Review: On the Trail to Moonlight Gulch by Shelter Somerset

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I liked

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

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

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

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

Available in paperback and ebook (320 pages)

Author’s Blog

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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

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


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

Review by Bruin Fisher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Authors’ Website

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Review: Captain Harding’s Six Day War by Elliott Mackle

Assigned to baby-sit a loose-cannon colonel at remote Wheelus Air Base, Libya, handsome, hard-charging Captain Joe Harding spends his off-duty time bedding an enlisted medic and a muscular major, then begins a nurturing friendship with the American ambassador’s teenage son. The boy swiftly develops a crush on the man, feelings that Joe, a Southern gent with a strong moral sense, feels he cannot acknowledge or return. Joe’s further adventures and misadventures during the course of the novel involve a clerk’s murder, a flight-surgeon’s drug abuse, a fist-fight in the officers’ club bar, a straight roommate whose taste for leather gets him in trouble, the combat death of Joe’s former lover, and participation in an all-male orgy witnessed by two very married but somewhat confused fighter jocks.

In the run-up to the 1967 war, a mob attacks the embassy in nearby Tripoli and the deranged colonel sets out to attack an Arab warship. To bring the pilots and their airplanes safely home and keep the United States out of the war Joe has two choices: either come out to his closest, straightest buddies or know himself to be a coward, a failure and a traitor to everything that he holds dear.

Review by Erastes

There’s something very engaging about Mackle’s writing. I couldn’t imagine that I’d be at all interested in this book–military realism set during a period I know absolutely nothing about–but damn! Mackle (who wooed and won me with his marvellous “It Takes Two“) had me gripped within a chapter of Captain Harding’s Six Day War and I was found myself enjoying reading about life on a military base and all its incestuous hothouse intrigue. Damn you, Elliott Mackle!

Imagine those wonderful 1950’s movies in black and white set in and around army bases. Films starring a youthful Frank Sinatra, Montgomery Clift and Rock Hudson and the like dressed in sharp light khaki and white shirts. Well, now add in a very likeable and not-at-all unhappy in his homosexual skin gay man who’s cautious and careful but up for action. Mix in a great supporting cast of friends (male and female) a couple of friends-with-benefits and a beautiful and dangerously young 17 year youth who calls to Harding like a candle does a moth. Shake vigorously with all the stresses that soldiers encounter in a tentative peace that could kick itself off at any time (although the Vietnam War is raging elsewhere) and you have a cocktail which proves to be a hugely gripping read.

Mackle was a soldier himself and draws on much of his own experiences and he delivers real gravitas and truth with this book. The claustrophobic village atmosphere of the base is like a powder keg and it becomes more and more pressurized when everything starts to hot up both militarily and personally for Harding.

Harding is a great character. He has a lot of heart but he’s a man, with very human foibles. He knows the drill when it comes to gaydar and setting up gay encounters. A couple of trusted buddies suits him fine. A NCO, Duane, who is often off base doing medical medicy duties (as you can see my military knowledge is so vast), and Hal–a major who only needs a bit of light “relief” but still can be depended on to watch Harding’s (and consequently his own) back when necessary.

Things start to go to pieces when Harding realises he’s falling for the too-young son of a local diplomat, and the young man professes his crush right back. He knows he’s not in love with Duane, although Duane has fallen in love with him and is desperate for that feeling to be returned. Harding finds himself torn in a dozen different ways, and as life often does, it lands him in a big mess with everything blowing up in his face–literally and figuratively in this case–all at once. A rash decision, fuelled by frustration and drink at a male-only party in town, and Harding’s world threatens to blow itself apart.

Don’t go thinking this is just about gay men getting it on–or not–because it’s far more than that, it’s also a well-researched, well-written story about a dangerous crisis in our near-history and it does a good job, I could easily see this as a film, it would even work well as a stage play, because of the claustrophobic nature of the setting. The characters are varied, entirely three-dimensional and range from every type you’d expect, and some you would not. There’s no open-sky dogfights on the page, just a man trying his best to stop his own world going to hell, the only fire fights that go on are him fire-fighting crises as they occur. It was nail-biting stuff, and towards the end of the book, in the thick of the action, I was holding my breath, alternating with a need to shut the book in case it all went horribly wrong.

The writing is crisp and mature. Not a word wasted or skipped. No extraneous passages; it’s as neat as a career soldier’s bunk space, everything in its place. If I have the smallest of quibbles about the language, it’s that to a complete layperson, such as myself, I was able to pick up some of the jargon that I’d learned from war films, such as NCO and AWOL–but many of the other acronyms were entirely beyond me, such as TDY, BOQ, TAC, OSI and others so I had to guess the gist of what they were saying. It wouldn’t be such a bad thing to have had a small glossary in for the uninitiated, and for those who are reading in bed and don’t want to get up, go downstairs and look up the words on the computer.

But that’s a very minor quibble, and not even worth chipping off half a point for. This is a proper gay book which strides the chasm of romance and litererachoor beautifully. It will appeal both to those who want a story with gay characters off doing stuff, and those who want Harding to have a satisfactory ending. I’m not spoiling it for you but my eyes were moist, that’s all I’m sayin’.

There are parts of the book that aren’t at all PC. This is 1967 and equal rights (hollow laugh) are still a way off. There are derogatory comments regarding skin colour, race, sexuality and much more. But this is realism, if you can’t handle people talking in a way that they used–still do–speak then go and read something else.

Mackle is probably one of my favourite writers in the genre, and if this spurs him on to write more of the same I’m going to be in the queue with my money clutched in my hand.

Do not miss this book, even if, like me, you don’t think that the setting would interest you. It will.`

Author’s website

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Review: Well Traveled by Margaret Mills and Tedy Ward

Gideon Makepeace, a young man of twenty, knows who he is and what he likes: decency, men and women too, horse training, and fun… and in Livingston, Montana, in the lush autumn of 1895, he finds he likes a Lakota Sioux Indian better than he might ought to.

Jedediah Buffalo Bird is seriously wounded and seeking medical care, and Gideon helps Jed when some bigoted townsfolk might have done otherwise. Jed, who knows the wild far better than Gideon and feels indebted to him, agrees to repay him by being his guide to San Francisco.

Their trip takes them across thousands of wild miles, through the mountains men mine and the Indian reservations dotting the plains. Facing a majestic West, they learn from each other about white folks and Indians alike. Gideon’s interest in Jed is clear from the start, but will Jed give up the life he knows for a young, brash white man he has perhaps come to love? Or will he push Gideon away in favor of the peace of nature and the personal freedom of having nothing to lose?

Review by Bruin Fisher

There’s a reason why Hollywood made so many cowboy movies and TV series in the 60’s and 70’s – it’s a genre that provides plenty of scope for telling a good story. Of course much of the vast output from that period was trash, formulaic and unrealistic. Baddies wore dark hats, didn’t shave, spat and couldn’t shoot straight, goodies wore light hats, crisply laundered check shirts that never got sweaty, had perfect teeth and no body hair, and could shoot a Higgs boson off the the end of a Large Hadron Collider with both hands tied behind their back.

Hollywood, I assume, has realised they overdid it somewhat, and the occasional Western movie that still comes off the production line these days is usually more thoughtful, and often tongue-in-cheek or post-modern ironic. We’ve had Brokeback Mountain, but whether that will pave the way for more gay cowboy movies remains to be seen.

Brokeback Mountain was, of course, a short story by E.Annie Proulx before it was a movie, and we certainly do now have a plethora of gay cowboy books to choose from. May I advise choosing carefully – much like 1960’s Hollywood, some of the output in this genre is not as good as it might be.

When I pick up a gay Western story, I have a response a little like biting into a Steak and Ale pie in a restaurant: it ought to be a delight, but it so often isn’t. You will understand, therefore, my surprise and excitement when I began reading Well Traveled by Margaret Mills and Tedy Ward, and found that it’s utterly splendid. Starting with beautiful artwork on the cover by Catt Ford, it is well-written, believable, with sympathetic if flawed characters and an engaging storyline, it got my attention from the very beginning and held me spellbound all the way through. And if you get to the end and want more, there’s a novella-length sequel called ‘Earth and Sun, Cedar and Sage’.

Margaret Mills and Tedy Ward (spelled Tedi in the author’s bio at the back of the book) are experienced technical writers who have branched out into m/m historical romance, and on the basis of this book I hope they write many more together. There’s a sense of a harmonious writing team at work in the pages of the book, a team that doesn’t put a foot wrong in creating characters, setting and plot that draws the reader in and takes him with them through the story. It’s a treat to read.

Gideon Makepiece is a showman, a circus performer, although when the story begins he has just completed a secondment to a rancher, helping his hands with the training of his horses. Paid off, he’s about to take the train across the country to San Francisco where he expects to rejoin his troupe, but he chances upon a couple of locals mistreating a Lakota brave who has reluctantly come into town in search of medical attention, after being gored by a wild boar. Indians are not generally welcome in town, but Gideon persuades the local doctor to tend the brave’s wound and the further injuries he had suffered at the hands of the townsmen. Then he finds, and pays for, lodging for the patient and nurses him back to health. An updated Good Samaritan story. All this delays Gideon’s trip to San Francisco, and he’s spent the money that should have paid his rail fare. So in gratitude for his help, the Indian, Jedediah Buffalo Bird, offers to act as his guide so that he can make the journey on foot. He has his circus horse, Star, but Jedediah shows that on a long journey a horse will hold a traveller up rather than speeding his travel.
On their journey the two men learn a little about each other and develop first respect and later something more for each other. Jedediah is taciturn, and we don’t learn very much about him at first. It is well into the second half of the book that we learn a little about the circumstances of his birth – he’s half-caste – and the book ends with a number of questions still unanswered – scope for a sequel. Gideon talks more and thinks less, and manages to offend his fellow traveller a number of times, sometimes without realising his offence.

The story takes in an adventure or two on the way, and reaches a very satisfactory conclusion to qualify as a romance. I’m giving it five stars – it has a good story, interesting and believable characters, a good feel for the period including the danger that any same-sex attraction carried, and it’s very well crafted, grammar and punctuation both working to assist with a smooth reading experience.

It’s not perfect but its faults are minor. I did notice that the narrative occasionally ventured into moments of the same vernacular that the characters used. It was of course entirely appropriate to have Gideon say stuff like ‘You’d best teach me fast, if we ain’t got much time left together’ but it was surprising to come across narrative such as:

“Gideon hadn’t even found a feller really worth looking twice at around here, much less worth the risk of approaching, not when he couldn’t move on right quick if things fell out wrong. It weren’t no trouble to take matters in hand, so to speak…”

“…a grimace that Gideon knew didn’t have nothing at all to do with pain.”

