Review: Lessons In Desire by Charlie Cochrane

Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book 2

With the recent series of college murders behind him, Cambridge Fellow Jonty Stewart is in desperate need of a break. A holiday on the beautiful Channel Island of Jersey seems ideal, if only he can persuade Orlando Coppersmith to leave the security of the college and come with him. Orlando is a quiet man who prefers academic life to venturing out into the world.

Within the confines of their rooms at the university, it’s easy to hide the fact that he and Jonty are far more than friends. But the desire to spend more time alone with the man he loves is an impossible lure to resist. When a brutal murder occurs at the hotel where they’re staying, the two young men are once more drawn into the investigation. The race to catch the killer gets complicated by the victim’s son, Ainslie, a man who seems to find Orlando too attractive to resist. Can Stewart and Coppersmith keep Ainslie at bay, keep their affair clandestine, and solve the crime?

Review by Erastes

I have to say I dislike romance blurbs with questions, because due to the restrictions on a HEA, the answer is pretty much answerable at the first page, but that wasn’t going to stop me enjoying Charlie Cochrane’s second outing with her Cambridge Fellows, as I had enjoyed book one immensely.

Right from the word go she had me hooked, as Jonty and Orlando’s banter made me smile–I love the way that Orlando is shocked at the very idea of going AWAY for a holiday–and how Jonty loves to tease him. After all, the man nearly freaked out at eating outside of Hall in the first book.

Jersey then, seems a very suitable compromise. English enough to be reassuringly familiar, but with enough of a tang of France to give a flavour of being “abroad.”

The charm of Cochrane’s writing, specifically with this series, is not reliant on action, gun fights, car chases and explosions, but takes you back to a time where life was slower, where you changed for each meal, where life was regulated by the gong, manners and polite conversation.  Cochrane does this so beautifully that to there are scents of such classics as Rattigan’s Seperate Tables or The Raj Quartet. (Both would have been improved with a repressed gay love affair of course.)

Their time on the beach brought tears to my eyes, to be honest, because I was raised by the seaside and I miss doing all those simple things like throwing seaweed, exploring rock-pools and terrorising crabs. Cochrane knows her Jersey, having been there many times, and the scents and the sounds of the place fairly bounce from the page.

I love the humour in Cochrane’s work too, Jonty often puts his foot in it, causing Orlando to storm off in a huff, it’s gentle, English humour but it made me giggle a lot, and I had a smile on my face for a lot of this book. Orlando’s reactions to Ainslie’s attempted seduction was priceless.

All this and a murder mystery too, which I’m saying nothing about in case I spoil it.

What I like about the series is that Cochrane doesn’t give us everything at once. Orlando is like a nervous virgin–and although he’s participated in much with Jonty he hasn’t consummated their love affair entirely. More of the men’s backstory is revealed and slowly the relationship takes tiny steps forward, or perhaps three steps forward and a couple back.  Readers coming to the Cambridge Fellows wanting pages of graphic monkey sex will be disappointed, but readers who enjoy a slow burn and exquisite knife-edge sexual tension will appreciate it hugely.  Cochrane can do no wrong.

Buy:  Samhain Bookstore (ebook & paperback)   Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: The Handsomest Man in the World by David Leddick

In the shadow of the 1954 nuclear bomb tests on the Bikini atoll, two sailors begin a tender, passionate affair that will carry them all around the USA: to San Francisco, Manhattan, Fire Island and Washington DC. The lovers learn, with fumbling hands and lips, how to satisfy one another, but the erotic heat of their sexual explorations is matched by the tension of their dangerous situation. Can their forbidden love withstand the relentless hostility of the Eisenhower years?

Review by Erastes

I couldn’t find a decent blurb for this book, and the one above, garnered from Amazon doesn’t do this book justice at all. It makes it sound like an erotic novel, and although there’s a lot of sex, it’s not described more than “he entered me and came quickly” — on that sort of level.

What the book is is an entirely entertaining and delightful read, in a raconteur style–that is, as if the narrator was sitting in a bar and telling you the story of the first love of his life, rather than writing it down.

The blurb also hints that there’s a lot of external conflict, but really there isn’t, so anyone expecting the lovers to be cowering under the bed from the police will be disappointed. The conflict comes mainly from Fred (Bill–the narrator’s–handsome man) being “not homosexual” and about 50% of the time that he makes love with Bill, he regrets it so much afterwards that he starts saying how much he hates him, hates him “making him do it.” (which is, of course, entirely unfair as it’s pretty damn obvious that he wanted to do it at the time!)

The love affair lasts a lot longer than you’d expect, and for the most part, when Fred isn’t beating himself up mentally for being queer, it’s a touching and convincing love, and succeeds even through separation and long distance while Fred is still in the Navy after Bill leaves. What’s really touching is the affection between the two of them, and had they met in the 90’s perhaps they’d have had more of a chance together.

