Review: Butterfly Dream by Dave Lara and Bud Gundy

At 6 years old, long before he discovers that he is gay, Banat Frantz learns that being Jewish in Hitler’s Germany is a bewildering crime for which he and his family must pay. Fire and loathing greet his emerging consciousness and a resourceful child begins to learn survival skills. Violently forced from their home and a successful business, his family immigrates to Holland but discover that they haven’t traveled far enough. They realize too late that Hitler’s mania would spread across a continent. The Nazis wrench the family apart, tossing them into the maw of the holocaust where only survival matters. Even in places where humanity itself chokes on the ashes of hatred, Banat realizes that he is gay and has fallen in love with another young Jew. The knowledge shapes his existence as he copes with the relentless horror of his life in a series of ever-more grim and nightmarish places until he finds himself in the hushed and gray world of Auschwitz, where silent screams fill every mind. But nothing can truly kill the spirit if it is filled with a longing for beauty. A young man of such sensibilities can forge moments of sublime bliss in whatever setting he encounters, and through a network of Jewish actors, writers, singers and intellectuals he learns that art can shelter his passions and that his very longing is his refuge. From his earliest memories of Nazi rallies that unleashed teeming hatred, to his redemption in a New York gay club, Banat Frantz lives an entire life before it ever really begins.

Review by Erastes

I find books about the concentration camps difficult to review and rate, let alone that they are often difficult–that is, painful–to read and this is no exception. One feels that one should have an automatic sympathetic response to the book, that one should praise it because of the subject matter, and by criticising it, one is somehow lessening the horror of what actually happened in Europe (and elsewhere.)

But although there was much to like about the book, I’m going to be critical too. Firstly, it’s another self-published book, and like nearly all self-published books (note I said ‘nearly’ before you get on your self-publishing high horse) the editing is appalling. Not merely shoddy, but absolutely unforgiveable. If the book had been through a second pair of eyes other than the two authors’ then that editor needs to have his/her red pen forcibly inserted somewhere. So if you are going to take on the book–and for some that will be a difficult decision, you’ll need to take onboard that not only is the subject matter tricky, but the editing will make you want to throw your e-reader at the wall.

Basically it’s the story of the Jewish boy, Banat, who, when the story begins is about six and he witnesses one of the rallies that Hitler was having in the 30’s. Things had already started to become difficult for Jews at this time, trading was limited and hatred was common-place and open. There’s a shocking scene where Banat was beaten up on the street by the father of a school-friend and no-one helps him at all. It’s a powerful scene, but was marred for me by there being no repercussions about it. Banat had been told to stay in, that it wasn’t safe–and although I’m sure his parents would have been less annoyed with him when he came back with a bloody bruised face, no mention was made of what happened when he did go home. There’s a lot of this kind of loose end stuff lying around which again, an editor would probably have helped with.

The problem I had with baby Banat, and again and again throughout the book is that I would have preferred it to be through the eyes of the protagonist himself. Instead of which, it’s written as a memoir, with all the hindsight and knowledge of what is going to happen and a knowledge of world events. It probably suits more people this way, but I think if Mockingbird had been written from the perspective of a older Scout it wouldn’t have had the same impact. The author as narrator can’t help but talk about things that are happening, that are going to happen, things that Banat could not possibly have known about and these intruded into his day-to-day experiences, when I would have preferred just to know about those experiences and not the world stage. We know what happened on the world stage, and on a small scale, those things only affected Banat in the way of him being Jewish.

However, as a memoir, it’s very readable–aside from the appalling editing. The concentration camp sections seem a little lighter than I was expecting. I’m not saying that I wanted in-depth descriptions of what Banat went through but really, other than a lack of food and warmth he managed to have a bit of a charmed life and drifted through the camps with what seemed very little danger to himself. Others disappeared but he not only survived–as people did–but he kept his father with him and remained in “safe” occupations for the most part. When he does mention the horror around him, like dead people littered around the camp its almost a surprise because the suffering hadn’t really been mentioned much before and I knew he had to be suffering every day.