“The farm was big, covering acres, but there weren’t nobody in the fields, and no one in the yard as they approached the house. “

I don’t think it’s usual for the narrator to speak the same colloquial variety of English as the protagonists, and it brought me up short when the narration, mostly in standard English, dropped into the text the occasional colloquialism. I got used to it, but if it was deliberate I don’t think it worked, and it was so sparsely distributed through the text that it might have been simply a mistake.

Also there were a couple of places where the wording made me rear up on my hind legs and go ‘Whoa!’. For instance:

“He felt limp as a wet rope.”

Cotton rope when wet is stiff and inflexible, it’s only limp when dry. Nylon ropes that remain as flexible wet as they are dry are a modern invention.

I wouldn’t even mention something like that if there were any worthwhile faults to pick on. The book is highly recommended to anyone who likes stories where the good guy is as likely to be an Indian as a cowboy.

Review: Silver Saddles by Cap Iversen

 Dakota Taylor, the gay gunslinger, is back. Here, Dakota leaves his lover Bennie on the ranch for a short trip into town. But as he heads home, somebody tries to use him for target practice. Soon Dakota finds himself two hundred miles from Bennie, with no chance of returning until he finds out who wants him dead—and why.

Review by Gerry Burnie

Having read Arson: The Dakota Series by Cap Iversen, and enjoyed it, I then went on to find (not that easily done) Silver Saddles [Alyson Books, 1993].

In this tale, gunslinger Dakota Taylor is now happily partnered with Benjamin Colsen, whom he met in the first of the series, and all is well until he get’s the news that his mother has passed away at the family’s homestead. After hearing this news in town he is ambushed on his way home, and discovers that someone has posted a bounty for him, dead or alive. When he recovers from his injuries, he sets out on a nine-month odyssey to find out why someone would hate him enough to go to all this effort to see him dead.

To this point it is classic western fare, i.e. good guy v. bad guy(s), but then the author takes off on a flight of fancy that is both complex and incredible at times. It is the sort of thing that requires not only tight writing, but also tight control of the characters and events that are galloping all over the place. In this regard Iversen does quite well for the most part, and almost pulls it off…that is, almost.

Fundamentally, the story suffers from too many characters doing too many things, as well as a plot that is too clever-by-half. Still, having said that, if you read it as being a “let’s pretend the West was like that,” it is a fun read and an evening’s entertainment.

Amazon UK       Amazon USA

Review: A Daring Devoted Heart by Linda Hines

Years ago, revenge brought Emeric von Gondrecourt to New Mexico. Now, the force keeping him there is loyalty to the Metairie family — and his love for the young Calder Metairie, who has grown up while Emeric watched.

A DARING, DEVOTED HEART is a Western with a difference. Not merely an m/m romance, it’s also “quest fiction,” taking a pair of mis-matched heroes through country which brings to mind the works and words of Zane Grey, and culminating in a double-bareled climax — it’s a hail of hot lead and a struggle to survive, before Calder Metairie and Emeric von Gondrecourt take those devils by the horns.

Review by Jess Faraday

I really wanted to like this one. And to be fair, there is a lot to like here, even though the story ultimately didn’t work for me.

The story is well researched, for one. It was a bold move to bring together characters from such divergent backgrounds–the son of a rich New Mexico rancher and a dispossessed Austrian prince. And the author did enough research to come up with an explanation that was not just satisfying, but intriguing: Dispossessed Austrian Prince Hired as Old-West Hitman Changes Sides and becomes Protector of Intended Victims. With a side of forbidden love.

Oh yes. I’d read the hell out of that.

Add to this novel premise the fact that in the space of 117 pages, the author has created a solid plot with subplots and backstory. So far so good.

Unfortunately, the sloppy execution obscures the plot and the backstory. I have no idea how much time went into the writing of the story, but to this reader, it read like a hurried early draft. I can’t help but feel that it would have been much stronger if the author had put in a little more time to get it just right.

The backstory would have been much more powerful–and easier to connect to the story-in-progress–if it had been filtered in gradually rather than dumped in large, textbook-like chunks. The head-hopping confused me in places. And to beat the proverbial dead horse, there’s a lot of telling here, and not a lot of showing.

Which is what made this one a heartbreaker. Given one or two more drafts, this could have been a subtly crafted page-turner.

Linda Hines strikes me as an intelligent writer with terrific ideas and a good sense of what a historical should be. I will definitely read more from her, even though this one didn’t quite hit the mark for me.

Author’s website (although the links don’t work)

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Review: The Wanderer by Jan Irving

Doctor Jude Evans has built a safe but barren life for himself in a small western town where he pours all his passion into caring for his patients while hiding his secret yearning to love another man. Gabriel Fontenot is a drifter who is handy with a gun, prospecting for gold and trying to forget the night the letter “O” was carved into his hip. Suffering from hard living, he is cared for by Jude, but Gabriel is aroused by Jude’s gentle touch and offers to service the innocent doctor.

But Jude has other problems. A reformer in a small town reluctant to change, he is targeted by David Smith, a wealthy and dangerous landowner. Gabriel vows to protect shy Jude, becoming a reluctant guardian angel who helps to keep the doctor safe. But what will it take for Jude to finally feel free to give himself completely to his beloved gunfighter

Review by Sue Brown 4 stars

I come away from reading this book confused about my feeling towards The Wanderer. On one hand, this is a very well-written tale of Doc Jude, a man troubled by his sexual proclivities, who has sequestered himself in a small town of Sylvan to atone for not being what his family expected, trying hard to fit in, but never fully accepted by the townsfolk. Jan Irving has written an engrossing tale with well-written characters and I found myself immersed in their lives, particularly the young, blind Mouse, a young boy who as a misfit himself, had a much better understanding than the doctor just how unaccepted he really was.

I had no problems with the characters. On the contrary, they were warm and well-developed, leaving me wanting to know more. My issues came with the relationship between Gabriel and Doc Jude. I could see the attraction between them, world-weary Gabriel must have been very attractive and rather scary to the deeply closeted and frightened doctor. I could see why the drifter would be attracted to the virginal doctor. There was chemistry between the two men and therein lies my issue. The doctor was a thirty year virgin, yet immediately was embroiled in sexual practices as a sub and frankly, I couldn’t get my head around it. One minute the doctor disliked his first experience of penetrative sex and the next he was a compliant sub, complete with role playing and a belt to his backside. As a reader I don’t usually have a problem with dom/sub relationships but it didn’t ring true with this particular couple so soon into their relationship.

That aside, it is an engrossing story and hence my rating. If I had engaged with the sex my rating would have been higher. I think the way Jan Irving has written the sense of otherness of the doctor, the blind boy and the other misfits was deftly handled. For me, by far the best part of the book was how Jan Irving portrayed the attitude of the townsfolk, actively colluding with the bully, David Smith, until shamed by Gabriel into helping to rebuild the doctor’s clinic. I have reread the book which is testament to how much I liked the story, even allowing for my reservations with the sex.

Author’s website

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Review: A Hundred Little Lies by Jon Wilson

Everyone knows Jack Tulle as a widower, a doting father, and an honest businessman. The problem is, it’s all a lie.

For eight years Jack has enjoyed the quiet life in the sleepy little town of Bodey, Colorado where he owns and operates the General Store. He sits on the town council. He dotes upon his eight-year-old, headstrong daughter, Abigail. He is even being sized-up as a prospective new member of the family by the bank president.

But when the local saloon announces plans to host a grand prize poker tournament, Jack realizes it could spell trouble. One of the many secrets he’s been hiding is that he used to be a con man — mainly underhanded poker, but he wasn’t above the odd swindle when the situation presented itself. And a contest like the one his town is planning is sure to draw some old business acquaintances — fellows Jack would really rather not admit to knowing. But one he would–Tom Jude, the only person in the world other than Abigail Jack has ever loved–but one man who knows every secret in Jack’s past, secrets which could destroy his current life.

Review by Erastes

A debut novel, and a quite impressive debut too. I really liked the style of writing Wilson employs. It reminded me very much of “The Winter of our Discontent” by Steinbeck with the everyday narrative flow and observation of small-town living. We are introduced to Jack through his waking up, getting his daughter ready for school, interraction with towns people and working in his general store. We are set up to think, as do the townspople that he is indeed a pillar of the community.

But of course, things are not all they seem. Gradually the cracks appear. We learn that he’s vehemently against the planned poker tournament in the local saloon, but it’s not really clear why. He doesn’t come over as a really straight-laced Christian type, so we can’t help but wonder what his agenda is. It’s not until the tournament is a definite event that the cracks widen.

It takes its time to unfold, and I liked this. It’s not a hugely long book, about 130 pages or so but the meandering path it takes makes it feel like a full-size novel and as I said, the style is pretty polished. I would, perhaps have liked a bit deeper view into Jack’s head–especially as the story is not only first person, but presented as Jack actually writing it down himself–he considers deleting some text, so that adds to this memoire feel, but all the same there are times when it becomes a little remote.

The characters–in the main–are intriguing and easy to get toknow on face value (although it’s clear that Jack is a veritable onion and there’s much to learn) and when Tom Jude arrives he really sweeps everyone off their feet with his handsome good looks and charisma. He also causes a eyebrow or two from the townsfolk who find that solid business man Jack knows an armed gambler… But from the sherrif to the schoolteacher, to the store-clerk, each character is nicely described and no-one feels two dimensional.

However, one character that really didn’t work for me was Jack’s eight year old daughter. Writing children is hard, and I’m afraid that I had the same feeling about Abigail that I had for “Just William’s” Violet Bott or one of Dahl’s terrible Chocolate Factory children. I wanted her to die and quite horribly. Wilson obviously thinks that we should love Abigail which made me ashamed of my dreams of fire but she’s grating and not at all realistic, even given the fact that the book is set some 150 years ago. Firstly she comes over as about three years old, not eight, lisping and misspeaking which is probably intended to be cute. I could not equate her with Jack having brought her up, because Jack is almost impossibly erudite, using large words and complex concepts. He has a knowledge of art and travel, whereas his daughter speaks like Cletus the Slack Jawed yokel and hasn’t even heard of New Orleans. Er… no. Kids learn their speech patterns from their parents. From her appalling grammar, speech and behaviour, it’s like she’s been raised by hillbillies instead of an intelligent, well read and well-spoken father.

But she was only one character and I was willing to ignore her in favour of the main plotline.

The narrative is sometimes a tad jumpy, and more than once I found myself re-reading sections because I felt I’d missed something–characters would start to talk of things without any lead up leaving the reader running to catch up and hoping some light would be shed to give a clue. Here’s one example of this: (the earlier sentences do not shed any light on who they are talking about, the conversation pretty much starts with this.)

I started forward once more, and, when I reached him, he turned to walk beside me. We progressed in silence for a spell, then he said: “Y’know, I saw him a while back.”

We were both looking ahead again, and he didn’t gaze over at me as he told me that, and I didn’t do anything at all. I just mention those facts to show that I was beyond the point of offering up any noticeable reaction to that sort of pronouncement, and Tom knew it.

