Review: Butterfly Dream by Dave Lara and Bud Gundy

At 6 years old, long before he discovers that he is gay, Banat Frantz learns that being Jewish in Hitler’s Germany is a bewildering crime for which he and his family must pay. Fire and loathing greet his emerging consciousness and a resourceful child begins to learn survival skills. Violently forced from their home and a successful business, his family immigrates to Holland but discover that they haven’t traveled far enough. They realize too late that Hitler’s mania would spread across a continent. The Nazis wrench the family apart, tossing them into the maw of the holocaust where only survival matters. Even in places where humanity itself chokes on the ashes of hatred, Banat realizes that he is gay and has fallen in love with another young Jew. The knowledge shapes his existence as he copes with the relentless horror of his life in a series of ever-more grim and nightmarish places until he finds himself in the hushed and gray world of Auschwitz, where silent screams fill every mind. But nothing can truly kill the spirit if it is filled with a longing for beauty. A young man of such sensibilities can forge moments of sublime bliss in whatever setting he encounters, and through a network of Jewish actors, writers, singers and intellectuals he learns that art can shelter his passions and that his very longing is his refuge. From his earliest memories of Nazi rallies that unleashed teeming hatred, to his redemption in a New York gay club, Banat Frantz lives an entire life before it ever really begins.

Review by Erastes

I find books about the concentration camps difficult to review and rate, let alone that they are often difficult–that is, painful–to read and this is no exception. One feels that one should have an automatic sympathetic response to the book, that one should praise it because of the subject matter, and by criticising it, one is somehow lessening the horror of what actually happened in Europe (and elsewhere.)

But although there was much to like about the book, I’m going to be critical too. Firstly, it’s another self-published book, and like nearly all self-published books (note I said ‘nearly’ before you get on your self-publishing high horse) the editing is appalling. Not merely shoddy, but absolutely unforgiveable. If the book had been through a second pair of eyes other than the two authors’ then that editor needs to have his/her red pen forcibly inserted somewhere. So if you are going to take on the book–and for some that will be a difficult decision, you’ll need to take onboard that not only is the subject matter tricky, but the editing will make you want to throw your e-reader at the wall.

Basically it’s the story of the Jewish boy, Banat, who, when the story begins is about six and he witnesses one of the rallies that Hitler was having in the 30’s. Things had already started to become difficult for Jews at this time, trading was limited and hatred was common-place and open. There’s a shocking scene where Banat was beaten up on the street by the father of a school-friend and no-one helps him at all. It’s a powerful scene, but was marred for me by there being no repercussions about it. Banat had been told to stay in, that it wasn’t safe–and although I’m sure his parents would have been less annoyed with him when he came back with a bloody bruised face, no mention was made of what happened when he did go home. There’s a lot of this kind of loose end stuff lying around which again, an editor would probably have helped with.

The problem I had with baby Banat, and again and again throughout the book is that I would have preferred it to be through the eyes of the protagonist himself. Instead of which, it’s written as a memoir, with all the hindsight and knowledge of what is going to happen and a knowledge of world events. It probably suits more people this way, but I think if Mockingbird had been written from the perspective of a older Scout it wouldn’t have had the same impact. The author as narrator can’t help but talk about things that are happening, that are going to happen, things that Banat could not possibly have known about and these intruded into his day-to-day experiences, when I would have preferred just to know about those experiences and not the world stage. We know what happened on the world stage, and on a small scale, those things only affected Banat in the way of him being Jewish.

However, as a memoir, it’s very readable–aside from the appalling editing. The concentration camp sections seem a little lighter than I was expecting. I’m not saying that I wanted in-depth descriptions of what Banat went through but really, other than a lack of food and warmth he managed to have a bit of a charmed life and drifted through the camps with what seemed very little danger to himself. Others disappeared but he not only survived–as people did–but he kept his father with him and remained in “safe” occupations for the most part. When he does mention the horror around him, like dead people littered around the camp its almost a surprise because the suffering hadn’t really been mentioned much before and I knew he had to be suffering every day.

So we can imagine Banat’s suffering, and what he’s going through, but I had to import it from information  gleaned from documentaries, books and films on the subject. Seeing as how terrible things didn’t happen to him–he’s even spared from being a bum-chum to a guard simply by saying “no thanks”–it then surprised me that he developed pretty bad PTSD after the war. He begins to suffer from “waking nightmares” and although I know his experiences in the camps could not have been good ones, because we aren’t told the horrors, his waking nightmares seem a bit over the top.

The days after the immediate liberation were a bit convenient. A group of them set off together–and the Russians don’t help them, being rather pre-occupied, and they find a camp where British soldiers had been held. There’s loads of food here, and they find a cow and a pig too. I found this a bit of a stretch, because why would the British soldiers–who they met later–leave behind so much food? Again, it’s all a little too pat, a little too charmed. He manages to get to Paris with no difficulty to retrieve his mother and getting the papers and money to return again is a piece of cake.

