Review: The Lonely War by Alan Chin

The key issue keeping the U.S. armed forces from going beyond Don’t Ask Don’t Tell to give gay servicemen equal rights is a blind fear of love relationships forming, not between enlisted soldiers but between officers and soldiers, which would undermine the chain of command. The Lonely War tackles this topic head on. It tells the story of an enlisted sailor who falls in love with his executive officer. When the crew of the USS Pilgrim become POWs in Changi, a notoriously brutal prison camp, this sailor is elevated though hardship and love to discover his inner resources and extraordinary courage, allowing him to sacrifice himself to save the life of his beloved. Like most war novels, The Lonely War envelops all that is unique to war, the horror of battle, overcoming fear, the cruelty of soldiers, the loyalty and camaraderie of men caught in a desperate situation. Yet, it stands alone in two important ways. First, it is a passionate story written about a tender love developing between an officer and an enlisted man, revealing a rare and dignified portrait of a couple struggling to satisfy desire within the confines of the military code of conduct. Even more importantly however, it describes the heart-wrenching measures of how much one man will sacrifice to save the life and reputation of the man he loves.

A collaborative review by Leslie H. Nicoll and Natasha Villion

Let’s start the year with a five star review, shall we? If you are hankering for a well written, historically accurate World War II story that will tug at your heartstrings, The Lonely War by Alan Chin should go straight to the top of your TBR pile.

I read and reviewed this book for jessewave’s site a few weeks ago and promised Erastes I would revise my review for Speak Its Name. Reviews here at the site were put on hold due to the Advent Calendar festivities and that turned out to be a fortuitous turn of events. One of the regular commenters at Wave’s site, “Tish” (Natasha), got in touch with me about The Lonely War. She had recently read and enjoyed another book of military stories, Hidden Conflict (which was reviewed here just a few days ago) and was interested in The Lonely War. But, she also had a personal history with Changi prison and wondered how explicit The Lonely War was. “Chin doesn’t pull any punches,” I said. “He’s pretty clear about what went on in the notorious POW camp.” Even though she had a few trepidations, Tish decided to read The Lonely War—and was glad she did. “This is definitely one of my top reads for the year,” she wrote me. “Maybe even forever—it’s that good.”

I asked Tish if she would write a review for Speak Its Name because I thought her personal experience with the prison (through her family) was an interesting context for reading the book. At first she demurred but then, with some urging from her husband, decided to accept my invitation. The following is her review.

~~~

This story both terrified and enthralled me. Maybe I should explain a little bit about who I am. I was born in Singapore to a Malay/Indian mother and a white Royal Navy father in the 1960s. So WW2 was still quite fresh in people’s minds. Singapore had expelled the communists and had moved away from British rule. It was a glorious upbringing but the underlying sadness of those that lived through WW2 was ever present.

Changi had become a full prison but the beaches around it were a popular swimming place for locals and us temporary locals. There were still small Malay villages with houses sitting on stilts with their palm frond roofs. The old men sat in the shade and watched the mad Europeans dash around the beach playing cricket and other English staple sports.

I was raised by a Malay woman who was both our amah (maid) and nanny.  She told my sister and me stories of the Japanese invasion of her island and how her father had helped smuggle British and Australian soldiers out of the prison and into Malaysia.

My mother told me stories of her father and grandfather and the torture they suffered at Changi prison during the war. They were accused of aiding and spying for the British, which they most proudly did. My great grandfather died during one of these torture sessions watched by his son, my grandfather.

I have yet to come across any Asian who is bitter about the war. Maybe they know more about forgiveness than I do.

This story, The Lonely War by Alan Chin, is about Andrew Waters, an Asian American seaman with the US Navy.  The book is written in three distinct parts. The first is set aboard the US Navy ship, The Pilgrim; the second, at Changi prison; and the third, in Japan, after the war has ended.

Raised in Thailand and forced to leave when it is invaded, Andrew tries to make a life for himself as a Buddhist and pacifist in the US Navy.  It was his American father’s wish that Andrew join the Navy and Andrew, being a good Asian son, complies. He is very well educated but not of officer rank. He struggles to maintain a polite distance from all the other men on the ship except one.

The first part of the story, while aboard the USS Pilgrim, has Andrew battling wits with an officer, who is both enthralled and confused by him. This part of the book sets the tone and pace of a love story that lasts a lifetime. It also shows what life was like for non-whites during WW2 and the way they were treated and what was expected of them. It is a good depiction of life aboard a ship of war. Part One ends when the ship is attacked and the men are taken prisoner by the enemy.

Part Two is set during the prisoners’ internment at Changi prison, run by the Japanese. For me, this section of the book was terrifying, as I knew from family accounts how ruthless the Japanese were. Even telling such a horrific tale, the writing was very tastefully done. Some of what is described is completely believable, such as the making protein from insects to trade among prisoners. In this part of the story, Andrew shines, although you might not realize it at first. His love for his officer makes him do something that changed him forever. I liked the way this part of the book unfolded and Andrew’s dilemma was handled. It wasn’t gratuitous or unbelievable. He kept the soul of himself intact and that alone made this section more believable for this reader.

Part Three is Andrew’s journey after the war; it is about promises kept and finding your humanity. His soul is shattered and bleeding. Andrew’s journey in body and spirit is harrowing. His loss and failings are heartbreaking and the writing is so true to his experience that it hurts to read. This kind, gentle, man has nowhere to turn and no one to turn to and it leaves such a bitter taste in your heart you don’t know if you can recover or if he can.

This part sold the story for me. It was so well written that you feel every blade in Andrew’s soul.

I know this story sounds more about war then love, but is it? The author Alan Chin, has written a very good story about WW2 from an Asian American perspective. It is a story of a life-altering experience during internment at one of the most barbaric prisons in Asia and redemption after the war. I found it a truthful telling of one man’s life and a faithful account of the war in Asia. I also found a love story that will stay with me long after the last page has been read. I fell in love with all these brave men and I wish them well wherever they might land.

~~~

At my jessewave review, I gave The Lonely War 4.75 stars because I had a few minor quibbles with some of the writing. While I still stand by what I said, I find I can honestly give the book 5 stars here at Speak Its Name. I was influenced by Tish’s strong reaction to the book and she told me in no uncertain terms it was a 5 star read for her. Also, the historical accuracy was outstanding and that, here at SiN, is the gold standard by which I judge a book and in that respect, it definitely earned its stars.

To conclude, let me repeat my closing paragraph from my earlier review:

I sometimes wonder why I like war stories so much, since I certainly don’t like war! Maybe it is because the well-written ones do so much to point out the futility and ultimate uselessness of killing each other; that being brutal and hateful is not the way to solve problems even when we are put up against evil people. But we persist. In The Lonely War, Chin makes us ask those hard questions again, framing them against the background of very real men caught up in extraordinary and terrible circumstances. He puts World War II on a human plane, which is, for the soldiers and sailors—men like Andrew—how it was fought. As I closed the last page, my heart ached for all of them.

I would suggest that a fitting resolution for 2010 is to put this book on your “must read” list—sooner, rather than later. It’s that good and Tish and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Amazon USA Amazon UK Fictionwise link (ebook)

Review: An Improper Holiday by K A Mitchell

As second son to an earl, Ian Stanton has always done the proper thing. Obeyed his elders, studied diligently, and dutifully accepted the commission his father purchased for him in the Fifty-Second Infantry Division. The one glaring, shameful, marvelous exception: Nicholas Chatham, heir to the Marquess of Carleigh.

Before Ian took his position in His Majesty’s army, he and Nicky consummated two years of physical and emotional discovery. Their inexperience created painful consequences that led Ian to the conviction that their unnatural desires were never meant to be indulged.

Five years later, wounded in body and plagued by memories of what happened between them, Ian is sent to carry out his older brother’s plans for a political alliance with Nicky’s father. Their sister Charlotte is the bargaining piece.

Nicky never believed that what he and Ian felt for each other was wrong and he has a plan to make things right. Getting Ian to Carleigh is but the first step. Now Nicky has only twelve nights to convince Ian that happiness is not the price of honor and duty, but its reward.

Review by Erastes

At last–a Regency that reads like a Regency!  K A Mitchell was not an author known to me, so I was pleasantly surprised to be drawn in immediately with dialogue that was perfectly formal and with a real sense of time and place.

It’s quite nicely researched, and I wish I had that to say more often.  Usage of the word “marquisate” for example which is entirely correct, a journey by carriage to Derbyshire over vile, rutted roads which took days–and extended further because of the inconvenience of Ian’s sister–rather than hours.  It’s touches like this which really bring a book to life. (See my recent rant on horses!!)

It’s good too, to see an disabled hero.  So many books have entirely whole officers returning from the war, and dealing with an amputee is realistic and refreshing in this genre.  In fact Ian is quite a delight, having:

gone from reading classics in his purple robes to the buff and scarlet of a second lieutenant, with no time at all to learn how to converse with a lady. What did one say in such a case?

I love the way he fills in the backstory between himself and Nicholas in deft, episodic touches which pull the reader along like Scheredzhade did with her murderous husband, so we never feel we are being dumped with the backstory, or pulled out of the present narrative with a break in the action, as if often the case with “Parted Lover” stories.

The language is perfectly apt for the period, not so olde -worlde as to be inaccessible, but a great balance of formal narrative and speech and some really lush description, so well painted that you can really see exactly what’s being described, like this section which makes me feel very sorry for the poor servants.

Lacy clumps of snow still fell, yet slowly enough that the cobblestone path was well-cleared by servants wielding stable brooms. Hundreds of candles in the chapel threw enough light to gild the small drifts with a gold luster. Such a view coupled with the light scent of horses from the brooms made Ian fancy the sight and smells recaptured the Nativity.

He’s emo, yes, but it works very well, and that surprised me, as so many times I find an emo protag to be annoying as hell. But Ian is not whining; he’s realistic and fatalistic.  He thinks he’s seeing it clearly. Nicholas has responsibilities now he’s the Marquess, and their youthful love affair, however torrid, cannot possibility resume, however much Ian would want it to.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, and there’s much more to the plot, and more character involved–all beautifully fleshed out, and none of them just wallpaper, than the blurb or my clumsy review shows. But I’m not going to spoil it for you, and if you enjoy a regency with a strong flavour of the time, well-researched history that layers itself onto the page without you even noticing it’s there and a protagonists that you will be crossing your fingers for–hoping that they will get their well-deserved happiness, then you are going to love this.

The cover is quite silly, of course, but you can’t have everything.

Author’s website

Buy from Samhain

Review: American Hunks by David L. Chapman and Brett Josef Grubisic


The “American hunk” is a cultural icon: the image of the chiseled, well-built male body has been promoted and exploited for commercial use for over 125 years, whether in movies, magazines, advertisements, or on consumer products, not only in America but throughout the world.

American Hunks is a fascinating collection of images (many in full color) depicting the muscular American male as documented in popular culture from 1860 to 1970. The book, divided into specific historic eras, includes such personalities as bodybuilder Charles Atlas; pioneer weightlifter Eugene Sandow; movie stars like Steve “Hercules” Reeves and Johnny “Tarzan” Weismuller; and publications such as the 1920s-era magazine Physical Culture and the 1950s-era comic book Mr. Muscles. It also touches on the use of masculine, homoerotic imagery to sell political and military might (including American recruitment posters and Nazi propaganda from the 1936 Olympics), and how companies have used buff, near-naked men to sell products from laundry detergent to sacks of flour since the 1920s. The introduction by David L. Chapman offers insightful information on individual images, while the essay by Brett Josef Grubisic places the work in its proper historical context.

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

American Hunks is a wonderful collection of photographs, spanning a bit more than a century from 1860 to the early 1970s. It shows muscular men in all their glory, starting with the early gymnasts and strongmen and moving on to bodybuilders and Hollywood stars with handsome physiques.

The pictures are drawn from the collection of author David L. Chapman, who opens the book with a wonderful memoir when he was eleven, in 1959, and wandered into a tobacconist and magazine store in his hometown of Chula Vista, CA. There, he stumbled upon the magazine, Physique Pictorial, with John Tristam on the cover, photographed by Robert Mizer. Chapman bought the magazine (which, given his age and the fact that the proprietor of the shop was blind, was amusing in and of itself) and in that moment, a collecting obsession was born.

The book has minimal text: a Foreword by Chapman and an essay, Flexed for Success: Consumer Goods, Pop Culture, and the Setting of Heroic Masculinity by co-author Brett Josef Grubisic. It is broken into seven chapters: The Pioneers (1860-1914); Hunks Make the World Safe (1914-1919); Jazz-Age Athletes (1920-1929); Depression Physiques (1930-1940); Supermen at War (1941-1949); The Age of the Chest (1950-1959); and Muscles à Go-Go! (1960-1969). The concluding pictures in the book are of an Austrian with an unpronounceable name who marked the end of normal

bodybuilding and the rise of steroid enhanced bodies. To those of us who appreciate the male form in its natural glory, the current crop of ‘roid puffed-up specimens are about as realistic as breast implants bolted onto a woman’s chest, and Chapman wisely left them out, letting the book end at its natural conclusion.

American Hunks is a large format book (8” x 10”) printed in full color on glossy paper. Many of the images are full-page and all have extensive comments in the picture captions, identifying the subject and photographer (when known) and additional contextual information. In addition to physique photographs, the book includes ads, magazine covers, movie posters and stills, postcards and a variety of other ephemera to illustrate the rise of muscular masculinity in popular American culture.

This 351 page book retails for $29.95 (US) which in my mind is a bargain; right now it is discounted at Amazon to $19.77 which is an absolute steal. For UK readers, it is available for pre-order at a price of £19.54 which isn’t quite as much of a good buy but still a pretty good deal. And let’s be honest, to have such an exquisite collection of handsome looking men to drool over—is money really the issue?

At Out.com, I found a slide show of pictures from the book so if you need any more temptation to add this book to your collection, go there and look at them. In the meantime, I’ve included a few of my favorites here, along with the captions (just hold your cursor over the picture too see the caption), to

give you first-hand impression of what the book is all about. Enjoy!

Visit Arsenal Pulp Press for more information.

Buy from Amazon USA and pre-order from Amazon UK

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review.

chauncey-gay-new-york3

Review: Outbursts! A Queer Erotic Thesaurus by A.D. Peterkin


Erotic slang words from Great Britain, Canada, the United States, Australia, and other English-speaking nations number well into the tens of thousands. But the history of terms used to describe the sexual activities of gays and lesbians have opposing sources: one, the discreet networks of gay men and lesbians who sought to come up with a new terminology for the pleasures of their secret lives; and the other, those who found gay sexuality repellent, and created phrases that denigrated and insulted its proponents. The result? A coded language, for better or worse, that celebrates sexuality in all its queerness.

Reviewed by Jean Roberta

This unusual reference book was published in 2003, but it is still (to this reviewer’s knowledge) the only one of its kind. It is a brave attempt to catalogue all the words used in English for “queer” (gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender) subjects, post-2000 and in the past.

In his introduction, the author explains some of the challenges of compiling this book:

“queer language is in a state of near constant flux much in keeping with the ever increasing visibility of gays and lesbians in contemporary culture.”

Peterkin goes on to explain that the need for secret “passwords” in more homophobic times gave rise to such elaborate identifying markers as:

“the secret male language called Polari (more or less from ‘parlare,’ to speak in Italian) used by gay men in London from the 1930s to 1970s. The language of Polari contained some 500 words about sex, the body, physical appearance, meeting places, straights and gays. . . some Polari terms, like ‘bod,’ ‘trade,’ ‘troll,’ basket,’ and ‘cottage’ are still used today, and many have been absorbed into mainstream vocabulary as well.”

According to Peterkin, the increased acceptance and visibility of queer culture since the birth of the “Gay Rights” movement in 1969 has not decreased the need for specialized vocabularies, especially as new sexual identities and sub-communities have emerged. The author claims: “As an example, in the 1990s we saw the emergence of bear culture and terminology to describe hirsute, physically large gay men and their admirers.”

The alphabetical entries begin with “abdomen,” “androgyne,” “anus,” “aphrodisiac” and “aroused.” The synonyms for “androgyne” include “morphodite,” a mysteriously insulting word that this reviewer remembers being used by other teenagers in rural Idaho in the 1960s, regardless of whether they knew what it meant. (The word was applied to male “sissies” and female “tomboys” in a rigidly gendered culture.) Peterkin confirms my suspicion that it is a corruption of “hermaphrodite,” originally the name of the child of Hermes and Aphrodite in Greek mythology.

Queer words meaning “aroused” include “having a pash for” (which was used as early as World War I, although usually in a heterosexual context) as well as “hot as a firecracker,” which the author describes as a Canadian term first used in the 1920s.

Strangely enough, “Canadian” is listed as a euphemism for any gay male. Perhaps it is not surprising that this use of the word seems unknown in Canada, although “Lebanese” for lesbian (which was widely used in the 1980s on the Canadian prairies, where actual immigrants from Lebanon were rare) is not listed at all. The author explains that the word “lesbian” itself was originally based on a place-name, since the ancient Greek poet Sappho, who wrote about love between women in the seventh century BC, came from the island of Lesbos. Presumably any native of that island can still be called a Lesbian, regardless of sexual identity.

According to this book, the use of place-names to indicate queer sexuality or queer culture continues in references to San Francisco (no surprise there) as well as to less-obvious locations such as Santa Fe. References to ethnicity or culture are included in traditional terms such as “the English vice” as a (non-British) term for BDSM (bondage/discipline/dominance/submission/sadism/masochism) and “French letter” as a (non-French) term for a condom. More recent references to culture in queerspeak include terms for those who are attracted to a particular race or ethnicity, such as “rice queens” (gay men who prefer Asian partners) and “Zebras” (white queers who prefer black partners and vice versa).

Other listed words for those whose sex practices are unusual or controversial even in the queer community include “Butcher boy” for a gay man who has sex with lesbians, “vampire” for a gay man who steals other people’s partners, “Gillette blade” for a bisexual woman, and “switch hitter,” derived from baseball terminology, for a bisexual woman or man.

“Beard” is listed as a term for a woman who dates gay men to help them “pass” as heterosexual. Besides being notable as a term used in Chaucer’s “The Miller’s Tale” (written in Middle English in the 1380s) to mean a practical joke, this use of “beard” seems similar to “fag hag,” except that a “hag” is usually assumed to initiate friendships with gay men for her own reasons.

As the author explains somewhat apologetically in his introduction, more queer terms (especially those that refer to the body and to specific sex practices) apply to men than to women. Considering this, it is notable that the word “gay” itself (which literally means happy) first seems to have been used as a sexual term in Shakespeare’s time to refer to women who were thought to be promiscuous. Like other feminine terms which have been appropriated by feminine men, “gay” came to apply to men who were also considered slutty because they were homosexual (even if monogamous). The extension of this use of the word to lesbians brings it back to women by a roundabout route. This book includes a more recent woman-centric term (which could possibly be extended to males) to mean “aroused:” the cute acronym “NDL” for “nipples don’t lie.”

This book is hard to summarize; it really needs to be read from cover to cover. Many of the black-and-white illustrations between blocks of print are vintage porn images from yesteryear. The flexible binding of this book enables it to be spread flat for easy reading. It deserves to be added to the growing library of scholarly material on queer culture through the ages.

chauncey-gay-new-york3

Author’s website

Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: Fellow Travellers by T.C. Worsley

When Harry Watson, an attractive and personable ex-Guardsman, becomes involved with the young novelist Martin Murray, he is quick to assimilate Martin’s left-wing views.  He fits readily into Martin’s circle, along with the earl’s daughter and communist Lady Nellie Griffiths, her playboy nephew Pugh, and the unconfident Oxford undergraduate Gavin Summers.  But then Harry’s enthusiasm leads him to join the International Brigade, and all five are suddenly faced with the stark realities of the Spanish Civil War.

Review by Erastes

This is an English “Gone With the Wind” in a way, in the same way that Mitford’s 1930’s novels are; detailing a way of life that has gone forever–and a book which becomes a piece of social history, because although fictional on the surface, Fellow Travellers was written in the time, and is largely based on real-time events and real people.

The story is told in a fascinating manner; the unnamed narrator is a man who has been meaning to write a novel about these events, but has never really got around to it. (Many of us know that feeling!) So instead of wasting the time and research that he’s put into the project he presents us with his historical records of the events: letters, interviews with the five people involved and his own sporadic author’s notes.  He starts off with each of the five people giving their opinions of all of the other five, then deals with their political beliefs, and then the catalysts that led them all charging off to protect the doomed Spanish republic.

It took me a little while to get my head around the way the books was structured, but once I did I found it a much easier read than I had anticipated.  The unnamed narrator has an appealing style, and a dry sense of humour at times, and all five of the characters come to life little by little in varying degrees.

We are introduced to Harry first of all

The homosexuality (and indeed bisexuality) in this book is a simple fact, no-one is expecting anyone to judge, and there’s no sense at all of censure (until they go to Spain and Martin is faced with arrogant bigots) as they all frequent a literary pack of like-minded individuals where the right and wrong of gay life doesn’t impinge.  Harry and Martin are living in “uneasy domesticity” at the beginning; before Martin took up with him, Harry is “undeniably attractive” but a male “tart” (as he’s described several times in the book), going with anyone who will support him, and – as Martin says he’s sure of – would have come to a bad end had Martin not taken up with him.  Although from working-class mining stock, he’s a bit of a chameleon.

His capacity to fit himself into any situation or social circumstances was remarkable in one who had after all come from a miner’s terrace.  It was this capacity which had served him so well when he first burst upon London and discovered that there were plenty of willing gentlemen ready to play host to such an engaging personality.

It’s this chameleon quality, his magpie-like capacity to take on the respectability of others, and the political views of others which drives the book along.  Harry–the odd-man out in this little group of upper-middle and upper class intelligentsia–becomes the catalyst to events.  He finds Martin’s left-wing views and embraces them, joins the Communist Party but soon becoming bored when–in peacetime–there’s nothing much for him to do other than flag waving, speech making and marching.

Second of the characters is Lady Nellie, daughter of an Earl, and sister to an Earl.  As many of this class did in this time, she’s the black sheep of her family, the English rebel without a cause, finding a cause within the Communist Party and joining the Party without truly understanding the true meaning of the practicalities of it, despite reading Marx and others.

Gavin is a bit of a wet hen. He is trying to write an autobiographical novel, but moans that nothing has ever happened to him, so why would anyone read it. He scoffs at all of the others’ political and religious beliefs while having none of his own.  He had been in love with Harry at one point, and had a brief passionate affair with Pugh, but like everything he does, he can’t commit to anything.  His involvement in the war was actually quite intriguing.

