Review: Cross Bones (short story anthology)

Ahoy, me proud beauty, shiver me timbers! I ask ye to sail me jollyboat on the high seas, lubber, but will ye dare to accept? On offer be a pirate’s life full of danger and risk, and not just to yer neck, but to yer very virgin heart! There’s many a bodice to be ripped–or perhaps I should say many a codpiece to be snapped–and should ye be graced enough to cross bones with a corsair, don’t be an addlepate! Heave ho, lad, handsomely, and show him how ye bury yer treasure!

Pirates didn’t only sail the high seas in historical times. Modern-day renegades and futuristic rebels are just as ripe for adventure and plunder. No matter the time, place, or circumstances, bad boys steal affection as often as they salvage treasure, and in these stories of romance, a rogue’s black heart always conceals a center of gold.

Review by Sal Davis

This is one of the jolliest covers I have seen. Well done Catt Ford. Looking at it one knows EXACTLY what’s on offer – piratical passion, and that’s what the reader gets. Here are nine stories with an historical setting, 2 stories set in the present, 2 fantasies and 2 futuristic ‘piiiiirates in spaaaace’ romps, all of which are good fun too.

Captain Merric by Rebecca Cohen – Captain Daniel Horton risks losing more than his life when he falls into the hands of notorious Captain Merric, who is surprisingly familiar.

Touched by the West Wind by Ellen Holiday – The lyrical tale of Thomas’s love for Brendan.

The Golden Galleon by K.R. Foster – called in to work by his partner on his day off, restauranteur Flynn gets a surprise.

My Hand in Yours by Emily Moreton – pirate captain woos peace keeper in a world full of magic.

Ghost of Jupiter by Jana Denardo – space privateer Al is shocked to find his latest raid has netted him a collection of dangerous alien slaves.

Officer and a Gentleman Pirate by E.S. Douglas – the capture of pirate Rheinallt Jones causes a naval lieutenant a crisis of conscience.

Objectivity by K.J. Johnson – American journalist Matthew risks all to get a story about African pirates.

Worth the Price by Cornelia Grey – Lt Edward Moon, abandoned to pirates by his commanding officer, has to choose between loyalty to the Commodore he despises and the pirate he desires.

Peter and the Lost Boys by Juan Kenobi – Peter is drowning his job related sorrows in a cocktail bar when charismatic Kap offers a solution.

Irish Red by MJ O’Shea – Loving a pirate can so easily lead to heartbreak, as Chris, barman of The Dagger, discovers.

Black John by Piper Vaughn – Juan has to choose whether to declare himself or let his love go free when Jacob is returned to him by the sea.

Rough Trade by Cooper West – “Black market trader” Audacity Gunner, unofficial captain of the AI ship Carthage, has his already random lifestyle further disrupted by the embarkation of Dr Sagittarius Deifenbaker.

From a Simmer to a Burn by B. Snow – Sule Okonjo, ex-slave, hates the Dutch. Ship’s carpenter Olaf is Norwegian but that’s close enough to engage Sule’s fury.

On the Wings of Lir by Riley Shane – Hugh Edward, officer on one of Her Britannic Majesty’s airships, is determined to capture Patrick Kelly, airship pirate.

The Winds of Change by Maggie Lee – Theo Cook, pirate, is perpetually unfaithful to his mess mate Sebastiano. Then they ship out with Edward Teach and Theo suddenly has competition.

Good fun is what this selection of pirate stories is all about. But if you’re the sort of reader who demands pin-sharp historical accuracy before you can even begin to think about enjoying a book, you may not like this anthology. Some of the stories are much better than others in that respect but, as short stories, none of them have much time for world building. Some authors set the scene admirably but some have concentrated exclusively on the passion while hand-waving the historical/naval research. As a representation of generic pirate fiction the anthology is good – I enjoyed the rompy bits while greeting the more thoughtful stories with a cheer – but it’s not Patrick O’Brien.

