Review: Gypsy Heart by A.J. Llewellyn

Tinder McCartney thought he left behind his life as a gay male prostitute but soon learns returning to his old life may be the only way to save the man he loves…Tinder McCartney and his lover, Jason Qui, are adjusting to life in war-torn Hawaii following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Settling at first in Maui with Tinder’s father, they go back to Honolulu to meet with members of the new military government regarding their plans to blow up a major access road in Lahaina that would leave the islanders in Maui stranded and without access to much-needed shipments coming into the island.

Back in Honolulu, Tinder and Jason are dismayed to see how much their beloved home has changed in just a few short weeks. Jason accepts a dangerous sea mission feeling that as a Chinese immigrant, he needs to prove his loyalty to the US. He and the crew of the ship disappear, and are presumed to have been taken by Japanese forces. Tinder must decide what to do to help his lover.

When presented with the opportunity to return to his old way of life in exchange for information that will help him rescue his lover, he must decide how far he is willing to go to heal his gypsy heart and save the man he loves…

Novel length, ebook and paperback. Print version is “Pearl Harbor Vol 1 and includes Vagabond Heart and Gypsy Heart)

Review by Erastes

This is the second in the Pearl Harbor series of books by this author (the first being Vagabond Heart reviewed here) and it is often difficult to read the second book without having read the first one. So often a sequel is marred by the author info-dumping on the reader to give them the backstory, or they assume that the reader has read the first one and tell you absolutely nothing, leaving you with a sense of catch up. However, to my delight, A.J. Llewellyn does neither of these things, and imparts exactly the right amount of information, to my eyes at least, to have this book as part of a series, or ability to read as a standalone.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, and America’s subsequent entry into the war, Tinder McCartney has given up his whoring on Hotel Road in Honolulu and documents his life as he moves from Honolulu to Maui with his lover, Jason, to move in with his father and Linda, his step-mother. Not only are relations a little strained, as Linda doesn’t like Tinder and Jason that much, and she’s visibly shocked and in a lot of stress over the war. I know very little about this era, and this place. It’s clear that Llewellyn has done a large amount of research, for he isn’t a resident of Hawaii. He portrays the islands very well, and imparts a lot of information what it was like to live under the restrictions of very tough martial law–something that few of us have–or will, hopefully–never experienced.

I’m not saying that the historical details are spot on, but if there’s anything inaccurate, I didn’t notice. I never had a jarring moment where I had to reach for the laptop to check up a point. In fact I enjoyed the details very much; I could really see the crowded, standing room only diner, could smell and hear all the atmosphere of the sweaty, sailor-filled tattoo parlour and felt the fear of a man running home after curfew.

This isn’t a story about a man caught up in huge world events, but it’s an every day account of a family beginning to struggle as those huge events constrict and change their world. I suddenly realised how fragile an island economy was, how the expanded population was so dependent on trade and imports and although in this book (there are at least two more in the series) food is becoming precious, it isn’t yet scarce, you really get the feeling, as news of the Japanese advance reaches Hawaii, that things are going to get difficult for the inhabitants in no time at all.

Tinder and Jason help with the Home Guard duties, digging trenches and bomb shelters (which are promptly washed away, due to the Americans not understanding the island climate), and going on a survival course, teaching them to live off the land. Neither of them realise how useful these skills will be one day. As with the lack of info-dumping, there is, in this book, no “guide-book” feel as the reviewer found with Vagabond Heart. As Tinder moves around the islands, everything is described naturally–not in a way that instructs and therefore pulls the reader from the experience. And also, Tinder? Best protagonist’s name ever.

I liked the characters a good deal; Tinder is a guy who does what he has to do to keep his family safe–and it’s a real dilemma for him when he’s presented with an opportunity to do just that when he knows that it’s really, really wrong. He’s probably a little too nice, especially with his wreck of a step-mother, but he’s not syrupy–he still presents a few prickles when pushed. You don’t see that much of Jason but I shall enjoy going back and reading book one and learning more about him. The secondary characters, from Tinder’s father, Linda, to the various characters of Hotel Road are well painted and memorable.

My only problem is that sometimes it seems a little rushed. There’s many kitchen-sink details here, life more ordinary and sometimes they are introduced only to disappear again (two of them involve Linda) and not to cause any further ripples in the plot. I would have liked this aspect of the book to have been expanded, to have seen more of the day-to-day life, and the struggles as the war tightened everyone’s belts, and less of the obligatory long sex scenes. Another niggle is that whatever language Jason speaks–which I’m assuming is Cantonese or Mandarin–Kindle mangled it and it came out in complete gibberish.

