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.

Buy from Dreamspinner. (paperback and ebook)

Review: The German by Lee Thomas

From the Lambda Literary Award and Bram Stoker Award-winning author Lee Thomas come a new thrilling novel. 1944 – Barnard, Texas. At the height of World War II, a killer preys on the young men of a quiet Texas town. The murders are calculated, vicious, and they are just beginning. Sheriff Tom Rabbit and his men are baffled and the community he serves is terrified of the monster lurking their streets. The only clues the killer leaves behind are painted snuffboxes containing notes written in German. As the panic builds all eyes turn toward a quiet man with secrets of his own. Ernst Lang fled Germany in 1934. Once a brute, a soldier, a leader of the Nazi party, he has renounced aggression and embraces a peaceful obscurity. But Lang is haunted by an impossible past. He remembers his own execution and the extremes of sex and violence that led to it. He remembers the men he led into battle, the men he seduced, and the men who betrayed him. But are these the memories of a man given a second life, or the delusions of a lunatic?

Review by Erastes

It took me a good while to read this book, since I started it in July 2011 and finished it in December! In my defence I wasn’t reading it all the time, I don’t read that slowly, honest. It was that I was expecting it to all go a lot darker than it did (although it does go to some dark places) and I’m happy that my anticipation didn’t match what actually happened. Although, as I say, it’s not full of fluffy rabbits.

Ok, so basically it’s set in 1944 in a smallish Texan town and is told in three different POVs:

Tom Rabbit: the sherrif. 3rd person past tense.

The German: first person diary entry

Tim Randall: first person past tense.

Now, don’t let this put you off, as it’s absolutely the best way to tell this convoluted and highly interesting story. Like many places in America, the small town has a German community and suddenly young men are dying in horribly mutilated ways and evidence found on the bodies points to the fact that it’s a German murderer. Thus begins an exquisite tale of paranoia, prejudice and a study of how a community can tear itself apart under all sorts of justification.

The German of the title is Ernst, who is clearly a troubled, and yet a good man at heart. He writes in his journal of his past–memories of serving in an army, commanding man, many many men, and a betrayal, a court martial and–and here’s where it’s delightfully opaque–an execution which he seems to have survived, despite the terrible bullet scars on his body. He lives across the street from Tim Randall, an ordinary young man growing up in a small town and with his father overseas serving in the war, at daily threat from “the Krauts”.

Tim’s interaction with Ernst is light. Tim is curious about his neighbour but he doesn’t bother him, although when they do meet up Ernst tries to educate the boy about prejudice and hate. Sadly, although at first Tim appears to see the sense in this, his father is declared “missing in action” and Tim’s grief and fear is channelled in the only way it could be at this time and place–directly towards Ernst.

I loved the feeling of paranoia and claustrophobia here. The way Ernst is pretty much trammelled and keeps to himself for very clear reasons. He frequents a bar from time to time but mostly stays indoors or sits on the porch or swims in the lake. He does have male company occasionally although for most of the book this is with men who are disgusted with their own urges–which puts Ernst off from wanting to see them again.

The interaction between the sheriff and Ernst was masterful. Ernst so clearly in control and almost a little bored with the interrogation–he’s been interrogated before and by masters of the art after all. His frankness to the sheriff about his sexuality was a brilliant stroke–and the effect it had on the countrified and rather naive sheriff was an interesting study.

It’s not a pretty story in any aspect, nor is it meant to be, nor should it be, so be warned that the violence is graphic and literal and shocking. This is entirely right because it is shocking, what happens and who it happens to and why. It’s a terrible but sadly true indictment of human behaviour, beautifully observed and told with true skill.

If I have one quibble, it was the epilogue–the character it portrays didn’t strike me as having learned the lessons that he said he learned and it didn’t really ring true from what we’d seen on the pages previously. However that’s just a small quibble and won’t affect the score because the remainder of the epilogue was note perfect.

Just a note on the cover and the design. I’ve noticed with Lethe Press before that they take real pains over the design of their books. Not merely the covers–this one is perfect–but the font, and the design of the headers inside. It probably won’t show on e-readers, but the headings in this book are just amazingly good, and add another dimension to the book, and I wouldn’t have thought that was possible. So well done, Lethe Press.

Yes, there is — perhaps — an element of the paranormal here, but as it is completely subjective, I’m not hesitating to review it on the site and to recommend it to anyone.

Author’s website

Amazon UK      Amazon USA (available in print and ebook)

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: The Psychic and the Sleuth by Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon

Trusting a psychic flash might solve a mystery…and lead to love.

Inspector Robert Court should have felt a sense of justice when a rag-and-bones man went to the gallows for murdering his cousin. Yet something has never felt right about the investigation. Robert’s relentless quest for the truth has annoyed his superintendent, landing him lowly assignments such as foiling a false medium who’s fleecing the wives of the elite.

Oliver Marsh plays the confidence game of spiritualism, though his flashes of insight often offer his clients some comfort. Despite the presence of an attractive, if sneering, non-believer at a séance, he carries on—and experiences a horrifying psychic episode in which he experiences a murder as the victim.

There’s only one way for Court to learn if the young, dangerously attractive Marsh is his cousin’s killer or a real psychic: spend as much time with him as possible. Despite his resolve to focus on his job, Marsh somehow manages to weave a seductive spell around the inspector’s straight-laced heart.

Gradually, undeniable attraction overcomes caution. The two men are on the case, and on each other, as they race to stop a murderer before he kills again.  

Review by Erastes

I ummed and ahhed about reviewing this one, because it does have some paranormal aspects (spiritualism) but I’ve decided that this could be treated in the same way as ghosts – the only other paranormal theme we accept – because it could be subjective and brought on by other reasons, such as split personalities  etc.

This book continues this writing partnership’s run of titles with similar names, The Nobleman and the Spy, The Gentleman and the Rogue–there’s endless fodder here and long may they continue to do them.

If you enjoyed either of the last titles, then you’ll certainly enjoy this. The thing is that although the titles are similar and there might be the danger that the authors would find it easy to slip into a pattern of plot that would be highly predictable they are to be commended that they don’t do that at all.

This, quite apart from the gay romance within it, is a good Victorian sleuth story which stands firmly on its own two feet. You could remove the gay romance and the detective story would still be viable, and that’s needed in the genre, too many stories simply concentrate on the meeting and eventual falling in love.

Yes, there’s instant attraction on both sides, and this attraction is acted on pretty soon, and both parties start to realise they are becoming fonder of each other than is wise, but the detective story runs neatly parallel to this at a good pace, deflecting us from simply concentrating on the uncertain love affair. This makes the balance of the book great and therefore accessible to more than just people who want gay sex stories.

The sex is nicely written, with a BDSM theme. I’m not a fan of the trope, and find it odd that so many gay books have it–far higher percentage of men in fiction indulge than do in real life, I’m sure, but what there is is nicely done. At least for me with little knowledge of the lifestyle. It’s most definitely “play” and the bottom is the top, which is how it should be. There was one scene where–for me–it tipped from sexy to rather giggle worthy, but I am 12 and I’m sure others won’t be as juvenile as me.

There are many secondary characters here, as befits a sleuthing story, and each one is given the necessary weight as suspicion shifts from person to person. As well the suspects there is a veritable line-up of society matrons, simpering hopefuls for the bachelor Court’s affections and Dickensian work colleagues.

What I liked most is that both characters, whilst developing in their personality throughout, both for the better, remained true to their core beliefs. Robert is a copper, to his bootstraps and he was sent to investigate Oliver’s mediuming (don’t think that’s a word!) and the way he deals with it after Oliver becomes his lover is entirely in character. Similarly, the authors give Oliver a need to want to help people, and he’s never been comfortable conning them, although he’s been very clever never to actually do anything that could be proved to be fraudulent.

I would have liked to have seen a little more of Oliver’s original business, as he seemed to give it up altogether very quickly.

One thing that jarred for me–and again, I know that some readers love this device–was the sex scene that was put in after the denouement and the concluding sections. It seemed really jammed in and it added nothing to the plot, and my criteria has always been with sex scenes, if you can lift them out and they don’t cause a ripple, they didn’t belong there in the first place.

However, despite a couple of tiny niggles, it’s a really enjoyable read, and if you like Victoriana, crime fiction and anything written by this dynamic duo, then you’ll like this with great big brass knobs on.

The score doesn’t reflect it, but for shame, Samhain–surely you could have done a better job on the cover than that? Elasticated boxers? So much scope with lovely Victorian scenes and clothes and we get disconnected naked guys and a Matt Bomer lookalike.

Authors’ websites: Bonnie DeeSummer Devon

Buy: Amazon UK  Amazon USA  Samhain

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

Amazon UK   Amazon USA  Torquere

Review: Half a Man by Scarlet Blackwell

Traumatised by the nightmare of trench warfare in France, Robert Blake turns to rent boy Jack Anderson for solace. Neither man expects their business relationship to go quite so far.

It is 1919, less than a year after the end of the First World War with a recovering Britain in the grip of the influenza pandemic. Crippled veteran of the Somme battle, Robert Blake, is looking for someone to ease his nightmares of France and his guilt over what happened to his commanding officer. He turns to educated rent boy Jack Anderson for physical solace, not expecting how deeply the two soon become immersed in each other’s lives.

Review by Erastes

Rather a touching premise, a tart with a heart and a man paralysed from the waist down. You don’t at first (or rather I didn’t) twig that Jack Anderson is a prostitute but I suppose these days he’d be called an escort. He provides companionship and relief if needed from discreet and wealthy men. He hasn’t been soured by his life as a renter, and is both professional and attentive.

He’s called to the house of Robert Blake, who we discover is in a wheelchair. The two men meet once a week, a little tea and cakes, some sex and after a week or so they realise that they are becoming fond of each other.

It started well, and I was encouraged that this was something a little different, even though the tropes are well known, but sadly enough the men soon started to weep all over the place and to once they got into bed the old fanfic favourite chestnut of  “Come for me, [name here] both trends in m/m which I’m thoroughly tired of.

I liked both protagonists, Robert particularly because he seriously thought he was entirely useless to anyone being in the state he was and many men did–and do–think like this. Legs and cock not working=end of the world, and I can understand this. The interactions between them–and I don’t mean just the sex scenes which are detailed and many–are well done and believable when there’s no crying going on.

I enjoyed the read, but it’s not a keeper for me, I’m afraid.

However, it’s well-written, and thoroughly romantic with very little conflict so I’m sure that the readers of a more romantic brand of gay historicals will like it a lot. It’s not so over-the-top romantic as to spoil the story, so I did enjoy it. I also enjoyed that the ending was left a little in flux, and that Robert’s problem wasn’t magically cured entirely by all the gay sex.

Overall, well worth a try-out.

Author’s website

Silver Publishing

Review: Pirates by G.A. Hauser

Justin Alexander Taylor had always dreamed of a life at sea. Living on the tip of England’s coastline, Justin escaped one night from his abusive father and stowed away on a ship. What Justin didn’t realize was the sloop, His Revenge, was a pirate ship, out for a broadside and gold. Captain Richard Jones escaped his own life of hell with the British Royal Navy. Leading the group of ragged men to their next adventure, Captain Jones never expected a stowaway to emerge from the bowels of the ship while they were asea. As the captain sought to protect Justin from the violent crew, a friendship blooms between him and his young charge. Soon immersed in bloody battles with Spanish galleons, the two men form a close bond which is about to be tested. Justin knew he would be in for an adventure when he left England, he just didn’t know he would find the love of his life in the process.

Spoilers ahoy!

Review by Alex Beecroft

This is quite an ambitious book, and a long one. At 223 pages it has more plot than most of the m/m Age of Sail books I’ve been reviewing recently. A quick run down of the story is going to take quite some space: Continue reading

Review: It Takes Two by Elliott Mackle


A “who and why-done-it” mystery set in 1940s Florida, Dan Ewing is the manager of the Caloosa Hotel, which privately caters to the very special needs of its guests, and Bud Wright is a police detective whose passionate desire for Dan is in conflict with his desire to shut Dan’s business down. When one black man and one white man are suddenly killed in an apparent murder suicide, Dan and Bud find themselves up against local business, political and religious leaders as they are entrenched in one small southern town’s deeply hidden secrets.

Now reissued in print and ebook by Lethe Press – 2012

Review by Erastes

One of the reviews I’ve seen for this book calls it a “gay romance for grown ups” and that’s not a bad assessment. It starts with an existing ‘affair’ between Bud and Dan. However, whereas Dan is happy in his skin and knows his sexuality and is comfortable with it, Bud is most certainly not.  Not only is Bud a cop, and understandably cautious to be around Dan, but he’s bisexual with a preference for men, and he’s fighting it.

This is 1949 Florida, and both men were in the services in World War 2.  Bud was a “jarhead” – a grunt, a marine; going where he was sent, doing what he was told to do. He’s highly decorated and not particularly unsettled by the war. Dan however, having been on the Indianapolis when it was torpedoed by the Japanese, and having spent four days drifting in a lifeboat with dead bodies and sharks all around, and no food or water–has re-occuring nightmares and no wonder!  The fact that he lost the first man that he loved on that ship too, compounds his mental damage.  Both men use devices to justify why they like the other–Bud calls Dan “Coach” because he reminds him of a schoolboy crush he once had, and Dan feels that, as he doesn’t have the nightmares when Bud’s around, it must mean something special.

But Bud is skittish, he’s obviously hugely attracted, and very fond of Dan, but he uses every excuse not to admit to himself that this is anything more than mutual relief.  Even the language the men use distances themselves from the fact that they are in a relationship.  “Mixing it up” and “fooling around” and never “making love,” or even “having sex.” Dan is a lot more pragmatic; he likes Bud, he wants Bud and he knows Bud is keen on him, and sexually attracted to him and he gets frustrated that Bud is often so dismissive and often insulting–saying he’s not a fruit and neither is Dan.

There’s a lot of Non-PC language (and attitudes)  in this book, but it’s all perfectly in place. You expect people of this era to use language that would be entirely unacceptable today. But be warned if you aren’t able to read about realism in this time and place.

Another major reason why Bud is nervous of getting involved with Dan is that Dan is the manager of the Caloosa Hotel. On the outside, a prosperous and ordinary hotel, dealing with the higher end of the market, but on the inside it has a private club where anything goes, depending on what the customer wants.  It’s owned by Dan’s old Admiral who picked Dan up from the whore-pits of Asia after the war and brought him home.  In this position, Dan is buffered from the local law enforcement–they know what goes on, and what Dan is (and many other employees are) but the organised crime of the area keeps Dan more at arm’s length from this.  Obviously Bud has a problem with this–but he also sees the corruption in his own police department and can’t decide which is worse.

Bud’s reticence and continuing resistence to Dan eventually pushes the relationship to breaking point and it’s there that decisions have to be made.

Add to all this a good sexually motivated double-interracial murder with questions on all sides: Who killed whom? Who was shagging whom? And a cast of characters both “straight laced and then some” and otherwise, camp bartenders, sexy priests and the Ku Klux Klan threatening the hotel, it all adds up to a great fast paced read with a romance so masculine you just want to smack their heads together and tell them to fucking TALK to each other. (Which of course they never do.)

Mr Mackle really writes what he knows. As a homosexual member of the armed forces, his inside knowledge rings very true, particularly dealing with the memories of Dan’s time in the navy.  Highly recommended and certainly one book that needs a boost and a lot more attention. As far as I can see it’s now out of print which is criminal.  Go buy!

Author’s Website (one of the best I’ve seen)

Buy at Lethe Press

Review: Black Wade by Franze & Andärle

Graphic Novel

Dreaded pirate Black Wade has a cruel mind and an explosive sexuality. His mercilessness is legendary, but it wavers when he encounters the young and warm-hearted English officer Jack Wilkins. these two absolutely different men are prisoners to their fate. overwhelmed by their passion they unite in a fight for freedom and love.

Review by Erastes

Age of sail pedants, abandon ship.  But everyone else, climb aboard for a fruity and surprisingly touching naughty-cal romp. (Yes, I know. I’m shameless.)

The review is under a cut because I’ve included pictures which are not for minors. Continue reading

Review: Loyal to His King by Sabb

Bahador is caught up in a losing battle and flees but fleeing is probably as dangerous as staying, because he is soon in the enemies camp–a prisoner. That night the Hittite general, Katuzili, uses him as a sexual toy and introduces him to his traitorous friend.

But Bahador is not lacking in courage or resoucefulness, and hearing their plots to destroy his beloved king he uses trickery to escape and warn his people and his king. When he arrives with his warnings though, it is he who is looked upon as a traitor and must prove his honestly and loyalty to the man he loves above all others.