I loved the descriptions of the ’50’s most particularly, you get a real feel for ’50’s America–and most particularly New York–as the couple settle down in their tiny twin-bedded apartment in Greenwich Village. It’s beautifully described, the clothes they wear (mainly from Brooks Brothers) the places they go to socialise (they don’t mix with any other gays, although there must have been some kind of gay scene, hidden away) and their outings to areas around New York not yet spoiled by holiday homes and over tourism. Leddick does the raconteur style cleverly, and it’s the little touches like “Oh we probably stayed somewhere in some little town” or “I can’t remember what we were wearing, no tee-shirts, as they were still considered underwear.”  Details of misremembered facts really emphasize that this is someone telling you the story, straight from his flawed memory.

It does, as you can imagine, have a bittersweet feel to it throughout, because this is a tale of a man’s first homosexual relationship–and first love is one we all remember probably through more rose-tinted spectacles than it deserves.

I did feel a little sorry for Bill at the end, because he felt the lack of love in his life, despite having a few serious relationships after Fred, and it left me with a little lump in my throat.

Author’s Website

Buy:  Amazon UK Amazon USA

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: Awakening by Terry O’Reilly

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

Jonathon Carver, a young Puritan school teacher, meets the handsome Nathaniel Morgan, master cooper. He comes to recognize the longings he has had all his life as desire for the love of another man. Nathaniel provides that love.

Their love must be carefully guarded as they live in Colonial America at the time of the call to Awakening of the Puritan spirit. Knowing that the penalty for their love is dire, they strive to keep their affair secret.

Desperate for a way to resolve their situation they devise a bold plan that could free them to be together as they desire. But, can even their great love for one another overcome the structure of the society in which they live?

History tells us that the Puritans lived simple, strict lives; people did not engage in activities for fun, nor did they marry for love. Imagine, then, what happens when two men look at each other and Cupid’s arrow pierces their hearts. That, in a nutshell, is the story of Jonathon and Nathaniel in Awakening by Terry O’Reilly. The book caught my eye because I enjoy colonial American history and the location is a town I know well—Newburyport, Massachusetts. All of these elements have great potential, but unfortunately, the author fell short enough times that overall, the book was a disappointment.

The story itself was fairly simple and straightforward without a lot of twists. I don’t want to say too much lest I give too much of the plot away. Suffice it to say, Jonathon and Nathaniel were very sympathetic characters and I came to believe in their love. I wanted them to be together, but I, like they, realized the reality of the time and place in which they were living. This was the biggest strength of the book—painting the picture of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles they faced to be friends and lovers.

While Jonathon and Nathaniel were well-drawn, the rest of the characters came off as very two-dimensional: mean brother, stern preacher, sympathetic Indian, and so on. I think this is a reflection of the author’s skill as a writer—he has potential but he needs to work on his craft. The sex scenes were colorful and had some passion but most of the other writing was wooden and flat. I kept reading because I wanted to find out what happened to Jonathon and Nathaniel—without that hook, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to finish the book.

I also think there was a missed opportunity with the setting of Newburyport. All the reader really knows is that there is a wharf, tavern, cooperage, school and of course, the ever-present meeting house, but that’s about it. I was disappointed that there wasn’t more description of the town which would have added texture and complexity and made for a more interesting reading experience.

The story ends on a perfect bittersweet note and then…is totally destroyed by the Afterword. For this, I am going to blame the editor, not the author. Editor, where were you with your big blue pencil to X this out completely? Why did you let this stand? Readers, take my advice and stop when you see “Afterword.” Don’t read on, don’t turn the page. The only valuable bit of information (besides some details about the author’s life, which more appropriately should have been included in an author bio) is the revelation that the story is based on real people and drawn from letters and diaries that the author found in the trunk. If this is, in fact, true, it makes it even more of a shame that Jonathon’s and Nathaniel’s story wasn’t more expertly told because, truly, they deserved better—in that life and this.

Click here to the visit author’s website, which includes an excerpt from the book and links to purchase it at various ebook retailers.

Review: Pure Folly by Madelynne Ellis

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

When Alastair Romilly de Vere accepts a dare to spend a night in a haunted folly, it’s not the prospect of a ghostly presence that he finds daunting. Alastair is desperately in love with his cousin’s fiancé, Jude, the man who is to be his companion for the night; an attraction that he dare not confess.

