Review: Star Attraction by Jamie Craig

In 1955, Sam Coles is Hollywood’s newest rising star, and his latest role in Gordon Palmer’s movie, The Devil Inside, promises to send his popularity into the stratosphere. But Sam is less interested in the potential boost to his career, and more interested in his gorgeous co-star, Hollywood’s latest bad boy, Elijah McKinley.

Their careers rely on discretion, but Sam and Elijah cannot deny the desire between them. Stealing glances and casual touches between takes soon gives way to heated kisses and clandestine meetings after shooting.

But neither of them knows what will happen when filming wraps and their lives move in separate directions…

Review by Erastes

Oh dear – I’m not going to spend too much time discussing this. it’s a short novella which is short on everything except sex.   Calling it a historical was rather cheeky, because other than being told that it’s 1955, and Billy Wilder being mentioned, there’s absolutely nothing to anchor the reader in that glamorous time.

To say I was disappointed is an understatement, because I’ve read and reviewed many of Jamie Craig’s books and they’ve never dipped below “very good” They’ve always had a knack of being able to set the scene with the briefest of brush strokes, no matter how short the story. But with this, I couldn’t help but feel it was hastily converted from a contemporary movie story, because it had none of the flavour of the time its set in.  And that’s criminal, because this time in Hollywood was a time of such upheaval as it moved from the unrealistic glitz and glamour of the huge sets and dance numbers to the more realistic and gritty life stories. There’s no description of Hollywood, no cars, no clothes, no parties–nothing. Even when our heroes go to a movie premiere, we aren’t even told which one it was!

Storywise, we are just as short changed. It’s boy fancies boy, gets erections, hooks up after one conversation and spends a lot of time in bed with him before true love is declared about a week later. There’s absolutely no conflict, and I’m sorry, but even a one page short story needs conflict–and the 1950’s Hollywood is such a hotbed of hypocrisy and coverups that it would have been easy to miss one page of sex to create some.

All we are left with then, is the erotica, for it is simply an erotic tales where the large proportion of the book is involved in burgeoning erections and then pages and pages of sex.  Very nicely written sex; I’ll be the first to stand up and say that, but when it comes down to it these days, I think readers are looking for more than that.

Editing wise, it leaves a lot to be desired. Unwanted homonyms pop up such as principle/principal (which I could have glossed over easier had it not been about the acting profession), typos are rife and there are many grammar problems. It needed a much better editor. There are words such as “gay” and “straight” which weren’t in use at the time. It was probably these two words alone that made me think this was converted from a contemporary.  As for the editing – I’ve mentioned Amber Allure’s not great reputation at editing more than once, but clearly no-one’s listening. I wish they’d take off the tagline “the gold standard in publishing” and then I’d stop moaning.

If you want a sexy, racy read then you’ll enjoy this. If you are looking for a gay romance set in the period of such classics as East of Eden and Rebel without a Cause, then you are going to be bitterly disappointed.  This writing duo can do a lot better than this, and I urge you to read their other books and not be put off by this one.

Author’s website

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Review: The Bad and the Beautiful by Jamie Craig

It’s 1955, Las Vegas is swinging, and David Lonergan has the chance of a lifetime when he accompanies his cousin to be the headlining act at the Thunderbird Casino. A pianist who cut his teeth in the jazz clubs of Chicago, David is dazzled by the lights, the music, and the anything goes attitude of Las Vegas. But he’s not knocked off his feet until he meets Vincent “Shorty” Accardo.

Vincent is a full-time bodyguard and sometimes hitman for the mob controlled casino. He doesn’t indulge his interest in men very often, but there’s something different about David from the moment they meet. He’s attracted to David’s talent, his surprising innocence, and his easy smile. There are a million reasons to stay away from the young piano player, but Vincent can’t help himself. Even when there are lives at risk.

Review by Erastes

There seems to be a little flurry of show-biz books recently, and I for one am happy as hell about that, as there’s such a lot of potential in it.

Although the set-up is pretty standard–guy meets guy straight away and starts to fantasize about him–Jamie Craig doesn’t disappoint with setting the scene.  Whether it’s Hollywood or the Wild West, Craig (for those who don’t know, Craig is a writing partnership) always paints her backdrop in with meticulous detail, deep enough to make you feel you are there, but light enough to avoid the laundry list approach.  The historical detail is sparse enough not to swamp and correct enough for the purist.