He was just telling me because he thought I might like to know. “He was looking mighty—well, spry would be overstating it. But he was  breathing pretty regular for a dead man.”

I still wasn’t troubled by any particular impulse to respond, though, finally, after a moment or two, I decided it would be impolite to let him think I might not have been paying attention. I scratched my ear. “You talk to him?”

“You could call it that.”

“How’d that go?”

He offered a noncommittal shrug. “I didn’t finish up by spitting on him, so I reckon it went a damn sight better than the time before.” He paused a moment to allow me ample time to relish his sense of humor, then confided: “He wanted money.”

“I’m sorry.”

He shrugged again, and his tone lightened. “He asked after you. I suppose it was good I didn’t really know much—spared me the trouble of lying. ’Course, he figured I was lying, which I guess means his brain ain’t completely pickled.”

“How’d he look?”

“How’d he look!” Tom shook his fist at me. “You’re just itching for that pop!”

So, all right, I wasn’t as completely indifferent to mention of my father as I claimed, and I suppose Tom might have broached the subject because he suspected as much. In my defense, I told him: “He asked after me, didn’t he?”

As you can see it takes most of this exchange to explain it’s Jack’s father that is being discussed, whereas from hints in earlier conversations about certain dead men, I was completely led astray, thought they were talking about someone else, and when the father was mentioned I was entirely confused. This is also one of many plot threads that are never explored, never resolved which was a tad frustrating–unless this is going to be a series, but there was no hint of that.

The trouble could be that the author knows his backstory so much he doesn’t realise that readers don’t travel at the same speed and need a bit more support or they end up lost like me.

You can see that there are colons before certain parts of speech and while this might be a correct and formal way of expressing speech, I have to say I didn’t like it, I hadn’t read a book with this device before. One example of a hundred would be:

I asked him: “You remember the baths at Hollister House?”

Instead of

“You remember the baths at Hollister House?” I asked him.

Perhaps it’s to emphasize that it’s Jack writing this as a memoire I don’t know. But I hope the author re-considers in future and uses a more acceptable method of dialogue.

But these are matters that can be ironed out as the author learns and progresses.

However the good certainly eclipses the irritants. I loved the way that Jack says he feels sorry for men and women because it’s much easier for men to walk around with their arms around each other or to fake wrestle in the street and no-one thinks anything of it. I also liked the way that it dealt with an addiction; Jack is an addict, but not to drink or to drugs, although both are mentioned. He’s a recovering card sharp and just the feel of a packet of cards in his hands is enough to tempt his control. I found it endearing that the only pack of cards he had in the house was incomplete, but I understood the necessity for it.

There’s a section toward the end with a rather nice surprise, but this isn’t followed through–not even in thought, which was disappointing. I would have liked to have known how Jack got around this particular problem. Editing was fine but I’m afraid the cover does nothing for me—something more literary and vague would have done—but that’s cosmetic and doesn’t affect the mark at all. What marks it down is the confusion I felt at several points, the ends that never really got tied up and the hillbilly sounding daughter.

Don’t come to this book looking for a stock gay cowboy romance. Come instead for a beautifully written story with characters that will stick in your head. Well worth a read.  I look forward to what this author can do in the future because it might be pretty amazing.

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Review: According to Hoyle by Abigail Roux

By the close of 1882, the inhabitants of the American West had earned their reputation as untamed and dangerous. The line between heroes and villains is narrow and indistinct. The concept that a man may only kill if backed into a corner is antiquated. Lives are worth less than horses. Treasures are worth killing for. And the law is written in the blood of those who came before. The only men staving off total chaos are the few who take the letter of the law at its word and risk their lives to uphold it. But in the West, the rules aren’t always played according to Hoyle.

US Marshals Eli Flynn and William Henry Washington are escorting two prisoners to New Orleans for trial when they discover there’s more to the infamous shootist Dusty Rose and the enigmatic man known only as Cage than merely being outlaws. When forces beyond the marshals’ control converge on the paddlewheeler they have hired to take them downriver, they must choose between two dangers: playing by the rules at any cost or trusting the very men they are meant to bring to justice.

Review by Sue Brown

I used to have an expectation of m/m stories that by page 5 the two men – or any other number thereof – would have their clothes stripped off and be getting down to business. I did not expect to find plot interrupting the sex. My knuckles have been firmly rapped with this amazing story. If you are expecting Wild West Sex, then According to Hoyle isn’t for you. If you like a complex plot, rounded and well-developed characters and some surprising twists, then this is definitely up your alley.

This is the tale of two US Marshals, Eli Flynn and William Henry Washington, escorting two prisoners to New Orleans for trial: the shootist and outlaw, the Englishman Dusty Rose, who surprises the lawmen by developing a relationship with the other prisoner, the silent man, Cage. Over the course of their journey Flynn, who has always played life according to Hoyle, by the book, learns that the criminals aren’t always the bad guys and he learn a lot more about himself and his old friend, Wash, as well. These characters aren’t exactly original, the stoic lawmen, the criminals finding their way into infamy through dime novels, but Abigail Roux has crafted them so well that you are swiftly drawn into their world.

As a reader I probably focus more on the interaction of the men. The developing relationships between Rose and Cage and Flynn and Wash, and the way they all have to learn to trust each other, are subtly woven. It isn’t about two men watching another two get together, but the four of them and the way their relationship develops from distrust into something more, not friendship, but a grudging admission of respect, particularly between Flynn and Rose

Considering the time in which the story was set I expected more overt homophobia. However a second reading made me see it was skilfully handled through the uncomfortable feelings engendered in Flynn as he watches Rose and Cage together. In fact of all the four men it was Flynn that fascinated me as he fights his feelings for Wash.

Meanwhile, I am unwilling to spoil the story too much, but there is another subplot woven through which makes the story more than just a journey of the lawmen and the outlaws, but gives it a touch of uncertainty and excitement.

One minor criticism, and it is minor, is that both times I read the book I felt the boat scene was a little too long. It was a necessary part of the plot but became a little tedious. I did like the end of the book though. Flynn came a long way, both as a lawman and a lover. I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone, whether you like westerns or not.

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Review: Arson! The Dakota Series 1 by Cap Iversen

People look up when Dakota Taylor rides into town. His legend precedes him and if that legend isn’t always founded in reality … well, Dakota’s not about to disappoint folks. Nor does he want to disappoint the handsome Bennie Colson, who has a job for him. Trouble is, Ben’s job means taking on a whole town of angry cattle ranchers.

Review by Gerry Burnie originally posted on Gerry’s Book Reviews

Pretty well everyone enjoys a cowboy story; especially if the principal characters get out of the sack long enough to ride a horse or chase a cow. Cap Iversen(?)[1] has therefore struck an agreeable balance between the two types in “Arson!: The Dakota Series, No.1” [Alyson Books, 1st edition, 1992].

Dakota Taylor is a gunslinger—a ‘hired gun’—the fastest in the West. He has a pair of custom-made, silver-plated colts on his hip, and an instinct for calculated eradication of people’s enemies.

He is juxtapositioned with Benjamin Colsen, a Harvard law student, who hires Taylor’s gun to avenge the Colsen family’s brutal murder—father, mother and siblings—on their mountain-top, sheep ranch by a group of unknown assailants. The issue seems to be a drying-up of the water supply that has mysteriously struck the valley, and the overall cast of suspects includes the cattle baron, James T Anderson, and practically everyone else in the dusty town of Turnpike.

There are the usual supporting characters: A fat, incompetent and cowardly sheriff; a slick-talking merchant; a ‘meat-head’ butcher; and the weaselly manager of the local meat packing plant. However, there are a few that are slightly out of the loop, i.e. Ryder McCloud, another gunslinger, who has been hired by Anderson. McCloud and Taylor have had shootouts before, but these generally involved fleshy weapons between sheets. Nevertheless, with McCloud’s arrival the plot definitely thickens.

Anderson’s young son, Seth, enters the picture as well. He is your typical brash, young Turk; enamoured with McCloud and not at all adverse to romping with Taylor.

Meanwhile a sub-plot is developing, which involves a fabled Eternal Spring that only the Shoshone Indians and a few others—including Dakota Taylor—know about. Dakota is the adopted son of a Shoshone Shaman, and also becomes the confidante (and bed mate) of his warrior-like grandson; therefore, the only other(s) to know about it must also be the murderer(s).

I will not go further for fear of spoiling the story; however, I will say that the writing style, told in a first-person narrative, is both colourful and appropriate. Moreover it has the air of authenticity, and it reads almost effortlessly. Whoever Cap Iversen is he or she is/was definitely not a novice writer or journalist.

I do have some reservations regarding the number of gay characters that pop up quite ‘coincidentally’ in what is otherwise an insular and isolated community. There are, I believe, six such individuals, which is perhaps stretching the laws of chance and probability. In addition, the story seemed to lose its compactness toward the end.

Nevertheless, this is a thoroughly enjoyable and well-crafted story, and I look forward to reading the other two, i.e. “Silver Saddles,” and “Rattler.” Recommended.

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Review: Missouri by Christine Wunnicke

Written in the language of the period, this vivid and utterly transfixing love story between two men is set in the nineteenth-century American Midwest. Douglas Fortescue is a successful poet in England who flees the country for America following an Oscar Wilde-like scandal insinuating sexual impropriety; Joshua Jenkyns is a feral young outlaw who was taught how to shoot a man at age six, and who, against the wishes of his father, teaches himself how to read, a skill that then unleashes a world of possibility beyond that which he knows. The two men meet when Joshua robs Douglas’s carriage and takes him hostage; soon, a remarkable secret is revealed, and these two very different men grow closer, even as Douglas’s brother tries to “save” him from his uncivilized surroundings.

Missouri was first published in Germany to wide acclaim. Now available in English for the first time, Missouri is destined to become a gay men’s camp classic for its earnest, romantic reinterpretation of a time and place in American history traditionally closed off to gay readers.

Review by Gerry Burnie (originally posted on Gerry’s Review Site)

Missouri by Christine Wunnicke[Arsenal Pulp Press; Tra edition, 2010] is a story that either pleases or displeases; there is very little middle ground shown by its critics to date. Therefore, I will have to say that I liked it. I found it wonderfully zany; offbeat; and unlike any other gay, American Western tale I have every encountered.

Douglas Fortesque is an ambitious court clerk in northern England, and not just a little bit of a con man. He therefore lets his hair down (literally), dyes it black, starves himself until he has that gaunt, poet-like appearance, and pens utter gibberish to the wild acclaim of an effete London literary society. Indeed, the more outlandish he becomes the more acclaim he receives from a pretentious, gullible public.

Eventually tiring of this masquerade he retires to the country, but legitimacy only makes him less interesting and also vulnerable to his critics, and in a thinly veiled allusion to Oscar Wilde’s persecution he escapes to the United States where his brother wishes to buy property.