But I recommend this as it’s an interesting read about a culture and lifestyle that is quite alien to many of us, and a part of Hawaiian life that Hollywood isn’t going to portray any time soon. This is definitely the best score for A.J. on this site, and that makes me happy, because we all want to read good books, right? I’m looking forward to reading book 3 in the series, which is Abiding Heart

Author’s Website

Buy at: Total ebound (ebook and print) | Kindle (UK) | Kindle (USA)

Review: Vagabond Heart by A J Llewellyn

Book one in the Pearl Harbor Series

Gay prostitute Tinder McCartney thought he had it made in WWII Honolulu…until true love and an attack on Pearl Harbor turned his life upside down.

Tinder McCartney is the only gay male prostitute working in Honolulu, Hawaii during World War II. Like the 200 female prostitutes who live and work on Hotel Street, he services the armed forces drifting in and out of the islands. His life and work are controlled by the local police, yet because the cops don’t think that there can be that many ‘depraved’ men wanting the comfort of another man, Tinder is not only busy, but often in danger.

Living by very strict rules enforced by the police, Tinder cannot own or drive a car or bicycle, can’t ride street cars or be seen in the company of other men. He can’t visit bars or restaurants or swim at Waikiki Beach. Savagely attacked by two men one night, he is rescued by a local businessman, Jason Qui, the son of a Chinese immigrant and a former New England missionary.

Jason is not Tinder’s usual type. But Jason offers to protect and house him. It seems like the ideal business arrangement until Tinder’s Vagabond Heart can no longer handle the arrangement… and then on December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbour is attacked, turning the entire world upside down.
Review: by Sally Davis
Cool blue cover that does the job pretty well in that the models conform to the characters in the book and there’s a battle ship and aircraft to boot. Neither of the boys look particularly happy but then neither are in particularly happy situations.
Tinder is the one most likely to invite sympathy. He has returned to Hawaii from San Francsico, abandoning his career as an architect, to attend the funeral of his beloved mother. His father is involved with a woman Tinder detests, who is intent upon destroying all Tinder’s childhood memories. Jobs are hard to come by and his father has no money to spare so Tinder has taken the only available job – a prostitute working for a highly-regulated, government sponsored establishment.
Tinder has a lot in common with Cinderella – the wicked stepmother, the soul-crushing job – and only lacks the handsome Prince. Enter Jason Qui who has spotted Tinder, made enquiries and books him for private sessions much longer than the house regulated three minutes including washing ‘equipment’.
Jason is rich, the head of a successful business, has the love of his family and it seems as though he should be happy enough. But it is time for him to marry and Jason has no taste at all for women. Tinder, however, he does favour and soon they are deeply in love with each other.
There’s more to the story than just a love affair. There is the day by day count down to the Pearl Harbour attack and it’s aftermath. There is also a subplot to do with Jason’s business, but the story focusses on the two protagonists. As one would expect with a story about prostitution there is a lot of sex but the short mechanical acts in the ‘house’ on Hotel Street are contrasted nicely with Tinder and Jason’s more elaborate love play.
I know very little about Hawaii or Pearl Harbour, and even less about the businesses on Hotel Street during World War Two. I know a lot more now, which is good in one way – I love to come away from a story about an unfamiliar period of history feeling that I’ll carry some information with me – but in others leads to me a fairly minor criticism. The author has clearly done huge amounts of research to get the background, locations, history, settings of the island as accurate as possible. I really appreciate seeing that an author has put this amount of effort into it, but from time to time the way it is presented is clunky – almost guidebookish – and it distracted me from the narrative. The big quibble – that one of the military endorsed brothels would have allowed a male prostitute to ply his trade – is dealt with in the prologue with a neat disclaimer.
This is the first story of a series, apparently, but can be read as a standalone.

Review: Paper Valentine by AJ Llewellyn

London, 1840. At the height of Victorian hypocrisy, two men meet and fall in love. Their romance is forbidden, punishable even by death, but their passion blossoms thanks to a paper Valentine.

Saint Valentine’s Day has become a new and very popular day for lovers. Thousands of Londonites are clamouring for the ideal romantic gift. While men buy chocolate and posies, they yearn for something more unusual, more personal. Enterprising brothers Aldon and Samuel Barnaby hit upon the idea of paper Valentines, creating lavish presentations decorated with silk, lace, and paper flowers.