When he moves to America it’s much the same. He has more than enough money to live on as his father sends him loads, and when he does get a job it’s handed to him on a plate, and it’s a good job too.

It’s in New York where I noticed a large continuity hiccup and that worried me about the research for the rest of the book, as up to now I had been taking as gospel what I was reading was accurate as to dates and times. There’s mention of Caffe Cino – a cafe opened in 1958 by a retired dancer – and which became the birthplace of “off-off-Broadway” plays – but it certainly wasn’t around in 1948!

The ending is unsurprising, but sweet and all in all I enjoyed the read. I wouldn’t read it again though, even if the errors were taken out–and I highly recommend to the authors that they address this, it’s just too War-Lite for my taste.

Authors’ Websites: Bud Gundy  Dave Lara

Amazon UK   Amazon USA (available as print and ebook)

Review: Vagabond Heart by A J Llewellyn

Book one in the Pearl Harbor Series

Gay prostitute Tinder McCartney thought he had it made in WWII Honolulu…until true love and an attack on Pearl Harbor turned his life upside down.

Tinder McCartney is the only gay male prostitute working in Honolulu, Hawaii during World War II. Like the 200 female prostitutes who live and work on Hotel Street, he services the armed forces drifting in and out of the islands. His life and work are controlled by the local police, yet because the cops don’t think that there can be that many ‘depraved’ men wanting the comfort of another man, Tinder is not only busy, but often in danger.

Living by very strict rules enforced by the police, Tinder cannot own or drive a car or bicycle, can’t ride street cars or be seen in the company of other men. He can’t visit bars or restaurants or swim at Waikiki Beach. Savagely attacked by two men one night, he is rescued by a local businessman, Jason Qui, the son of a Chinese immigrant and a former New England missionary.

Jason is not Tinder’s usual type. But Jason offers to protect and house him. It seems like the ideal business arrangement until Tinder’s Vagabond Heart can no longer handle the arrangement… and then on December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbour is attacked, turning the entire world upside down.
Review: by Sally Davis
Cool blue cover that does the job pretty well in that the models conform to the characters in the book and there’s a battle ship and aircraft to boot. Neither of the boys look particularly happy but then neither are in particularly happy situations.
Tinder is the one most likely to invite sympathy. He has returned to Hawaii from San Francsico, abandoning his career as an architect, to attend the funeral of his beloved mother. His father is involved with a woman Tinder detests, who is intent upon destroying all Tinder’s childhood memories. Jobs are hard to come by and his father has no money to spare so Tinder has taken the only available job – a prostitute working for a highly-regulated, government sponsored establishment.
Tinder has a lot in common with Cinderella – the wicked stepmother, the soul-crushing job – and only lacks the handsome Prince. Enter Jason Qui who has spotted Tinder, made enquiries and books him for private sessions much longer than the house regulated three minutes including washing ‘equipment’.
Jason is rich, the head of a successful business, has the love of his family and it seems as though he should be happy enough. But it is time for him to marry and Jason has no taste at all for women. Tinder, however, he does favour and soon they are deeply in love with each other.
There’s more to the story than just a love affair. There is the day by day count down to the Pearl Harbour attack and it’s aftermath. There is also a subplot to do with Jason’s business, but the story focusses on the two protagonists. As one would expect with a story about prostitution there is a lot of sex but the short mechanical acts in the ‘house’ on Hotel Street are contrasted nicely with Tinder and Jason’s more elaborate love play.
I know very little about Hawaii or Pearl Harbour, and even less about the businesses on Hotel Street during World War Two. I know a lot more now, which is good in one way – I love to come away from a story about an unfamiliar period of history feeling that I’ll carry some information with me – but in others leads to me a fairly minor criticism. The author has clearly done huge amounts of research to get the background, locations, history, settings of the island as accurate as possible. I really appreciate seeing that an author has put this amount of effort into it, but from time to time the way it is presented is clunky – almost guidebookish – and it distracted me from the narrative. The big quibble – that one of the military endorsed brothels would have allowed a male prostitute to ply his trade – is dealt with in the prologue with a neat disclaimer.
This is the first story of a series, apparently, but can be read as a standalone.

Review: As Time Goes By by Anna Lee

In 1944, Matt Jackson, a wounded RAF pilot, ends up in the Royal Infirmary after his squadron is attacked. When he meets Doctor Trynt Andrews, both men’s lives are changed with the instant connection they feel for one another. Alone and injured, Matt is invited into Trynt’s home and they become inseparable, finding a love they thought they never would. As the year goes by, their commitment deepens despite having to keep their love a secret. When Matt is deployed and his plane goes down during battle will all be lost? Or will he make it home to Trynt?