Meanwhile, Joshua Jenkyns, the young, slightly psychotic half-breed offspring of a notorious American outlaw is terrorizing the Midwest, learning how to read and becoming enamoured by the disjointed words of one, Douglas Fortescue. In a bizarre turn of events, therefore, these two unlikely characters cross paths and Fortescue is hurried away on horseback to become Jenkyns’ coddled hostage.

Thus begins a process of assimilation whereby Fortescue is stripped of his pretentions, and Jenkyns of his savagery, until they meet in an ethereal love-making scene that is beautifully understated by the author. Any other approach—graphic for example—would have cheapened it.

One of the criticisms that has been leveled at this novella is that it is too short (134 pages) to develop a complex story of this nature; and I agree that it could have been longer. However, in those 134 pages Wunnicke has developed two very unforgettable characters, a unique love story set against a stark, primeval wilderness, and an outcome that is totally unpredictable.

Highly recommended. Five stars.

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Review: Sam’s Hill by Jack Ricardo

A young man coming to grips with his homosexuality during the latter half of the 19th century, through four years of The Civil War, the Indian Wars with General Custer’s 7th Cavalry, into the rough and tumble town of Cheyenne and up into the Black Hills of the Dakota Territory.

*Available in Kindle format, 382KB

Review by Gerry Burnie

A revisiting of the American Civil War is not a new theme, nor is gay, Union and Confederate soldiers, but “Sam’s Hill” by Jack Ricardo [Amazon Digital Services, 2010] contains some of the best, graphic descriptions of battlefield action I have ever read; the carnage, the confusion, the fear and the impersonal killing are all there in almost tangible detail.

The plot—at least for the first half of the story—is equally well conceived with some quite unexpected twists.

Sam Cordis is a young Union volunteer from New Jersey; green, innocent, seeking to become his “own man” and heading west when the war is over, “…a mere two or three months, he was sure.”

After a taste of war, and the reality of it, i.e.

“The order came. “Tear Cartridges.”

“Sam did exactly that. He poured powder into the barrel of his musket, dropped a metal ball inside, stuffed the ramrod down to push the ball into position, and carefully placed a cap under the hammer.

“When he heard the first shot, the taut skin of his neck strangled his throat, his heart stopped. The woods began bleeding with an indistinct jumble of men in gray yelling ferociously, shooting indiscriminately. Sam wanted to run for cover. There was none. And there was no interference when he lifted his musket.

“He stayed his mind, focussed his eyes, spied his target. He couldn’t see the Rebel clearly. He didn’t know if he was young or old, an officer or a volunteer. He was merely a target. Sam aimed the weapon with ease, as if marking a jackrabbit on the banks of New Jersey’s Rampo River. He pressed the trigger and squeezed as his older brother taught, gently, caressing the tender skin of a newborn calf. The report of the musket was lost in the din.

“Sam didn’t wait to see if the ball hit its mark. He followed the example of the others, crossing the former path, running wide, stumbling, turning, reloading, firing again, this time with haste. As hastily as the enemy fired at him.”

Under such perilous circumstances men frequently bond out of necessity, and the mores of a conventional society are either relaxed or shirked in favour of a new reality. So it was with Sam and his young companion, Davie, when a tender friendship gradually blossomed into love, like a flower amidst the ruin. Just as quickly, however, it was snuffed by a sniper’s bullet, but not before Sam had discovered a love that would not be denied.

As the war dragged on Sam found himself in Savannah, Georgia, with Sherman’s army, and during a lull in the hostilities he is drawn to the docks in search of male companionship. It is a mixture of intrigue and inert desire until he encounters an older man who almost succeeds in fanning his smouldering desire into a flame. However, in an unexpected twist, he is mugged and then rescued aboard a gunboat where the stranger is first mate. Romance nearly blossoms there as well, but when the gunboat is attacked Sam is thrown overboard during the mêlée. Miraculously he is washed ashore on the coast of Florida, and making his way inland he encounters a regiment of Black, Union soldiers, who are themselves captured by Confederate forces.

A forced march then proceeds to a POW camp somewhere in South Georgia—a non-regulation compound where corruption and cruelty prevail. A “King Rat” type-of-character also rules, and he sets his sights on seducing Sam. On the other hand, Sam befriends a badly wounded youth who would otherwise die. These are the characters that will play a significant role later in the story, but for now they are certainly interesting enough.

When peace if declared Sam and the now rehabilitated youth start for their respective homes in the north, where Sam’s several family members await, but first there is another character to be met; an Indian brave named Kehoe.

To this point I would have no hesitation in giving this story a five-star rating. The journalism is first rate, the characters are interesting and credible, the action is breathtaking, and the pace compelling.

Regretfully, the second half of the story begins to bog down under the burden of characters that, in their numbers and complexities, nearly overwhelm the reader. Likewise, to accommodate each of their parts, the story loses its linearity to twist and coil around the various subplots.

There is no question that Mr. Ricardo has a flair for historical fiction, but sometimes less is more. 

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

Home Station on the Prairie

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

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

Review by Sue Brown

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

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

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

4.5 stars

Published by Torquere

Little Family on the Homestead

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

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

Review by Sue Brown

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

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

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

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

4 stars

Author’s Livejournal

Published by Torquere

Review: Walking in Two Worlds by Terry O’Reilly

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

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

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

Review by Sue Brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Website

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Review: Dona Nobis Pacem by Willa Okati

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

Review by Jess Faraday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Comstock by Aaron Michaels

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

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

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Cut Hand by Mark Wildyr

Billy Strobaw’s world turns on its axis when he has a surprising and physical reaction to a young Indian he and two of his travelling companions have taken captive. The handsome warrior, Cut Hand, eventually not only earns his freedom but also steals Billy’s heart and prevails upon the American to come live among his people. Plunged into a strange culture where lust for another man is not regarded as disgraceful, Billy agrees to become Cut’s ”winkte” wife and comes to understand that the Native Americans have just as much to offer him as he has to share with them.

Review by Gerry Burnie

Mark Wildyr’s cross-culture novel “Cut Hand” [StarBooks Press, 2010] was a delightful find for me. To explain, I usually shy away from “Wild West” stories because they tend to be little more than loosely strung together sexual romps, to which the plot only serves to move the characters from one tryst to another. On the contrary “Cut Hand,” while sexy, is a plot-driven, insightful look at “Two Spirit” customs within North American Native cultures. Moreover, since it places a white boy in the role of the wink-te (pronounced “wan-te” in this story) it is unique approach to it.

Billy Strobaw is the product of Tory parents (called “Loyalists” in Canada) who are unsettled as a result of the American War of Independence. He and his family therefore become outcasts in their own land, and after their untimely deaths young Billy decides to seek his fortune in the Far West. Enroute, his party saves a handsome young Indian named Cut Hand from certain death by a rival band. Thereafter Billy is surprised by his unexpected physical reaction to the Indian brave. Surprisingly Cut Hand returns his attention to not only steal Billy’s heart but also convinces him to live among his people.

Thrust without preparation into a strange culture, Billy agrees to become Cut Hand’s winkte wife; an act that brings problems but not from the direction he expected. As the two men work to overcome the differences in their cultural backgrounds, Billy comes to appreciate the Native Americans for their oneness with the land and their staunch loyalty to one another.

To simply say that this story is “plot-driven” does not do it the justice it deserved. This is a superbly researched glimpse of “a time never again to be seen on the Great Plains,” and done with such credibility that it is a veritable history lesson in itself. Also woven into this is a sometimes poignant story of love between men: manly men; husbands and wink-te wives; warriors; and yet so human that anyone could identify with them.

While commenting on the superlatives inherent in this work, one shouldn’t overlook the cast of true-to-life characters. Wildyr has given each of these a distinctive character, and then goes on to develop and expand it as the story progresses. Moreover, he has resisted the pitfalls of stereotyping the Natives, especially, and has not attempted to ‘sanitize’ them, either.

Altogether, this is quintessential historical fiction encompassing a fascinating topic and period in history.

Author’s Website

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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.

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Review: Queer Cowboys by Chris Packard

“Brokeback Mountain” exploded the myth of the American cowboy as a tough, gruff, and grizzled loner. “Queer Cowboys” exposes, through books by legendary Western writers such as Mark Twain, James Fenimore Cooper, and Owen Wister, how same-sex intimacy and homoerotic admiration were key aspects of Westerns well before “Brokeback’s” 1960’s West, and well before the word “homosexual” was even invented. Chris Packard introduces readers to the males-only clubs of journalists, cowboys, miners, Indians, and vaqueros who defined themselves by excluding women and the cloying ills of domesticity and recovers a forgotten culture of exclusively masculine, sometimes erotic, and often intimate camaraderie in the fiction, photographs, and theatrical performances of the 1800’s Wild West.

Review by Gerry Burnie

While my usual genre is historical fiction, I am always on the lookout for research of a historical variety. Therefore, although it has been around for a while, “Queer Cowboys: And other erotic male friendships in nineteenth-century American literature” by Chris Packard (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) is one such work.

The stated objective of this thesis is to explore the “bonds that hold … [same-sex partners, i.e. ‘sidekicks’] together, particularly the erotic affection that undergirds their friendship.” To do this it painstakingly explores the “originary” texts of seminal, nineteenth-century writers who, individually and collectively, created the prevailing stereotype of the devoted same-sex partners. Moreover, the author undertakes to “teach readers how to recognize homoerotic affection in a historical discourse that was free from the derogatory meanings associated with post-1900 evaluations of male-male erotic friendships”—a not overly presumptuous ambition, given that Packard teaches literature and writing at New York University and New School University.

Okay, I am one such hypothetical reader, so let’s see how well Professor Packard achieved his objectives.

At the risk of oversimplifying Packard’s thesis, it starts with an underlying premise that before 1900—i.e. before “the modern invention of the ‘homosexual’ as a social pariah”—cowboy relationships were freely represented as quite a bit more affectionate than they are after that date. Moreover, although the stereotypes generally depicted ethnic warfare; citing the threat of “savagery” as justification for ethnic slaughter, and the freeing-up of territory to make way for European homesteaders, writers like James Fennimore Cooper wrote about friendships, “even marriage rituals,” between members of warring groups based on shared values. In addition friendships between young whites and natives were quite common. These mixed friendships usually had the natives tutoring the boys in the primitive ways of the wilderness, and included rituals of brotherhood, i.e. exchanging blood, and other physical, nuptial-like rites.

Notably absent from this literary same-sex scenario is any role for femininity, which is described by one quoted authority, Walter Benn Michaels, as “…the problem of heterosexuality.”  The ‘problem’ being the threat of reproduction in a period when fear of mixed-ethnicity through sex or marriage was keen in American culture. Moreover, femininity and reproduction ran contrary to the strong, independent, and particularly ‘free’ nature of the cowboy characters.