Review by Erastes

“Have that slave washed and sent to my tent” is a stock joke in romance fiction, and this is story is plot-wise, exactly that.  Bahador lives in sometime BC somewhere–never explained–and is fighting the Hittites.  A quick Google I knew as much as I needed to know for purposes of this rape fantasy short story.

And rape fantasy it certainly is, as Bahador is no sooner gang raped and taken roughly from behind by a group of soldiers than he’s ‘rescued’ by a nobleman who issues the immortal line “Take him to my tent.”  I punched the air in glee, I didn’t think people actually said that outside my evil fantasy.  There is a plot here, of sorts, although highly silly–not only does the conquering nobleman speak his plans out loud in Bahador’s own language in front of him, but then falls asleep and Bahador easily steals clothes and nips out of the tent, grabs a chariot – all unseen by any of the hundreds of soldiers milling about and gets back to his king’s camp. All interspersed with lots of rape and sex.

The history, unsurprisingly, doesn’t hang together–the Hittite King Mursili (there were two) ruled in 1500BC and 1300BC respectively.  And the Perisan Daric coin mentioned wasn’t introduced until mid 500BC.  Picky I know, but the facts should mesh, however short and wallpaper the historical, in my opinion.

Added to that, the editing leaves much to be desired, but as Excessica is, basically a self-publishing model, that’s not unusual. “Reigns” instead of “reins” just one example, and one of the character’s names is in quote marks throughout which is very odd.

So, if rape fantasy is your bag, then it’s probably worth while spending $3 on this short story (40 pages) but otherwise I’d stay away.

Author’s Website

Buy at Excessica

Review: The Bad and the Beautiful by Jamie Craig

It’s 1955, Las Vegas is swinging, and David Lonergan has the chance of a lifetime when he accompanies his cousin to be the headlining act at the Thunderbird Casino. A pianist who cut his teeth in the jazz clubs of Chicago, David is dazzled by the lights, the music, and the anything goes attitude of Las Vegas. But he’s not knocked off his feet until he meets Vincent “Shorty” Accardo.

Vincent is a full-time bodyguard and sometimes hitman for the mob controlled casino. He doesn’t indulge his interest in men very often, but there’s something different about David from the moment they meet. He’s attracted to David’s talent, his surprising innocence, and his easy smile. There are a million reasons to stay away from the young piano player, but Vincent can’t help himself. Even when there are lives at risk.

Review by Erastes

There seems to be a little flurry of show-biz books recently, and I for one am happy as hell about that, as there’s such a lot of potential in it.

Although the set-up is pretty standard–guy meets guy straight away and starts to fantasize about him–Jamie Craig doesn’t disappoint with setting the scene.  Whether it’s Hollywood or the Wild West, Craig (for those who don’t know, Craig is a writing partnership) always paints her backdrop in with meticulous detail, deep enough to make you feel you are there, but light enough to avoid the laundry list approach.  The historical detail is sparse enough not to swamp and correct enough for the purist.

However, I can’t say that I was entirely convinced by the initial banter — in public — between David and Vince.  For a mobster bodyguard to be talking so openly in 1955 – even in the more ‘anything goes’ area of Vegas didn’t strike me as very true.   Both men are from deepest Chicago, too, and while I didn’t want an entire dialogue written in dialect, (no thanks!)  a mere flavour of the speech patterns that these men would converse in with each other would have helped to season the story a little more, and make me believe they were from the mob-life in Chicago, their speech was just too ordinary to flavour the story enough.

The risk factor–the whole “black hand” thing–(threatening notes from the Mafia) came out of the blue, for me.  There was no foreshadowing, and as David has come to Vegas to be under Moretti’s protection (as the accompanist and cousin of Moretti’s girlfriend) and Moretti was such a hard man, I didn’t understand

1. why they were targeting him and

2. why on EARTH he didn’t take the notes to Moretti.    He uses the excuse that Kate would worry – but as she’s DATING Moretti, and she’s a singer from Chicago, she’d be unlikely not to know who Moretti was and what he could do…  It works, in the scheme of things, but I’d have liked a little more intro–perhaps a scene with Moretti and Vincent discussing the rivalries in existence before the extortion notes were received, not after.

The two major characters are nicely disparate; Vincent always has his eye on the main chance and he finds David surprisingly untouched.  I had to agree with Vince, here – specially as David’s cousin was dating a mob boss, he did come over as a little unrealistically innocent. He comes over as the “woman” needing to be protected. This is shored up by some of the prose which puts David into a feminine role:

David whimpered. That was the only word for it. One of his hands fluttered at Vincent’s waist before finally settling along the hip. The touch was fragile, like David wasn’t sure he wouldn’t get his wrist snapped for trying, and Vincent pushed harder, erasing once and for all any doubts David might have had about his interest.

There’s some nice touches of history–which is always expected with Craig, I know they do their research–like the mention of The Moulin Rouge being the first desegregated casino in Vegas.  The sex scenes are very hot too, the build up to the first one, and the first one particularly, which doesn’t shy away from the discomfort losing your anal virginity can cause. The second half of the book I felt was stronger than the first, although I could never get my head around the contradiction of David: Chicago raised innocent who is more disturbed by the guilt of sodomy rather than Vince murdering people.

On a purely personal note, I don’t understand Amber Allure’s decision to copy famous titles of films/books.  Perhaps they think that people are going to come to the line because they haven’t heard of the more famous counterparts but this seems pretty impossible.  In the long run, it seems to invite unwarranted criticism.  This book was good enough to stand on its own merits, as Jamie Craig’s invariably have been.

To sum up, it’s an enjoyable read with a lot of punch.  It wasn’t my favourite of Jamie Craig’s works, and it didn’t have the same fluidity of plot or solid characterisation in it that other books by Craig does –  but I liked it a lot, nevertheless – it just won’t be a keeper.

Author’s Website

Buy at Amber Allure

Review: A Taste of Honey by Christiane France

Antoine Auguste, Marquis de Vernnay, is twenty-four and bored. Bored with women at the house he frequents on la rue Charles V, and bored with the elaborate rituals and devices he must use in order to achieve an orgasm. But then he meets Honey at an exclusive men’s club, and has his first sexual experience with another man. One taste of this beautiful, young creole man with the golden skin and Antoine’s life is forever changed. Honey is the only person he can think about and the only person he wants. Honey, however, is a servant of the lowest class, and also the property of another man. Can Antoine discover a way he can separate the two and keep Honey all to himself?

Review by Erastes

We are introduced to our hero on the first page, trying to wank (and failing) in his mother’s bedroom.  This was not a good start, as I found this rather distasteful and not a little icky.  Be warned for those of you who run screaming at the mention of heterosexual practices, that–up to now–Antoine has been shagging women and hasn’t found it very fulfilling (although he’s tried damned hard!), and his mastubatory fantasies are all about women.  He’s friends with the Maquis de Sade who has initiated him into the “delights” of causing pain-and Antoine is disgusted that the women he’s tried these on aren’t properly grateful.

he would have thought they understood a little pain increased their mutual pleasure a thousand-fold. But no, the merest touch of the whip on their delicate little backsides, the sight of the tiniest drop of blood, or the odor of burning pussy-hair from the brush of a hot poker, and they were screaming for madame, and madame was doubling, and sometimes even tripling her fees, then threatening to send for the police if it happened again.

Plus the fact he’s not a young man. He’s twenty four, (almost middle aged in the 18th/19th century and at his age you’d think he’d be a little more grown up instead of behaving like a sulky 17 year old.  All this sadly put me at odds against him, but I hoped that’s what the author was attempting to achieve.

His dissatisfied thoughts lead him–rather oddly, I thought–to wondering whether he’d have more luck with men (lucky men! /sarcasm)   He doesn’t do this because he considers himself to have desires in that direction, though.  It’s just he wants:

…something new and different—new friends and new amusements, and different avenues of pleasure to pursue.

However, help is at hand. His manservant needs no more than a hint that his master wants something less boring and immediately he suggests a club for men of that sort.

I found it rather staggering that, when the inevitable hook-up between the first man who approaches Antoine (coincidentally the man who is going to be the love of his life) happens, it happens in the middle of the room of the club!  They have each others’ cocks out in seconds, Honey’s finger is half way inside Antoine and they aren’t even in a booth or a private room.

Within minutes of them actually going to a private room, Honey is pushing his cock into Antoine. No preparation, no lubricant nothing.  While I know that, from discussions on various blogs, this is possible–I found it idiotic that a marquis would 1. allow it and the loss of status it entailed and 2. not be screaming in pain as he’s a virgin.

Of course the painful experience is hugely enjoyable.

[Honey]…was now pumping in and out of Antoine’s back entrance with a powerful thrust Antoine found more satisfying than anything he’d experienced with a woman.

Which I found odd because surely the women didn’t shag Antoine? Perhaps that’s what he actually wanted all along.

He returns again wanting to be touched by Honey and no-one but Honey.  Why? I wondered – how does he know “only Honey” can give him what he needs?  It all seemed rather odd.  There’s a seemingly huge angst section afterwards before the plot moves along and more than that I won’t spoil you – the book is less than 70 pages (on Microsoft Reader) so there’s not much plot to spoil.

However, I have to say I didn’t enjoy the book at all.  While not being badly written (apart from the sex scenes which struck me as rather bleak, clinical and non-erotic in the extreme) I couldn’t warm to Antoine in the slightest. He lurches from spoiled brat to frustrated spoiled brat and that’s about it, and I wasn’t won over by him and the way he thought he was in love after one painful shag.  There’s a lot of repetitive angst and sections which simply ask for suspension of disbelief.  One minute he’s worrying about how dangerous France is, politically, the next he’s getting his cock out in public. We are told that Honey is the “property” of an English lord which is errant bilge–although I think the author didn’t actually mean to imply that Honey is a slave, that’s how it comes over in the book and the blurb.

The denouement is little better, and considers more suspension of belief, I’m afraid, and I really felt that I’d wasted an hour of my time, so apart from the actual writing which isn’t that bad, I can’t find anything in this book to recommend, as the plot is weak, the history pretty much non-existent and the erotica not very erotic.

Amber Allure

Review: The Wages of Sin by Alex Beecroft

Charles Latham, wastrel younger son of the Earl of Clitheroe, returns home drunk from the theatre to find his father gruesomely dead. He suspects murder. But when the Latham ghosts turn nasty, and Charles finds himself falling in love with the priest brought in to calm them, he has to unearth the skeleton in the family closet before it ends up killing them all.

Review by Erastes

Anyone familiar with Beecroft’s writing will know that she has turned her hand successfully to Georgian Age of Sail and also fantasy. To blend the Georgian era–about which she is superbly knowledgeable–with a phantasmagorical element seems a very logical next step.

The story is included in The Mysterious a trio of stories including others by Josh Lanyon and Laura Baumbach. However, The Wages of Sin (which, incidentally, if you are interested, seem to be more sin, happily) is available as a standalone title. As the title suggests it’s a mystery, and right from the first chapter it had me guessing, and in no time at all I was thoroughly spooked out, baffled, and enjoying myself hugely.

If you love the deeply Gothic, then this will certainly be your cup of horror, as the book positively drips with it. The protagonist, Charles–the rather dissolute second son of the Earl of Clitheroe appears in the first chapter, slightly worse for wear from a drunken night out and proceeds with the thoroughly mundane task of putting his horse in the stables. However, a head full of drink, the eerie dark, his conversation about vampires with his friends, and what he thinks is his imagination (at first) takes over and before long he’s encountering something that I’m sure many of us have encountered, a sudden dread of the real unknown. Shades of Udolpho shudder out from the hidden places: from the echo of the horse’s hooves on the cobbles, to terrifying shadows on the ivy, to an unease that can’t be explained and then something happens both horrible and inexplicable–which is passed off as being very explicable in no time at all, lulling us into a false sense of security.

If you are looking for a formula romance then this certainly isn’t it. If you looking for a light and frothy read, then this probably isn’t for you. Beecroft’s prose–always lavish and descriptive–is given full rein here: no fabric is undescribed, no ornamentation or wig left unnoticed. Any lover of antiques will positively wallow in the furniture and the trinkets. Historical purists will revel in the fact that the men are wearing as much–or more–make-up than the ladies and are dressed in just as much lace and peacock-bright finery. From a lesser writer, this layer upon layer of description might seem injudicious or heavy handed, but Beecroft’s skill merely brings this slightly more alien Georgian world than than the familiar Regency we know so well, to vivid, sensual life. You feel you are walking down those polished, creaking floors, that if you were to touch that lace, or brocade, you’d know just how it felt on your skin, you are left in no doubt that the clothes are unsuitable for just about every pursuit other than polite conversation, and that to be pilloried, or caught in the rain in a powdered wig are things you’re really glad you’ll never have to suffer.

The relationship–I hesitate to call it a romance, as the ending leaves Beecroft open to write more about these characters–ably shows why gay romance, and particularly gay historical romance baulks from being shoe-horned into a formula that readers of hetero romances have become used to. From what we can glean from the historical record homosexual men would often take their pleasure quickly on the slimmest of encouragements and so it is here; due to the length constraints of the novella it’s difficult to have a dignified wooing, so the pair tumble into a connection which is primarily sexual–it’s not until the end that Charles begins to wonder and hope if there’s any future for them both. This grabbing of touches and kisses where they can, and where they hope they are safe, adds to the tension of the book which is unremitting throughout.

I absolutely loved the protagonists: Charles, with his clever mind and impetuous youth, who gets to grow up fast and learn things about himself and his family which change him for the better, and the delicious mysterious, conflicted Jasper with his own inner demons, his filial loyalty and his fingers in the butter. 🙂 The minor characters are rarely short-changed; the sister Elizabeth is quite masterly, the Admiral–I really loved the description of him–made me laugh with his silly feud with Charles’ father, and even the one-line servants are vibrant and believable. The only character that I didn’t really get a real line on, was Charles’ brother, George–he’s a little two-dimensional and his motives muddied – but that’s possibly because Charles is a lot younger than him, and they are not close. Plus I feel there’s more of this story yet to be told.

The book made some valid social comment, too–after a tragedy with a servant there’s an exasperated rant from Elizabeth about the inconvenience it will cause this close to Christmas which made me laugh. (Although it really wasn’t funny.)

The language overall is rich, and gives a real sense of being there, rather than simply reading about it. The mystery is beautifully paced, if you are anything like me you’ll have to read it at least twice to work out how you’ve been gulled, how you didn’t notice the clues being laid out there for all to see, and I happily went charging off in the wrong direction, which for me is the mark of a good mystery.

I did notice a couple of minor typos, and although the language was English English (colour etc) I did notice the dreaded whiskey sneak in. Once or twice I had to re-read sections to fully comprehend who the “he” was – an all too easy trap with gay romance, but it really only was once or twice. Sometimes the dialogue was a bit too modern, and clashed with the prose. The cover is horrible too, imho–for some reason known only to itself, MLR seems to favour covers with headless torsos and a jumble of out of focus images. but I’m being uber-picky–like a judge in the final of Strictly Come Dancing/Dancing with the Stars who criticises the angle of the shoulders in a 10 point performance.

I’m not sure if it’s called “The Wages of Sin” or just “Wages of Sin” as I’ve seen covers with both titles. No matter – whatever it is, it’s an utterly spellbinding and spooky read, a cracking mystery and a really lush piece of Gothic literature.

Buy at Manloveromance

Review: Seducing Stephen by Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon

What does a jaded earl see in a studious, shy man? Everything he never knew he was missing. Their first, scorching hot sessions were about passion, not love, but now Peter is desperate to win back the young man he spurned.

Review by Erastes

This book sort of took me by surprise. First of all, the title doesn’t really fit the book–because I was expecting that it would be about…yanno…seducing Stephen, but considering that Stephen gives it up to the Earl on the first page, he didn’t exactly need seducing! I thought that I was in for a good old sexy romp and not much else, but that’s where I was (happily) wrong, and slowly and surely an interesting and quite psychological little drama emerged from something looks at first glance to be filled with cliché and trope.

First lines are important – and this book has a great one.

“Gads, there’s a boy in my bed. It’s Christmas come early.”

The beginning is amusing and engaging and despite my misgivings I was drawn in, rather fascinated as to why the Earl expected a young man to be in his bed, or at least wasn’t at all surprised. This is soon explained!

As for a good old sexy romp–yes, we get that too. There’s a large chunk of sex, specially at the beginning, but each sex scene has a part to play and marks the progress in the burgeoning affair between Stephen and Peter. As the blurb already hints the affair starts as sex and then moves into more complicated territory and that’s the nice surprise; it could have easily have been nothing more than a sex-progression story, but for a small book it packs a lot more punch. There’s a bit too much “hardening” every time one or the other of them sees the other, or looks at the other but I suppose these things do happen, but sometimes it smacks of satyriasis rather than anything erotic.