Review by Erastes

Ok. Here’s the thing. When you know a fandom, it’s very difficult to read a book that’s obviously converted fanfic when it hasn’t been converted well enough to expunge all traces of the original canon.  I know how difficult this is–I used to write fanfic, and I have two novellas at least that I’m very proud of, but the work involved in making them entirely unrecognisable as to where they came from would be as hard work as writing something entirely new–so I haven’t done it.

And in this case–which is obviously Torchwood fanfic, it’s a shame, because the writing is decent enough to carry a story throughout.

But when you have an RAF Captain Matt (with an RAF greatcoat that becomes a sexual object in itself) who falls in love with a dark-haired, blue-eyed Welshman–now called Trynt–and then you have an assorted cast who are obviously name-changed versions of Torchwood’s cast: Gwen becomes Wynne, the gap-toothed Welsh nurse; Toshiko is now Kimioko,  Trynt’s room-mate etc etc–then I for one have difficulty reading it as an original story at all because I’m translating it back to fanfic in my head.

OK. Putting that aside, I couldn’t like this book at all. The writing is perfectly serviceable, no complaints there, but it’s just far too saccharine for my, and I’m guessing many people’s tastes.

Captain Matt wakes in a hospital after a terrible accident with his squadron where everyone has died, including his own lover and he almost immediately falls in love with his doctor, who of course, falls almost immediately back in love with him. The two men are femininely  sensitive to the point of hysteria, fall in love instantly and are touching, kissing, hugging and weeping on each other’s shoulders within a day of meeting. All this in a hospital in 1944…

There then follows half a book of their relationship building. This consists of Matt recovering–having moved in with Trynt and them having long girly talks, sleeping together but not actually doing anything. But there is a lot of talk and weeping. For the first 25% of the book one or other of them is just about crying on every page. It was ludicrously inconsistent with a doctor and a flight captain, and also was out of character for the fanfic counterparts.

Here’s just one sample of this overblown schmoopiness: (this conversation is happening during penetration while Matt rides Trynt’s cock)

“I know our love is strong enough to outlast whatever this war throws at us. And despite it, I promise I will do everything I can to make you happy and give you the life you want.”

“You already have, Matt.” Trynt began to thrust slowly as he held on to Matt. “All I want is a life with you. I want all the plans we just made.  And I won’t let anything stop us from having them; we’re going to build that life together. I know our love can overome whatever happens.”  He cupped Matt’s face in his hands, gazing into his stormy blue eyes. “And you’ll never be alone again. I’ll always be here for you, loving you with all my heart and making you happy. I didn’t know what true happiness or love was until you came along, now it all makes sense. You’re my whole word Matt and I couldn’t love you more. And I certainly couldn’t ask for anything more than to be here with you just this,” he admitted, then kissed Matt passionately, pouring all his feelings into the kiss.

“I love you too.” Matt slowly lifed himself up and then back down on Trynt’s cock. “Always, Trynt.”

“Always,” Trynt vowed.

This type of conversation goes on for pages, as does the sex which is very coy, to be honest. The author clearly has a problem with using more graphic terms, so there’s lots of “warm passages” and the like. The one that make me want to throw my Kindle against the wall was “essence” for sperm, and essence is used a lot. There’s much fanfic cliche too, the characters are always saying “Come for me” in fact they pretty much say it at every orgasm, and in fact the sex is quite repetitive although some might find it arousing.

As for an historical grounding, there is hardly any. We are told a war is going on, and Matt pops off in between injuries then comes back and “recovers” a bit more which involves sex, massages, wine(!), coffee(!), but you never get the atmosphere of London at war. Rationing is mentioned, but there’s no real impact of it in their day-to-day life.  They drink wine, and in one scene–in December–they eat lasagne and have strawberries for dessert. Words fail me. Where would they have got the strawberries from? Spain? I think the author lost control of her own timeline at this point, as she had them planning a picnic shortly afterwards.

1944 was a hugely important time in London’s war as the V2 rockets were fired at the city–look at this map here–but there’s no mention at all of any bombs, or indeed of anything much. I found this amazing, because the devstation was immense. Selfridges, Speakers Corner and Holborn was all bombed, but Trynt doesn’t seem to notice.

Matt’s involvement in the war is very confusing too. We are told he’s the captain of a squadron, and that he flies Spitfires, but we are also told that he leads bombing raids, and is also fighting on the ground with the infantry. In fact there’s so much wrong with the military details I’m not even going to discuss it.

