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

Review: Midnight Dude by Various

18 wonderful stories by 18 talented authors. A cornucopia of gay themed short fiction and a showcase of the talent of the authors at AwesomeDude. Most of these stories were written specially for this anthology, whilst just a few are favorites from the site. There is something for everyone: from fantasy and stark realism, to War stories and sports, humor and pathos, angst and passion. (the review refers only to the two historical short stories within the anthology)

Review by Jean Cox
“Midnight Dude: Selected Readings” is an anthology of stories, two of which are historical.

“Some Enchanted Evening” by Tragic Rabbit: A love story to die for. Set in a decaying country house this intense and atmospheric story will pull the reader into a world of the liminal.

“A Flower In France” by Bruin Fisher: War’s brutality and how that can touch those who experience it is graphically illustrated in this moving story.

I’d read Bruin Fisher’s contribution to “I Do Two” and enjoyed it greatly, so was looking forward to this one. “A Flower in France” tells the story of an English Tommy who finds an unexpected sympathy for and empathy with one of the enemy, against the backdrop of WWI trench warfare.

On the positive side it illustrates the author’s variety; the light hearted tone of “Work Experience” is here replaced by serious notes for a serious subject. The hero, Godfrey, is complex and interesting—I wanted to find out a lot more about him—and his wonderful pragmatism shines through. He’s typical of the wartime generation who just got on with things without grumbling. There are scenes of great power and great tenderness in this tale and some particularly powerful images.

On the negative side, the story could have been three times as long; the development, especially of the post war scenes, felt rushed. I kept thinking there was a novella length (at least) story to be told, with the WWI part as the prelude.

Bruin Fisher can write very well—I’d like to see him really develop a longer story.

“Some Enchanted Evening” is set in both early and mid twentieth century America. The author, Tragic Rabbit, has an elegantly descriptive style; the prose was absolutely breathtaking at times, which is in keeping with a story that feels more like a fairy tale than the average gay historical short. The ghostly aspect of the second half of the tale adds to the air of mystery.

Christian’s slow awakening to his feelings in 1910 is contrasted with that of Thomas in 1962, observed by Christian’s spirit. The interaction between ghost and human, which could risk appearing absurd, is well depicted, as is (generally) the contrast between the two eras and the similarity of the young men’s experience.

This is such an unusual story I can forgive the overabundance of contemporary references (brand names, chart songs) for the 1962 segment, which contrasts with a lack of the same sort of references for the earlier segment. However, like “A Flower in France”, “Some Enchanted Evening” rushes to its conclusion; the ending would have been better had it been at the same pace as the rest of the story.

Overall, I came away with the feeling that both of these would have benefitted from a harder copy edit, which could have transformed a pair of good stories into excellent ones.

The issue with both stories’ endings might have pulled the final star rating down, but the overall quality of the writing (and the fact the anthology contains at least one non-historical story which alone would justify reading the book) deserves four stars.

Awesome Dude Website

Buy the book

Review: Most Wanted by Barbara Sheridan (short story)

 

 

1894: Boston born and bred Tim Dwyer doesn’t relish the thought of giving up Eastern comforts for life in the rough-and-tumble West. But when he finds himself with with no job, little money, and no place else to go, he accepts a position at his cousin’s weekly newspaper in the Indian Territory. When his cousin and his new editor cook up a roving reporter assignment, Tim learns that spending a mere week in the life of U.S. Deputy Marshal Jon Sauvage won’t ever be enough to satisfy his needs.

Choctaw lawman "Savage Jon" Sauvage has spent his entire adult life content with chasing wanted men and taking his pleasures wherever and however he can. But once he’s roped into letting a big city reporter tag along with him on a manhunt, Jon soon suspects that Tim Dwyer might just capture his heart.

Review by Sally Davis

Another nice package from Dreamspinner. Not sure I mean that quite the way it sounds. I’m a big fan of covers that do more than say ‘oh hi, look, nude males, this means it’s m/m :)’ and this one does that, establishing a Wild West theme and that one of the main characters is a lawman with a nicely posed model. Another nice touch is that the background seems to be area appropriate tall grass prairie too so here’s a yay for cover artist Catt Ford.

The story is quite short – 40 pages – so it’s no real surprise that the blurb is, more or less, the entirety of the romance plot. But the interest is in the little details – the contrast between John’s life in Arkansas and Tim’s in Boston and the way the two are brought together.

John is the archetypal strong and dependable type, valued for his abilities and trusted in the local community despite his Native American heritage. He is usually very discreet about his inclinations – the one time he gives into temptation becomes a major plot point. Tim is small and artistic and, frankly, a little girly. He is not welcome in his family home and is now homeless following a falling out with his sugar daddy. His classy aunt and her chief surgeon husband invite him to join them and their children at a family celebration in the town where John lives.  From the moment Tim and John lock eyes at the railway station, their fates are sealed!

I enjoyed the story, but with some reservations. For a start, in some places the story read very much like a sequel with references to incidents that seemed as though they should be important plot points but that weren’t strictly anything to do with the story. Also, society seemed to be astonishingly liberal. I know that the Choctaws were one of the Five Civilised Tribes and that they had a history of intermarrying with settlers, but I was a little surprised at how completely John and Tim’s cousin Star both seemed to be accepted by the people in their town and by the posh folk from back East. I think it’s great to have stories with a greater ethnic diversity and for all I know the people in those days were a lot less lacking in prejudice than I anticipated, but it didn’t strike true to me that nobody in the story seemed the least bit concerned. However this was a short story about the beginning of a relationship between two very different characters so perhaps it was wise to concentrate on the difficulties involved for gay men rather than complicating matters by trying to address the issues faced by interracial couples as well.

As a short sweet romance it works quite well but I don’t think it will be one to read again.

Author’s website

Buy From Dreamspinner

Review: Summer’s Lease by Scot D Ryersson (short story)

Calcutta, West Bengal, May 1891—Mair Calloway, Major Willoughby’s grandson, is arriving at Barrackpore for one night, en route to England for his first year at university. Captain Charles Blackthorne has been ordered to meet Mair at the train and take him under his wing for twenty-four hours. “No girls!” the Major orders. “Take care of his every need—personally!” Blackthorne, with an impeccable record in twelve years of military service would seem to be the perfect chaperone…

Summer’s Lease, an original short story from acclaimed author Scot D. Ryersson, brings the sights, smells, and tastes of colonial India to life. With a sensual undercurrent and simmering eroticism present throughout, the reader is transported to another world for a visit, that, like Mair’s stay at the Viceregal Lodge, is all too short and will leave you wanting more.

Review by Erastes

This is a most neglected era, and yet one so ripe with possibilities, I was thrilled to find that someone had finally written about it.

And it’s well done, too. I have to say I enjoyed it greatly, even though–because it’s a short story–it was predictable as to what actually is going to happen, but saying that, it didn’t have a hugely predictable ending, which worked well.

The language is very flowery, so be warned–that’s not to everyone’s taste, and if I say that even I found it a little over-florid at times, anyone who’s read my stuff will know what to expect.

That being said–the language takes the over-stimulation-to-the-senses that India can be, and paints it beautifully on the page. From the overbearing heat, to the crowded train station, seething with life and all types of castes, to the stuffy formality of the English club (although would they really have sat on the floor, Indian fashion?) to the scents and tactile senses of fabric, skin and hair.

Captain Charles Blackthorne is almost a pitable character as he’s spent 12 years in India and has managed to hide his proclivities pretty well. He sees new young men arriving, spots the tell-tale gleam in their eyes, and gradually, the chance of getting together with them becomes more remote as he gets older the young men get younger every year. You really feel that Mair is his last chance of happiness, and the reference to Summer’s Lease (Summer’s lease hath all too short a date” – Shakespeare, Sonnet 18) is quite sad.

I didn’t like the constant use of epithets. Mair is described as “the youth” and “the boy” throughout and although he’s not “underage” for the US laws (meaningless in 19th century, obviously) it kept pushing an image of a man that was too young, even though he wasn’t. I know some authors think it’s boring to keep saying the character’s name, but I prefer it to epithets. Sometimes, it feels there are five people in a scene when there’s only two!

There’s a couple of anachronisms I spotted, which only made me smile and the second one might not be one at all–the most glaring was the mention of the poem “Gunga Din” which wasn’t written until the year after this story was set. It’s easy done, I’ve done the same, but seeing as how the publisher is also an historical writer, and Mr Ryersson’s earlier novel with Bristlecone had many anachronisms in it, I’m surprised this wasn’t checked.

I find much of any book’s pre-amble–e.g. the stuff before the story: the legal bit, the acknowledgements a bit intrusive at the best of times, and I’ve noticed with Bristlecone that they put a “Dear Reader…” page in, explaining what the publishing house is and where it came from and please don’t pirate etc. That’s ok, but please put it at the end!

The promise in the blurb is quite right, because this is a wasted story, in the sense that it cries out for the whole thing. I want to know a lot more about Captain Charles Blackthorne and I hope that things work out for him.

Well worth the $1.59.

no website

Buy at: All Romance ebooks | Rainbow ebooks | 1Placeforromance

 


Review: The Emperor by Lucius Parhelion (short story)

Eli is the personal assistant/bodyguard for the one of the most prosperous ranchers in New Mexico Territory at the turn of the Twentieth century. The Emperor, as Eli calls his boss, has a mysterious past, no one quite knows exactly how he came to the Territory, though there are plenty of rumors.

In 1908, Eli finds out the truth when the Emperor’s relatives from England come for a visit. Could it be that he and the man he’s been working for all these years have more in common than he knew? And can the two of them make a life together despite their relatives?

Review by Sally Davis

Let’s not talk about the cover, eh? Also the blurb mentions a mysterious past that is solved the minute one reads the prologue. Pity that. It’s a short story, just 40 pages.

The prologue sets a scene 19 years before the main action. Young Harry is in big trouble with his stuffed shirt of a brother, having been caught out in the company of a person of very high status in the kind of establishment that spells ruin. Obviously the person of high status can’t be held accountable so poor Harry has to carry the can. I found this section very good. The understated emotion and clipped conversation spoke of the type of society where reputation is everything. Harry is ruined, his family can no longer receive him, he cannot stay in England, in fact cannot stay anywhere in the Empire! But his brother does what he can in offering him a choice of exiles.

Harry chooses the cattle ranch in New Mexico and departs, bravely resigned to his fate.

The story proper is told from the 1st person point of view of Eli Fletcher y Baca, private secretary to ‘the Emperor’ - Harry Crewe, English ‘remittance man’ and owner of the River-R, one of the largest ranches in New Mexico – and it starts with a bang. Eli proves that ‘private secretary’ is perhaps an understatement as he lays out a thug who is disrespectful to people of Latin heritage and, by extension to Crewe who employs them. Eli was born on the Emperor’s ranch, served in the Rough Riders and is a thoroughly useful individual. Eli is also very discreetly gay.

That Crewe values him is obvious from their exchanges and they have that ease together that means they can converse or ride in silence comfortably when crossing the miles from Las Vegas to the River-R.