So we can imagine Banat’s suffering, and what he’s going through, but I had to import it from information  gleaned from documentaries, books and films on the subject. Seeing as how terrible things didn’t happen to him–he’s even spared from being a bum-chum to a guard simply by saying “no thanks”–it then surprised me that he developed pretty bad PTSD after the war. He begins to suffer from “waking nightmares” and although I know his experiences in the camps could not have been good ones, because we aren’t told the horrors, his waking nightmares seem a bit over the top.

The days after the immediate liberation were a bit convenient. A group of them set off together–and the Russians don’t help them, being rather pre-occupied, and they find a camp where British soldiers had been held. There’s loads of food here, and they find a cow and a pig too. I found this a bit of a stretch, because why would the British soldiers–who they met later–leave behind so much food? Again, it’s all a little too pat, a little too charmed. He manages to get to Paris with no difficulty to retrieve his mother and getting the papers and money to return again is a piece of cake.

When he moves to America it’s much the same. He has more than enough money to live on as his father sends him loads, and when he does get a job it’s handed to him on a plate, and it’s a good job too.

It’s in New York where I noticed a large continuity hiccup and that worried me about the research for the rest of the book, as up to now I had been taking as gospel what I was reading was accurate as to dates and times. There’s mention of Caffe Cino – a cafe opened in 1958 by a retired dancer – and which became the birthplace of “off-off-Broadway” plays – but it certainly wasn’t around in 1948!

The ending is unsurprising, but sweet and all in all I enjoyed the read. I wouldn’t read it again though, even if the errors were taken out–and I highly recommend to the authors that they address this, it’s just too War-Lite for my taste.

Authors’ Websites: Bud Gundy  Dave Lara

Amazon UK   Amazon USA (available as print and ebook)

Review: The Broken by Stella Notecor

James guards his secrets.

Uncertain as to whom he can trust with his family’s secrets, James Bradford has lived a lonely life since becoming Baron of Riverside. When he meets an equally enigmatic violinist named Sheamus, he begins to wonder if he’s found someone with whom he can share everything.

Sheamus guards his body.

No one has ever shown Sheamus Flynn affection except his mother. That changes when he meets James, but Sheamus cannot trust him. Sheamus has been used by his master, Cade Edward, and he knows better than to believe James could ever love a mere servant.

They both guard their hearts.

Over the course of the 1876 Social Season they cautiously fall in love, only to be violently ripped apart by Edward. Defeating Edward’s deceptions will require both of them to share long guarded secrets.

Can they trust each other?

Review by Erastes

I’m not sure if you can entirely trust that blurb, to be honest. It might be what the author thought she was writing, but it’s not how it came out for me.

I didn’t see the blurb  until preparing this review, so it took me a long while to work out exactly when this story was set. Whilst I’m not a big fan of “London, XXXX” date at the top of the chapter, I do like a few grounding facts to help me. The date would sufficed in this case as I was about half way through before the era was clear.

It starts off at a party and there’s a waltz being played, so I’m thinking it couldn’t be pure Regency, because the waltz didn’t really take off until a bit later–but then they have a quadrille which confused me. It wasn’t until a good way into the book when I could hang a date on it, 1876, 20 years after the Indian Rebellion.

The thing is I wasn’t particularly enamoured of James. His idea of “cautiously falling in love” is to march up to Sheamus’s master (a man to whom Sheamus owes money and oddly cannot leave, like it’s some kind of slavery) and demand that he hand him over for the season, with nefarious purposes entirely in mind. It just so happens that Sheamus is being raped and abused (and these scenes are shown graphically in the book, so if that’s not your bag watch out) by his “master” and doesn’t really want to roll over for another man. However–of course he does, with hardly more than a “I’d rather not” and in no time at all they are weeping and wailing and declaring love to each other like the best of girlie men.

The whole scenario seemed weird. Why didn’t Sheamus just bugger off somewhere else and get a job and send Edward the money if he was so honourable? Or just bugger off. One could argue that he was “broken” but he doesn’t really come over that way to me.