However, I can’t say that I was entirely convinced by the initial banter — in public — between David and Vince.  For a mobster bodyguard to be talking so openly in 1955 – even in the more ‘anything goes’ area of Vegas didn’t strike me as very true.   Both men are from deepest Chicago, too, and while I didn’t want an entire dialogue written in dialect, (no thanks!)  a mere flavour of the speech patterns that these men would converse in with each other would have helped to season the story a little more, and make me believe they were from the mob-life in Chicago, their speech was just too ordinary to flavour the story enough.

The risk factor–the whole “black hand” thing–(threatening notes from the Mafia) came out of the blue, for me.  There was no foreshadowing, and as David has come to Vegas to be under Moretti’s protection (as the accompanist and cousin of Moretti’s girlfriend) and Moretti was such a hard man, I didn’t understand

1. why they were targeting him and

2. why on EARTH he didn’t take the notes to Moretti.    He uses the excuse that Kate would worry – but as she’s DATING Moretti, and she’s a singer from Chicago, she’d be unlikely not to know who Moretti was and what he could do…  It works, in the scheme of things, but I’d have liked a little more intro–perhaps a scene with Moretti and Vincent discussing the rivalries in existence before the extortion notes were received, not after.

The two major characters are nicely disparate; Vincent always has his eye on the main chance and he finds David surprisingly untouched.  I had to agree with Vince, here – specially as David’s cousin was dating a mob boss, he did come over as a little unrealistically innocent. He comes over as the “woman” needing to be protected. This is shored up by some of the prose which puts David into a feminine role:

David whimpered. That was the only word for it. One of his hands fluttered at Vincent’s waist before finally settling along the hip. The touch was fragile, like David wasn’t sure he wouldn’t get his wrist snapped for trying, and Vincent pushed harder, erasing once and for all any doubts David might have had about his interest.

There’s some nice touches of history–which is always expected with Craig, I know they do their research–like the mention of The Moulin Rouge being the first desegregated casino in Vegas.  The sex scenes are very hot too, the build up to the first one, and the first one particularly, which doesn’t shy away from the discomfort losing your anal virginity can cause. The second half of the book I felt was stronger than the first, although I could never get my head around the contradiction of David: Chicago raised innocent who is more disturbed by the guilt of sodomy rather than Vince murdering people.

On a purely personal note, I don’t understand Amber Allure’s decision to copy famous titles of films/books.  Perhaps they think that people are going to come to the line because they haven’t heard of the more famous counterparts but this seems pretty impossible.  In the long run, it seems to invite unwarranted criticism.  This book was good enough to stand on its own merits, as Jamie Craig’s invariably have been.

To sum up, it’s an enjoyable read with a lot of punch.  It wasn’t my favourite of Jamie Craig’s works, and it didn’t have the same fluidity of plot or solid characterisation in it that other books by Craig does –  but I liked it a lot, nevertheless – it just won’t be a keeper.

Author’s Website

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Review: Lavender Boys by S.E. Taylor

Brock Evans heads for Hollywood in 1935, hoping to be the next Clark Gable, and meets another would-be star in Randy Pearce, who works as a soda jerk while awaiting his big break. It’s love at first sight, just like in the movies. But the path to stardom in Hollywood is not quite that easy. Brock finds a job as a florist shop delivery man and gets to meet some of Hollywood’s favorites, one of which finally gets him a screen test at a major studio.

Randy finds an agent who gets him a screen test, too. It turns out Randy is a ‘natural,’ but the big studios don’t want any more homosexual male stars after some previous bad experiences. What kind of Hollywood ending is in store for Randy and Brock, who are hiding their romance, their secret trips to the Lavender Lounge homosexual bar, and their homosexual boss and landlord with whom they live?

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

Having just read a very good story about Hollywood in the fifties (Sticks and Stones, reviewed here) I was looking forward to Lavender Boys, hoping it would live up to the same standard. Alas, it didn’t. The story was unrealistic, predictable, silly, and not very well written. This is the author’s first book and it is always exciting to test the unknown waters of a new writer, especially in the genre of historical m/m fiction. It saddens me, then, when the book is not one I can recommend which is the case with Lavender Boys.