On the journey they get word that Crewe’s English relatives are waiting at the ranch.  Crewe and Eli discover that Crewe’s brother is dying and wishes to have a final meeting. The news is carried by Crewe’s sister-in-law, a nephew and their bodyguard, Kelly, an odious man who is plainly sniffing around for a scandal. Eli is anxious not to be the source of that scandal but Crewe’s matter of fact confession of his own proclivites – “I do not have the temperament for marriage” – and Eli’s laconic response put temptation in their way.

There are many interesting little historical details dropped into the story, and I enjoyed the flashes of Western life - bad roads, a horse that veers to the left, difficult journeys for furniture. The sex scenes are unfussy, with the participants refreshingly no nonsense about what exactly they want. As usual Parhelion is adept at showing the emotions of the characters as much with their actions as their words, especially in the case of Crewe who is the archetypal buttoned up Brit without ever quite slipping into stereotype. The words too pack a punch. There is a reference to sunflowers that had me gulping.

All in all a short but very satisfying read. One to be savoured and read again

Author’s website

Available from Torquere

Review: If It Ain’t Love by Tamara Allen (short story)

In the darkest days of the Great Depression, New York Times reporter Whit Stoddard has lost the heart to do his job and lives a lonely hand-to-mouth existence with little hope of recovery, until he meets Peter, a man in even greater need of new hope.

Review by Erastes

Tamara Allen is a very talented writer and doesn’t get the publicity she deserves. However, if there is any justice, word of mouth will continue to work for her and more and more people will come to her books. This is a perfect example, because it’s a free download and therefore a great introduction to her beautifully sparse, no word wasted style of writing.

Set in the 1930′s Depression it paints beautifully (if that is the right word) the struggle it was to live in New York at the time. We sometimes forget that the term “living on the bread line” meant exactly that. That you were dependent on free handouts of bread and perhaps soup if you wanted to stay alive. Today, it has rather blurred to mean the line between plenty and poverty, but that’s not where it started.

Some books take a long time to get going, and it can be a struggle to actually care two hoots about the main character–not so here, within 3 pages I was gripped by Whit and the world he lived in. I felt every cold gust of wind, every rubbery noodle, every insult, felt the shabby clothes he wore, his thin shoes, felt the despair he felt in slums and flop-houses he was forced to live in as–like millions of others–he was out of work.

Her prose, as I said, is clean and exactly enough and no more–this sentence echoes both Whit’s emotion, and the time he lives in:

Before shame could show through the ill-fitting nonchalance, Whit got up and headed for the door.

The first conversation between Peter and Whit is so crisp that it took my breath away. So many books–and we’ve all read them–have strangers talking like High School BFFs but this for me was on the knife edge of perfection. Anyone who says women can’t write men needs to read Allen–many would learn much.

Here’s a section that I particularly liked:

Only when evening shadows had grown thick enough to impress him with the lateness of the hour did the world regain his attention. Peter was a dark, warm shape pressed close, still catching his breath after Whit’s last successful effort to steal it, and Whit, drifting on the serene awareness that something wonderful had begun, wondered just how long the average miracle could last.

I won’t spoil the plot because it’s not big enough to really explain any of it without spoiling, and this is a short story that needs to be savoured slowly and read again and again. Suffice it to say that it manages in a mere 30 pages, conflict, misunderstanding, resolution, character growth, wonderful eroticism, heartbreak and a heart-warming twist that would make Ebenezer Scrooge reach for the Kleenex. And if you can manage all that in 30 pages, you hardly need a five stars from me. But it’s getting five stars anyway.

I wish I could write like Allen, and that’s the truth. Can’t recommend this any higher, and as it’s free, you’ve got no excuse not to rush off and read all 30 or so pages of it and then tell me I’m wrong, I dare you.

Author’s website

Free download here

Review: Haji’s Exile by Alan Chin

Nathan has cared for horses all his life, but Haji is the first he’ll train on his own. When the Arabian stallion arrives at Bitter Coffee Ranch, Nathan thinks he is the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. And then he lays eyes on Haji’s handler, Yousef. Nathan has much to learn about horses, about pride, and about love, but with the ranch’s hopes riding on Haji, he’ll also learn that all things have their price.

A Bittersweet Dreams title: It’s an unfortunate truth: love doesn’t always conquer all. Regardless of its strength, sometimes fate intervenes, tragedy strikes, or forces conspire against it. These stories of romance do not offer a traditional happy ending, but the strong and enduring love will still touch your heart and maybe move you to tears.

Review by Erastes

Haji is a beautiful 3-year old colt (called stallion here) which Nathan’s father has bought from North Africa to race. Haji’s handler, Yousef is beautiful too, and Nathan finds him so.

When Haji’s handler creeps into Nathan’s room and sex happens, it was rather a surprise. The two of them had hardly spoken (Yousef has hardly any English) and the only leering had been from Nathan’s direction towards Yousef, and he’d only been on the racing stable for a couple of days. It did seem a little bit of a risk, seeing Nathan was the boss’s son. But considering what Yousef does every morning after sex, perhaps that’s not surprising. I wasn’t very keen on this device, it was never explained and doesn’t give a good picture of Yousef at all.

The trouble I had with the book was my deep knowledge of horse husbandry. If you want to make me like your protagonist, then do not have them smashing a 3 year old Arabian colt in the muzzle twice, as hard as you possibly can with a riding crop, and have the man who dedicates his life to that horse just stand by and watch.

It was hard to take off my “horse” head and be objective after that, it really shocked me, even in the 1950′s–if one has been raised around horses, particularly sensitive, hugely expensive racing stock one doesn’t do that. You should never hit a horse in the head, anyway–granted the horse bit him, but the easiest way to deal with a biter is to bite him back–because that’s what they do to each other for punishment.

Another equine quibble before I shut up about it – Haji has damaged tendons, and this is the equivalent of a sprained ankle, it means rest, ice and compression–and he was being ridden regularly. That kind of injury is a horse owner’s nightmare as it takes weeks or months to recover fully–if the horse even does. The horse’s fitness is still much in doubt when it is run on the track, and that shows no love for the horse, merely the want of winning.

OK – that aside, this book is exquisitely written in parts, some of the description is quite breathtakingly beautiful, if a little self-conscious, because it’s just done in parts, jumping from very beautiful prose to work-a-day prose and then back again. This is definitely a good book to start with to get a feel of Chin’s style, although he does seem to be improving with every book.

The racetrack section is well done, you get a feeling of tension and race of course is exciting in the way that all horse races are, but Nathan once more didn’t win any prizes for behaving like a baby and risking his, Haji’s and Yousef’s life.

There were a couple of jarring homonyms: metal/mettle, bail/bale, a bit too much for such a small book which should have been spotted.

It’s short–only 3o pages or so, but worth the money for the sheer beauty of much of the prose. I can’t award it five stars simply because I loathed both protagonists and was given no reason to forgive Nathan particularly as he cared far more for sex and Yousef than for the horses, and I found the ending a little odd, along the lines of Outer Limits or Tales of the Unexpected– the whole thing didn’t really gel together for me.

Author’s website

Buy from Dreamspinner Press

Review: A Gentleman and His Jockey by JM Cartwright

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

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

Author’s Website

Amazon UK    Amazon USA

Review: Game of Chance by Kate Roman

When the young Duke of Avon takes a back exit at a masquerade ball, expecting to find like-minded players to share a high-stakes game of cards or dice, nothing can prepare him for what he finds. But in the arms of mysterious Lord Donahue, Sebastian finds this new game is more pleasurable than anything he anticipated…

Review by Erastes

A short review for a short story. I hadn’t read any Kate Roman before but I’m very appreciative of the time she took to set up what is really a wham bang thank you Sam plot. The story begins nicely and doesn’t rush to immediately tell us that our protagonist is homosexual. He’s a gambler and he’s come to a masque ball (always a sexy setup) to have a game of cards or dice. He hears rumours of back rooms where the real action takes place and whoops we have a delicious misunderstanding and a great place for much shagging in the Marsh.

Roman describes things well, and I’ll definitely have a look at her back catalogue and see if there are any other historical hiding away there. Within the space of this small setup, she leaves us in no doubt as to where adn when we are in time, wigs, coloured heels, our protagonist is a proper “macaroni” even though he doesn’t actually have any idea of his predictlictoins when it comes to me. Don’t worry, there’s someonewaitingin the wings to explain mattersto him. The sex scene when it does come—no pun intended—is again, nicely drawn out and uses enough of the historical colour to prevent us thinking that this could be set in any time at all. It’s graphic without being overly so, and will get you tingling in places that you like having tingled.

I don’t normally recommend such short stories, as i do think they are over-priced for what they are, and would prefer to have them as an extra in a novella, or ina collection of that author’s others tories, but I liked this one a lot, and it kept me amused for fifteen minutes or so and has introduced a writer to me who does her research. Four stars.

Author’s website

Buy from Torquere Press

Review: The New World by G.S. Wiley

Toby’s life is simple and uneventful. He spends most of his time working alongside his brother at the Blue Boar Tavern, welcoming travelers and serving locals. Occasionally, he indulges in illicit, illegal liaisons with men he knows he will never see again. When an old friend, a man who left to make his fortune as one of King George IV’s “redcoats,” returns in time for Valentine’s Day, Toby is forced to make a choice between his past and his future, and between his safe, quiet life and adventure beyond his imagination.

Short Story (5k)

Review by Erastes

And that’s about it, actually. Once you’ve read the blurb there’s not really any great point in reading the story–short story blurb writing is an art in itself and needs not to reveal the entire plot.

I was disappointed with this because I, like the reviewer of Kindred Hearts, had really loved that title, and I would have also given Kindred Hearts five stars. So I was looking forward to this, thinking it would be another little gem like that one.  But it was not to be.

But as this is GS Wiley and we know that Wiley can write, it is nicely written, and the description is true to the era, pre-revolution 18th century England, there’s a real atmosphere, andI liked Toby and felt his dissatisfation with his lot.It just doesn’t really deliver the way a short story should and therefore I can’t really recommend you spend even $1.99 on it, because as I said at the top, if you read the blurb there’s not a lot else there for you–sadly. Get Kindred Hearts instead.

Author’s website

Torquere Press

Review: The Sheriff and Pirate Booty by John Simpson

Picture

The Sheriff

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

Three stars

Buy from Dreamspinner

Pirate Booty

Picture

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

Three stars

Buy at Dreamspinner

Review: Soldiers:A Soldier’s Story by Allen Cross and Arius de Winter

Product description from Amazon:

Soldier – This is the story of a soldier finding himself in the time of battle, falling in love and not being able to express it. This is the story of how soldiers live, of how we, soldiers, fall in love, how the battle field opens the character to express things he never would, and except himself before death finds him. It is a story of odds, moral code and in the end………..?

This book is filled with sexual situations, gay illustrations, sex and one on one sexual situations. Cum join us as these soldiers find something more in the foxhole then war.

As a former soldier who found himself in battle, in love, and in a fox hole, I was blighted by the hopes that might never come, the question ‘why now, why did I find you now” and meeting death face to face. These are the expressions of hope, valor and the human side of love that can be found even in a time of war.

These are the real stories of men in battle, some fictionalized, some up-beat romance added but still the real thing, hope, valor and glory.

Review by Gerry Burnie

This short story should be dishonourably discharged from your reading list

Note: Readers should be aware that under the Kindle format, which does not specify either word or page count, some publishers are marketing short stories (some as short as a 30-minute read) with no notice that these are not novellas or full scale novels.