I loved the progression of the romance–and for me there was a touch of Dangerous Liaisons at one point, where one of the characters did something really hurtful (even though it was because he considered to be best for both of them.) Sadly, due to the length of the book, this really wasn’t given enough time to develop as much as I would have liked–but it worked pretty well but in this respect it should have been called “Educating Peter” to be honest.

Two of the most memorable characters are a couple that make a brief appearance; two delightful old queens, Foxworthy and Wainwright, who have been living together all their lives, in public view and daring the consequences. I was so pleased to meet these characters because with gay historicals it’s more often the conflict that is the essence of the book–because a book must have conflict–and we forget all too often that some men were lucky enough to live together.

“Ah, to be young and in love.” Foxworthy chuckled. “I don’t envy you the ups and downs, Northrup, not even for the extra passion they engender.”

A little small talk and gossip later, Peter took his leave, noting the tenderness with which Timothy grasped Gilbert’s arm and helped him rise from his chair.

‘You may not envy me, you old codger, but I believe I envy you.’

On the con side – it badly needed a firm Brit Picking. Many non-Brit readers will probably not care, but for those who like their English-set stories to feel English, be warned. Having Stephen’s “ass” pounded just brings up images of donkey mistreatment that I’d rather not have. How can you tell if someone is comparing you to his rear end or his donkey if you don’t differentiate between arse and ass? There are many other Americanisms, such as gotten, whiskey, to name but two and I can’t help it, I get jolted. There were a couple of instances of “bum” too – which always makes me laugh; it’s like someone heard the word on a show and thinks that what English people actually say. Please don’t use this word, unless your knight is asking you if his bum looks big in his armour. (not seriously.)

A few mistakes in the history/details too, “matriculation” doesn’t mean to graduate out of a university, as it’s used here. The foxtrot didn’t exist pre 1914. Little mistakes which again, a harsher editor would have ferreted out.

I would have preferred a more definite sense of time, too. I knew it was probably Victorian (if only from the cover, as the Great Clock Tower of the Houses of Parliament was built in 1859) and after the instigation of railways between London and Cambridge – but there was nothing in the story to ground me until Peter’s visit to Foxworthy and Wainwright. That was the first mention of a date, and that was over half way through the book.

But all in all this book is far more than it seems, a little TARDIS of a novel, if you like. Don’t be fooled by what it looks like at first glance. There’s a really nice character-fuelled story here, and characters with real feelings, pride, idiocy – people who make mistakes and say stupid things and regret them. People who hurt each other for good reasons – and for reasons perhaps more selfish.

I’ll certainly be looking out for any future historicals these authors do, that’s for sure.

Bonnie Dee’s website Summer Devon’s website

Buy at Loose ID

Review: How the West Was Done by various

In these eleven steamy stories, the archetypal image of the cowboy is given a fresh new spin as the virile man who shares his mind, his passion…and his body with other cowboys. Whether it’s a story set in the Wild West of the 1800s or an exploration of the modern-day cowboy, each author takes the cowboy fantasy to new erotic heights.
From award-winning authors to fresh new voices, HOW THE WEST WAS DONE is sure to please anyone looking for tales of denim and leather, cowboys and Indians, real men and the men they love. So, saddle up for a fascinating ride in to the past, where the men who sought to settle the west also sought out the most primal pleasures.
With hot action and fast-paced storytelling, this ultimate collection will have you wanting to ride off into the sunset. And not alone…

Review by Aleksandr Voinov

It’s almost pointless reviewing this, so I’ll keep it short. This is a collection of 11 cowboy-centric stories, ranging from historical to modern. The best story in the collection is a contemporary, but its not of interest on this blog, so I have to leave it out. The others range from ‘solid’ (three stars) to ‘laughable’ (one star).

Clearly, when choosing the stories, the main point was to feed the cowboy fetish. So, every story features a long sex scene (or several), which is most often framed with the flimsiest excuses for stories. This collection stands proudly (I guess) between its porn movie brothers – plots like “you broke my windshield, now suck my dick” wouldn’t be out of place in this collection. I’ve read much worse porn, and if you like cowboy porn, absolutely, by all means, go for it. You’ll find modern men in cowboy gear getting it on, your usual western cliches, enormous dicks and relentless fucking with the usual porn ‘dialogue’ and porn ‘plot’, and I’m using both terms with a lot of room for discretion.

Enjoy.

Even the ‘historical stories’ feature modern men. Dropping in a few facts about the American Civil War or a reference to some historical thing or other doesn’t make any story really historical. These are modern men, with modern thoughts, that they express in modern ways, which makes this porn in period costumes. And that’s pretty much it.

Taken and read as ‘just porn’, these are okay. I’ve read much better, I’ve read much worse. They accomplish what they want to accomplish, but not one of the historical stories left a positive impression, and many of them left negative ones, whether they were funny, bizarre, trying very hard and falling short, or working a kink I don’t really share.

Fine as porn, not recommended from the historical perspective.

Buy at Ravenous Romance

Review: Lavender Boys by S.E. Taylor

Brock Evans heads for Hollywood in 1935, hoping to be the next Clark Gable, and meets another would-be star in Randy Pearce, who works as a soda jerk while awaiting his big break. It’s love at first sight, just like in the movies. But the path to stardom in Hollywood is not quite that easy. Brock finds a job as a florist shop delivery man and gets to meet some of Hollywood’s favorites, one of which finally gets him a screen test at a major studio.

Randy finds an agent who gets him a screen test, too. It turns out Randy is a ‘natural,’ but the big studios don’t want any more homosexual male stars after some previous bad experiences. What kind of Hollywood ending is in store for Randy and Brock, who are hiding their romance, their secret trips to the Lavender Lounge homosexual bar, and their homosexual boss and landlord with whom they live?

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

Having just read a very good story about Hollywood in the fifties (Sticks and Stones, reviewed here) I was looking forward to Lavender Boys, hoping it would live up to the same standard. Alas, it didn’t. The story was unrealistic, predictable, silly, and not very well written. This is the author’s first book and it is always exciting to test the unknown waters of a new writer, especially in the genre of historical m/m fiction. It saddens me, then, when the book is not one I can recommend which is the case with Lavender Boys.

The synopsis, above, pretty much tells the whole story, except for the anti-climactic and unrealistic HEA ending. Basically, Brock and Randy meet, instantly fall in love, and set out together on their big Hollywood adventure. They have one lucky break after another. Even when things don’t work out quite right—such as when Brock blows the screen test arranged for him as a favor by Myrna Loy—it doesn’t really matter because it is just a sign that that was not how things were meant to be. No sadness, no introspection, just an “Oh well, golly gee, at least we have each other!” and on to the next adventure. Any time conflict or danger threatens their lives, it is dealt with in a paragraph or two, meaning the reader doesn’t have to suffer any angst, either, just like Randy and Brock.

Hollywood circa 1935 is evoked by dropping famous names throughout the book. Joan Crawford, Myrna Loy, Fred Astaire, Cary Grant and others I am forgetting (there were dozens of them) all make guest appearances. They all love Randy and Brock because they are as cute as buttons and besides, Brock looks just like Clark Gable! This is a source of endless amusement to the stars and the basis of more than one practical joke. It’s a pretty open secret that Randy and Brock are lovers—not too hard to figure out since they call each other “Baby” and “Sugar” every single time they open their mouths, no matter who they are with or what they are doing—but the stars are all willing to look the other way on this issue because “the boys” are so adorable and besides, it’s the big studios who act like Neanderthals on the homosexual issue, not the free-thinking, open-minded and very liberal movie stars.

Um, right.

As I said, the story lurches along from adventure to adventure with no discernable plot. The writing is amateurish and the dialog inane. Things that might have been interesting to read about, such as Randy having a bit part in a movie, happen off page. They talk about the movie and go to the premiere but the actual filming experience is written away in a sentence or two.

I did enjoy the character of Gracie the housekeeper, only because her ruminations on “the queers” that she worked for were so over-the-top. She was disgusted by the stains on the bedspread and fretted about scrubbing her hands after cleaning the bathroom. However, because she was a source of conflict, she was very quickly given the axe, never to be heard of again. Oh well. Once she was gone, the story settled right back into its banal predictability.

All in all, there is not much in Lavender Boys to recommend. It fails as historical fiction and it’s not a particularly entertaining story, either. I suppose for readers who like super-sweet love stories it might appeal, but for me, it was too much sugar and not enough spice.

Buy at Torquere

Review: Pirates of the Narrow Seas by M. Kei

Lt. Peter Thorton of the 18th century British navy must struggle to come out gay while surviving storms at sea, ship to ship battles, duels, kidnapping, and more in his quest for true love and honor.

My own Quick Summary

Lt. Peter Thorton is in love with fellow lieutenant Perry. Both men are given commissions to serve aboard HMS Ajax, taking an Islamic envoy to talks in France. Peter makes an enemy of the Captain, who is largely incompetent but doesn’t like people who show they know it. During a storm, the Ajax comes to the rescue of a sinking Spanish galley. The Spanish abandon their vessel, leaving their slaves, chained to the oars, to sink with the ship. Peter and several of the other British sailors attempt to free the slaves and stop the galley from sinking. As they do so, the storm blows the two ships apart, leaving him surrounded by freed slaves who have no desire to voluntarily sail back to the Ajax to be reunited with their captors.

Command of the galley is taken by Isam bin Hamet al-Tangueli (Captain Tangle to his crew) a famous pirate of the Barbary coast, who had been serving as a galley slave following capture by the Spanish. The story then follows Peter’s slow naturalization into the ways of the Sallee Rovers, and his growing understanding that he’s better off in a culture that allows him to love other men without censure. Rejected by Perry and wooed by Tangle, Peter has to decide where his loyalty really lies.

(First of a series)

Review by Alex Beecroft

As Speak Its Name’s reviewer most familiar with the Age of Sail, I tend to get all the books which deal with pirates and naval officers in the 17th and 18th Centuries. This is not a bad thing, as I’m always keenly on the look out for the next Patrick O’Brian, and I enjoy a naval battle possibly slightly more than the next person.

Recently I seem to have read nothing but the kind of Age of Sail book where all the action goes on in the Great Cabin, the sails apparently handle themselves, the Captain has nothing to do except to shag his cabin boy, and wind, waves, currents and the ships of other nations never appear at all.

So I was excited to be given this book to read. I had already seen M. Kei’s blog and knew he was someone who was interested in the history and the sailing for its own sake. This, I thought, was going to be different from the outboard-motor historicals I’d read before. I went into it with great hopes.

I almost gave up on it in the first five pages. There are two flaws, IMO, that a historical novel can fall into – one is not to care about the history at all, and the other is to care so much that you load your story with all your research, so that it reads like pages out of a text book cut up and joined together with a thin excuse for a story.

At the beginning of the book, I feared I’d come up against the second type. There seemed to be a lot of explaining how the Admiralty works, explaining about the Articles of War, and the “Captain’s Cloak” which gives a captain absolute authority at sea, etc etc. By contrast there wasn’t a lot of concentration on the characters of Peter and Perry. Also, the first few chapters were very similar to the first few chapters I’ve read of very many AoS books—officers receive their orders, travel to find their ship. The ship and the other officers are introduced. They make ready to sail, etc.

So up until about chapter 7 (the chapters are quite short) I was feeling that this was a worthy attempt which had become choked by its own research.

However—this is a big however—once I hit chapter 8 I started to sit up and take notice. The story suddenly took off. The scene of Peter and his boarding party frantically struggling to free the slaves before the whole ship sank under them was nail-bitingly intense. I cast off all my quibbles and began to thoroughly enjoy myself.

From chapter 8 onwards, the story moved from the path, well-trodden by Forester and O’Brian, of adventures in the British Navy, and entered the realm of the Barbary corsairs. The research began to feel more naturally embedded in the story – for example, it becomes not only fascinating to find out that galleys have watertight bulkheads, but also vitally important for the story. The culture clash between Peter and Tangle was beautifully drawn and gripping—Peter simultaneously proving that he is an admirable, honourable man while learning to appreciate the Islamic way of doing many things, from daily washing to sail-handling.

His realization that Tangle finds him attractive and that he returns the admiration is handled beautifully. Peter has been in the grip of some pretty terrible low self esteem as a result of his “unnatural” and “abominable” inclinations, and it’s beautiful to watch his confidence blossom as he slowly begins to accept that in Tangle’s culture it really isn’t that big a deal.

Over the course of the novel, Tangle and Peter negotiate a treaty with Britain and France which enables them both to serve together united in enmity against Spain. Peter converts to Islam and resigns his commission as a result. Tangle fights a duel with Bishop (Peter’s bad ex-captain) and then spends much of the end of the book trying to get his old ship and possessions back out of the hands of his brother in law, who snapped them up when everyone thought that Tangle would never be coming back.

As is typical for an Age of Sail book, this is more of a “slice of life” than a “romance” with a strict beginning, middle and end. Things happen the way they happen in real life—unexpectedly and often surprisingly. And I like that. The plot here is formed by the arc of character development—Peter learning to accept himself, and Isam learning that although he’s a mighty pirate, sometimes there are things he can’t have all his own way. Just as I enjoyed Peter’s development from self-hatred to confidence, I enjoyed the slow way that Isam’s character went from ‘tragic heroism’ to ‘slightly overbearing but endearingly sunny’. I also enjoyed the constant nautical competence of both characters. I do like a hero who knows how to do his job!

To conclude: I loved the book. I enjoyed it immensely, and I thought it was a wonderful breath of fresh air that it concentrated on the culture of a maritime nation which normally gets cast as the baddies in AoS books.

I wish I could give it five stars. However I’m going to take off a half for the slightly belaboured start. Also—I presume because it’s self-published—there are numerous typos. I would very much urge M. Kei to offer it to a publisher like Lethe Press because I’m certain that a professional edit would be all this book needs to be perfect. Even at 4.5 stars though, if you have any interest at all in the age of sail, I highly recommend that you rush out and get this book. I received an ebook copy for the purposes of this review, but as soon as I’ve posted this I’m going to go and buy it in print.

Author’s Website

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Review: Bitten Peach by Habu

Bitten Peach is an eleven-story anthology capturing the essence of the deliciously euphemistic Oriental world of men making love to other men, arranged in a chronological sequence covering a 2,200-year period. These are stories that go beyond the random act of sexual release between men. They offer more complex and context-richer studies of gathering age-old themes, exotic settings, and all-so-human characters up into the Floating World of the Orient in which men give themselves to other men–some more freely than others–for something in return, whether it is for money, position, power, survival, honor, service, devotion–or, not all that rarely, really, in unconditional love.

Review by Aleksander Voinov

This is a collection of 11 short stories set in China and Japan, usually featuring oriental men (apart from four stories when Westerners enter the picture). The stories are varied, and as far as erotica/porn goes, they aren’t bad. There several things I honestly like about this collection. This has many good ideas and generally solid writing, and, I think, a good grasp of the cultures and locations—but I have to admit I’m not a specialist on Chinese/Japanese culture or sexual mores. It sounded authentic, apart from, I think, when some Chinese terms showed up in a story set in Japan.

So, as far as gay erotica/porn goes, this is much better than the average that’s out there. Erotica/porn doesn’t need much character development, and the characters here remain flat – they are, invariably “well-formed” and “well-muscled”, and that’s it.

One caveat: many of these stories deal with “forced seduction” – most often from the perspective of the guy being “forcibly seduced” (aka: raped), and invariably, they struggle and whimper and plead a bit and then they warm to it and “love it”.

Now, this is not the place to discuss “rape culture” or whether they are “allowed”. Regardless of well-deserved criticism levelled against rape depicted in this way, the rape fantasy is one of the most common fantasies for both men and women. So, the need/appeal does exist, and this caters to it. If that is your cup of tea, you can’t go wrong here. The anthology is placed into a niche—most m/m publishers won’t accept stories featuring rape that is written to titillate, and this is meant to titillate. In addition, there is a clear theme of hierarchy and dominance, and of innocence and virginity corrupted (often in a rape/forced seduction context that leaves out lube).

What this does need, though, is a good editor—one that finds the typos, repetitions, kills the purple prose (“love channel” makes me laugh, but even more in a rape setting where, sorry, “love” is not what I’m thinking of) and edits out the style mishaps which are still in the manuscript.

To sum up: some stories were hot, others left me a little bewildered, and readers with a non-con (non consensual sex/rape/forced seduction) kink get served well here. Character development is, as usual in porn/erotica, sparse, and the writing is, overall, solid, with patches of purple and weak editing, but clear enjoyment of telling a story and a varied and rich sexual imagination.

