Home is the Heart by J M Gryffyn

The last thing war-weary veteran William O’Sullivan expects to find while walking his family’s property is the love of his life, but that is exactly what happens. Under the summer sun, well-born Irishman Will meets gypsy lad Brock, and the two are instantly love struck. 

Their newfound love may be rock solid, but so are the obstacles in their way. Will is expected to marry his childhood sweetheart and produce an heir for the family estate. Brock has his own waggon now and is expected to marry another Traveller.  The roads to their futures are embedded firmly in the past—and don’t include their love. Running off to America seems a perfect solution, but in the mean streets of New York City, they very quickly find that even a love as strong as theirs must be earned.  

ebook only – 100 pages approx

Review by Erastes

I really liked JM Gryffyn’s first book “The Wishing Cup” and I was eagerly looking forward to reading the second. Sadly I was disappointed by “Home is the Heart”

The writing is still good, there’s a flow to her prose that I like a lot but although The Wishing Cup managed a complete arc in a 100 pages, the pacing of Home is the Heart didn’t work for me at all. Perhaps it was the more static feel to the beginning–a young man stuck at home and travellers with their caravans. But throughout the book from literally the second scene it jumped around, introducing characters as though they rose from the grass and leaping from moment to moment with almost a dizzying speed.

The main protagonists literally meet and are just about having sex from second one. I’m not averse to insta-attraction but love, coupling and endless adoration from first sight is a bit too much for me. The author attempts to throw a couple of caltrops in the lovers’ path, but again, it’s sudden, seems shoe-horned in, and there’s no background to shore it up.

I think really, that there’s a point when a book simply can’t be done in 100 pages, not if the author wants to do the plot justice, and in this case to include sex scenes as well.  There’s too much here to be dealt with other than in this rather rushed way and it shows.

However, the research, particularly that around the gypsies, seems well done, I’m not familiar with the customs of the people, but what we are told seems to make sense.

There are a few minor quibbles, there are a good few Americanisms scattered around, like the dreaded “gotten” and a few context errors but all in all it is a sweet romantic tale and I’m sure that many will enjoy it. I can’t say I did, although that won’t stop me getting Gryffyn’s next book, as I’m sure that the promise of The Wishing Cup will bear fruit – it is a shame that this book didn’t live up to the promise.

Buy from Dreamspinner Press

Review: Maroon: Donal agus Jimmy by P.D. Singer

The best jobs in 1911 Belfast are in the shipyards, but Donal Gallagher’s pay packet at Harland and Wolff doesn’t stretch far enough. He needs to find someone to share his rented room; fellow ship-builder Jimmy Healy’s bright smile and need for lodgings inspire Donal to offer. But how will he sleep, lying scant feet away from Jimmy? It seems Jimmy’s a restless sleeper, too, lying so near to Donal…

In a volatile political climate, building marine boilers and armed insurrection are strangely connected. Jimmy faces an uneasy choice: flee to America or risk turning gunrunner for Home Rule activists. He thinks he’s found the perfect answer to keep himself and his Donal safe, but shoveling coal on a luxury liner is an invitation to fate.

Review by Erastes

It wasn’t until I’d finished this book that I realised that it was actually quite short at 70 odd pages. However it doesn’t read short and it’s well worth every penny of the price. Somehow the author manages to squish a lot–a lot–into those 70 odd pages. But while this would be noticeable with some authors–I often come away from novellas thinking that the walls are being squashed the book could explode into a novel very easily–this is deftly done and it doesn’t seem that it’s wearing boots several sizes too small.

And this is moot, because there was a lot going on in Belfast at this time. Not only were the shipyards the envy of the world, pushing out ships like shelling peas and creating the gargantuans of the shipping world at the time–in particular the White Star Line including The Olympic, the Britannic and the Titanic–but there was unrest (as there had been for centuries) as Ireland chafed against the British yoke.