Martin is probably the most complex of all the characters – based very strongly on the novelist Stephen Spender – he tries to balance his life around the varying pressures that affect him.  After six months with Harry he realises that it’s not going to work, and manages to persuade him to leave, but because he feels responsible for “adopting” Harry and getting him accustomed to a life beyond his means, he continues to support him, with a flat and an allowance.  He goes to Spain purely to help Harry out of the scrape he gets him into, again based on fact, as Stephen Spender did for his own ex-Guardsman lover, Tony Hyndham.  Incidentally, these elements of the book are echoed in another book that concentrates on this era “While England Sleeps” by David Leavitt which is reviewed here.

Pugh is probably the least clear of the characters, even though his story winds clearly through everyone else’s.  I can’t put my finger on why he’s quite so vague as a character–perhaps it’s because there are no actual interview directly with Pugh himself, like there are with the others. We know he’s wanton, bisexual rather than homosexual, and gets into trouble over just about anything.  If anyone was going to get into trouble in the war, it was bound to be him.

The characters’ opinions of everyone else are the lightest part of the book, and amusing in parts as everyone thinks they know everyone else and it’s very clear that they know nothing of the sort.  Nellie is convinced that Harry is determined to get a job and believes every excuse as to why he won’t take one, Gavin decries everyone, and Martin feels he is acting for the best.  As for the political section, I admit that I was a little lost in that, not really understanding the differences between socialism, communism, crypto-fascism and goodness knows what else.

The war itself cover slightly less than half the book, in all, and is only really dealt with in letters from the characters (not Pugh) to the narrator, and from diary entries from Nellie and Martin.  But what is written is vivid and unforgettable.  It’s hard not to be swept up in Nellie’s and Martin’s exhilaration of the Anarchist spirit  of Barcelona and then to mourn with them as they realise that there really can not be any such thing as a purely communist army where everyone is equal, and if it attempts to be so, it cannot help but fail.  I for one, with the sang-froid brought on by 40 or so years watching warfare on the TV, felt Nellie’s sheer horror as a new kind of warfare was born–one where cities were destroyed, thousands of evacuees fled from nowhere to nowhere, and where women and children are raked by plane machine guns while already fleeing for their lives.

What is clear, and for me, hard to read, is the way that European events were largely ignored by England. The juggernaut of Hitler and Mussolini lumbers towards the Second World War but it seems that England has its head stuck firmly in the sand.  Nellie’s brother David is the face of this denial here.  When Pugh decides to join the Carlists, the Catholic Nationalist supporters (and quite the wrong side as far as Nellie and the others were concerned), this is what Nellie reports of her conversation between David and herself:

‘And you’ll just let him throw his life away?’ I said.

‘What’s he doing now but throwing his life away?  If he’s going to do that, he might as well do it for something he believes in.’

‘Something you believe in!’ I said furiously. ‘Don’t imagine the he believes in it!  He doesn’t believe in anything.  Why, Gavin told me the only reason he’d picked on the Carlists was because they wore scarlet cloaks and berets!’

‘Well, he may come to believe in it,’ David said. ‘As I see it, it’s his big chance.  He’ll be mixed with decent people and that will be a change for the better you must admit.’

(It should be added here, that Pugh was a step-son of David, the Earl…)

The way that the scales fall from most of the characters’ eyes is sad to watch, after the buoyed up enthusiasm of all the flag-waving and the bonhomie of the International Brigade.  The realism that a just cause isn’t necessarily the winning side, and the sheer frustration that no-one is listening to the stories of the prison camps and the persecution.

As is probably obvious by the length of the review I was hugely impressed with this book–for all that parts of it made me feel like an ignorant nihilist–and the characters will stay with me forever, more so, I think because they portray real events and real people, albeit in a fictional manner. If you enjoyed While England Sleeps or Nancy Mitford’s work, you’ll definitely like this.

Highly recommended, and essential reading.  You may need to track a copy down, but well worth doing.

Amazon UK Amazon USA

chauncey-gay-new-york3

Review: Dash & Dingo: In Search of the Tasmanian Tiger by Catt Ford & Sean Kennedy

Stodgy British archivist Henry Percival-Smythe slaves away in the dusty basement of Ealing College in 1934, the only bright spot in his life his obsession with a strange Australian mammal, the thylacine. It has been hunted to the edge of extinction, and Henry would love nothing more than to help the rare creature survive.

Then a human whirlwind spins through his door. Jack “Dingo” Chambers is also on the hunt for the so-called “Tasmanian Tiger,” although his reasons are far more altruistic. Banding together, Dingo and the newly nicknamed Dash travel halfway around the globe in their quest to save the thylacine from becoming a footnote in the pages of biological history.

While they search high and low, traverse the wilds, and fight the deadliest of all creatures—man—Dash and Dingo will face danger and discover another fierce passion within themselves: a desire for each other.

Review by Erastes

I don’t like reading at my PC much, and I often start an ebook for SIN with a feeling of dread- especially when one is – like Dash and Dingo – over 300 pages.  But I was immediately pleasantly surprised by being drawn in, and it was not until my eyes started to get tired that I realised I was 100 pages in and enjoying myself immensely.

Let me just comment on the cover. It’s great. There’s no two ways about it.  So what that it doesn’t yell “gay romance”?  A woman holding an apple doesn’t scream Vampire Romance either. It’s a good cover and for my money, one I’m more than happy to put on my shelf, read it on the bus.

I’ve been discussing recently with other gay fiction authors and we often say that what seems to be missing is “adventures with gay protagonists” rather than books just concentrating on the romance.  This certainly fits the adventure bill – it’s a real boy’s own adventure, a Saturday morning film-club book, a delicious blend of gay romance, Rider Haggard and Indiana Jones with a fair smattering of humour thrown in.

In an netshell Henry (Dash) Percival-Smythe is a stuffy professor who’s never been on a field trip, who is whisked off to the Antipodes by brash typical ocker Aussie. Romance and adventure ensues.

Sean Kennedy is a true-blue Aussie, I believe, and that shows.  Dingo may be a little bit of a stereotype, but he’s a stereotype that does exist, as real-life characters such as Steve Irwin ably prove.  I love the way Dingo takes the piss out of everything and everyone, from the head of Henry’s department–calling him Lardarse–to moaning about the warm English beer.

Dash, too, is priceless.  Stuffy stiff upper lip professor one minute, over-excited public schoolboy the next.

The authors don’t skimp on detail just to skip ahead–the men need to get from England to Australia, and research has gone into doing this feat in the 1930’s. It was still primarily a sea voyage, and flying wasn’t the direct connect it is today.  Too many books don’t take this kind of thing into consideration, having horses travel 100 miles a day or a train travel a thousand.  Remember Kevin Costner’s famous boast that he could walk from Dover to Nottingham in a day?  Well this book doesn’t do that.

Similarly there’s no rush with the plot.  Because this is “proper novel size” (300 or so pages) the plot is not rushed at all, nor is the romantic entanglement.  Time is spent getting to know Dingo’s family, all well written, and reminding me of a mixture of Kath and Kin bred with The Sullivans, and all of it “proper” Aussie.  So many gay romances have the characters thinking only with their cocks from the moment they spy their soon-to-be partner, and we are spared this, and we are given time as the plot unwinds.

One thing I really appreciated was the imperfect sex–God alone knows there’s enough mutually switching studs with simultaneous ejeculations, and they never ever come too soon. Bravo to this book for having sexually deprived men behave like they probably would.

Once or twice I had the impression of being thumped over the head with too many facts a la Dan Brown style, and a few facts proved to be wrong – but they won’t spoil the experience, not unless you are nitpicky like me (and I only looked this stuff up because the facts were presented.)

A couple of general things niggled at me, being English: Scotch whisky spelled with an e,  the ubiquitous ‘gotten’,  mentions of sidewalks,  and Henry’s father being called James Percival-Smythe III which is a rather American way of naming people, but nothing I couldn’t gloss over in the sheer fun of reading about these people. But perhaps to make a note that next time a Britpicking is clearly needed.  There was also a propensity for beginning paragraphs with a name, which I hope the writers can root out in future collaborations, as it’s an easy vice to fall into.  There are one of two places where the POV wobbles too, we seem to start a new scene in one POV and it turns out not to be so.

But there are some really nice touches, a strainer for the tea for example. A tiny thing, but a detail that proves the writer is thinking about that they put on the page.  And with any good collaboration–Jamie Craig being another excellent example–it’s impossible to tell who wrote which part.

Anyone who loves Rider Haggard, Crocodile Dundee or Indiana Jones will have a blast with this book. Anyone who doesn’t know the sad history of the thylacine will find this a fascinating and instructive read; (personally, I don’t think the Tasmanian Tiger is extinct–there have been sightings, and even films of this amazing creature, and I’m sure we’ll see it again.)     And I also hope very much that we see Dash and Dingo again, because for my money they’ve leapt right to the forefront of gay adventure/romance fame.  No, it’s not perfect, but it’s a bloody great try and I didn’t want it to end, and that bumps it up from a 4½ star to a five.

I couldn’t find much of a web presence for either Sean Kennedy or Catt Ford, but I did find an interview over at Jessewave’s Blog where they discuss the business of collaborative writing.

Amazon UK Amazon USA Kindle Dreamspinner: ebook paperback

chauncey-gay-new-york3

Review: Lessons In Power by Charlie Cochrane

The ghosts of the past will shape your future. Unless you fight them.

Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book 4

Cambridge, 1907

After settling in their new home, Cambridge dons Orlando Coppersmith and Jonty Stewart are looking forward to nothing more exciting than teaching their students and playing rugby. Their plans change when a friend asks their help to clear an old flame who stands accused of murder.

Doing the right thing means Jonty and Orlando must leave the sheltering walls of St. Bride’s to enter a labyrinth of suspects and suspicions, lies and anguish.

Their investigation raises ghosts from Jonty’s past when the murder victim turns out to be one of the men who sexually abused him at school. The trauma forces Jonty to withdraw behind a wall of painful memories. And Orlando fears he may forever lose the intimacy of his best friend and lover.

When another one of Jonty’s abusers is found dead, police suspicion falls on the Cambridge fellows themselves. Finding this murderer becomes a race to solve the crime…before it destroys Jonty’s fragile state of mind.

Review by T J Pennington

This book contains the best warning label I’ve ever seen: Warning: Contains sensual m/m lovemaking and hot men playing rugby.

I freely admit that I have not read the first three books of the Cambridge Fellows Mysteries and that I know nothing about rugby. That said, I was relieved to discover that you don’t need to have read the previous mysteries or to be a rugby fan to comprehend–or, indeed, to savor–this book.

The story starts in February 1907 at St. Bride’s College, Cambridge, when Matthew Ainslie, a professor at University College London, comes to his friend and fellow professor Jonty Stewart, asking him (and, by extension, Jonty’s lover, Orlando) to investigate a murder. The suspect? Alistair Stafford, Matthew’s old lover–and more recently, his blackmailer. Complicating matters is the fact that Stafford was in Jardine’s company shortly before the murder, that they had exchanged words concerning the way Jardine had treated Stafford’s sister, and that Stafford had threatened Jardine’s life. Nevertheless, Matthew has heard Stafford’s story, and while he knows that Stafford is both vengeful and spiteful and is quite capable of crime, he honestly doesn’t believe that the man is guilty of this crime. And he isn’t willing to stand by and let Stafford hang for something he didn’t do.

The murder victim–and I found this to be an artful touch–is no more a sympathetic character than Stafford is. He is, or was, Lord Christopher Jardine, one of those who sexually abused Jonty Stewart at school–in fact, the first one who raped him. Of all the people in the world, Jonty has the least reason to care who smashed in Jardine’s head…and the most cause to celebrate.

But he does not. Like Matthew, Jonty is an honorable man who believes in doing his duty, even if he finds it unpleasant. “I wouldn’t want his killer going free just because the victim was such a toerag,” he says to Orlando. “Truth above all, it has to be so.”

Yet at the same time, he’s deeply conflicted; his memories of the rape and torture he underwent at school are a torment, both physically and psychologically. “I can tell myself we’re serving justice and that I don’t want Matthew’s friend unfairly convicted,” he says a bit later. “But when it comes to it—when we have the man or woman in our grasp—I have no idea how I’ll react.” And he prays to the Lord Almighty for help, saying that he knows he’s supposed to forgive those who have sinned against him, but that this feels impossible.

I think that it was at that point that I started to love Jonty. I cannot resist flawed but honorable characters who will do what is right even if it hurts. Given the popularity of antiheroes, such protagonists are not easy to find.

The investigation–which has to be carefully timed to take place on weekends and holidays, the only times that Drs. Stewart and Coppersmith aren’t working, a detail that both amused and pleased me–then begins…with the assistance of Jonty’s brother and father, who, respectively, share a club and a Savile Row tailor with the victim.

(It’s worth noting that though Jonty’s parents are aware of his relationship with Orlando, Orlando himself–after four books–is only just beginning to build some kind of relationship with his lover’s father and seems a bit overwhelmed by Jonty’s mother. Despite the fact that the Stewarts are nice people who love their son and want him to be happy, and despite the fact that Orlando likes the Stewarts, things are both amiable and a little awkward. I liked that; it was positive and yet believable.)

The early evidence, unfortunately, doesn’t so much favor Stafford as indicate that others might have wanted Jardine either dead or permanently blackmailed. Another man who’d helped Jardine rape and torture younger boys at school says that he wanted to confess what they’d done, while Jardine did not. The two men argued loudly enough for anyone inclined toward extortion to hear them. Stafford’s sister let herself be seduced by Jardine, thinking that he would marry her, and was furious when he refused to do so. Finally, Jardine had at least one unidentified visitor on the night of his death.

In addition to the mystery, a number of other things take place–a rugby match between the English department and the mathematics department at Cambridge; confrontations between Jonty and Timothy Taylor (Jonty’s second rapist and one of the chief suspects in Jardine’s death); seductions and attempted seductions by Orlando; and Jonty suffering flashbacks due to what we’d probably call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. And that’s before there’s a second murder…which brings Jonty and Orlando under the scrutiny of the police.

I must mention that an American reading this book may trip over a couple of phrases–not because of any flaw in the writing, but because Americans probably won’t recognize rugby slang. I wished, more than once, that there was a rugby glossary in the back of the book; there were many times when it would have helpful. For example, when I read this sentence:

…a cannonball came flying across the field to take him, itself and the ball firmly into touch.

Orlando was winded, the rugby ball flew away, then the cannonball got up with a big grin all over its gob and said, “Sorry, Dr. Coppersmith, don’t know my own strength,” without meaning a word of it.

Now, the problem with this passage is that I don’t know what a cannonball is in this context, though I presume it’s a rugby term. So I was picturing an English football flying down the field and hitting Orlando in the stomach like, well, a cannonball. I was a bit thrown, therefore, when the cannonball turned out to be a person…albeit one described as having a grin all over ITS gob rather than HIS.

However, this is quite a minor detail; the book overall was excellent. One of the most delightful things about this book is that despite the fact that there is plenty of tension and despite Jonty having plenty of reason to be frightened and unhappy, the characters retain their sense of humor–even under the most trying circumstances. For example, while talking to one of the men who connived at the sexual abuse of a number of young boys at Jonty’s school, Orlando, irate on Jonty’s behalf and frustrated beyond words, thinks: I’ll kill him now and make it look like his aunt was responsible. Which is such wry and Saki-like statement and such an implausible scenario–the aunt in question being elderly, proper, and a tad dotty–that it surprised me into laughing.

Finally, I must mention the cover. The cover by Scott Carpenter is truly beautiful–an image of a young man gazing at an old-fashioned classroom, and underneath that, a realistic sketch of a college with the legend “A Cambridge Fellows Mystery.” The cover is washed in sepia tones, but with color accents and shadows in key places that make both the classroom scene and the sketch of the college at Cambridge both more vivid and more solid. All in all, the art deftly hints at some of the plot, one of the main characters, the importance of the setting and the genre of the tale while stating, “I am a good, solid, classy book. You would be proud to be seen reading me.”

I give it five stars, and wish that the book had been longer.

Author’s website

chauncey-gay-new-york3

Buy from Samhain Publishing

ebook available now, paperback version in around 9 months.

Review: Man, oh Man: Writing M/M for kinks and cash by Josh Lanyon

Lambda Award finalist Josh Lanyon takes you step-by-step through the writing process: from how to find fresh ideas and strong hooks, to how to submit your carefully edited manuscript. With help from the genre’s top publishers, editors, reviewers, and writers – experts in the field of M/M and gay romantic fiction – Lanyon offers insight and experience in everything from creating believable masculine characters to writing erotic and emotionally gratifying M/M sex scenes.

Review by Vashtan

I’m not giving five stars lightly, but five stars is what this is. Full disclosure: I bought this paperback with my own money last year, read it, loved it, and put it on my creative writing books shelf. I own a huge amount of creative writing literature. I’m weird like that—reading about creative writing makes me want to write, which is really the main reason why I keep buying them. And to sometimes do exercises to get the muses kickstarted, or to be able to recommend a good creative writing book to beginners. And I love reading about how other writers go about it; there’s some kind of comradely or even voyeuristic pleasure there.

Josh Lanyon doesn’t really need an introduction, award-winning writer, one of the big names in this tiny fishpond of m/m and gay fiction, and he tells us what’s what. I found myself nod an awful lot, and agreeing with almost everything he says (and the details are down to personal opinion).

With this, he has written an eminently useable book for m/m writers of all levels of experience, covering all the angles from finding ideas to writing that dreaded synopsis. He covers why men in fiction aren’t women plus penis, how men interact, and gently points out what so many m/m writers still get wrong (and no, it’s not the anatomical detail).

Lanyon has added a lot of great quotes from writers, reviewers, editors and publishers, which give a very good idea about whatever topic he’s currently covering. All his advice is hands-on, never preachy, and comes with a good dose of humour. It’s much like you’re sitting in a cafe with him while he chats about writing, the genre, his method, and what he thinks needs some work. He has included an outline, a synopsis, a query letter, and added an appendix of m/m writing contests, as well as a list of m/m publishers, so this book saves you a lot of work. Every chapter comes with recommendations for further reading (usually creative writing books), and his choices are for the most part excellent.

If I had to voice one criticism, then that there are a lot of fonts involved in the printing and the text looks a bit “busy” with those slightly gimmicky fonts, but I really prefer my layouts to be as clean and sparse as possible.

For anybody writing in the genre, or thinking about jumping into the little pond, this should absolutely be required reading. I would hope that this book helps prevent some of the train wrecks I’ve seen in the genre. Get it today.

Amazon UK Amazon USA

chauncey-gay-new-york3

Review: A Son Called Gabriel by Damian McNicholl

Set in the hills of Northern Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s, the book is told from the point of view of Gabriel Harkin, the eldest of four children in a working-class family, who struggles through a loving yet often brutal childhood.  It’s a turbulent time in Ulster, and, in the staunchly Catholic community to which Gabriel belongs, the strict code for belief and behaviour is clear.  As Gabriel begins to suspect that he is not like other boys, he tries desperately to lock away his feelings, and his fears.  But secrets have a way of being discovered, and Gabriel learns that his might not be the only one in the Harkin family.

Review by Erastes

This book struck a lot of chords for me, and I found myself reading it in one session because I simply couldn’t put it down.  Being raised myself by a Catholic mother with the same values and standards as Gabriel’s mother–don’t shame the family, don’t show yourself up, don’t give in to bullies, always look nice, study hard, do better–I could empathize with everything in this story.

Gideon is a normal little boy–until he starts to worry that he isn’t.  He’s about six at the start of the book and going to school.  Or at least, he decides he’s not going to school because he’s being bullied.

The choice was school or the big stick and seemed easy to make.  My younger sister Caroline and any boy in the whole of Ireland would choose school, but I knew I was right in refusing to go.

No, he’s not the most self-aware boy in Ireland, he’s just not into sports.  However that’s enough of a reason for Henry Lynch to pick on Gabriel and when pushed to the point of fighting, and then backing down he realises that he’s never going to be able to fight–which makes matters worse.  There are gradual hints as he gets older that he’s not like the other boys in his immediate circle which he doesn’t understand.

In this respect I was reminded of William Golding’s The Inheritors, or more recently, Terry Pratchett’s Nation where someone tries to understand a way of life that in many ways makes no sense at all.  Gabriel’s so desperate to fit in; but there are things that even he’s not aware of that make him stand out.

Don’t go thinking that this is a bleak and tragic story.  It could easily have gone that way, but there’s a bubbling exuberance that buoys it up, and a streak of black humour running through it which saves it from irremediable emo.

As an example, Lynch picks on Gabriel at the funfair. Gabriel is wearing purple jeans, jeans he begged his mother to buy him, and of course, they are unlike anyone else’s jeans.  Gabriel is stripped by the bullies and saved by the girls–who he plays with at school.  A dreadful situation but the sting is taken out of it when his cousin remarks that she’s seen her brother’s thing a hundred times and Gabriel’s is no different.

The book is full of childhood smut, like this.  Children experiment with sex, and these children are no different, so if you are averse to children playing doctors and nurses (in one case quite delightfully with Gabriel and his male cousin) then this isn’t the book for you.  But it’s not presented in any titilaating way–simply as a fact of life, because that’s what children do.  They learn “bad words” and keep them from their parents because they know they shouldn’t know them.

In this respect is a lovely nostalgic read, children certainly being more innocent than they are today.

As would be expected in the time and place, religion plays a strong part in the book, and Gabriel is buffeted between the Church and his family when he learns the confusing facts of how to deal with confession.  “Tell the priest the truth.”  “Don’t you dare tell the priest anything about this family.” and other impossible matters.  He’s often punished for telling the truth, when it’s discovered that he tells the truth about a lie he told earlier.

When Gabriel really begins to realise what might be “wrong” with him, that’s when the tone of the story changes and he struggles with his possible homosexuality with all of his might.  The book could have spiralled into despair at this point, but it’s Gabriel’s tenacity and–even more importantly, the strength and solidity of his family that prevent this.

His family are every piece as important in this, and I came to know and love (and dislike!) all of them.  Anyone with a largish family will be able to take something away from this, the nice grannie, the not so nice grannie, the embarrassing aunt, the brother no-one talks about… and so on.

I don’t know if the author is planning a series of books about Gabriel, but I hope so.  The book ends with him just about to leave Ireland for London, and it seems perfectly set for a sequel.  I’ll certainly be getting it if so.

