Review: Cross Bones (short story anthology)

Ahoy, me proud beauty, shiver me timbers! I ask ye to sail me jollyboat on the high seas, lubber, but will ye dare to accept? On offer be a pirate’s life full of danger and risk, and not just to yer neck, but to yer very virgin heart! There’s many a bodice to be ripped–or perhaps I should say many a codpiece to be snapped–and should ye be graced enough to cross bones with a corsair, don’t be an addlepate! Heave ho, lad, handsomely, and show him how ye bury yer treasure!

Pirates didn’t only sail the high seas in historical times. Modern-day renegades and futuristic rebels are just as ripe for adventure and plunder. No matter the time, place, or circumstances, bad boys steal affection as often as they salvage treasure, and in these stories of romance, a rogue’s black heart always conceals a center of gold.

Review by Sal Davis

This is one of the jolliest covers I have seen. Well done Catt Ford. Looking at it one knows EXACTLY what’s on offer – piratical passion, and that’s what the reader gets. Here are nine stories with an historical setting, 2 stories set in the present, 2 fantasies and 2 futuristic ‘piiiiirates in spaaaace’ romps, all of which are good fun too.

Captain Merric by Rebecca Cohen – Captain Daniel Horton risks losing more than his life when he falls into the hands of notorious Captain Merric, who is surprisingly familiar.

Touched by the West Wind by Ellen Holiday – The lyrical tale of Thomas’s love for Brendan.

The Golden Galleon by K.R. Foster – called in to work by his partner on his day off, restauranteur Flynn gets a surprise.

My Hand in Yours by Emily Moreton – pirate captain woos peace keeper in a world full of magic.

Ghost of Jupiter by Jana Denardo – space privateer Al is shocked to find his latest raid has netted him a collection of dangerous alien slaves.

Officer and a Gentleman Pirate by E.S. Douglas – the capture of pirate Rheinallt Jones causes a naval lieutenant a crisis of conscience.

Objectivity by K.J. Johnson – American journalist Matthew risks all to get a story about African pirates.

Worth the Price by Cornelia Grey – Lt Edward Moon, abandoned to pirates by his commanding officer, has to choose between loyalty to the Commodore he despises and the pirate he desires.

Peter and the Lost Boys by Juan Kenobi – Peter is drowning his job related sorrows in a cocktail bar when charismatic Kap offers a solution.

Irish Red by MJ O’Shea – Loving a pirate can so easily lead to heartbreak, as Chris, barman of The Dagger, discovers.

Black John by Piper Vaughn – Juan has to choose whether to declare himself or let his love go free when Jacob is returned to him by the sea.

Rough Trade by Cooper West – “Black market trader” Audacity Gunner, unofficial captain of the AI ship Carthage, has his already random lifestyle further disrupted by the embarkation of Dr Sagittarius Deifenbaker.

From a Simmer to a Burn by B. Snow – Sule Okonjo, ex-slave, hates the Dutch. Ship’s carpenter Olaf is Norwegian but that’s close enough to engage Sule’s fury.

On the Wings of Lir by Riley Shane – Hugh Edward, officer on one of Her Britannic Majesty’s airships, is determined to capture Patrick Kelly, airship pirate.

The Winds of Change by Maggie Lee – Theo Cook, pirate, is perpetually unfaithful to his mess mate Sebastiano. Then they ship out with Edward Teach and Theo suddenly has competition.

Good fun is what this selection of pirate stories is all about. But if you’re the sort of reader who demands pin-sharp historical accuracy before you can even begin to think about enjoying a book, you may not like this anthology. Some of the stories are much better than others in that respect but, as short stories, none of them have much time for world building. Some authors set the scene admirably but some have concentrated exclusively on the passion while hand-waving the historical/naval research. As a representation of generic pirate fiction the anthology is good – I enjoyed the rompy bits while greeting the more thoughtful stories with a cheer – but it’s not Patrick O’Brien.

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Review: The Sheriff and Pirate Booty by John Simpson

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The Sheriff

Life was quiet in Dry Oaks, Montana, and that was the way Sheriff Jeremiah Bates liked it. When a cattle drive hit town, he expected the usual lot of drinkin’, gamblin’, whorin’ cow hands – but the feelings cowboy Duke Milo aroused in him were anything but usual.