Then there’s the OKHomo. Unsurprisingly really, seeing as this is converted Torchwood fic, but in 1944 London it’s absolutely mad. Everyone knows and just about everyone lurves the idea of it, understands it completely and the one person who doesn’t has something over him–blackmarket activity–which prevents him doing anything about it and he’s won over by the homo-love by the end anyway. The author makes a sop to having Matt and Trynt be careful in public but it’s purely pasted on, as their behaviour would be obvious to anyone.

And that’s about it, really. Conflict happens about 60% of the way through, which calls for a major crying jag from Trynt as the melodrama is plastered on with a trowel. The conflict lasts for about one chapter, though and the remaining 25% of the book is taken up with the inevitable HEA which loses a lot of its impact because how could they be any more soppy and romantic than they already have been almost on every page?

So, no. I didn’t like this book at all. It had just about every aspect of m/m that I dislike and layered it all up so thickly I felt like giving up.

IF you can handle the constant weeping, pages of declarations of love, long talky sex, constantly crying men on a wallpaper war background with decidedly shaky historical accuracy–and IF you don’t already know the Torchwood fanon, then you might like this. But I’m sorry, I didn’t.

Manloveromance books

Review: The Last Tallyho by Richard Newhafer

Fighting air battles over Wake Island, Tarawa and Truk Lagoon, the U.S. Navy pilots of Air Group Two blazed a trail of flaming Japanese planes and hard-won glory across the Pacific skies. Yet among the heroes lived a man with a terrible secret shame, a vice that kept him from enjoying the conventional pleasures offered by the bevy of beautiful women waiting to welcome their men back to Pearl Harbor.

Set aboard the fictional carrier Concord during the latter part of World War Two, “The Last Tallyho” was called “The epic novel of World War II naval fighter pilots” by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and “Excellent” by The New York Times.

Review by Elliott Mackle

Perhaps the most notable aspect of Richard Newhafer’s thoroughly conventional World War II novel, “The Last Tallyho” (1964), is that it inspired the much more deeply felt “Wingmen,” by Ensan Case (1979). (See my five-star review-appreciation here on Speak Its Name.) The primary evidence appears on Case’s dedication page: “Thanks to silly Dick Newhafer and his first Tallyho.” In a recent email, Case explained: [Big time spoiler alert]:

“Sometime in the late ’70’s I reread Tallyho. Good writing, excellent technical info, but much too contrived for my adult taste. And the portrayals of CAG Crowley and the ass-kissing effeminate swabbie named Rathburn just sort of pissed me off, and I wrote Wingmen in retaliation. My officer protagonists would be too smart to diddle enlisted men, aboard ship no less, and would not be required to slit their wrists in shame. It was my first attempt at a full-length novel. Avon published it with only typo editing, and I waited in vain to become rich and famous. Hell, I would have settled for rich.”

“Wingmen,” in significant ways, is as groundbreaking a mainstream masterpiece as it was possible to publish at the time. Both novels are melodramas set aboard fictional American aircraft carriers during the Pacific campaigns of the war, with operational and recreational interludes in and around Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Both are event and character driven. Both writers are extraordinarily familiar with the workings of carrier-based aircraft, in particular the Grumman Hellcat, and both describe the vibrant lives and violent deaths of naval aviators in the kind of seat-of-pants detail that suggests first-hand knowledge. Newhafer, a Navy pilot who served in World War II and Korea, was awarded the Navy Cross in 1945. Case was commissioned as a Navy ensign.

Both novels culminate in battles over Truk lagoon, Japan’s principal naval base in the west-central Pacific, ending in routs by American pilots and the almost total defeat of Japanese fliers. It is safe to say that when the Emperor of Japan lost Truk he lost the war.

“The Last Tallyho” follows the adventures of Air Group Two aboard the carrier Concord during 1943-44. The cast of pilots and commanders is wide and varied, though universally white, athletic and educated. Among pilots there is a professional football player (Steve Stepik), a son of wealthy Park Avenue bluebloods (Maxwell Winston III), an amateur golfer (Dick Marriner), a career flyer-administrator (Harry Hill), even a coward who loses his nerve at the expense of his mates (Bob Crowley). Most of them become aces, among the highest scoring killers in the fleet. Symbolically, but unfortunately for the reader, these guys are hard to tell apart because they all talk alike. The same is essentially true of their gorgeous and good-hearted women.

The brilliantly characterized heroes of “Wingmen,” Commander J.J. “Jack” Hardigan, his junior wing, Ensign Frederick “Trusty” Trusteau, and half a dozen other pilots and crewmen, on the other hand, are living, breathing individuals, and totally unforgettable.

Captain Sam Balta, skipper of Concord, and his superior, Vice Admiral “Frog” Delacroix, the commander of the fleet, date their friendship from the Naval Academy at Annapolis and call each other by nicknames from that period. They are much better drawn, more complex figures than the men they send out to fight, and their voices and movements, though naturally similar, are always distinct. Through them we learn much about the cruelties of high command. Before the last battle, for instance, they must calculate the odds of success in a rapidly changing situation and count up the possible losses of their own men against the necessity of defeating the enemy and ending the war. Their counterpart in “Wingmen,” an admiral, is as sympathetically drawn but not nearly as well characterized.