I think many people will find something to take away in this book–especially if they were raised in the 1960s and 70s.  As a debut novel, it’s a terrific read, and anyone with an interest in this era will find it absorbing – and I’m sure, as unputdownable as I did.

Amazon UK Amazon USA

chauncey-gay-new-york3

Review: The Golden Age of Gay Fiction

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

It was the first great explosion of gay writing in history. These books were about gay characters. They were written mostly by gay writers. Above all, they were for gay readers. And, as this entertaining chronicle of the emergence of gay literary pride makes clear, it was a revolution that occurred several years before Stonewall!

Their characters were mostly out or struggling to get out. The books were definitely out—out on the revolving paperback bookracks in grocery stores, dime stores, drugstores, magazine agencies, and transportation terminals across the nation for youths and senior citizens, in the cities and the rural areas alike, to find and to devour.

Here 19 writers take you on a tour of this Golden Age of Gay Fiction—roughly the period between the first Kinsey Report and the first collection of Tales of the City—paying attention to touchstone novels from the period but, even more, highlighting works of fiction that have been left unjustly to gather dust on literary shelves.

Written by authors, scholars, collectors, and one of the publishers, their essays will inform you. They will sometimes amuse you. They will take you into literary corridors you only suspected were there. And the some 200 illustrations, chosen for their historical as well as their artistic interest, provide a visual record of why this was the golden age.

REVIEW:

Pop Quiz: You enjoy reading m/m romances and gay fiction. Which of the following describes the depth of your familiarity with the genre?

A. You name it, I’ve read it, the more obscure, the better.

B. I’ve read Maurice and bought a used copy of The City and the Pillar off eBay to read…someday.

C. I read Brokeback Mountain in The New Yorker back in 1997 and that got me hooked.

D. I never heard of m/m until #amazonfail last spring – that’s when I read False Colors.

Whether you selected A or D or fall somewhere in between, run, don’t walk, to your favorite bookseller to order a copy of The Golden Age of Gay Fiction. If you are solely a reader, or a reader and writer both, this book is an essential resource that provides context and understanding for the gay fiction genre.

Edited by Drewey Wayne Gunn, the book is a collection of 22 essays from 19 contributors, organized in four sections: I) O Brave New World; II) “I Know It When I See It”; III) Frightening the Horses; and IV) Secrecy and Adventure. The Introduction by Gunn grounds the reader as to the purpose and scope of the book: a comprehensive review and analysis of gay fiction from its Golden Age, dated as 1948-1978. The books reviewed include “the pulps” – paperback novels that were cheaply printed, broadly distributed, and widely read. While often not paragons of great literature they were extremely influential in bringing gay writing—and many gay men—out of the closet. Gunn notes that “scholarly” writing about gay literature has largely ignored these books; bringing them to the forefront and recognizing their importance is a major strength of The Golden Age.

The essays are uniformly well written and interesting; some are funny, some are serious, depending on the topic at hand. On Being There…Or Not by William Maltese had me laughing out loud. Lonnie Coleman Remembered by Nowell Briscoe was a touching memory of an author who is now, unfortunately, largely forgotten. I particularly enjoyed Conversation in a Coffee Shop by Dennis Bolin. He notes that in any serious conversation about “important” books that one “must” read, six titles always rise to the top: Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote; The City and the Pillar by Gore Vidal (both published in 1948); Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, published in 1956; two from the sixties, City of Night by John Rechy and Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man; and last, but not least, Maurice by E.M. Forster, published in 1971 but written in 1914. Bolin bought all six, read them, and discusses them thoroughly. I freely admit that I have gaping holes in my own personal “must read” background—take me out and shoot me, I’ve never read To Kill A Mockingbird—but I’ve filled those holes (sort of) with essays like Bolin’s. So, thank you, Dennis, for doing the hard work since now I don’t have to. I probably won’t bother trying to plow through Pillar; I’ve never been much of a Vidal fan, anyway. But A Single Man sounds interesting and I may dig out my old copy of Maurice which is packed away in the attic for a second re-read, almost forty years later.

One bonus for readers is that many of the books discussed are being re-issued in new editions, so titles that catch your attention may be readily available in print and for some of them, as ebooks. Have you always wanted to read The Man from C.A.M.P. by Victor J. Banis? You can. Other Voices, Other Rooms has the “scandalous” picture of Capote with his bedroom eyes and come hither stare, only this time it’s on the cover, not the back.

But if you want to see what Capote looked like on the original cover, then turn to page 27, because this is another wonderful feature of The Golden Age: more than 200 full-color illustrations of book covers, many of them which are now very difficult, if not impossible, to find. The amount of work that went into tracking these down must have been phenomenal and we all benefit by having them preserved within the pages of The Golden Age forever.

The Golden Age of Gay Fiction is beautifully designed. I love the font that was used for the chapter titles (which is the same as on the cover, in case you want an example). The cover painting was commissioned by MLR Press for the book and was done by an Ohio artist named Paul Richmond (who also did the cover for Zero at the Bone by Jane Seville, in case his style looks familiar). I read the book as a PDF for this review but I will be ordering a print copy for my collection. While it is available as an ebook, really, you need to have it in print to do it justice. It is worth the $70 investment.

Scholarship throughout the book is evident. References are cited and the back matter includes a ten page “Index of Fiction Discussed” which includes not just the index to the book but also complete bibliographic data for the books that are cited, even in a casual mention. The book also includes a bibliography of secondary sources for further reading. I am so impressed with the index and bibliography, I daresay they will become the gold standard for a comprehensive listing of gay literature, both fiction and non, for the time period covered in the book.

Last, the contributors, who are the heart and soul of the book. I am going to list them all at the end of this review because they deserve to be recognized. They have an eclectic mix of backgrounds and experience, ranging from authors, avid readers, and book collectors to known scholars and academicians. As noted earlier, the writing is uniformly excellent. Clearly all the contributors have a passion for their chosen topic. They also pulled off a feat that eludes many contributed non-fiction collections: the book is interesting and fun to read. This is not some dry, dusty tome that will be relegated to the libraries of esoteric researchers; rather, anyone who is interested in gay fiction, even if only marginally, will find something enjoyable to read in The Golden Age of Gay Fiction. I am willing to bet on it.

Kudos to Laura Baumbach and the MLR Press team for bringing this book to fruition. It really is a jewel in the crown of her published titles and she should be very, very proud of this accomplishment.

Gunn, D.W., ed. (2009). The Golden Age of Gay Fiction. Albion, NY: MLR Press. Contributors: Victor J. Banis, Dennis Bolin, Nowell Briscoe, Michael Bronski, Philip Clark, Fabio Cleto, Neil DeWitte, Dave Doyle, Jan Ewing, Drewey Wayne Gunn, Earl Kemp, Josh Lanyon, Rob Latham, William Maltese, Rob McDonald, Tom Norman, Joseph M. Ortiz, Paul Richmond (artist), Roger H. Tuller, Ian Young.

Note: This review is also posted at Reviews by Jessewave. Thanks to Erastes and Wave for allowing me to post in both places and further spread the word about this excellent book.

Buy at MLR Press

chauncey-gay-new-york3

Review: Games With Me(vol.1) by Tina Anderson and Lynsley Brito(illus.)

Ex Civil-War surgeon George Callahan is a man haunted by his past. Unwilling to deal with the demons of his childhood he turns to opium, and finds back-alley employment with the heartless brothel keepers of San Francisco’s Chinatown. In Volume 1 of this gorgeously illustrated gay historical drama, Dr. George Callahan searches for a Chinese woman from his past, and soon finds himself unwittingly drawn to dim-witted male prostitute Jun, whose own life is complicated by the unwanted attentions of an aggressive bouncer named Roan Baxter.

Games with Me is an original German manga published in Germany by The Wild Side in (2009). The English language edition is currently available in digital format only, on the KINDLE reader from Amazon

Review by Erastes

Tina Anderson never conforms, and never shies away from pushing hard at the edges of her genre.  I’m no yaoi expert, as I’ve said before on this blog; the handful of books I’ve read have not gripped me because of the dewy eyed and seemingly mentally deficient ukes and enormous and suited semes–plus rape being a shortcut to love of course, which seems to be a must.

However, here we DO have a dewy eyed, long haired uke AND a angsty stern be-suited seme.  But there the comparison stops dead. And good job too.

Right from the first page we are thrust into Callahan’s bloody world. He’s a doctor all right, but he’s an abortionist at the same time, necessary work for the brothels of San Francisco in 1869.  It’s clear that Callaghan is talented, and has a conscience, but we are also shown –cleverly–that he’s got that certain disconnect that many doctors need to have.  The Chinese think he’s dead inside, a frozen man.

He is a troubled man, and one clearly with a “past.”  He loses himself in opium when he’s not working–what is he trying to forget?

Callaghan calls at a male brothel to collect payment for a job, and asks to spend some time with a young man there, called Jun.  “A retard” according to Roan, the brutish bouncer.  As Callaghan walks to Jun’s room, there are chilling details, a padlocked gate, windows that don’t look out onto the outside world, a man with two obviously underaged boys.  We know, if we hadn’t known from page one, that we aren’t in yaoi land any more.

Jun is heartbreakingly my favourite character in this. So sweet to George (and you can guess, probably to all of his customers) and with the mind of a child you almost feel uncomfortable reading about him, but he’s not a child–the book doesn’t cross that line.  It’s clear that George knows Jun from somewhere, and the first volume here doesn’t do more than tease us with this.

There’s a subplot involving Roan, the bouncer–who fancies the pretty Jun, too, and wants to play “love games” with him.  Jun, to my delight, was nicely pragmatic, telling Roan he had to buy a card to spend time with him. (Red for teatime, White for fulltime, Black for roughtime)  It broke me when George pushes Jun away at one point and Jun recoils in fear “if you want to hurt me, you got gotta buy a black card!” Just. Gah.

But, the writer being who she is, doesn’t make Roan a typical villain. He actually does seem to want Jun, he just doesn’t have a clue how to approach him, how to woo him. Jun is understandably wary of the man, as he’s obviously been abusive–or worse–to him before, so Roan tempts him with toys.

The drawings are beautiful. Brighto doesn’t stick to any fixed layout, but changes it from page to page, sometimes three panels, sometimes less, a full page here, a small insert picture there – I’m sure there are technical terms for this, but I’m afraid I don’t know them. Also it’s nice not to have to read front to back!  The historical detailing is beautifully done, the clothes are good, as is the architecture and the sex is rather warming without showing anything too graphic.

Take all that, and the promise of volume 2 to come, and you certainly have a keeper in my book.  I can’t wait to find out what happens next.  This ranks up there with the best gay historical graphic novels – the other being, of course, Only Words, by Tina Anderson and Caroline Monaco.

If reality based m/m historicals are selling, and are popular, then so do graphic novels deserve to be.  I highly recommend this, and hope that it comes out as a print book at some point–that she gets a publisher to take it on, as it’s only available in English as a Kindle version at the moment. But if you have a Kindle, then don’t miss out of this little gem of a book.

chauncey-gay-new-york3

Tina Anderson’s Website

Linsley Brito’s Deviant Art Page

Buy Kindle version

Review: Lessons in Discovery by Charlie Cochrane

Orlando’s broken memory may break his lover’s heart.

Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book 3

Cambridge, 1906.

On the very day Jonty Stewart proposes that he and Orlando Coppersmith move in together, Fate trips them up. Rather, it trips Orlando, sending him down a flight of stairs and leaving him with an injury that erases his memory. Instead of taking the next step in their relationship, they’re back to square one. It’s bad enough that Orlando doesn’t remember being intimate with Jonty–he doesn’t remember Jonty at all.

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

Lessons in Discovery is the third book in the Cambridge Fellows series by Charlie Cochrane. In the first book, Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith meet and fall in love; in the second, they go on holiday together; and in this one, Orlando falls down the stairs and conks his head. As a result, he becomes amnesic and totally loses his memories of the past year, most notably his friendship with and love for Jonty. Also in this book, just as in the prior two, Jonty and Orlando put on their detective caps and solve a mystery. The combination of the sweet affection and a mystery works well for this series and makes the books very entertaining and enjoyable as quick, easy reads.

While I have been thoroughly entertained by all three books, if I had to rate them as to my favorites, Lessons in Discovery would be at the top of the list, which surprised me. I’ll be honest – I enjoyed book number two (Lessons in Desire) but it had moments where it was a little too sweet and slightly over the top, at least for me. I worried that if Cochrane kept on this trajectory, with the plot of Orlando losing his memory, Lessons in Discovery had the potential to veer either into the realm of completely saccharine or totally maudlin. Fortunately, my fears were baseless.

Orlando does lose his memory, yes, but what he doesn’t lose is the maturity and insight into his own personality that he has acquired through his friendship and love for Jonty. As a result, his re-discovery of himself is very compelling. I’ve occasionally thought of Orlando as “a lovable goof,” which is endearing, but sometimes seemed at odds with his keen intelligence and analytical mind. In this story, he has grown up and he realizes it. He is able to reflect on issues of friendship, loyalty, sexual awareness, and his own repressive childhood with new eyes and new emotions. I’ve always liked Jonty as a character but by the end of this book, I really, really liked Orlando which speaks to just how well characterized he was through Cochrane’s deft writing.

Jonty and Orlando re-establish their relationship (I don’t think I’m giving too much away by saying that, since there are four more books planned in the series) but they also create a network of family and friends who understand about their “secret.” Personally, I think this is realistic. Even though, throughout history, many gay people were persecuted and imprisoned because of their sexuality, I think that there were many who were able to live normal lives without the condemnation of society. My reasons why Oscar Wilde couldn’t, and Jonty and Orlando can, are more than I want to get into in this review. Rather, my point is that Cochrane has set herself up very well for the future books. Jonty and Orlando turned the corner in this book and became rich, well-developed, three dimensional characters and I look forward to reading more about them as they live their lives together.

I also think the mystery in this story is the best of the three. Orlando is tasked with solving a 400 year old historical puzzle which, of course, is very well suited to his mathematical abilities. If another contemporary murder had happened under Jonty’s and Orlando’s noses, as did in each of the previous two books, I think that would have stretched the bounds of plausibility. On top of that, the mystery itself was intriguing and very cleverly written and had lots of interesting tidbits of English history.

I particularly enjoy Cochrane’s writing style which reminds me classic English mysteries such as those by Agatha Christie. She has lots of funny expressions and clever turns of phrase which sound very British and very “I say old chap” –at least to this American reader.

All in all, this is a lovely series of books: charming and tender, full of loving affection between the two main characters. I highly recommend them.

NB: Lessons in Discovery has recently been re-released by Samhain Publishing. I had read the earlier Linden Bay version and read the new Samhain version for this review and I didn’t really see any major differences between the two, aside from the new cover. In an email message, the author confirmed that this was correct: except for correcting a few minor typos, the books are essentially the same.

Buy the ebook from Amazon or through the Samhain’s website.  A print version is scheduled for publication in 2010.

Review: Lessons In Desire by Charlie Cochrane

Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book 2

With the recent series of college murders behind him, Cambridge Fellow Jonty Stewart is in desperate need of a break. A holiday on the beautiful Channel Island of Jersey seems ideal, if only he can persuade Orlando Coppersmith to leave the security of the college and come with him. Orlando is a quiet man who prefers academic life to venturing out into the world.

Within the confines of their rooms at the university, it’s easy to hide the fact that he and Jonty are far more than friends. But the desire to spend more time alone with the man he loves is an impossible lure to resist. When a brutal murder occurs at the hotel where they’re staying, the two young men are once more drawn into the investigation. The race to catch the killer gets complicated by the victim’s son, Ainslie, a man who seems to find Orlando too attractive to resist. Can Stewart and Coppersmith keep Ainslie at bay, keep their affair clandestine, and solve the crime?

Review by Erastes

I have to say I dislike romance blurbs with questions, because due to the restrictions on a HEA, the answer is pretty much answerable at the first page, but that wasn’t going to stop me enjoying Charlie Cochrane’s second outing with her Cambridge Fellows, as I had enjoyed book one immensely.

Right from the word go she had me hooked, as Jonty and Orlando’s banter made me smile–I love the way that Orlando is shocked at the very idea of going AWAY for a holiday–and how Jonty loves to tease him. After all, the man nearly freaked out at eating outside of Hall in the first book.

Jersey then, seems a very suitable compromise. English enough to be reassuringly familiar, but with enough of a tang of France to give a flavour of being “abroad.”

The charm of Cochrane’s writing, specifically with this series, is not reliant on action, gun fights, car chases and explosions, but takes you back to a time where life was slower, where you changed for each meal, where life was regulated by the gong, manners and polite conversation.  Cochrane does this so beautifully that to there are scents of such classics as Rattigan’s Seperate Tables or The Raj Quartet. (Both would have been improved with a repressed gay love affair of course.)

Their time on the beach brought tears to my eyes, to be honest, because I was raised by the seaside and I miss doing all those simple things like throwing seaweed, exploring rock-pools and terrorising crabs. Cochrane knows her Jersey, having been there many times, and the scents and the sounds of the place fairly bounce from the page.

I love the humour in Cochrane’s work too, Jonty often puts his foot in it, causing Orlando to storm off in a huff, it’s gentle, English humour but it made me giggle a lot, and I had a smile on my face for a lot of this book. Orlando’s reactions to Ainslie’s attempted seduction was priceless.

All this and a murder mystery too, which I’m saying nothing about in case I spoil it.

What I like about the series is that Cochrane doesn’t give us everything at once. Orlando is like a nervous virgin–and although he’s participated in much with Jonty he hasn’t consummated their love affair entirely. More of the men’s backstory is revealed and slowly the relationship takes tiny steps forward, or perhaps three steps forward and a couple back.  Readers coming to the Cambridge Fellows wanting pages of graphic monkey sex will be disappointed, but readers who enjoy a slow burn and exquisite knife-edge sexual tension will appreciate it hugely.  Cochrane can do no wrong.

Buy:  Samhain Bookstore (ebook & paperback)   Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: False Colors by Alex Beecroft

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

False Colors, by Alex Beecroft, is one of two books recently released by Running Press in their new line of m/m historicals (the other is Trangressions, by Erastes). Two more books are scheduled to be released in the third quarter of 2009. I have read both False Colors and Transgressions and if these are indicative of the types of books Running Press will be publishing, we fans of the genre are very lucky readers, indeed.

False Colors is Ms. Beecroft’s second historical novel and like her first, Captain’s Surrender, it takes place during the time when the British Royal Navy ruled the seas and half the world—-the golden “Age of Sail.” The story opens in 1762 with Lt. John Cavendish receiving his first captaincy and an assignment to stop the Barbary Corsairs off the coast of Algeria. Alfie Donwell signs on as his first lieutenant and it is clear from their very first meeting that Alfie has eyes
for John. But it will be a long time, ie, the whole book, with lots of adventures and misunderstanding in between, before they get to the point where they are able to negotiate their relationship and realize how they feel about each other.

Because John and Alfie spend so much time apart, the book is very much about their individual journeys to discover who they are—-until they have come to this realization, they can’t really be together. It’s an interesting dynamic and Ms. Beecroft handles the character development skillfully, having both men grow and mature from page to page. John’s growth is fueled by some particularly horrific situations in which he finds himself, as well as working to cast off beliefs ingrained into him from his youth and family life. Alfie, on the other hand, matures by falling in love with another man (although he never really falls out of love with John). As I enjoy character studies, I found Alfie’s portion of the story to be a bit more engaging but really, we’re talking “great” and “greater”—minute gradations of difference in excellence.

There’s a cast of secondary characters who are extremely well-drawn. In particular, I found myself going back and re-reading the parts of the story that featured Charles Farrant, Captain Lord Lisburn. He’s the Captain of the Britannia, the second ship in the story on which Alfie serves. He’s attracted to men and knows it but has done the things “required” of him to deny his homosexuality, including marrying, fathering children, and undergoing various “cures” from his physician in an effort to treat his “perversion.” All of this has created a man who is now, in his forties, angry, repressed, frustrated, and cruel. But he can also be kind, tender, and even loving, and flashes of this come through, when he lets down the wall he has so carefully built around his feelings. Of all the characters in the book, my heart ached the most for Charles and I wished his life could have been different. He deserved more than he got.

The story is carefully and thoroughly plotted. No loose ends, no characters swooping in from the wings to magically save the day. This is an improvement over Captain’s Surrender (which I enjoyed, but there were a few implausible moments in that book). Likewise, I think Ms. Beecroft’s writing has improved since her first book. She did tell me in an exchange of emails that she didn’t edit Captain’s Surrender as much as she wanted but I contend that it is not just editing differences between the two. In this book, Ms. Beecroft is more skillful in her writing and confident in her ability and it shows. Every word is precisely selected and there for a reason. It is a pleasure to read a book that is so beautifully constructed.

In sum, I highly recommend False Colors. My highest rating is what I call “the incredible sadness”—that feeling that I will never read a book again that is quite this good. Of course, I know I will but in interim I satisfy my longing by re-reading favorite parts and yes, re-reading the book. Which explains why it has taken me two weeks to write this review.  🙂

chauncey-gay-new-york3

Buy from: Amazon, Amazon (Kindle version), Sony Store (Sony ereader)

Review: Paper Moon by Marion Husband

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

When I volunteered to write a review of Paper Moon by Marion Husband, Erastes said, “Oh, wonderful! Another gay historical!” While the story is historical (it takes place in 1946) and does feature gay characters, I’m not sure that gay historical is the best description. Historical fiction that describes the experience of being gay in the mid-20th century might be more apt. Yes, that’s mouthful but it’s meant to convey that this is a story firmly rooted in reality in terms of the tale that is told; for those of us who enjoy “gay historical” be they romances, war stories, mysteries or whatever, it is probably a worthwhile exercise to touch base with reality every now and then and Paper Moon is an excellent book for that endeavor.

By way of context, I was rummaging around on the Amazon gay and lesbian best seller list and came across The Boy I Love, also by Husband. Having never heard of it, I did a little research and discovered the excellent review of it at this site (you can read it here).

I immediately downloaded the book (I have an e-reader, hooray!) and read it in 48 hours. Hooked, I dived right into the sequel, Paper Moon, as soon as I finished the first. Both are excellent but I would give Paper Moon an edge as being more well-written and slightly more satisfying, overall.

