Review: A Summer Place by Ariel Tachna

 

Review by Erastes 

From the publishers website:

Overseer Nicolas Wells had been coming to Mount Desert Island for ten summers to help build cottages for the rich and powerful.  Despite his secrets, he had grown comfortable in the peaceful little island town, getting to know its inhabitants and even to consider some of them friends.  The eleventh year, however, he arrived to startling news:  the island’s peace had been shattered by a murder.  At the request of the sheriff, Shawn Parnell, Nicolas agreed to hire Philip Hall, the local blacksmith and the probable next victim, in the hope that the secure construction site would be safer than his house in the village.  He never expected the decision to lead to danger. Or to love 

I slid into this book very happily because the writing is very nice.  Descriptive and sensual (as in of the senses).

There’s an excerpt here

There’s a sense of tension in the first chapter, with fog and a dangerous journey along the coast avoiding rocks, and I had great hopes.  I particularly liked the cover, too – absolutely no reason in the world why a m/m historical should have anything on it to indicate what it is.  I would, as a bit of advice to the publisher and author however, have made the m/m element a little clearer (or indeed clear!) in the blurb, it’s so veiled as to be almost invisible. 

On a personal level too, I would have liked a map – this story, set on an unfamiliar (to me) island in the Atlantic – seems to call out for a map.  (I like maps…)

Anyway – onward.  Overseer Wells arrives on  Island, and takes on the task of protecting known sodomite Philip from a man who has murdered his lover and seems likely to be targetting Philip (and maybe others) as punishment for his and their homosexuality.  (As an aside, “homosexuality” as a word, didn’t exist in 1880…) And it was here that we ran into the the almost inevitable OKHomo, I’m afraid, most notably because it is actually the town’s sherrif who asks Wells to take Philip into his work-gang because: “he’s done nothing to warrant being locked up”

I’m not an expert in American law, but I’m fairly sure that sodomy would have been illegal in Maine 1880? But the sherrif ignores the law, and the inhabitants of the island (mostly) seem fine and dandy with it, even the rough and tough tradesmen on the building site are with one small exception. Hell, I don’t think Maine is that accepting even today!

That aside, it’s obviously well researched and well written, but I found the opening third quite dull. What bored me was the constant ogling the characters did for chapters on end.  I would have actually been just as interested in reading about the building work, as well as the growing attraction between them but instead the main characters stare and ogle and lust after each other in a very angsty way “he’s beautiful, I mustn’t, he might not… I want…” for quite a long time, and it gets very repetitive.  There are also repetitive sections in the dialogue too, which should have been edited out – Philip asks Wells if he’s married and how long he’s been the boss of the crewmen and he says no, and ten years – a couple of pages later, Philip asks the same questions to someone else.

However, it does perk up, and what Tachna cleverly does is to set up a kind of Agatha Christie style murder mystery – insular and remote location with a limited cast list – but in order for this to work more effectively she needs suspects and there doesn’t appear to be anyone who isn’t OK with the homo, apart from one very obvious suspect (I’m not spoiling anyone here, it’s pointed out very clearly by the sherrif)

There are inconsistencies in the facts of the cases too, – I won’t go into details but they are little niggles which stand out, especially if one is enjoying the crime elements and trying to solve it.

But I’m being picky, and I’m being picky because this is a nicely written book, one of the better Romances I’ve read that has been written contemporarily and the author clearly has a lot of talent, and I enjoyed reading it despite its flaws. The sex scenes aren’t overdone, and are genuinely erotic rather than porny, although the story as a whole outstayed its welcome after the mystery was solved and could have been wrapped up earlier, dealing with the conflict that happens in the last 3 chapters more within the main body of the story, rather than after the denouement.

If you liked Ruth Sims’ “The Phoenix” you’ll like this too,  and I highly recommend it.  I certainly will look forward to what Ms Tachna and Dreamspinner continue to create.

Buy from the Publisher

Search Terms

Just briefly and to restore humour…

 These are the top search terms used to find this community.

“A Hidden Passion”

historical gay

as meat loves salt

HOMOSEXUALITY IN Jane Eyre

e.f. benson david blaize

boy man love

historical spanking stories

Jamie Fraser and Lord John

Ok. So where is the homosexuality in Jane Eyre please? I thought I could find teh slash in anything, but that’s got me stumped.

and Mr Spanking searcher?  There are some reviews to suit you, I hope you found them. Naughty boy!