Commander Bob Crowley, the cowardly pilot, is not only a homosexual, he beds at least one enlisted sailor between flights (or “hops” as they are termed) and, when caught naked with the sailor in his bunk, begs for mercy and a medical discharge. When that is refused by a bull-headed executive officer, Crowley kills himself. The hapless sailor suffers essentially the same fate, dying “in screaming agony, his face contorted out of shape,” after being gutted by a piece of flying metal that, a moment earlier, was part of a Japanese Zero. Although Crowley’s shipboard seduction was certainly unwise under the circumstances, Allan Bérubé’s “Coming Out Under Fire” and other histories demonstrate that such liaisons were not all that uncommon. Superior officers and NCOs, especially toward the end of the war, tended to look the other way.

Newhafer’s war is the John Wayne version, in other words, the official version, the real men version. It is no surprise that after leaving the Navy Newhafer became a successful writer of Hollywood and television film scripts.

The underlying nature of Mr. Case’s novel explains his use of a semi-pseudonym, “Ensan” being the phonetic pronunciation of “Ensign.”

Taking off from the carrier Constitution, Commander Jack Hardigan, leader of Air Group Twenty (that’s two plus zero), and his wingman Fred Trusteau also become aces. They risk their lives for each other, for the members of the group and for their shipmates. After considerable trust building and combat, they discard their conformist heterosexual role-playing, accept their mutual attraction and share a bed in Waikiki’s Moana Hotel during Christmas shore leave. The physical details are not described and the affair remains discreet and low key. What happens ashore stays ashore. Although suspicions arise in another pilot’s mind, he has the good sense to keep his mouth shut. Blood is shed but the three men survive the war and prosper thereafter.

Case’s writing is vibrant and lively throughout the book, a pleasure to read and to reread. Newhafer is all over the map. His battle scenes soar – especially the final battle, which brings together all the remaining main characters – but small talk in officers’ clubs and the wardroom drones on and on. Sometimes his descriptions are simply flat, as in the following:

“The dusk had deepened to a murky darkness when the combatants drew apart. For this is the way fights end. One moment the sky is a wild place and the next as silent as a cathedral.”

Finally, Newhafer’s novel features a stream almost totally lacking in Case’s: the war from a Japanese pilot’s point of view. Commander Isoku Yamota, an ace every bit as brave and successful as his counterparts Winston and Marriner, appears early and fights to the end. He is a stock character but a good one, a warrior who, facing death, dreams of returning to his wife and child not as a hero but as a loving husband and father.

For fans of military and maritime fiction, both novels are worth reading. “Wingmen,” a Speak Its Name Five Star Read that includes the pleasures of first-rate gay historical fiction, is simply the better book. “Tallyho” is out of print but used copies are widely available in hard and soft cover. Four stars.

Amazon UK      Amazon USA

Review: The Painting by FK Wallace

Stefan, a naive young Pole, meets Gunter, an artist in 1930s Berlin. Their passionate love affair is overshadowed by the rise of the Third Reich. Denounced to the Nazis, they are sent to Auschwitz as pink triangle prisoners.

Some things even love cannot withstand.

Forty years later Stefan returns to Poland with one question: when you have nothing left, how can you prove that love ever existed?

Berlin in 1936; optimism fading, the freedoms of the Weimar Republic little more than a memory, yet the inhabitants of the city blind themselves to the approaching disaster. The Painting is a story of love, of survival, of a life lived at the mercy of the most terrible events of the twentieth century.

http://www.thepaintingnovella.com

Review by Erastes

Hidden away on Lulu and Smashwords there are quite a lot of gay historicals. I often search through those sites in case I find anything that seems promising, and often I do, so it is a worthwhile endeavour. This title, however, came to my notice through an industry friend Leslie Nichol who said it was a heartbreaking read, but well worth it.

The subject matter of the first half of the book certainly will put many people off from attempting this book, but I urge you to put that aside, be brave and to try this book out.  The issue of Paragraph 175, the Pink Triangle and the camps has been dealt with in many memoires and textbooks, but few fictional representations as far as I am aware. The play and film “Bent” deals with it fantastically, too—and this book has something of the feel of Bent to it—only it’s not quite as devastating to read. This should be obvious as I did say that the first half of the book deals with the camps, and so the book moves on from that point.