The stories take place 26 years apart and share a common theme: men coming home after the war and struggling to pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives. In The Boy I Love, the central characters were Paul Harris, his lovers Adam Mason and Patrick Morgan and Patrick’s injured brother, Mick; the war was World War I. Paper Moon is Bobby Harris’s story set in the year following the end of World War II. Like his father Paul, Bobby has come home from the war injured but his disfigurement is worse: Paul lost an eye but Bobby has been horribly burned when he crashed his plane. He describes his hands as claws and his face has melted away, crudely repaired by surgeons who have taken skin grafts from all over his body. His psychic pain is deep, too, but we learn as the story progresses that his self-loathing began long before the loss of his “beautiful face.”

In the first book, the homosexual characters were central; in Paper Moon they play a more tangential role, which probably is accurate for the time and setting. There are a few flamboyant “queens” (the “artsy” crowd) but for the most part, the gay characters are invisible and exist on a continuum from tolerated to despised. They work hard to keep their sexuality in the closet and blend in with “normal” society. One character from the first book has gone so far as to enter into a marriage of convenience, something I wouldn’t have expected of him.

This is a character driven story, which I enjoy. There’s not a lot of action, just the overlapping and interweaving tales of Bobby, Hugh, and Nina and the other people in their lives: parents, friends, former lovers, children, siblings. Not everyone is present in physical form but everyone is present in the story and with each turn of the page, a new layer is revealed, deftly told and subtly nuanced.

If there is any weakness in Husband’s writing is that her female characters are not nearly as complex as the men; Nina is the most fleshed out but still, she remains a cipher. One character who comes into the book at about the halfway point has potential, but even she is given short shrift. The rest of the women are like cardboard cutouts and one character from the first book never even gets mentioned—and her absence bothered me. Husband could have fixed it with a sentence, ie, She got run over by a bus, but she didn’t. Oh well, it is a minor irritation and didn’t strongly detract from my overall enjoyment of the book. To be perfectly honest, I find the men more interesting to read about, anyway.

All in all, I highly recommend this book. It had an incredibly satisfying, if slightly bittersweet ending that stayed with me long after I closed the cover.

NB: While this can be read as a standalone, I recommend reading it with The Boy I Love. Knowing the backstory of the characters who reappear in Paper Moon will enhance your overall reading experience, in my opinion. Conveniently, the two books are together in an omnibus that is available from various booksellers. E-book readers, like me, will have to buy both books separately.

To buy: Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk E-book at Amazon.com

NNB: Because I was curious about the author, I tracked down her website. I discovered that she had posted a short story that she wrote, The Lilac Tree, which inspired both of these books. You can read it here.  f you haven’t read either of the books, read the story first, then again after, and see if your perspective on the characters changes.

chauncey-gay-new-york3

Review: A Class Apart by James Gardiner

The Private Pictures of Montague Glover.

A Class Apart is a selection of photographs and letters culled from the archive of Montague Glover (1898-1983) documenting the intimate, rarely recorded lives of gay men in Britain from the First World War to the 1950s.  The book features Glover’s three obsessions: the Armed Forces, working-class men, and his lifelong lover Ralph Hall.

Review by Erastes

Who was Montague Glover?  No-one, really. But therein lies the reason why his legacy (boxes and boxes of letters and photos) is so very important in gay history. Just an ordinary man, a son of middle-class parents who was sent to a minor public school.

But by cataloging his life, collecting images of men, writing ordinary and heart-warming love letters, and most importantly by taking endless photos of men he found attractive, he paints a picture of a gay man’s life, well-adjusted and ‘ordinary,’

The book is photo-heavy, as you would expect and is split into eight sections and I’ll cover a few only.

The Story

Basic intro to the man’s life. An English middle-class life. The army straight from school and off to the trenches where he was awarded the Military Cross. Then university and 30 years as an architect. As well as his photos, he collected images of men he found attractive from newspaper clippings and magazines, seeing as homoerotic art wasn’t exactly freely available!

Rough Trade

image0003

“In common with many other middle and upper class men of his class and generation, Monty Glover was principally attracted to working class men. Gardiner purports that perhaps this is because working-class men were “manly” and completely non-effeminate. Like all the photos of unnamed men in the book, it is unlikely that most of these young men were in fact homosexual, but rather approached by Glover and simply asked to pose. As a Brit it was fascinating to see the clothes, hats and shoes from the 20’s onwards, the detailing of the clothes (belts, scarves, boots) essential to any writer of historical men in these eras. Monty shows us delivery boys, postmen, barrowboys, farmhands – and soon you get a fair idea of Mr Glover’s taste in men! As well as candid shots of real people, there’s a lovely section of posed studio style shots, most likely done in Monty’s house, where young lovelies pose in various states of dress and undress. Prostitutes or just young men eager for a thrill, we’ll never know.

Soldier Boys

image0001

Monty started taking photos of soldiers after he signed up in 1916, and in 1918, the year he was awarded the MC, he kept a diary, snippets of this are quoted in the book and show that although dealing with lice, rats, dead Bosche and horror on a daily basis, he still found time for love. It is at this time he meets Ernest (Ernie) with whom he has at least one “night of his life.”

Ralph

image00021Quite simply, the love of Monty’s life, and to look at him, it’s not hard to understand why. Coming from a working-class background, but with the looks of an Aryan angel, photogenic and very obviously hung like a donkey, Ralph is to die for. However, when it could very easily have happened that this younger man could have been nothing more than a kept man, staying with Glover for sex and money, it didn’t happen that way. This is very clearly a love affair with a capital L, which you cannot help but see in their extensive and lavishly adoring mutual love-letters. A large portion of these were sent during the second world war, when Ralph was drafted into the RAF in 1940. Indeed, it’s hard – reading a selection of these letters which are quoted in the book – to understand how these letters got past the censor! It’s wonderful that they did though, or we would miss out on lines like this written by Ralph to Monty in November 1940:

“Do you remember the old days when we first started darling.  I went back all over it again last night.  What a time we had in them days and I am sorry to say I am crying I canot hold it back no more my Darling. I love you my old Darling. I do miss you ever such a lot my dear as you know my dear.”

Monty and Ralph lived together (after meeting around 1930) for fifty years. The photographs of their lives together (other than the beautiful, posed, and artistic shots of Ralph) are ordinary and heartwarming for their ordinariness. Sitting in their sitting room, pictures of their bath, Ralph making toast, having breakfast, Monty shaving. Love in every image.

When Monty died in 1983, he left everything to Ralph, but Ralph went into a decline and died four years later.

Anyone with any interest in gay history will find this a resource they can’t be without, particularly if writing of gay men from 1910 onwards, anyone with an interest in photography will find it fascinating. But really, anyone with a heart cannot be moved by this book and the social record it has saved for posterity.

chauncey-gay-new-york3

Buy:  Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: The Persian Boy by Mary Renault

The story of the climactic last seven years of Alexander the Great’s life through the eyes of his lover, Bagoas. Abducted and gelded as a boy, Bagoas was sold as a courtesan to King Darius of Persia, but found freedom with Alexander after the Macedon army conquered his homeland. Taken as an attendant into Alexander’s household, the beautiful young eunuch becomes the great general’s lover and their relationship sustains Alexander as he survives assassination plots, the demands of two foreign wives, a mutinous army, and his own ferocious temper.

Review by Charlie Cochrane

This book took me forever to read, but not for the usual reasons – that it’s some disappointing tome that ends up mouldering half read on your beside table. With The Persian Boy, I kept going back over parts I’d already read, savouring the wonderful prose and characterisations. It’s a much easier read than the rather confusing sequel, Funeral Games, with its plethora of characters. The only problem with The Persian Boy is that it’s too short by at least half.

Written entirely from Bagoas’ point of view, the book is alive with simple yet effective descriptions of place and era. Mary Renault’s characterisations are, as always, a delight; she produces deep insights into the key players with just a few well constructed phrases. She captures wonderfully the duality of Alexander – military leader/man and proto-God – as she does the ‘almost love affair’ between him and his army. She doesn’t shrink from showing his feet of clay, even if the tale is told through the eyes of someone besotted with him. Renault’s skill is also evident in the way that, although Bagoas tells his own story, we are aware of his faults and weaknesses, even if he isn’t.

The key turning point of the story is when Bagoas meets Alexander, where autobiography turns to romance. He falls headlong for the Macedonian king, dedicating his life to the man’s love and service. Alexander’s tender response and the developing relationship is beautifully portrayed – the love scenes aren’t in any way explicit, but written with such skill that they’re still sensual. I know that Renault has been criticised for romanticising the relationship between king and eunuch, but Bagoas’ motivation and actions ring true to life, and he’s as believable as all the other characters woven in and out of the tale. This isn’t a history book – it’s a well crafted and incredibly moving historical romance.

Buy: Amazon UK Amazon USA
chauncey-gay-new-york3

Review: Artist’s Model by Z A Maxfield

From the anthology “Artistically Yours” published by Torquere Press

Emile Laurent had a child’s fascination for artist Auguste Fournier. Now a grown man, he pursues Fournier with a passion born of worship. Fournier has denied his nature for the whole of his life. Paralyzed with fear, he rejects Emile’s advances, even in the face of desire that threatens to consume them both.

Review by Erastes

The old adage is “write a good beginning” and Maxfield does this; for me it was an irresistable beginning.

My first glimpse of Fournier, the man he was before he became the legendary artist, came when I was but six years old. He was so striking then, even more so than later, his countenance too beautiful to take in at once. He sat at the table on the balcony of our flat and smoked, laughing with my father while my mother filled his glass. I could only watch from inside the tiny drawing room as I was relegated to writing my name, Emile, over and over again until my hand shook with the effort.

That day, my stern-faced nurse had eyes that shifted, like mine, to the window where Fournier brushed his loose golden hair with a casual hand. He was so fascinating to me then, wearing smoked-glass spectacles that hid his eyes. I should have had his image in my head forever, even had I never seen him again, but when I did, the shock came to me that I had loved him all that time. All that time.

It certainly hooked me, and that’s the main point!

It starts as a charming read, the interplay between Fournier and Emile warmed my heart and it read in a very realistic way, I thoroughly believed that it was a conversation between a 40 year old man and a love-struck teenager, but when the relationship suddenly takes a turn I was thrown in the best kind of way–for the ingenue was suddenly in charge and the older man was helpless, floundering to fight his nature and everything he wants.

The prose great throughout but at times is heartstoppingly good–I found myself holding my breath, gripping the edge of the desk because the breathless desperation of the characters poured out of the page.

He leaned in to kiss me, gentle and promising, his lips tender and passionate. His face held a terrible beauty, a kind of mad light that I at once recognized and responded to.

It really paints the tale of a man who has fought his nature, found nothing but loss and despair in his homosexuality, and that mad, fluttering joy of someone who has wanted something all his life, and then gets it.

As I often find when I read a short story that touches me like this, I find myself wish for the novel that it never became, in so few pages, Maxfield spreads unknown backstory to intrigues us–the friendship between Fournier and Emile’s parents, and Fournier’s vow not to succumb to the desires he feels, Emile’s upbringing and everything inbetween. It would have made a wonderful novel and I hope that the author will attempt it–or another historical one day.

I haven’t read Ms Maxfield’s work before, because up to now she’s written contemporaries, but if this is the standard she writes at, then she deserves to call the likes of Andre Aciman her peers. So yes – put me at the head of the queue if she ever writes another historical.

Author’s website

Buy at Torquere Press

chauncey-gay-new-york31

Review: In Bear Country II Barbary Coast by Kiernan Kelly

Bear and Pride are leaving their home in the mountains, at least for a little while. Pride dreams of visiting the Pacific Ocean, so they’re off to the Barbary Coast, ready to see San Francisco. While taking on provisions in Denver, they meet a man named Beckett who asks them to go on something of a quest while they’re on their trip. He wants their help to find a missing young man named Jackson Dower.

Their search will take them across the prairie and the desert, to the most infamous city in the country. Danger lurks around every corner for Pride and Bear. The past catches up to them, Jackson poses more problems than they really wanted to take on, and Pride ends up wondering if he’ll ever be able to see that ocean he’s dreamed of for so long. Their journey will test their mettle, and their love. Can Bear and Pride survive their adventure? Find out in Kiernan Kelly’s sequel to In Bear Country!

Review by Erastes

I really enjoyed “In Bear Country” and had been looking forward to reading this sequel, and I’m pleased to say that I wasn’t disappointed. It takes the story and character from the first book and throws them into a wider scenario, making more of the adventure of the wild west than the first book did.

These are men, make no mistake about it–true, they are very affectionate around each other when they think no-one’s watching or listening (it does my big soppy heart good to hear Bear, a real huge bear of a man call Pride “darlin'” for example) but they come across as onery, horny, ordinary historical men.  The dialogue is impressive and sparkling, never extra unnecessary – and the segments between Pride and Bear particularly, are wonderful. Tender and practical by turns–and sometimes hilariously funny which is something often missing in books.

Any good historical – to me – is one that piques my interest, teaches me something I didn’t know, or inspires me to go and learn more about something. Barbary Coast did this in several points, most notably about the Navajo nádleeh. Not a term I’d heard before so I had a rummage around and found some reference sites. Don’t get me wrong, this book doesn’t batter you over the head with historical facts, but perfectly creates situations where the author shows she knows what she’s talking about.

It’s hard to pick one side of this book that I like more than any other – because it’s beautifully balanced.  The characters are excellently drawn, the descriptive text does exactly what it needs to do. There is conflict, adventure, well rounded cameos and a real sense of place and time. Not much else I can say without spoiling it further, so just go and buy it. Highly Recommended.

Buy the book: Torquere Press (ebook) Torquere Press (print)

chauncey-gay-new-york3

Review: The Taos Truth Game by Earl Ganz

When Myron Brinig arrived in Taos in 1933, he thought he was just passing through on his way to a screenwriting job in Hollywood. But, Brinig fell in love – with the landscape, the burgeoning art colony that centred around Mabel Dodge Luhan, and especially with Cady Wells, a talented young painter who had left his wealthy family in the East to settle in Taos. Brinig remained in the West off and on for the next twenty years. Earl Ganz centers this entertaining novel on Brinig’s conflicted relationships with Taos and its denizens. Myron Brinig, a completely forgotten writer, is brought back to centre stage, along with many of the people who made Taos the epicentre of the utopian avant garde in America between the world wars. Among the cast of characters are Frieda Lawrence, Robinson and Una Jeffers, and Frank Waters, with cameo appearances by Gertrude Stein and Henry Roth.

Review by Erastes

I started this book with a little trepidation, I have to admit, because I’d never heard of Myron Brinig–and worse than that, I’d never heard of most of the people mentioned in the book, with the exceptions of D H Lawrence, Nero Wolfe and a couple of others. So I was rather unsettled–was I reading biography? Or fiction? Was I poking my nose into private lives or an imagining of what those lives were like?

Well, it seems it’s a little of both. Earl Ganz discovered Myron Brinig when researching, and found that not only was he a Jewish writer writing at an exciting time–and was labelled with other luminaires as being an up and coming star–but he was a homosexual and that several of his books had that theme.  Ganz (as he explains in a lengthly and interesting afterword) became a little obsessed with finding out how this man could have dropped out of the public eye so very completely, after having written books that won awards and in one notable case wase made into Hollywood motion picture – one of them starring Bette Davis and Errol Flynn (The Sisters – 1938). He tracked Brining down, now in his 80’s, to New York and went to see him.  Brinig gave him a copy of his unpublished memoire, and it is from this memoire that Ganz spun Taos Truth Game.

Once I got past this feeling of voyeurism I settled in and found a book full of lavish prose and wonderful (although none of them really loveable) drawn characters.  In essence, the book is hinged on the friendship (if one can even call it that) between Brinig and the frankly unstable Mabel Dodge Luhan, (someone again this ignorant Brit hadn’t heard of) an uneasy feud of a friendship that embraces and lashes out, soothes and damages all in its immediate circle.

Added to this there are Brinig’s relationships with others, his friendships with millionaires and literary luminairies, and his sweet love affair with his “Martian” – the artist Cady Wells which is at times so touching that it made me cry.

The book mainly concentrates from the time that Brinig moves to Taos after an unhappy break-up, to the time when he leaves the area a decade later, although it dips forward and back in time giving a well-rounded picture of the man itself, and nothing really happens of major import, it’s very much centered on personal relationships, literary discussion and the highs and lows of artistic endeavour. The Truth Game itself, although only played once in the book, becomes a central theme and when Brinig and Mabel finally unravel their own truths about themselves, you’ll find yourself calmed and complete as I did.

I won’t say this is an easy read. It’s a book about hugely clever people and about a time of indolence and “private incomes” that is far beyond my ken–but it’s worth every sentence. The writing is incredible, at times as stark as the landscape, at other times witty and erudite and at others cutting, self-destructive and full of vitriol.  But to me, this is my best read of 2008 and I’ll be forever wondering how this book was overlooked. If anything deserved a pile of awards, it’s The Taos Truth Game.

I can’t think of any reason not to recommend it. Astounding.

Amazon UK Amazon USA

chauncey-gay-new-york3

Review: Whistling in the Dark by Tamara Allen

whistlingNew York City, 1919. His career as a concert pianist ended by a war injury, Sutton Albright returns to college, only to be expelled after a scandalous affair with a teacher. Unable to face his family, Sutton heads to Manhattan with no plans and little money in his pocket but with a desire to call his life his own.

Jack Bailey lost his parents to influenza and now hopes to save the family novelty shop by advertising on the radio, a medium barely more than a novelty, itself. His nights are spent in a careless and debauched romp through the gayer sections of Manhattan.

When these two men cross paths, despite a world of differences separating them, their attraction cannot be denied. Sutton finds himself drawn to the piano, playing for Jack. But can his music heal them both, or will sudden prosperity jeopardize their chance at love?

Review by Hayden Thorne

When you pick up a copy of Allen’s debut novel, don’t expect the following: wide, sweeping landscapes; breathless, passionate exchanges; an overly thorough history lesson on early 20th century New York; glamour, scandal, intrigue; anything and everything in epic proportions. If you’re a fan of high emotions and luxurious settings in gay romance, skip the book.

Allen’s novel is the kind that moves you quietly. It’s got romance, it’s got history, and it’s got some pretty memorable characters, but what makes this book so appealing is the skillfully light touch it uses on conflict and emotion. It’s so light, in fact, that the reader’s often left with what’s unspoken, allowing him to savor that vague hint or two with a kind of languid ease. There are a number of sex scenes, yes, but they’re never graphic and are always conveyed along more emotional and psychological lines, not physical. Because of that, we get a better sense of the love Sutton and Jack feel for each other without being hit over the head with page after page of Insert-Tab-A-Into-Slot-B sex scenes or page after page of hand-wringing, hair-tearing angst over their future happiness against society’s displeasure. Allen knows when to rein things in, and she does so exquisitely.

The same can be said about the non-romantic elements and conflicts in the book. Through alternating POVs, we see, first-hand, New York’s less glamorous side, as well as the terrible toll of WWI on its survivors, poverty on the whole, the “gay underground,” and even simple day-to-day things like selling wares, eating at a nearby cafe, etc.. Nothing gets blown out of proportion in Allen’s world. People come and go, bringing with them their private demons and their dreams, and they move in their world as real people do.

In a sense, the novel is like a slice-of-life, sans the pretensions of that narrative structure. The historical angle gives it a unique and refreshing edge, which keeps our interest high. The fact that Jack’s shop deals in odds and ends – novelty items from all over – only adds to the reality of the setting along more poignant lines, given how the shop reflects not only Jack’s devotion to his late parents, but also his father’s lost dreams of seeing the world.

The side characters are a mixed, Dickensian bag of good guys, villains, and just plain quirky types, and a lot of them are well-developed, which is an amazing accomplishment if we were to consider how many they are and how long they tend to stay in any given scene. And that leads me to what I consider to be the highlight of the novel: pacing.

Allen’s book is richly-plotted, yes. We have the main conflicts (Sutton and Jack’s terrible pasts, their dreams, and their future together) as well as the smaller ones (threat of eviction, Ox and Esther’s romance, Theo’s tragi-comic adventures in his search for love, among others), and what I love the most is the fact that Allen gives these subplots almost equal time. Slow and steady seem to be her mantra, and I absolutely appreciate seeing an easy, almost idle unfolding of events because it allows the reader time to see – really see, understand, and absorb – Jack and Sutton’s world, their blooming relationship, and their complex connections with other characters, both good and bad. This is definitely not a book for the impatient.

That said, the understated, quiet quality of the book works against the story in a few (very few) instances. There are some moments in which the emotions are so subtle that the results are a sense of odd detachment and an ephemeral quality in the scene that pulls the reader away, when the moment really needs to draw on his sympathy or outrage instead. These moments are rare, though, and on the whole, they don’t at all detract from the novel’s better points.

Even though the setting is contained (nicely reflective of the “contained” emotions that define the plot), we still get to experience New York. Engaging all our senses with details that help fix us firmly in the characters’ world, Allen manages to capture a very real city at a specific point in its history. Dingy alleys, grimy walls, rundown apartments, cluttered shops, Ida’s restaurant and her home-cooked meals – we get to see, smell, feel, taste, and hear everything. It’s a great complement to a host of very real, very human characters.

Buy the book: Amazon.com, Amazon UK (not yet listed)

chauncey-gay-new-york31

Review: Frost Fair by Erastes

511ifg5z4ll_ss500_

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

Before the climate changed, Londoners were occasionally treated to a sporadic festival triggered by the freezing of the Thames River. This was known as the Frost Fair, where merchants hauled their wares onto the surface of the river, and citizens flocked to impromptu markets, drawn by the novelty and beauty of snow and the hastily-assembled stalls offering goods and food to the curious city dwellers.  The final Frost Fair lasted four days in February, 1814; it provides the backdrop and opening scenes for the book of the same name, authored by Erastes and published by Linden Bay Romance.

It is during the month of this unusual fair that readers are introduced to Gideon Frost, a young man struggling to maintain his printing business after his father’s untimely death. With blond hair and blue eyes, he has a fair complexion; he is also fair and honest in his heart and his dealings, although he struggles with some secrets that he harbors in his soul, namely, his amorous desire for one of his clients and his need to occasionally prostitute himself to wealthy men he meets on Lad Lane, in order to make ends meet.

Frost Fair unfolds over the course of a month and in that short time span, Gideon struggles with blackmail, betrayal, and deceit. He also falls in love, finds that love requited, then denied, then found again. All this, in a short novella! It is a satisfying read, in large part because of Erastes’ vivid characterizations and evocative descriptions of the time and place. I could feel the cold snow, hear the “clunk” of Gideon’s printing press, and see in my mind’s eye the locales in which he found himself, from grand homes to dark taverns. Mostly, I could smell the tang of the men who desired Gideon, with their advances both wanted and not.