“Within canonical as well as ignored literature, high culture as well as low, homoerotic intimacy is not only present, but it is thematic in works produced before the modern want him to be queer. America’s official emblem of masculinity is not one who settles down after he conquests … rather, he moves on, perpetually conquering, and repeatedly affirming his ties to the wilderness and his male partner.”

Having thus stated his hypotheses, Packard then goes on to support these with an anthology of mostly “canonical” writings—i.e. Cooper’s “The Leatherstocking Tales,” Owen Wister’s “The Virginian,” and Walt Whitman’s poetry.  He also introduces some lesser known examples, such as Claude Hartland’s “The Story of a Life,” Frank Harris’s “My Reminiscences as a Cowboy,” and Frederick Loring’s “Two College Friends.”

While circumstantial, when read from a homoerotic perspective Packard makes a very compelling case, over all.  There are no ‘smoking-gun’ examples, of course, because such blatancies would have been considered excessive by Eastern readers—meaning east of the Mississippi, but it is evident that the implication was there just below the surface. Consequently, he has also taught us how to recognize homoerotic affection in “historic discourse.”

To get to that level of edification, however, the reader has had to wade through an Introduction that I found to be a jumble of complex ideas, confusingly presented and fraught with academic jargon—i.e. “nexus,” “praxis,” “lingua franca,” and so forth. A case on point:

Given the instant and undying popularity of cowboys in U.S. popular culture during a period of rapid national expansion, to identify a homoerotic core in its myth about the supremacy of white American masculinity is to imply that American audiences want their frontiersmen to practice nonnormative desires as part of their roles in nation building. In other words, if there is something national about the cowboy (and other frontier heroes of his ilk), and if there is something homoerotic about American national identity as it is conceived in the American West.

Perhaps I am a bit slow on the uptake, but I didn’t find the “In other words” any more elucidating than the original statement.

Happily, once he launches into the body of the argument his tone becomes somewhat less esoteric, and apart from belabouring some points—giving a new dimension to the term ‘moot point’—he presents a very interesting and informative perspective on nineteenth-century thought.

Those looking for titillating erotica, however, are bound to be disappointed but well-informed after reading this work.

This review was originally posted on the reviewer’s blog here

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Review: To Hell You Ride by Julia Talbot

Big Roy is a hard rock miner with a not so secret love for the theater, so when he hears a new troupe of actors are coming to the Telluride opera house to put on a Shakespeare play, he saddles his mule and makes the trek into town to see it.

The play doesn’t disappoint, but the beautiful lead actor, Sir Edward Clancy, certainly does. Clancy is rude and arrogant, and Roy figures he’d never have a chance with such a man. He’s wrong, because Clancy needs some entertainment himself, being stuck in a Hellish mining town for the long, snowy winter.

Come spring, though, Clancy knows he’s going to want to move on, and he thinks Roy will be easy to forget. Then tragedy strikes, and Clancy has to rethink his entire life. Can these two strike gold?

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

“‘Thank the Lord and all the angels,’ as Big Roy Marsh would say. ‘A historical western that gets it right.’”

Edward Clancy looked up from his book. “What’s that you say?”

Roy Marsh looked at him. “I’m readin’ a review and she quotes me.”

“A review? Of what?”

“The book about us, of course!” Roy gave Clancy an exasperated stare.

“Which one?”

Roy wondered if Clancy was being dense on purpose. “Tis only one, as you know. Ain’t dozens of books ‘bout us. To Hell You Ride, the one by Miss Julia Talbot.”

“Ah,” said Clancy. “And what does she say? Is it a positive review?”

Roy nodded. “I’d say so. Five stars.”

“Five stars! A superior rating! That’s better than my last performance.”

“You didn’t rehearse enough for that one.”

“You were too busy keeping me busy.”

Roy blushed at that.

Clancy gestured towards the paper. “Go on, read some more.”

Roy cleared his throat. “‘Big Roy Marsh is a gold miner, working high in the mountains above Telluride, Colorado. On Saturday, he likes nothing better than to ride his mule, Annie, into town, stop for a shave, haircut and perhaps a bath, then put on his ‘Sunday go-to-meeting clothes’ and head to the theater.’”

“That’s what you still like,” Clancy interrupted.

Roy nodded. “I surely do, even if you do make me wear a suit.”

“You look particularly fine in a suit.”

Roy blushed again. He looked back down at the paper. “‘On this particular Saturday, Roy is transfixed by the performance of Sir Edward Clancy in the role of MacDuff. He accidently bumps into the actor the next morning and wishes to pay him a compliment, but Sir Edward arrogantly brushes him aside.’”

Clancy frowned. “Why did she have to include that?”

“It’s true. You were arrogant.” He continued reading. “‘When a comment about Sir Edward’s rudeness makes it into the paper, Clancy decides he requires a personal apology and sets out to get it, which becomes the basis for an amusing encounter between the two men.’”

“Amusing, hmm? I thought it was odd.”

“Amusing or odd, you couldn’t get enough of me,” Roy said.

It was Clancy’s turn to blush.

Roy turned back to the paper. “‘Roy and Clancy are the unlikeliest of lovers, but Talbot tells their story deftly, moving from a relationship built on carnal lust and a base desire for each other to one of a strongly shared love and mutual need.’” Roy’s brow furrowed. “Sounds a little personal, here.”

“Well, if you didn’t want it to be personal, you shouldn’t have shared so many details. I told you to be a bit more circumspect.”

Roy looked at his lover, his lips tightening into a hard line, but didn’t say anything. “‘The reason why this story works so well as a historical western, as opposed to a story that takes place in the old days, is the way the author effortlessly evokes the time and period. Little details bring the frontier town of Telluride to life, with its wood-framed buildings and muddy roads leading high up into the mountains. I particularly loved this line, ‘Only thing he’d taken had been his own shoes and coat, assuming them after he was out in the hallway, bright with its fancy electric lights that looked so odd to Roy. Any light that didn’t flicker with the wind just oughtn’t be trusted.’” Roy looked at the electric lamp at his elbow, then looked at Clancy. “Not sure why she’d comment on that,” he said. “Still think it’s true.”

Clancy smiled at him. “Oh, my rough miner. You never change, do you?”

“Do you want me to?” Roy asked.

Clancy shook his head. “No,” he answered softly.

Roy took a minute to compose himself, then picked up the paper again. “‘Themes are beautifully woven throughout the story, such as shaving and bathing. At the beginning, they are impersonal acts between Roy and the barber—a business transaction. Then they become erotic moments between the two main characters and ultimately, an act of caring and love, when Edward bathes Roy after a life-threatening accident.’”

Roy stopped. “Well,” he said.

“Well,” Clancy replied.

“I didn’t know we was being erotic,” said Roy.

“I didn’t know we had themes, but I suppose I should have figured it out, given my prowess in the acting profession.”

Roy chuckled. “Gotta hand it to you, Clancy, you ain’t ever been one to hide your light under a bushel.”

Clancy pointed to the paper. “Go on. Is there anything else?”

Roy nodded. “‘All in all, this was a thoroughly satisfying novella. Colorful, well-drawn characters, a totally engaging story, historical details that were pitch perfect in pulling me into turn-of-the-century Colorado. Having read a number of Westerns that come nowhere near this standard, it was a true pleasure to stumble upon this unexpected gem.’” Roy stopped reading. “Guess she liked it.”

Clancy nodded. “With a review like that, I suppose I shall have to stop ignoring this book and actually read it. Do we own a copy?”

“Yup,” said Roy. “It’s in the bedroom, next to the bed.”

“Will you fetch it for me?”

Roy shook his head mournfully. “Now, Edward, you know I ain’t your manservant, here to do your fetching. You can go get it for yourself.”

“I suppose I shall have to do that.” Clancy brushed an imaginary piece of lint from his trousers. “Perhaps you will accompany me?”

“To the bedroom?” Roy asked.

Clancy nodded. “Some of the things you read reminded me of memories that have, um, quite aroused me. I think, perhaps, some recreation is in order.”

“You mean getting fancy?” Roy winked.

“You know precisely what I mean, my love.”

Roy stood up. “You lead the way, honey,” he said with a smile.

“I don’t need to be asked twice,” replied Clancy, as they headed out of the room, the newspaper forgotten on the chair.

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Review: Calico by Dorien Grey

“Calico” is something of a breakthrough novel in that it spans a bridge which is only now opening for two-way traffic. The author describes “Calico” as a “western/romance/adventure/mystery with a twist”…the twist being that its cowboy hero/protagonist just happens to be gay.

Calico Ramsey finds himself with the responsibility of seeing that two 17 year old orphaned twins from Chicago, Josh and Sarah Howard, get safely from the rail line’s end to their aunt in Colorado. But things have begun to go terribly wrong even before the twins arrive, and it doesn?t take long for Calico to realize someone does not want him to reach his destination (though how anyone even knows the trio’s destination is a mystery to Calico).

There is enough action, adventure, and mystery to satisfy both diehard western fans, and even those who don’t normally care for the genre. The gently developing romance is non-threatening to those who have lived their lives on the “mainland” side of the bridge, but offers a unique insight into the 10 percent of the population living at the other end of the bridge.

Review by Alex Beecroft

When Calico Ramsey’s uncle Dan is gunned down by a hired killer, Calico inherits not only Dan’s ranch, but also a responsibility to Dan’s newly orphaned nephew and niece. He promises to see them safely into the custody of their Aunt Rebecca, even though nobody to whom he speaks has a good word to say about the woman. The twins’ parents died in a fire following a visit from Rebecca and her husband, so when Calico and the twins are almost killed themselves in a fire the first night out, Calico begins to suspect something sinister. As their journey continues it becomes clear that someone is trying to kill the three of them before they can get to Rebecca’s house. Calico must protect his two charges, figure out what is going on and why, and deal with the burgeoning love and attraction he feels for Josh.

I really enjoyed this book. I’m not a big reader of Westerns, and am not, unfortunately, any kind of expert in the time. Nothing in the setting of this book, or the behaviour of the characters pinged me as wrong for 19th Century America, but take that with a pinch of salt as I can’t speak with any kind of knowledge on the subject. What the book reminded me of most of all was the kind of TV Western series which I watched when I was growing up. It had the same kind of strong but decent, openhearted characters, a laconic expression and stoicism that covered up deep emotions and a real appreciation of a seemingly endless landscape, with all the beauty and freedom and danger that represented.

I was also reminded of these old series because the book proceeds in a number of episodes, each of which end in a cliffhanger. There is a lot of welcome action; a memorable gunfight, runaway horses, arson, ambushes and kidnapping – there’s really no chance to ever get bored. And if, like me, you find constant action a bit wearing too, you’ll still like this book because the action is interspersed with some lovely quiet moments; companionship around the campfire, the very sweet and tender romance between Calico and Josh, moments where the beauty of the countryside comes through, and moments of good food and hospitality from strangers who become friends.