Author’s Website

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Review: Queer Cowboys by Chris Packard

“Brokeback Mountain” exploded the myth of the American cowboy as a tough, gruff, and grizzled loner. “Queer Cowboys” exposes, through books by legendary Western writers such as Mark Twain, James Fenimore Cooper, and Owen Wister, how same-sex intimacy and homoerotic admiration were key aspects of Westerns well before “Brokeback’s” 1960’s West, and well before the word “homosexual” was even invented. Chris Packard introduces readers to the males-only clubs of journalists, cowboys, miners, Indians, and vaqueros who defined themselves by excluding women and the cloying ills of domesticity and recovers a forgotten culture of exclusively masculine, sometimes erotic, and often intimate camaraderie in the fiction, photographs, and theatrical performances of the 1800’s Wild West.

Review by Gerry Burnie

While my usual genre is historical fiction, I am always on the lookout for research of a historical variety. Therefore, although it has been around for a while, “Queer Cowboys: And other erotic male friendships in nineteenth-century American literature” by Chris Packard (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) is one such work.

The stated objective of this thesis is to explore the “bonds that hold … [same-sex partners, i.e. ‘sidekicks’] together, particularly the erotic affection that undergirds their friendship.” To do this it painstakingly explores the “originary” texts of seminal, nineteenth-century writers who, individually and collectively, created the prevailing stereotype of the devoted same-sex partners. Moreover, the author undertakes to “teach readers how to recognize homoerotic affection in a historical discourse that was free from the derogatory meanings associated with post-1900 evaluations of male-male erotic friendships”—a not overly presumptuous ambition, given that Packard teaches literature and writing at New York University and New School University.

Okay, I am one such hypothetical reader, so let’s see how well Professor Packard achieved his objectives.

At the risk of oversimplifying Packard’s thesis, it starts with an underlying premise that before 1900—i.e. before “the modern invention of the ‘homosexual’ as a social pariah”—cowboy relationships were freely represented as quite a bit more affectionate than they are after that date. Moreover, although the stereotypes generally depicted ethnic warfare; citing the threat of “savagery” as justification for ethnic slaughter, and the freeing-up of territory to make way for European homesteaders, writers like James Fennimore Cooper wrote about friendships, “even marriage rituals,” between members of warring groups based on shared values. In addition friendships between young whites and natives were quite common. These mixed friendships usually had the natives tutoring the boys in the primitive ways of the wilderness, and included rituals of brotherhood, i.e. exchanging blood, and other physical, nuptial-like rites.

Notably absent from this literary same-sex scenario is any role for femininity, which is described by one quoted authority, Walter Benn Michaels, as “…the problem of heterosexuality.”  The ‘problem’ being the threat of reproduction in a period when fear of mixed-ethnicity through sex or marriage was keen in American culture. Moreover, femininity and reproduction ran contrary to the strong, independent, and particularly ‘free’ nature of the cowboy characters.

“Within canonical as well as ignored literature, high culture as well as low, homoerotic intimacy is not only present, but it is thematic in works produced before the modern want him to be queer. America’s official emblem of masculinity is not one who settles down after he conquests … rather, he moves on, perpetually conquering, and repeatedly affirming his ties to the wilderness and his male partner.”

Having thus stated his hypotheses, Packard then goes on to support these with an anthology of mostly “canonical” writings—i.e. Cooper’s “The Leatherstocking Tales,” Owen Wister’s “The Virginian,” and Walt Whitman’s poetry.  He also introduces some lesser known examples, such as Claude Hartland’s “The Story of a Life,” Frank Harris’s “My Reminiscences as a Cowboy,” and Frederick Loring’s “Two College Friends.”

While circumstantial, when read from a homoerotic perspective Packard makes a very compelling case, over all.  There are no ‘smoking-gun’ examples, of course, because such blatancies would have been considered excessive by Eastern readers—meaning east of the Mississippi, but it is evident that the implication was there just below the surface. Consequently, he has also taught us how to recognize homoerotic affection in “historic discourse.”

To get to that level of edification, however, the reader has had to wade through an Introduction that I found to be a jumble of complex ideas, confusingly presented and fraught with academic jargon—i.e. “nexus,” “praxis,” “lingua franca,” and so forth. A case on point:

Given the instant and undying popularity of cowboys in U.S. popular culture during a period of rapid national expansion, to identify a homoerotic core in its myth about the supremacy of white American masculinity is to imply that American audiences want their frontiersmen to practice nonnormative desires as part of their roles in nation building. In other words, if there is something national about the cowboy (and other frontier heroes of his ilk), and if there is something homoerotic about American national identity as it is conceived in the American West.

Perhaps I am a bit slow on the uptake, but I didn’t find the “In other words” any more elucidating than the original statement.

Happily, once he launches into the body of the argument his tone becomes somewhat less esoteric, and apart from belabouring some points—giving a new dimension to the term ‘moot point’—he presents a very interesting and informative perspective on nineteenth-century thought.

Those looking for titillating erotica, however, are bound to be disappointed but well-informed after reading this work.

This review was originally posted on the reviewer’s blog here

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Review: Conflict by Stevie Woods

The sequel to Cane.

Two men, one war. Can love survive when each takes a different side?

Leaving his lover behind to support the abolitionist cause, Piet Van Leyden finds himself leading one of the first all-black Union troops into the heart of battle. Reuniting with free slave and former love Joss brings some comfort, but will his presence tempt Piet into forgetting the love waiting for him at home?

Sebastian Cane wonders how he’s able to go on without Piet by his side. When a series of unfortunate events lands him a prisoner of the Union, Seb knows he must rely on his wits and his love for Piet to survive…and get home to him. 

Review by Aleksandr Voinov

Reader, I was bored. This book echoes, rather unfortunately, my impressions of J P Bowie’s “Warrior Prince”. I know that there are readers for this book, alas, I’m not one of them.

Short summary of what we find here. At the time of the American Civil War, Sebastian Cane, a “Southern gentleman”, his lover and plantation manager Pieter van Leyden, and Pieter’s childhood lover and Sebastian’s ex-slave, Joss, end up in something of a love triangle against the backdrop of the civil war.

Pieter goes off to fight, where he meets Joss again. Sebastian stays behind, moping, until he hears that Pieter is dead, and, seeking death himself now, joins the Confederates.

If I’d have to sum up the impression the book made on me in one word, that word would be ‘repetition’. Everything’s repeated. Both men (Sebastian and Pieter) are approached for sex in the name of comfort. Both men agree, after some soul-searching and angsting, both do the dirty with a stranger/friend, then feel terrible about it and angst some more. Both men are taken prisoners by the other side in the conflict. And so on, and so forth.

The book opens with a lot of backstory, many, many pages devoted to bringing us up to specs about what happened in the prequel, “Cane”, and my eyes glazed over during those long, long passages where absolutely nothing happened, and things were repeated in three different point-of-views – Sebastian Cane gets his version, Pieter van Leyden gets his version, and Joss gets his version, too. Not that any of this is important to the plot, only that Sebastian and Pieter love each other very much and Joss has a connection to both. That could have been told so much faster and more efficiently without boring the reader to tears (who was, in this case, not even aware he was dealing with a sequel).

The history seems okay for the most part. Woods’ main issue is that for the life of the author, they don’t manage to bring any of this alive. This reader didn’t care. It could have happened on another planet – nothing that happened had any impact on me. Instead I wondered why on earth anybody needs three characters telling the same story, when the author chooses an omniscient narrator. Technique here seems lacking; I’m not sure the author chose any point-of-vierw deliberately, because it seemed to want to be third person, but ended up omniscient – and all characters, slave, southern gentleman and plantation manager, sound exactly the same and act exactly in the same manner. Maybe Joss is even more selfless and sacrificing than the other two, but that’s really the only difference I could detect. They speak the same, they act the same, they sound the same when they think. And this reader didn’t care about them just the same.

Another killing blow – the characters have no flaw. Joss is a saint, Pieter is a saint, and, guess what, Sebastian is a saint, too. They are all so good and pure and cute, possessing the pure hearts of five year old boys brought up in a cloister, that I found myself entirely disbelieving I was reading about people. The sex was all cute and nice and totally unerotic – nothing was resolved, there was, quite ironically for a novel called “Conflict” no real conflict, no real progress, no sparks flying, it was all nice and sweet and placid, with bad things happening that never really touched this reader or the characters. The author claimed they were suffering, but these saints bore it placidly, spiced up with lots of angst and luke-warm longing.

Add to that a language just as tepid and unexciting, and you get a good idea why I was dreading my commute more than normal (and it had nothing to do with London’s horror or the suffering of morning/evening cattle class). I just didn’t want to spend my time in the company of these weepy little boys. At no point did I feel I was dealing with characters from the time period. The most jarring example is when our “southern gentleman” sounds like a modern-day California porn star during a ‘wet dream’ sequence which I found cringeworthy rather than sexy. I’m talking about this scene, which, in terms of writing, is pretty typical:

It took longer than he expected before Lane was able to check on Cane, but he was relieved to find the man sleeping, and reasonably peacefully. Often delirium caused those affected to sleep very restlessly.

Lane pulled up a stool, taking the opportunity for a few minutes rest; it was for once fairly quiet in the ward. He’d almost started to doze when he heard muttering from Cane, and saw that even though the man still appeared to be sleeping peacefully, his eye movements were rapid. The captain realized he was dreaming and if the slight smile was any indication it was a good one. Cane began to mutter again, a little more clearly this time and Lane could’ve sworn he heard the words, ‘yeah, just there’.

Staring at the man he considered a friend, albeit not a particularly close one, Mason wondered if it would really matter if he listened a little closer. If his guess was correct,

Cane was having an erotic dream and a little titillation wouldn’t do any harm. Damn, but it would do him some good!

The man was well and truly out of it and he’d never even know. Carefully, so as not to disturb the sleeping man, Lane moved his stool as near as he could to the bed.

“God … harder … yeah, that’s … ooooh, fuck!” Cane moaned, tossing his head from side to side. Lane leaned closer. “Deeper, Pieter … more … oh, God.” Cane’s movement stilled, he gave a deep sigh and was silent.

Mason sat frozen on the stool, staring at Cane. He could hardly believe what he’d heard but then a smile broke slowly over his face. He’d wanted titillation and he got more than he bargained for. Who’d have guessed?

“Oh, boy, you and I have got some talking to do when you’re better,” Lane muttered. “Lord, do I hope you don’t die of this thing.”

Taking one last look at the lieutenant as he got to his feet, Lane nodded his head and whistling softly, walked away.

While I’m not an expert on Southern gentlemen and plantation owners in the 1860ies, I’m not convinced this is what one of them sounds like in his sleep. And this is just one example where the characters just weren’t believable.

As I said, the history seemed mostly okay, the main flaw was that I just couldn’t see it. I couldn’t engage with the characters, I didn’t care about them. At the end of all these things that happened to them (wounding, long prison sentence, loss of friends), they haven’t changed at all. And I’m not starting on the fact that Sebastian spends many months in a prisoner-of-war camp with not a fruit or vegetable in sight and doesn’t lose his teeth – some creative license can be taken when dealing with the past. One is a bit thinner and greying, the other is tired of war. I’m not sure what the author tries to communicate here. War is hard? War isn’t worth it?

The book is a “historical romance” with a couple sex (pretty tame) sex scenes, so if you just want a nice sweet romance with lots of pining and a war that is mostly used to keep two lovers separated for almost all of the book, go for it. Personally, the book didn’t make any impact on me, the writing and characterisation was just not strong enough for me to get anything from this. I know there are readers out there for this kind of stuff, and at least it has a discernible plot and the research seems mostly ok, but this wasn’t for me and I wouldn’t recommend it.

Author’s Website

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Review: The Ghost Road by Pat Barker

1918, the closing months of the war. Army psychiatrist William Rivers is increasingly concerned for the men who have been in his care – particularly Billy Prior, who is about to return to combat in France with young poet Wilfred Owen. As Rivers tries to make sense of what, if anything, he has done to help these injured men, Prior and Owen await the final battles in a war that has decimated a generation.

Review by Charlie Cochrane

The third part of a trilogy, which began with Regeneration and continued with The Eye in the Door, The Ghost Road won the 1995 Booker Prize. Given that certain writers’ associations would like to see fiction with a gay content put right back in the closet, it’s worth pointing out that both this book – and The Line of beauty – have won prestigious awards. Quality of story telling and writing should take precedence over other considerations.

As the reader moves through the trilogy, more and more is revealed about the four key characters – the fictional Billy Prior and the real life Rivers, Sassoon and Owen. These are complex men and neither they. Nor the story line, are easy to compartmentalise or even warm to at times. Not one of these three books is an easy to read, ‘formulaic’ piece of fiction

Certain themes run through the books. The interweaving of physical and psychological measures in healing features constantly, as does the nature of war and the appropriate response to it (is there a definitive one?)  The ghosts in the Ghost Road aren’t just the ones from the past that dictate the present. There are spirits manifesting themselves –Sassoon sees them, Rivers has encountered them in his past travels to Melanesia. Are they real? Are they a factor of shell shock or superstition? Pat Barker leaves it to the reader to decide.

Also, there’s a rumbling theme concerning the homoerotic nature of war – the closeness of men, both in terms of actual space and camaraderie, the attractions between them to be acted on or ignored as appropriate. In one memorable scene Prior’s thoughts flit between comparing Owen to a rent boy and wondering how he feels about killing:

He looks like one of the boys you see on street corners in the East End. Open to offers. I must say I wouldn’t mind…And I wonder if he sees those faces, grey, open-mouthed faces, life draining out of them before the bullets hit…

To outline the plot of this book is pointless – it’s more a jigsaw than a flowing stream. Inevitably, given that Prior ends up in the same unit as Owen, one can guess at the outcome – it’s not hard to put some sort of odds on (or against) the sort of happy ending that’s often demanded in romantic fiction. But this isn’t your usual romance, although it has romantic elements. It’s hard hitting fiction and none the less worthwhile for that.

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Review: Tangled Web by Lee Rowan

Brendan Townsend is a young man who is very loyal to his friends. So when Tony—his best friend, occasional lover, and a complete screw-up—comes to him in trouble, Brendan is determined to help. Tony is being blackmailed by the owner of a “molly house”, the private club that Tony—and other like-minded gentlemen—frequent in order to indulge their entertainment needs.

Brendan is disappointed in his friend, but goes to seek the help of his older brother’s military commander. Philip Carlisle is a gentleman to Society, and also a man Brendan’s brother trusted completely and told his younger brother to seek out if he ever was in trouble. Philip is a 40-year-old widower, and finds himself charmed, for the first time, by an attractive young man. Brendan is likewise besotted with hero-worship, especially when Philip turns the tables on the blackmailer and saves the day for many of Society’s closeted sons.

What follows is a tale of desire, regrets, cross-country pursuit, hidden identities, lovers torn asunder then reunited, clever cover stories, and the requisite pistols at dawn.

Review by Hayden Thorne

The first thing that caught my attention when reading Rowan’s novel was the way it takes on one of classic literature’s favorite studies in dichotomy: city versus country. It’s a subject that’s always been a favorite of mine as well, and Rowan explores the diverging elements between the two in great detail.

A Regency fan wouldn’t be disappointed with the settings and their treatment. London’s full of activity of both high and low society. We see the wealthy dazzle each other in glittering ballrooms, dinner-parties, or St. James’ Park. In these scenes, we’re treated to character interactions reminiscent of Austen. There are a lot of playful exchanges. There’s quite a bit of witty banter among members of the Townsend family, and I was very pleased to see a good deal of attention placed on Brendan’s relationship with his siblings, especially Elspeth, his younger sister and to whom he’s closest. As expected from the titled, their cares are pretty much focused on the usual problems involving courtship and landing the perfect husband.

Those scenes, along with the more sordid ones involving molly houses, are laid out in vivid detail, with each scene sequeing nicely into the next, but without the clunkiness of too many details that’s always the danger in writing historical fiction. The study in contrast is just as sharp within London as it is between London and Kent. One moment we’re surrounded by wealth, music, and lively conversation; the next moment, we’re skulking around in shadows, walking past shut doors, and being surrounded by masked gentlemen. There’s a stuffy, claustrophobic feeling in those scenes, and even outside Dobson’s establishment, private lodgings – normally a safe haven – shrink under the strain of fear that dogs Tony and Brendan.

Kent, just like London, is beautifully drawn – an idyll in and of itself, with gorgeous expanses, untouched Nature, and peaceful solitude. And just like London, it also has its own dark side, with Carlisle helping the local magistrate solve a murder that has a connection with a smuggling ring. The oppressive shadow of exposure, disgrace, or worse, capital punishment follows Brendan and Carlisle to Kent, though its effects aren’t as immediate and frightening there as they are in London.