When a spirit trapped within the folly takes possession of Jude seeking to end a century of torment, can Alastair face his fears, in order to save the man he loves? For only by surrendering his body, will he win freedom for them all.

pure follyA folly is a small ornamental building with no practical purpose; in Pure Folly, the structure is on the de Vere estate, abandoned and supposedly haunted. It is described as a Greek Temple but it has three towers with a magnificent view. I am not familiar with temples with towers but…whatever. The premise of Pure Folly is that Alastair de Vere and Jude Levenson have, on a dare, agreed to spend a night in the building. Alastair is terrified of the place and has been since he had a bad experience there when he was seven. However, he has the hots for Jude and that passion is forcing him to overcome his fear of ghosts. It turns out that, unknown to Alastair, Jude has the hots for him and sees this as the ideal opportunity—and potentially last chance—to make his move before he becomes engaged to Alastair’s cousin Charlotte.

And thus begins the story. The men settle in with their picnic basket and many bottles of wine. Alastair is in mental agony—wanting to confess his love for Jude but afraid that in doing so, he will lose Jude’s friendship. Jude, for his part, seems sort of oblivious and doesn’t pick up on any of Alastair’s hints, although it seems he is telegraphing his feelings rather blatantly.

They decide to explore the building. Apparently it was built by Alastair’s great grandfather and used as his private retreat—and of course, it hides his secrets. Down in the basement they find great-grandpa’s man cave and guess what! He liked men! He liked looking at them, he liked drawing them, and presumably he liked fucking them, although the great love of his life, Linley, seems to have been a cock tease extraordinaire.

Now, this is the part where the story took a wrong turn for me, and never really recovered. See, Alastair is worried that if he confesses his feelings for Jude, Jude will think he’s a disgusting pervert and will have nothing further to do with him. However, in the man cave, Jude is very interested in great-grandpa’s sketch books and the art on the walls. Don’t you think that Alastair might have taken that as a hint that, um, perhaps Jude is open to the idea of a little man-on-man action? Instead, Alastair, who, in one of his ruminations has revealed to us, the readers, that he knows he has homosexual inclinations, is the one who runs from the room, horrified at what he is seeing. Huh? It just doesn’t make sense.

Back upstairs, Jude makes a very bold move and gives Alastair a neck rub. That’s all that is needed to open the floodgates (neck rub vs. a man cave full of sex toys…I won’t even go there) and before you know it, true love has bloomed. Of course, we can’t get to happy ever after right away, so cue scary music…suddenly a ghost story happens. I think the ghosts had something to do with great-grandpa and Linley and exorcising their evil spirits from the building but it wasn’t nearly as entertaining as what came before so I didn’t pay much attention.

Once we got past the ghosts, the story wrapped up with a very quick and pat ending which was decidedly anti-climactic.

Now, if this review makes it sound like I hated the book—I didn’t. The writing was quite good and there was lots of very erotic sex, nicely described. I buzzed through it two hours or so (it’s a novella, about 30K words) and did go back and re-read the initial seduction scene a few times—yes, it was hot. I was just disappointed that the author had set herself up with the golden opportunity for some really fun action in the man cave (and hey, it could have been really kinky, if that’s the route she wanted to take) and instead, wasted it on a silly ghost story that seemed shoehorned in and not nearly as interesting as the living, breathing men she had created.

Would I recommend? If you are in the mood for some hot, steamy mansex and have a spare $4.15 (₤2.49) for the ebook, then sure. If you like your sex tamer and not too explicit, then you should probably give it a pass.

NB: Despite my use of modern terminology in this review, the story takes place circa 1840 and the author is careful and faithful to the time in terms of language, dialog, and descriptions.

Available at Total E-Bound Publishing

Review: Black Butterfly by Mark Gatiss

With Queen Elizabeth newly established on her throne, the now elderly secret agent is reaching the end of his scandalous career. Despite his fast-approaching retirement, queer events leave Box unable to resist investigating one last case…Why have pillars of the Establishment started dying in bizarrely reckless accidents? Who are the deadly pay-masters of enigmatic assassin Kingdom Kum? And who or what is the mysterious Black Butterfly? From the seedy streets of Soho to the souks of Istanbul and the sun-drenched shores of Jamaica, Box must use his artistic licence to kill and eventually confront an enemy with its roots in his own notorious past. Can Lucifer Box save the day before the dying of the light?

I’m leaving Lucifer Box’s second installment (The Devil in Amber) on The List, but I’m not going to review it, because it’s rather too paranormal. However this is more spy-like with no paranormal aspects, so it fits the bill.

Like The Devil In Amber, this book jumps forward in time, and we meet Lucifer at the end of his career. He’s feeling a bit sorry for himself and mourning his lost youth (and he’s worked his way through quite a few of those in his life, let’s be honest)  and feeling a bit of an old crock. It doesn’t help when the equivalent of Miss Moneypenny, tells him that she prefers firm cock, when he tries to chat her up.