It’s the story of Stefan Brukalski, Polish born and raised—he comes to Berlin in the early 1930’s because he’s heard that it is a city bursting with inspiration and creative life. The book opens with him at a pavement cafe, at the end of his tether and deciding to return to his home town in Poland, because Berlin has changed drastically since he heard tales of how liberal and fun she was. The Night of the Long Knives put paid to much of the liberalism, and the city is beginning to learn how to live in fear. It is at this cafe where he meets Gunter, a man 14 years Stefan’s senior, a painter, who picks him up, takes him home and they begin a passionate and heartfelt affair. Stefan becomes a German citizen to be able to stay in the country with Gunter, and both men (as they had little choice in the matter) join the National Socialist Party, Stefan as a clerk, and Gunter as an architect/planner.

By the time the war begins, it is clear that Gunter is tortured by some secret he can’t and won’t divulge, and their relationship takes a nosedive, but Stefan holds on, trying to be strong for them both. Then one day storm troopers close off the street and arrest everyone they can. Stefan hides in a hidden place in the house and waits but the scare is enough for them to decide to split up for safety. Homosexuals are being rounded up, being put into camps, and they think the safest thing to do is to separate.

It’s after this that everything goes to hell, for our two main characters (and everyone else) and the section regarding Stefan’s arrest and consequent experiences in Auschwitz are bravely done. The author seems to have reined back a little on what she could have written, but what she puts down is probably worse, because the imagination takes over, filling in the details from every newsreel and documentary our generations have seen, the generations who were not there. I think, though, that the author hints at the worst of it, and although the chimneys are described and the smoke, I didn’t really get the sense that Stefan knew what was going on. I think Wallace was relying too heavily on what the reader would actually know, and felt that she didn’t need to spell it out. Perhaps that’s the right approach. I don’t know.

But it’s this reining in that troubles me for the entire book in general. The description of Berlin as it turned itself inside out from a free-thinking, artistic haunt where anything goes and wilkommen, bienvenue, welcome, to a police state, and then a city under threat of attack was not sketched out for me in enough detail. Most of the pre-war/pre-arrest sections are spent closeted away in Gunter’s apartments and I for one would have liked to have been shown more of the city. It is said that they rarely went out socially, for fear of giving themselves away, but I’d have liked to have seen even the shopping trips, and the like. We are told what’s going on, but we aren’t really shown it.

Aside from the camp sections—which, as I said—probably benefit from veiling the reader from day after day of the horror, the book runs like this with telling rather than showing, and we race along from the end of the war, careering into the fifties and sixties and seventies in a breathless rush, not really showing the passing of time, the changing of the fashions, the ideals in the country where the book takes place. I would have expected some social commentary on England, to be honest. There was a nice touch where the police call on Stefan after his story hit the headlines, and he panics that he’s going to be arrested, no charge, and dragged away, but of course—it’s England and nothing much happens at all. But England would have been such a haven (in comparison to Communist Poland or post-war Germany) and it’s not explored at all.

The book deals with a lot, family issues, people doing things because they had no choice, survivor guilt, and much much more—and with the weighty issues it has to cover it can’t help but skimp on some of the human detail.  I for one would have liked the pace to slow after the 1950’s, to show us him bringing up his niece in more chapters than we were given, but we leapt forward seven years in each chapter and it didn’t help to get me connected to Hannah at all, or to get a sense of that, for 14 years or so, he lived a happier life. It didn’t explain his rise as an author, and that’s something I’d have liked to have seen.

Perhaps it should have been two books. It reads as a family saga, and I’m a great lover of family sagas, and would happily read a book three times the size, watching the years go by. I felt a little cheated because I seemed to be there for all the terrible things that happened, but there must have been so much kitchen-sink sweetness and pleasure in Stefan’s life as Hannah grew up. He deserved that, and the reader deserved to share them with him.

There’s no mention of change in the political atmosphere regarding homosexuality in England either, even though Stefan doesn’t further that side of himself for many years, he would have—surely—noted the changes in the law as homosexuality finally became legal in 1967, even if it was only to himself. I’d expected this because Stefan was a Pole, and Poland (under Polish government) had no anti-homosexual laws.

Don’t get me wrong: even though I felt a lack of detail, this is still a beautifully written, thoughtful book. The ending sections, particularly, are touching and utterly believable. The theme that arises—although, once more, I would have liked a little more emphasis on the theme earlier in the book—of finding that  Stefan had begun to wonder if he had invented Gunther, to give his own life some focus, is warming and heartbreaking. I was happy for Stefan when I closed the book, but I wasn’t sobbing like a baby, and really—I think I should have been.

Considering it’s self-published it’s a bit of a jewel. The editing is top notch and the author has worked her socks off to get it in a state that—were it picked up by a mainstream publisher and i hope it might be—it would hardly need a comma moving.

It’s a challenging read, due to the subject matter, but don’t let that put you off. This book deserves as many readers as it can get and I look forward to a lot of eagerness to see what Ms Wallace comes up with next.