The relationship between Carlisle and Brendan begins on a business-like note, but its highlight is the connection they enjoy whenever they talk about horses. I love how those scenes unfold so casually, with each man gradually shedding layers of himself to the other. Even though they haven’t confessed their feelings to each other at that point, I still found those moments the most subtly romantic in the book, for their connection feels almost spiritual. In fact, I’d have been satisfied if they didn’t confess their love and simply carried on, their relationship deepening (perhaps without their knowledge) as they find greater commonality between them, though it would’ve stretched the story out much more.

That said, one of the difficulties I had with this book was the romance between Brendan and Carlisle after they reveal their feelings. I simply didn’t feel enough of a chemistry between them, partly because it’s pretty much Brendan who falls hard for Carlisle first, and the older man doesn’t really experience an emotional epiphany till late in the story. Once Brendan finally expresses himself to Carlisle, he starts behaving like a needy teenager in the bedroom, throwing himself at the older man, begging the latter not to be indecisive and so on, while Carlisle remains emotionally aloof and tentative (though the reasons are explored later in long introspective scenes). Yes, they make love, and Carlisle, for all his waffling, really does enjoy it and eventually realizes that he is in love with Brendan and that he needs to let go of his late wife’s specter. Despite that, however, there still seems to be something lacking in their emotional connection, which baffles me because I can’t really put a finger on what’s missing. And it’s because of it that the sex scenes have a bit of a jarring quality to them despite the fact that they’re very well-written.

There’s also a heavy-handedness in the novel’s focus on the dangers of homosexuality. Tony’s situation certainly makes that clear to the readers, but we’re constantly reminded of it through Brendan’s growing paranoia in London, Dobson’s cynical approach to his business, Carlisle’s accounts of soldiers being hanged, and Brendan’s godfather’s threats (directed at Dobson). Then there’s Elspeth and her engagement, her happy prospects a depressing reminder of the kind of world to which Brendan doesn’t belong and the loneliness and isolation (if not a loveless marriage) that define his future. While I think it’s great that such an important issue isn’t ignored or glossed over, it can drag a good story down if overdone – especially since, in this novel’s case, Rowan gives Kent (an understandable refuge for a couple like Carlisle and Brendan) a nicely realistic treatment as an alternative to London. Simply showing that the danger of discovery can creep into a quiet country retreat would have been enough to ground home the dangers after all that’s happened in London.

Minor niggling involves occasional dialogue that sounds more contemporary than the rest and the use of “college” versus “university.” The shifts in points of view also happen without a scene break, which can lead to somewhat confusing reading at times. But those didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of Tangled Web. On the whole, I found the story engaging and wonderfully surprising (i.e., in the subplots involving smuggling, the Townsend family, and Carlisle and Brendan’s love of horses), with Rowan’s approach to the romance refreshingly different despite the problem I had with regard to the characters’ chemistry. She shows a lot of respect for Regency England in her detailed exploration of so many disparate scenes, so much so that each location becomes a character itself, adding more dimension to the world against which Brendan and Carlisle’s stories unfold.

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Review: The Why Not by Victor J Banis

The place is gaudy yet drab, lively yet death-like, dispassionate mother hen to a brood of dithered chicks. Discover its bizarre existence from the inside, through the muddled collective mind of the outcast in-group, a gay throng of third-sex bewildered ones who frantically seek a why–but must always settle for The Why Not!

Review by Aleksandr Voinov

I just went back through my Speak Its Name reviews and saw that I’ve only given one five star review, namely to Josh Lanyon’s how-to book. Well, make this another five star, then. I’ve read some excellent books as a reviewer here, and I’ve given 4.5 and 4 stars to books I really enjoyed. For me to give five stars, however, I want to read a book that grabs me and doesn’t let me go, that picks me up by the neck like a puppy and shakes me, emotionally, and then, either tosses me away or puts me gently down.

Victor J Banis’ The Why Not is one of those by-the-scruff-of-your-neck books. I was a goner after a couple pages, and I’m flattened after finishing it, part fearing to go back and re-read it again, part wanting nothing more than to read it more slowly this time round and pick up all the small things that I must have missed, even though I inhaled every line and felt every character echo in his own way, for a few moments.

And it’s so cleverly done. The eponymous “Why Not” is a gay bar in California, and we’re in the Sixties, before Stonewall. The book consists of short stories or sketches, or portraits of men connected to the bar, their individual storylines crossing, approaching, diverging, moving apart, and vanishing just like faces in a crowd. The reader gets to know these people, sees moments in their lives, rather like cruising the crowd themselves. Do I like this one better? Do I recognize myself in that face?

There is little romance in here; I keep saying it, because so much about reading gay lit or m/m these days is all about the romance and I wouldn’t want to see people disappointed – but I would want people to read this book. Whatever they think they want to read, whatever they think they are prepared to deal with, because this book has such a strong emotional resonance that it is rather like a living thing. One of those books that pick you up and might put you down again. Might. If they are feeling generous.

The portraits, apart from being faces in a bar crowd, also form a chorus of solitary voices. Sometimes, you pick up a harmony, or a disharmony, sometimes a deeper layer unfolds and allows you a glimpse into what is really the human condition, not just the gay condition. Seeking mates, always hoping, with emotions and desires overwhelming the mind, the terrible silence between mother and son, the denial, the victimisation, unexpected moments of humor and lightness that sometimes just hide the shrillness papering over a deep sense of ennui and lack of fulfilment. Pretty much like real life. There are no heroes here, no idealised love, this is just about people in their helplessness, their moments of courage and pity, and of taking advantage and being taken advantage of. I found it deeply moving, because it’s all so very true, and facing those emotions honestly, regardless of what readers might expect or people might think, is the greatest challenge for every writer. Writing the truth is so much harder than going through the motions because people drop a coin in our hat – or promise to drop a coin.

Picking out quotes is difficult with this one, there are so many beautiful, intense passages. Most often, one passage stands out – I call that, in my metaphorical mind, “the beating heart of the novel” – but this doesn’t offer any quick and easy passage. The whole thing is pulsing with life, and I struggle picking out one over the other, but here’s a passage from a visit to the steam baths:

“The walls inside are rotting and musty, the floor dirty and unswept. Only a single customer in the locker area, a fat old man, eyeing me with interest but without hope as I strip. Cruelly I pose to heighten his appreciation, give him plenty to admire, and time to admire it, coolly aloof and impervious to his desire.

Upstairs, the darkened chamber reserved for sexual encounters is a snake pit of arms and legs, bodies writhing and twisting together, the smell of sperm overpowering and alarming. Someone follows me in, an arm slipping about my waist, but it is the old man from the locker room, made bolder now in the darkness and the universality of the chamber’s activities.

I shrug off his arm, and leave the room. Retreating back down the stairs, to the steam room, where the sperm smell is still strong and supplemented by another less pleasant odor. The heat, as one climbs higher on the benches, grows devastating, until one ceases to care when a body approaches, the unseen face of a stranger seeks my flesh and I am caught up in the act of fulfillment, weakly and mechanically performing until I shudder and draw away. The body goes, but not before another approaches, standing above me.

The door opens, a shaft of light in the darkness, and the room becomes for an instant a frozen tableau, everyone motionless, wary. But the newcomer is too young to be Tillie Law, young and pretty—too pretty, I tell myself, a lovely flower to be thrown into the muck and mire before him. In the fleeting light, the jackals can be seen crouching, tensely poised for the attack. The door closes and the movement be-gins, vultures moving in upon the newcomer, vying for positions. A new conquest, fresh meat upon which to feed.

Finally, wearied with the parade, unending and infinitely varied in its sameness, of bodies—large bodies, small bodies, short and long bodies, fat and thin bodies—I leave the steam room, make my way down the corridor, blinking my eyes against the glare of the harsh naked lights.

(…)

Unable to suffer myself longer, I leave and make my way back to the locker room. I avoid the mirror there, ex-pecting to find that my flesh is gone, ripped from me by the frantic clawing of teeth and mouths, but the mirror defeats me, remains stubbornly in my way, and I see myself, whole after all, a ghost of reflection in the glass—the reflection more real, perhaps, than I myself.”

It’s not an easy, fawning book; it packs a punch and I fully expect I’ll be reeling for a little while, but it came at the perfect moment for me, when all I wanted, after reading too many lifeless, competently-made pretty little things, was real emotion. Well, I received it, and plenty at that.

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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.

Amazon UK Amazon USA Kindle Buy from Torquere

Review: Heartache Cafe by J.S. Cook

J.S. Cook debuts haunted American expatriate Jack Stoyles, whose numb exile in an unexpected Atlantic outpost is suddenly brightened by a stranger who kisses him — and then dies. Betrayal, graft, a lost girl, and too many deaths. With good reason Jack called his place Heartache Cafe.

This short story in ebook format part of the Partners in Crime #5 Committed to Memory print series.

Review by Aleksandr Voinov

The version of the e-book I received features two stories, “Don’t Look Back” by Josh Lanyon and “Heartache Café” by J.S. Cook. Only “Heartache Café” is historical fiction, which I realized halfway into “Don’t Look Back”—I just had too much fun with Josh Lanyon’s story to really care about that I only want to read historicals and my recreational reading was supposed to wait. Best-laid plans. So, I’d definitely recommend reading the two-author anthology; also because Lanyon and Cook have two very distinct voices which fit together very well for the purposes of this book that explores memory and memory loss.

Heartache Café is set in St John’s, Newfoundland, in the early 1940’s. The American Jack has just set up a new life for himself in the town and opened the eponymous café, when his peace is shattered by shady dealings. His bartender, Chris, gets involved with a lady and tied into a larger intrigue, which leads to people getting murdered and Jack investigating the mysteries of the harbor town. I don’t want to give too much away, and it isn’t really necessary to talk all that much about the plot, because I found the writing and the voice of our first person narrator Jack most compelling. This is one of those texts that aren’t easy, but it’s intense and engrossing; J S Cook shows her literary roots again clearly here. Just like in “Because you Despise Me”, it’s the language that compels about the story:

It was dark when I woke up, and the face looking back at me from the rearview mirror had a five o’clock shadow and then some. A little warning voice in the back of my brain was telling me that this was bad, this was really bad, this was worse than anything, and maybe I shouldn’t get out of the car, maybe I should just call the cops.

I didn’t listen. I never do. I went up that filthy, stinking little alley, and I opened his office door, but I was much too late, and he was gone. There was blood everywhere.

I stopped my car just before the bridge and walked on. The sun was rising, the first rays creeping over the city a little at a time. I looked up at the great steel span of the bridge, and I began to climb. The cables cut into my bare hands, and I was almost weeping with the cold, but I kept climbing. I’d climb so far that it would never touch me. I’d climb until I could forget that awful little room and the stink of blood and all the rest of this sordid mess. I’d climb till I was free. I stood there looking down into the icy water and wondering if the drop would be enough to kill me, or if I’d drown first…or die of cold. I saw the weirdest thing — a small sailboat coming down the river, tacking into the wind — a ridiculous little thing, no bigger than a minute, sailing down the Delaware like it had every right to be there. I thought about pictures I’d seen of graceful feluccas on the Nile River in Egypt, and as I watched the little boat tacking into the wind, something occurred to me. I climbed down from the bridge, walked to where my car was parked, got in and drove away.

Jack is a deep guy, seemingly private, but also readily makes friends. Much remains under the surface, not because Jack attempts to hide anything, but because he mostly keeps his own counsel and rarely shows his hand, unless he has to. What lies underneath is poignant loneliness which isn’t really resolved with sex (and he finds a couple casual ‘lovers’) or friendship. At the bottom of it, Jack is, I think, a romantic looking for the one true love, a man who can fascinate and enrapture him and sweep him off his feet to break through all his protective layers. One such man presents himself in a mysterious Egyptian who appears almost more like a fairy-tale creature than a man of flesh and blood at first. While Jack solves the crime and survives danger and distress, his heart gets stolen in the course of the story, but this love story isn’t resolved (yet).

“Heartache Café” is the first part of a series, or connected to an upcoming novel called “Valley of the Dead”, which will take us to Egypt on the quest for the vanished lover.

In terms of history, I saw no flaw, but I didn’t expect any—the writing is smooth and engrossing, I read this in two sittings and completely forgot everything else around me. Closing the book (or the file) I felt I knew that world and its inhabitants and Jack. And that’s really the point of reading, isn’t it?

Review: The Pleasure Slave by Jan Irving

Lucius Mettelus Carbo, once a legate on the rise in the Roman army, rescues a beautiful young prostitute, Varick, who immediately stirs him. However, Lucius doesn’t believe anyone could want him, a man cursed by the gods with an ugly, twisted leg. He resists his attraction to the pleasure slave as they forge a tempestuous relationship, and Varick tries to convince Lucius that he desires his master despite the injury. Both men are fighting their fears as they strive toward a future together… a future in the shadow of the volcano Mount Vesuvius.

Review by Erastes

I have to say up front, that however my review seems to indicate the opposite, I did enjoy reading this book, and I recommend it to anyone who likes the era.

The story takes place in Pompei, and a quick glance at the date (July 79AD) will set the scene immediately.  Volcano Day is on the way so we know our protags are going to be up against it.  However, sadly (and this is the second time in recent months that I’ve read an under representation of a cataclysmic eruption) the eruption, when it does come, is more of a damp squib than a OMG WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE and the escape seems a little too easy, considering the rain of death that was going on.

Whilst I liked both protagonists, it was difficult to cheer them along, as I didn’t know if they even knew what they wanted.  The emotions are kept very much in check, Lucius’ less so, but he keeps himself back because he doesn’t want to fall in love with a slave, and Varick’s point of view is only very lightly visited, so we don’t get into his head much at all. However, the romance is very readable, warm and arousing, and the sexual level worked well for the length of the book.  I did feel that they cared for each other and that they needed to learn to trust each other, something that didn’t come easy for either of them.

The history is good and solid–the author even makes a note that she has, for her own timeline purposes, moved the destruction of Lucius’ regiment a few years, but that’s forgiveable, the best of historical novelists do that.  I enjoyed the historical aspects of this book a lot, because I love learning things, and the history and destruction of Lucius’ regiment was fascinating. The descriptions of the town, the murals, the graffiti and the villas are convincing, and never once did I get jolted out of the story.

Historically, too, Lucius’ behaviour is very apt–he no longer considers himself a man. He’s injured, and therefore is no use (in his mind). His friends shun him and he hasn’t even taken prostitutes since his disfigurement because it reminds him of all the men and women he had – paid or otherwise – when he was whole.  The stigma of falling in love with a slave is well described too.  Shag your property by all means, but you run the risk of being laughed at if you become “indulgent with it.”

I never quite understood what happened to Lucius’ leg, though – it’s twisted and wasted but I’d have liked a bit more of what actually happened to him when he got lost during the Batavian rebellion.

It’s sometimes a frustrating read, because there seems to be something else going on under the surface which is never quite explained, and there are a couple of dialogue sections which entirely baffled me.  Perhaps it’s due to the length restriction, but I feel that if the book had been perhaps 50 pages longer, it would have felt more complete.

At 90 or so pages (yes, it says 99 but of course many of those are introduction, cover, bio etc) I would have expected a little more story for my story, but at $3.99 it’s a pleasant read which will certainly fill an hour of your life and although may not set your world on fire, it shouldn’t disappoint.

Buy from Dreamspinner Press

Review: Josef Jaeger by Jere’ M. Fishback

Josef Jaeger turns thirteen when Adolf Hitler is appointed Germany’s new Chancellor. When his mother dies, Josef is sent to Munich to live with his uncle, Ernst Roehm, the openly-homosexual chief of the Nazi brown shirts. Josef thinks he’s found a father-figure in his uncle and a mentor in his uncle’s lover, streetwise Rudy, and when Roehm’s political connections land Josef a role in a propaganda movie, Josef’s sure he’s found the life he’s always wanted. But while living in Berlin during the film’s production, Josef falls in love with a Jewish boy, David, and Josef begins questioning his uncle’s beliefs.

Complications arise when an old friend of his mother’s tells Josef that his mother was secretly murdered by the SS due to her political beliefs, possibly on Roehm’s order. Josef confides in his Hitler Youth leader, Max Klieg. Klieg admits he knows a few things, but he won’t share them with Josef till the boy proves himself worthy of a confidence.
Conflicting beliefs war within Josef until he must decide where his true loyalties lie, and what he really believes in.

Review by Hayden Thorne

I always get all giddy and delirious whenever I come across genre LGBT YA fiction. 🙂 It remains a tiny and overlooked niche, and I hope that it enjoys growing exposure and respect through an expanding list of good quality titles like Josef Jaeger.