Review by Erastes

It piques the interest, I have to say, because I’m interested in the Sherrif and how he got to be there in a dead-end town where nothing ever happens and why he stays. I admit that I would like to know more about him, because he’s a good character. A taciturn man of few words works well in a short story.

The thing I find about it though, is that a short story should be something complete in itself–probably because I was raised on Maugham and Saki–this all seems a little pat. Man walks into a bar, picks up a cowboy and they have sex. If it was an uber hot erotic short story it would serve a purpose, but it’s not really written to titillate either. But what’s there isn’t bad and for $1.49 it will fill ten minutes or so–it just doesn’t say anything.

Editing leaves a lot to be desired which is a shame for something so small.

Three stars

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Pirate Booty

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Armed with a royal commission, former Royal Naval officer Captain Blain Stillwater undertakes a new adventure as a privateer in the Caribbean, charged with combating pirates and the Spanish. But while the commission includes a ship—it doesn’t include a crew. A search of London’s Newgate prison provides Stillwater his crew, but not his officers or a cook. Luckily he discovers Todd Myers, an experienced cook who spends his days in the galley… and his nights in the Captain’s cabin. But danger stalks the ship in the form of the Spanish, and life at sea is never smooth sailing.

Review by Erastes

First off, this is a romp. It is not going for historical accuracy. This is clear from the first couple of pages–more anachronisms than the whole of Braveheart. If you can get past that and are eager to get to the piratey goodness then that’s fine.

Blain sets off with a crew all set to plunder and as in the best of piratey fantasies, all the men (except one) is OK about men loving men. This will lead to a contented crew, apparently–and one handed contended readers, I’m sure!

The sex scenes are paramount here, and the story is wrapped around them, so much of the 70 pages consist of sex, but it’s hot and steamy and enjoyable. I think I would liked a bit more character development, but difficult in a story this short, specially a historical.

Regarding ships–I probably wouldn’t recommend this if you know anything about ships of the day, the small complement of crew and the small number of guns for for a galleon will probably chafe you, but if you are looking for a pirates of the Caribbean type of story with hot sexy sailors plundering the seas and each other then you’ll enjoy this a lot.

Three stars

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Review: Galleons and Gangplanks by Sean Michael, Julia Talbot, Mychael Black and Willa Okati

Pirates! Rapiers! Cannons and flintlocks! These are all the idea behind Galleons and Gangplanks. Bringing back the days when pirates ruled the high seas, this collection of stories has no shortage of adventure, danger, and excitement. From Sean Michael comes Searching the Seas, a story about an honest man kidnapped by pirates, used as collateral for a trade between the pirates and the seaside village at their mercy. Things are not always as they seem, though, and soon the constable and the pirate Captain are learning to love, and live, with the past and the future. Julia Talbot’s The White City takes on the Barbary Coast, with a legendary privateer meeting his match in an Algerian sheik. But who is the captor and who is the slave in this game of cat and mouse that runs from the sun baked streets of Algiers to the waves beyond the shore? Mychael Black’s Fool’s Gold is a romp in the best pirate tradition. Searching for his father’s lost gold, a young man teams up with a salty veteran to follow a treasure map. Can the two of them find something in common besides a lust for coin? In Willa Okati’s Of Boats and Bluebeards two young men are pressed into service on a pirate ship, one of them slated to be the Captain’s new toy, the other set to backbreaking work. Can Kit and Paul find a way to escape, and to share the budding love they find with each other? Get your arrr! on!

Review by Alex Beecroft

Like most anthologies, this is a mixed bag of stories, some of which are in my opinion better than others. I think I’ll consider them separately before I think about the book over all.

Unfortunately, the first story in the anthology, “Searching the Seas” by Sean Michael is, I think, the weakest of the four. Abraham Sawyer is “a lawman” (whatever that means in the 17th/18th century, before the invention of the police), who lives on a small, peaceful island, and is taken aboard a pirate ship as a hostage following some negotiations that didn’t quite make sense to me. There he discovers that the despicable pirate is in fact his old lover who has been searching for him for years. And then they have lots of sex, and some hurt/comfort, and some more sex.