“Soldier: A Soldier’s Story” by Allen Cross [Amazon Digital Services] is one such example. The complete text of this slapdash effort can be read in about an hour—provided that one has an hour to waste.

The plot, such as it is, is set during WWII in the Pacific Corridor; although that can only be deduced from references to “Japs” and an “island.” The narrator Jack, a soldier, is stationed there and is befriend by two others, Matt and Simon, in the shower. Apart from the fact that Matt has a “full ten inch cock” there is very little description of these two to help the reader get a picture of them. However, “He [Matt] was clean shaved, [sic] cock, balls and all.”

The narrative and dialogue at this point are much along the same lines, i.e.

“Dude,” you ok. [sic]

I felt sick.

He [sic] was this hot guy standing in front of my [sic] with a fucking hard on and I wasn’t supposed to be looking at him like a love lost child. I’d lost total control and now, here my cock was shower dancing with his.

I thought I would explode right there on the spot.

“Hey dude, don’t worry about it, happens all the time”. [sic]

I wasn’t sure what he meant, that his cock was hard or that his and mine were touching?

Matt smiled as he looked down at my cock embrace [sic] with his. He just looked up at me and smiled.

“Hey you fucker, I’m Simon”, the man next to Matt announced. You two dick dancing or can I join.

And so forth.

As a sort of blanket caveat (apology, perhaps), the author is careful to point out that this is an “un-edited proof”—which begs at least a couple of questions: e.g. If the writing isn’t complete, why publish it? and, Does this author not realize that by publishing such shoddy workmanship he is indirectly sullying the image of every other writer who has paid good money to have his or her manuscript(s) edited? And in this regard I include Amazon Digital Services and every other publisher who markets this type of inferior pulp.

The plot then goes on to gloss over the feeble attempt at a storyline by mixing in lots of explicit, homoerotic sex. However even this is poorly handled in places. For example, the author writes that “Matt sat up, reached for my cock and began to suck my dick as I moaned softly,” but approximately two pages later, he writes, “I desperately wanted his body and his long hard cock but he was so good looking that I wasn’t sure he’d reject me or ask of me more than I was willing to give.” [Emphasis mine]. Rejection? Not two pages beforehand the guy was copping on the narrator’s dick, so it is a pretty fair bet that rejection isn’t overly likely.

Although the hype for this story strongly suggest that this is “…the story of how soldiers live, of how we, soldiers, fall in love, how the battle field opens the character to express things he never would, and except himself before death finds him” I found very few references to army life apart from some superficial, generic situations that told me almost nothing about what it was like. I do know, however, that if soldiers had copulated as openly as these are written to have done, being court-martialled would have been the least of their worries. One-half star.

Another short story of the same ilk is: “Missing Jackson Hole” by Ryan Field [Loveyoudivine Alterotica, 2010]. 149K. This story can be read in about 30 minutes; however, one must buy and download it to discover this.

Buy from Kindle

Review: Come and Take it: 1 England, 2 Texas by Julia Talbot

Come and Take it 1: England

Leland August goes to London to work for the embassy of the failing Texas Republic. Feeling like a stranger in a strange land, Leland fears he’ll never understand his English peers. Ford Mayhew seems no exception, especially when the man all but calls Leland out for running him down on the street.

Ford is willing to forgive and forget. He likes what he sees in Leland, and wants to become friends, or perhaps more. When politics and scheming bosses intrude, though, both Leland and Ford turn their suspicions on each other. Can they learn to stand together against forces much larger than they are?

Come & Take It 2: Texas

Leland August is thrilled to be back home in Texas where things are familiar and he has his family with him. His lover Ford isn’t so sure, finding the whole country abrasive and hard to handle.

Things only get worse when Ford’s business associates ask him to do the impossible, and illegal. He decides to trust Leland to help him, confessing his difficulties, and the two hatch a plan to avert the threat to Ford’s life and love. Can Leland and Ford manage to stay one step ahead of trouble, and stay together?

Review by Erastes

This is a duet of short stories (about 40 pages each) set around 1845.  The first one, as the name implies is set in England, and the second in Texas.

These were originally part of the Torquere Press serial fiction line which is coming to an end at the close of 2010. As far as I can see, there should have been a third in this series, and there was no sign of it that I could find, which is a shame, because the story is left rather up in the air, leaving me a little disappointed. However, what there is is well done, I have generally liked Talbot’s work, and her characterisation is always sound. She manages to outline the differences between the rather stodgy Englishman and the more free-ranging Texan. It’s a shame that the stories are so short, really, because I’d have really liked to see their relationship in more detail as it built up.

There’s simply not enough time and space to give more than a outline of this, and I’d have loved to know more about the life and times when the story moves to Texas–there are far too many stories set in England, really.

It’s an interesting plot too, for all its brevity, spies and mistrust on each side which works well, but as I say, we don’t get to see how it was resolved and I hope that Talbot finishes the series off!

As much as I enjoyed this little series, I haven’t given it a higher mark for two reasons: There are few anachronisms (such as “dosh”) that jarred me, and although the final part says “to be continued in part three coming soon” which was in 2007 and as far as I can see there was never a part three, leaving our heroes in a perilous position for far too long.

Author’s website

Buy at Torquere England - Texas

Review: Loyal to His King by Sabb

Bahador is caught up in a losing battle and flees but fleeing is probably as dangerous as staying, because he is soon in the enemies camp–a prisoner. That night the Hittite general, Katuzili, uses him as a sexual toy and introduces him to his traitorous friend.

But Bahador is not lacking in courage or resoucefulness, and hearing their plots to destroy his beloved king he uses trickery to escape and warn his people and his king. When he arrives with his warnings though, it is he who is looked upon as a traitor and must prove his honestly and loyalty to the man he loves above all others.

Review by Erastes

“Have that slave washed and sent to my tent” is a stock joke in romance fiction, and this is story is plot-wise, exactly that.  Bahador lives in sometime BC somewhere–never explained–and is fighting the Hittites.  A quick Google I knew as much as I needed to know for purposes of this rape fantasy short story.

And rape fantasy it certainly is, as Bahador is no sooner gang raped and taken roughly from behind by a group of soldiers than he’s ‘rescued’ by a nobleman who issues the immortal line “Take him to my tent.”  I punched the air in glee, I didn’t think people actually said that outside my evil fantasy.  There is a plot here, of sorts, although highly silly–not only does the conquering nobleman speak his plans out loud in Bahador’s own language in front of him, but then falls asleep and Bahador easily steals clothes and nips out of the tent, grabs a chariot – all unseen by any of the hundreds of soldiers milling about and gets back to his king’s camp. All interspersed with lots of rape and sex.

The history, unsurprisingly, doesn’t hang together–the Hittite King Mursili (there were two) ruled in 1500BC and 1300BC respectively.  And the Perisan Daric coin mentioned wasn’t introduced until mid 500BC.  Picky I know, but the facts should mesh, however short and wallpaper the historical, in my opinion.

Added to that, the editing leaves much to be desired, but as Excessica is, basically a self-publishing model, that’s not unusual. “Reigns” instead of “reins” just one example, and one of the character’s names is in quote marks throughout which is very odd.

So, if rape fantasy is your bag, then it’s probably worth while spending $3 on this short story (40 pages) but otherwise I’d stay away.

Author’s Website

Buy at Excessica

Review: How the West Was Done by various

In these eleven steamy stories, the archetypal image of the cowboy is given a fresh new spin as the virile man who shares his mind, his passion…and his body with other cowboys. Whether it’s a story set in the Wild West of the 1800s or an exploration of the modern-day cowboy, each author takes the cowboy fantasy to new erotic heights.
From award-winning authors to fresh new voices, HOW THE WEST WAS DONE is sure to please anyone looking for tales of denim and leather, cowboys and Indians, real men and the men they love. So, saddle up for a fascinating ride in to the past, where the men who sought to settle the west also sought out the most primal pleasures.
With hot action and fast-paced storytelling, this ultimate collection will have you wanting to ride off into the sunset. And not alone…

Review by Aleksandr Voinov

It’s almost pointless reviewing this, so I’ll keep it short. This is a collection of 11 cowboy-centric stories, ranging from historical to modern. The best story in the collection is a contemporary, but its not of interest on this blog, so I have to leave it out. The others range from ‘solid’ (three stars) to ‘laughable’ (one star).

Clearly, when choosing the stories, the main point was to feed the cowboy fetish. So, every story features a long sex scene (or several), which is most often framed with the flimsiest excuses for stories. This collection stands proudly (I guess) between its porn movie brothers – plots like “you broke my windshield, now suck my dick” wouldn’t be out of place in this collection. I’ve read much worse porn, and if you like cowboy porn, absolutely, by all means, go for it. You’ll find modern men in cowboy gear getting it on, your usual western cliches, enormous dicks and relentless fucking with the usual porn ‘dialogue’ and porn ‘plot’, and I’m using both terms with a lot of room for discretion.

Enjoy.

Even the ‘historical stories’ feature modern men. Dropping in a few facts about the American Civil War or a reference to some historical thing or other doesn’t make any story really historical. These are modern men, with modern thoughts, that they express in modern ways, which makes this porn in period costumes. And that’s pretty much it.

Taken and read as ‘just porn’, these are okay. I’ve read much better, I’ve read much worse. They accomplish what they want to accomplish, but not one of the historical stories left a positive impression, and many of them left negative ones, whether they were funny, bizarre, trying very hard and falling short, or working a kink I don’t really share.

Fine as porn, not recommended from the historical perspective.

Buy at Ravenous Romance

Review: Wanted by J.M. Snyder

Jesse McCray ekes out a hard living cutting cattle from the local beef baron of Defiance, Texas. He’s known for his quick draw and his steady aim; no one outguns him. Whenever he and his ragtag group of friends known as the Rustlers ride into town, the local cowboys hold their breaths, waiting for the men to ride through. But one evening, while playing faro at Billy’s Saloon, Jesse’s attention is drawn to a new face in the crowd.

Ethan Phillips is an idealistic tenderfoot from back East, passing through Defiance on his way to the California coast. He’s heard tales of the gold that enriches the west coast, and he’s looking for a way to make his dreams come true. When his horse pulls up lame, he offers to sing for the cowboys of Billy’s Saloon to earn a few coins, but the men jeer at his song until a man in black quiets them. With one look into Jesse’s dark eyes, Ethan finds himself falling for the man.

Ethan’s horse heals, but he stays in Defiance, enamored by his outlaw lover. But the cattle baron has a grudge against one of Jesse’s outlaw friends, and a gunfight in Billy’s Saloon puts a price on the Rustlers’ heads.

Review by Erastes

I have to say that I was really drawn into the beginning of the book.  The description is pure western gold, four men, all different, all hard as nails and Really Bad Eggs™ ride into town and the author paints a little picture of them all before they pull up at the saloon and start to do things that cowboys do.