Now I must admit that I was hesitant at first to read Jere’ Fishback’s novel, as I really don’t have the stomach for Nazi-themed fiction or film. I’ve watched several movies before, and I always fall apart before the end, a wretched, sobbing mess. Since reading is more involved compared to watching, a novel focusing on Nazi Germany (or just Nazis in general) makes me dread what might be waiting for me in between the pages. Have you seen A Love to Hide? It took me over a week to recover from that movie. Had that been a novel…

But these stories should never be ignored, and with the book also being young adult and a coming-of-age one, I got over myself and plunged in. And I’m glad I did.

The first thing you’ll notice when you read Josef Jaeger is how incredibly detailed Fishback is in his description of Nazi Germany. Bayreuth, Munich, Berlin, Nuremberg – people, places, food, everything. I’m not sure if he’s traveled to Germany before or if he’s done extensive studies on the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, but his knowledge of the place and era is exceptional.

That said, it does take a while for Josef’s story to unfold. Yes, I love it when authors take their time in telling a story, and the novel has a certain sweeping, epic scope to it. Josef travels from place to place, meets several characters along the way, and in the course of his adventures, learns about the darker yet incredibly complex side of human nature.

The downside, however, is that there are a number of scenes that were info dumps. Fishback is very particular in his descriptions, but they do go overboard at times, stretching Josef’s credibility as the narrator quite a bit. First of all, he’s only thirteen, and the novel follows his adventures in the course of a year or a little over a year. He’s shy, self-conscious, and very, very naïve. Yet, every so often, he’ll describe certain places and objects with a knowledge that you can only expect from someone who’s older and an actual expert on certain subjects, i.e., such as the exact sizes of cobblestones. Another effect of this is a dragging down of an already slow-paced story, so much so that I found myself lightly skimming over a few places that were chock-full of descriptive details that didn’t really add to the plot.

There’s so much attention paid to the environment and to the side characters that the novel reminds me of David Copperfield in the way Josef’s character progresses from wide-eyed innocent to a more jaded (but wiser) young man in the end, though the novel ends with him being only a year older.

Like Dickens’ novel, Josef Jaeger gives us an incredibly diverse cast of characters, each of whom is wonderfully developed to the extent that you feel as though you’ve been reading about them since the beginning even if they’re only there for a really short time. From Josef’s opera singer mother to his storm trooper uncle and Ernst’s heterosexual kept boy and the actors in Berlin, etc., there’s no dull moment in Josef’s young life at all, and more often than not, he’s a captive audience, watching in awe as people strut around before him – chain smoking, having sex, beating each other up, protesting the growing persecution of the Jews, and so on.

Now because of that, just like David Copperfield, Josef Jaeger seems to be more of a peripheral participant in his story. He reports what happens around him, and more often than not, he’s less an actor in everything and more of a boy who’s being acted upon. His story takes place at a time when Hitler’s just beginning his campaign against Communists and the Jews. Through Josef’s eyes, we see the growing tension in Germany and the vile propaganda finding increasing traction among disaffected Germans.

While Josef reacts to these events, I still found him curiously detached, emotionally, except for those scenes involving his developing romance with David, a Jewish boy whose family’s slowly being deprived of their rights. It’s because of the heavy focus on the unfolding political events in Germany and how they affect the people around him that I think Josef’s development as the main character becomes secondary. He cries, he gets excited, etc., but we’re told of those, and he neither evokes nor explores deeper feelings.

To some extent, it helps us keep a certain level of objectivity toward a very harrowing development in world history. On the other hand, I found it a little difficult empathizing with Josef.

This heavy focus on environment and secondary characters also undercuts the conflict that Max Klieg, a Hitler Youth leader, brings into Josef’s life. If anything, this particular detail in the book is the most problematic to me. Max appears about a quarter of the way in, when Josef joins a Hitler Youth group. Then he vanishes, not to reappear till near the end of the novel, where he plays a significant role in Ernst Roehm’s undoing.

Because Max’s reapparance is so far into the book, I didn’t feel as though Josef’s sudden hatred of his uncle is convincing enough. This specific conflict happens too late, too suddenly, and too quickly, and Josef never really goes through a long process of confusion or re-evaluation that would’ve otherwise shown a clearer shift of attitude toward his uncle. Had Max deepened the doubt and suspicion in Josef early on (already planted into his mind by another character who vanishes), we’d have a more developed exploration of the conflicting nuances of human nature. I feel that the Berlin scenes involving the production of a Nazi propaganda movie, while interesting, could’ve been scaled back considerably in favor of a better developed dilemma involving Josef and the only family member he has left.

As a minor aside, I’m also a little baffled over Josef’s mother’s death. I’m not sure if I missed something, but Josef was told at the beginning that cocaine was responsible, and then later on, he says that it’s a heart aneurysm. *If you’ve read this novel and can clarify this, please do so in the comments. I could be mistaken and would appreciate an explanation.*

Even though I didn’t feel as much of an emotional connection with Josef, I did enjoy the other characters. David and his family, the actors at UFA, and especially Rudy, were the ones who stayed with me long after I finished reading the book. Poor Rudy’s the biggest tragedy in this novel. He’s the one who never gets a fair chance from the get-go, and while he does some pretty stupid things, I really didn’t want to see him end up where he is at the conclusion of the novel. I almost feel like writing AU fanfic just to give him a second chance.

That said, Josef Jaeger is a real treat, one of the more intelligently-written YA books I’ve had the pleasure to read. It’s thought-provoking, wonderfully dense, and well-researched, touching on one of the darkest moments in world history. Kudos to Jere’ Fishback for giving us a behind-the-scenes look into the rise of Hitler without sentimentalizing things or toppling into melodrama through his use of clean, concise language and Josef’s matter-of-fact voice.

Warning: Underage sex.

Buy the book:  Amazon UK Amazon USA E-book

Review: To Hell You Ride by Julia Talbot

Big Roy is a hard rock miner with a not so secret love for the theater, so when he hears a new troupe of actors are coming to the Telluride opera house to put on a Shakespeare play, he saddles his mule and makes the trek into town to see it.

The play doesn’t disappoint, but the beautiful lead actor, Sir Edward Clancy, certainly does. Clancy is rude and arrogant, and Roy figures he’d never have a chance with such a man. He’s wrong, because Clancy needs some entertainment himself, being stuck in a Hellish mining town for the long, snowy winter.

Come spring, though, Clancy knows he’s going to want to move on, and he thinks Roy will be easy to forget. Then tragedy strikes, and Clancy has to rethink his entire life. Can these two strike gold?

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

“‘Thank the Lord and all the angels,’ as Big Roy Marsh would say. ‘A historical western that gets it right.’”

Edward Clancy looked up from his book. “What’s that you say?”

Roy Marsh looked at him. “I’m readin’ a review and she quotes me.”

“A review? Of what?”

“The book about us, of course!” Roy gave Clancy an exasperated stare.

“Which one?”

Roy wondered if Clancy was being dense on purpose. “Tis only one, as you know. Ain’t dozens of books ‘bout us. To Hell You Ride, the one by Miss Julia Talbot.”

“Ah,” said Clancy. “And what does she say? Is it a positive review?”

Roy nodded. “I’d say so. Five stars.”

“Five stars! A superior rating! That’s better than my last performance.”

“You didn’t rehearse enough for that one.”

“You were too busy keeping me busy.”

Roy blushed at that.

Clancy gestured towards the paper. “Go on, read some more.”

Roy cleared his throat. “‘Big Roy Marsh is a gold miner, working high in the mountains above Telluride, Colorado. On Saturday, he likes nothing better than to ride his mule, Annie, into town, stop for a shave, haircut and perhaps a bath, then put on his ‘Sunday go-to-meeting clothes’ and head to the theater.’”

“That’s what you still like,” Clancy interrupted.

Roy nodded. “I surely do, even if you do make me wear a suit.”

“You look particularly fine in a suit.”

Roy blushed again. He looked back down at the paper. “‘On this particular Saturday, Roy is transfixed by the performance of Sir Edward Clancy in the role of MacDuff. He accidently bumps into the actor the next morning and wishes to pay him a compliment, but Sir Edward arrogantly brushes him aside.’”

Clancy frowned. “Why did she have to include that?”

“It’s true. You were arrogant.” He continued reading. “‘When a comment about Sir Edward’s rudeness makes it into the paper, Clancy decides he requires a personal apology and sets out to get it, which becomes the basis for an amusing encounter between the two men.’”

“Amusing, hmm? I thought it was odd.”

“Amusing or odd, you couldn’t get enough of me,” Roy said.

It was Clancy’s turn to blush.

Roy turned back to the paper. “‘Roy and Clancy are the unlikeliest of lovers, but Talbot tells their story deftly, moving from a relationship built on carnal lust and a base desire for each other to one of a strongly shared love and mutual need.’” Roy’s brow furrowed. “Sounds a little personal, here.”

“Well, if you didn’t want it to be personal, you shouldn’t have shared so many details. I told you to be a bit more circumspect.”

Roy looked at his lover, his lips tightening into a hard line, but didn’t say anything. “‘The reason why this story works so well as a historical western, as opposed to a story that takes place in the old days, is the way the author effortlessly evokes the time and period. Little details bring the frontier town of Telluride to life, with its wood-framed buildings and muddy roads leading high up into the mountains. I particularly loved this line, ‘Only thing he’d taken had been his own shoes and coat, assuming them after he was out in the hallway, bright with its fancy electric lights that looked so odd to Roy. Any light that didn’t flicker with the wind just oughtn’t be trusted.’” Roy looked at the electric lamp at his elbow, then looked at Clancy. “Not sure why she’d comment on that,” he said. “Still think it’s true.”

Clancy smiled at him. “Oh, my rough miner. You never change, do you?”

“Do you want me to?” Roy asked.

Clancy shook his head. “No,” he answered softly.

Roy took a minute to compose himself, then picked up the paper again. “‘Themes are beautifully woven throughout the story, such as shaving and bathing. At the beginning, they are impersonal acts between Roy and the barber—a business transaction. Then they become erotic moments between the two main characters and ultimately, an act of caring and love, when Edward bathes Roy after a life-threatening accident.’”

Roy stopped. “Well,” he said.

“Well,” Clancy replied.

“I didn’t know we was being erotic,” said Roy.

“I didn’t know we had themes, but I suppose I should have figured it out, given my prowess in the acting profession.”

Roy chuckled. “Gotta hand it to you, Clancy, you ain’t ever been one to hide your light under a bushel.”

Clancy pointed to the paper. “Go on. Is there anything else?”

Roy nodded. “‘All in all, this was a thoroughly satisfying novella. Colorful, well-drawn characters, a totally engaging story, historical details that were pitch perfect in pulling me into turn-of-the-century Colorado. Having read a number of Westerns that come nowhere near this standard, it was a true pleasure to stumble upon this unexpected gem.’” Roy stopped reading. “Guess she liked it.”

Clancy nodded. “With a review like that, I suppose I shall have to stop ignoring this book and actually read it. Do we own a copy?”

“Yup,” said Roy. “It’s in the bedroom, next to the bed.”

“Will you fetch it for me?”

Roy shook his head mournfully. “Now, Edward, you know I ain’t your manservant, here to do your fetching. You can go get it for yourself.”

“I suppose I shall have to do that.” Clancy brushed an imaginary piece of lint from his trousers. “Perhaps you will accompany me?”

“To the bedroom?” Roy asked.

Clancy nodded. “Some of the things you read reminded me of memories that have, um, quite aroused me. I think, perhaps, some recreation is in order.”

“You mean getting fancy?” Roy winked.

“You know precisely what I mean, my love.”

Roy stood up. “You lead the way, honey,” he said with a smile.

“I don’t need to be asked twice,” replied Clancy, as they headed out of the room, the newspaper forgotten on the chair.

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Review: Calico by Dorien Grey

“Calico” is something of a breakthrough novel in that it spans a bridge which is only now opening for two-way traffic. The author describes “Calico” as a “western/romance/adventure/mystery with a twist”…the twist being that its cowboy hero/protagonist just happens to be gay.

Calico Ramsey finds himself with the responsibility of seeing that two 17 year old orphaned twins from Chicago, Josh and Sarah Howard, get safely from the rail line’s end to their aunt in Colorado. But things have begun to go terribly wrong even before the twins arrive, and it doesn?t take long for Calico to realize someone does not want him to reach his destination (though how anyone even knows the trio’s destination is a mystery to Calico).

There is enough action, adventure, and mystery to satisfy both diehard western fans, and even those who don’t normally care for the genre. The gently developing romance is non-threatening to those who have lived their lives on the “mainland” side of the bridge, but offers a unique insight into the 10 percent of the population living at the other end of the bridge.

Review by Alex Beecroft

When Calico Ramsey’s uncle Dan is gunned down by a hired killer, Calico inherits not only Dan’s ranch, but also a responsibility to Dan’s newly orphaned nephew and niece. He promises to see them safely into the custody of their Aunt Rebecca, even though nobody to whom he speaks has a good word to say about the woman. The twins’ parents died in a fire following a visit from Rebecca and her husband, so when Calico and the twins are almost killed themselves in a fire the first night out, Calico begins to suspect something sinister. As their journey continues it becomes clear that someone is trying to kill the three of them before they can get to Rebecca’s house. Calico must protect his two charges, figure out what is going on and why, and deal with the burgeoning love and attraction he feels for Josh.

I really enjoyed this book. I’m not a big reader of Westerns, and am not, unfortunately, any kind of expert in the time. Nothing in the setting of this book, or the behaviour of the characters pinged me as wrong for 19th Century America, but take that with a pinch of salt as I can’t speak with any kind of knowledge on the subject. What the book reminded me of most of all was the kind of TV Western series which I watched when I was growing up. It had the same kind of strong but decent, openhearted characters, a laconic expression and stoicism that covered up deep emotions and a real appreciation of a seemingly endless landscape, with all the beauty and freedom and danger that represented.

I was also reminded of these old series because the book proceeds in a number of episodes, each of which end in a cliffhanger. There is a lot of welcome action; a memorable gunfight, runaway horses, arson, ambushes and kidnapping – there’s really no chance to ever get bored. And if, like me, you find constant action a bit wearing too, you’ll still like this book because the action is interspersed with some lovely quiet moments; companionship around the campfire, the very sweet and tender romance between Calico and Josh, moments where the beauty of the countryside comes through, and moments of good food and hospitality from strangers who become friends.

After reading Brokeback Mountain, it’s slightly hard for me to believe that neither Calico nor Josh have much in the way of angst about accepting their attraction for men in general and each other in particular, and even harder to believe that nobody in the book who knows about it seems to have a problem with it. But Dorien Gray writes the characters in such a way that I was prepared to believe that these particular people are simply fortunate in their emotional makeup and friends, rather than feeling that the whole society was anachronistic.

I enjoyed the fact that the greater part of the story took place over a journey from the railway station to the Aunt’s house. It really gave a picture of how difficult travel was in those days. I also enjoyed the mystery, and although I had worked out who the villain was, and why they were doing this, by the time it was revealed, I hadn’t done it so early on as to be disappointed with the heroes for not realising it earlier.

My main problem with the book, and why it only gets a four and a half star review rather than a five, is the ending. The final confrontation with the villain is over very easily and for a moment I almost thought we’d lost a gunman. Although I find I was wrong about that and he was accounted for, my impression was still that the villain is disappointingly easily dealt with at the end.

More than this, though, I felt that the romance was denied a scene that it needed to round it off. Throughout the book, Calico had been saying to himself and Josh “I’ll think about that later. I’ll think about it when you’re 18. I’ll think about it once we’re out of this life threatening peril.” All of which was very sensible and you couldn’t help agreeing that he was right to look at it that way. However, the end of the book finds Josh 18 and the life-threatening peril out of the way, but there never is a scene where Calico does that thinking and makes that ‘yes, we’re a couple’ decision that the book (I thought) had been leading up to. So I felt the romance part of the plot suffered from a lack of resolution. I’d have liked to see Calico make the commitment to Josh that had been hinted at throughout.

However, the ending does leave the two of them together, so I can happily imagine that they get that bit sorted out off camera, so to speak, and although I would have liked to see a more romance focussed ending, it doesn’t in any way take away from how much I enjoyed everything that went before it. I’ll definitely be reading this one again with a lot of pleasure.

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Review: Lovers’ Knot by Donald Hardy

Cornwall, 1906

After inheriting Trevaglan Farm from a distant relative, Jonathan Williams returns to the estate to take possession, with his best friend, Alayne, by his side. He’d only been to Trevaglan once before, fourteen years earlier when he’d been sent there after a family scandal and his mother’s death. But that was a different time; he’s a different person now, determined to put that experience out of his mind and his heart….