After reading Brokeback Mountain, it’s slightly hard for me to believe that neither Calico nor Josh have much in the way of angst about accepting their attraction for men in general and each other in particular, and even harder to believe that nobody in the book who knows about it seems to have a problem with it. But Dorien Gray writes the characters in such a way that I was prepared to believe that these particular people are simply fortunate in their emotional makeup and friends, rather than feeling that the whole society was anachronistic.

I enjoyed the fact that the greater part of the story took place over a journey from the railway station to the Aunt’s house. It really gave a picture of how difficult travel was in those days. I also enjoyed the mystery, and although I had worked out who the villain was, and why they were doing this, by the time it was revealed, I hadn’t done it so early on as to be disappointed with the heroes for not realising it earlier.

My main problem with the book, and why it only gets a four and a half star review rather than a five, is the ending. The final confrontation with the villain is over very easily and for a moment I almost thought we’d lost a gunman. Although I find I was wrong about that and he was accounted for, my impression was still that the villain is disappointingly easily dealt with at the end.

More than this, though, I felt that the romance was denied a scene that it needed to round it off. Throughout the book, Calico had been saying to himself and Josh “I’ll think about that later. I’ll think about it when you’re 18. I’ll think about it once we’re out of this life threatening peril.” All of which was very sensible and you couldn’t help agreeing that he was right to look at it that way. However, the end of the book finds Josh 18 and the life-threatening peril out of the way, but there never is a scene where Calico does that thinking and makes that ‘yes, we’re a couple’ decision that the book (I thought) had been leading up to. So I felt the romance part of the plot suffered from a lack of resolution. I’d have liked to see Calico make the commitment to Josh that had been hinted at throughout.

However, the ending does leave the two of them together, so I can happily imagine that they get that bit sorted out off camera, so to speak, and although I would have liked to see a more romance focussed ending, it doesn’t in any way take away from how much I enjoyed everything that went before it. I’ll definitely be reading this one again with a lot of pleasure.

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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: 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: Cabin Fever by B.A. Tortuga

Horace is a loner, a mountain man with a claim to a tiny stream of gold and a lonely cabin in the woods. When he finds young Walker wandering lost in his mountains just before the snow flies, he decides he’s found exactly the kind of companionship he craves.

Walker is young, naive, and totally unprepared for the kinds of amusements Horace has in store for him. Good thing he’s willing to try new things, because Horace has a stern hand and a fine sense of adventure, showing Walker things he’d never dreamed of. But what will come when the spring thaw melts all that snow?

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

A short review for a fairly short (33K words) novella.

This isn’t really historical fiction. It’s more like a story that takes place in the old days. The difference? Well, to me, historical fiction should have some history: description of the place, the people, what’s going on in the world and so on. On the other hand, the old days are differentiated from more modern times by things like lack of indoor plumbing and no electricity. But other than that, the time period is really inconsequential to the story. On top of being in the old days, this novella didn’t have much of a plot. The sex wasn’t porn so it didn’t tip all the way into PWP, but it was dancing around the edge. Even so, something about this story appealed to me and I read it all the way through in one sitting. I think it might be that Horace’s kink is mine (mostly) and that made it entertaining.

Anyway, to the story. As it opens, Walker is wandering around in the woods without proper shoes or clothes, when he bumps into the end of Horace’s rifle just as the first snowflakes of the season start to fall. Horace takes the younger man back to his cabin, warms him up, feeds him, and tells him to get ready for a long winter.

A fella’s got to do something to keep himself entertained on long, cold wintry days and nights, right? A person can only cook so much rabbit stew and play so many games of checkers before one’s thoughts naturally move in a more carnal direction…

Horace, a man of indeterminate age, clearly has a few definite ideas for what he wants from Walker, but realizes the need for trust between them to get there. So he takes things very slowly, letting Walker absorb each intimacy between them, before he moves to the next step. After all, they have all winter.

Walker, also of indeterminate age (but younger than Horace), has moments of doubt and fear that he is going to go straight to hell (or worse), but Horace finds the right balance between being rough and dominant and tender and loving to assuage Walker’s worries. Throw in lots of mind-blowing orgasms and Walker is eventually fully with the program and by the end of the book, thoughts of a life off the mountain and without Horace have long been abandoned.

There was a slightly formulaic feel to the writing and particularly the sex, as if the author had a clipboard next to her computer and kept checking off each new experience as it was introduced. Worse, most of these experiences were presented once and never revisited which is what gave the story the sex-without-plot feeling. That said, there was more than one shaving scene (I like those). Horace kept the woodstove well fed and the little cabin was hot, allowing Walker to be nude most of the time. I’ll admit it, that has a certain sexy appeal (along with his smoothie look) which is in large part what kept me reading.

I had to chuckle at this: winter is ending and supplies and provisions are running low. Does Horace worry about running out of flour, salt, sugar, coffee? Nope. Only one thing is on his mind…oil. LOL.

All in all, not a bad book. While I’ve certainly read much better, I’ve also read much, much worse. If you are looking for a wintry warm up, this might satisfy.

Authors’ website

Torquere Press

 

Review: Stealing Northe by Jamie Craig

Two outlaws and one widow turn to each other for comfort, but nobody expects lust to become a love affair…

Amy Northe hasn’t known a man’s company in the six years since her husband died. That all changes the night her son comes in from chores with two strangers in tow. Kenneth and Leon are seeking shelter, and though Amy wants to turn them away, she can’t. There’s a blizzard moving through the Utah mountains, and Leon’s busted ankle has him teetering on the edge of consciousness. She does the only thing she can and takes them in, unaware of the secrets these young men hide.

Kenneth doesn’t want to take advantage of the older woman’s hospitality, even though she’s the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. But Leon needs help and Amy is a nurse. If he has to satisfy his desire for her in the form of covert trysts with Leon, then that’s what he’ll do, especially since he’s too much of a gentleman to ever think of making advances on her.

Until Amy makes one herself. Then everything changes…for all three of them.

Review by Erastes

Jamie Craig is–as you probably all knew by now–a writing collaboration of Pepper Spinoza and Vivian Dean and I’ve been impressed with just about everything I’ve read of theirs.  I can’t imagine how a colloaboration works; I know that I could never do it, and if I did it would never be seamless–and that’s what Craig’s writing is, seamless.

They have a knack of being able to start a story in the middle, as it were–slap bang in the action, very little backstory to be outlined, because it’s not necessary.  It’s very cinematic writing, the camera pans into the remote log cabin, and we are right there in the moment.  In only a page we learn where we are, who our first protagonist is (Amy Northe, a frontier woman who’s lost her husband)–there’s already a lot of conflict in her life, and then BAM, two strangers appear on the doorstep and off we go.

I found myself entirely pulled in by the situation.  It’s clearly a claustrophobic one, three adults, a kid, animals, all snowed in in a log cabin in the hills, and you really get a sense of the difficulties that life would entail.  Water melted from snow, an elk being meat for the winter, preserved fruit and flour being lifelines to make it through the worst of the weather. It really makes you wonder why people would choose a life like that.

Be warned, you people who seek purely gay relationships in their stories, this isn’t that, as the blurb suggests.  One of the characters is clearly bisexual, and the sex is mostly het and ménage.  What I particularly liked is that this character (Kenneth) knew his tastes–he was clearly very fond of Leon, but while of them knew that Kenneth preferred women, there’s was not a “lets have sex because we don’t have a woman” type of relationship.

He couldn’t leave Leon, even if Leon would have forgiven him for it. And he didn’t want to forget Amy. One way or the other, he’d carry her with him for the rest of his life, even if she was just a very fond and distant memory.

The ménage is nicely handled too, you don’t get the feeling that suddenly there’s a woman to cure the homosexuality in the book, and the sex scenes don’t swamp the story, which is great.

Although menage stories aren’t normally my cup of tea, and frankly this was more het than even menage by the end, I found this an enjoyable book, and a well written if short (130 pages) read.  However there is more in the story to be told, as “Stealing West” is a sequel which I’ll be reviewing shortly.

Author’s Website

Kindle Amber Allure

Review: The Chap in Chaps by Deirdre o’Dare

In 1910, Charles Smythe inherits a ranch from his late uncle. With some misgivings about leaving his life in England, he finally arrives in Arizona Territory only to meet one of his employees, an experienced hired hand named Sombra. In Sombra, Charles finds not only the perfect man to teach him all he needs to know about ranching, but also the masterful lover he has always craved.(59 pages)

Review by Erastes

Set in 1910, this short story has a strong, familiar beginning to it. A man arrives in the middle of nowhere, dropped off by the railroad in a dusty town and met by a laconic stranger. I was amused by the title, as Charles is English so that worked well.

I was jarred with the mention that Charles lived in Lancastershire, however. Where the hell is that?

Despite not being very knowledgeable with the era, I liked the feel of the story as Charles found his feet in his new command–it reminded me a little of “The Big Country”: A man out of his own environment. Charles dons his Norfolk jacket for his first day on the ranch. Incongruous attire to his hands, but perfectly normal for Charles.  It was a nice touch.

When in Charles’ point of view, it wasn’t English enough, though, that was my main problem, and the author tried too hard to make him so at times:

When Chaz realized he was pacing, he stalked back to the den and planted his bum in the massive leather chair

Such as, an English man wouldn’t think “cinch” he’d think “girth” nor “college” but “university,”- and I’m afraid “gotten” crept into the English POV too. The story could have done with an English eye over it before publication.

But what I did like about the story is that, even within 12k words, there is a story, even though we know that we are going to get a few sex scenes along the way, this is plot with sex rather than the other way around.  The sex was in the right places, not just peppersprayed throughout, and doesn’t have the reader rolling his eyes and saying “oh gawd not again.” What BDSM is there is more like a game than the heavy handed action we too often see, and the reader will enjoy it as much as the protagonists.

The author obviously knows her subject, she was raised on a ranch, so she should, and it shows in the descriptions of the daily life, and the changeable weather, the needs for a different horse for different tasks, all that kind of thing.

There’s a lot backstory too, which intrigues and makes the characters believable, I liked that a lot. Sombra is a man with a past which he, characteristically, doesn’t reveal that that’s exactly right.

A good little story and well worth checking out.

Author’s Website

Buy at Amber Quill

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: Paxton’s Winter by T. D. McKinney

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

Rancher Paxton Terhune has lived a cold, lonely life for three hard years. A lynch mob took his lover, hanging him in front of Pax. A corrupt mine owner put a price on his head, chasing Pax from his own lands and into the high country. But Zane Steadman, a bounty hunter sent to bring Pax in, sees more than the outlaw’s tarnished reputation.

Trapped by an early blizzard, Zane thaws the winter gripping Pax’s heart. But now the mine owner wants to take away the new love Pax has found, robbing him of Zane’s warmth and hanging the bounty hunter just for siding with him.