I’ll say right now that I have little in-depth knowledge of the cowboy era, my knowledge is highly flavoured by Hollywood, so any things that western purists might find eye-rollingly dreadful I certainly won’t spot.  This certainly has a lot that feels very familiar to watchers of Hollywood westerns. Men in black hats (yes, really), corrupt sheriffs,  cattle rustlers and cattle barons. The bar with no-one wanting to annoy the Rustlers, the honky-tonk piano, the tart with a heart, rund0wn hotel, the dirt sidewalks.  So, yes. It’s a western.

It’s a shame, therefore, that after all this delightful cinematic build up that the relationship between Jesse and Ethan rushes ahead so fast that I didn’t even see it happening.  It’s obvious that they fancy each other and that Jesse picks up boys from time to time, but I’d like to have seen more than a few fingers brushing each other, some veiled “dating” which involves riding out to Make Out Point (my name, not Snyder’s) and then culmination in the sex scene.

What’s odd, too, is the OKHomo. Granted, all the members of the Rustlers are Jesse’s friends and have been for years, and they are all accepting of his homosexuality. They rib him about liking ‘em pretty and how he picks up guys but no-one bats an eyelid in the bar about their behaviour, almost holding hands and they saunter off to the hotel and have mad noisy monkey sex (remember the buildings would all be wood) and no-one cares about that either.  I chose to think it was because everyone was scared to death of Jesse and his gang and so let him get away with anything he wanted, but there’s a scene in the book towards the end which makes me think that there’s another reason for this over-accepting feel throughout the book.  Ethan has a bath in the creek and:

On their own accord, his fingers paused to press against the soft flesh of his pubic mound.His eyes closed as a shiver ran through him which had nothing to do with the cool water.

Um. Men don’t actually have pubic mounds… So I wonder if the book was actually a m/f once upon a time and has been converted. This would explain why everyone turns a blind eye to Ethan and Jesse (and explains why one of the other cowboys makes a very loud and obvious pass at Jesse in public too and no-one cares)

The only other thing that grated on my nerves was the constant reference to horses as “steeds,” but that’s just a personal quibble and won’t bother anyone else and nor should it.

However, despite this is a short book – about 80 pages and there’s two sex scenes it’s pretty rounded with characterisation, a good adventurous plot and a nice romance, even if that aspect is a bit rushed.  I enjoyed, read it in one sitting and was genuinely worried that things might all go very wrong.

Anyone who likes westerns with a real cinematic feel will really enjoy this, I think.

Buy from Amber Allure

Review: Le Frai de Demon by Sarah Masters

Life at sea brings new experiences to Vincent, but tragedy eclipses the happiness in his heart. Blurb: As Le Frai De Demon coasts the ocean waves, Vincent and Julian continue their love affair. Upon arriving at Hellion to trade wares, Julian takes Vincent to a special place where the crack of a whip brings them both pleasure. However, their private time is interrupted when a crew member brings news of a rogue trader causing trouble. The men return to the ship intent on leaving Hellion as soon as possible, but a tragedy is in their midst. Once at sea again, Le Frai De Demon battles through a storm, but will all the crew survive?

Review by Erastes

This is a sequel to Devil’s Spawn reviewed last year, which I must admit I haven’t read, so it was interesting to me whether it could stand on its own.  I found it didn’t, not really–as within the first couple of pages I was a bit confused as to who anyone was and why they were there.  The crew seemed entirely accepting of Vincent and Julian, and in fact seemed all gay themselves which is a fantasy trope I can do without.

The ship docks at an unnamed place–dubbed Hellion by Julian, but we are told that’s not its real name–and predictably, there’s a brothel there that caters for homosexuals. There’s one major sex scene, which involves a woman whipping the pair of them, which I really didn’t like that much–I don’t see the attraction of whipping, when it’s out of context–there didn’t seem to be any BDSM relationship between the two of them – and I wasn’t expecting any female action in my m/m.

The language tries hard to be old fashioned, and is a tad too purple for my current taste, but the lack of care with anachronistic words such as adrenaline and libido jars from time to time.  Libido dates from around 1892 – although there’s no time frame to this story.  With the mention of breeches and sailors, I am guessing late 18th century/early 19th, but there’s no real way to tell.

I have to say, that it rather surprised me, that when the ship seemed to be in trouble and they had to get out of Hellion in a hurry, the pair retired to their cabin to shag, rather than to take care of the necessities of leaving port. In fact, it’s Vincent, not the captain, Julian, who eventually says that they should get out of bed and go and help the crew who are struggling with a storm!

The blurb promises excitement in the storm, but as they spent most of it in bed, saying that the crew can cope, I rather lost my sympathy for the pair of them.

Age of Sail purists should probably avoid this.

Other than that, I think my main concern is that there’s no actual plot. The men dock at a port, are chased off, get into a storm, shag a lot, speak endless endearments and that’s about it.  I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, which was set up from the beginning, but nothing actually happened, and as with the last book, the entire plot is described within the blurb.  Even with my short stories, I expect some kind of surprise.

So, it doesn’t really work as a standalone, I’m afraid, whatever happened in the first book might explain some of the bafflement – and I understand that this is an ongoing series, with five books now–but at two-three dollars each, I think I’d prefer one whole book to read.

Buy from Lovedivine Alterotica (also available on Fictionwise and Kindle)

Review: Sins of the Father by Anna O’Neill

The weight of the past could tear them apart…

In his first mission as a shinobi, Sora Sanada has more than its success riding on his shoulders. Every move he makes is a reflection on his clan’s honor. So when an unexpected scuffle leaves him injured and the mission in jeopardy, he’d rather be left behind—but his partner, the mysterious, masked Kaname, has other ideas.

Kaname breathes a silent sigh of relief when the younger, less-experienced Sora agrees to a plan to throw their enemies off their trail. As a member of the deposed Takeda clan, the last thing he needs is more disgrace heaped upon the family name should he lose the Sanada princeling.

His plan to disguise themselves as naked lovers is a rousing success in more ways than one. It sparks a bond that shakes them to the core—and the Shinano Province to its foundations…

Review by Erastes

Lovely cover, just beautiful.  More like this, please.

I don’t know if it was the author’s deliberate style to induce a feeling of “inscrutability” in this book but I found it a little heavy going. It’s only 40 or so pages, but it took me a couple of days – I kept going back to it over and again.  Usually I’d expect to read something like this is one hit.  The story flickered around a great deal flipping from the protagonists going on an killing raid then a scene in the town and I found it hard to concentrate on what was going on. I would have liked something to anchor me in time, too–because the Japanese culture was hidden from western eyes for so many years, I had no idea whether this was 12th century or 17th. The most I can say is “Japanese Warlord” era which is quite broad.

There were some concepts that I simply didn’t get, too.  I think it’s a case of the author knowing her subject too well–not at all a bad thing, of course, but sometimes I simply didn’t understand the references to the Japanese terms because often they weren’t explained in context.  I don’t really want to have to flick to Wikipedia to find out what things are – I’m lazy, I want to relax on the couch. I would have been more than happy to have another 30 pages and a bit more painting in of the details.

That being said, the writing is wonderful, full of lovely descriptive touches–there’s a kiss in the rain which pushed all of my buttons and made me melt into a puddle of goo.

The fact that they are men, not chicks with dicks, and more than that–warriors first is never forgotten.  They comport themselves like men in public (usually!) and it’s convincing and well done.  Sora is the privileged son of a high ranking family, and Kaname, despite being ten years older, so Sora has the higher rank in the shinobi task force, and Kaname the lower.  Part of the problem is–as the title suggests–that Kaname is suffering from a scandal caused by his father–and in this society, the sins of the father cause the entire family to be tainted.  It’s this taint that Kaname carries–very nobly and to his credit, actually–and the root of a mystery that leads Sora to a conclusion he wasn’t expecting.

I liked the way they talked to each other–it’s nicely masculine. Sentences left unfinished, misunderstandings, actions which are misinterpreted, Sora especially, struggling to make sense of Kaname’s actions and motivations and usually failing miserably.

All in all it’s a very interesting insight into an era I know very little about–and had the culture been a little bit more filled in I think I would have enjoyed it a great deal more.  I would certainly read another book by this author.

Anyone who has read and enjoyed “Ghosts” by Olivia Lorenz  or “Across the Nightingale Floor” by Lian Hearn will enjoy this immensely and anyone interested in this era will certainly be enthralled.

Buy at Samhain Publishing

Review: Soaring with a Hawk by Ken Dahll

Aaron, at nineteen the oldest son of a pioneer family, had discovered the joys of masturbation and was practicing his art naked in the woods while the rest of the family had gone into town to attend church. As he strokes his long, hard shaft, he is interrupted by a handsome young Indian brave, Soaring Hawk.

Clad only in a deerskin loin cloth, Hawk, as he asked Aaron to call him, is instantly attracted to the handsome and well-endowed white youth. Over many stolen Sundays they explore each others’ bodies in the myriad of ways two horny young males are capable of devising. In the process they fall deeply in love. When they are discovered in the middle of an act of what the puritanical standards of the time would call sodomy, they are forced to flee westward.

Review by Erastes

The Politically Correct blurb made me smile, but at least it was clear that this was going to be an erotic tale, even if it does explain the entire plot and almost makes the book redundant.

I won’t go into the plot, such as it is, as the blurb has explained all of it.  It’s a short story of about 20 or so pages and is little more than a series of sex scenes from Aaron’s first sexual awakening at 16 to his various couplings with the Indian Brave Soaring Hawk.

Aaron, as the blurb tells us, is 19, and is raised on a farm.  I find it incomprehensible that he, and his 3 brothers, have no idea what hard cocks are for, and what sperm is.  I would have thought that any young person on a farm, particularly one in the 19th century, would have been very aware of how baby animals were made and the processes involved.

The writer seems unable to stick to one term for sperm, and uses euphemism after euphemism: syrup, (a first for me), sap, juice, cream, liquid, sauce.  I find it odd that he points out that he knows the correct medical term for penis, yet for some reason he’s baffled as to what this white syrup is for.

The editing leaves a lot to be desired, if indeed any editing has been done at all.  There are words that don’t exist, such as “rhythmetically” and apostrophes used in plurals, such as “Sunday’s”–and the tense tends to leap from present to past without any explanation.

A warning for readers, there are definite incest moments in the book, so don’t go there if that squicks you.

Even as a short story, I can’t recommend it. I didn’t find it arousing–and believe me I enjoy a good one-handed read along with the best of them, but the euphemisms made me laugh out loud too often for me ever to get into the moment.  The best one is “secret cave” for anus. Please don’t ever let me find this one used again.

Buy at Excessica

Review: Another Chance by Shawn Lane

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

Buy Ellora’s Cave

Review: Devil’s Spawn by Sarah Masters

After an altercation with Vincent, Julian leaves the ton as captain of Le Frai de Démon, trading his wares in foreign parts. Two years pass, two years of Vincent abstaining from sex and mourning the loss of his love. Week nights, gay men gather in Devil’s Spawn, Julian’s club, and though Vincent doesn’t partake in sexual contact, he visits the club as a way to bring Julian closer despite his absence. One night, Vincent’s life is turned upside down with the return of Julian. Though his heart tells him to open up and allow Julian in, his pride rears its stubborn head. Will Julian be able to break down the barriers? And will Vincent find out why Julian is really called The Master?

Review by Alex Beecroft

The blurb for this 30 page story pretty much sums up the entire plot – particularly when it’s obvious that the answer to the rhetorical questions at the end is “yes”.