That summer, he’d been a lost and lonely young man. Healing came slowly; the hot summer days were filled with sunshine, the nearby ocean, and a new friend, Nat. Jonathan and the farmhand had quickly grown close, Jonathan needing comfort in the wake of his grief, and Nat basking in a peace and love he had never known could exist.

But that was also a summer of rumors and strange happenings in the surrounding countryside, of romantic triangles and wronged lovers. Tempers would flare like summer lightning, and fade just as quickly. By the summer’s end, one young man was dead, and another haunted for life.

Now Jonathan is determined to start anew. Until he starts seeing the ghost of his former friend everywhere he looks. Until mementos of that summer idyll reappear. Until Alayne’s life is in danger. Until the town’s resident witch tells Jonathan that ghosts are real. And this one is tied to Jonathan unto death…

Review by Hayden Thorne

This is going to be an unusual way of opening a review, and I might be getting some flack for it, but there’s a point to this.

To begin, I want to point out what I thought to be problematic things about Lovers’ Knot (bear with me, please). The romantic conflict (“I love him. I want to tell him. I don’t want to lose his friendship.”) happens to be my least favorite M/M source of angst. I’ve read so many stories that unfold along these lines, and majority of them simply fail in making me sympathize with the heroes, for all their incessant pining. Secondly, some of the dialogue between Jonathan and Alayne is somewhat clunky and awkward. The language isn’t stilted, no, but there’s a certain self-consciousness in the way the exchanges happen that gives them a false feeling. Ironically, it usually happens whenever they banter, and one would think that they’ve never really lived together in London for almost a decade. And thirdly, I find the novel’s villain to be – well – too convenient. The motive, especially, while understandable, doesn’t convince as much because of her single-mindedness in getting what she wants, which limits her characterization to an archetype: the lover scorned, with hardly any room for development.

Now that I’ve laid out the weaker points of this book, I can move on to the next bit.

I LOVE THIS NOVEL. Yes, I latched on to those issues pretty early on in the book, and they came back here and there in the course of reading, but by the time I finished, none of them mattered. None.

For all the heroes’ pining, they never wallow in it. They struggle internally, they fight against themselves and common sense, but on the whole, they’re also very pragmatic men. They mull over things and then decide on a course of action. We’re never treated to page after page of tedious “woe is me” moments. The novel’s villain, though an archetype, manages to rouse some sympathy in the end, given the nature of her punishment and the stupidity that took her to that point. In fact, nearly all of the principal players do some incredibly stupid things, but given the nature of their relationships as well as their relationship with the land, it’s not a surprise. In fact, they’re expected to be ruled largely by passion. The occasional awkward dialogue gets balanced by wonderfully detailed scene descriptions and a haunting (no pun intended), dreamy atmosphere.

Lovers’ Knot has a pretty simple storyline, both past and present. What Donald Hardy does, though, is flesh out his story in such a way as to make it much more complex and multi-layered. It’s a classic romantic tragedy, where the ending leaves you both happy for the lovers and completely heartbroken over the past and maybe even wondering “what if?” What if Nat survived? What if so-and-so gave up and moved on? How would the present look? There are so many gray areas that shape both the story and the characters (save for Alayne, who’s largely in the background and is more of an innocent bystander caught up in some pretty creepy happenings), and above all, the story left me thinking about connections, allegories, and so on, which is something I couldn’t help but do because of the book’s narrative structure.

The story unfolds with Jonathan’s past alternating with his present. Normally I’m not fond of this approach because it requires a pretty deft handling of two disparate and yet parallel (or cause and effect) storylines, and the author has to be careful in making sure that the significance of these flashbacks becomes evident as the present story unfolds. We get exactly that in Lovers’ Knot. Along with the juxtaposition of youth and innocence with maturity and world-weariness, we’re also treated to some wonderful contrast studies that add to the emotional resonance of Jonathan’s relationships with Nat and Alayne.

The setting is Cornwall, very rural, and steeped in history. Jonathan and Nat’s blossoming love affair is defined by rugged Nature, superstition, village rites, the sea, and eternity. The two consummate their love all over the place, hiding constantly, yet completely vulnerable and exposed. Their “wedding rite” is primitive yet a truer connection of souls. Their minister (that is, if they were to recruit one)? The village witch.

For the present, Jonathan and Alayne’s relationship is defined by silence, lies, obfuscation. They’re protected against Nature by man-made structures, separated from each other by physical walls, stairways, and social convention. The vicar and his wife come to visit, and while Mrs. Deane shows some liberal leanings, she remains held back and kept in her place by – yes – social convention. There’s certainly much to be said about age and wisdom, but at what price? Emotional asphyxiation? The sharp contrast of Jonathan’s present with his past forces you to think about what could’ve been.

The gray areas encompass the characters as well. There are a number of them, and they bring different things to the story in different ways, but save for maybe a handful, none of them’s a saint. Through their strengths and especially their frailties, they add so many human dimensions to an otherwise simple story. I find Penhyrddin a very fascinating character, and his mystique remains even after the climax of Jonathan’s past. It’s almost fitting, really, that he’s almost a living ghost, just hovering in the background, seeing as how Lovers’ Knot is both a romance as well as a classic ghost story.

What I’ve always loved about ghost stories is that, compared to monsters, for instance, these stories tend to be very psychological. Was the specter a figment of the imagination? Why would it appear to A and not B? What relationship is there between the dead and the living? Lovers’ Knot doesn’t take the easy way out in explaining the hauntings. If anything, the cause happens to be one of the more heart-rending elements in the novel, and its resolution doesn’t make it easier to take. M.R. James is also invoked, which makes me a very giddy James fangirl.

The setting and historical details are very, very well-done. On the whole, the novel has a certain dreamy, lethargic quality to it – becauase of the story’s pace (and I really love it when authors take their time) as well as the attention that Hardy gives to practically every moment. You’ll feel as though you really are in rural England, exposed to the elements, to history, tradition, and the supernatural. You can see, touch, hear, taste, and smell practically everything. His focus on the poor and the uneducated is much, much appreciated. Historical fiction oftentimes being narrowed to the upper-class and aristocracy, I’m always dying to read a book about the lower-class and the rural poor. I find their lives so diverse and so rich, and I think that they have much more to say to us about a country’s history than their wealthier counterparts. Hardy’s novel does exactly that. In fact, I’d go further and say that his approach brings to mind another Hardy – Thomas Hardy – including the elegiac undercurrents and vanishing traditions.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been moved and (no pun intended) haunted in such a way by a story I’ve read. The experience is wonderful and gratifying, and I certainly hope to see more books from this author.

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Review: Sticks and Stones by Jamie Craig

Complementing each other on the dance floor isn’t enough to form a relationship. Is it? It’s 1953, and Hollywood is booming with extravagant musicals. Coming off a string of hits with MGM, Paul Dunham couldn’t be hotter. Hoping to capitalize on Paul’s popularity, the studio announces its attention to pair him with the latest actor to make a splash, Jack Wells. It seems like a match made in heaven, except for the fact that Paul can’t stand Jack. He hates the way Jack acts, and he hates Jack’s blue eyes, and he especially hates the fact that Jack is one of the most talented dancers he has ever met. Jack, however, doesn’t hate Paul. In fact, everything Paul does fascinates him. After their first meeting, Jack is determined to win Paul over, and he won’t back down until Paul admits that the two of them are perfect partners…in every way…

Review by T J Pennington

Those of you who know me know that I adore improbable pairings–people who shouldn’t even be friends, let alone lovers, because their personalities, attitudes and so on are so opposite each other. That’s the situation in Sticks and Stones.

Paul Dunham is an established actor in Hollywood–a leading man and excellent dancer with a reputation as a ladies’ man that he has carefully constructed over the years. Jack Wells is a Broadway actor/dancer who’s somewhat younger than Paul. Now Jack is trying to break into movies, and, since Paul’s last movie didn’t do as well as expected, the President of MGM, Dore Schary, has put the two men in the movie Sticks and Stones, hoping they can boost each other up.

It’s a match made in Hell.

Jack gets off on the wrong foot with Paul automatically by being an obsessive fanboy. When refused entrance to Paul’s house by the housekeeper, Jack, who is dazzled by the notion that he is going to be playing opposite the actor he’s had a crush on for years, simply climbs the fence and enters Paul’s studio by the back. He’s honestly puzzled by the fact that Paul, a deeply private man, doesn’t welcome his intrusion into his studio or into his career. And when Jack doesn’t know how to cope, he defaults to making passes at people.

This, from Paul’s point of view, is even worse than the home invasion. For Paul is bisexual-leaning-gay, and since he knows that his preference is a) illegal and b) could destroy his career if word got out that one of MGM’s male stars likes men as lovers, he has avoided sex with men for the past four years and is working very hard at projecting the image of a very masculine, very heterosexual man. There are a few chinks in his armor; Paul’s best friend Martin knows that Paul is more attracted to him than to Martin’s wife Lilah, for all that Lilah is the one that Paul’s having sex with, and more than a few hints are dropped that Paul’s former girlfriend, actress Betty Thayer, also knows of his proclivities.

However, the secret is mostly intact…until Jack appears, operating on autoflirt. This terrifies Paul, who is afraid that someone will see Jack’s flirting and, based on his physical response to Jack, will deduce that Paul is less than straight, causing his carefully constructed life to come crashing down around his ears.

For much of the book, Jack, who is determined to put Paul in a position where he’ll have to react physically or admit that he’s attracted, desperately wants the star that he’s spent years idolizing to see him as a professional, as an equal and as a handsome man. And to this end, he’ll try anything that will allow him to spend a little extra time with Paul, from working long hours on the set to appearing with Paul and a couple of actresses publicly to promote the movie they’re currently filming. He doesn’t admit, even to himself, how much Paul’s good opinion is starting to mean to him, or how bothered he is by the other man’s lack of interest.

After a disastrous public “double date” in which Jack gets loudly and aggressively drunk, nearly exposing Paul’s secret, Paul takes Jack home and then, when Jack realizes his house keys are on the key ring to the Buick he’s loaned to their mutual dates and can’t unlock his door, over to Martin’s house. On the way to both places, they talk. Jack lets Paul know just how much he resents the walls that Paul’s built around himself–and the fact that he can’t get past them. Paul insists that his private life should stay private, and then says something very telling…and very sad, because it’s true, not only for Paul in 1953 but a great many LGBTQ people today:

“You’re right, you know. I don’t want anyone getting in. don’t know what world you’re living in, Jack, but where I live, there’s too much to lose by trusting the wrong person.”

Honesty helps the men talk out their differences, though it doesn’t fix what’s wrong. Jack is starting to grasp the strength of Paul’s willingness to do whatever it takes to pass as straight and thereby maintain his career; the problem is, he loathes the unwritten rules of Hollywood that make such games necessary. Moreover, he feels he’s never going to get Paul’s approval for anything he does or is. Paul, on the other hand, who knows he’s attracted to the man, discovers he’s changed his mind about Jack’s skill; he is a good dancer. And, despite Jack’s flaws, he’s learned to his surprise that he doesn’t mind Jack as a person, either. And once Paul deposits Jack at Martin’s house, the two share an intense kiss.

Of course, once they kiss, they both have to admit to themselves how attracted they are…as well as the fact that most of the animosity in their relationship has turned into something considerably more volatile. A few chapters later, an after-hours dance rehearsal at Paul’s home leads to wild passionate sex…which is followed by one of the best sex-in-the-shower scenes I’ve ever read.

It’s clear by now that the two of them are good together, and that they truly make each other happy. The authors are clever; they set up a potentially idyllic situation and then proceed to show that neither love nor sex solve all of Paul and Jack’s problems. Paul is still petrified about the prospect of exposure and the probability that a photographer will snap a picture of Jack leaving his house in the early morning or that Jack will do something publicly that can’t be passed off as Jack being…well, Jack. Jack’s quick temper leads him to say cruel, wounding things even when he knows better. And just as both men have started to work past their issues and are settling into the start of a new relationship, they’re haunted by a one-night stand with a young man who’s willing to do anything to succeed, including committing blackmail.

Though the authors were evenhanded in their treatment of the two protagonists, I found the Montgomery Clift-like Paul more sympathetic, partly because I initially found Jack’s expectations of instant friendship with his idol and his subsequent anger when he didn’t get it somewhat stalker-ish rather than romantic, and partly because Paul was living in the real world. He knew who he was and what he wanted…but he also knew that it was 1953, that MGM was focusing mostly on wholesome family pictures and that being exposed as a homosexual would compromise his reputation, his career, his future and possibly his life. Paul’s fear of exposure and its very real consequences lent the novel gravity, believability and power.

The sexual details, too, are powerful…intense, detailed, wholly credible. And they’re not only hot, but also say a great deal about the characters and their world. The scene that stands out most in my mind is that of Lilah sucking off Paul while her husband, Paul’s best friend Martin, watches. Now, I can hear some people in the back saying, “Ewww, het!” But to me, it was an incredible scene. Paul wanted to be touched by a man he cared about so badly that he was willing to let his best friend’s wife suck him off while Martin watched so that he could fantasize that Martin was the one making love to him. That says so much about the man’s isolation–that there is no one in Hollywood who can be trusted to give him the love he so desperately needs. This is the best he can do. And he’s so accustomed to this accommodation he doesn’t let himself think about what he really wants for even a second, lest he realize that he’s unhappy and very much alone.

One thing that I especially liked was the level of detail that the the authors included in the book. For example, at one point early on, Paul thinks that he doesn’t want to look like “a hulking bruiser of a bulldog” next to “a little yippy terrier,” like two characters that appeared in a “Warner Brothers cartoon last year.” Spike the Bulldog and Chester the Terrier were only in two shorts for Warner Brothers: Tree for Two (1952) and Dr. Jerkyl’s Hide (1954), so right away the year had to be 1953 or 1955. And it’s emphasized throughout that what Dore Schary–who headed MGM from 1951 to 1956–wants, he gets, which would be far more probable two years after he was hired than the year before he was fired. So even if you didn’t know the date the story is set, you could still figure out from in-story references that it’s 1953.

I also liked that the authors took the time to show Paul and Jack’s relationship shifting from adversarial dislike and hurt pride to appreciation for each other’s talents and finally to honesty and the realization that, despite the risks, this relationship was worth keeping.

I was sorry, therefore, that neither the ending nor the epilogue quite rang true. I could accept one man sacrificing his reputation to a blackmailer to keep the other safe; what I couldn’t accept was the blackmailer going along with it. It seemed to me that such sacrifice would only tell the blackmailer that someone was willing to put everything on the line to save someone he loved…and then both men would be targets. So while I was deeply relieved to see the blackmailing snake foiled by a brave and generous lover, I couldn’t quite believe it would be that easy.

And while I was willing to accept that perhaps MGM had finagled matters to avoid having one of their actors arrested or imprisoned after he’d admitted his preferences publicly–it would have been in their interest to avoid scandal after all–I didn’t feel that one man giving up his studio name and going back to his real one would ensure that Paul and Jack could associate with each other with impunity. It’s not hard to discover for a reporter to discover an actor’s real name, after all. And I felt certain that the studio would be interested in damage control–including keeping one man as far away from the other as possible. It was a happy ending (it left Paul and Jack very much in love and very much together), but it was not a believable happy ending.

Nevertheless, it’s a very good book. And I would definitely recommend it.

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Review: Madcap Masquerade by Persephone Roth

When Loel Woodbine, Duke of Marche, receives news that his great aunt has engaged him to a young lady he has never met, he’s a little nonplussed. His lifestyle doesn’t exactly lead itself to entertaining the fair sex; in fact, he prefers to devote his attentions to men rather than women. However, Marche owes his livelihood to his wealthy aunt—indeed, he loves the old dragon – and he knows that he must fulfill his duty and marry Miss Valeria Randwick.

Marche never expects to be completely bowled over by his young bride when he meets her at their wedding ceremony, but she is the most beautiful, untouched creature he has ever seen. Given his preference for men, he is extremely surprised by his intense reaction to her. That is, until he finds out that his new wife is actually Valentine Randwick, Earl of Blythestone, who is disguised as his sister in order to distract attention from her elopement with a commoner.

Having been raised among monks, Valentine is innocent in the ways of the world. He knows that his reaction to the man he calls husband is unnatural, but he can’t deny the intense responses of his heart and his body to the man. Valentine doesn’t exactly enjoy the dresses and the corsets, but if Marche wants to continue the charade, he is willing. Before the two men can settle down into their own version of wedded bliss, however, Marche’s aunt is murdered, and blame is pointed at none other than Marche’s lovely new bride.