This ‘story’ is little more than a set up for endless amounts of smut. It’s fairly good smut, and if you’re looking for some explicit pirate/non-pirate porn, then it does the job. For me, I’m still shaking my head over the fact that this is the second time in as many Age of Sail books that an author has given the captain of a wooden ship a hearth in his cabin. An open fire, on a ship made entirely of inflammable wood, coated with inflammable pitch and containing a room full of gunpowder.

I realise this is probably not a deal-breaker for other people, but it is for me. For me it says “I didn’t care enough about my setting to even make the effort of looking at the internal layout of a tall ship (easily available by Googling), or sparing a moment’s thought about the realities of life at sea.” Why bother to set your story on a 17th Century ship if you’re going to write it as if it was a house on waves? Why should I, who was looking for some real tall ship action, care about a story that is just pirate-dress-up + porn? I don’t. However, if pirate-dress-up + porn is what you’re looking for, you will like this story better than I did.

I wish that the volume had opened with one of the other stories instead, because first impressions count, and all of the other stories have more to recommend them than the first.

Julia Talbot’s The White City is set in Algiers. Told alternately in the PoV of Jem Nettles, captured pirate, and his captor Hakim Reis, this is a story which is much more historically believable in terms of setting. I’m even delighted by the fact that Hakim Reis and his nemesis and overseer turn out to be British pirates employed by the Dey, like the infamous trio of Dutch pirates who ‘turned Turk’ in the early 17th Century.

Hakim finds himself falling in love with his captive and refuses to turn him over to his boss, Sharim Reis. Sharim is annoyed, as Jem has been a pain in his neck and he wants to see the annoying man punished. So Sharim captures Hakim, and is about to teach him a painful lesson when Jem (who has seized the opportunity to escape from them both,) rallies his scattered ship’s crew and rescues him. There is some sex with dubious consent in the story, and it is quite hard to see what it is that draws Jem and Hakim together and makes them willing to risk so much for each other. But it was so nice to see a setting that I could believe in, and a story that had some plot, that I put this down to the mysteries of love and just enjoyed the suspense of wondering what was going to happen next.

I liked this one and would like to read something longer by her.

Fool’s Gold by Mychael Black features mature pirate Ian Bowers being employed by naïve young gentleman Silas Christian to find the treasure to which Christian’s father has left him a map. Over the course of the story we discover that Christian is not really naïve, nor a gentleman at all, he’s actually the son of Bowers’ previous captain and lover. During the hunt for this and then a second treasure, the two of them fall in love, and Bowers has to prove to Christian that (a) he loves the son as much as he ever did the father, and (b) he’s willing to give up the sea in order to be with Christian.

I have mixed feelings about this one. I thought the characters were interesting, and the tangled story would have benefitted from being expanded to novel length and fully explored. I never did quite understand why anyone had to give up the sea – they could have become legitimate merchants rather than pirates and carried on sailing. There was a lot in here in terms of story and backstory and aims and themes and characterisation, and I felt it didn’t get a chance to be what it could have been because of the short length and the need to stuff it full of sex scenes. There are a lot of sex scenes, and I’m afraid my eyes did glaze over at points.

I can’t stop myself from saying that no 17th Century gentleman would be wearing trousers and boots, though. Trousers are not worn by respectable people until the early 19th Century. And this must be a 17th Century setting because a lot of it is set in Port Royal before the earthquake.

This one was interesting, I thought. Lots of potential, which I’d have loved to see expanded, but (IMO) sidetracked by too much sex. Again, your mileage may vary if the sex is what you’re looking for in the first place.

Of Boats and Bluebeards by Willa Okati:

Kit’s lover David runs away to sea and is drowned. Kit’s uncle, on finding out that Kit has a male lover, treats him so badly that Kit runs away to the docks too, hoping to be taken on as a sailor. This duly happens, but not before Kit acquires a hanger on in the shape of Paul, who is an old friend of David’s. However, the handsome and obliging captain who has press-ganged them both turns out to be a pirate of the old school – a rapist and murderer with a grizzly surprise locked away in one of the store rooms on his ship.