Review: Angel’s Evolution by T A Chase

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

Review by Erastes

(Newly republished by MLR Press)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Website

Buy from MLR PRESS

Review: A Good Man is Hard to Find by Jeanne Laws

Review by Alex Beecroft

Kade Black Eagle is a bounty hunter in the Wild West.  When he is shot by the man he’s pursuing, his one regret is that he never told his old friend, Warren (Ren) Hayes that he loved him.  When Kade unexpectedly recovers, therefore, he decides to finally take the chance of telling Ren, hoping that he feels the same.

The blurb on the book is a great deal more informative than this short summary of mine.  It says: Best friends since childhood, Warren Hayes and Kade Black Eagle worked together as bounty hunters in lawless gold country until Ren quit a year ago. Since then the job hasn’t been the same for Kade. While he had long ago resigned himself to living without Ren’s love, he never thought he would have to do without his companionship.

Having grown up in a brothel, Ren has seen all of the ways sex can destroy. He has no intention of screwing up his relationship with Kade by bring sex into the picture – no matter how much he is in love with his friend. He thought ending their partnership would make dealing with his feelings for Kade easier; he has found entirely the opposite to be
true. The longer he is away from Kade, the more he realizes that there’s no way he can be without him.

But the book itself explores none of these themes.  The two main characters’ backgrounds and motivations (Ren’s in particular) are introduced in throwaway sentences that have no real impact on the way the plot plays out.  There’s never any real doubt shown on either character’s part.

Despite Kade being a bounty hunter and Ren being a star of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, I had no real feeling that the story had to have been set in the past.  Make Kade a cop and Ren a rodeo rider, and you would have exactly the same story.  Oh, and the happy acceptance of their relationship by Kade’s mother and Ren’s masseuse (had sports massage even been invented then?) also contributed to the un-historical feeling.

As someone who likes historicals, I was a bit disappointed that the history was just window-dressing.  But if I take the book as a simple tale of how Kade, spared from death, finds Ren, they declare their love for each other and then have fairly protracted and reasonably hot sex, it’s a pleasant enough, undemanding read.  I do have to congratulate the author for the twist at the end, though!  I didn’t see that coming, and it was a really good touch.

Buy from Loose-ID

Sporkage: Guidelines

As we missed out on our bit of fun at the weekend….

I Found this article the other day: Tina’s Guide to Writing Romantica™ on the Ellora’s Cave Website. I’m assuming that it’s a guideline for what Ellora’s Cave want to see, but frankly, I’d rather gouge my eyes out than read some of these themes. It was sporked, most delightfully by Gehayi (and I tagged along, being sarky) so I said I’d post it. The Guide itself is in bold italics Gehayi’s comments are in purple, mine are in green (because i’m rude).

I love the conceit that she owns the term Romantica, too. The only Romantica I know that is trademarked is the font “Romantica”.

1. During “forced seductions”, redeeming the hero is crucial—nobody wants to read about a rapist.

Continue reading

Review: Death of a Monk by Alon Hilu

From Amazon: Amid the bustling marketplaces of a rich and vibrant Damascus, where the dark alleyways teem with fear and hostility, Hilu unfolds a story charged with emotional and sexual conflict in this powerful literary tour-de-force from a unique new voice; at times wickedly funny, at others painfully sad, but beautifully told throughout.

Review by Fiona Glass

Finding this book at all was something of a happy accident, since I’d never even heard of the author, let alone the title.  This isn’t really surprising as Hilu is an Israeli writer and Death of a Monk was translated from Hebrew by an American scholar.  Browsing the shelves of an Aladdin’s cave of a second-hand book shop in London’s Soho district, I thought the title looked intriguing and pulled the book out for a closer look.  Straight away the blurb caught my eye, with various euphemisms for gay content: ‘close friendship with another boy’, ‘all is not as it seems’, ‘ill-advised relationship’.  I sometimes think we slash-lovers have to develop a special radar to spot these codes!

That said, nothing about the blurb or the cover prepared me for this book.  The artwork and the quotes, including one calling the work ‘gleefully bawdy’ from The Tablet, led me to expect a Gordon Merrick-style romp, but the book is much, much more than that.  It tells the story, in his own words, of Aslan Farhi, a young Jewish man growing up in 1840s Damascus, whose actions led to a ‘blood libel’ against the Jewish community who were accused of murdering a Christian monk.