The synopsis, above, pretty much tells the whole story, except for the anti-climactic and unrealistic HEA ending. Basically, Brock and Randy meet, instantly fall in love, and set out together on their big Hollywood adventure. They have one lucky break after another. Even when things don’t work out quite right—such as when Brock blows the screen test arranged for him as a favor by Myrna Loy—it doesn’t really matter because it is just a sign that that was not how things were meant to be. No sadness, no introspection, just an “Oh well, golly gee, at least we have each other!” and on to the next adventure. Any time conflict or danger threatens their lives, it is dealt with in a paragraph or two, meaning the reader doesn’t have to suffer any angst, either, just like Randy and Brock.

Hollywood circa 1935 is evoked by dropping famous names throughout the book. Joan Crawford, Myrna Loy, Fred Astaire, Cary Grant and others I am forgetting (there were dozens of them) all make guest appearances. They all love Randy and Brock because they are as cute as buttons and besides, Brock looks just like Clark Gable! This is a source of endless amusement to the stars and the basis of more than one practical joke. It’s a pretty open secret that Randy and Brock are lovers—not too hard to figure out since they call each other “Baby” and “Sugar” every single time they open their mouths, no matter who they are with or what they are doing—but the stars are all willing to look the other way on this issue because “the boys” are so adorable and besides, it’s the big studios who act like Neanderthals on the homosexual issue, not the free-thinking, open-minded and very liberal movie stars.

Um, right.

As I said, the story lurches along from adventure to adventure with no discernable plot. The writing is amateurish and the dialog inane. Things that might have been interesting to read about, such as Randy having a bit part in a movie, happen off page. They talk about the movie and go to the premiere but the actual filming experience is written away in a sentence or two.

I did enjoy the character of Gracie the housekeeper, only because her ruminations on “the queers” that she worked for were so over-the-top. She was disgusted by the stains on the bedspread and fretted about scrubbing her hands after cleaning the bathroom. However, because she was a source of conflict, she was very quickly given the axe, never to be heard of again. Oh well. Once she was gone, the story settled right back into its banal predictability.

All in all, there is not much in Lavender Boys to recommend. It fails as historical fiction and it’s not a particularly entertaining story, either. I suppose for readers who like super-sweet love stories it might appeal, but for me, it was too much sugar and not enough spice.

Buy at Torquere

Review: Sticks and Stones by Jamie Craig

Complementing each other on the dance floor isn’t enough to form a relationship. Is it? It’s 1953, and Hollywood is booming with extravagant musicals. Coming off a string of hits with MGM, Paul Dunham couldn’t be hotter. Hoping to capitalize on Paul’s popularity, the studio announces its attention to pair him with the latest actor to make a splash, Jack Wells. It seems like a match made in heaven, except for the fact that Paul can’t stand Jack. He hates the way Jack acts, and he hates Jack’s blue eyes, and he especially hates the fact that Jack is one of the most talented dancers he has ever met. Jack, however, doesn’t hate Paul. In fact, everything Paul does fascinates him. After their first meeting, Jack is determined to win Paul over, and he won’t back down until Paul admits that the two of them are perfect partners…in every way…

Review by T J Pennington

Those of you who know me know that I adore improbable pairings–people who shouldn’t even be friends, let alone lovers, because their personalities, attitudes and so on are so opposite each other. That’s the situation in Sticks and Stones.

Paul Dunham is an established actor in Hollywood–a leading man and excellent dancer with a reputation as a ladies’ man that he has carefully constructed over the years. Jack Wells is a Broadway actor/dancer who’s somewhat younger than Paul. Now Jack is trying to break into movies, and, since Paul’s last movie didn’t do as well as expected, the President of MGM, Dore Schary, has put the two men in the movie Sticks and Stones, hoping they can boost each other up.

It’s a match made in Hell.

Jack gets off on the wrong foot with Paul automatically by being an obsessive fanboy. When refused entrance to Paul’s house by the housekeeper, Jack, who is dazzled by the notion that he is going to be playing opposite the actor he’s had a crush on for years, simply climbs the fence and enters Paul’s studio by the back. He’s honestly puzzled by the fact that Paul, a deeply private man, doesn’t welcome his intrusion into his studio or into his career. And when Jack doesn’t know how to cope, he defaults to making passes at people.