I feel I should preface everything I say by confessing up front that I am not a fan of erotica, and I’m particularly not a fan of the combination of porn and schmoop. You know the kind of thing—where five pages of throbbing cocks and spunk and improbable recovery times are punctuated by scenes of men talking like teenage girls about soulmates and saving themselves for their one true love and calling each other “baby”.

This story is very much something of that kind. If you like that kind of thing, you may well like this. And you may like it better if you prefer your ‘history’ to be nothing more than a thin veneer of flowery language and a tall ship on the cover.

If you prefer your history to be history and your characters to be firmly men of their century, however, you are unlikely to be enthralled by the level of detail and accuracy in this one. I… can’t tell when in history this is supposed to be set. The characters’ way of speaking and the mention of the ton would indicate possibly Regency. But the inside layout of Julian’s ship is more like something you’d find in a pleasure liner of a century later or more. A double bed on an 18th Century ship? At the end of a passageway lined by doors? Really no. Round portholes in the Captain’s cabin, with no cannon to fire through them? No.

Equally, Julian’s club bears little resemblance to the kind of molly house described in Rictor Norton’s research. Perhaps it’s not meant to—perhaps it’s meant to be a gay gentleman’s club, like a gay version of Whites. But even so, I doubt it would have topless bartenders. It’s a modern nightclub, retrofitted with period costume.

The backstory of Vincent, our POV character, makes no sense at all at any historical period. Vincent’s grandfather was the sort of farmer who held down his own sheep at shearing time. That makes him a peasant. A salt-of-the-earth working man. Yet we’re told he left Vincent enough money to enable Vincent not to have to work at all. That’s one impossibility before breakfast. Then we learn that Vincent—who is, throughout, successfully passing as a gentleman—was bored, not working, so he decided to become a bank clerk instead. No. No way. This would have been social suicide. This back story could only have been written by someone who knew nothing whatsoever about the workings of the British class system in this or any other century. It’s frankly unbelievable.

Does it matter? To me it does. If I can’t believe the character’s background or his surroundings, I find it harder to care about him. And I found it very hard to care about either Vincent or Julian in this. Vincent—aside from the implausible backstory—has no personality. He’s been implausibly celibate for the last two years after (if I’m reading this right) Julian didn’t actually get around to shagging him the last time. This may be supposed to be romantic but I just thought it was rather pathetic of him.

Julian in the mean time has set things up so that his current squeeze will come along as he’s penetrating Vincent, just in time to be thrown away like a used condom. I get the impression that this was supposed to be romantic too, in an “I never cared for anyone but you, Vincent” way, but surprisingly, Julian acting like a complete tosser to one boyfriend in the middle of rodgering another one did not endear him to me.

Add in a little, half-hearted, “is it really supposed to be BDSM or am I just reading too much into the whole ‘Master’ thing?” And it all adds up to something that just did nothing for me at all. I didn’t find any of it hot, but then I generally don’t, with erotica, so it’s hard for me to say whether this was good erotica or not.

If you enjoy porn + schmoop + a window dressing of ‘historical’ without too much of the inconvenient reality, it may be just the thing for you. If not, it is at least short, so you wouldn’t be wasting too much time if you decided to check it out just in case, but I really can’t recommend it.

Fictionwise

Review: Here and Always Have Been by Kenneth Craigside

Here, and Always Have Been. An Anthology of Gay Historical Fiction

If homosexuality is the result of biology then gay inventiveness had to have led to wild sexual adventures during every era of human existence. Here, And Always Have Been is a collection of thirteen erotic tales. Each takes place at a different era ranging from the prehistoric through the middle of the Twentieth Century. These stories have been researched to the point of plausibility in terms of language and events, yet are inventive in ways both exciting and sensual. In other words, we’ve had fun throughout time!

Review by Vashtan

Review by Vashtan

There should be a saying that goes like: “You cannot escape a book at the airport.” I set out on a business trip with three ebooks on my smartphone (pretentious little thing, but I agree with Nathan Bransford that this particular smartphone makes a pretty good  e-reader). The longer I waited at Heathrow Terminal 5, worried sick about my suitcase, the more grateful I was for distraction. When the first two (short) ebooks turned out to be non-historical, I started on  “Here, And Always Have Been” by Kenneth Craigside, published by The  Nazca Plains Corporation in 2009. This was very different from the
first two m/m romance offerings, and I found myself very well distracted. Apart from the take-off (when you have to switch off even shiny smartphones), and the landing (same), I hardly remember anything about the flight. Thank you, Mr. Craigside.

But first things first. “Here, and Always Have Been” is an anthology of gay historical fiction, all written by Craigside. The thirteen stories vary in length between about ten and twenty pages–so nice, quick, even-paced reads. Historically, they cover the Stone Age, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, the Crusades, the age of Shakepeare, Louis XIV, early 19th century, late 19th century, the Wild West, the Raj, the early 20th century, and the 1950ies. Thematically, these stories do not negotiate relationships like in your usual gay romance—the emphasis here is on kink, sexual fantasy that plays out in a historical setting, and vary strongly from explicit to implied.

Variation is the keyword. The anthology is a very mixed bag, ranging from some stories that worked very well to others that had me scratch my head, baffled.

Let’s look at a few stories more closely.

After “Stalagmite”, which has two Cro-Magnons “consecrate” the cultic  “man-stone” with their discharged fluids (I’m trying to be genteel here), comes my favourite story in the anthology: “Alcibiades’s Mirror”, which is the story of a Greek who ‘clothes athletes’. This is the place of a very sensuous passage:

But my real income is derived from that which covers an athlete’s nakedness—namely oil, and of all kinds. Maxagoras’s ships bring them to me from every corner of the great sea. And camel caravans extend my reach to mystic capitals of unknowable eastern empires. A poor athlete must make do with ordinary olive oil: sticky, rancid and melling of some farmer’s nearby grove. But wealthy athletes…ah, they line my pockets for a finer sheen. Oils of thirteen kinds of palm, seven different nuts, two types of whale, and three of dolphin, as well as the most refined varieties of olive. I stock them all.

And I can delight them with scent. Attar of rose or lavender may be added to the oil for those men who wish to smell sweet at the end of a race. Cinnamon or clove can give one a bracing aroma. Ambergris, frankincense, and myrrh are more pungent still. There are also those who crave something, shall we say, in the super masculine vein? The addition of various musks of bear, ox, or a rare gazelle from Africa are said to drive an athlete’s admirers to distraction.

Passages like this show that Craigside aims for more than writing about a sexual encounter. There are many instances where he attempts to portray the time by the language he uses, finding a slightly different style and tone for each and every one. The anthology is full of nods towards literary and historical figures, ranging from Plato,
Hadrian and Antinous, Shakespeare and Billy Budd. There were many well-researched details that I enjoyed, so Craigside ranks high on the historical accuracy. Personally, I’d disagree with him about the depiction of historical characters such as Antinous or Richard the Lionheart, but I’m aware that we all interpret people,  even historical people, differently. Since Craigside is not aiming for historical biographies, but sexual encounters, that’s fine.

There were several stories that didn’t work for me, though. “King Ludwig’s Dream Machine” is set in Neuschwanstein, ”Mad” King Ludwig of Bavaria’s fairy tale castle, and features a character discovering and trying out the king’s clockwork sex toy/machine. Like in many of the stories, I liked the idea, but the execution was shoddy. What grated
in this story were the national stereotypes, and then the terrible, terrible German, which sounds like Babelfish had an especially bad day. In times when the Internet is full of German speakers that fall over themselves to help writers get German sentences right, this soured the story, and, to a lesser extent, the anthology for me.

“Will’s Best Bed”, a short story that deals with Shakespeare’s possibly homoerotic sonnets features the characters (one of them old Bill himself) rhyming, but the rhymes here (and in “A Manual of Arms”) don’t work for me. Craigside’s rhyming and poetry really jarred me when side-by-side with the timeless beauty of Shakespeare’s actual
sonnets.

Readers looking for character exploration or romance, however, might want to look elsewhere; beyond the sex and a few sketched traits, there is little to no character development. And while his humor doesn’t really work for me, Craigside has a very interesting imagination and a knack for setting and historical detail, but I feel  his story-building skills fall a bit short of his literary ambitions and his ability to translate his ideas onto the page. The one serious research fault was that he uses German liberally and wrongly—while I  don’t mind the use of foreign language to put more life into a setting, I do expect those passages to hold up to a native speaker, regardless of the language used.

To sum up: lots of good research; Craigside is a stickler for historical detail, and while not all stories are erotic, there are several scenes that speed up the pulse and get the readers exactly where the author wants them. Those stories that are explicit are usually fairly hot or have hot moments (apart from the ones that are farcical, or even, in the instance of “Shiva’s Smile” very gruesome).

Craigside is definitely aiming towards the “literary” side of the spectrum, but he would have benefited from a strong editor to fully realize the literary potential and ambition of the prose.

Finally, would I read more of his writing? Yes, I would like to see him develop as a writer. There were a lot of interesting ideas and angles he developed, and if the anthology had shown a much more consistent quality, it could have scored much higher.

Amazon UK Amazon USA

Vashtan is an expat German living near London, UK. After studying medieval and ancient history and modern literature, he is now making a living as a financial journalist and writing coach. He has published in English as Aleksandr Voinov and is working on about five novels and stories at any given time. He is interested in all epochs of history and sometimes believes he knows something about a few of them, too.

Review: Hoofers by Kiernan Kelly

In Hoofers, by Kiernan Kelly, Dan Allen of Dancing Dan and his Magical Feet has just joined a new vaudeville troupe. He’s hoping for a good spot in the line-up, but he doesn’t hold out much hope for it when he discovers that the famous Foster Elliot not only is working the same troupe as he is, but is in the deuce spot. What brought about Foster’s drop from fame and could he and Dan have more in common than they realize? And what exactly is that little vial of oil Foster keeps with his make-up for anyway?

Review by Erastes

This short story (about ten pages) appears in this little anthology with another; Heated, by Zoe Nichols, which isn’t historical.

Kelly charmed me before with her two western novels (In Bear Country and In Bear Country II: The Barbary Coast) and this, although only a short story, didn’t let her down. Set in the last years of Vaudeville it fairly reeks of atmosphere, something Kelly is very good at.  Where she captured the gritty feel of the West in her Bear stories, here she really get “backstage” in all those tatty Vaudeville theatres, filled with amazing dog and pony acts, precocious children and hoofers. From the crowded wooden stairwells, to cramped, smelly dressing rooms this really shows the reader what it’s all about.

The story is short and sweet, the sex doesn’t overwhelm the plot, but it’s still hot – and keep to the dancing theme, which was a nice touch.

Although it’s only a short story, as with all good shorts it had the feel of a bigger work.  The characters are interesting and in depth – and I hope that Kelly gets these boys out again and gives them a longer spin.

For $2.49 you can’t go wrong for a perfect lunchtime read.

Author’s Website

Torquere Books

Review: Forbidden Love (anthology) – Various

Four m/m stories with a historical flavour by Stormy Glenn, H. C. Brown, Anna O’Neill, Aleksandr Voinov.