Pax won’t allow that to happen again. There comes a time when a man has to make a stand and declare “enough’s enough”…even if it means a gun fight to the death…

This is another book that will go on my “meh” list. I read it, it was mildly entertaining while I read it, but in three days, I probably won’t remember much about it. Sigh…

The synopsis (above) gives the gist of the story, so I won’t go into much more detail. The first two-thirds of the book (it’s a novella, about 33K words) takes place while they are trapped by the blizzard in a line cabin, so basically that part is all about Pax and Zane getting to know each other and ultimately embarking on their sexual relationship. The actual story doesn’t really get going until the last third and as a result, it felt rushed, confusing, and poorly developed. Lots of characters appear but they aren’t much more than names on a page. Pax and Zane come up with a plan to deal with the corrupt mine owner, then the plan changes, then it changes again—no reason is ever given for all these changes—so ultimately it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Somehow everything works out and Pax and Zane ride off into the sunset, like all good cowboys do. The End.

The story takes place somewhere out west—I’m thinking Colorado since they talk about Denver and silver mines. It is sometime in the past since they mention slavery and the Civil War. A reader looking for interesting historical detail will be disappointed—I was.

This is a story that has been told many times before, so the author needed to do something to make it new and fresh. I imagine she thought that having the main protagonists be gay lovers was the new twist but in my opinion, it wasn’t enough. If the writing was better or the story was more artfully told, the thin plot might have been salvaged but unfortunately, it wasn’t.

I’m giving this book 3 stars because it wasn’t a bad book, but it wasn’t very good, either. It was just…meh.

Link to Amber Allure to read an excerpt and buy the book.

Review: Those Who Cherish by Jamie Craig

Exiled to an abandoned presidio in southwestern Texas, Father Alonzo Vargas is accustomed to being utterly alone except for his white donkey, Angelica. He is also fully acquainted with the corrupt and rotten sheriff, John Cullen, the man responsible for his semi-permanent exile. When he finds a victim of the sheriff hanging upside down from a tree, he immediately cuts the man down and vows to nurse him back to health.

Ben McKinnon has never done anything to cross Sheriff Cullen—except defend the land he inherited from his father. The land Cullen covets. He’s surprised when the exiled priest makes it clear that he will not only be a nurse, but will also become Ben’s ally in the fight against Cullen. He’s even more shocked when he realizes he doesn’t just want Father Alonzo as a friend. Ben cherishes the other man’s mind, his body, and his heart.

But Father Alonzo is not a free man. And if Sheriff Cullen has his way, they will both be dead men.

Review by Erastes

Priestly love has always been something that appeals to me, has done since I first read The Thornbirds, or possibly before, so this theme, coupled with Jamie Craig’s writing was something to look forward to.

Right from the start this book grabbed me–I’m not a huge fan of western stories, but this was obviously not just another tale of cows, campfires and round-ups and the description in the first few pages (I’m a description whore) pulled me in, making me feel the desolation of the prairie/desert, the ominous wheel of the vultures overhead and the baking sun.

Father Alonzo is a good man and a dedicated priest. He’s a little trammeled at being posted 30 miles from anything with nothing much more than a donkey for company and the constant threat of Indians, but he trusts in the fact that God has a plan for him.

Jamie Craig’s characters, I’ve found, are never two-dimensional. They leap off the page straight away. I don’t need to be shown Alonzo’s description to get inside his mind, and Ben is perfectly introduced too.

I admit to being a little confused as to why a priest would have his posting ordered by the local bad guy, though – I was under the impression that the postings were ordered by the Vatican, through a network of communication? But I’m not sure, I’m not an expert in Catholic episcopal organisation of 19th century America!

I particularly liked the way that Ben “came out” to Alonzo, and the way that Alonzo dealt with it.

For its length (around 120 pages) this certainly does a lot, it has adventure, a burgeoning friendship, relationship, and some truly spine meltingly erotic sex. As usual with books of this length that I enjoy I find myself frustrated because I greedily want more; want to know about Alonzo’s past with Cullen, about Ben’s upbringing, want to see Ben being taught to read, want to know how Alonzo’s going to deal with the future… I want the whole thing, really, and this teases us with so much other aspects.

That being said, it’s a perfect perfect short read and one I’ll be getting out to read again and again, I’m sure.

I can’t imagine how a writing collaboration works, I couldn’t do it, but Jamie Craig (a collaboration between Vivien Dean and Pepper Espinoza) does it perfectly. I don’t know how they work it, but there’s never any discernible join–all I can imagine is that they’ve worked together for so long that they know exactly how the other person thinks. It certainly makes them uber-productive, and they while they continue to write historicals as well as contemporaries, I’ll always be a fan.

Author’s Website

Buy from Amber Allure

Review: Two Spirits by Walter L Williams, Toby Johnson

With its sweet tale of inter-racial romance between a young Civil War survivor from Virginia and a Navajo berdache/two-spirit healer of the Old West, this novel demonstrates gender variance as a source of spiritual power and documents “same-sex marriage” as indigenous to the American continent.

Reviewed by Ruth Sims

Two Spirits combines a moving love story with a dark part of American history. Most American know, and choose to ignore, the historic treatment of the peoples who “were here first,” the broken treaties, the broken promises, the broken hearts and lives. It would be silly to pretend that the Indians (if I may use that non-p.c. term) didn’t war among themselves because they did. But they didn’t have machine guns and railroad trains and the belief that God gave them all the land from coast to coast, a.k.a. “manifest destiny.” Two Spirits is about one small group caught on the dark side of that manifest destiny: the people Americans called Navajo, but who called themselves Diné.

In 1864 the Diné were forced to walk 325 miles in winter from their green, fertile homeland in what we call Northeast Arizona, Canyon de Chelly, to what was actually a concentration camp at Bosque Redondo near Fort Sumner. At least 3,000 of their number died on the way. This was General James Carlton’s version of “pacifying” the natives. Carlton, by the way, was a real person. The U.S. Government allocated what probably was sufficient money for the displaced Diné to feed, clothe, and house them, but the money found its way into Carlton’s private coffers. Not only were the Diné starving and unable to grow crops in the inhospitable land, living in substandard shacks, and dying from illnesses, Mexican bandits regularly struck from what became New Mexico, carrying the Diné children to be sold into slavery. Carlton did nothing to protect his charges.

Into this living hell comes a shy, uncertain and untrained Indian Agent named William Lee from Virginia, a young man kicked out by his father for loving another man. Young Will is truly tested by many fires—both from within and without. He’s puzzled why he’s fascinated and attracted to the beautiful healer and wise woman,

Hasbaá, a loved and revered member of the tribe. A near-tragedy reveals Hasbaá’s physical strength and Will soon learns that the beautiful, spiritual, strong woman is really a man—a two-spirit. Far from being shunned, as she would have been in white society, Hasbaá is considered blessed. Will and Hasbaá fall deeply in love and are joined in a union by the customs of the tribe.

There is plenty of action and danger in this book, as Will, the Diné, and Hasbaá face persecution and annihilation when Will uncovers Carlton’s corruption and evil. He delves deeply into the life and spirituality of the Diné and his beloved Hasbaá.

As an incurable reader of forewords, afterwords, and footnotes, I especially appreciated the commentaries at the end. “About the Historical Accuracy of This Novel” is as interesting as the book itself, explaining as it does about, among other things, the use of peyote, some of the mystical references, and the acceptance of two-spirit people. This is followed by “A Commentary” by Wesley K. Thomas, a member of the Diné. These brief extras are the cherry on top of the sundae.

Buy from Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: Frontiers by Michael Jensen

The year is 1797. John Chapman, an impulsive young man and a sexual outlaw, forsaken in the bitter winter of the Allegheny Plateau, clings to his one tenuous dream: to claim a future in the Western outpost. Unarmed and near death, Chapman is on the brink of giving up when an unexpected rescue changes his course in life forever, and he discovers the true meaning of survival.

The mysterious savior is Daniel McQuay, a loner whose overpowering bond with Chapman is as shifting as a shadow, as dark as the prairie tale he spins for the impressionable young man. For Chapman, McQuay’s story of a deranged killer clings to his transient soul like a nightmare, tracking him further south and into the safe haven of a gentle Indian woman named Gwennie. His journey also takes him into the intimate deliverance of Palmer, a brash but irresistibly innocent seventeen-year-old settler.

As the three adventurers carve a new life out of the endless wilderness, they face the ultimate enemy — man — in a life-and-death struggle that unfolds in the shadow of a legendary and avenging evil.

Review by Mark R Probst
I have a great deal of affection for Michael Jensen’s unique retelling of the origin of Johnny Appleseed in his pioneer adventure novel Frontiers. Since in reality Johnny Appleseed is more folklore and legend than historical fact, the character was a perfect vehicle for Jensen to mold into his own creation. In an interview from his website, Jensen talks about how through research he found that John Chapman (Appleseed) never married nor had a sweetheart but when he did occasionally settle down, it was always with a man. So it’s not that much of a stretch to presume that Chapman might have been gay.

Frontiers begins in 1797 with the 23-year-old Chapman heading to western Pennsylvania, an advertisement in hand offering free supplies and land to encourage western expansion. The giveaway is to occur in the spring but Chapman has arrived early, so he spends the winter with the overseer of the supplies for the management company. There is some sexual chemistry between the two men holding out the long winter in the small cabin, but I won’t spoil the twists and turns that occur. I’ll only say that a discerning reader will probably figure out the surprises, but I didn’t, and in retrospect I felt rather dense in that I couldn’t see what was coming up. But kudos to Jensen for fooling me! Once the winter is over, John takes over an abandoned claim complete with a furnished cabin and food store, close to the nearby settlement of Franklin. He becomes acquainted with the frontiersmen and women who are fired up by the town’s Native-hating preacher and anti-ecology mayor to kill all the trees and Natives (that is the ones who won’t convert to Christianity, though they are never really given a chance.) Palmer, the 17-year-old brother of the preacher, is the town rebel and not only is he sickened by the destructiveness of the townsfolk, but he is also an atheist and secretly, a sodomite. He takes a shine to John and gives him a lot of insight into the true nature of the town, all the while becoming more intimate. As John farms his land, Gwennie, a Native-American woman known as the “Apple Lady” because of the orchards she has planted and maintained, teaches him how to plant his own orchard, in a foreshadowing of what he will become. The end of the story is fraught with peril and I won’t spoil it to tell you any more.

I found a lot to like in this novel. Jensen’s breezy style is easy to read and the high adventure briskly rolled along with flourishes of humor and some really well-handled suspense as well as a few erotic scenes. Many have mislabeled this story as a Western. It really is not, since it is set in the early pioneer days before western expansion really took off. As part of the legend is John’s love of animals, I found the following particularly endearing.

Scowling, he flung a bag on the table. “Bloody hickory nuts from a squirrel’s nest.” Chocolate-hued nuts scattered across the table. “I figured we at least could roast them.”