However, you don’t keep Lucifer Box down for long. Following a trip to his favourite sleazy watering hole he’s off on the trail of the beautiful and exotic Kingdom Kum (yes, really, the names are part of the enormous fun of this series of books). The trail leads him all the way around the world and back again, and pretty soon, despite his aging limbs and failing eyesight, Box is back on form, and I’m very happy to say that he ends the series on an “up” as it were and a jaw dropping moment.

I thoroughly enjoyed this installment, in fact I thoroughly enjoyed all three books. Box is a thorough reprobate and you can’t help but love him to pieces, because an unrepentant anti-hero is such a delicious rarity.

If you love puns and silly humour, if you love James Bond but think that Bond definitely misses out on a lot of action by ignoring bell-hops, rent boys and the like, then you will love Lucifer Box.  Give him a go.  I’m only sorry that Gatiss has only done three. It’s a clever plot to do them in three different eras (Edwardian, 1920s and 1950s) but I hope that he’s tempted to go back and fill us in on some of the cases that Lucifer teases us with – because I for one want MORE please!

Lucifer’s website

Buy:  Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: Paragon of Animals by J S Cook

A year after serial killer John Whittaker’s reign of terror was brought to a swift and righteous conclusion, London finds her streets darkened with the blood of innocents once again. Disfigured bodies with vile, ritualistic markings are turning up at an alarming rate, and the police are at a loss to apprehend the killer, who always seems to be one step ahead of them. Detective Inspector Phillip Devlin of Scotland Yard is having problems of his own. Having fallen for his younger constable, Freddie Collins, Devlin finds that leading his double life is often more complicated than he’d originally thought. But for now he must set aside his worries, as he is called on once more to catch a killer and expose the perpetrator of this latest threat to his beloved city.

Review by Erastes

This is the sequel to A Cold Blooded Scoundrel which I reviewed last year.  I was a little trepidatious setting out with this book, because I’d been disappointed with the ending of Scoundrel, but Paragon of Animals picks up the ball from Scoundrel and doesn’t disappoint at all.

Inspector Devlin, a man more set in his ways than someone mired in concrete,  is having to deal with a great deal of change. Not only is he now living with the nice-but-dim Freddie Collins, (“for reasons of economy” as he repeats to anyone who suspects him of something worse) but he has a new boss, and worse, he’s being forced to move offices as Scotland Yard moves from the eponymous yard to the Norman Shaw building (where they reside today) at the Embankment.  Then he’s thrown yet another macabre and gruesome case that no-one else wants. Add to that rivalries with his peers, a friend gone missing, and Freddie who’s behaving oddly, life is stretching Devlin just as far as he can be stretched.

Devlin is a marvellous invention, and you may see glimpses of other notable detectives in his work, but he’s his own person for all that. What’s wonderful about him is that he’s entirely obsessed, a little like Samuel Vimes in the respect that he eats, sleeps and breathes his work–and when a case really occupies his mind, he finds it hard to see the world around him.  This makes him deliciously real and you find yourself wanting to thump him, because – like Vimes – it does his personal life no good at all.  He’s no Mary-Sue. He doesn’t look at cigar ash and know that it was dropped by a Chinaman returning from Shanghai with a parrot and a taste for peppermints. He just glares at cigar ash (again, like Vimes) and wishes clues were of more use.

The plot in this is much tighter than Scoundrel, and the ending particularly is much neater and works better for the genre.  Along the way, Ms Cook drags all kind of scents across our path, beautiful and dangerous renters, macabre women with filed, pointed teeth, child abusers and clubs of very questionable taste. Like all good detective stories (and believe me, BOTH Scoundrel and Paragon are just that, good detective stories) you’ll not guess the culprit and are likely at the end to be wondering about many loose ends that aren’t tied up.

I actually like this approach, because 1. I know the author is planning more in this series and 2. because that’s life. Life isn’t neatly tied up, and although several of the murders are solved – there are things left for us to ponder about, and if I’m still pondering about a book days after finishing it, then that’s a big success for me. It also leaves things open for books to come, which makes me happy too.

Let me put a big read flag out here, because it has to be emphasized. THIS IS NOT A ROMANCE. So take that on board, and all it implies. Be warned.

Cook’s research is impeccable, it’s hard to believe that she’s not English, and it’s even harder to believe that she doesn’t live in 1890 London. Her depth of description (often very visceral, and loaded with sights and smells) is impressive and you are never jolted out of that dark, miserable city that Devlin inhabits.

I wouldn’t say it’s entirely necessary to have read Scoundrel before reading this, but you’ll probably enjoy this more if you did. But it can be read as a standalone.

If you like Victorian murder mysteries, I’m sure you’ll like this. Annoyingly, there are no copies – other than second hand – from UK Amazon but I recommend that it’s worth hunting down if you can.

Buy: Amazon UK Amazon USA

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