I was disappointed, because for a moment it did seem like it might be a break from what is becoming the norm.

Being self-published it runs true to the expectation that I am now having with self-pubbed books that the editing is shoddy. Not the worst I’ve seen (that comes in my next review) but pretty dire. When will anyone bother to look up the difference between rain/reign/rein? It sometimes strikes me that perhaps these people have decided to self-publish because the book has been rejected. Perhaps they should stop and think why it’s been rejected. There’s nothing wrong with self publication, but I wish people would have more pride and put out the best product they possibly can.

OK, rant over.

There’s a lot of sex in this book, and as I mentioned above the rapes are pretty graphic. The author’s website tagline is “Love Knows No Boundaries and Neither Do I so that’s probably what she means. ” I would actually say there’s a bit too much sex, and there’s also some annoying secondary characters who seem to have no place in the story other than to SUFFER ALSO under the evil Snidely Whiplash.

James annoyed me to the last, as despite him declaring undying love for Sheamus promptly forgets all about him for weeks and Sheamus is in dire trouble when he does take the trouble to remember – oh yes- where’s that guy I love??

Not recommended–although some of the writing isn’t bad. It’s not a bad price, so you might want to try it.

Author’s website

Buy at Smashwords

Review: The Psychic and the Sleuth by Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon

Trusting a psychic flash might solve a mystery…and lead to love.

Inspector Robert Court should have felt a sense of justice when a rag-and-bones man went to the gallows for murdering his cousin. Yet something has never felt right about the investigation. Robert’s relentless quest for the truth has annoyed his superintendent, landing him lowly assignments such as foiling a false medium who’s fleecing the wives of the elite.

Oliver Marsh plays the confidence game of spiritualism, though his flashes of insight often offer his clients some comfort. Despite the presence of an attractive, if sneering, non-believer at a séance, he carries on—and experiences a horrifying psychic episode in which he experiences a murder as the victim.

There’s only one way for Court to learn if the young, dangerously attractive Marsh is his cousin’s killer or a real psychic: spend as much time with him as possible. Despite his resolve to focus on his job, Marsh somehow manages to weave a seductive spell around the inspector’s straight-laced heart.

Gradually, undeniable attraction overcomes caution. The two men are on the case, and on each other, as they race to stop a murderer before he kills again.  

Review by Erastes

I ummed and ahhed about reviewing this one, because it does have some paranormal aspects (spiritualism) but I’ve decided that this could be treated in the same way as ghosts – the only other paranormal theme we accept – because it could be subjective and brought on by other reasons, such as split personalities  etc.

This book continues this writing partnership’s run of titles with similar names, The Nobleman and the Spy, The Gentleman and the Rogue–there’s endless fodder here and long may they continue to do them.

If you enjoyed either of the last titles, then you’ll certainly enjoy this. The thing is that although the titles are similar and there might be the danger that the authors would find it easy to slip into a pattern of plot that would be highly predictable they are to be commended that they don’t do that at all.

This, quite apart from the gay romance within it, is a good Victorian sleuth story which stands firmly on its own two feet. You could remove the gay romance and the detective story would still be viable, and that’s needed in the genre, too many stories simply concentrate on the meeting and eventual falling in love.

Yes, there’s instant attraction on both sides, and this attraction is acted on pretty soon, and both parties start to realise they are becoming fonder of each other than is wise, but the detective story runs neatly parallel to this at a good pace, deflecting us from simply concentrating on the uncertain love affair. This makes the balance of the book great and therefore accessible to more than just people who want gay sex stories.

The sex is nicely written, with a BDSM theme. I’m not a fan of the trope, and find it odd that so many gay books have it–far higher percentage of men in fiction indulge than do in real life, I’m sure, but what there is is nicely done. At least for me with little knowledge of the lifestyle. It’s most definitely “play” and the bottom is the top, which is how it should be. There was one scene where–for me–it tipped from sexy to rather giggle worthy, but I am 12 and I’m sure others won’t be as juvenile as me.