This, from Paul’s point of view, is even worse than the home invasion. For Paul is bisexual-leaning-gay, and since he knows that his preference is a) illegal and b) could destroy his career if word got out that one of MGM’s male stars likes men as lovers, he has avoided sex with men for the past four years and is working very hard at projecting the image of a very masculine, very heterosexual man. There are a few chinks in his armor; Paul’s best friend Martin knows that Paul is more attracted to him than to Martin’s wife Lilah, for all that Lilah is the one that Paul’s having sex with, and more than a few hints are dropped that Paul’s former girlfriend, actress Betty Thayer, also knows of his proclivities.

However, the secret is mostly intact…until Jack appears, operating on autoflirt. This terrifies Paul, who is afraid that someone will see Jack’s flirting and, based on his physical response to Jack, will deduce that Paul is less than straight, causing his carefully constructed life to come crashing down around his ears.

For much of the book, Jack, who is determined to put Paul in a position where he’ll have to react physically or admit that he’s attracted, desperately wants the star that he’s spent years idolizing to see him as a professional, as an equal and as a handsome man. And to this end, he’ll try anything that will allow him to spend a little extra time with Paul, from working long hours on the set to appearing with Paul and a couple of actresses publicly to promote the movie they’re currently filming. He doesn’t admit, even to himself, how much Paul’s good opinion is starting to mean to him, or how bothered he is by the other man’s lack of interest.

After a disastrous public “double date” in which Jack gets loudly and aggressively drunk, nearly exposing Paul’s secret, Paul takes Jack home and then, when Jack realizes his house keys are on the key ring to the Buick he’s loaned to their mutual dates and can’t unlock his door, over to Martin’s house. On the way to both places, they talk. Jack lets Paul know just how much he resents the walls that Paul’s built around himself–and the fact that he can’t get past them. Paul insists that his private life should stay private, and then says something very telling…and very sad, because it’s true, not only for Paul in 1953 but a great many LGBTQ people today:

“You’re right, you know. I don’t want anyone getting in. don’t know what world you’re living in, Jack, but where I live, there’s too much to lose by trusting the wrong person.”

Honesty helps the men talk out their differences, though it doesn’t fix what’s wrong. Jack is starting to grasp the strength of Paul’s willingness to do whatever it takes to pass as straight and thereby maintain his career; the problem is, he loathes the unwritten rules of Hollywood that make such games necessary. Moreover, he feels he’s never going to get Paul’s approval for anything he does or is. Paul, on the other hand, who knows he’s attracted to the man, discovers he’s changed his mind about Jack’s skill; he is a good dancer. And, despite Jack’s flaws, he’s learned to his surprise that he doesn’t mind Jack as a person, either. And once Paul deposits Jack at Martin’s house, the two share an intense kiss.

Of course, once they kiss, they both have to admit to themselves how attracted they are…as well as the fact that most of the animosity in their relationship has turned into something considerably more volatile. A few chapters later, an after-hours dance rehearsal at Paul’s home leads to wild passionate sex…which is followed by one of the best sex-in-the-shower scenes I’ve ever read.

It’s clear by now that the two of them are good together, and that they truly make each other happy. The authors are clever; they set up a potentially idyllic situation and then proceed to show that neither love nor sex solve all of Paul and Jack’s problems. Paul is still petrified about the prospect of exposure and the probability that a photographer will snap a picture of Jack leaving his house in the early morning or that Jack will do something publicly that can’t be passed off as Jack being…well, Jack. Jack’s quick temper leads him to say cruel, wounding things even when he knows better. And just as both men have started to work past their issues and are settling into the start of a new relationship, they’re haunted by a one-night stand with a young man who’s willing to do anything to succeed, including committing blackmail.

Though the authors were evenhanded in their treatment of the two protagonists, I found the Montgomery Clift-like Paul more sympathetic, partly because I initially found Jack’s expectations of instant friendship with his idol and his subsequent anger when he didn’t get it somewhat stalker-ish rather than romantic, and partly because Paul was living in the real world. He knew who he was and what he wanted…but he also knew that it was 1953, that MGM was focusing mostly on wholesome family pictures and that being exposed as a homosexual would compromise his reputation, his career, his future and possibly his life. Paul’s fear of exposure and its very real consequences lent the novel gravity, believability and power.

