Speak Its Name’s Best of the Year 2011

Happy New Year!

Last year I said that it had been a bumper year for historicals and I had trouble keeping up with reviews. Well, this year it’s official. I haven’t been able to keep up with the releases at ALL. There are books out there, I know, that I haven’t seen, haven’t been advised about and even today I heard that a good friend of mine has two books coming out and I hadn’t a Scooby.

Part of this is because it’s been a busy year for me, troubles healthwise myself and troubles as my Dad has deterioated, but the GOOD part is that there are so many gay historicals coming out that it’s a flood – and one that I hope is never dammed. 😀

The genre is going from strength to strength and I couldn’t be more proud of it. It’s wonderful to see existing authors trying it out – and even more wonderful to see newly published authors who are obviously brilliant at it.

Our “best of 2012” 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  and Four and a Half Star ratings.

The awards (other than the Reader’s Choice) 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

The best thing I read this year was The German by Lee Thomas. Gritty, multiple POVs, fascinating and endlessly re-readable. I can’t recommend this book enough.


bestnovel2012

A very close second was All the Beauty of the Sun by Marion Husband

Speak Its Name’s Best Cover of the Year

This was a difficult choice, purely because there was no stand out cover for me this year – don’t forget we are only choosing from the books that were reviewed – I was disappointed with the covers I came across this year, nothing seemed to pop the way the covers did from last year. However, my favourite of the bunch was Reese Dante’s design for Shadowboxing by Anne Barwell.

bestcover 2012

Runner up for me was The German by Lee Thomas.

Speak Its Name’s Best Author of the Year

This goes to Charlie Cochet, who made a spectacular debut and since then has been consistently good. Every single book of hers I’ve read I’ve been impressed with, and she writes her specialist era with such skill and clarity that you can’t help but be transported to the 1920’s and 30’s America.  Keep it up, Charlie!

  

bestauthor2012

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 is Aleksandr Voinov with his lovely, poignant novella set in WW2 “Skybound
Well done!
readers choice 2012
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 2013 is even better.

Review: All the Beauty of the Sun by Marion Husband

Soho 1925

Two young men meet – for one of them this is love at first sight, for the other only lust and guilt…

In 1925 Paul Harris returns to England from self-imposed exile in Tangiers for an exhibition of his paintings.  He leaves behind Patrick, the man he has loved since they met in the trenches in 1918, needing to discover if he has the strength to live without him and wanting to explore the kind of life he might have lived had it not been for the war.  In Bohemian Soho, Paul meets Edmund whose passionate love changes Paul’s idea of himself.  With Edmund, Paul begins to believe that he may have another life to live, free of the guilt and regrets of the past.  But the past is not so easy to escape, and when Patrick follows Paul to London a decision must be made that will affect all their lives.

281 pages. Available in ebook and paperback

Review by Erastes

This is a sequel of sorts to Husband’s “The Boy I Love” which I reviewed in 2007. It’s a little confusing because the three books in the series, “The Boy I Love”, “Paper Moon”, and “All the Beauty of the Sun” were written in the order above, but the timeline is: “The Boy I Love”, “All the Beauty of the Sun” and “Paper Moon”. This is important if you were setting off to read them all in order–and I highly recommend you do because these books are stellar. Simply the pinnacle of gay historical fiction.

Husband’s prose suits me perfectly, I’m quite aware that this more literary style won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but I find  her level of detail, her love for the minutiae in the depth of great emotion to be one of her greatest assets. She’s not content with someone walking with some distress through London streets; with skillful use of layering detail on detail she brings the scene to live through sights, scents, sounds, even touch. The effect of this is not only to show the protagonists emotional state, which literary fiction must rely on, but to immerse you entirely into the scene, sometimes you feel so close that you wonder that the characters can’t see you, peering in on them.

Paul Harris, whose story is more or less the mutual thread in the series, has returned from Tangiers, where he’s been living in exile with his lover, Patrick, in order to show his war paintings in a London gallery and hopefully to sell them. He’s uncertain as to whether the trip was sensible–he’s an ex convict, and would be in danger one again should his homosexuality be exposed again–and he’s left Patrick behind. He is anchored with Patrick–Patrick was his sargeant in the war, and Paul learned in the trenches to rely on Patrick–and it is Patrick that pulled Paul out of more than one terrible problems in the previous book.

Sadly though, Paul is very much “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you are with” so anyone who dislikes this ethos might want to avoid.

His story interweaves with the others in the story. Ann, the “good time girl” and artists’ model, Lawrence, straight but probably more on  his wavelength than any, the gallery owner and artist, Joseph Day, love rival for Ann, and Edmund, public schoolboy and bi-curious gay virgin. Some of it is written in third person, some in first, some in stream of conciousness, so if that literary style isn’t for you, you might not want to try it, but I think you should because the writing is so utterly beautiful.

Even when it is recounting the worst of times–death in the trenches being one dark subject, the prose remains clear and honest. This isn’t–for those who find World War One unreadable–something that dwells heavily on the trenches. It’s mentioned and obviously the effects of the war still resonate with everyone, physically and mentally, but it’s not the only factor. Paul has more demons than just the war, oh yes indeed.

I can’t help but care for Paul passionately. I felt tremendously sorry for him, and the things he does in London were unwise, but I felt he was a leaf, blown about by fate and he didn’t have the fibre to hold himself upright. I think any pretty young man would have captured him. Despite what he purports to feel about Edmund, I was never fully convinced–I don’t think he could separate love and sex, and Edmund was relatively untouched by the war. He lost a brother, but he was too young to have been in himself. Perhaps it is that aspect of Edmund that draws Paul, like a moth to a flame.