There are many secondary characters here, as befits a sleuthing story, and each one is given the necessary weight as suspicion shifts from person to person. As well the suspects there is a veritable line-up of society matrons, simpering hopefuls for the bachelor Court’s affections and Dickensian work colleagues.

What I liked most is that both characters, whilst developing in their personality throughout, both for the better, remained true to their core beliefs. Robert is a copper, to his bootstraps and he was sent to investigate Oliver’s mediuming (don’t think that’s a word!) and the way he deals with it after Oliver becomes his lover is entirely in character. Similarly, the authors give Oliver a need to want to help people, and he’s never been comfortable conning them, although he’s been very clever never to actually do anything that could be proved to be fraudulent.

I would have liked to have seen a little more of Oliver’s original business, as he seemed to give it up altogether very quickly.

One thing that jarred for me–and again, I know that some readers love this device–was the sex scene that was put in after the denouement and the concluding sections. It seemed really jammed in and it added nothing to the plot, and my criteria has always been with sex scenes, if you can lift them out and they don’t cause a ripple, they didn’t belong there in the first place.

However, despite a couple of tiny niggles, it’s a really enjoyable read, and if you like Victoriana, crime fiction and anything written by this dynamic duo, then you’ll like this with great big brass knobs on.

The score doesn’t reflect it, but for shame, Samhain–surely you could have done a better job on the cover than that? Elasticated boxers? So much scope with lovely Victorian scenes and clothes and we get disconnected naked guys and a Matt Bomer lookalike.

Authors’ websites: Bonnie DeeSummer Devon

Buy: Amazon UK  Amazon USA  Samhain

Review: Maroon: Donal agus Jimmy by P.D. Singer

The best jobs in 1911 Belfast are in the shipyards, but Donal Gallagher’s pay packet at Harland and Wolff doesn’t stretch far enough. He needs to find someone to share his rented room; fellow ship-builder Jimmy Healy’s bright smile and need for lodgings inspire Donal to offer. But how will he sleep, lying scant feet away from Jimmy? It seems Jimmy’s a restless sleeper, too, lying so near to Donal…

In a volatile political climate, building marine boilers and armed insurrection are strangely connected. Jimmy faces an uneasy choice: flee to America or risk turning gunrunner for Home Rule activists. He thinks he’s found the perfect answer to keep himself and his Donal safe, but shoveling coal on a luxury liner is an invitation to fate.

Review by Erastes

It wasn’t until I’d finished this book that I realised that it was actually quite short at 70 odd pages. However it doesn’t read short and it’s well worth every penny of the price. Somehow the author manages to squish a lot–a lot–into those 70 odd pages. But while this would be noticeable with some authors–I often come away from novellas thinking that the walls are being squashed the book could explode into a novel very easily–this is deftly done and it doesn’t seem that it’s wearing boots several sizes too small.

And this is moot, because there was a lot going on in Belfast at this time. Not only were the shipyards the envy of the world, pushing out ships like shelling peas and creating the gargantuans of the shipping world at the time–in particular the White Star Line including The Olympic, the Britannic and the Titanic–but there was unrest (as there had been for centuries) as Ireland chafed against the British yoke.

And it’s into this powder keg Singer drops her story–a simple gay love story which is tender and sweet until outside forces compel them to act in ways that will put their relationship at very great risk.

What I liked most of all about this book is the subtlety of the prose–please do not be put off by what I say here, but Singer weaves the flavour of the language and the rythym of the Irish into the third person narration. Not so much as–say–Jamie O’Neill, but enough just to lift the prose above the ordinary. It’s not there all the time, but it’s a delight when you catch a taste of the lilt. I enjoyed this hugely.

The research, while relayed entirely within the story (no Dan Brown info dumps here, and that would have been the choice of some authors, I know) the author has done a lot of work to learn about the interiors of these ships, the men that worked on them and how things were done, how they were built, how they were launched, tested. It’s great to ride along with Jimmy and Donal as they build these monsters: you can almost see the superstructures rising higher and higher above the dockyards.

