling Kit into bed five minutes after meeting him slightly unbelievable.

Later in the story, she voices concerns about the loss of her virtue, and how it would affect her father. Hmm, one can’t help but feel she should have thought of that earlier. But perhaps it was a case, for her at least, of not knowing when she may end up riding in a tumbril to the guillotine, so live for the moment. But I didn’t like it and I found it mildly off-putting.

It’s a decent story with a good, solid plot and we even have Kit undergoing Trepan surgery after a skirmish with revolutionaries.

The next four stories Castaway, Gift Exchange, Fortunes Favors and Touch feature Lieutenants David Archer and his shipmate, friend and lover,William Marshall, the stars of Rowan’s Royal Navy Series.

Castaway has the two being swept overboard during a fierce storm and managing to stay afloat by clinging onto a chicken coop. Washed up on a desert island, the two men battle to suppress their feelings for each other with some slightly comical results. While one leaves the sleeping quarters,where they share a hammock, to supposedly relieve himself among the bushes, the other takes the opportunity of his friends absence to relieve himself in a different way. (His father once told him to do it privately or ignore it) Only later do we discover what Davy has really been up to in the shrubbery. They do eventually stop beating about the bush, ho hum, throw caution to the wind, and consummate their love. And with no threat of Article 29 to bother them and no one to witness the act, they have a lovely frolic on the beach. Very sweet, very sexy,a lovely story with a very surprising ending. I certainly didn’t see it coming, and you may need a hanky or two.

Gift Exchange begins with a charming and affectionate letter from Davy to his mother thanking her for her Christmas gift of a marzipan rabbit, underclothing and woollen stockings.

He shares his gifts with William, and in return,William gives Davy a gift he’ll never forget in a beautifully written scene of illicit passion which, because they are on board ship must be conducted in silence.Difficult for Will, not so much for Davy who’s mouth is er, busy elsewhere.

My favourite after Castaway was All Souls. The author has obviously researched the subject of Astral Travel very thoroughly and whether you believe in it or not, it makes this story a gripping read. Its the first time I’ve seen anyone mention the Silver Cord (the mystical cord which attaches the corporeal body to the spirit. A sort of umbilical cord) for many years. Writers rarely mention it in fiction or in reports of so-called actual occurrences of Astral Travel.  But it enables Davy to float from one deck of his ship to another just by the power of thought. Marvellous, this is a sea faring adventure with a difference. I loved it. And it has a very satisfying ending with love triumphing over adversity and avenging spirits.

Token of Affection and Fortunes Favors have our heroes once again exchanging cute little gifts for Valentines Day and taking a newly repaired skiff for a practice run, and in Token, there are plenty of Bottom puns from the two while discussing Shakespeare, and a mention of a ‘New little mid- Beecroft’ who could play Puck, and looks the part but has an unfortunate stutter. Oh dear!

The first sentences in Fortunes Favors raised my eyebrows a little with the ‘Carry On’ type double entendres. Upright Shafts and Wet Leather! But no, tis only our intrepid twosome rigging up a mast when, having risked a ‘quickie’ behind a tiny island in the Calypso’s newly repaired skiff they are caught in a sudden squall. There’s more talk of Yardarms with er rosy tips etc plus the lovely, vivid line, ['Their] love being no less sincere for being hasty; like a hummingbird hovering in flight to sip nectar’.

Touch blew me away with it’s lusciously sensual and highly evocative sex scene. Playful and raunchy without being smutty or crude, it’s erotica at it’s tasteful best,and is written with skill and finesse.

Finally, With All My Worldly Goods I Thee Endow-Including Livestock By Charlie Cochrane.

This extra little vignette is typically Charlie Cochrane. Her wit, humour and sense of fun abound in every sentence as Davy attempts to rid Will of some unwanted little visitors…..head lice. Great fun to read and is a lovely, jolly finale to a book which I enjoyed immensely. Eight cracking tales with plenty of action, adventure, love, lust and humour, Sail Away has something for everyone between it’s covers. Available from Amazon at £4:53 for the Kindle edition, it’s also available in paperback, (a bonus these days) for £8:99, which is a little pricey, but for this collection I reckon it’s well worth it.

Lee Rowan’s Website

Buy at Amazon UK,  Amazon USA

Review: Solace by Scarlet Blackwell (short story)

Solace by Scarlet Blackwell

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

Review by Michael Joseph

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

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

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

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

Scarlet Blackwell

Buy from Silver Publishing

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

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

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s website

Buy at Torquere

Review: The Lilac Tree by Marion Husband (short story)

The Lilac Tree is a short story included in Marion Husband’s short story collection “Six Little Deaths” dealing–as the title suggests with the subject of death.

The only gay historical story, The Lilac Tree, is a reminiscence of an elderly man–in a care home, or rented accommodation, being looked after by non-relatives who has nothing much but memories to bring any sunlight into his life. A child asks him an innocent question, and although the answer to that question is “no” it triggers bittersweet memories of a fleeting but intense first love with an officer in World War One.

Husband’s writing is always a delight to read, and this is no exception. It creates an atmosphere with the lightest of touches, says just enough and no more. We are taken from the old man’s life:

me, in my slippers and cake-crumbed cardigan

and transported, by the smell and sight of lilac, to that love affair, long long ago:

He waited for me beneath a lilac tree, the cigarette between his fingers sending its frail grey wisps of smoke to the pale blue sky.  He smoked cigarettes until there was nothing left of them except the stain on his fingers and when he kissed me the taste was pure tobacco.

For a short story it packs a punch, although one expects the sadness, it doesn’t make it any less poignant. The saddest part was the young man living his life and still remembering this as such a vivid memory. I wanted him to have more vibrant memories to erase it.

There are five other stories in the collection, and all are beautifully written, and for the price this is well worth getting and reading again and again.

Author’s website

Buy at  Amazon UK      Amazon USA

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