(I’ll only be reviewing 3 of the stories, as the Poisoned Heart, by Anna O’Neill is a time-travelling/paranormal story, so doesn’t qualify for review here.

Review by Erastes

My Outlaw by Stormy Glenn

After getting injured and losing his horse during a cattle drive, Daniel Branson is ordered to ride the stagecoach back home. Little does he realize that it will put him in the hands of the notorious outlaw, Black Bart. And the handsome outlaw has plans for Daniel that don’t involve holding him for ransom!

Quite a simple erotic story, cowboy Daniel is captured by the handsome Black Bart and Bart proceeds to sexually abuse Daniel, bordering on rape, without caring or not whether Daniel is that way inclined and of course Daniel loves it.While you might roll your eyes (like I did) and think this is yet another “rape turns to love” stories you’ll be pleasantly surprised with this one as the twist caught me by surprise. Well written–not exactly a ton of historical context, but hot, funny and touching at the same time. Three Stars

Forbidden by H.C. Brown

England 1075—Sir Renoir Danier finds himself in an intolerable situation when he is ordered by King William to marry an elderly Spanish countess. Five years earlier, he met the great love of his life, Sir Sebastian. This deeply sensual dark angel taught him all that a man could give to another. Renoir became a slave to his erotic punishment. After a month of bliss, Sebastian sailed to Spain. Will he return or leave Renoir with a shattered heart?

First of all I have to say that I didn’t like the faux olde worlde English, which was used not only in the speech, (Mayhap it is best) but unforgivably–in the narrative! (He oft’ wondered).   It’s a difficult line to walk, I know, but back in 1075, the protagonists would not be speaking any kind of English that we would understand, and I prefer to see speech patterns indicate a sense of antiquity rather than sticking in random “antiquated” words that actually wouldn’t  be used until a much later time. (for example, mayhap is from the 16th century.) It’s a personal dislike, but prithee don’t forsooth and nuncle me. It’s horrible.

However what really  let the story down from the beginning was the appalling research, or more to the point, lack of it.  The thing reads like fanfic of Kingdom of Heaven crossed with George RR Martin’s Westeros saga.  The facts in the story were ludicrous.

El Cid was NOT the Spanish ruler. Not at any time, and although he conquered several cities and took them for his own fiefdom, that wasn’t until much after the time when this story is set–he didn’t rule Spain. There was no Spain as we know it. Just warring fiefdoms, and a fight to rid the country of the Moor. In that light, it was bloody unlikely that the cream of Spain’s knights were in England training for a tournament.  William the Conqueror had only been in charge for 9 years, and I can’t see him welcoming a load of heavily armed Spaniards in.

In another light – Knight’s tournaments did not become an international event until the 12th century. Cologne (as in perfume) didn’t exist, and there was no way to spray it onto someone! Ye earlie atomiser!  There are many other problems, but there’s no point listing them. The whole thing was full of holes.

The trouble with erroneous facts in books that call themselves historicals is that they are self perpetuating.  I’ve seen this happen in hetereo-historical fiction and it drives me insane that we are seeing this kind of thing happen in gay historical. If one author writes a thing, another believes it, passes it on and I’ve seen readers say that they believed a thing just because they’d seen it written about so many times.  (for examples, see Georgette Heyer.)  “if it’s written about it must be true.”  er. no.

The sex is hot, if mildly implausible (sex on a galloping horse) and that’s the best thing I can say about this one. Two Stars.

Deliverance by Aleksandr Voinov

William Raven of Kent joined the Knights Templar to do penance for his sins. Formerly a professional tournament fighter and mercenary, William is brought face-to-face with a past he’d thought he had escaped.

Quite the most historical of the three stories that I read. There’s a good feel of time and place, deft mentions of the organisation of the Templars and other factions without being too info-dumping and the characters, particularly William, are real-life men of their time, not 21st century insertions. He’s a man riddled with guilt for his homosexual activity, and it’s realistic angst in that time and place. Not only is he in danger of being punished by the Templars (being expelled from the Order would be the mildest of punishments) but it’s impossible to separate law and faith in the 13th century, and Voinov, sensibly doesn’t try. Not to everyone’s taste, perhaps, but to take out either part of the equation would unbalance the story. This is a time when the seven deadly sins were as real to these people as the ten commandments.

Another touch I liked was the mention that it was less monstrous for William to have sex with servants or prostitutes – there’s the whole “the penetrated is a lesser man” stigma which was very real, and by being the top to Guy–a nobleman, a knight– William feels he dishonours him.

The sex when it comes is very nicely done, hard, muscled knights wrestling with each other, I was reminded forcibly of the nude wrestling scene in Men In Love, although with men who matched my memory of that scene, not the rather flabby and pale actors that really acted it out.  A good ending too, in my opinion, taking into consideration the time and place–although other readers might feel short changed. Four Stars

Overall two of the three stories get a thumbs up, and if you enjoy Edo-period Japan, you’ll probably like this anthology, it’s just a shame that the one story brings its score down one star to Three.

Buy from Noble Romance

Review:Homesteads and Horseradish by Kiernan Kelly

Brace is none too happy to find a greenhorn building a sod house at the base of his mountain. In fact, he’s determined to run the little fellow right off his land. Unfortunately for Brace, Gaylord Quinn has nowhere else to go, and he has a patent from the US Land Office saying he has full rights to the land.

Quinn is scared to death of Brace, but he’s even more scared of having to return to a life he managed to escape. He needs the security of a new home. His dire circumstances might convince Brace to help him, but it will be the friendship that springs up between the men that endures. Will the friendship turn into something more?

Review by Mark R. Probst

Homesteads and Horseradish by Kiernan Kelly is a short and sweet “ingredient” in Torquere Press’s “Spice It Up” series. At 12,500 words it is closer to a short story than a novella and the download is priced accordingly.

Brace is a cantankerous young man who has detached himself from society to live like a hermit in a homestead he built atop his mountain, among the Teton Range. When a bespectacled, rather wimpy New Yorker named Gaylord shows up with a patent giving him legal claim to a section of Brace’s land, he’s having none of it, making idle threats to try and frighten this squatter off his land. Gaylord has been running from something and feels he has nothing to lose so he summons up the courage to defy Brace and stick to his legal claim. When things don’t go well for the ill-prepared Gaylord, Brace takes pity on him and decides to give the poor sap a helping hand. Eventually a friendship blossoms and they discover they have both been running away from the same demon, yes that persistent little desire that dare not speak its name.

What I appreciated about this story was its restraint. Most erotic romance these days tends to jump right into the hot stuff in the first page or two. Kelly takes her time to let the relationship between the two slowly develop before finally opening the floodgates at the very end.

It is a pleasant story. The two characters have distinct personalities that make them likable. Brace’s stubborn, antisocial demeanor slowly melts away and Gaylord’s timidity is countered with the savvy he picked up growing up as a street urchin. There are a few instances where the language seems a bit out of place for the nineteenth century setting, though overall the feel of the period is pretty accurate. Since the setting is an isolated homestead in the middle of nowhere, there really isn’t much reference to 19th century civilization or customs.

While my own personal taste would have been for a much lower heat level, I understand that the very high heat level in the finale is what Torquere’s fan base will be anticipating, so you can weigh that accordingly.

This is the first I had read of Kelly’s work, but based on this sample I would definitely read more. Her other novels set on the American frontier include In Bear Country and In Bear Country II: The Barbary Coast.

Author’s website

Buy at Torquere Press

Review: I Do! An Anthology in Support of Marriage Equality


0002kqd92Do you support the right of any human being to marry the person they love? The right to say ‘I Do’ to a life of commitment and sharing with that one special person? We do. All profits from this anthology will go to the Lambda Legal Fund to help fight Prop 8.

There are 2 historical stories in the anthology which are reviewed by Tamara Allen

Desire and Disguise by Alex Beecroft

Desire and Disguise is the plain-spoken title of Alex Beecroft’s contribution, a hurricane force story that knocks you flat. Robert Digby is young, healthy, and miserably celibate (if you don’t count the frequent, not-quite-satisfying relief he finds by his own hand). His wife, Lydia, has just endured pregnancy and childbirth in beautiful but hot and primitive Bermuda and she has been in no frame of mind to accommodate her husband during that time period. They’re at odds as the story begins—Robert aching with need and unrequited desire for his wife, Lydia angry and upset that her husband seems to have no regard for her feelings. I have to say that my sympathies were with Lydia and that I felt Robert had a thing or two to learn about putting himself in someone else’s shoes. To my pleasure, over the course of this lively, erotic story, he does learn, and in a most satisfying and entertaining way.

Beecroft does just a fabulous job of world-painting, with such vivid, living colors that the reader leaves his own world behind and resides within the world she creates. From Lydia’s sprigged cotton coverlet to Bill Wilkins’ crutch slipping on rounded cobblestones, to the ladies of the Walk with their Bird of Paradise feathers and powdered wigs, this story was a visual feast, even more so than the one I recall from Beecroft’s novel, Captain’s Surrender. In a lush, seductive setting that practically vibrates with eroticism, the reader does muster some sympathy for Robert, too. You can’t blame him, after a year without, for wanting to make some physical connection, even if it’s with a complete stranger. Beecroft so thoroughly convinces the reader of Robert’s state of near madness born of basic physical hunger, we believe it when he naively dives into a situation where he gets far more than he bargained for.

The Roaming Heart by Charlie Cochrane

Alasdair Hamilton, Toby Bowe, and Fiona Marsden are forever locked in a romantic triangle, but only on the silver screen in post-war Britain, where their popular films provide escape for a war-weary world. Cochrane’s tale begins with a fun twist and concludes with an even more delightful one, encouraging readers to daydream along with her in imagining what those wonderful old black-and-white films might have been like if they’d come about in a world less afraid of the different paths love can take and less squeamish about sexuality, generally. As delicately and deliciously layered as a pastry, Cochrane’s story invites the reader to consider the ways in which people must mislead their friends, family, and all of society, just to be able to live as their hearts guide them. Alasdair, Toby, and Fiona make do as they move from the chaste onscreen world to the “real” world where, for some of Cochrane’s characters, the acting is forced to continue. For some, the facade can only be dropped behind doors forever closed. It’s a situation all the more poignant in light of today’s lax onscreen rules. Movies today might be more eager to tell everyone’s story, but society is still quick to pass unjust judgment on those who don’t fall in love in the approved fashion.

Written in the same chummily engaging style as her novel, Lessons in Love, The Roaming Heart is pure fun to read. Cochrane’s affection for her characters shines through, as does her affection for romantic old films and their sometimes silly and repetitive plots. The ironies in her characters’ lives, including disparities in their war records, add to the sense of layers of deception going on. There’s a tremendous wistful quality to the story as Cochrane’s characters cope with the world’s expectations, keeping a sense of humor firmly intact; and when they finally rendezvous for that scene behind closed doors, we are allowed a heart-melting glimpse into the real romance before the credits roll.

I felt both of these stories were supremely fitting for an anthology in support of marriage equality. I haven’t yet read the other stories in this volume, but if they are anywhere close to as good as these two, this will prove to be the best anthology I’ve read in a long time. Consider also that the anthology’s profits will be donated to the Lambda Legal Defense to fight Prop 8 and you have all the more reason to purchase a copy.