I read the ebook version of the story and it was nicely formatted, although I wish the publisher would add a few conveniences for the reader such as a Table of Contents and links to navigate back and forth from the contents to the various chapters. Since a reader cannot flip through an ebook, such links make reading more akin to the paper experience. While I am on the subject of the publisher, I do have to voice my displeasure at the cover. It does nothing to convey the subject of the story and is a disservice to the wonderful tale inside. I bought the book because I enjoy Erastes’ writing; as a marketing tool the cover is not effective. It was only the author’s name that drew me in.

I have one tiny quibble and it comes near the end: there is a little loose end that is left hanging and it is disconcerting. I imagine the author desired some ambiguity (that seems to be an Erastes’ trademark) and I drew my own conclusions as to what happened. Still, it left a nagging feeling in the back of my mind which is why I comment on it. A wise editor might have pointed this out and it could have been fixed with a sentence or two—and the ambiguity preserved—but it was not. Erastes is a wonderful author and storyteller; this is a matter of craft that is easily repaired. I recently read Standish (by the same author) which I also enjoyed tremendously, but I have to say, I believe that Erastes is maturing as an writer and overall, Frost Fair is more well written. This is exciting because it gives me something to look forward to from this talented author and I hope that small errors such as this disappear completely in her future works.

I read Frost Fair first a few weeks ago and then, in preparation for writing this review, I re-read it yesterday, during an ice storm, which certainly put me in the proper frame of mind to enjoy a story set during one of the coldest winters in London’s history! The story, while cold and bleak in some parts, is warm and hot in others and left me, as a reader, feeling completely fulfilled.


ISBN: 978-1-60202-157-0

Available in print ($14.99) and ebook ($5.99) directly from the publisher: http://www.lindenbayromance.com/product-frostfair-7265-145.html

Leslie H. Nicoll is the owner of Maine Desk LLC, an editorial writing and consulting business located in Portland, Maine. She is also the Publisher for Bristlecone Pine Press, an ebook publishing imprint and subsidiary of her business. While she desires to write fiction, she seems to have more success in the non-fiction world. Her latest books (both 2008) are The Editor’s Handbook, co-authored with Margaret Freda and published by Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins and The Amazon Kindle FAQ, co-authored with Joshua Tallent and DeLancey Nicoll and published by Bristlecone. For more, please visit www.mainedesk.com and www.bcpinepress.com.

Review: Insubordination by Alex Beecroft

A nice bonus for you today as Insubordination is a free-read and can be found here at Linden Bay

For the sake of their lives and careers, Josh and Peter agreed to put their need for one another behind them. But then a luxurious and sensual dinner together becomes foreplay, leading Josh to an act of insubordination that Captain Peter Kenyon will never forget

Review by Erastes

The characters have – for reasons that hardly need explaining to any reader of gay historical fiction – decided to cease their affair,  but Josh – beautifully in character – is finding this hard to deal with. So is Peter, but being the more controlled of the two would rather snap in half than admit it as readily as Josh does.  Josh pushes the matter in this wonderful speech

“Despatches from London. Butcher’s bill from the
Seahorse. Sightings of the Avenger and the Cruel Bones.
Papers containing news of the war, and incidentally, Sir, I
still love you. Why not take an evening off from being
respectable? I’m owed a chance to bugger you for a
change, don’t you think?”

If you love UST, or if you don’t quite know what it is, or if you need help writing it – I can do no better for you than to point at Alex’s writing, especially here as the tension she writes is exquisite, almost painful and you find yourself screaming at the page for them to stop bloody fooling themselves and get on with it because you know they want to.

And that’s the point, really. They do want to, but Peter’s infuriating good sense and understandable fear gets in the way.  He feels that he’s dallying with Josh, that he’s risking Josh’s life over something that he can control, can stop, and after all there’s no future in it, he thinks – and it’s Josh who is the key to this, Josh who is the one who needs take the control away from Peter, to show Peter how much it all means and that it’s all worth the risk.

The writing is exquisitely crisp, perfectly in tone and the details of the period, the food, the crystal, the uniforms are all done with the deftness and expertise that you’d expect from Alex if you’ve read her work before. The sex is perfect, never overdone, just enough to leave a warm smile on your face.

If you haven’t read Captain’s Surrender, then I recommend this little freebie because it will convince you that you need to, and if you have, this will not help you, because it will leave you wanting more.

Linden Bay

Review: Icarus In Flight by Hayden Thorne

James Ellsworth is a bit jaded, especially for his young age. He hates school, and longs for his parents’ estate, where life is far more pleasant. Meeting new schoolmate Daniel Courtney is a much-needed distraction, one that will prove more and more engrossing as James and Daniel grow older. When his father dies, James is thrust into a position of responsibility, not just to his estate, but to his mother and sister as well. … As they grow older, James and Daniel discover that life is not what they thought it would be when they were schoolboys together, and that, even as they try to make their own way, they always come back to one another. Can they find a way to make things work, no matter what their friends and family think?

Review by Mark R. Probst

Hayden Thorne’s debut novel, (a bit about that in a moment) Icarus in Flight, is a truly remarkable Victorian love story and had I not known better, I would have believed it had been penned by a successful, seasoned writer. It’s not quite accurate to say Icarus is solely Ms. Thorne’s debut, as it is one of a trio of her novels, all published simultaneously. The other two are Masks: Rise of Heroes, and Banshee.

The story begins in Wiltshire, England in 1841 when 12 year old James Ellsworth is introduced to a new boy in school, Daniel Courtney. Daniel is poor, frail and orphaned, making him the target of bullying, whereas James is upper-class and heir to his family’s fortune. James takes Daniel under his wing, offering him protection and takes on the task of enriching Daniel’s life with culture thereby making him suitable as a comrade.

The novel quickly advances to 1847 where James’s father has died and James is now the master of his house, having the responsibility to financially care for his mother and two sisters. Meanwhile Daniel’s brother has been killed, leaving him with no family at all and he leaves school to take over the position left by his brother as a secretary to an old gentleman writing his memoirs. The two boys, now young men, continue their friendship with Daniel occasionally visiting James’s Wiltshire home. Needless to say romance blossoms and within a few years the relationship is consummated during a trip to James’s secondary house in London. James makes plans to take care of Daniel, provide a home for them both, and to sponsor Daniel’s budding career as a writer. But someone gets to Daniel and convinces him that he would be soiling his brother’s memory as well as James’s good name, so Daniel flees to Norwich with the hope of making good on his own. James is crushed and sinks into despair, eventually leaving England for Venice where he takes up a life of empty sexual encounters. Thus, either boy could be Icarus, the character in Greek mythology who escaped his exile on Crete by flying away with wax wings, as they both fled from a life that felt to them like imprisonment. I won’t disclose how the story ends except to say that you won’t be disappointed.

Both boys are richly-drawn, likeable characters. James, due to his being born into wealth and inheritance, is understandably a bit of a snob from time to time, and Daniel is so humble and demure that you just want to scoop him up and cuddle him. The fact that he idolizes James makes him particularly vulnerable.

What makes this novel so impressive is its tone. Thorne has wonderfully captured polite, privileged Victorian society with the manners and mores of England in the 19th Century, the cadences of proper dialog, and prudent behavior all coming together in grand style. I definitely felt the influences of Forster (and dare I say, Austen?) The female characters are as well-drawn as the male characters. In a time of Britain’s history where women were not allowed to own property, Thorne demonstrates how the mother and daughters dealt with having their livelihood left in the hands of a young son. While they would never cross him directly, for he did legally have all the power, carefully crafted language was the tool they used to manipulate him into serving the interests of propagating the family.

Icarus in Flight is a bit light on plot, which is to be expected from what could essentially be considered a parlor drama. The real strength of the writing is Thorne’s dialog, which just sparkles with wit and intelligence. A lot of historicals I’ve read have modernisms and gaffes that pull you right out of the story. Not so here. The dialog is so polished and authentic to the British period, that it would be comfortable on the lips of actors in a production on the BBC. What’s more, I was surprised to learn that Ms. Thorne is an American through and through!

One last point I’d like to make is that Icarus in Flight is being marketed as a young adult novel. That’s fine, in that there is nothing inappropriate for younger readers, but if you are thinking of skipping it because you are not inclined to read YA fiction, you’d be making a mistake. The novel is completely geared toward adult readers, and there is no “dumbing down” to make it more palatable to youngsters. The publisher states it is for 16 and up and I would say that’s about right because the language is probably too sophisticated for younger teens.

Buy from Prizm Books

Buy from Amazon USA Buy from Amazon UK

chauncey-gay-new-york3

Review: Speak Its Name by Charlie Cochrane, Lee Rowan and Erastes

A Three novella anthology from Cheyenne Publishing

Featuring:
Aftermath by Charlie Cochrane
Gentleman’s Gentleman by Lee Rowan
Hard and Fast by Erastes

Expectations riding on young Englishmen are immense; for those who’ve something to hide, those expectations could prove overwhelming.

Aftermath
When shy Edward Easterby first sees the popular Hugo Lamont, he’s both envious of the man’s social skills and ashamed of finding him so attractive. But two awful secrets weigh Lamont down. One is that he fancies Easterby, at a time when the expression of such desires is strictly illegal. The second is that an earlier, disastrous encounter with a young gigolo has left him unwilling to enter into a relationship with anyone. Hugo feels torn apart by the conflict between what he wants and what he feels is “right”. Will Edward find that time and patience are enough to change Hugo’s mind?

Gentleman’s Gentleman
Lord Robert Scoville has lived in a reasonably comfortable Victorian closet, without hope of real love, or any notion that it’s right there in front of him if he would only open his eyes and take notice of his right-hand man, Jack Darling. Jack has done his best to be satisfied with the lesser intimacy of caring for the man he loves, but his feigned role as a below-stairs ladies’ man leaves his heart empty. When a simple diplomatic errand turns dangerous and a man from their past raises unanswerable questions, both men find themselves endangered by the secrets between them. Can they untangle the web of misunderstanding before an unknown attacker parts them forever?

Hard and Fast:
Major Geoffrey Chaloner has returned, relatively unscathed, from the Napoleonic War, and England is at peace for the first time in years. Unable to set up his own establishment, he is forced to live with his irascible father who has very clear views on just about everything—including exactly whom Geoffrey will marry and why. The trouble is that Geoffrey isn’t particularly keen on the idea, and even less so when he meets Adam Heyward, the enigmatic cousin of the lady his father has picked out for him… As Geoffrey says himself: “I have never been taught what I should do if I fell in love with someone of a sex that was not, as I expected it would be, opposite to my own.”

Review by Alex Beecroft

It won’t be any secret that I’m a fan of both Erastes and Lee Rowan, so I’ve been looking forward to this trilogy ever since I first heard that it was on the books. That’s an uncomfortable position to be in, or at least it is for me, because I’m always afraid that if I look forward to something too much, it will end up being a disappointment.

So colour me very happy indeed that this was nothing of the sort. All three stories are carefully observed, beautifully written and emotionally very engaging. All three also share an emphasis on romance, on following the burgeoning relationships of their protagonists through discovery, doubt, problems, conflicts external and internal, towards an eventual satisfying resolution.

Of the three, Aftermath is probably the one I liked least. I loved the setting! Who could not love flannel-trousered beautiful young men at university, strolling across the green lawns, talking about the meaning of life, while slowly, deliciously falling in love? My main problem was the structure. A flashback at the beginning left me wondering whether now was now or then was now or…. I got a bit chronologically confused as to when the shoes incident was happening. Reading back a second time I realised that that was the dramatic first meeting of the two heroes, but the impact was lost on me at the time.

Having said that, though, when I got my bearings, I became thoroughly invested in hoping that these two highly principled young things would throw their principles to the wind and settle down to making each other happy. Much praise to the author – whose first professional story this is – for making that happy ending so very much desired while also showing how unlikely, even impossible, it could seem. You can see both young men growing up even in so short a space.

Gentleman’s Gentleman by Lee Rowan is a delight from start to finish. It felt a little like watching an episode of the Lord Peter Whimsey detective stories, if Lord Peter had been secretly in love with his manservant instead of with Harriet Vane. I don’t mean that in any kind of derivative way, but more to illustrate the feeling of place, from the battlefield to the first class carriage of a train racing across Europe, to the final meeting with the spy in the hotel in Vienna. And yes, there was a spy too, and a snuff box full of cocaine, and secret plans that had to be retrieved and taken to the Embassy before the Germans got their hands on them… In short, it was an exciting read just at the level of an adventure story. But add on top of that the wonderful familiar-but-repressed relationship of Lord Robert and his manservant, the conveniently named ‘Darling’ (Jack Darling), and there’s a whole new world of entertainment.

I loved the many convincing reasons why neither man had acted on his attraction so far, and the equally convincing way that the story unravelled every objection, from Robert’s principles to Jack’s reputation as a ladies’ man. It’s obvious that both characters are already comfortable and well suited to each other – and I liked both of them very much – so the final coming together is a coming home for both of them. Beautifully done and very touching. And a big thumbs up for the excuse they came up with to tell Lord Robert’s matchmaking mama!

Hard and Fast by Erastes is also a story in which matchmaking family members have a big impact. In this case it’s Geoffrey Chaloner’s father who wants him to get married to Emily Pelham, despite the fact that Geoffrey himself is fascinated by Emily’s cousin, Adam Heyward.

Normally I’m not a fan of stories told in the first person, but this is just lovely! Geoffrey’s ‘voice’ is delightfully in character for a man of his times, but he still comes across as very much of an individual. A rather lovable, bemused, good humoured, chivalrous, but none too bright an individual. Adam too immediately leaps off the page as a fully rounded person; clever, cynical, defensive. And it’s a treat to find that Geoffrey’s father, Emily Pelham and Lady Pelham are well drawn, likable characters too.

This is another story where I was able to really luxuriate in the sense of place – the settings were so beautifully detailed and real. The writing managed to be lush but powerful at the same time. I did really enjoy the fact that Geoffrey, who is all kitted out to be the ‘alpha male’ of this relationship – he’s big, powerful, a trained soldier, and literally at one stage so moved by passion as to sweep Adam off his feet – is also such an innocent. Adam, the physically frail, slight, non-combatant is three steps ahead of poor dim Geoff at every stage. And speaking of sweeping off the feet, the passion between the two leads is breathtaking.

With three very high quality stories, I thoroughly recommend this book. It left me with a smile on my face that hasn’t worn off a day later, and I’ll be buying it myself as soon as it comes out in print.

Cheyenne Publishing Amazon UK Amazon USA

Erastes would like to blushingly say that the views of the reviewer are not necessarily shared by the management, however much the management appreciates said view.

Review: Mr Clive and Mr Page by Neil Bartlett

It is Christmas Eve, 1956, and the reclusive Mr Page is remembering a dream from thirty years ago. The dream is about the rich and wild Mr Clive, a man who could have been Page’s twin, and what really happened to the beautiful white-haired boy who served in his house. And the dream is about Clive’s house itself–ostensibly modern and spacious but in truth deeply secretive, with its invisible network of staircases, corridors and hidden rooms. Neil Bartlett bears angry witness to the oppression of gays in the past and evokes their concealed world with dark, erotic tenderness.

Review by Erastes

I’ve just closed the book and am completely blown away.

It’s probably not for everyone, because it’s written in first person; is interspersed with (relevant) articles and news clippings; is written in a realistic diary-style; has a very campy-fussy-gay-man-tone and rambles quite extensively. But for my money it’s one of the best books I’ve read.

For a start it emphasises the very real fear that gay men were feeling in late 50’s England. Compare and contrast this with Isherwood’s bohemian gay life of A Single Man and you will appreciate the difference of Californian sun to the cold austere post-war severity and class-conciousness.

You’d think that – as the Labouchère amendment had been in place for 70 years – that the gay community (such as it was) would be a little more confident but for those who didn’t already know that was not the case, this book shines a light on the constant fear of discovery.

Mr Page is a wonderful character; from his first words “I’ve got the gas on, Lovely,” you immediately picture him: fussy, beautifully turned out, and alone. The entire diary is written with a core of the fear of detection running all the way through it, and he explains, just by the way he describes his life, why he’s so repressed because of the case of that household guard, those two navy boys, that man in the university – a catalogue of less fortunate men who have been “found out.” He even says that he can’t name names because if they found any of those names in this – they’d know. It’s a terrible thing to be so very afraid, afraid to love.

In a very real way, it reminds me of Rebecca; there’s a gothic feel to Mr Clive and his huge empty expensive house, and Mr Page even mentions the book at one point, which probably helps the comparison. Mr Page meets Mr Clive (a Gatsby type figure, apparent wealth and eccentric behaviour) outside the Turkish bath where Mr Pages goes every week. Although it’s very veiled (as Mr Page doesn’t want anyone getting hold of his memoir and naming names) it’s clear that the bathhouse is a meeting place, as such places have been in history.

Mr Page wonders why Mr Clive picks him up the way he does, first thinking that it is because they look so alike, but then realises it’s probably for other reasons. It’s not a friendship, never a friendship, but it’s compelling both to Mr Page and to the reader – and whether or not Mr Page’s reasoning at the end of the book- the reasons why Mr Clive did the things he did – are accurate, then that’s up to the reader.

The core of the book is one image: of one day in history 14 March – when Mr Page saw a blond man, naked, bathed in sunshine. This image is both a dream and a reality and what starts out as one certain image – what we think we know is happening – gradually unravels as Mr Page get more maudlin (fuelled by Christmas brandy) and we finally, tragically, understand what the image of the naked, blond man is really all about. You get a real feel that it’s the true meaning of the image that Mr Page has been trying to hide, but in the end, he had to get out.

I wish I could say more, but it’s difficult to do so without spoiling, despite the length of the book, it’s a very simple premise, fabulously written and I was jealous of every line. The ending had me sobbing, but not in a bad way, believe me.

This is definitely a keeper, a re-reader, an inspiration, and one of my essential reads.

I don’t often link to other sources, but I think that this essay on the book is well worth reading (after you’ve read the book, of course)

Buy: Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: The Carnivorous Lamb by Agustin Gomez-Arcos

carnivorous.jpg

Review by Hayden Thorne

BOOK DESCRIPTION:
A brilliant, lunatic tale filled with black humor and decadence, The Carnivorous Lamb is a compelling family saga of power, love, and politics. Into a shuttered house, haunted by ghosts of past rebellion and Franco’s regime, Ignacio is born. His mother despises him; his failed father ignores him; his older brother becomes his savior, his confidant…his lover. Shocking, irresistibly erotic, their forbidden relationship becomes the center of exiled Spanish author Agustin Gomez-Arcos’ savagely funny, stunningly controversial novel – and a damning indictment that neatly spears Franco, family, Church, and the modern world.

REVIEW:
Ignacio and Antonio are brothers. They’re also lovers. Priests are hebephilic perverts, and they stink of incense and shit. Franco’s regime drips from every corner of a decaying house that’s literally, emotionally, and psychologically cut off from the rest of Spain. Within this household, religion and politics play themselves out day after day, shaping Ignacio’s birth, childhood, and adolescence, offering us a bizarre tableau of family dysfunction and oppression.

The novel might sound like an erotic melodrama, but it isn’t. What Gomez-Arcos does – and does magnificently – is take Spain, the Catholic Church, Franco, and notions of family by the hair, and skewer them through with a knife. Again. And again. And again. His tone is brazen, defiant, and angry, with Ignacio telling his story with a dark, biting humor that kept me enthralled from start to finish. I have, I must admit, a special fondness for angry, subversive fiction that takes no prisoners, and The Carnivorous Lamb does so with wit and a vicious satire that would make Juvenal weep with pride (sort of). Like Lindsay Anderson’s If…, the novel, in a nutshell, is one big “Fuck you!” from start to finish.

To say that the characters are fascinating would be an understatement. Because Gomez-Arcos limits his scope to Ignacio’s family, bringing in an occasional outsider in order to place the family within a certain social context or, in the case of Don Gonzalo (the priest) and Don Pepe (the tutor), to just plain tear apart, the characters are explored to near minute detail in a kind of vacuum. Their complicated relationships, their ambivalence toward each other (in the case of Ignacio and his mother, a mutual hatred), and their ties to the past (notably the Spanish Civil War) play out like a surreal stage production.

Of all the characters, Matilde (Ignacio’s mother) is the most interesting and the most complex. She’s born into wealth, and her family’s aligned with Franco’s Nationalists, but she loves and marries a Republican, whom her family saves from imprisonment. Her conflicting allegiances show themselves again and again, and at times, we’re left wondering which side she truly belongs. She starts out as a satirical figure, representing the Catholic church in many ways, but as the novel progresses and Ignacio begins to touch on the more “hidden” corners of her character, she grows into a much more fascinating and exasperating figure.

Carlos (the father) and Antonio are the least developed of the major players. Carlos, a former Republican soldier and failed lawyer, spends his days hiding in his study, listening to old propaganda records that talk about peace and victory while locals consult with him over legal matters. He wastes away slowly, practically dead well before he dies. Antonio’s given more room for development, but though he remains a constant in Ignacio’s life – a strong, erotic, protective figure who exerts a remarkably strong influence on Ignacio – he still remains largely in the periphery.

Ignacio’s anger – simmering and sustained throughout the novel – colors our views of Spain, but we’re also made to laugh (maybe in shock, maybe in sympathy) at the occasional wry observation and simply out-and-out hysterical commentaries and exchanges he makes with the other characters. The scenes involving his baptism, confirmation, and first communion, for instance, are classic. Even America, represented by Evelyn (the graduate with a degree in Home Economics), isn’t spared a vicious tongue-lashing. Some readers might find Ignacio’s loathing of his mother and of Evelyn a blatant show of misogyny, but I think that’s limiting one’s reading of the text to a surface level. The nature of the story itself is so bizarre and outlandish that to read on a literal level would be doing the book a bit of injustice.

As the novel progresses, and Ignacio’s rage escalates, the scenes turn more and more surreal. Even Evelyn, who plays a small but effective part near the end of the book, becomes less of a character and more of a metaphor, and it’s clear that it isn’t because she’s a woman that Ignacio learns to despise her. It’s what she represents in addition to her role in the family, what with all his contemptuous observations of her diploma and her American bacon-and-eggs efficiency in the kitchen.

Gomez-Arcos’s novel can be taken apart in so many ways, given its subject and its narrative approach. It’s the kind of novel that’s memorable in its in-your-face subversion and celebration of anarchy. Darkly funny, incredibly erotic, I give this book four stars for the writing and one extra star for the damned fine cojones.