The author says she is negotiating to get the book into print format, but until then, there’s

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Review: A Faint Wash of Lavender by Lucius Parhelion

Post World War Two finds Laguna Beach in its heyday as an artists’ colony. Tony runs his uncles’ Grocery store in the town where a man of his bent can hide among the eccentrics who call the place home, including his Aunt Cora, who’s in charge of this year’s Pageant, where denizens of Laguna Beach recreate great art.

Tony’s carefully laid out life is about to take a hit from old army buddy Ben, who comes and stay while he sorts out his life. Tony doesn’t have a problem helping out an old friend, but this particular old friend comes with pitfalls. Ben is Tony’s type, and always has been. When Tony and Ben are asked to participate in the Pageant, they’re thrown into each other’s arms, literally. Will Tony be able to keep Ben in the dark about his ‘lavender’ tendencies, or will Ben himself have a few confessions that are sure to knock Tony for a loop?

Review by Erastes

Right off I’ll say that Parhelion hasn’t yet struck a bum note with me, and this is no exception. Somehow Parhelion manages to write cleary, beautifully and believably about post-war eras and settings that not many authors are dealing with.

On the surface this is a simple enough story, Tony meets up with old ex-regimental mate Ben who he served with in the Second World War. Tony knows that he fancied Ben during the war, on top of the hugely strong bond they made fighting side by side across France and Germany but he thinks that–at the distance of a few years, and knowing that Ben is planning to become a missionary within a religious sect–he can have a good visit with his friend and send him off again, without revealing his feelings. The problem is that Tony is living in the artist/performance neighbourhood of Laguna Beach and this is the underlying subtext of the book.

Without this clever subliminal subtext it would just be a case of best friends realising they want each other, but it’s made much more because of it. It’s a social group Tony feels comfortable with when he’s alone–the faint wash of lavender relates to the slight swishiness of his aunt’s friends, some more obvious than others. But when Ben arrives, Tony is concerned that Ben will pick up on the lavender tint of his friends and put two and two together.

It’s an interesting look at a burgeoning gay community, although too brief, I felt. I got the impression that Parhelion was going for, that of men who were allowing themselves to be a little more obvious in what they deemed a slightly safer environment, but the characterisations of the lavender washed themselves were a little too thin for me and smacked of stereotyping. I don’t think this was at all Parhelion’s aim, but the time allowed, given the length of the novella, didn’t give any possibility of seeing them in anything but 2d. It’s a shame, because that’s rather the crux of this sub-plot, that Tony feels comfortable in this mildly outre atmosphere, but is also struggling with the fact that as a manly man he should be ashamed of his friends. But as we don’t see his friends that much, this fact falls a little short.

Tony and Ben are depicted beautifully. The dialogue hits notes that seem just right, not too girly and not too porn-slanted. The way they eventually confess to each other that they are pretty sure they are gay is believable. And the device (the pageant) where Tony has to admit to himself that he hasn’t lost any of his yearnings for Ben is well done. There’s an amusing line about The Last Supper which made me snort tea through my nose, too.

The rest of the story is so readable, it’s hard not to gush. I wish I was more of a literature teacher so that I could dissect Parhelion’s style and work out what they are doing that’s so right, but I can’t. If you haven’t read any Parhelion, start here and then I guarantee you, you will seek out all the others. I don’t know who you are, enigma that is Parhelion, but keep on doing what you’re doing. (although, give us a novel, one day, please?)

Author’s Website (out of date)

Buy from Torquere Press

Review: Wingmen by Ensan Case

HEROES IN HELLCATS

Jack Hardigan’s Hellcat fighter squadron blew the Japanese Zekes out of the blazing Pacific skies. But a more subtle kind of hell was brewing in his feelings for rookie pilot Fred Trusteau. As another wingman watches–and waits for the beautiful woman who loves Jack–Hardigan and Trusteau cut a fiery swath through the skies from Wake to Tarawa to Truk, there to keep a fateful rendezvous with love and death in the blood-clouded waters of the Pacific.

Review by Elliott Mackle

The appearance this month of a new, digital edition of James Jones’s World War II classic, From Here to Eternity (1951), is good news not only for general readers but for fans of m/m historical fiction. The edition reportedly includes two scenes edited out by Scribner sixty years ago. One involves oral sex between a wealthy Honolulu civilian and Private Angelo Maggio (the soldier played by Frank Sinatra in the movie), for money. The other concerns a military investigation into homosexual activity. Accounts of the restored edition prompted my rereading of another classic of the Pacific war, the equally well told m/m adventure-romance, Wingmen, by the pseudonymous Ensan Case. Published by Avon as a paperback original in 1979, the book has long been out of print. I recently snapped up a used first edition on amazon.com for under $10. Copies usually start at around $40.