Buy from Dreamspinner. (paperback and ebook)

Review: Midnight Dude by Various

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Awesome Dude Website

Buy the book

Review: How the West Was Done by various

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

Review by Aleksandr Voinov

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

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

Enjoy.

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

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

Fine as porn, not recommended from the historical perspective.

Buy at Ravenous Romance

Review: For the Boys by J M Snyder (from “Some Gave All”)

Some Gave All – Four stories in honor of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Review by Vashtan

Calling this anthology a “mixed bag” is the best I can say for the whole anthology. It brings together stories of four authors: “Memorial Meeting” by Aline de Chevigny, “Flyover” by Jefferson Dane, Thanet Blake’s Memorial” by Wayne Greenough and “For the Boys” by J.M. Snyder. The anthology is published “to honor those who’ve served for their countries”. As far as I can tell, “those that served their countries” were exclusively American (I may be missing something).

Out of these four stories, the first three are heterosexual-focused, and three have paranormal elements (ghosts in the afterlife, spirits of vengeance and spirits hiring “hard-boiled detectives”), therefore, I’m only reviewing the one story that falls within the remit of this blog, namely Snyder’s “For the Boys”, which is set during the Korean war.

And that’s for the better, because of the other three, two would have got scathing reviews. “Memorial Meeting” was sappy and had unbelievable characters, writing and structure were fairly weak, and the concept of two spirits lingering until their descendants would give marriage vows – including conveniently placing the rings – was just too much for me. “Thanet Blake’s Memorial” is almost incomprehensible and made me groan in frustration as I tried to understand what was going on around characters I didn’t care about. The third, “Flyover” was a decent enough story, but I’m not reviewing this here as it’s straight.

Mixed bag; so if you’re only interested in m/m or gay historical fiction, you might want to pass on this anthology and only get J.M. Snyder’s “For the Boys”, which is a sweet historical romance told against the backdrop of the Korean war (or intervention, as it’s called whenever a nation doesn’t like to issue a formal declaration of war). You can get the short story at the author’s website, linked below.

Told in first person point-of-view by helicopter pilot Carl Prosser, “For the Boys” is the story of Carl falling in love with Tommy, a performer of an entertainment troupe of USO, that tours the military camps. Carl meets Tommy while accompanying his comrade Bert to a girl, and while he waits outside, he gets chatted up by Tommy. They do the deed, and meet as often as they can while Tommy is still in camp. At the end of the three days, they are completely in love. As Tommy’s troupe leaves, both write letters to each other, deepening their feelings for each other. Carl eventually cooks up a madcap plan to see Tommy again, but doesn’t actually have to follow through with it, as the troupe is returning their way.

The troupe gets attacked on the road, and Carl comes within an inch of losing Tommy, or “my boy”, as he calls him, but all ends well. This story is heavy on the romance and light on the plot – the love is very much center stage, but it’s very well written and the feeling seems genuine. After reading the other three stories, I was in a somewhat uncharitable mood, but “For the Boys” turned that around, and I did enjoy the story, even though very little happens apart from their relationship taking form. The history is light, but seems believable for the most part. What did nag me a little bit was that, while Carl clearly has to be careful and keep his head down, his comrade Bert knows about him and doesn’t seem to mind at all, even jokes about it with Carl. Apart from having to hide and play things subtle, Carl doesn’t seem too worried about falling in love and makes plans for the future with Tommy, basically ignoring society at large. However, it’s still a far cry from OKHOMO.

I found the writing well-done and engrossing; have a taste:

Lonely didn’t begin to describe Korea. Some nights, when the wind whistled around the flaps of my tent, I would lay awake on my narrow cot and listen to Bert snore, and wonder if maybe I wasn’t wasting my time out here, wasting my life for a war that the government refused to declare. Nights like that I wanted to be home, in the heat of the South, and I clutched the blankets tight around my body and ached for a lover’s touch. Then there were days when I was trying to get thewounded off the battlefield and could hear the steady ping of enemy bullets off my chopper blades, and wondered if I would ever even make it home again.