Heavily based on fact, the book brings to life a period of history I knew nothing about.  Formerly part of the Ottoman Empire, Damascus had come under the rule of the rebel, Christian, Egyptian ruler Muhammad Ali.  In the century before the foundation of the Israeli state when Jews were still scattered across the Middle East, Moslems, Christians and Jews lived cheek-by-jowl in the city, each with their own ‘quarter’ but mingling on a daily basis.  Under the surface, though, the old tensions still ran deep and when the monk Tomaso and his manservant disappeared, it led to claims and counter-claims, betrayals and accusations, between and even within the various faiths.

The most noticeable thing about the book is its style.  Hilu uses florid, almost poetic language.  Here in the West writers are told not to let their voice get in the way of the story, yet Hilu does just that.  Every noun has at least one adjective, tenses switch with confusing regularity, and Aslan himself hops between first and third person point of view, sometimes in the space of a single sentence.  And oh! – those sentences!  Some of them go on for years!  Take this, for example:

And lo, in spite of his great weakness, when he takes notice of our sudden appearance at the door Alexis rises to his feet and greets us warmly, and he surprises Aslan by remembering his name, and their earlier embrace remains fresh in his memory, and after receiving us with a bright countenance he turns, suddenly outraged, his hands grasping a chair in his path, and asks Mahmoud why those men accused of Tomaso’s murder have not yet been hanged, why they are still contaminating this beautiful God-given earth with their tainted breath, for indeed their disgraceful, evil holiday is nigh upon them and their unleavened bread has been baked in preparation for the Seder night, drops of the murdered Tomaso’s blood concealed between its rows to satisfy their savage cravings, and he pounds the chair with a trembling hand, loses his balance and tumbles to the centre of the holy room, and now he pummels the chapel floor so that Jesus and Mary, sculpted into the wall above him, can witness his fury and the war he is waging.

Phew!  That may be the longest sentence in the book (or even in existence) but it’s not the only example.  Towards the end I was starting to find it tiresome and to wish that Hilu would just ‘shut up and get on with it’ as the story of the libel unfolded.  There are even frequent authorly interruptions of the ‘dear reader’ kind.  These are explained at the end, in a neat twist, but I couldn’t help thinking the explanation would have been helpful earlier on.  The style does, though, give the book a lyrical, almost biblical feel and some of the imagery is stunning:

…I thought about those persons I was leaving behind, and they are now buried in the pages of this book, alive one minute and frozen the next, trapped inside a short description, a fistful of words, their fate bound and sealed until a reader brings them to life….

Homosexuality forms an ongoing theme, as Aslan struggles to come to terms with his ‘different’ nature, his forced marriage, his distaste for his wife and his attraction to other men.  His confusion – even fear – is strongly portrayed, at times bordering on melodrama, but I think that’s necessary to explain some of his more extreme actions.  He’s a man in torment from the first pages of the book.  There are sex scenes and some of these are surprisingly explicit for a mainstream book – the author isn’t afraid of calling a testicle a testicle.  They are, however, always couched in the same very poetic language.

Overall, Death of a Monk is a strange book, but one I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.  It throws light on a fascinating episode in history, and not just on the ‘Damascus Blood Libel’ itself but also on a Middle Eastern way of life which has probably vanished for ever.  It’s entertaining, it’s earthy, it contains flashes of gallows humour, and above all it’s a compelling read.  The style may be peculiar at times, at least to our eyes, but I believe it adds to the atmosphere.  The translator has done an excellent job maintaining Hilu’s authorial voice; lose that and it would be like rewriting the Song of Solomon as a particularly tedious newspaper report!

Buy: Amazon US ~ Amazon UK

Review: Virginia Bedfellows by Gavin Morris

VA Bedfellows cover

From the publisher’s description:

Banished from England and forced to work as indentured servants in Colonial Virginia, Lance Morley and Adam Bradley share a secret that could cost them their lives. As Virginia Bedfellows, they find love, passion, and pleasure on the Ashley Landing plantation, building a life together that’s immoral in the eyes of society and criminal in the eyes of the law. Their unbreakable bond—and the friendships they form with kindred spirits in nearby Williamsburg and far away Philadelphia—help them face down fear, prejudice, and the constant threat that their secret will be exposed. Virginia Bedfellows is based on the author’s research on indentured servants, plantation life, and homosexuality in Colonial Williamsburg.