You can also understand the duality of the situation, too. Here’s a highly skilled craftsman like Donal, capable of creating the most beautiful woodwork for the first class cabins, and he’s hardly making enough money to support himself and his family back home. He’s forced to take in a room-mate to make ends meet, whilst millionaires will use his washstands on the ships, paying prices for one journey that would keep a dozen families in food and heat for years.

Despite the fact that the book fits its bounds so well, despite the breadth of topics covered, I would have liked more, it’s impossible not to want more when something is this well written. I don’t know P.D. Singer’s work–I beleive this is her first gay historical–but if she writes another I will be snapping it up immediately.

I recommend this book highly, and I’m sure you will enjoy it.

As for the “Maroon” – this is one of Torquere’s bizarre themes, I don’t get why it’s sub-labelled “Maroon” in fact I actually thought that it was part of thee title until I looked up the book on the website. However, it’s not the author’s fault. I wish Torquere would stop doing this sort of thing. At least they’ve given this book a decent cover and not one painted by someone’s four year old. Neither is it the author’s fault that Amazon has the wrong title up on their sites!

Author’s website

Amazon UK   Amazon USA  Torquere

Speak Its Name’s Best of the Year 2011

It’s been a bumper year for gay historicals, so much so that I’ve struggled to keep up with the reviews, and if it wasn’t for my small band of helpers, and Gerry Burnie who lets me crosspost some of his reviews I’d be in serious trouble. More books come out each year than I can ever review, and then add to that the back-list of books that need a review…

Anyway, things are rosy for the genre, and that’s great. More authors are trying the genre for the first time and those who try it often stick around and try it more than once.

Our “best of 2011” picks are books that have been read and reviewed, not just books that came out in 2011. They are taken from the very small list of books that merited our Five Star rating. 

The awards are purely subjective and you may not agree. That’s not a problem, please comment and let me know your favourites that you’ve read this year.

Speak Its Name’s Best Book of the Year

Resoundingly goes to Captain Harding’s Six Day War by Elliott Mackle. Atmospheric, real, with great characters, politic and complicated plot all of which is left closed enough for us to be satisfied but open enough to call for a sequel which I’ve been told is being written. If you buy one book in January, make it this one.

Honorable Mentions go to:

The Case of the Porcelain Dog by Jess Faraday;

and

Suffer the Little Children by Tracy Rowan

Speak Its Name’s Best Cover of the Year

This was a very tough decision because the covers this year weren’t anywhere near as good as they had been in previous years. Covers overall are improving–there is less man titty on display with historicals than once there used to be–and some covers even have clothing that’s relevant to the story. However this year there was little that really stood out, although there were many “good” ones such as “Bless Us With Content” by Tinnean, “The Station” by Keira Andrews – many were generically romantic. There were some real stinkers too. I think Loose-ID came out best this year, and unsurprisingly, Torquere came out worst.

I’m going to have to do something I hated the idea of doing and that’s putting my book Mere Mortals up for best cover. I think that it’s not as bad as putting it up for best book, because the cover was entirely done by someone else–Ben Baldwin–and other than describing the characters I had no input into what he came up with. For me a cover has to tantalise and really want me to know what that cover is hinting at. Just a handsome couple of men before the background of Big Ben (or something else historical to ground it) doesn’t do that for me. Once you had read Mere Mortals you could see the entire book in the cover, but before you had read it, it was just a delicious mystery. I think with the atmospheric moodiness, the historical accurate colours and decoration of the room–it really is a stand out cover and I’m very proud to have work by this artist.

Honourable Mentions:

Under the Poppy by Kathe Koja
(Cover design by Base Art Co.
Cover photograph by Jonas Jungblut.
Author photo© Rick Lieder.)

Eromenos by Melanie McDonald (artist: Megan Chapman)

According to Hoyle by Abigail Roux (artist: Anne Cain)

The Station by Kiera Andrews (artist: April Martinez)

Lion of Kent by Aleksandr Voinov and Kate Cotoner (artist: Angela Waters)

Well done to all the artists, you have helped raise the standard of historical covers, and writers–you could do worse than commission one of these artists for your book.