Tommy watched me closely—I could feel his gaze on my face, my neck, and I was all too aware of his naked arms and his thin clothing, sequins and silk, when I stood next to him in heavy fatigues and a thick field jacket. “I’m sure you have someone back home who misses you,” he was saying, his breath warm against my cheek. When had he moved so close? “Someone who writes you long letters, cheers you up a bit. A girlfriend maybe? Someone like that?”

“No.” I shook my head for emphasis. “No girlfriend.” I didn’t want to tell him that the only letters from home I got came from my mother or my sister. No lover, and definitely no girls.

“Not your type?” he breathed.

Staring into his deep eyes, I whispered, “You could say that.”

So, this is heavy on the romance, and, compared to other things I’ve read recently, light on the smut. There are no pages and pages of explicit sex. This story is quieter, subtler, and focuses on blossoming love and longing.

If anything, I was somewhat confused about Tommy. During their first meeting, he seems to be and act like a much older man, but in the course of the story seems to go through a reverse ageing process, and he seems five or more years younger at the end than he was at the beginning. It might be a lover’s exuberance, but it did throw me out of the story a bit.

“For the Boys” accounts for 17 thousand of the anthology’s total 53 thousand words, and I strongly recommend getting just this story rather than the complete anthology.

Author’s Website

The story can be bought as standalone here

Review: Past Shadows by Charlie Cochrane, Jardonn Smith, Stevie Woods

Through the centuries, lives and loves have been lost to the shadows. Stevie Woods brings redemption and a new love in DEATH’S DESIRE; Jardonn Smith has a frisky ghost showing two men the pleasures of love in GREEN RIVER; and Charlie Cochrane’s tale of future love is predicted by a ghost in THE SHADE ON A FINE DAY. In these three stories spanning from 18th century England to the Depression-Era Ozarks, love shines through the shadows.

Past Shadows is a trilogy of historical m/m ghost stories—1785, 1808, and 1938. The one thing I can say about all three is that these are probably the least frightening ghost stories I’ve ever read, which is not a criticism—I’ve never really seen the point of a spirit hanging around just to scare people. These revenants all have more serious business to pursue, naturally relating to the sexy gentlemen who are able to perceive them.

I was given a galley proof as ARC, so some of the minor errors that I noticed may have been repaired in the edition that went to press.

Death’s Desire by Stevie Woods (1785)

I liked the idea of this novella—two young cousins exploring their own attraction to one another while helping to lay to rest a murdered relative’s ghost. The young men were engaging and the dialog between Hugh and the ghost of Adam Simmercy was delightful, but there were so many problems interfering with my suspension of disbelief that I was never able to get into the story. Some were simply language errors (a ‘peel’ of laughter, misplaced commas and apostrophes), but the improbability of the circumstances leading to the murder convinced me that Adam Simmercy died of sheer carelessness. What gentleman, enjoying the embraces of another man in his own bedroom, would not take the basic precaution of locking the door? This carelessness is matched by his murderers—they bury the Lord of the Manor in the kitchen garden and his lover in the woods, instead of taking both corpses well away from the house to avoid discovery. Why one ghost is stuck haunting the place he was buried, not the scene of his death, while the other was stuck at the scene of the crime was never explained, either.

For me, much of the charm of historical fiction lies in small details. Unfortunately, this story disregarded important details, especially one: where were the many servants that one would expect to see in a grand country manor? A kitchen garden means a gardener, and gardeners are alert for such things as rabbits in the veg—yet there was no evidence of a gardener and no explanation of his absence. Hugh and his cousin Charles use a coverlet (an expensive item of household linen) as a carryall and shroud for the exhumed body, with no expectation that it will be missed, and they park a decomposing corpse beside the garden wall for some hours without anyone noticing. (That missing gardener would probably have had a dog…) They somehow manage to clean themselves up before dinner without the assistance of the servants who would bring in bathwater and collect their grimy clothing, and after further excavations (and another wash-up), they engage in a long, noisy session of sex in Hugh’s bedroom, with no apparent concern about being overheard by a passing maid or footman.