Buy the book: Amazon, Amazon UK

Review: Maurice, directed by James Ivory

maurice.jpg

Review by Hayden Thorne

FROM MERCHANT IVORY PRODUCTIONS:
The traditional bildungsroman, or novel of education, ends with a marriage. E.M. Forster’s Maurice (1914), the second of his novels to be adapted by Merchant Ivory, takes on a subject that no major novel in the genre had ever addressed: the problem of coming of age as a homosexual in a restrictive society. First published in 1971, after Forster’s death, and long neglected by critics, it is only recently (and largely since the release of the film adaptation) that critics have come to set Maurice in its unique place among “Reader, I married him” narratives. Starring James Wilby (Maurice) and Hugh Grant (Clive) as two Cambridge undergraduates who fall in love, the film is set amidst the hypocritical homoerotic subculture of the English university in Forster’s time. In an environment in which any reference to ” the unspeakable vice of the Greeks” is omitted, and any overture toward a physical relationship between men might be punishable by law, Maurice and Clive struggle to come to terms with their own feelings toward each other and toward a repressive society.

REVIEW:
The dichotomy of love – that of the idealized (intellectual/platonic) and the physical – is beautifully captured in Merchant and Ivory’s adaptation of E.M. Forster’s novel, Maurice.

The film is made with a remarkably sharp eye for detail. England becomes a lush panorama that enriches every scene – the green, rolling countryside, the sprawling grandeur of Penge (or Pendersleigh in the movie), the grayness of rain-soaked London. We’re treated to the rich traditions that define university life in Cambridge, with young, aristocratic students sharply-dressed and immersed in their Greek translations or raucously celebrating athletic victories. The side characters are also used to paint a detailed picture of the mores of those times, both within social classes as well as between.

James Ivory takes his time in feeding us Maurice’s world, and the pace is luxuriously idle without turning dull. The cinematography is gorgeous, but it never distracts us from the characters and the story. One can say that Ivory turns England into a character in the movie, and in many ways, she is. She’s the hidden puppet-master who controls and dictates the tension within and between characters with her history, faith, and laws, and everyone’s powerless against her.

The acting is strong (though Kingsley seems a bit uncomfortable in his role as a hypnotist with an odd American accent) and effective in expressing the way turbulent yet natural emotions are confined by a rigid, intellectual veneer that very much defines the English upper-class. Unlike his counterpart in the novel, Clive is actually made into a more sympathetic character, with more believable reasons (compared to those in the novel) for choosing the path he takes. Hugh Grant, in one of his better performances, captures the fear, the despair, and the resignation that will shape Clive’s life for the rest of his days.

James Wilby fleshes out Maurice with great skill, moving from innocence to love to heartbreak to hope with a subtlety that’s alternately admirable and gut-wrenching. His portrayal certainly defies common – and bigoted – misconceptions of ineffectual softness or effeminacy as the defining character of a gay man – yes, even as a refined, upper-class gentleman. He’s athletic, well-built, and his scenes with Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves, who gives his role a cheeky roughness and vulnerability that makes one hope like heck that he’ll get his man in the end) show a nice blending of masculinity and deep emotion.

Unlike Clive, Alec is unpolished and unabashed in his expressions of love, constantly seeking Maurice’s companionship, which terrifies Maurice at first but eventually leads him to make a decision that’s both bittersweet and satisfying though largely improbable on another level. Given the social atmosphere of pre-World War I England, after all, class, no matter how much we wish it weren’t so, was a ruthless force in defining people’s behavior. Maurice, in fact, has shown himself to be a snob in several instances. The chances of a successful relationship with a social inferior are open to question. On the other hand, it’s the romance of a “what if?” situation that should be allowed the final word.

In a time and a place that were dominated by convention and the soul-deadening hypocrisy of the status quo, a slow and quiet stroll down the paths of improbability and romanticism sometimes make the best medicine.

The DVD contains several deleted scenes in a separate disc, one of them involving Maurice’s relationship with young Dickie Barry. It’s dismaying seeing those scenes taken out of the final theatrical release because Dickie’s presence marks another turning point in Maurice’s development. The boy inadvertently introduces Maurice to feelings of lust, which Maurice rather pathetically hopes to explore by dropping hints regarding his sleeping arrangements (just up the stairs from Dickie’s assigned room, thank you). Another deleted scene involves Lord Risley’s fate after his disgrace, which would have been an even more desperate call for Clive and Maurice to dive back into the closet. Yet another shows Clive (still a university student) showing signs of rebellion at home and dispensing his duties with a pretty cynical (even bitter) attitude. Here he gives his staff presents for Christmas, and had the scene been left in the movie’s final form, it would’ve given us our first glimpse of Alec Scudder.

Given the film’s length as it is, I can understand the need to excise those scenes, but it’s still unfortunate that we miss a few excellent – even significant – moments because of it. Thank the stars that they’re at least part of the final package for us to view again and again.

Buy the DVD: Amazon, Amazon UK

Review: My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries, ed. by Rictor Norton

my-dear-boy.jpg

Reviewed by Hayden Thorne

FROM THE AUTHOR’S BOOK PAGE:
My Dear Boy is an anthology of gay love letters documenting the heartbreak and joy of love between men for almost two thousand years. Emperor Marcus Arelius, Bo Juyi, Saint Anselm, Erasmus, Michelangelo, Mashida Toyonoshin, Thomas Gray, William Beckford, Walt Whitman, Tchaikovsky, Henry James, Countee Cullen, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg are just a few of the correspondents included, who range from kings and aristocrats, musicians and artists, military men and monks, to farm labourers and herring merchants, political activists and aesthetes, black poets and Japanese actors, drag queens and hustlers.

For more information, visit Mr. Norton’s page.

REVIEW:
Rictor Norton’s book is a treasure trove of primary sources for writers, scholars, and casual fans/readers of homosexuality (or homosexual romance) through history. The book’s introduction is long and detailed as Norton explains the purpose of the volume in relation to its place in the study of same-sex love through the centuries. He gives us a quick history lesson on the nature of love letters between men from different periods and countries, which ultimately sets the basis of the book’s contents.

The letters aren’t comprehensive, and one really shouldn’t expect the entire book to be. What we’re given is a rare collection of private exchanges between lovers, a representative “cluster” of letters between men that can certainly serve as starting points for further research or scholarly exploration for writers of historical fiction. They also provide more casual fans of historical gay romance a fascinating glimpse into the private lives of famous figures. Sometimes humorous, sometimes heartbreaking, but always thought-provoking, these letters become one of the most intimate connections – if not the most intimate connection – we can have with past lives.

The sampling of these letters is eclectic, with the contents arranged chronologically. The book begins with exchanges between Marcus Aurelius and Marcus Cornelius Fronto (letters dated circa 139). From there we’re given letters between Erasmus and Servatius (letters dated 1482-1490), Mashida Toyonoshin and Moriwaki Gonkuro (letter dated 1667), Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne (letters dated 1851), and Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg (letters dated 1947), among several others. Photos (mostly artistic male nudes) and portraits are also used for illustration and aesthetics though not all couples are given visuals.

Each “chapter” or cluster of letters has its own introduction. Only very lightly biographical in their discussions of the men involved, these introductions are there mainly to give the letters the necessary historical context in terms of their creation. This book is an invaluable collection, and considering how the letters are merely a representative of a much larger and very complex subculture, one can’t help but wonder how many other love letters exchanged between men – men unknown to fame and fortune, that is – were ultimately lost in history.

Buy the book: Amazon UK, Amazon US

Review: A Different Sin by Rochelle Hollander Schwab

 

Review by Erastes

Wow. What a read!  I had few expectations of this book – I’d seen it around here and there, in this limited genre the same books are bound to crop up from time to time – but the cover always put me off.  However, eventually I ordered a copy and it arrived  (and it’s a signed copy no less!) 

It starts simply and familiarly enough; our main protagonist, David, is the son of a plantation (and slave) owner.  He chafes against living at home and the hum-drum existence and wants more. But the twists start almost immediately and there’s a hell of a lot packed into this not very long book.

It would be almost impossible to write a book about this war without mentioning race and RHS meets this head on. David’s father has a shameful “secret” – which is no longer a secret – he fathered a child, Mike, from one of his slaves and has helped him escape from Virginia to Boston to become a doctor.  David lives under the impression that, as an artist and someone who has no interest in taking over the plantation, that Mike is the son that his father would have really wanted, especially now as he’s acknowledged him publicly.

David is offered a job on a New York paper and becomes friendly with Zach who he quickly becomes friends with and soon realises that his feelings are a little more than platonic.

The nice difference here is that the men aren’t the usual hairless 20 year old Adonises, (Adoni?). These are bearded men of their era in their late 30’s and early 40’s. Zach in particular is rather beary-hairy and the way that David fixates on his solid mature body is no less sexy than the endless stories of six packs and ridged hips.

The love story itself is familiar though, Zach is an experienced homosexual who knows what he is and he’s finding a way to communicate his preferences to others, finding others with his tastes in the big city. David has been unsatisfied with sex with women and doesn’t know there’s something missing. The difference between them is that when David does fall in love and into bed with Zach he can’t accept himself for what he is and he fights his “perversion” almost every step of the way. (This jarred me a little because I knew that the word pervert/perversion applied in this sense was anachronistic in itself and wish that (as Schwab has so much right) that she had found another word to use – because David uses it a LOT.)

He’s a very angsty man, and sometimes he was so repetitive in his angsting that I wanted to smack him.

He tries to break with Zach time and again, (despite knowing now that he loves him) as the country falls into conflict and then into war and then finally he can bear his own perversion no longer and volunteers to go to the front for the paper, despite having had it proved to him that he’s no hero.  He joins Grant and some very bloody history is recounted at this point, seen, on the fringes by David, and his new friend, Al.

I’ve seen this book accused of having “too much history” which has to make me smile – it’s rather difficult to avoid the history in the middle of Grant’s Wilderness Campaign!  However I know that military campaigns aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and despite having a penchant for Sharpe they aren’t usually mine, but here I really I enjoyed reading about an era that I only know from Gone With The Wind.  I didn’t know anything about the draft riots for example – and some of the violence, truthfully written, is quite hard to read.

People’s wildly varying attitudes to the black population are interesting, difficult to cope with, and inspiring in turns, and I admire that the author didn’t shy away from all this, as she could have done, she could have smothered a difficult and bloody time for all involved with a gay love affair in a wallpaper historical.  But she doesn’t, for my money – there’s politics, and the man on the street, and the soldier’s opinions about many different things.  I would have been happy if this book had been twice the length, to be honest – I find it hard to work out how she managed to cram so much in.

Yes, this is about love, but it’s also a message (that Zach mentions) that there are “different sins” and perhaps two men loving each other in private can’t compare with what America was doing to itself. It’s still easier for some Americans to see a man with a gun in his hand than another man’s hand, actually, isn’t it?

I also particularly liked the New York social scenes; they are entirely masculine – the only mention of women being when one of the group goes to a brothel.  The newspaper men meet up in journalists’ bars, men frequent gymnasiums and you get a real feel of hard bitten journalists working round the clock. Walt Whitman makes an appearance (at one point rather disturbingly kissing a young armless soldier) and there are hints of men meeting up in groups for possibly orgies, but as David turns the offer down, we never know. It is clear however, (Zach gives us broad hints of this) that there is a large and close homosexual fraternity in New York.

Anyway – all in all very enjoyable. However, I have to say- it has possibly one of the worst covers ever. I AM going to continue to critique the covers of these books because I think that it’s important. However, as one of the protagonists is a war artist in the American Civil War, I can’t help but wonder if this was deliberate and that the painting is supposed to reflect that.  However I hope that David’s art was a little better.  If I saw it on a shelf, there’s no way in God’s green earth I would turn it over to see what the blurb said.

And then I’d have missed an excellent book, which would be a criminal shame.  Historically weighty, yes, (for the size of it) but the theme of this blog is Gay Historical Fiction, and this book certainly is one of the examples I shall point to when I say “This is gay historical fiction.”

Buy: Amazon UK   Amazon USA

Review: While England Sleeps by David Leavitt

Review by Erastes

From the blurb:

At a meeting of republican sympathisers in London, Brian Botsford, a young middle-class writer and Cambridge graduate, meets Edward Phelan, an idealistic, self-educated London Underground worker. They share a mutual attraction. Across the divisions of class they begin an affair in secrecy.

But Edward posesses “an unproblematic capacity to accept” Brian and the love that dare not speak its name, whereas Brian is more cautious and under family pressure agrees to be set up with a suitable young woman. Pushed to the point of crisis Edward threatens to volunteer to fight Franco in Spain.

There are (to my perception, at least) a few inaccuracies in the blurb, but I won’t quibble over them. This is an excellent book which I devoured in two sittings.

It has a readability that draws the eye, and the narrator’s voice is completely convincing. It’s written in first person, there is a faux prologue “written” in 1978 where Brian explains that he’s now living in America and considers himself to be an American and an epilogue which looks back at 1938 from that fifty year gap. Both of these devices go far to convince that the book was written by Brian and not by David Leavitt.

Like “As Meat Loves Salt” (although not to the same extent) Brian is not a likeable or attractive character. A product of his class, he coasts through life, unlike Edward who takes what he wants with more enthusiasm, facing what he is face on. Brian still thinks that being homosexual is just something one did at school and that he would get over it, although it’s obvious he’s deluding himself. He’s a playwright, and he plays at it, having no drive to support himself; he sponges off his Aunt Constance (or “Inconstance” as he cruelly calls her, as she doesn’t pay him regularly enough for him to depend on her support. He mumps off his friends and generally won’t commit to one thing or another, which leads to the crisis event in the book – one which he will regret, and will haunt him for the rest of his life.

I found it to be tremendously absorbing, like the best of historicals, it immersed me in the era without info dumping. As I’ve said before, if a book reads like it was written in the time, rather than about the time, it earns big kudos from me. The class divide might be hard for non-Brits to grasp – but pre-war it was still more relevant than people would suppose. I felt ashamed of Brian’s inability to admit his affair to his own friends, but then found it perfectly acceptable to talk to Edward’s sister about it. I wanted to smack him with the clue-by-four several times in the book – but that’s ok – that meant that the author was doing his job.

It also brings the situation in Europe at that time into sharp relief, there’s a lovely sub-plot with a friend of Brian’s who is attempting to get a friend out of Europe which breaks your heart, and you, as the reader, knowing what is going to happen in a few short years, hold your breath and weep at the hopeless cause and loss of life that is the Spanish Civil War.

If you prefer to like your protagonists, then this book might not be for you, but if you want a meaty and rich story that takes you so viscerally into the period that you can smell the steam engines and feel the bubble of the champagne of the Fast Set, then you’ll enjoy this as much as I did. A definite keeper.

Buy at Amazon US: Amazon UK

Textbook: Mother Clap’s Molly House, (The Gay Subculture in England 1700-1830) by Rictor Norton


Review by Alex Beecroft

First published in 1992 by GMP Books. A Second, Revised and Enlarged edition published in October 2006 by Chalfont Press (Tempus Publishing, UK).

Available through Amazon, or via Rictor Norton’s site  HERE which is a great place to go for a more detailed run down of the contents.  It’s also a fascinating site in itself, where you can find essays on all sorts of queer issues from the homosexual pastoral tradition to bawdy limericks.

Table of Contents
Introduction
1. The Renaissance Background
2. The Birth of the Subculture
3. Mother Clap’s Molly House
4. The Sodomites’ Walk in Moorfields
5. Maiden Names and Little Sports
6. Caterwauling
7. Popular Rage
8. Blackmail
9. The Third Sex
10. The Warden of Wadham
11. The Case of Captain Jones
12. The Macaroni Club
13. The Vere Street Coterie
14. A Child of Peculiar Providence
15. Men of Rank and Fortune
16. Tommies and the Game of Flats

Review:

Basically, for anyone interested in what it was like to be gay during the 18th and early 19th Century, this book is a must.  By combing through records of criminal prosecutions for buggery, and the documents kept by the Societies which persecuted gay men, Rictor Norton has amassed an enormous wealth of evidence about a heretofore unknown subculture.  He’s able to prove that our own century was not the first to have cruising grounds, gay bars and even a sense of gay pride.  On the contrary, our own views on homosexuality and our own modern gay culture have their roots in the culture which came to light in the 18th Century.

I say ‘came to light’ because as the book shows, it’s entirely possible that this gay subculture had already evolved by the 16th Century.  The first chapter of the book describes King James Ist’s court, in which the King’s love for George Villiers made the court a relatively tolerant place for gay relationships to flourish.

Norton holds that the specific subculture we see in the 18th Century did not spring to life in that century, but was merely revealed as a result of the purges organized by the newly formed Societies for the Reformation of Manners.  These societies organized ordinary people to shop their neighbours for immoral behaviour, and as a result an awful lot of gay men were prosecuted for buggery.  With the result that there were a lot of executions, but also that for the first time we have documented existence not just of one or two isolated individuals but of a whole culture of homosexuality.

In successive chapters, Norton explores some of the plays that show the playwright’s knowledge of this culture; the locations of the cruising grounds; the most famous gay bars (or Molly Houses).  Incidentally, I was amused and a little relieved to find out that Mother Clap’s molly house was so called because it was run by a gay-friendly lady called Margaret Clap, and not because that was what you could expect to acquire there!

Norton also covers the molly’s slang, some of their stranger rituals – like the practice of having pretend marriages, and sometimes even pretend childbirth.  We’re introduced to an enormous variety of characters, from blackmailers to Dukes.  I have to admit my heart was warmed to read of the butcher ‘Princess Seraphina’, who borrowed the clothes of his female neighbours and was obviously treated as one of the girls by the neighbourhood.  It was also good to read of Reverend John Church, the ‘child of peculiar Providence’, who as a gay priest had worked out a theology of God’s love long before our own time, and officiated at some of the marriages at The Swan molly house.

Less happy, however, are Norton’s accounts of so many trials and executions, and the enormous hatred of the general public for the mollies.  Such hatred that even those who were only sentenced to the pillory often barely made it out alive.

There is also a very interesting final chapter on Tommies or Lesbians – Norton is able to show that the word ‘lesbian’ was already in use in its modern sense at this time.

The strength of this book is its reliance on primary sources, so that the reader almost feels she is meeting the people described and participating in their tumultuous, dangerous, but ultimately surprisingly positive lives.  They seem to have been, despite the level of hatred and persecution surrounding them, confident, unashamed and well able to justify themselves to themselves.  The sense of positive, courageous joy in life is a welcome antidote to the statistics of trials and persecution.  I came away impressed by their resilience and convinced that it was not necessarily all doom and gloom, after all, being a gay man in the 18th Century.

The weakness of the book, I think, also comes from its reliance on primary sources.  There is a sense that although we’re meeting a number of fascinating individuals, the writer hasn’t managed to synthesize this information into very much of a larger picture.  There was a feeling of listening to repeated anecdotes, and by the end I yearned for some sort of pulling together of the evidence into a summary.

That didn’t happen.  I didn’t get any sense that an argument was being made, or a logical plan was being followed through the sequence of chapters.  There’s a sense in which this is simply a disorganized dumping of information on the reader.  But really, it’s such interesting information, and so lightly and amusingly told, that asking for more would be grasping.

A must have book for anyone writing m/m historical fiction from the late 17th Century to the early 19th.

Buy: From the Author: Amazon UK: Amazon USA

Review: David Blaize by E.F. Benson

E.F. Benson’s delightfully nostalgic classic of public school life is in the tradition of P.G. Wodehouse’s Tales of St. Austin’s. Memorably evoking the joys and torments of boyhood, from midnight feasts and glorious days on the cricket field to waxy masters and hilariously embarrassing parental visits, Benson follows young David Blaize from prep school to Marchester Collete – a thinly disguised portrait of the author’s own beloved Marlborough.

Affectionate, richly comic, and laced with E.F. Benson’s inimitable wit, David Blaize is a marvellous entertainment from one of the century’s greatest humorous writers.

Review by Renee Manley

David Blaize is a nostalgic and whimsical coming-of-age novel that follows the academic adventures of one of the most charming protagonists I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. The novel was written during WWI, hence the idyllic and loving – perhaps elegiac – portrait drawn of schoolboy life in the late 19th century. E.F. Benson, almost in his fifties when he wrote the novel, certainly had good reason to fix his mind to happier, far more innocent days.

David, as the protagonist, is virtually a paragon of youth. Good-looking, bright, innocent, he might at first be mistaken for a soft, effeminate sort, but he cannot be stereotyped. He demonstrates a sharp wit that allows him to outfox his superiors as well as athletic prowess that makes him a star on the cricket field. In many ways, David embodies all that’s fresh and good about youth.

The novel offers not much by way of conflict. Rather than subject the reader to classic coming-of-age angst, Benson instead laughs himself silly from the first page to the last. There are hindrances, there are problems – but none of it comes close to the high drama so common in most coming-of-age novels. Even David’s freak accident in the final chapter, though dangerous, seems to be an afterthought – something thrown in as a last-minute plot device in order to bring Maddox back to David’s side. Its suddenness and sharp divergence in tone from the rest of the novel lends the scene an unfortunate grating quality, so much so that the contrivance becomes glaring.

The same-sex romance in this novel is beautifully subtle. While it remains platonic, it comes off strongly whenever David and Frank Maddox are together. Just as David Copperfield has his James Steerforth (albeit only to a certain point), and Laurie Odell has his Ralph Lanyon, David Blaize has his Frank Maddox. As with most schoolboy romances, David and Frank’s begins as adoration, which turns passionate without being physical. David is the younger of the two – wide-eyed and eager to please. Frank is older – handsome, smart, protective, and much more attuned to the nature of their relationship. He therefore becomes David’s protector (a classic scenario), and the scenes in which the two of them are together fairly drips with young romance. Even when Maddox angrily punishes David for infractions, the reader’s left without any doubt as to the nature of their relationship.

Bags, David’s best friend from prep school, finishes the triangle. Goofy, kind, selfless, and utterly in love with a rather clueless David, Bags parallels his friend in David’s adoration of Maddox. Benson, bless the man, doesn’t denigrate Bags in any way. There’s quite a bit of kind-hearted and sympathetic humor in his treatment of the boy, and there’s also a good deal of nobility in the way Bags’ quiet suffering is portrayed.