And it’s into this powder keg Singer drops her story–a simple gay love story which is tender and sweet until outside forces compel them to act in ways that will put their relationship at very great risk.

What I liked most of all about this book is the subtlety of the prose–please do not be put off by what I say here, but Singer weaves the flavour of the language and the rythym of the Irish into the third person narration. Not so much as–say–Jamie O’Neill, but enough just to lift the prose above the ordinary. It’s not there all the time, but it’s a delight when you catch a taste of the lilt. I enjoyed this hugely.

The research, while relayed entirely within the story (no Dan Brown info dumps here, and that would have been the choice of some authors, I know) the author has done a lot of work to learn about the interiors of these ships, the men that worked on them and how things were done, how they were built, how they were launched, tested. It’s great to ride along with Jimmy and Donal as they build these monsters: you can almost see the superstructures rising higher and higher above the dockyards.

You can also understand the duality of the situation, too. Here’s a highly skilled craftsman like Donal, capable of creating the most beautiful woodwork for the first class cabins, and he’s hardly making enough money to support himself and his family back home. He’s forced to take in a room-mate to make ends meet, whilst millionaires will use his washstands on the ships, paying prices for one journey that would keep a dozen families in food and heat for years.

Despite the fact that the book fits its bounds so well, despite the breadth of topics covered, I would have liked more, it’s impossible not to want more when something is this well written. I don’t know P.D. Singer’s work–I beleive this is her first gay historical–but if she writes another I will be snapping it up immediately.

I recommend this book highly, and I’m sure you will enjoy it.

As for the “Maroon” – this is one of Torquere’s bizarre themes, I don’t get why it’s sub-labelled “Maroon” in fact I actually thought that it was part of thee title until I looked up the book on the website. However, it’s not the author’s fault. I wish Torquere would stop doing this sort of thing. At least they’ve given this book a decent cover and not one painted by someone’s four year old. Neither is it the author’s fault that Amazon has the wrong title up on their sites!

Author’s website

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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.

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Review: Irish Winter by John Simpson

Living in Cork, Ireland, a hotbed of resistance to British rule, makes Ian Mulroney’s life dangerous despite his peaceful beliefs. But disgusted by the brutality and shootings in the streets, he agrees to join the local IRA brigade to use his skills with medicine and learn the ways of war. There he meets Devlin Walsh. Ian has seen him before, and the impression left upon his body was not easy to ignore. He couldn’t know that Devlin felt the same. But because of the war, they are comrades first, despite their silent, budding attraction to one another. As the resistance grows and the violence escalates, Ian and Devlin fight the only way they know how, losing family and friends in their efforts to free their country. Together, they are stronger to face the next day’s struggle. Together, they are united in their belief in the hand of God. Together, they will find a way to survive the war.

Review by Erastes

Anyone looking for a adventure story, with thrills and spills, anxious moments and a growing romance which blossoms in predictable fashion to a lasting love affair and sex no matter what thrills and spills going on around them, will enjoy “Irish Winter” a lot.

However – if you know anything at all about Ireland and her history, you probably will, like me, find it a frustrating read.

I bought the book because I have lived in Ireland for many years and I’m always eager to read about earlier times. Having loved At Swim Two Boys I knew that nothing was going to come close to that, but I was still eager for more.

The characters aren’t bad.  They aren’t girly, and that’s a major point in their favour.  They talk like young men, they act like young men and they fuck like young men – there’s no lyrical descriptions and purple prose here, just wham bam and get on with it–nothing wrong with that. But they are very samey, though, and neither has their own distinct voice.  It was difficult at times to tell who was in control of the POV (there’s a lot of headhopping, and switching from third person to omniscient which doesn’t help with that.)  I personally would have liked them to be their own personalities more, and that really didn’t come across.  The secondary characters, such as Ian’s mother, and Shane, the leader of the local IRA cell come across well.