I did find the relationships rather confusing, and they lent heavily on coincidence. Everyone seemed to know everyone else. Ann for example, who Paul has only met through Lawrence and Edmund, knows–and has had a relationship with–Matthew, a man who has spent years in hospital, the war drove him mad.

It’s hard to describe the plot, because other than the thread of Paul of Edmund there isn’t really much of one–but that’s no detriment. Rather it’s a “slice of life” we start watching these characters at a certain point, and we stop at a certain point. There’s no definitive ending, no neat tying up of plot lines, because this deals with life, and of course life doesn’t have genre ending.

All of the characters–and there are more than I’ve described, all of whom are connected to Paul in some way or other–are fully fleshed out, their actions and reactions explored and consequences–or the threat of consequences–worried about. I take my hat off to Husband, because she is a master juggler of plotlines, how she does it, and with such a deft touch is beyond me.

So, don’t miss this series–if you love the power of words, words rich in layer and tone without swamping themselves in the morass of “this is literature” you will love them. Can’t recommend them enough.

As a final note, I have to mention the covers. The trilogy has been republished by Accent Press with new covers and they are terribly misleading. On each cover (as you can see) there’s a close up of a beautiful woman with a war/London backdrop. Seeing that in a bookshop makes one think that you are getting a standard women’s fiction book or a romance. Granted, the back makes it clear that the story revolves around Paul and his loves but the cover? It’s baffling. If the publisher was actually afraid to put a picture of a man on “The Boy I Love” and “All the Beauty of the Sun” then it’s rather misrepresenting, and once a reader buys a book thinking it’s one thing and finds that actually it’s gay romance with some scenes with more description than the average non-gay-fiction-reader can cope with, they probably won’t come back. I would have much preferred a more honest cover, but this doesn’t affect the five star mark, of course.

Author’s Website

Buy at Accent Press | Amazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: The Lilac Tree by Marion Husband (short story)

The Lilac Tree is a short story included in Marion Husband’s short story collection “Six Little Deaths” dealing–as the title suggests with the subject of death.

The only gay historical story, The Lilac Tree, is a reminiscence of an elderly man–in a care home, or rented accommodation, being looked after by non-relatives who has nothing much but memories to bring any sunlight into his life. A child asks him an innocent question, and although the answer to that question is “no” it triggers bittersweet memories of a fleeting but intense first love with an officer in World War One.

Husband’s writing is always a delight to read, and this is no exception. It creates an atmosphere with the lightest of touches, says just enough and no more. We are taken from the old man’s life:

me, in my slippers and cake-crumbed cardigan

and transported, by the smell and sight of lilac, to that love affair, long long ago:

He waited for me beneath a lilac tree, the cigarette between his fingers sending its frail grey wisps of smoke to the pale blue sky.  He smoked cigarettes until there was nothing left of them except the stain on his fingers and when he kissed me the taste was pure tobacco.

For a short story it packs a punch, although one expects the sadness, it doesn’t make it any less poignant. The saddest part was the young man living his life and still remembering this as such a vivid memory. I wanted him to have more vibrant memories to erase it.

There are five other stories in the collection, and all are beautifully written, and for the price this is well worth getting and reading again and again.

Author’s website

Buy at  Amazon UK      Amazon USA

Review: The Boy I Love by Marion Husband

A tangled web of love and betrayal develops when war hero Paul returns from the trenches. He finds himself torn between desire and duty, his lover Adam awaits but so too does Margot, the pregnant fiancée of his dead brother. Set in a time when homosexuality was the love that dare not speak its name, Paul has to decide where his loyalty and his heart lie.

Review by Erastes

I devoured this book. It was like comfort food. English to the core and had (for me) the same effect as scoffing steak and kidney pudding. I wallowed.

It’s based just after the First World War and Paul has returned home after 18 months in a mental hospital due to a severe case of shellshock. His brother, whom he and everyone else adored, has been killed – ironically after the armistice -in a car crash. Paul’s “queer”, and is discreetly continuing a relationship with Adam that he had started before the war. When his brother’s girlfriend tells him she’s pregnant by Robbie, Paul has some choices to make. It’s further complicated by Pat, a man damaged by his past, who was Paul’s sergeant and who has, or so he thinks, an unrequited crush on Paul.

What I loved about this was the frank and bleak look at men returning from the trenches. None of them are whole, Paul’s eye was “dug out by a rusty spoon” and he still wakes up screaming with shellshock, Mick (Pat’s brother) has lost his legs, Adam was “unfit for service”, and most families in the town have lost someone, but still – it’s a very English novel, with the world moving on, people drinking tea and getting quietly on with their lives.  The country is changing, women are working, women are smoking, women are going out when pregnant!  (Another nice touch about this book is that there are women characters who resonate and aren’t just there for decoration or to be The Bitch.)

The author is deft and skilful in the way the story unfolds – which is told partly in flashback. There’s a mystery at the heart of the book too; we are told that something happened to Paul in the trenches (other than the normal!); something involving a man called Jenkins and it takes the book to unravel what happens whilst still coping with about six different plotlines. Impressive.

If I have one tiny quibble, I’d say that it didn’t, to my mind, get deep enough into the character’s points of view, I think Pat was the character who’s head we were deepest into, and with such dark subjects – and with such choices to be made I would have like to have known more of what people were thinking.   Perhaps it should have been longer to try and encompass this, perhaps it was a tiny bit ambitious for a first novel.  That being said, even without a deeper POV, the characters are very memorable and I was rooting for all of them even though I knew that it couldn’t ALL work out in a pat fashion.

Author’s website

EbookAmazon UK Amazon USA

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