Speak Its Name’s Best Author of the Year

I think that accolade has to go to Tamara Allen. She may not be the most prolific of writers but I’ve read two of hers this year–The Only Gold and If It Ain’t Love and was hugely impressed by both of them. More power to your pen, Ms Allen and I look forward to what you come up with next.

Reviewers’ favourites

I asked our reviewers to name their favourites–and here’s what they came up with. Note that they aren’t all “released this year” but “read this year.”

Sally Davis:

This is quite a difficult question because I’ve read some fabulous stories over the last 10 months or so. Alex, Donald Hardy, Lee Rowan, Erastes and Charlie have made my reading so much more enjoyable.
However, out of all the books I reviewed The Only Gold by Tamara Allen was the book I read where I was smiling almost all the way through it. It pressed all my buttons – enough historical detail to satisfy without it getting in the way of the plot OR being overwhelmed by the m/m romanciness, engaging heroes, women who were not cardboard cutout viragos and extremes of danger met with gallantry, just lovely. I have read other books I enjoyed almost as much but I think Allen has the edge when it comes to taking actual historical events and making a damn good story out of them.
Jess Faraday:
Of the books I reviewed, these are the ones I’d recommend highest.
Nan Hawthorne

1.  Lessons in Love, by Charlie Cochrane
2.  Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade, by Diana Gabaldon
3.  City of Lovely Brothers, by Anel Viz
4.  Counterpoint, by Ruth Sims
5.  An East Wind Blowing, by Mel Keegan

I wish I had had seven.. but so be it.

And finally, the Speak Its Name Readers’ Choice Award which was done by Poll (here) so you can see the results were fair.
The Winner was Charlie Cochrane with her last Cambridge Fellows book “All Lessons Learned.” Well done, toots.
A Happy New Year to all the readers of the blog–thank you for supporting, for commenting and for buying the books. Let’s hope 2012 is even better.

Review: Half a Man by Scarlet Blackwell

Traumatised by the nightmare of trench warfare in France, Robert Blake turns to rent boy Jack Anderson for solace. Neither man expects their business relationship to go quite so far.

It is 1919, less than a year after the end of the First World War with a recovering Britain in the grip of the influenza pandemic. Crippled veteran of the Somme battle, Robert Blake, is looking for someone to ease his nightmares of France and his guilt over what happened to his commanding officer. He turns to educated rent boy Jack Anderson for physical solace, not expecting how deeply the two soon become immersed in each other’s lives.

Review by Erastes

Rather a touching premise, a tart with a heart and a man paralysed from the waist down. You don’t at first (or rather I didn’t) twig that Jack Anderson is a prostitute but I suppose these days he’d be called an escort. He provides companionship and relief if needed from discreet and wealthy men. He hasn’t been soured by his life as a renter, and is both professional and attentive.

He’s called to the house of Robert Blake, who we discover is in a wheelchair. The two men meet once a week, a little tea and cakes, some sex and after a week or so they realise that they are becoming fond of each other.

It started well, and I was encouraged that this was something a little different, even though the tropes are well known, but sadly enough the men soon started to weep all over the place and to once they got into bed the old fanfic favourite chestnut of  “Come for me, [name here] both trends in m/m which I’m thoroughly tired of.

I liked both protagonists, Robert particularly because he seriously thought he was entirely useless to anyone being in the state he was and many men did–and do–think like this. Legs and cock not working=end of the world, and I can understand this. The interactions between them–and I don’t mean just the sex scenes which are detailed and many–are well done and believable when there’s no crying going on.

I enjoyed the read, but it’s not a keeper for me, I’m afraid.

However, it’s well-written, and thoroughly romantic with very little conflict so I’m sure that the readers of a more romantic brand of gay historicals will like it a lot. It’s not so over-the-top romantic as to spoil the story, so I did enjoy it. I also enjoyed that the ending was left a little in flux, and that Robert’s problem wasn’t magically cured entirely by all the gay sex.

Overall, well worth a try-out.

Author’s website

Silver Publishing

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