Review by Lee Benoit:

This is one of those books that, in failing to live up to it jacket hype, surpasses it. The gushy pull-quotes on the front and back covers and flyleaf give us to expect a lighthearted, pulpy romp through colonial landscapes. I was far from disappointed when the promise turned out to have feet of clay, for what we get in Virginia Bedfellows is a strongly plotted, astutely researched story of those folks whose position near the bottom of colonial America’s social hierarchy has rendered them all but invisible in fiction set in the period. Oh, we get our fair share of earthiness, and speaking as an erotica aficionado I must say there’s enough here to satisfy. The only things that get in the way of pure enjoyment of this unusual juxtaposition of careful research and relatively abandoned sensuality are certain stiltedness of exposition and dialogue and an uncomfortably politically correct feel to the character motivations.

The book begins like iconic Victorian literature, but lacks the grittiness of Stevenson or the satire of Dickens. Both protagonists are strangers in a strange land, faced with exotic settings and uphill battles, charged with becoming the men English society would never have allowed them to be. Lance (no comment on the name) is an journeyman cordwainer convicted of the manslaughter of a constable who insulted his master’s daughter and transported to the American colony of Virginia. Aboard ship he catches the eye of the captain (conveniently widowed) who resolves simultaneously to fuck the boy silly and indenture him to a Williamsburg acquaintance.

Unlike Lance, whose habitual anger landed him in his predicament, Adam is a milder sort, reared gently by an aunt in service in a manor house. His education gives him ideas above his station and when he demands turnabout in their lopsided affair from the lord of the manor he’s punished with a choice between transportation and execution. Naturally both youths end up on the same Tidewater plantation, their indentures bought by a compassionate and enlightened slaveholder. Their tentative approaches to each other yield some of the most affecting passages in the book, and make up for the psychological anachronisms that abound. Furthermore, the sex life Adam and Lance forge with each other is charmingly earnest (in an early-pulps sort of way) and suffused with earthiness and humor (the description of the origins of “cornholing” is worth the price of the book, and there’s a running riff on “navel gazing” that had me in stitches). The addition of a sympathetic friend or two brings variety and depth to what would otherwise have been a fairly ordinary love story.

The psychological anachronisms are harder to stomach because the research is so solid and the settings, material culture, and behaviors so convincing. The animosities Adam and Lance suffer come across as the thinnest veneer, rendering the richness of the historical setting almost superfluous at times. For example, the main antagonist is another indentured man, a closet case named Matt whose threats to out Adam and Lance are toothless in the face of the plantation owner’s general tolerance (forget for a moment that he owns slaves). We know he won’t turn the lads out, nor turn them in to the law. When the situation reaches its inevitable conclusion, the dénouement lacks the excitement that would have existed if the dangers had been more real. Matt is an unpalatable figure, to be sure, but as with other aspects of the novel, there’s a lot of author-driven exposition and not enough character-driven story. We’re told of the lack of tolerance and need for discretion, and Lance especially spends a lot of time fretting about discovery and its consequences, but the author never shows us enough (the passages with the jealous Matt notwithstanding) for us to feel the danger in our guts.

Without spoiling the plot (and I’m not even tempted to do so, because this is a novel well worth reading despite the flaws I’ve mentioned, especially if you like colonial settings), I will say there is real tragedy here, and the historical setting (and Morris’s treatment of it) makes the outcome more poignant. By the time the novel itself draws to a close, the reader is much more fully invested in the characters and the plot, because for all the homo-tolerance and plantation-labor solidarity, the protagonists have been through the wringer and come out quite different men.

One of the more successful plot points involves a two-spirit man with whom Adam and Lance form a liaison. This character, Martin, is well drawn and the way his brief story resolves is deeply satisfying on an historical level, eschewing sentiment for plausibility. I appreciated that, because Martin was also the engine of some of the more modern-tinged psychological gentrification we encounter (can’t say more without giving too much away, but Martin sounds too much like Adam’s therapist).

I hope I’ve given enough reasons to read Virginia Bedfellows even with my criticisms. Perhaps the most valuable contribution the book makes is to show us a relationship of equals at the bottom of a social hierarchy. So many historicals with European 18th and 19th century settings give us relationships between well-aspected equals, or impossible relationships between deeply unequal protagonists (of course, any heterosexual romance set in these places and times does the same as a matter of course). But if one of the satisfactions of reading homoerotic historical fiction is to read about men loving men in distant times and circumstances, then Gavin Morris has given us the gift of something new.

Buy this book (USA) (UK)

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