But it’s the history, and the research which really really lets this book down. I really wish people would leave this period of Irish history alone unless they really understand it.  I’ve lived there, both sets of grandparents were Irish and I don’t think I would touch the subject with a bargepole.  Like Age of Sail there’s so much to it.

I’m not going to list everything that was wrong, because that’s not the point of a review, but I’ll mention a couple of the basic, fundemental errors which should not have been done, and even the basic amount of research would have highlighted them.

First of all: Ian.  I did like him, he’s – like many young men of the time – forced into the fight even though he abhors the violence on both sides.  But he’s a single child, which is pretty unlikely for Catholic families. (So is his lover, Devlin, coincidentally. They are “unaccustomed to sleeping with other boys”  When I was in Ireland, families still had two room cottages, and all the children slept in one bed.) We are told that he’s poor, dirt poor, supporting his mother by working part time in an “apothecary” as an apprentice.  But he has jam every day, his house has a porch (this is so American, houses in England and Ireland do NOT have porches) and there’s no way he can be an apprentice chemist.  (That’s the word, after all. Apothecary is from another time. ) To be a trainee chemist (and we are told he’s six months from qualification) he’d have to have a degree, and yet he doesn’t even know what laudanum is.  Apprenticeships for apothecaries were abolished in 1822 – and I found that in minutes – so that’s blatant nonsense for a start.

His name is wrong.  There is no Ian in Roman Catholic Ireland. He’d be Sean. Many of the names are wrong – Kyle and Byron and Devlin for example – all American Irish names. Boys of this age would have RC names, and that means names of saints. Spelled in an Irish fashion .  To not know that part of the basis of the problems between Ireland and England is the Scots! And to attempt to write about the War of Independence proves a lack of research.)

There’s no mention of church at all. Impossible. Shops are open on Sunday. Pubs are open on Sunday!!  No. And on this matter, the timeline staggers around like a drunk on a Saturday night. It’s hard to keep track of when Ian is supposed to work for example.

Ian bicycles from Cork to Limerick AND BACK (a total distance of over 100 miles) in a few hours.  I’d like to see someone do that today, let alone in 1919.

And the Black and Tans – the paramilitary imports from the English army into the Royal Irish Constabulary – the main impetus for the entire plot of this book – didn’t even enter Ireland until a year LATER than this book is set.  In fact, the facts of the war in this book are made up.  That’s not entirely unusual in a historical book, of course – but when it comes to events such as this, attacks on the Cork RIC garrison, murders of civilians and reprisal killings of Black and Tans, I’d rather have read real facts OR had an author’s note in the book explaining it.  I don’t think the “fits all” disclaimer that all books have works in this instance.

That’s not to say that the events portrayed in Irish Winter aren’t similar to what actually happened.  The Tans did terrible things, killing civilians and burning villages, and putting Tralee to siege for an entire week.  So in this respect it was clear that Simpson did do quite a lot of research – so I don’t know how he managed to cock up some of it so very royally.

The cover is bloody lovely, (although wtf was with putting the flag on it’s side??) and I know that Dreamspinner have their heart in the right place – they like historicals and that alone gets a thumbs up from me.  I just wish they had an editor who could sniff out the stuff that turns a good book into one that gets thrown across the room.   For that reason I’m giving this book two and half stars and because as a story, it holds up.  There’s action and adventure, and I think that with decent research or an tough editor this book would easily have scored four stars with me, but as it is it doesn’t merit anything more than two and a half.

Review: A Summer Without Rain by Christie Gordon

In 1920’s Ireland, Shannon understands all too well that the love and hunger he feels for his best friend, Ciaran, is forbidden.  He’s already shunned by his town and emotionally damaged from enduring painful confessions after a male teacher’s molestation at age fourteen.  But when he finds Ciaran grieving over the sudden death of his mother in a barn, a hasty and desperate embrace shatters an unspoken boundary between them.

Shannon and Ciaran are sent on a journey to Dublin to bring a family heirloom to Ciaran’s aunt.  Along the way, a drunken evening leads to an illicit act in a hotel room, confusing Ciaran and forcing them both down a treacherous path of deceit and desire.  Can love overcome the obstacles of Irish society, the Catholic Church, and political unrest?

Review by Erastes

First off, I don’t get the cover. I think it’s a bad mistake on the publisher’s part and may make many people veer off. It’s obviously aimed at the yaoi market, and if I had seen this in a store, I wouldn’t have touched it, because I’m not a fan of that genre. I’d have had no idea it was a historical, and certainly not one about 1920’s Ireland.

Similarly the book’s layout.  I was frankly baffled as to why the font  inside and outside was oriental. Very, very odd and clashed terribly with the geographical tone of the story. It jolted me every chapter, in fact, and I hadn’t realised how much a layout mattered to keeping the reader focussed.

One of the character’s names – Shannon – jolted me too. There’s no way any Roman Catholic boy in Ireland in the early part of the last century would have been called (or would have got away with having their son christened) Shannon.  Boys were (and still are) named after saints.  Shannon is an American name and came into fashion there in the 40’s by ex-patriot Irish who felt nostalgic for the homeland. Like Tara.

OK – so not off to a great start.  But I hoped that things would improve as we went on, but sadly they didn’t.

This isn’t Ireland in the 1920s. This is a mish mash of Hollywood and Tom Cruise land where every potato farmer has a gas stove (puh-leeze, most rural communities don’t have those NOW) a butcher’s block and a horse and cart. Typical Irish villages have drugstores.  Save me.  The research wobbles hugely, having potatoes “finished planting” in August.  er, no.  And Boxer Shorts? In the 1920’s?  Please, authors, if you are going to write gay fiction, the VERY LEAST you need to know is the history of men’s underpants.

I don’t generally advocate the use of films for research, but if the author had bothered to watch Ryan’s Daughter – or even The Quiet man – she’d get more a feel of the era than this.

Here’s a very small list of the things that were entirely wrong in about three pages.

1. en suite showers (perhaps, just, in a five star hotel in Dublin, not in a tatty hotel one day out of Dublin, even if they did charge six pounds a night.)
2. “shepard’s pie”
3. “Restrooms”
4 Waitresses and food in pubs
6. paying the tab
7. spigot
8. Buying a book by Oscar Wilde

The two young men take a private horse and trap (er – I thought they were poor) to Dublin, ( have NO idea why they didn’t take the train) –  stop at a drugstore and buy Dorian Gray which would never have been for sale in any shop let alone non existent drugstores. They stay in a hotel which costs six pounds (equivalent to at least £200 in today’s money and a ludicrous amount, not only for a hotel, but for POOR POTATO FARMERS to pay.

I’m afraid writing wise I wasn’t at all impressed. Adjectives peppered the text like raindrops, just about every noun had an adjective and that can be a little wearing. Unforgiveable editing errors such as “chicken’s clucked” “running a ginger hand down Ciaran’s side” and Every Single Mention of the word “reins” is spelled REIGNS.  Also abounding are clunky sentences like these, which read like bad translations from another language. ( you can see another instance of this in the blurb itself)

He ambled in silence with Ciaran behind him to the house.


That evening, he lay restless on his back in his bed.

All of which served to amuse and then gradually to irritate.

The characters are clearly girls, they cry, gasp, have curves and ansgt like a ravished nun at confession. It’s implied that Shannon is only gay because he was interfered with–a trope that I’m getting very sick of.

I won’t go on. In fact I am not going to continue with the review.  Perhaps someone might like it who likes the kind of fanfic where the boys are actually girls and have actual curves like Ciaran does, or someone who like overly angsty yaoi, but I found absolutely nothing to recommend it, and it’s probably the most insulting book for the time, the place, and the gay historical genre I’ve ever had the displeasure to read.

Author’s website
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