The sexual details, too, are powerful…intense, detailed, wholly credible. And they’re not only hot, but also say a great deal about the characters and their world. The scene that stands out most in my mind is that of Lilah sucking off Paul while her husband, Paul’s best friend Martin, watches. Now, I can hear some people in the back saying, “Ewww, het!” But to me, it was an incredible scene. Paul wanted to be touched by a man he cared about so badly that he was willing to let his best friend’s wife suck him off while Martin watched so that he could fantasize that Martin was the one making love to him. That says so much about the man’s isolation–that there is no one in Hollywood who can be trusted to give him the love he so desperately needs. This is the best he can do. And he’s so accustomed to this accommodation he doesn’t let himself think about what he really wants for even a second, lest he realize that he’s unhappy and very much alone.

One thing that I especially liked was the level of detail that the the authors included in the book. For example, at one point early on, Paul thinks that he doesn’t want to look like “a hulking bruiser of a bulldog” next to “a little yippy terrier,” like two characters that appeared in a “Warner Brothers cartoon last year.” Spike the Bulldog and Chester the Terrier were only in two shorts for Warner Brothers: Tree for Two (1952) and Dr. Jerkyl’s Hide (1954), so right away the year had to be 1953 or 1955. And it’s emphasized throughout that what Dore Schary–who headed MGM from 1951 to 1956–wants, he gets, which would be far more probable two years after he was hired than the year before he was fired. So even if you didn’t know the date the story is set, you could still figure out from in-story references that it’s 1953.

I also liked that the authors took the time to show Paul and Jack’s relationship shifting from adversarial dislike and hurt pride to appreciation for each other’s talents and finally to honesty and the realization that, despite the risks, this relationship was worth keeping.

I was sorry, therefore, that neither the ending nor the epilogue quite rang true. I could accept one man sacrificing his reputation to a blackmailer to keep the other safe; what I couldn’t accept was the blackmailer going along with it. It seemed to me that such sacrifice would only tell the blackmailer that someone was willing to put everything on the line to save someone he loved…and then both men would be targets. So while I was deeply relieved to see the blackmailing snake foiled by a brave and generous lover, I couldn’t quite believe it would be that easy.

And while I was willing to accept that perhaps MGM had finagled matters to avoid having one of their actors arrested or imprisoned after he’d admitted his preferences publicly–it would have been in their interest to avoid scandal after all–I didn’t feel that one man giving up his studio name and going back to his real one would ensure that Paul and Jack could associate with each other with impunity. It’s not hard to discover for a reporter to discover an actor’s real name, after all. And I felt certain that the studio would be interested in damage control–including keeping one man as far away from the other as possible. It was a happy ending (it left Paul and Jack very much in love and very much together), but it was not a believable happy ending.

Nevertheless, it’s a very good book. And I would definitely recommend it.

Buy from Amber Allure

Review: Stealing Northe by Jamie Craig

Two outlaws and one widow turn to each other for comfort, but nobody expects lust to become a love affair…

Amy Northe hasn’t known a man’s company in the six years since her husband died. That all changes the night her son comes in from chores with two strangers in tow. Kenneth and Leon are seeking shelter, and though Amy wants to turn them away, she can’t. There’s a blizzard moving through the Utah mountains, and Leon’s busted ankle has him teetering on the edge of consciousness. She does the only thing she can and takes them in, unaware of the secrets these young men hide.

Kenneth doesn’t want to take advantage of the older woman’s hospitality, even though she’s the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. But Leon needs help and Amy is a nurse. If he has to satisfy his desire for her in the form of covert trysts with Leon, then that’s what he’ll do, especially since he’s too much of a gentleman to ever think of making advances on her.

Until Amy makes one herself. Then everything changes…for all three of them.

Review by Erastes

Jamie Craig is–as you probably all knew by now–a writing collaboration of Pepper Spinoza and Vivian Dean and I’ve been impressed with just about everything I’ve read of theirs.  I can’t imagine how a colloaboration works; I know that I could never do it, and if I did it would never be seamless–and that’s what Craig’s writing is, seamless.

They have a knack of being able to start a story in the middle, as it were–slap bang in the action, very little backstory to be outlined, because it’s not necessary.  It’s very cinematic writing, the camera pans into the remote log cabin, and we are right there in the moment.  In only a page we learn where we are, who our first protagonist is (Amy Northe, a frontier woman who’s lost her husband)–there’s already a lot of conflict in her life, and then BAM, two strangers appear on the doorstep and off we go.