Everything is carefully and precisely captured. Every scene, every nuance, lovingly committed to text. Even cricket matches take up entire chapters, which might test a contemporary reader’s patience after a while. The humor is wonderful – satirical in many ways, but certainly softened with the fondness of nostalgia. Even the scenes involving David’s father, who tortures his son by embarrassing him in front of the entire school, are richly detailed and conveyed with so much wit.

Scholars believe that E.F. Benson mined his own history for material for his novels, and that David Blaize is semi-autobiographical. If so, the poignancy of an older man’s attempts at recapturing an idyllic chunk of time far removed from the war-torn present doesn’t soften the humor of the novel. No – rather, it enriches the reading experience.

Amazon USA Amazon UK Online version (free)

Review: The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier

Review by Fiona Glass

Daphne du Maurier isn’t a name that immediately springs to mind when you’re trying to think of gay authors, or even authors who’ve written gay books. In fact, many of you are probably thinking ‘What’s that idiotic Glass woman on about?’. But the fact remains that du Maurier wrote a book with a gay main character, and that book is ‘The House on the Strand’.

It just happens to be one of my favourite books of all time, if not the favourite. The very first paragraph grabs you by the throat and drags you kicking and screaming into the depths of the book, and you never really stand a chance after that.

“The first thing I noticed was the clarity of the air, and then the sharp green colour of the land. There was no softness anywhere. The distant hills did not blend into the sky but stood out like rocks, so close that I could almost touch them, their proximity giving me that shock of surprise and wonder which a child feels looking for the first time through a telescope. Nearer to me, too, each object had the same hard quality, the very grass turning to single blades, springing from a younger, harsher soil than the soil I knew.”

I’ve been known to read the entire thing at one sitting, finally turning the last page at 1.30 in the morning with gritty eyes and no real sense of where I am.

The book tells the story of Dick Young, an unhappily married man who, during a holiday in Cornwall, takes part in an experiment which appears to send him back in time. Transported back to the same area in the fourteenth century, he explores the familiar-yet-different countryside and becomes obsessed by the people he meets, people who really existed and who occupied the farms and houses that still exist in the twentieth century world of his real life. Du Maurier is expert at portraying the life and colour of this earlier world, and contrasting it with the drabness and utility of Dick’s own world. He – and the reader – are taken on a vivid journey into the past and seduced by its excitement and sheer vitality.

“I might have stood for ever, entranced, content to hover between earth and sky, remote from any life I knew or cared to know; but then I turned my head and saw that I was not alone. The hoofs had made no sound – the pony must have travelled as I had done, across the fields – and now that it trod upon the shingle the clink of stone against metal came to my ears with a sudden shock, and I could smell the warm horse-flesh, sweaty and strong.

“Instinct made me back away, startled, for the rider came straight towards me, unconscious of my presence. He checked his pony at the water’s edge and looked seaward, measuring the tide. … He shifted his gaze from the sea and looked straight at me. Surely he saw me, surely I read, in those deepset eyes, a signal of recognition? He smiled, patted his pony’s neck, then, with a swift kick of heel to flank, urged the beast across the ford….”

Dick has no choice but to follow the stranger and what ensues is a marvellous tale of history and science fiction – the history of the past, and the science of the experiment in Dick’s present world. The strands are woven together cleverly and du Maurier’s particular skill is to make the reader sympathise entirely with Dick, to make his ordinary life seem dull and pedestrian and the people around him seem nightmarish and unsympathetic. His wife, for instance, is deeply unlikeable when seen through Dick’s eyes, yet if you stop and analyse her character you realise that she’s actually a perfectly normal person and not really to blame. Her unlikeableness is all in Dick’s mind.

The House on the Strand is not an overtly gay book, perhaps because it was published only two years after the Sexual Offences Act. However, it’s clear that Dick is bisexual at the very least. Although married with two sons, he describes himself at one point as a ‘latent homosexual’ and is clearly in love with his friend Magnus, the professor who has devised the entire experiment. And equally clearly, Dick becomes besotted with Roger, the fourteenth century servant we first meet on his pony in the first few pages of the book.

As with most du Maurier novels, there’s no happy ending. Magnus is killed as a result of his own experiment and Dick is left increasingly alienated and alone, living in one world but drawn obsessively by another, long since past, that he has no hope of ever being part of. I won’t say exactly what happens because that would spoil the surprise, but be prepared for a strong emotional kick. But to be honest, anything else would not fit the book. It deals with the past, and the whole point of the past is that it has gone, and that everything and everyone in it has long since crumbled to dust.

On a more mundane note, the book is an exceptional read. The descriptions are stunning, the characters compelling, the mystery element as Dick researches the people and places of the past keeps you turning the pages for more, and the weird sci-fi sub-plot is sheer pulp fiction joy. History and science fiction make for strange bed-fellows, but the brilliance of du Maurier’s writing binds it together seamlessly and makes ‘The House on the Strand’ a truly unforgettable book It’s one I don’t think I could manage without.

Buy Amazon UK : Buy Amazon USA

Fiona Glass has been creating imaginary worlds for years – worlds driven by two little words, ‘what if’, and by the horde of somewhat unusual characters that reside inside her head. Most of these worlds take the form of short stories, most involve homosexual characters, and most are in the paranormal, fantasy and erotic romance genres. Fiona has also written one novel, Roses in December, a gay erotic ghost story published by Torquere Press, and is currently working on her second novel.

Review: Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade by Diana Gabaldon


Reviewed by Alex Beecroft

Lord John’s mother is getting re-married, and the change threatens to stir up more than one thing which should remain hidden. For a start John is in danger of falling very much in love with his new step-brother to be, Percy, a love which is distinctly reciprocated. But in a more sinister turn of events, the fact that John’s mother now has a protector to whom she can speak of the past alarms the murderer of John’s father. Attempts are made on John’s life, his brother and mother are warned off with pages of a missing diary, and a conspiracy and scandal which has hung over the Grey family name for years threatens to burst back into life.

In the middle of all this, John and Hal’s regiment are posted to the Rhineland, to take part in several battles of the Seven Years War which seem like something of a relief after the tension at home. But tragedy follows John onto the battlefield, and when everything falls apart for him he must turn to Jamie Fraser, the Jacobite prisoner with whom he has a poisonous love/hate relationship, not only to provide him with the final clue as to the murderer of his father, but also to tell him how… whether to save Percy’s life.

I think I said in my review of ‘Lord John and the Private Matter’ that I liked that book because it was not as overwrought as the Outlander series, and because it didn’t have Jamie Fraser in it. This book, alas, was as overwrought as the Outlander series, and did have Jamie Fraser in it, with all his (to me) graceless, unattractive, overbearing, arrogant macho bullshit. Consequently I didn’t enjoy it half as much as ‘Lord John and the Private Matter.’ I like a happy ending, and this book did not have it – in fact, when I put the book down at the end I felt severely depressed. My respect for Lord John himself decreases with every instance of his inability to get over the fact that Jamie Fraser is a homophobic git who will never love him, and if I never read another book in which the tedium of troop maneuvers on the Prussian front is so excruciatingly well drawn (yes ‘Temeraire: Black Powder War’ I’m looking at you too) I will be very happy.

However, having said all of that, all the reasons why I loved the first Lord John book still apply – the gorgeous, fully immersive experience of living in the 18th Century in London, from the effervescent Irish squalor of St. Giles to the high class literary salons and coffee shops. I’d have paid the price of the book entirely to make the acquaintance of the O’Higgins brothers and not felt short changed. The love affair between John and Percy is so tender and delightful and frustrating and just gorgeously sexy that it too is worth the admission on its own. The mystery is intriguing and kept me turning pages. I’m more in love with John’s family than ever. And as much as I don’t like Jamie Fraser, I’m well aware that there are many more people who do like him than don’t. I can’t deny that there is an intensity in the parts of the book where he appears which grips you by the throat. I personally don’t like that experience, but I know that a lot of fans of the Outlander series will find this book much more to their taste than the last. It is more… full blooded, in a way. (To a point that at times felt likely to give me a nosebleed.) If you like to be put through the emotional wringer by a book, this one is definitely for you!

Buy Amazon UK Buy Amazon USA

Review: Song of the Loon by Richard Amory

Loon coverPublished way ahead of its time in 1966 by Greenleaf Classics, republished in 2006 by Arsenal Pulp Press. A lusty gay frontier romance that tells the story of Ephraim McIver, a 19th century frontiersman, as he travels through the American wilderness. Ephraim meets a number of characters who share stories, wisdom and homosexual encounters. Unique among pulp novels of the time, the gay characters are strong and romantically drawn – traits that have earned the book a place in the canon of gay American literature.

“A groovy little curiosity piece”

Review by Lee Benoit

I was a toddler when the Stonewall Riots occurred, and it was really difficult to approach this book without being subconsciously aware of the enormous impact Song of the Loon had on the intervening generations of gay literature, erotica, and porn. If you’re anything like me (40 and queer) you’ll recognize no end of snippets that made their way into gay canon, or were drawn from pulp fiction. In other words, I had to turn off my camp meter, no mean feat when confronted with such passages as the one in which the protagonist composes a poem for his lover containing the following lines: “Seeking your chest, your loins, your hips / My hardened penis downward dips / Into your asshole darkly tight / Warmly endlessly lost from sight” (p. 132-3 in the Arsenal Pulp edition).

Deep purple moments aside, I found I enjoyed the book immensely on its own merits. These include a tone of earnest sweetness that overcomes the camp factor. I ended up feeling quite affectionately towards the characters, especially the protagonist, Ephraim MacIver, who falls in love with practically everyone he meets, including the putative villain. I became involved in his travails, and vicariously delighted in his triumphs over convention and ill will. That a post-Stonewall queer reader could experience Song of the Loon as so emphatically fresh, forty years after its publication, attests to the power of Amory’s work.

Amory’s message is, in essence, that being homosexual is inherently good, and only through honesty with oneself and unapologetic openness with the larger world can one escape the constraints and negativity of mainstream society. It’s about freedom and pride. Speaking of freedom, the book is also about free love, that old chestnut! In Amory’s hands, the sex is simultaneously earthy and reverent, and exuberant in a way we sadly have lost. The ideas that love is infinite, and that love shared is love multiplied (and, conversely, that jealousy is a sort of violence), seem almost quaint.

In the long, erudite introduction by Michael Bronski and in the series of contemporary interviews with and articles by Amory (from which the quote at the beginning of this review was taken and which include a delicious reproduction of the poster for the 1970 film based on the book but unendorsed by Amory), it becomes clear that Song of the Loon was unusual. It’s a pastoral in the classic sense, a bucolic piece that sharply contrasts the idylls of country (in this case wilderness) life with the miseries and harshness of “civilization.” It is easy to understand Ephraim’s behaviors and motivations if we remember that, “The characters in such works are often vehicles for the expression of the author’s moral [or] social views.” Something else I learned about pastorals while researching for this review was that, “the pastoral convention sometimes uses the device of ‘singing matches’ between two or more” characters. That explains all the poetry! (Merriam Webster’s Encyclopedia of Literature [1995].) (To be fair, much of it is structurally quite complex and follows demanding forms.)

Is Song of the Loon realistic? No way. Historically accurate? Not by a long shot! But it’s not supposed to be. It can’t even be described as revisionist history for as Amory himself said, “…the most important element of the book … was its poetic distance from reality, which per se has little or nothing to do with the homosexual experience….” The book presents an idealized vision of a gay utopia, and the historical setting was necessary to drive home the contrast between the Society of the Loon and the intolerant townsfolk. As an example, consider Amory’s presentation of Indians as speaking “the Indian language,” a sort of universal symbolic code. A trained anthropologist, Amory declares in an epigraph that he has “taken certain very European characters from [Spanish pastoral novels], painted them a gay aesthetic red, and transplanted them to the American wilderness.”

As a homoerotic fantasy of freedom (to paraphrase Bronski’s introduction), as a pastoral novel, as an artifact of its time, and as an benchmark in gay literature it’s well worth strapping on your loin cloth, hopping into your canoe, and crossing a river of history, braving eddies of social movement and sandbars of camp, to experience it.

Amazon USA Amazon UK

Review: Street Lavender by Chris Hunt

Review by Lee Benoit 

Street Lavender cover 

In the current issue of The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide literary critic David Bergman describes four dynamics that define gay literature: creating art; providing positive images; changing attitudes; and market viability (see comment below).  In Chris Hunt’s Street Lavender we get all four, neatly and delightfully packaged.  And it wrung tears from me, which isn’t something Bergman seemed concerned about, but which secures Hunt’s twenty-year-old novel a place on my “do not lend” shelf.

 

The book is set in 1880s London, around the time of the passage of 1885’s Criminal Law Amendment Act with its Section 11 that effectively (re)criminalized all male homosexual behavior; the law is mentioned once in passing, it figures not at all in the story.  Why not?  Because Willie Smith, our protagonist, couldn’t care less about what Parliament was up to, and neither does the reader, for the reader’s completely swept away by Willie’s distinctive voice and story.  The novel apes the style and structure of Victorian bildungsromans to great effect.

 

Willie is the best kind of unreliable narrator.  He’s got a terrific sense of moment (Hunt lets him Capitalize Important Things, which might grate on some but I found charming), he’s cheeky, and even as a lad (like any good Victorian epic we begin at the beginning) he’s blithely cognizant of his own shortcomings and his personal responsibility for the trajectory of his journey through life (until we leave him some 340 pages later at the ripe old age of 17).

 

I didn’t expect to laugh out loud at the adventures of a Victorian child prostitute, but I did.  The novel itself is gently tongue-in-cheek in parts, but Willie is genuinely funny.  And the humor matures right along with Willie.  For instance, at twelve, Willie arrives from his slum to live with his middle class aunt Louisa, her husband, and their young son Georgey, with whom  Willie is already half in love upon arrival.  The first order of business is to give the little guttersnipe a bath.  His delicate, histrionic aunt quails at the prospect of doing it herself (the idea of Helping a Poor Relation appeals, but the flesh-and-blood reality is another matter):

“When she contemplated the actual me … she pressed the back of her hand against her forehead in a theatrical gesture of stress and despair.“‘Mrs. Braddon!’ she cried [to the housekeeper].  ‘See to him.’“Georgey giggled.  I grimaced.“‘Mamma, may I stay?’ Georgey pleaded.“‘How does Willie feel about such an impudent request?’ asked my aunt who adored him.“‘Yeah, stay,’ I appealed to my sweet little friend.“I needed some support at the idea of being seen to by Mrs. Braddon.  She had the inevitability of a machine.” (pp. 67-68) 

At the risk of irritating you with another passage, I offer this as an example of Willie’s sense of humor at 17.  He has been living and modeling for a houseful of artists in Bloomsbury, and chafes at the callous way they bring street people in to model for them, giving them a glimpse of an alien, alluring life, only to dump them back onto the streets before the paint is dry.  Unbeknownst to his benefactors, Willie undertakes to keep a pot of soup at the ready, using the proceeds of his own modeling to feed his fellows:

“Oh! The eruption when I was found out!“Franklin was furious, Clara upset, and Charles rampant with sarcasm.” (p. 285) 

This passage reveals another of Hunt’s triumphs.  Willie’s knowledge of his world grows with his knowledge of himself, and Hunt never lets this boundary slip.  The power of the writing shows in the attention to period detail, both physical and psychological.

 

Willie is the sort of fellow who notices details, so it’s perfectly natural for him to describe a room, a nighttime street, or a whore’s dress.  What’s remarkable, however, is that as Willie travels from one strange land to another he grafts his observations onto those he had before; he sees and describes objects and settings and characters through the newly ground lens of what he’s experienced in the mean time.  This device brings Victorian London alive in a way I didn’t expect (for example, the younger Willie describes bedbugs as an unpleasant fact of life in his Aldgate digs, but when he encounters them again after one of his many reversals of fortune they’re a horror salient of the physical and psychological distance he’s traveled).

 

Which brings me to another point of interest for historical fiction aficionados.  There’s no taint of psychological gentrification in Willie’s story.  Self-reflective though he is, no 20th century sensibility seeps in, not even when Willie decides he’s proud of being an “Urning.”  The classically-influenced German idea that men who love men comprise female psyches in male bodies (better known, I think, as “Uranian”) gives Willie a sense of connectedness to men like himself throughout history, but that history extends no further than its 1880s parameters.  Willie knows there’s a wrongness to his interest in his young cousin Georgy, but at the end of the day he’s more worried that the spoiled, simpering Georgy doesn’t approach his Ideal than that it signals any moral turpitude on his part.  No Freudian imagery in sight – very refreshing.

 

Each of the six parts of the novel gives us one discrete leg of Willie’s journey, each with its own narrative arc.  That the six parts hang so elegantly together is due to three factors: Willie’s inimitable voice; a cast of characters that winds in and out like a cat through chair legs; and two overarching themes.  The first theme, Ideal Love, is established at the very beginning of the story with Willie’s elder brother Charley as the ideal (squick alert: incest and underage tampering, even by the standards of the day).  The theme is developed and refined throughout the narrative to the deeply satisfying conclusion.  The second theme is political.  Don’t groan!  Willie’s a remarkably political animal and gets himself in trouble with folks high and low for his critical and idiosyncratic approach to social justice.  Willie’s own self-awareness is molded in large part by his political opinion of himself (at one point, poignantly, he hangs a picture of Saint George in the room from which he prostitutes himself, as a model for his own behavior, tilting at the dragon of poverty and injustice).

 

Believe it or not, these two themes twine together perfectly.  In some sense, Willie is Love, caroming through his life in search of a Beloved worthy of him, and of whom he must be worthy.  If I have one criticism of the book, it’s that Willie has to hit rock bottom before he can merit the love he seeks.  While, Hunt remains true to his character in that Willie himself sees the purgatory of his adolescence as a sort of extended purification rite, I thought I smelled Moral Judgement in the air around my reading nook once or twice.

 

This minor criticism shouldn’t deter readers.  By the thoroughly delightful, carefully hinted-at surprise ending Willie is ready for love, self-assured enough to stake his claim, and mindful enough of the consequences of living without love to defend that claim fiercely.  And we readers are so firmly allied to his cause by then that any ending other than the bittersweetly happy one we get is unthinkable.

Review: The Charioteer by Mary Renault

It’s hard for me to do a review of this book for many reasons.  It seems a bit cheeky for me to even try – and it’s  been around for so long I would imagine that just about everyone I know has read it, but if this review tempts one person who hasn’t to give it a whirl, then I’ll have achieved something. So perhaps it’s less of a review and more of a personal rave. That I love it, is a given.

It’s a simple enough story on the surface. Laurie, young idealistic, attempts to defend Ralph, the head boy at his school, when he is about to be sent down for “misbehaving with a younger boy.”  Ralph finds out before Laurie can act and warns him off. During the discussion Ralph gives Laurie a copy of Plato’s Phaedrus which he keeps with him and uses as a model for his life. Time moves on – World War 2 happens and we next catch up with Laurie in hospital where he’s developing a heavy crush on a concientious objector, Andrew – and then he meets Ralph again.

The Charioteer is the thread and metaphor which runs throughout the book. The Charioteer of Phaedrus handles two horses, one runs smoothly and obediently, the other fights against the control – it is up to the charioteer to make them run as a pair.  The parallels for the charioteer are myriad – the comparison between “normal” sexual behaviour and the homosexual – the love that Laurie feels for Andrew and the relationship he eventually forms with Ralph to name just two.

I’m sure there are tons of themes that the more intellectual have found/discussed to the skies, but the best thing for me is that it’s a lesson in how to write – without actually writing.  The book is sparse to the extreme, it’s like she wrote a much longer book and then cut huge hunks out of the middles of each scene. Conversations are handled in real time, characters don’t finish sentences, and there are utterly intriguing gaps where the reader “loses time” – where something may have happened, a look, a kiss or a sex scene.  It’s amazingly skilful and all I could do was smash my keyboard to pieces in frustration that I’ll never come close to that.

The characters are indelibly imprinted on my mind, all except  perhaps Andrew, which is probably deliberate because we see him only through Laurie’s eyes and Laurie isn’t objective. I found him too remote to be interesting, whereas the characters that Laurie meets at the queer party he attends are stronger – and my heart broke over the young airman who comes over brash and unbearable until you think about what he’s doing, for his job. Ralph is irresistable – as Laurie finds him to be, and I really felt the attraction, he’s quite my favourite character – but all of them are amazingly well done, complex, contrary, stupid and real.

One of the best books I’ve ever read – regardless of theme – and one of the Essential Reads for anyone interested in the genre, in my opinion.

Buy it

Review: Standish by Erastes

Posted by girluknow

Standish is a lush, intensely romantic love story between scholarly Ambrose Standish and worldly Rafe Goshawk. Though the men are thoroughly unalike, the author does an excellent job of persuading the reader that theirs is a love almost predestined in its depth and steadfastness. Never once did I doubt that Ambrose and Rafe loved each other and continued to love each other, despite brief entanglements with other men in the course of the story. This was the story’s strength; the author has a distinct talent for conveying the passion between his characters.

At the same time, the various driving forces in the relationship are realistic. Jealousy and doubt cause separation, but the greater force of their love eventually brings them back into contact with each other. The two men behave as men, not communicating when they need to most, acting rashly when they shouldn’t, allowing pride to make a difficult situation worse, and occasionally succumbing to pure lust. The author did a good job of making me want to smack both men at various moments in the story. I was emotionally invested and if an author can make that happen, he gets big points from me, no matter what other errors I felt existed in the work.

The point of view switching was a little frustrating. Just when I was beginning to involve myself with the reactions of one character, I was abruptly handed over to another character’s internal musings. This prevented me from getting as attached to the characters as I could have been. I think Standish would be a more powerful reading experience had the author switched points of view chapter to chapter or at least scene to scene.

The author has a good grasp of realistic character development. I enjoyed seeing how much Ambrose changed from start to finish. I liked him much better as a person by the end of the story. He was stronger and wiser without entirely losing his romantic heart. His words to Rafe at the end revealed how much he’d changed and how much he hadn’t. I especially liked his last line of dialogue; both romantic and matter-of-fact. I felt the ways in which he’d changed did make him better suited to a lifetime with a man like Rafe. Rafe changed more slowly or was still the process of changing for the better by the story’s end. That was to be expected, considering his upbringing. He had much more to overcome, but I did feel he was beginning to overcome it just in time.