Despite the fact that this is another ship which leaves only a skeleton crew on watch at night (better than none at all, but still, what happens when the wind changes and there aren’t enough men to man the sails?) and continues to use the cannon even when boarding (thus mowing down their own men) I enjoyed this story. It’s refreshing to find a pirate who is genuinely piratical and not very nice. The threat of rape hanging over Kit, and the later threat of murder gave the story a real tension and suspense, and there’s a wonderfully grotesque and gruesome moment half way through that really had an impact on me. Paul and Kit’s hate/love relationship was also a nice twist, and I liked the open-ended ending which took them out of immediate danger but allowed them to go on to further adventures together.

Given the title and the historical Bluebeard, I should have been expecting the surprise, but I wasn’t, and I give the story due kudos for that. It woke me up, and I like that.

So… on the whole this anthology presents more good than bad. Few of the stories are exactly historically correct, but (except for the hearth) the anachronisms are not so egregious that I couldn’t enjoy the stories despite them. There was too much sex for me, but there was at least enough story to keep me reading despite that. One of the best examples of its sort, I think, and if you’re actually looking for erotica rather than romance it would be even better.

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Review: The Highwayman by Emily Veinglory

Reynard is the impoverished son of a cavalier, driven to highway robbery to support his sister, Emilia.  But a puritan he robs proves to be his new neighbor–and Emilia returns to the house with her intended fiancé, who demands her promised dowry or the deeds to the family lands.

Finally a new sheriff turns up in town to put an end to the latest spate of robberies.   Just when Reynard needs quick money all he can steal is the heart of an insolent roundhead who has a few secrets of his own!

Review by Erastes

The story is narrated by Reynard, and we are immediately drawn into his world, and the action that he takes part in, as he dresses and arms up for the task in hand–that of robbing on the public highway.  The 17th and 18th century were the golden age of the highwayman, flintlock pistols having been invented made life easier for a man with a pistol on a horse.

So yes, Reynard is a highwayman.  But I like a conflicted hero – one who does bad things for good reasons – and Reynard fits the bill nicely here.  He needs money for his estate and his sister–who he is determined to find a wealthy husband for (thereby helping his own impoverished state) and slippers and petticoats don’t grow on trees.  Reynard is described as wearing his old-fashioned and over-elaborate clothes, which are the only ones not too patched and ruined, but they are still a bit too tatty for society.

The Puritan, Geoffrey, is an interesting character–hardly puritanical at all in fact, he’s very wealthy, has a ton of servants and indulges himself in whatever he likes.  What I found odd, though was the fact that he just pounced on Reynard within a few minutes of their being acquainted. If Reynard had been a servant, and in a more vulnerable situation, unable to say no, I could understand this precipitate action,  but Reynard is an equal, a neighbour, an earl,  and Geoffrey (as far as I could tell) had been given no indication that such sudden sexual advances would even be welcome.  He puts himself much at risk.  And as the story is told from Reynard’s point of view, there’s very little indication that he even finds Geoffrey sexually attractive before Geoffrey starts disrobing him.

However, that aside, the sexual encounter once started is everything one expects from Veinglory, beautifully erotic and sensual and thoroughly enjoyable.

Reynard is just about keeping the wolf from the door when his sister appears and suddenly Reynard is worried about how he’ll ever afford to produce a dowry for the girl, without losing his house–and discovering how much he dislikes the young men to whom she’s become betrothed. So he makes a rash decision and the plot charges ahead from here.

I have to say that I was surprised just how good Reynard’s eyesight was, the first time we see him the moon was nearly waned and a few days later it should have been pitch dark but the descriptions of people and carriages in the dark are very exact!

I noticed a couple of typos – sheering/shearing – reign for rein, but this book was published a good while ago (2006)  and some epubs were less nice in their editing than they are today.

Overall, it’s a little patchy. Some of the language is nicely formal, some has modern phrases. The companion Emilia brings with her is just escorted from the coach with no introductions, and like the first sex scene the whole thing seems rather rushed.  At around 90 pages it’s a decent read, but I think there was much potential here to provide a full-sized novel.  However, niggles aside, it’s a very enjoyable read–good plot, good characters and the story rackets along at a cracking pace.

Still, I do recommend you try it as books set in this era are pretty rare, and Veinglory is a good, solid writer.

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