In addition to the stories by Alex Beecroft and Charlie Cochrane, there are stories by Tracey Pennington, Clare London, Storm Grant, Lisabet Sarai, Sharon Maria Bidwell, Jeanne Barrack, Marquesate, Z.A Maxfield, P.A Brown, Allison Wonderland, Erastes, Zoe Nichols and Cassidy Ryan, Emma Collingwood, Mallory Path, Jerry L. Wheeler, Moondancer Drake, Fiona Glass, and Lee Rowan.

I Do is available now at Amazon or, if you prefer ebooks, at All Romance E-books.

Review: A Gift of Ash and Frost by Chrissy Munder

When new residents come to the Grange, Mathias applies for a job at the house and is hired on at the housekeeper’s request for the Christmas season. He finds there a temptation of the body and heart in the form of the house’s master, one that he is ill-equipped to handle or resist … not that he has the desire to do so.

(10,000 words-ebook)

Review by Erastes

This was one of the Advent Calendar stories from Dreamspinner Press, a new story each day, and all set around the winter holiday season. It’s set a few years after 1812, approximately.

I found myself a little confused, as the author weaves a little too much into the first few pages, Mathias is a bastard but he has a recently deceased father, so it appears his parents weren’t married. His mother is a whore, but it’s unclear what role his father played there.There’s inconsistencies–there’s a small staff for the house, we are told, but then we are told that Mathias gets a room to himself because the staff bedrooms are all full up.

It does improve, and once Mathias starts working in the house I found myself reading more fluidly without being jolted, but I’m afraid the characters never really appealed to me, and I wasn’t touched by Mathias’ ‘tragic’ past because he did tend to whine about it. He’s a big strong lad and his mother is whoring to support the family.  I lost my affection for him early on.

The romance element is somewhat sidelined as the author flicks back to more description of the house and tasks than are actually needed. This approach would work better within a full-sized novel, but with a book of 40 or so pages, there needs to be more than two short meetings to convince me of attraction and love on both sides. I think that’s part of the problem, that the premise that is carefully layered, and the subplots put in place as the book progresses are larger than this–a short story–can cope with, and even at the end I couldn’t believe in the  happy ending, as Edward–Mathias’ love interest–didn’t really show that much interest before the last few pages.

Sad to say, that I have to add that it’s not at all well edited. I wanted to sprinkle comma dust over the book as a whole. Several of the run on sentences were almost impossible to decipher due to this lack, missing words confuse further and tenses change without need. It’s a shame, because what is there isn’t that bad, the ideas are good, if ambitious for the size of the book, and the prose could have really sparkled if the editor had done their job.

Author’s website

Buy from Dreamspinner

Review: Inkman’s Work by Steve Berman

Young Radford never thought he’d end up a pirate. Shanghai’d, he finds himself cursing the company he kept onboard the Alecto.

Wounded during a raid against a Dutch vessel, Radford is marooned on an island with a mysterious French tattoo artist referred by pirates as the Inkman. Can this man, wise in ways of the heart as well as the flesh, find the means to heal all that ails a lonely Radford?

Review by Erastes

Secretive Steve!  I had no idea that he’d written a gay historical, and only found it because Elisa Rolle showcased it on her blog. It was a very pleasant surprise as I like Steve’s writing a lot.

This didn’t disappoint. It’s a little jewel of a story–no set time mentioned, but there are pirates so we can assume 17th century or thereabouts, but really it doesn’t matter. It’s the story of Radford, who was kidnapped in Cornwall by a drinking companion and pressed aboard ship. His ship gets into a fight with the Dutch and he’s wounded. The Captain doesn’t want to take him any further–convinced he’ll die–so he leaves him on an island with “Inkman” an enigmatic tattoo artist.

It’s hard to do a review on such a short story without spoiling, so this will be a short review!  In such a little tale, Berman manages to write several believable characters, some intriguing backstory, and a deeply erotic, but not graphic sexual encounter. Oh and an ending that leaves you panting for more.  My favourite character is the Inkman, and I for one had itchy fingers at the end of it it wanting to write fanfic about him. Bravo and Yo ho ho!

Author’s website

Buy from allromanceebooks

Review: Artist’s Model by Z A Maxfield

From the anthology “Artistically Yours” published by Torquere Press

Emile Laurent had a child’s fascination for artist Auguste Fournier. Now a grown man, he pursues Fournier with a passion born of worship. Fournier has denied his nature for the whole of his life. Paralyzed with fear, he rejects Emile’s advances, even in the face of desire that threatens to consume them both.

Review by Erastes

The old adage is “write a good beginning” and Maxfield does this; for me it was an irresistable beginning.

My first glimpse of Fournier, the man he was before he became the legendary artist, came when I was but six years old. He was so striking then, even more so than later, his countenance too beautiful to take in at once. He sat at the table on the balcony of our flat and smoked, laughing with my father while my mother filled his glass. I could only watch from inside the tiny drawing room as I was relegated to writing my name, Emile, over and over again until my hand shook with the effort.

That day, my stern-faced nurse had eyes that shifted, like mine, to the window where Fournier brushed his loose golden hair with a casual hand. He was so fascinating to me then, wearing smoked-glass spectacles that hid his eyes. I should have had his image in my head forever, even had I never seen him again, but when I did, the shock came to me that I had loved him all that time. All that time.

It certainly hooked me, and that’s the main point!

It starts as a charming read, the interplay between Fournier and Emile warmed my heart and it read in a very realistic way, I thoroughly believed that it was a conversation between a 40 year old man and a love-struck teenager, but when the relationship suddenly takes a turn I was thrown in the best kind of way–for the ingenue was suddenly in charge and the older man was helpless, floundering to fight his nature and everything he wants.

The prose great throughout but at times is heartstoppingly good–I found myself holding my breath, gripping the edge of the desk because the breathless desperation of the characters poured out of the page.

He leaned in to kiss me, gentle and promising, his lips tender and passionate. His face held a terrible beauty, a kind of mad light that I at once recognized and responded to.

It really paints the tale of a man who has fought his nature, found nothing but loss and despair in his homosexuality, and that mad, fluttering joy of someone who has wanted something all his life, and then gets it.

As I often find when I read a short story that touches me like this, I find myself wish for the novel that it never became, in so few pages, Maxfield spreads unknown backstory to intrigues us–the friendship between Fournier and Emile’s parents, and Fournier’s vow not to succumb to the desires he feels, Emile’s upbringing and everything inbetween. It would have made a wonderful novel and I hope that the author will attempt it–or another historical one day.

I haven’t read Ms Maxfield’s work before, because up to now she’s written contemporaries, but if this is the standard she writes at, then she deserves to call the likes of Andre Aciman her peers. So yes – put me at the head of the queue if she ever writes another historical.

Author’s website

Buy at Torquere Press

chauncey-gay-new-york31

Review: Bound by Deception by Ava March

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

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Website

Purchase from Loose-ID

Review: Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen by Connie Bailey and J.M. McLaughlin

advent-story

When Sir Daltrey Powell summons his niece’s old, stuffy piano teacher for a dressing-down, he’s more than surprised when the young, handsome Professor Northlund Merrit presents himself. Despite their dispute, Daltrey is convinced: He will do what he must to fan the spark he saw in Northlund’s eyes to flame.

Review by Hayden Thorne

This story is actually one of several from Dreamspinner Press’s 2008 Advent Stories series, hence the non-historical, all-purpose cover. Because of its length (it’s a novelette, I think), readers shouldn’t expect much by way of a thorough exploration of a romance developing between an earl and his niece’s music instructor.

What I enjoy the most is the story’s classic romantic plot. Two gentlemen from wildly diverging backgrounds cross paths, feel instant attraction, and the game, as they say, is afoot. Given their pasts and their temperaments, it’s natural to see both react to their attraction differently: Daltry Powell with arrogant ease and a sense of entitlement that’s expected from a peer, Northlund Merrit with dismay and horror, no thanks to his nomadic existence, which is forced on him by society and that damned annoying specter called convention.

The characters, both main and side, are interesting and fun to read. Though by and large, Bailey and McLaughlin leaned a little too heavily on archetypes, readers can still enjoy the interactions between the characters.

The difficulties I have with this story, though, outweigh the highlights, the characters’ lack of complexity being one of them. Then again, one might say, it is a novelette, and there’s only so much a writer can do with such a limited word count. In this case, the story feels as though it should be given a much, much wider berth or greater room to expand. There’s so much going on in the story that’s implicit and otherwise, and it’s disappointing not seeing it being brought to its full potential. Given the conflict between Powell and Merrit, the subplot involving Arabella (the niece) and the suffocating state of women’s roles back then, as well as the relationship between Lionel (Powell’s valet) and both Daltrey Powell and his father, I think there’s quite a bit of material that’s unfortunately sacrificed to the publisher’s length requirements. As things stand, the characters remain archetypal, and the plot unfolds quickly and almost haphazardly, with hardly anything solid on which it can ground itself.

The biggest problem I have involves setting. Yes, there’s mention of London. There are the references to a landau, balls, lavish dinner-parties, and manor houses. But we’re not given a specific period in English history in which we can firmly set the story, so we can have some point of reference when it comes to historical details.

The story is set in a small shire, with Greenholm as the main village where Merrit lives and works. Unfortunately, the actual location is never mentioned, and there are several shires in England, leaving us with no clear reference point. The manor house is very lightly described, and when it is, the details are generalized, so that you can think of any great house somewhere in England’s vast countryside, and you’ll have the place pegged. In fact, everything about the setting (landscape, buildings, etc.) is very generic and almost treated dismissively. I don’t find myself in England at all unless London’s mentioned. I just feel like the characters live in a strange historical vacuum that could be Georgian, Regency, or Victorian (I’m guessing Victorian, but I’m biased).

The scenes also change too abruptly. In one instance, we’re left with Merrit being escorted out of the house by Arabella. The next scene, we’re suddenly in his office, and he’s in the middle of being startled (or in the process of panicking) because his privacy is suddenly being invaded by a horny Powell. The beginning of the scene feels like it’s missing a little more material that could’ve allowed the reader a chance to shift gears (i.e., transitions). Again, the office isn’t described in detail, so for a moment, we’re forced to rearrange things mentally after we realize that the scene’s taking place in Merrit’s office in the school where he teaches. There’s another scene following this in which they’re suddenly outside, taking a walk in the snow, again with no easing into the scene that would’ve helped the reader keep track of the narrative’s movements. And where is this quiet footpath located? There’s mention of a river, but again, we’re left with nothing else.

The smaller problems involve errors in the use of titles (“Sir Daltrey” would be used in addressing a baronet or knight, not a peer), uneven dialogue that switches back and forth between modern/anachronistic and historical/stilted, and strong elements of OK Homo from start to finish, including a rather unrealistic detail near the end involving the sleeping arrangements of a mere tutor in reference to his employer’s.

It’s really too bad that the story was forced into such a short length. I do feel that it’s got quite a bit going for it, but it needs way more room than what a novelette can offer for it to be given the justice it deserves.

Buy the book: Dreamspinner Press

Call for Submissions: A Study in Lavender

Editor Joseph R.G. DeMarco will be reading for a forthcoming Lethe
Press gay men’s anthology tentatively entitled A Study in Lavender:
Queering Holmes.