The author made character motivations clear to me in all but one instance. Alvisi’s motivations remained something of a mystery, so I felt perplexed by his involvement. I also found it bothersome that Rafe put up with Alvisi as long as he did. I understand that Rafe felt like a debased creature who deserved to fall into darkness, but most of the time, that seemed nothing more than a personal justification for satiating himself. He might have been suffering emotionally but he wasn’t suffering physically–to say the least. His grief and self-abasement would have made more of an impression on me if he had denied himself pleasure instead. Of course that wouldn’t have been as realistic, so maybe I’m being unfair. I just wanted to see a little more nobility on Rafe’s part, I guess. I wanted a sense that he was cleaning up his act, so to speak, instead of wallowing in debauchery disguised as some sort of penitence. I was mad at Rafe for that and mad at Ambrose for not really being fair to Rafe earlier on, though they were both just being human.

That the author made me care enough to be angry with her characters’ behavior says a lot about her ability as a writer. One other thing I wanted to briefly note is the author’s way with intimate scenes. The sex in Standish was scorching and yet did not go into so much mechanical detail that I got tired of it and wanted to skim. The author included the right amount of description and all the emotion needed to make such scenes meaningful. Rafe and Ambrose were very sweet together, when they were together. I really liked that Ambrose brought out the best in Rafe. I think that was part of why I was irked at Ambrose when he was upset with Rafe, though I appreciated that Ambrose needed to have a taste of the hard realities of life in order to come to a better understanding of Rafe’s frailties. I felt the author expressed all this exceptionally well and that made the ending all the more poignant.

The author included details throughout that provided a strong verisimilitude and evoked the era without overburdening the story. The characters behaved true to their time period in speech and manners (as far as I know) and yet they stayed accessible to the modern reader. That’s another difficult balance to achieve but I felt the author was successful in this instance. Despite the problems I’ve mentioned, I enjoyed the book. It was told with the sort of passion necessary in good story-telling, a passion that kept me reading despite point of view problems. I think if the author overcomes the frenetic point of view switching in future works, he has wonderful potential for continued success.

Buy it

Review: Peridot by Parhelion

Steve is a jeweler who specializes in rare gems. He’s a rare gem himself for the 1950s, a bachelor with a certain reputation. Nate, his best friend and business partner, has never had that sort of reputation, so when Steve gets the call that Nate was caught in establishment that caters more to his type, he goes home to see what’s up. Nate’s got problems of his own, as well as the most supportive and nosy family a man could ask for. He has things he wants to tell Steve, but will society allow it to happen? Parhelion’s Peridot is the tale of an unconventional romance in a very conventional time, full of laughs, tears, and ultimately, friendship.

Review by Erastes

I’ve read a lot of gay short stories since I started in this game, and not many stand out, sad to say, I do have favourites that I return to… but that’s another story…. It generally takes something like a Saki short story to stick in my head.

So the discovery of this little gem (pun not intended but unable to avoid) was a nice surprise. I had no idea who Parhelion is, never heard of him/her before, so I had no expectations going into the story – I read it because it was marginally “historical” being set in the 1950’s but actually that wasn’t obvious in the slightest, as it turned out it was being told in flashback. There’s not much actual sense of historical context – other than the masquerade that gay men had to live under (but then, they still do) but once I’d read a couple of pages I didn’t particularly care.

Basically, it’s the story of Steve Corvey, who – although he has aspirations to cut loose and travel the world – is forced through circumstances to take over his father’s jewellery store in a small town in California, and becomes entangled with an extraordinary extended family called the Jowletts and ends up staying in the small town. He takes on and sponsors a young man called Nate – who he admits that he does not feel attracted to at all – but who over the years becomes his best friend and eventually his business partner. Having a partner enables Steve to travel and to indulge in sexual activities he’s unable to do in his small town. So when in Burma on a buying trip/sexual holiday he gets a call that Nate’s in trouble, he flies home to do what he can to help, unaware that the trip will change his life.

I can’t say more than that, but please, if you haven’t read this, I highly recommend it. It’s well written, thoughtful, unexpected and has a real resonance that will (should) hang with you for days after you’ve read it.

The only thing that disappointed me was that at 14,500 words it’s just too short. There is material in this for a full-scale novel, there’s so much richness and back story half hinted at – and the Jowletts alone could easily fill a book by themselves.

However despite the truly TRULY awful cover, this little tale is reminiscent of “Winter of our Discontent” by Steinbeck and as that’s one of my favourite books of all time, that’s a big thumbs up for me. If you like your homoerotica to be tinged with angst and internalisation, then you’ll love this.

Parhelion – if you are out there, say Hi, will ya? I’d love to see more of this kind of stuff.

Author’s Website

Buy it

Review: As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann

Narrator Jacob Cullen, educated but now a servant, flees his royalist household, taking his bride of just an hour and his brother after a cold blooded murder. In a second act of terrible brutality, he beats and rapes his wife. Becoming a pikeman in Cromwell’s New Model Army, he befriends Christopher Ferris, an idealist disaffected by the Army and in search of a less tainted freedom. And so the two desert and head for London and the pleasures of Cheapside–and each other. Jacob becomes “a fornicator of unnatural appetite, in thrall to an Atheist… I was in love”. But Ferris is intent on establishing a commune, a prospect Jacob reviles, yet to keep his lover he has no choice but to join the motley band.

Review by Erastes

Jacob Cullen, a man of hasty temper and with an unstable temperment is forced, for reasons I won’t divulge, to flee the manor where he serves with his wife and his brother. Very soon he falls out with them and they desert him, leaving him to attempt to walk to Bristol. He falls in with The New Model Army (Cromwell’s Army) and joins them for a month or two in which time he becomes obsessed with Christopher Ferris, a troubled but basically good man.

This is a very clever book, in a lot of ways. It’s incredibly well researched, and makes my version of the English Civil War seem rather shallow in comparison. Tthe immersion into the period is deep, convincing and realistic. It does what I always appreciate in a book, it tells of the world without over describing it. After all, when you walk into a room you don’t think “I walked into the room where there were two Persian rugs four Hepplethwhite chairs, some red velvet curtains and a desk with…. ” You simply describe what is immediate. This book does that; it’s not to say that there isn’t superb period detail in there, there is, but it’s only brought out when it’s necessary. Clothes for example. Jacob’s clothes are described in exquisite detail at one point, right down to lace and buttons but they are amazing clothes, nothing the like of which he’s seen or worn before – so it makes perfect sense for him to describe them. And so it goes, that’s how the book is, never info dumping, but making you feel you are there.

What really impressed me more than anything else is the sure bravery that the author shows in writing this 1. from the point of view of a man, a soldier in that time – knowing that she was going to have to show his view of the war etc but 2. That Jacob is just about as unpleasant a character as I’ve ever read about. I can’t believe that Ms McCann meant him to be anything else, and as far as I am concerned she suceeded admirably. As an author, I can’t imagine how any writer can embark on a story like this and yet – why not? Most of us are pretty unpleasant types! However, my hat is off to her. Not only did she write about a man with (as far as I was concerned, your mileage may vary) no redeeming qualities save that he loves another man but she kept me hooked into the book so deeply that I was willing him to have some kind of redemption, to bring about some miraculous ending which I could tell, even quite early on was never going to happen.

Jacob is truly unpleasant, but so brilliantly written that he’s hardly even aware of it himself for most of the book. Of course, this is perfectly sensible – how many of us actually think we are awful people? Jacob’s sense of self-loathing however, is ingrained in every page, less so at the beginning and ebbs and flows throughout, but gradually working into a crescendo ending with the last two heartbreaking lines. It again shows such skill that I wanted to smack/kick/kill Jacob for most of the book and yet he had me sobbing when I reached the last page.

I suppose in this day and age he would be known as a Sociopath – and in fact if you read the list of Sociopath social traits on this page you would think that Ms McCann made a note of all those character traits and started with Jacob using this as a base. What I don’t understand , even though I’ve re-read the first chapters several times to get a gleaning of it, is WHY he did what he did at Beaurepair. I can’t see any reason for it, other than he just “wanted to”.

I pitied him, immensely, because I could tell that he wasn’t going to change, but I pitied Ferris even more because he’d fallen in love with the wrong man, and that’s something I can relate to, big time. But Ferris was a grown man, and he had plenty of choices to cast Jacob aside – and could have done – and didn’t. He even dumped poor Nathan without a word, and as far as I know nothing more than a shirt looted from Basing to run off with a man who he knew he couldn’t change. He was taking a risk too, as at that point he didn’t even know if Jacob was going to be acquiescent to a homosexual relationship and he was leaving behind an established one for an uncertain future. But I guess I understand that. Better to leave a lesser love for the promise of The Big One. And Jacob could have been The Big One if he hadn’t’ve stuffed it up, like he stuffed everything up.

As a nice change this book wasn’t OKhomo (everyone’s gay and everyone’s OK about it) and I didn’t expect it to be as it isn’t a Romance and I was expecting it to be an accurate historical novel. In fact the men are’nt “GAY” at all, in the way that we would know it today, they’ve both been married and allegedly in love with their wives. They both consider marrying again. Ferris I think knows his sexuality better than Jacob (who is more opportunist – I think he would have had Nathan had he offered himself up) but Jacob is (I think) drawn to Ferris first as a friend and then finds he love him. But the risks they run are very real, are reflected in every single sexual encounter they have, even when they are “safe” in Ferris’s Aunt’s house in London. I did wonder about the wooden floorboards and the wooden beds though as I found it difficult to imagine it would have been easy to muffle the sounds of male sex which can be quite acrobatic. But the danger is there, hanging, lynching, burning – all of them a very real dange, even though even then, they knew that proof would have been needed.

There was one point when I had a WTF moment and that’s when Jacob met up again with Zeb; I didn’t see the point of this – I didn’t understand how Zeb had the knowledge he had, why he didn’t use it and what the meeting was set up to do – it seemed rather pointless. But then, I guess that’s realistic – not all meetings we have in this world are filled with meaning.

All the minor characters were great. I don’t think one of them was pallid or forgettable. I think possibly because Jacob hates them all in varying degrees, partly in jealousy that he can’t bear anyone to get close to Ferris. In fact the only character that I think that Jacob truly loved was Aunt, and possibly because she was more of a mother to him than his own mother was. It was so touching when she said “don’t worry, your hair will soon grow back” and Jacob looked around “eagerly” – like a child so desperate for affection and he found she was speaking to someone else. It was a briliant moment because Jacob had actually been empathising with the woman who had been shorn, and after that, I think he lost the empathy.

The “venture” was doomed to fail from the begiining, I don’t know if any of these ventures DID suceed and there were a few of them, you can’t blame the people, they’d had Cromwell and his cronies banging on about how everyone would be granted land, and all men were created equal so it wasn’t surprising that a few people formed communes in this way.

As to the ending – the Voice – and Jacob’s gradual descent? I don’t know. It’s the kind of book that has had me thinking all day. I cried at the end, bitter frustrated tears at the stupid stupid man – but then, if he had behaved differently he’d have been with the commune at the end. Then I went and bored my dad with it for about an hour and I’m still running it through in my head. I need to read it again. Did Jacob know the date was different at the end? Did the letter get it wrong? Was it Caro? Or had Jacob’s mind broken at the loss of Ferris? Was it “Caro” with Ferris in the wood? There’s so many questions I can’t answer. On the surface it all seems plain sailing, but we are inside the head of a man on the brink of madness, and frankly – how much of it all can we trust?

And the ending – stellar. It was the only thing he could do really – he wasn’t going to kill himself, after all – not with those character traits, he’ll blame everyone else in the world before he’d blame himself – although perhaps if the colony had ALL gone on a flipping ship it would have been a different book!

So yes – I loved it. Impressed impressed impressed. By the way, there is quite a lot of sex, but it’s quite subtle, but there is a lot of it.

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

Review: Winds of Change by Lee Rowan

In 1802, a love worth dying for is more than just a romantic notion. Lieutenants William Marshall and David Archer, of His Majesty’s frigate Calypso, have been lovers for more than a year. Courage, devotion, and extreme discretion have kept them from the hangman’s noose-the price they must pay if their relationship is discovered. The occasional night of passion ashore is all the more precious to them for its rarity. But in the Royal Navy, nothing lasts forever. A transfer to a new ship brings with it a bizarre turn of events: their Captain orders them to behave as though they are involved in an illicit relationship in order to smoke out a suspected traitor, blackmailer, and saboteur.

Winds of Change” is the sequel to Lee Rowan’s “Ransom” and continues the adventures and misadventures of Lts William Marshall and David Archer after their capture and escape in the book of that name. And it’s a very good read.

The two men are transferred to a new ship, together with their captain; a “Trouble ship” where there is unrest and sabotage. A method of smoking out the sabateur is proposed but it is not without a great deal of risk for David and William, and for their growing relationship.

The characters are wonderfully drawn, they would slide into any of the Hornblower novels without even causing the slightest bow wave. William is a career man and his duty is every bit as important to him as it is to Nelson himself. He puts his heart and soul into everything he does, whether it’s managing a 74 gun ship of the line, or loving the love that dare not speak its name. David is my favourite, I have to say, for his innate love of life despite everything he’s been through.

For my money, this book has everything. It’s a wonderful love story, without underplaying the very real danger that homosexuals faced in His Majesty’s Navy in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. It’s meticulously researched, but Lee writes in a way that doesn’t bore you with facts of the time, she writes simply as if she were writing in that time, and the period detail becomes as unobstruvive as if it were a contemporary novel. It’s a mystery, a thriller and it has lines that made me giggle, parts that made a hard boiled cynic like me cry (twice) and some wonderfully tender sexual moments.

If you found Ransom a little slow, then you’ll be happy with WoC, as it’s faster-paced, tighter and there’s a very real tension throughout.

If I had one tiny quibble, I was dissapointed that the ending of the mystery was done off screen, I was expecting as much adventure in the last part of the book as I’d read in the first part, but in reality, what Lee decides to concentrate on in the final pages doesn’t spoil the story at all.

In the growing genre of homosexual historical fiction, Lee Rowan is at the forefront. She never sacrifices period detail or excellent writing in an attempt to dumb down at any time.

Very highly recommended.

Author’s Website

Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: Ransom by Lee Rowan

For a young Englishman in 1796, the Navy is a way to move beyond his humble origins and seek a chance at greatness. Captured by accident when their Captain is abducted, Archer and Marshall become pawns in a renegade pirate’s sadistic game. To protect the man he loves, David Archer compromises himself-trading his honor and his body for Marshall’s safety. When Will learns of his friend’s sacrifice, he also discovers that what he feels for Davy is stronger and deeper than friendship. The first challenge: escape their prison. The second: find a way to preserve their love without losing their lives.

Review by Erastes

I found this book, completely by accident and I was intrigued by the blurb as it was a a Regency Gay Romance, which made me beam, because there are just Not Enough of those, but more excitingly, it’s a nautical tale, set in the same time period as Master and Commander and Hornblower – so if any of you have ever slashed Archie and Horny or Horny and Pellew – you are going to LOVE this. It’s 1799 and not only is homosexuality on land punishable by prison and death – on His Majesty’s Ships the Articles of War give an automatic death penalty for it – and very little proof was needed – if a man of a higher rank gave evidence against one of a lower, that man would hang.

But it’s more than just “oh whoopee another historical homoerotic romance do buy” This is excellently written. It could easily be Forrester on a Slashy day, and I’ll stick my neck out and go further to say that the writing surpasses Forrester. It’s also immaculately (as far as I can see) researched and what brings it alive to me is that the language is in the tone of the TIME.

Nothing jars me more than reading about 21st century men who just happen to find themselves on a 18th century warship.

The sex is beautifully described and perhaps some readers won’t find it as graphic as they’d like, but it is all there, it’s just written so beautifully and so lightly that it’s inferred rather than explicitly shown.

Anyway – HIGHLY recommended especially for all of your who moan that there’s no historical slash out there.

Don’t miss her sequels – Winds of Change and Eye of the Storm.

Author’s Website

Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: The Back Passage by James Lear

Agatha Christie, move over! Hard-core sex and scandal meet in this brilliantly funny whodunit. A seaside village, an English country house, a family of wealthy eccentrics and their equally peculiar servants, a determined detective — all the ingredients are here for a cozy Agatha Christie-style whodunit. But wait — Edward “Mitch” Mitchell is no Hercule Poirot, and The Back Passage is no Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Mitch is a handsome, insatiable 22-year-old hunk who never lets a clue stand in the way of a steamy encounter, whether it’s with the local constabulary, the house secretary, or his school chum and fellow athlete Boy Morgan, who becomes his Watson when they’re not busy boffing each other.

Review by Erastes

Thoroughly enjoyable. This book very clearly makes the point that gay historical fiction needn’t be po faced, full of deep meaningful literary merit and serious as hell. This is a romp, from start (hero found groping his friend in an understairs cupboard) to the finish which I won’t spoil. Imagine how I squeed when I read the first page and found that it was set about 10 miles from where I sit right now, on the North Norfolk coast in 1925.

There’s a lot of sex in this book, and I mean a LOT. This is the kind of book where the reader can be happy that there’s sex in every chapter and it isn’t boringly escalated, you know what a mean, starts with a grope, moves on to a blow job, then a 69 and so on – the Hero “Mitch” takes advantage of every opportunity.

And there’s PLENTY of opportunity. Even though you must suspend your belief at the door, although, to be honest, a remote Norfolk aristocratic family – I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this house set-up hadn’t actually happened, so it’s actually quite plausible and the reasons for why everyone seems to be gay are very cleverly explained. It’s not just the power of Mitch’s sex-appeal that gives him the sex-filled week of his life!

It’s a classic who-dunnit, too. Big house in the middle of no-where with a cast of larger than life characters, unexplained murder and it could be any one of the occupants, like all of Christie’s stories I was hopelessly led down one blind alley after another, suspecting everyone in turn and happy doing so.

What I particularly liked was the lovely little touches of the language. When Mitch talks he says ass, and when Boy Morgan speaks he says arse. I heartily approve of this.

I also liked the fact that Mitch isn’t some Gary-Stu private dick (although his that part of his anatomy is anything but private…) solving everything. He’s just nicely curious, and is not averse to asking questions and using other methods to get what he wants. He doesn’t get it right all the time too, in fact I loved the fact that when he’s listening to one of the witnesses he frankly says “I couldn’t help but think that Sherlock would have already grasped the salient point” (paraphrased)

The sex itself is graphic, along the same graphic level as say – Alyson’s short story collections.

So all in all, recommended. I dislike asking an author for a sequel, but, in Mitch, he has a character who could cheerfully go on to other gay mysteries. I shall go and seek Lear’s other works now, and will look forward to his next. A nice afternoon’s read, which got me hot and made me smile too.

And really – any writer who uses whence and glabrous is always going to win my heart…

Author’s Website

Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: The Phoenix by Ruth Sims

At fourteen, Kit St. Denys brought down his abusive father with a knife. At twenty-one his theatrical genius brought down the house. At thirty, his past and his forbidden love nearly brought down the curtain for good. This is a Victorian saga of two men whose love for each other transcends time and distance and the society that considers it an abomination. Set in the last twenty years of the 19th century, The Phoenix is a multi-layered historical novel that illuminates poverty and child abuse, theatre history in America and England, betrayal, a crisis of conscience, violence and vengeance, and the treatment of insanity at a time when such treatment was in its infant stage. Most of all it is a tale of love on many levels, from carnal to devoted friendship to sacrifice.

Review by Erastes

What a joy to read this book proved to be. From the very first page I was drawn in with the action, was instantly attracted to the characters and was very impressed how with so few strokes of her pen, Sims managed to draw the situation, the era, the environment and the characters. Language is certainly Sims’ gift but she doesn’t drown you in it. It’s an intelligent read, but steers clear of being a morass where the words become more important than the story itself.

Jack Rourke and his sickly twin brother Michael live by the river in London, picking a living any way they can, (which in Jack’s case means a bit of stealing) while they wait for sporadic visits by their father, away at sea. As the boys grow they dread his visits more and more, as Rourke is increasingly violent, both to them and to their mother. Matters come to a head with such a violent visit that Jack is forced to flee, and friends he has made in local theatre take him in.

The book is marginally longer than some of the books I’ve read recently, but there are points (like this early section) where I’d like it be even longer. I felt it – wasn’t rushed, exactly – but I’d have like to have seen more of this early life explored in the same lush detail that Sims goes on in other sections of the book. Jack’s (soon to renamed Christopher, and then Kit – and yes, this is important) rise from guttersnipe to an heir of a small fortune and a damned good actor could have been padded out and I wouldn’t have minded a bit. He had a worrying tendancy to be a little Sue-ish, or tainted with “Woman-of-Substance-itis” but I overlooked that for he does have faults, and these are brought into sharp relief when he meets Nicholas, a dour doctor – brought up in a strict religious environment who has fallen quite in love with Kit without Kit knowing.

It’s a lovely seduction and love affair, Kit’s licentiousness is contrasted starkly with Nick’s puritanical ideals and when the invevitable happens and both behave far too much like themselves for either of them to forgive each other….. Well – I don’t want to do too many spoilers, but this is where the book really kicks in.

Characterisation: Is great. I could really get under the skin of both main characters without any problem. Even when she shifted between one and the other, it was so starkly contrasted – the difference in their characters – that you simply thought as one then the other. While Nick’s choices made me want to brain him, they made perfect sense in the world he inhabited, and that’s the true test of a good homosexual historical for my money. Ruth doesn’t stick modern day characters in Victorian clothes, everything they do, even the much more openly shocking Kit – is coloured by what society thought and what society would and could do. It wasn’t quite as dangerous for men in 1890 as it was in 1820 – you weren’t hanged: but you still risked prison, disgrace and being exiled from polite society – even more rigid than it had been 150 years before. Sims shows the “salons” of the aesthetes – where the only safe place for a gentleman of a certain persuasion to meet others was in the drawing rooms of his friends.

Kit is larger than life throughout, and that’s perfectly in character, even when his life spirals out of control, it’s in a wonderfully tragedian way with Nick hardly able to keep up.

Period Feel: Wonderfully done, with no Dan Brown tub-thumping explanations of what is going on and the politics of the time. Sims doesn’t talk down to her reader. For someone who self-admittedly has rarely ventured from her own corner of the USA, to be able to recreate Victorian slums is pretty impressive.

Sexual Level. Warm and erotic, without being graphic in any way, a true lesson to me in less is more.

Summing Up. Very highly recommended. Certainly the best written gay historical I’ve read since At Swim Two Boys, and a book that convinces me that I can do better with my own prose. This is not a “romance” btw, chaps – so while I’m giving no clues to the ending, I adored it, because it left me guessing right up until the very last chapter. It’s a real keeper.

Excerpts here

Amazon UK Amazon USA

%d bloggers like this: