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.

and

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
Buy from Extasy Books

Review: His Master’s Lover by Nick Heddle

In 1919 His Lordship declares that the Western Front may now be secure but the home front is still being undermined by Prime Minister Lloyd George and all his damned meddling . Only the humble gardener, Freddy has the intelligence to make money out of the new garden city full of homes fit for heroes , which is being built next to the ancestral estate. Heroic Freddy restores the family fortunes by opening the first profitable garden centre. However, His Lordship unwisely invests the family treasure in New York, just before the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Freddy’s fate becomes further entwined with that of this noble English family when he becomes, in succession, the passionate gay lover of two generations of its heirs and only the profits from Freddy’s garden centre save the day.

Review by Erastes

I wanted to like this novel, I really really did.  I’m always excited when I find a new (to me) author of gay historical fiction, and I bought both books by Mr Heddle without hesitation.  However, I found it entirely impossible to like anything about it, I’m sorry to say, and now regret the purchase of both books, because I’m sure the sequel is likely to be similar to this.

Firstly, the characters.  The main protagonist, Freddy, has just returned from the Western Front and has come back to his place at a stately home as under-gardener.  He catches the attention of Charles, the Lord & Ladyship’s son, a disgraced officer, who is suffering from severe shell-shock and mental problems who stages a clumsy seduction which succeeds.

Freddy, unfortunately, is a Gary-Stu of the highest type.

Gary Stu: (n.) A fanfiction term for the male version of Mary Sue. A Gary Stu refers to an original character, sometimes a Self Insert, who is more powerful than any canon character, can beat them at anything, and usually supersedes them as the story’s main character. (Dictionary of Anime Fandom)

Here’s just some of the things he can do/knows about.

Bear in mind, please, that this is 1919, he’s an under-gardener educated (probably until the age of 14) at a village school by his grandmother who still lives in his tied cottage.

He knows about the Classics

He can play chess

He can read – in fact he’s read the war poets, Oscar Wilde and, from his knowledge of the daily world, obviously the newspaper (a good one, not a rag) daily.

He can fix cars better than anyone around

He’s a dab hand at geometry

He’s conversant with world politics, and the nitty gritty of English politics.

He’s built a gym in his cellar.

He saved a relation of the King from his downed plane, crawling out into no-mans land to get him.

Because of the above, he earned the Victoria Cross.

And more and more and more.  In fact, he’s entirely sickening. There is nothing he can’t do. He fixes sewers. He finds treasure. When the Lord and Ladyship go to America he offers to go with them because he has dealt with American customs officers before in the war (God knows where). He build a garden centre with no effort, and when a small obstacle lands in his path,he charms the local Mayoress and gets the entire council on his side.

Not only that but everyone who meets him falls in MADLY love with him. And it’s the universal lurve for Freddie that makes me want to smash him in the face with something painful. Everyone loves him (with one exception) and not only that, everyone knows he’s gay.  Yes, this is the land of OKHomo, and boy is this the land of the tolerant.  The first people told are Charles’ parents.  Yes. The Lord and Lady of the manor, who not only understand but embrace the entire concept with what only can be described as glee, and there are one or two thoroughly sickening scenes where the young men are caught in flagrante delicto by her ladyship, who loves the experience, (as she fancies Freddy herself.) Then a Harley Street doctor is told who thinks it’s a Jolly Good Thing, the local doctor knows, and so on and so on.

The only person who doesn’t think it’s a good idea is the sadly neglected (by the otherwise saintly Freddy) Grandmother of Freddy himself.  A old woman with no visible means of support living in Freddy’s old tied cottage who Freddy hardly bothers about other to come and tell her he’s fucking the son of the nobility. She eventually turns into a mad religious ranter.

The relationship between Charles and Freddy never strikes true. Freddy gets into it for reasons that are never really explained, as he never seems to be physically or mentally attracted to Charles and there’s some very boring sex and suddenly they both profess to be madly in love. Plus, Charles is mentally unstable, and threatens to kill himself if Freddy leaves him, at every available opportunity, forcing Freddy to stay. Charles’ parents both urge Freddy to stay–or Charles will do himself harm–and this aspect of it made me cringe.

However, even if I hadn’t cared about any of the above–it’s the writing itself that made this book a nightmare to read.  More than once I thought “I can’t finish this.”  The prose is clunky in the extreme, for example, almost every section of dialogue has the name of the person being spoken to within it, a device that simply dosn’t happen in real life, and in order to present (I assume) a historical provenance, the author info dumps on every single page. Nothing is mentioned that doesn’t have an Act of Parliament and a corresponding date with it, and it was so hard to read without screaming.

Then, the way Freddy acts towards the end of the book is utterly un-endearing (if anyone was endeared in the first place) – he starts an affair with a boy of 16 while he’s still “married” (yes, they got married in a faux ceremony with a ring and with a horse for a witness) to Charles and when Charles dies he shows not one iota of grief – not one after ten years – and buggers off to France with his self-proclaimed and obviously unstable fratricidal toyboy, leaving his Granny to fend for herself. Nice.

Good, I thought. In 9 years time they’ll probably both be blown up.

So, no I am sorry. I do try to find the good in any book I read, because there usually is something, even if I give it one or two stars – but this has to be the first book I can’t even mark at all. The only thing I liked was the photo on the cover, and would like to know who did it, and commission him/her to do others.

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