All stories must be both gay-themed and mysteries set in the Holmes
mythos, however the character of Sherlock Holmes need not be the focus
or even present.

Writers must do their homework to ensure that the stories are
historically accurate if taking place in the Holmes era (though tales
can be set later than the Victorian era, such as in the Golden Age of
Hollywood during the filming of a Holmes movie or other appropriately
familiar settings).

Before you submit, please query the editor with a synopsis of your
story and the content, specifically, which characters are being queered.

Word Count: Submissions should be between 1,000 words and 8,000 words.
Longer works may be considered but require advance permission from the
editor.

Payment: 2 cents a word, of course, plus 2 copies of the book.

Submissions will be read from January 1, 2009 through March 30, 2009.
Queries/Submissions to: holmesanthology@gmail.com

No electronic submissions will be accepted EXCEPT in the case of
writers living outside of the United States.

A street address for submissions will be provided once you send an
email query with the required synopsis, etc. If you would like to have
your submission returned, please send a self-addressed envelope with
sufficient return postage.

Electronic copies will be required for submissions accepted for
publication.

Email queries and other communication may be made to
holmesanthology@gmail.com

Review: Regency by Megan Derr

Review by Hayden Thorne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Ghosts by Olivia Lorenz

Hua Mu Yun is a cynical ex-soldier, damaged by the chaotic battles of China’s warlords era. Unable to stand human contact, he’s become a criminal, denying his more honorable past. Leng Ruo Fei is the spoiled and beautiful darling of the Peking Opera. Trained as a dan (female impersonator), his voice brings people to their knees. Adored by many but loved by none, Ruo Fei desperately wants to believe that real heroes–not fake ones–exist. Thrown together during a Triad attack on an opium den, Mu Yun and Ruo Fei must face their own demons as they begin to fall for each other. Can opera offer Mu Yun an escape from war-torn reality, or is a relationship between a gangster and a dan doomed to fail in a tragedy worthy of the stage?

Review by Erastes

This is a little jewel, (just under 19,000 words) small but just lovely. I haven’t enjoyed an ebook this much since Peridot by Parhelion. It’s very hard to do a review of it, in fact, as the size of it makes it difficult not to spoil the reader.

I often speak of “a safe pair of hands” – because readers can’t know every era and facts about every era – and Lorenz is (for my money) certainly that safe pair of hands. I know nothing about the era, or the economy of Peking or Shanghai of the time, and frankly it matters not a jot, because the writing convinces the reader (from the description of the hutongs, to the beautifully described clothes) that the author knows what they are on about. Once or twice a Chinese word was used (for food, for example) when I thought it was unnecessary (we are in China after all, and I’d have liked to know what those words meant)

It’s a multi-toned, multi-layered story, one that you could read on the surface and enjoy, or really delve into the psychology and enjoy it even more. Both characters are so beautifully written, brittle, fragile, with more barriers around them than China itself, that it broke my heart to read about them. Ruo Fei is delicious – a little bit redolent of Billy Crudup’s portrayal of Ned Kynaston in “Stage Beauty” which isn’t surprising as both are expert at portraying women on stage – a lotus blossom with reality issues and the problem that many rich/famous people have – the inablity to know whether he’d be loved for himself if he wasn’t the celebrity he is. Mu Yun has his ghosts and for tiny fraction of time he manages to escape them. It says a lot for the power of the writing that in such a small piece I was convinced, won over and hooked by these characters and wanted the best for them.

I didn’t like the italics and the tense changes used at the beginning and end, I thought they were unnecessary, and also I would have not complained if this had been a novella at the very least. There’s so much potential, backstory, so much we don’t see that Lorenz could have made this a novel. It doesn’t stop this concentrated version from being wonderful, though, so you wouldn’t be wasting the very little money it costs if you were to try it.

Fictionwise

Review: Shadow Road by A.J. Wilde

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After his mistress is killed by rogue highwaymen, servant Bailey ends up in the hands of Lord Charles, the man his lady was to marry. Sick with fever, exhausted from his ordeal, Bailey can only remember that someone cared for him gently when he first arrived, and that the mysterious Lord Charles seems to have a great interest in him.

When Bailey recovers and begins to work for Lord Charles, he discovers that his new home is also plagued by a highwayman, one called the Shadow. Out late one night on his Lord’s business, Bailey encounters the Shadow himself, and learns more about the daring bandit than he ever dreamed possible.

Review by Hayden Thorne

A.J. Wilde’s “Shadow Road” has all the elements of a sexy, breathless romance – history (the events take place in 1739), danger, murder, vengeance by the sword, and the seduction of an innocent. One also shouldn’t forget the dashing, dangerous figure of the highwayman – reckless, courting death at every turn, romanticized in so many ways. Unfortunately, the story’s brevity sacrifices too much of the plot and characterization, and what would have been a sexy, breathless romance falls flat in the end.

Wilde’s voice is strong and vivid, robust enough for an 18th century romance-adventure. The scenes are wonderfully described with just the right touch of period details to set the events firmly in their respective time. Except for a few lay/lie errors, I found nothing too jarring by way of surface problems. The non-romantic character interactions, curiously enough, come across as more natural compared to those scenes involving Bailey and Lord Charles. And that might have something to do with the length requirement of the series for which “Shadow Road” was written, which is novelette (10K-15K words).

There’s so much potential in “Shadow Road” for a very engaging, complex, and developed romance. There’s enough background material as well as minor characters that could have been nicely explored in much greater depth had the story been written as a novella at the very least, a novel preferably. As it stands, everything’s crammed into a long short story (in a manner of speaking), and the promise of an 18th century gay romance falters with some clumsy moments and a too-strong dependence on coincidence.

The biggest plot difficulty I found involved Lord Charles’s reaction to the news that his betrothed, her young maid, and their coachman were all butchered on the way to his estate. In short, he does nothing – merely carries on with Bailey as though nothing tremendous has just taken place. Even if he were getting married reluctantly, I’d imagine that he’d at least get some help, demand to see the site of the murders – do something, even if it simply means being upset by such a horrible loss of life. There are innocent people (one of whom is the woman who was set to marry him) lying dead on the road somewhere, and he walks away from them?

His indifference isn’t the only problem I found. The use of coincidence in moving the story from beginning to climax to resolution also hurt what would have been a really engrossing account of a man’s desire to avenge a lost lover as well as the second chance at happiness that he can now find in Bailey. Had “Shadow Road” been longer and better explored, the implausibility of some of the events would have been fixed with stronger and clearer connections between characters. The sex scenes are well-developed in contrast, and perhaps the plot could have benefited from less sex, given the publisher’s length requirements.

For all those, I do think that A.J. Wilde has a knack for strong, vivid historicals, her writing style certainly right for a rough, bawdy, rouged time such as the Georgian era. Novel-length fiction, however, would be a more proper vehicle for her talent to bloom along smoother, deeper, and more nuanced lines.

Buy the book: Torquere Press

Review: No Apologies by J M Snyder

Donnie Novak and Jack Sterling have known each other forever. Growing up together in a small Midwestern town, they were best friends. After high school, they both enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the same time, and somehow were assigned to the same company before being stationed on the U.S.S. Oklahoma together. One night on leave, Donnie crosses an almost imperceptible line between friendship and something more. A stolen kiss threatens to ruin what Donnie and Jack have built up together all these years, and the next morning, he can’t apologize enough. But a squadron of Japanese bombers has their sights trained on Pearl Harbor’s Battleship Row, and in the early hours of December 7, 1941, Donnie might not get a chance to set things right.

Review by Erastes

This is a short story, really – at just over 11,000 words, but thoroughly enjoyable too. It starts punchily and in a cinematic style, the two friends out with the rest of the shore leave sailors. Most of them getting drunk and getting off with the local women. Donnie isn’t, he’s too busy trying not to touch Jack and stare at Jack.  In fact the writing is quite cinematic all the way through – I really got a sense of the drunken band of friends, sticky cocktails and a warm Honalulu night.  Later we are “treated” to the terror of what happens during the raid and a very real feeling predicament for the two friends.

It could have been over-sentimental, but it wasn’t, which was right for the story being told – and sadly for our boys they didn’t get an opportunity to get each other’s kit off either, but that was right too, seeing as to what was happening!  I’m quite sure that they managed some “sack time” with each other at some point, even if I did feel a little sad to thinkwhat they were just about to get into, and hoped that they would survive to gettogether somewhere and somehow.

Well written and nicely described, from sailors in thin white cotton to the mess-deck breakfast I was thoroughly convinced and well worth$2.49 of anyone’s money.

Buy from Fictionwise 

Review: Historical Obsessions – A romantic quartet by Julia Talbot

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Website

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Review: Peridot by Parhelion

Steve is a jeweler who specializes in rare gems. He’s a rare gem himself for the 1950s, a bachelor with a certain reputation. Nate, his best friend and business partner, has never had that sort of reputation, so when Steve gets the call that Nate was caught in establishment that caters more to his type, he goes home to see what’s up. Nate’s got problems of his own, as well as the most supportive and nosy family a man could ask for. He has things he wants to tell Steve, but will society allow it to happen? Parhelion’s Peridot is the tale of an unconventional romance in a very conventional time, full of laughs, tears, and ultimately, friendship.

Review by Erastes

I’ve read a lot of gay short stories since I started in this game, and not many stand out, sad to say, I do have favourites that I return to… but that’s another story…. It generally takes something like a Saki short story to stick in my head.

So the discovery of this little gem (pun not intended but unable to avoid) was a nice surprise. I had no idea who Parhelion is, never heard of him/her before, so I had no expectations going into the story – I read it because it was marginally “historical” being set in the 1950’s but actually that wasn’t obvious in the slightest, as it turned out it was being told in flashback. There’s not much actual sense of historical context – other than the masquerade that gay men had to live under (but then, they still do) but once I’d read a couple of pages I didn’t particularly care.

Basically, it’s the story of Steve Corvey, who – although he has aspirations to cut loose and travel the world – is forced through circumstances to take over his father’s jewellery store in a small town in California, and becomes entangled with an extraordinary extended family called the Jowletts and ends up staying in the small town. He takes on and sponsors a young man called Nate – who he admits that he does not feel attracted to at all – but who over the years becomes his best friend and eventually his business partner. Having a partner enables Steve to travel and to indulge in sexual activities he’s unable to do in his small town. So when in Burma on a buying trip/sexual holiday he gets a call that Nate’s in trouble, he flies home to do what he can to help, unaware that the trip will change his life.

I can’t say more than that, but please, if you haven’t read this, I highly recommend it. It’s well written, thoughtful, unexpected and has a real resonance that will (should) hang with you for days after you’ve read it.

The only thing that disappointed me was that at 14,500 words it’s just too short. There is material in this for a full-scale novel, there’s so much richness and back story half hinted at – and the Jowletts alone could easily fill a book by themselves.

However despite the truly TRULY awful cover, this little tale is reminiscent of “Winter of our Discontent” by Steinbeck and as that’s one of my favourite books of all time, that’s a big thumbs up for me. If you like your homoerotica to be tinged with angst and internalisation, then you’ll love this.

Parhelion – if you are out there, say Hi, will ya? I’d love to see more of this kind of stuff.

Author’s Website

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