Any one of these problems would be a minor thing, but there were so very many that I just could not stay focused on the story. The sad thing is that I think the problems could have been worked out with a critical beta’s feedback or a tough edit. I have to say it’s my least favorite in the collection because it just didn’t feel finished, and I know that Stevie can do, and has done, much more convincing work.

A reader who isn’t as picky about details and likes enthusiastic first-time love scenes will probably enjoy this story a lot more than I did; I think Death’s Desire does have the most romantic sex scenes in the collection, but they weren’t enough to keep the story moving.

The Shade on a Fine Day by Charlie Cochrane (1808)

This story is a first, I think. It’s a gay inspirational—a Christian inspirational, no less. As a reader totally unfamiliar with the conventions of the Church of England, I found myself wishing that the author had included a short glossary—what exactly are a curate’s duties? What is a verger? If a curate preaches sermons, what does the Rector do, and why is he called a ‘Canon?’

But once that hurdle was passed, the story settles into a delightful combination of Austenesque convention—the young ladies of the parish twittering over the handsome young curate and the local squire—and unexpected surprises. The Rector is a married man whose wife must have been quite a shock to the locals, as she is a dark-skinned lady from an unspecified tropical isle. Her tribal traditions include a ghost named Toomhai Gamali, who drops in on dinner parties when there’s something those present need to hear.

Naturally, TG makes his appearance, and one of his cautiously-worded messages prods the handsome young curate, William Church, into a great deal of soul-searching that ends in him expressing his feelings to the gentleman he’s had his eye on… a gentleman who has been anxiously watching to see which village maiden will win the young clergyman he would rather have for himself.

This is a gentle romance, less explicit than the other two. Its main conflict is one of conscience, and its great charm is the cast of well-rounded characters who, I am convinced, went on with their lives long after I closed the book. This story was also refreshingly free of the typos that I found so distracting in the other two novellas (the only thing that struck me was the use of ‘may’ instead of ‘might,’) and I think it’s unique in having a scene where a ghostly yenta refutes Leviticus to a gay clergyman. Shade is interesting departure from Charlie’s usual whodunits, and I enjoyed it very much.

Green River by Jardonn Smith (1938)

This story is the only one I’ve seen set in this place or era. Since my own father grew up in the South during this time (he’d have been a few years younger than these characters), I was very interested to see what the author would do with it.

The setting—a WPA work camp repairing highways—came through vividly, as did the grinding poverty of the era and the human desperation of a depression, a striking contrast to the lush scenery of the country landscape. Smith really caught the sense of how a river becomes the center of human activity in the summertime. The love story is convincingly masculine—far more screwing around than verbalized emotion, though when the emotions do surface, they ring true. The comeuppance of the camp bullies was very welcome, and the randy river ghost has a satisfactory explanation that makes this the anthology’s second whodunnit. I almost wonder if Smith found an actual event while researching, as it sounds very real and regrettably believable.

I would have been more able to lose myself in this story if not for a number of minor errors in grammar and punctuation, and anachronisms—for instance, steaks wrapped in plastic should’ve been in butcher-paper, since plastic wrap for food wasn’t even around until the late 40’s. I also thought there was a slightly pedantic tone that crept into the expository sections of the story, language that didn’t quite match the narrator’s down-home folksiness when he was recounting interactions between other characters, and a few modern-day terms such as “graphic items,” and “peripherals” struck my ear as expressions that no down-home boy would’ve picked up in a pre-WWII schoolhouse.

But apart from these—and it’s possible that some of the typos will have been caught in the final galley proofing—this was an interesting story and an inventive choice of setting. The plotting is tight and well-organized, and all the threads neatly woven to a satisfying conclusion.

Amazon UK Amazon USA ManloveRomance Press

Review: Here and Always Have Been by Kenneth Craigside

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

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

Review by Vashtan

Review by Vashtan

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

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

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

Let’s look at a few stories more closely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Desire and Disguise by Alex Beecroft

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

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

The Roaming Heart by Charlie Cochrane

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

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

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

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

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

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