Like From Here to Eternity, Wingmen is character- and event-driven. Set mostly aboard the fictional aircraft carrier Constitution during the latter half of the war, much of the tension in the novel derives from the physical and emotional pushing and shoving of fighting men packed too close together under extremely dangerous circumstances. Most of them are brave, dedicated and noble; some are hard drinkers who shield their feelings from even their closest friends. All but a few polish their manly-man reputations to a very high gloss.

The book opens with Ensign Frederick Trusteau, the junior of the two wingmen, in bed with a Honolulu prostitute. Though he brings her to climax, his own satisfaction is limited to the knowledge that some of his fellow pilots are aware of the encounter. Later, in a similar exchange, Trusteau again performs the act primarily to establish his heterosexual creds–because it’s expected and he knows no better–rather than for any real pleasure or release.

Trusteau is handsome, skilled, determined, loyal and–a product and symbol of his time–just a bit dense in matters sexual. Although he becomes painfully aroused at the sight of another officer lounging naked in his berth aboard ship, he isn’t able to put one and one together by himself.

Lieutenant Commander J.J. “Jack” Hardigan, his new skipper, as befits a senior officer, dates a rich and willing widow who owns a house in the hills above Honolulu. Kisses aside, there is no evidence in the book that they ever go to bed together. Hardigan’s prior sexual history goes unmentioned. When the widow breaks off the relationship in favor of one of Hardigan’s subordinates, he is more relieved than disappointed. Like his wingman Trusteau, he dates women out of habit and social convention, not desire.

The relationship between Hardigan and Trusteau is initially built on the expertise both men develop in flying Grumman Hellcats off the deck of a carrier. The bond of trust necessary for successful cooperation in combat is quickly and firmly established. The help that each gives the other for the good of the squadron, the navy and the prosecution of the war leads to triumph in battle and mutual respect. There are no shower scenes, no groping in the dark. Leaning shoulder to shoulder during a movie on deck is as physical as the m/m action gets. When Hardigan eventually elects to act on his feelings–during Christmas leave in a Waikiki hotel, not aboard ship–their physical union is presented as the natural next step in the bonding of brother warriors, true to each other unto death. Whether author Case’s love scenes were never written or cut out of this essentially mainstream novel I have no idea. As published, the curtain comes down before the shirts come off.

Just as masters of age-of-sail historical fiction must be intimately familiar with foremasts, rigging, celestial navigation and hardtack, Ensan Case is equally at home with the details of aerial and naval warfare. Presumably a veteran of the conflict, he is entirely convincing in his scene-setting, expertly mixing technical details and the emotions of men in love and at war. Here, about midway through the book, is his first description of a pilot taking off from the deck of a carrier–in almost total darkness. The point of view, though written third person, is Trusteau’s:

Shadowy shapes moved around Fred, and a single red wand popped into existence in the hands of some invisible deck officer. Taxi her forward, said the wand. Fred released his brakes and increased his throttle, rolled the Hellcat forward. Hold it there, said the wand. Fred stood on the upper portion of the rudder pedals and felt the plane hunker to a stop. Run her up, said the wand.

Fred stood on the brakes with all the strength he possessed and increased the throttle smoothly all the way to the stop, feeling the cyclonic power of the engine lift the tail into the air. Then he leaned all the way to the left and found the hooded deck lights that told him where the deck was, and where it wasn’t. In that brief interval, before the wand snapped downward and he released his brakes, he had time to think that despite the chaos of the launch, he was ready for whatever would come, ready because the only man among them who had kept his temper and remained calm through it all would be flying there in front of him.

Go, said the wand, and Fred flew away into the night.

This is solid, no-nonsense American writing: hunker, cyclonic, hooded, “where the deck was, and where it wasn’t.”

Case also has fun with names. Jack Hardigan explains itself. Trusteau acquires the nickname “Trusty” partly because of his supposed prowess with women but also because of his reliability as a warrior. One pilot is named Brogan, another Duggin.

There are battles: Wake Island, Tarawa and Truk Lagoon. In the latter attack, Jack’s fighter squadron and other U.S. planes sink a large portion of the Japanese fleet. Men on both sides are wounded, shot down, burned to death and blown to pieces. Suspicions about the lovers arise in at least one pilot’s mind but are too terrible, too dangerous, to voice. Fred becomes an ace, one of the top navy guns, thereby acquiring a new nickname: Killer. In a final, and ultimately secret act, Jack risks his life for his wingman.

The last couple of chapters, a postwar montage, wraps up loose ends without adding much to what’s come before. For my money, Wingmen would be a finer novel if it ended in 1945. Still, I know of no better m/m adventure-romance set during World War II. This is a five-star must read, a treasure for all fans of historical military fiction.

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