“Sure,” I replied, unable to help wondering what the squirrel was going to eat.

Though I’ll have to admit it’s a little disheartening that every single animal John cares about meets a grisly death. Another tiny quibble I have is just my own personal dislike for the scenario where one goes to great lengths to save someone from a perilous situation only to have them killed off later. It’s also interesting to note that while legend has John as a man of God and perhaps even a minister, Jensen shows him as struggling with his faith.

As I have read a few complaints from readers regarding modern language, I will give a word of warning. If modern language in a historical is a particular pet peeve, I’d say you probably shouldn’t read this book. While Jensen did pepper the text with some relevant language from the time period, there are enough anachronistic words and phrases to lead me to believe that is was an editorial decision to use such modern language. It really wasn’t a problem for me, as I just treat it as though the modern words were a translation of what the characters really would have said.

I enjoyed my time spent with Johnny, Palmer and Gwennie and as this story only covers what led up to Chapman becoming Johnny Appleseed, naturally I was left wanting the story to continue so it’s nice to know that there is a sequel Firelands waiting for me. I, for one, will be curious to see how the legend plays out as well as how Johnny resolves his religious strife.

After I finished the book, for fun, I decided to pull out my Melody Time DVD and watch Disney’s interpretation of Johnny Appleseed for comparison. Here are the words of the narrator: “Workin’, singin’, carefree and gay, that’s how Johnny spent each day tendin’ to his apple trees.” I couldn’t help but smile, wondering if Michael Jensen had watched this as a young boy and that’s where he first got the notion that Johnny was gay.

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Review: Dealing Straight by Emily Veinglory

Richard is worn out, used up, and just plain cynical. Son of a wealthy Bostonian banker, he came west to gamble and carouse when his life fell apart. Though a sensitive and moral man, he finds a reckless life easier to bear—since he has no one to care about and no real hopes for his future.

Brave, beautiful U.S. Marshall Wayne Sneddon wants to change all that. He enlists Richard to help him find and take down a bigwig out to get water rights for himself, regardless of the settlers in the way. In part, Wayne needs help, but more, he wants Richard’s company.

In between the shooting, fighting and intrigue, Richard comes to share Wayne’s feelings…but after he finds the courage to share Wayne’s bed, will he find the courage to share his feelings?

Sometimes just about anything is easier than Dealing Straight.

Review by Mark R Probst

Emily Veinglory’s Dealing Straight is a well-told, gritty Western novella that has a lot of respect for the Western mythos and also manages to skillfully weave in some tasteful erotic elements. Though I’m admittedly not a fan of erotica, my take on it is that if the writer can make the scenes essential and relevant to the story, then hurrah! But if a stockpile of torrid sex scenes is lazily strung together with a paper-thin plot, (as unfortunately most m/m erotic fiction is) then I’ll pass. There are only three sex scenes in the entire novella and they all felt natural and sexy as Veinglory resisted overdoing it with the clichéd porn-style language of modern erotica.

The story centers around Richard, a gambler who has come west for a drier climate to soothe his advancing tuberculosis. Richard has befriended a younger man, Wayne, who is the Marshall of the territory, and has even ridden with him on a few jobs. One night Richard intervenes and saves Wayne’s life when he’s about to be ambushed by a hired killer. Wayne has a good idea who is behind the ambush and asks Richard to be deputized and help him bring in the men responsible.

You might be thinking right now, wait a minute! I know this story. That sounds like Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday! Well that’s where the similarity ends. In a flashback scene, Veinglory shows us how each of the two men began to suspect that they shared a certain inclination. They embark on a journey to a faraway town and Wayne fills Richard in on the details. Someone has been terrorizing small farm-owners and burning them out. Wayne believes that the man behind it is a rich rancher named MacWaugh and he also believes it is MacWaugh who hired the gun to kill him. While on the journey Wayne is so confident in his suspicion about Richard that he playfully seduces him. Richard, while swept up in the lust, is reticent to give away his heart because of his impending illness and he can’t for the life of him figure what the young handsome Wayne sees in a thin, older, dying drifter.

Naturally things get pretty hairy from there. MacWaugh, his lovely but brash daughter Melissa, and MacWaugh’s top ranch-hand, the über-villain Zack, all play parts that make for a very grisly showdown that will surely please fans of the genre.

What I like most about Dealing Straight was that it felt like a throwback to the classic Western. I think Emily Veinglory did a fine job in setting up the imagery – The saloon where Richard gambled, the dingy hotel rooms, the home-spun little farm where they drop by to visit Wayne’s brother and his family. It is all well-described with an economy of words. A full-length novel would probably delve deeper into descriptions, but that’s not necessary in this format. The language and dialog were pretty true to the time-period and I only noticed two very minor anachronisms that aren’t even worth mentioning as I’m sure most readers won’t even pick up on them. I also admired that Veinglory allowed her characters human fallibilities such as freezing up in terror and losing the opportunity to be heroic. John Wayne they’re not. I have to say that the writing style reminded me of the Dakota Taylor books by Cap Iversen, which in my mind are the quintessential gay Westerns.

I should also mention that it is interesting that these men faced no persecution in a time when sodomites would have been beaten to death on the spot. The reason is a good one – it is not that they live in the world of OK homo, but that these men were smart enough to be discreet so that no one suspected a thing. That, I think, makes it very realistic in that it demonstrates how survival was dependent upon absolute secrecy. And it was also nice to be able to avoid the whole persecution storyline which is so prevalent.

At a little more that 26,000 words, Dealing Straight makes for a pleasant diversion that can be read in one sitting and is certainly worth the price of the download.

Buy from Loose-ID

Review: In Bear Country by Keirnan Kelly


Pride hasn’t had an easy life. No matter what he does, things seem to go bad. This time, though, he’s not sure he can get out of his predicament, and he figures he might just have to call it quits. Bear is a mountain of a man, making a home where most folks wouldn’t, and he comes across Pride right when the other man’s irons are all hanging in the fire. Bear doesn’t even hesitate, he just barges in and saves Pride’s bacon, taking the man home with him to give him a second chance.

Review by Erastes

I admit freely that I went into this book a little jaded because I could pretty much tell what was going to happen.  The blurb rather over simplifies things, in my opinion though – but if it does one thing right it gives a hint that there’s more to these characters than just a Bear and a Twink having a damned good shagfest in the wilderness.

The feel is right; I was convinced by the era from page one without the necessity to be pumelled over the head with details. Pride is a man pretty much at the end of his rope leaving a certain unpleasant present for a hopeful better future with just enough resources (a little money, a gun, a horse) to get there. If he’s lucky.

He’s not, and that’s when the story kicks in, weaving Pride’s story with Bear’s – a reclusive mountain man who acts and looks like his namesake.  You are fairly sure conflict must be coming soon enough – but there’s a great character building section as both men comes to terms with each other and the fact that due to the bad weather (oh noes!) they are likely to be holed up in the remote cabin for the entire winter. (That’s not the conflict though!)

The characters are what saved this book from being another run-of-the-mill straight man/gay man shag story. They are very male in as much as they find it almost impossible to express their feelings, take umbrage at the slightest thing and grab the wrong end of every stick they are given.  If it weren’t for the fact that I felt their coming together was far far too early (after only three days or so) this first section would have been just about perfect.

The period details were excellent. I know nothing about wilderness cabin life in the late 19th century, but it was clear that the author had spent some time learning about it; how much provisions would be needed, aspects of skinning, preserving meat – all that kind of thing. Details, yes. Infodumping, no.

I liked the way that they weren’t soppy with each other, even kissing doesn’t come naturally to them terribly well at the first, and it takes them settling into a reverse dependency for Bear to be able to cope with giving affection rather than just having sex.

When they do become more easy with each other, they are almost lickable. Their easy banter, the constant teasing – and the fact that they DON’T get on all the time is well written and believable.

In all respects, the book could easily have been spread out into a novel as I was dissapointed as it was a short as it was. I am happy to hear from the author that there is a sequel in the offing, and I’ll certainly be getting it.

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Review: Longhorns by Victor J Banis

 

Review by Erastes

From the blurb: The Double H cowboys are a tough bunch, and none of them are gay – exactly- but they have been out there on the prairie for several weeks, herding cattle, and new thoughts have begun to enter their minds. Enter Buck, a handsome young drifter with a silly grin, an unembarrassed penchant for being “rode hard,” and an instant hankering for Les

Well, howdy pardner, git yer six shooters, put on yer spurs, mount yer pinto, and meet me out on the plains because this here is classic and familiar manly territory, the land of the cowpuncher, the lassoo, the round-up and the stampede. Where men are men, a horse is a cowboy’s best friend, and  cows are nervous substitutes for da ladeez.

Um.

Except not. This is grand ole pulp and enjoyable as the rodeo ride is where the wind comes racing down the wossit – it doesn’t convince as accurate history.

Buck is a newcomer to Les’ round-up gang (yee hah) and is cheeky and sex-mad and determined to get laid by just about anyone.  He forms a fuck-buddy relationship early on, but his eyes and soon his heart is taken by the seemingly straight as an arrow Les, so he pesters Les to have his wicked way with him.

Pesters sums it up, too – as I did find him a pest, to be frank. If I’d have been Les I’d have sacked him (however good he was on a horse) or beaten him up, sharpish. He does the latter later on, and I’m afraid I actually cheered. 

It was unconvincing to me because I couldn’t get over the OKHomo. There’s this band of hard-ridin’, rootin’, tootin’ hombres in the prairie and they don’t bat an eyelid at this overtly queer cowboy who makes absolutely no secret about what he wants.  Not only are they all OK with it, but most of them are at it too. 

I don’t doubt that some did, but all of them?  Banis lost an opportunity for conflict here, as I’d much have preferred a realistic situation where at least some of them were violently antagonistic instead of taking bets on when Buck and Les get together. I hate to bring bi-sexual shepherds into this, but even in the 60’s this was a serious problem. I don’t want unremitting homophobia in my books, or angst angst angst either, but I do think that ignoring the fact that it could be dangerous to admit you were gay denigrates the genre.  Imagine what people would say if someone wrote a historical novel where everyone in, say, 18th century Alabama, married black people without even a second thought.

The anachronisms jarred me too – I know that a lot of people don’t care about this, but this is the blog relating to gay Historical fiction, and so I’m obliged to comment. Blowjob is an English Polari term not coined until the mid-20th century, boner is 20th century, Stetsons weren’t called that officially until the turn of the century, and so on and on.

However – putting all that aside, and if you treat this parallel to , say, an early John Ford movie – it’s as enjoyable as Stagecoach, and about as accurate. It’s a fun raunchy ride, but it didn’t do anything much for me, I’m afraid.  I’m more an “Unforgiven” kind of reader, and less “Young Guns.”

Buy:  ADL online    Amazon USA

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