Aldon is fortunate to have his perfect valentine going to his expectant wife, Geneve, but Samuel still longs for his own true love, pouring his heart and soul into his beautiful creations. Samuel’s romantic verses inside his paper Valentines are in huge demand, yet not a single local girl can lay claim to his heart…because his passion lies not in a woman, but another man—Jude, a handsome but shy widower.

Jude’s heart, haunted by grief, hasn’t been ready to consider marriage again. But slowly, through his inclusion in the Barnaby family’s lives…and his frequent excursions to stop and stare at the Barnabys’ shop window…he begins to wonder in what direction his future lies.

Can Samuel possibly allow his heart to explore love with another man? Could Jude ever love him in return? He sends Jude an exquisite, anonymous paper Valentine, not suspecting that his entire world is about to be turned upside down…

Review by Erastes

Dear Cover Artists. Please take note of the dates of the iconic structures, particularly in London. I’ve seen the Houses of Parliament used in Regency fiction and now we have Tower Bridge on this one, which is a quite nice cover, except the bridge wasn’t even begun until 1886, 46 years after this book takes place.I’m surprised, seeing as how the publisher is British.

However, this anachronistic tone, (after all I wouldn’t mark the book down merely for an incongruous cover), continues throughout the whole of the book, and although I’ll mention some later, there are egregious errors on just about every page, which layered with the other problems with the book made this a really hard read for me. The editing isn’t too bad, apart from Jude’s coachman changing names half way through, but what this needed was a damn good historical edit and a Brit pick. I understand that a small publisher cannot afford specialist editors for every genre, but I think that they should be prepared to check the author’s facts and not take on trust the author has it right. One or two checks with this book would have revealed the fact that just about everything was wrong,and as such it reflects badly on the publisher, not just the author.

Aside from the appalling anachronisms, the book just didn’t work for me because there is actually no plot. One could say that I’m asking a bit much expecting much more than a Plot-What-Plot in a story of sixty pages, but I certainly do. Other writers such as Ava March are capable of doing characterisation, plot, complications, BDSM and sex in as many pages, so we all know it can be done. Here however, I’m not sure what exactly the author was trying to achieve, or what message might be being transmitted.

Half of the book deals with the aforementioned dinner party, and at least half of that wastes time and plot-time while Samuel goes to his brother’s house, helps cook(!) and rants on for pages about how beautiful, how clever, how good, how shiny his sister-in-law is. So much so that I assumed that there was some plot point to this, but no. Eventually the dinner party is gathered and we finally meet the other hero of the story, Jude Curtis. They get together with no discernible difficulties and engage in perfect insta-recovery sex whilst weeping a lot and calling each other “baby” and asking if each other are “OK.” As you can tell by this, the dialogue is pretty awful–in fact in the throes of passion Samuel actually says to Jude “You’re so clean.” which made me giggle. It’s not exactly love-talk.

The food in a book is important–espeically when the author has made such a big deal of it–literally the first 30 or so pages (half the book) concentrates on entertaining, so when all the details are wrong it’s such a waste of time and effort. Strawberries, cranberries and bilberries, all available in February. Gas stoves, the lady of the house whipping up a quick meal for twelve without hardly turning a hair after the servants have left, no-one except the lady of the house changing for dinner, despite it being an important dinner which she is holding to get her husband admitted to the Atheneum Club.

I’m not going to list all the anachronisms, it would take too long and would be unfair, but a few include making artists a major plot point. This is fine except the ones mentioned were hilariously Whistler (who would have been six at the time), Rosseti (13) and Holman-Hunt who was about 12. Then there’s mention of the Brotherhood of the Pre-Raphelites (which didn’t exist), gas stoves, mentions of “hotwired.” The thing is that the author goes into Dan Brown mode at times, describing in detail something historical that they think we’ll be interested in, such as a meticulous description of the first commercial stamp–the Penny Black–but the author didn’t take the two minutes it takes to do the research to find out that the stamp wasn’t issued until JUNE 1840, not February.

The sex (apart from the silly dialogue and much weeping) is all right, but for me it’s not enough to make the cover price worth while.

So, putting together the missing plot, the buildup of things that never became plot–the brother’s entry to the club, the making of the Valentines, the servant troubles–with the anachronisms on every page, I simply can’t recommend this as a historical. If you are only looking for some gay sex in costume, then you might enjoy it.

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