I found myself entirely pulled in by the situation.  It’s clearly a claustrophobic one, three adults, a kid, animals, all snowed in in a log cabin in the hills, and you really get a sense of the difficulties that life would entail.  Water melted from snow, an elk being meat for the winter, preserved fruit and flour being lifelines to make it through the worst of the weather. It really makes you wonder why people would choose a life like that.

Be warned, you people who seek purely gay relationships in their stories, this isn’t that, as the blurb suggests.  One of the characters is clearly bisexual, and the sex is mostly het and ménage.  What I particularly liked is that this character (Kenneth) knew his tastes–he was clearly very fond of Leon, but while of them knew that Kenneth preferred women, there’s was not a “lets have sex because we don’t have a woman” type of relationship.

He couldn’t leave Leon, even if Leon would have forgiven him for it. And he didn’t want to forget Amy. One way or the other, he’d carry her with him for the rest of his life, even if she was just a very fond and distant memory.

The ménage is nicely handled too, you don’t get the feeling that suddenly there’s a woman to cure the homosexuality in the book, and the sex scenes don’t swamp the story, which is great.

Although menage stories aren’t normally my cup of tea, and frankly this was more het than even menage by the end, I found this an enjoyable book, and a well written if short (130 pages) read.  However there is more in the story to be told, as “Stealing West” is a sequel which I’ll be reviewing shortly.

Author’s Website

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Review: Those Who Cherish by Jamie Craig

Exiled to an abandoned presidio in southwestern Texas, Father Alonzo Vargas is accustomed to being utterly alone except for his white donkey, Angelica. He is also fully acquainted with the corrupt and rotten sheriff, John Cullen, the man responsible for his semi-permanent exile. When he finds a victim of the sheriff hanging upside down from a tree, he immediately cuts the man down and vows to nurse him back to health.

Ben McKinnon has never done anything to cross Sheriff Cullen—except defend the land he inherited from his father. The land Cullen covets. He’s surprised when the exiled priest makes it clear that he will not only be a nurse, but will also become Ben’s ally in the fight against Cullen. He’s even more shocked when he realizes he doesn’t just want Father Alonzo as a friend. Ben cherishes the other man’s mind, his body, and his heart.

But Father Alonzo is not a free man. And if Sheriff Cullen has his way, they will both be dead men.

Review by Erastes

Priestly love has always been something that appeals to me, has done since I first read The Thornbirds, or possibly before, so this theme, coupled with Jamie Craig’s writing was something to look forward to.

Right from the start this book grabbed me–I’m not a huge fan of western stories, but this was obviously not just another tale of cows, campfires and round-ups and the description in the first few pages (I’m a description whore) pulled me in, making me feel the desolation of the prairie/desert, the ominous wheel of the vultures overhead and the baking sun.

Father Alonzo is a good man and a dedicated priest. He’s a little trammeled at being posted 30 miles from anything with nothing much more than a donkey for company and the constant threat of Indians, but he trusts in the fact that God has a plan for him.

Jamie Craig’s characters, I’ve found, are never two-dimensional. They leap off the page straight away. I don’t need to be shown Alonzo’s description to get inside his mind, and Ben is perfectly introduced too.

I admit to being a little confused as to why a priest would have his posting ordered by the local bad guy, though – I was under the impression that the postings were ordered by the Vatican, through a network of communication? But I’m not sure, I’m not an expert in Catholic episcopal organisation of 19th century America!

I particularly liked the way that Ben “came out” to Alonzo, and the way that Alonzo dealt with it.

For its length (around 120 pages) this certainly does a lot, it has adventure, a burgeoning friendship, relationship, and some truly spine meltingly erotic sex. As usual with books of this length that I enjoy I find myself frustrated because I greedily want more; want to know about Alonzo’s past with Cullen, about Ben’s upbringing, want to see Ben being taught to read, want to know how Alonzo’s going to deal with the future… I want the whole thing, really, and this teases us with so much other aspects.

That being said, it’s a perfect perfect short read and one I’ll be getting out to read again and again, I’m sure.

I can’t imagine how a writing collaboration works, I couldn’t do it, but Jamie Craig (a collaboration between Vivien Dean and Pepper Espinoza) does it perfectly. I don’t know how they work it, but there’s never any discernible join–all I can imagine is that they’ve worked together for so long that they know exactly how the other person thinks. It certainly makes them uber-productive, and they while they continue to write historicals as well as contemporaries, I’ll always be a fan.

Author’s Website

Buy from Amber Allure

Review: A Hidden Beauty by Jamie Craig

Poetry drew them together. Forbidden love bound their hearts.

A student of letters, Micah Yardley wants one thing: To meet Jefferson Dering, a poet he’s long admired from afar. After hearing his idol speak at Harvard, Micah travels to Jefferson’s home in Wroxham, entertaining visions of discussing poetry over dinner and drinks. What he experiences exceeds anything he ever anticipated.

Jefferson finds Micah mesmerizing, passionate, everything he has ever wanted. But ten years earlier, caught in a compromising position with another young man, he exiled himself from Boston and proper society. Now Jefferson represses his desire out of respect for Micah, but his tumultuous emotions stir the restless ghost of Wroxham church—with deadly consequences.

Amid denial, desire, and the villagers rising panic, a single kiss is enough to change the course of their lives…and ignite the flame that could fulfill a generations-old promise.

Review by Alex Beecroft

To start with the outside, this is one of the most beautiful covers I’ve yet seen on an ebook; it’s moody, tasteful and sensual and, what’s more, it completely fits the contents of the book.  It might even be an illustration for a particular scene.

The cover sets a high standard and to my pleasure the book inside lived up to it.

Again, I’m pleased to find that the blurb is not at all misleading and does actually summarize what the story is about! I wish I didn’t have to be quite so impressed at both of these things.

This is a slow-paced, tender and beautiful love story between two poets, set – if I’m reading it correctly – in early 19th Century America. Micah is a young gentleman of good family, studying at Harvard, whose admiration for Jefferson’s poetry leads him to visit the man himself in his artistic exile. Micah’s innocence is such that initially he believes his infatuation is merely with Jefferson’s mind, his words, and the shock of discovering his own nature and his real desires is beautifully portrayed and very realistic.

One of the things I liked about the book was that it gave enough time for Micah’s journey of self-realization. Neither his innocence nor his eventual acceptance felt rushed or hard to believe. I also particularly appreciated the epistolary sections, where the different voices of the two men came across sharply. There’s something very charming about reading their love letters.

The slow and careful development of the relationship also allowed time for the forces of society to be amply ranged against the two men. I enjoyed – in a sort of masochistic way – the feeling that, slowly but surely, the jaws of intolerance were closing on the burgeoning love story. By the end I was on tenterhooks as to which force would come to the point of action first. The slow but sure build up of tension almost certainly contributed to the fact that the sex scenes in the book are some of the best I’ve read. By this time we know exactly how much they mean to both men, and some of that awe and wonder comes across, making these scenes truly intimate rather than merely voyeuristic.

However, the sex is also one of the things where I felt the balance of the book was just that little bit off. For my own tastes, there was slightly too much sex in the last quarter of the story. I found that it got in the way of both of the threats the couple faced – the threat of exposure, and the increasingly violent threat of the ghost in the church.

Speaking of which, to me, the ghost and his spooky doings felt a bit shoehorned in. I found myself far more aware of how dangerous it was for Micah – with his powerful father and vigilant tutors who already suspected Jefferson of homosexuality – to move in with Jefferson, than I was of the danger of the ghost. I was waiting for the long arm of the law to reach their idyll, and for the last minute flit to the safety of the wild West, all of which were looming deliciously on the horizon. But instead we had a church burning and the laying of a ghost. I daresay that it was metaphorical or thematically important and I wasn’t paying attention, but I felt it was a bit of a sidetrack.

Oh, and one other quibble; it took me a while to realize that Micah was an innocent young man who didn’t understand his own desires, because I was lead into error by the first sentence:

Prior to his journey, Micah Yardley would never have considered anticipation as the ultimate aphrodisiac.

I have to admit that I spent the first chapter and a half thinking that he was a worldly and debauched young aristo who had come into the country to corrupt a timid poet. Whether this was accidentally misleading, or a deliberate, amusing irony, I’m still not sure. It made for a strange twist in the head a couple of chapters in, which did leave me feeling a little seasick.

Apart from those few things, however, this is a book I really enjoyed – a book I felt immersed in with delight – and one that will go up on my favourites shelf to read again often.

Buy: Samhain

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