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

I have a feeling that Madcap Masquerade is book that people will either love or hate. For me, my opinion doesn’t go all the way to love, but I enjoyed it and found myself re-reading big chunks of it prior to writing this review, which is always a personal subconscious sign that I liked a book quite a bit.

Now, let’s get some details out of the way. This is a Dreamspinner “Timeless Dreams” title that comes with the disclaimer that, “…these stories celebrate M/M love in a manner that may address, minimize, or ignore historical stigma.” So, historical fiction purists be warned: this book may not be your cup of tea. But if you can get past that issue or don’t really care, you might enjoy this book as much as I did.

I will admit, I started reading this as a “straight” (well, gay) historical. At about the one-third point I thought things were getting a little preposterous and I was feeling annoyed, but I kept going. Then, I looked at the cover: Madcap Masquerade. Aha, I thought—maybe the author’s intention was to have this be a madcap romantic comedy. So I adjusted my thinking and kept on reading. As a “madcap” story it worked better, but this is probably the biggest weakness of the book. I think it is tough to be really funny with themes of murder, embezzlement, and betrayal. Certainly the author kept a light touch but it makes it hard for the story to be completely “over-the-top” which is what it needed to be to truly succeed as a comedy. On the other hand, if you read it as a mostly light-hearted romp and don’t dwell on the serious stuff, it mostly works.

What I liked the best was the interaction between Valentine and Loel and fortunately, they get a lot of page time which went a long way to keeping me interested in the story. They meet for the first time at their wedding, where Valentine is disguised as his sister Valeria. When Loel kisses his bride at the ceremony, she swoons. He takes her into the vestry, locks the door, loosens her corset and realizes that she is really a he. He’s a little surprised at this turn of events but not totally unhappy as he likes what he sees in Valentine, with his long dark hair, coltish frame, and violet eyes.

Valentine, for his part, is totally surprised at his reaction to Loel’s kiss (he had an erection) and Loel’s frank admission that he prefers men over women. But he’s no dummy and he realizes he needs to continue the charade for at least a little while until Valeria is safely married to the man she really loves. Once that happens, Valentine can sort out what he will do with his life and next steps.

Loel decides he wants to get Valentine into his bed but then surprises himself by starting to fall for the young man before the seduction occurs. Valentine also realizes he is developing very strong feelings, very quickly, for the man he is married to. Instead of ignoring each other or their emotions (and having some sort of blasted miscommunication; none of that here, thank God), they talk; Loel tells Valentine he’ll teach him about physical intimacy and “the ways of the flesh” while Valentine, in turn, will teach his husband and ultimate lover what it truly means to love someone. This was the strongest theme of the book and one that I felt was carried through very consistently and made the book work for me. Val and Loel are a good pair and as they get to know each other better and fall deeper in love they ratchet up the banter and witty dialog as well as the heat of their sexual encounters. Like I said, when they were on the page, I devoured every word; when they were absent, I tended to read a little faster.

The writing is colorful. Some may say too colorful to the point of being purple, but it didn’t bother me. I enjoyed the elaborate descriptions of clothing, food, and interior decorations. Granted, during some of the sex scenes there were velvet sheaths and throbbing rods which I know are an instant turn-off for many readers but for me, it worked as part of the overall florid narrative.

All in all, I liked this book and would recommend it with the caveat that it is probably not for everyone. I would suggest reading an excerpt—there is a lengthy one at the Dreamspinner site to give you a feel for the author’s writing style. It appears that this is Persephone Roth’s first book and as a debut, I think it succeeds although as noted above, it’s not perfect. Even so, I look forward to more stories from her in the future. And as a final note, I love the beautiful Anne Cain cover, even though in my mind, I pictured Loel (he’s the blond) as a slightly larger and perhaps more mature man. But that’s a really minor quibble!

Disclaimer: Erastes sent me this book as a PDF for review but I ended up buying the Kindle version for myself (nicer formatting) since I enjoyed it so much and wanted to have a permanent copy in my archive.

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Review: Bys Vyken by Syd McGingley

Jack saves Nehemiah from drowning, or worse, on the Cornish coast, surprised to find he has an American in his midst. He’s also afraid that his fellow villagers will kill Nehemiah rather than look at him, all for the peridot ring on his finger. He takes Nehemiah in, sharing his home, and eventually his secrets.

Pressed into the navy, Nehemiah is lost at sea, and lost for words when Jack pretends to rob him when he washes up on shore. Close quarters makes for close companions, though, and his growing feelings for Jack make it hard for Nehemiah to return home when he has the chance. Can they find a way to stay afloat?

Review by Erastes

Bys Vyken means “for ever” and is most associated with “Kernow bys vyken” meaning “Cornwall for ever”, and obviously using a double meaning here.

The story starts in a dramatic way, miners streaming out from a mine, a ship foundering off the rocks, and our protagonist Jack has his heart in his mouth because he doesn’t want to take part in the “wrecking” (the concerted efforts of a community to act on the law of salvage – all the goods and chattels belong to the finder…as long as there is no-one left alive on the ship) but his position in the village is precarious, and so he needs to put on a good show. It’s a great beginning and one that kept me very interested–bloodthirsty reader that I am, I think I would have liked a bit more tragedy, particularly considering that Jack is a Good Guy and isn’t going to murder anyone.

The pair discover their mutual interest pretty quickly, as would be expected in a story of around 60 pages, and what I liked about the sex is that it struck me as quite masculine.  Jack had refused to “take the woman’s part” in his previous relationship which strikes true in many sodomitical partnerships, there was still a stigma in taking it rather than giving it.  And I liked the way that Nehemiah referred to his cock as “my lad” as that seemed very fitting.  Men DO refer to their cocks as individuals and you don’t see it often enough in fiction.

It reminded me a little of Mellors in Lady Chatterley’s lover, and there’s a sweet scene after Jack comes where I was reminded of this again, because of the learning experience that they go through, experimenting with each other’s bodies.

I’m not sure where Syd lives, but if not in England, there’s been a lot of research done regarding Cornwall, and the story, setting and language is convincing and keeps one grounded in the time and place. The research into tin mining is impressive, too – when it’s a subject I don’t know I tend to research as I’m reading, and found nothing to contradict, which left me free to enjoy the book, feeling I was in a safe pair of hands.

There’s some interesting comments about America by Nehemiah – who is a first generation American:

“…our nation is free of a Church dictating our conscience. That it is our nation.”
Jack blinked. “That’s, that’s—”
Nehemiah kissed his mouth. “That’s freedom. Neither Crown nor Church to yield to.”

Which is very redolent of a young nation, and I’m very glad he’s not around to see what his nation is like now!

Those of you who shy away from the harshness of life in historical times will probably prefer to stay away from this, as it pulls no punches when Jack measures his life without mining and wonders how he’ll stay alive – there’s not much hope for him without it, and with it, he won’t live past 40.

The whole insularity of the community is well documented, too.

Jack was pretty sure it was only twenty or so miles to Falmouth

Which brings home the way these people lived–in their community, rarely going further than the next village.

I think I was less convinced by Jack’s immediate latching himself onto Nehemiah, if they’d stayed sex-buddies and gone onto adventure because of it, I would have liked that, but a loving relationship after two days seemed unlikely — however it’s a romance and that’s what many people expect, and the end is romantic as any that one would expect.

All in all, a good, solid historical read and one I really enjoyed.  I liked the smattering of Cornish within the book – now officially pretty much a dead language – and the slight fervour of Cornish nationalism, which was pretty much extinct, even in 1808.   An unusual setting, and I think many people will like this as much as I did.

Author’s website

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Review: Mark Antonious deMortford by G.A. Hauser

Handsome Mark Antonious deMontford had been raised on a farm in Newbury, England, unaware of his parentage until his nineteenth birthday when, during a visit to London, he encounters a world of wealth, intense sexual appetites, and an Italian by the name of Francesco. Francesco Cavalla is bold and fearless. But the powerful bodyguard who lives by the sword is also a slave to his heart. Abandoned by a former lover, stranded in a foreign land, Francesco loses himself in London’s red light district where he spends his nights drowning in taking and giving pleasure. Then he meets Mark, a man who needs so much, and who he can deny nothing. Mark and Francesco begin a journey of discovery, which takes them to new heights of passion. But when an unexpected turn of events threatens to reveal secrets that mark them for death, the two men are faced with a decision. Abandon one another, or truly embark on the quest of a lifetime.

I have to say that this was one of the funniest (unintentionally) books that I’ve read for a long while. There was nothing I could take seriously, because the entire thing read like it had been translated by someone who didn’t speak English as a first language and had done their research (if any) with movies.

The main character, the bizarrely named Mark Antonious deMontford is the ubiquitous “innocent” who has been gently raised on a farm in Newbury and who is taken to London to meet some cousins. He is immediately sexually predated upon by everyone in the house, and his reaction is … well, none, really. The mother, the father, the son and even the 15 year old daughter (who he spurns for being a child, but that’s obviously for the American censor rather than for any realism) make passes at him and in 3 of the 4 cases, suceed in doing anything to Mark they want.

I nearly stopped on page one because right from the first paragraph the facts were wrong:

During the final year of Queen Anne’s reign of England, Antonio Vivaldi astonished audiences with his miraculous Four Seasons…”

I don’t remember any time when Vivaldi came to England and surely the most cursory search on The Four Seasons should havs shown that it was not composed until 1723.

One fact, I thought anyone can make mistakes – It’s all right, so I moved on. Only to find on the next page “brownstone houses” in London. Then there’s mention of polo ponies, pooftahs,  gaslight in 1713(!) performances of operas that couldn’t have happened, streets in the wrong locations, places mentioned-like Mayfair-that didn’t even exist… the list goes on and on.

I say bizarrely named, because it’s never explained why he’s got such a peculiar name. He’s the illegitimate son of a travelling singer called Elizabeth Jones and a rich and powerful Venetian politician called Marc Antinous Caeserni. So where the deMontford comes in, (as he would have been called Jones) and why he’s Antonious and not Antinous, is just never explained. I have to say that it was not the only thing I was baffled about.

I won’t waste much time on the characterization because there really isn’t any. We are told that Mark is beautiful–so beautiful that every single person, male female eunuch and child wants him immediately–but other than his green eyes and velvet skin and interminably mentioned long hair, we get no idea of why he’s so irresistable. He wavers from disgust at his mother’s fall from grace (while fucking everyone in sight) to fury at his father’s abandonment, so much so he behaves like a positive psycho.

The secondary characters are no better, unable to think with anything but their gonads once they’ve set eyes on Mark, and unable to speak in anything but the most appalling stilted prose.

Here’s an exchange with his cousin who he has just met, and who comes to his room.

“You lovely thing. Why have they kept you away from us for so long?” Richard closed the gap between them and dug his left hand into Mark’s long hair.

Mark swallowed down a dry throat. Could he have been right then?

“God, you are glorious. I must have you!” Richard pressed against his length. “Don’t say no, it isn’t polite.”

Then there’s this whole theme running throughout the book about Mark having to be reminded to eat with his knife and I really didn’t get this at all. It was the fork that was the new innovation at this time, and although had been around for a while, it was still considered an affection and wasn’t generally used except by the rich. Also, the forks generally had only two tines, so  this passage:

Mark sat straighter and realized he’d forgotten to use the knife.  He cursed under his breath and grabbed it, trying to remember how to use the darn thing. Let’s see, scoop? No. Oh, that’s right, use it as a wall to fill the fork.

I wouldn’t make such a big deal about this, if the author didn’t, but this is brought up at least four or five times and I was entirely baffled. Why doesn’t he know how to use his knife? Then I realised. This is an American author, and the Americans tend to use their knife rarely and the English use both knife and fork.  This makes this passage highly amusing, particularly so as you couldn’t mash the food against a two tined fork. Without knife or fork I can only imagine he was eating with his fingers in Newbury.

Factual errors aside, I found this a painful read. Had every fact been correct I would still have found it so, because the prose is so dreadful throughout. Having worked with Linden Bay Romance myself, I find it hard to believe that that company edited it, as the pronoun confusion and often bizarre sentences need red-penning. Badly.

To make matters worse, if that’s possible, there’s literally no sex in the book. Oh yes, Mark has sex with just about everyone he meets, but it’s almost closed door sex, so briefly described that I can’t even recommend it as a wank book.

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Review: I Do! An Anthology in Support of Marriage Equality


0002kqd92Do you support the right of any human being to marry the person they love? The right to say ‘I Do’ to a life of commitment and sharing with that one special person? We do. All profits from this anthology will go to the Lambda Legal Fund to help fight Prop 8.

There are 2 historical stories in the anthology which are reviewed by Tamara Allen

Desire and Disguise by Alex Beecroft

Desire and Disguise is the plain-spoken title of Alex Beecroft’s contribution, a hurricane force story that knocks you flat. Robert Digby is young, healthy, and miserably celibate (if you don’t count the frequent, not-quite-satisfying relief he finds by his own hand). His wife, Lydia, has just endured pregnancy and childbirth in beautiful but hot and primitive Bermuda and she has been in no frame of mind to accommodate her husband during that time period. They’re at odds as the story begins—Robert aching with need and unrequited desire for his wife, Lydia angry and upset that her husband seems to have no regard for her feelings. I have to say that my sympathies were with Lydia and that I felt Robert had a thing or two to learn about putting himself in someone else’s shoes. To my pleasure, over the course of this lively, erotic story, he does learn, and in a most satisfying and entertaining way.

Beecroft does just a fabulous job of world-painting, with such vivid, living colors that the reader leaves his own world behind and resides within the world she creates. From Lydia’s sprigged cotton coverlet to Bill Wilkins’ crutch slipping on rounded cobblestones, to the ladies of the Walk with their Bird of Paradise feathers and powdered wigs, this story was a visual feast, even more so than the one I recall from Beecroft’s novel, Captain’s Surrender. In a lush, seductive setting that practically vibrates with eroticism, the reader does muster some sympathy for Robert, too. You can’t blame him, after a year without, for wanting to make some physical connection, even if it’s with a complete stranger. Beecroft so thoroughly convinces the reader of Robert’s state of near madness born of basic physical hunger, we believe it when he naively dives into a situation where he gets far more than he bargained for.

The Roaming Heart by Charlie Cochrane

Alasdair Hamilton, Toby Bowe, and Fiona Marsden are forever locked in a romantic triangle, but only on the silver screen in post-war Britain, where their popular films provide escape for a war-weary world. Cochrane’s tale begins with a fun twist and concludes with an even more delightful one, encouraging readers to daydream along with her in imagining what those wonderful old black-and-white films might have been like if they’d come about in a world less afraid of the different paths love can take and less squeamish about sexuality, generally. As delicately and deliciously layered as a pastry, Cochrane’s story invites the reader to consider the ways in which people must mislead their friends, family, and all of society, just to be able to live as their hearts guide them. Alasdair, Toby, and Fiona make do as they move from the chaste onscreen world to the “real” world where, for some of Cochrane’s characters, the acting is forced to continue. For some, the facade can only be dropped behind doors forever closed. It’s a situation all the more poignant in light of today’s lax onscreen rules. Movies today might be more eager to tell everyone’s story, but society is still quick to pass unjust judgment on those who don’t fall in love in the approved fashion.

Written in the same chummily engaging style as her novel, Lessons in Love, The Roaming Heart is pure fun to read. Cochrane’s affection for her characters shines through, as does her affection for romantic old films and their sometimes silly and repetitive plots. The ironies in her characters’ lives, including disparities in their war records, add to the sense of layers of deception going on. There’s a tremendous wistful quality to the story as Cochrane’s characters cope with the world’s expectations, keeping a sense of humor firmly intact; and when they finally rendezvous for that scene behind closed doors, we are allowed a heart-melting glimpse into the real romance before the credits roll.

I felt both of these stories were supremely fitting for an anthology in support of marriage equality. I haven’t yet read the other stories in this volume, but if they are anywhere close to as good as these two, this will prove to be the best anthology I’ve read in a long time. Consider also that the anthology’s profits will be donated to the Lambda Legal Defense to fight Prop 8 and you have all the more reason to purchase a copy.

In addition to the stories by Alex Beecroft and Charlie Cochrane, there are stories by Tracey Pennington, Clare London, Storm Grant, Lisabet Sarai, Sharon Maria Bidwell, Jeanne Barrack, Marquesate, Z.A Maxfield, P.A Brown, Allison Wonderland, Erastes, Zoe Nichols and Cassidy Ryan, Emma Collingwood, Mallory Path, Jerry L. Wheeler, Moondancer Drake, Fiona Glass, and Lee Rowan.

I Do is available now at Amazon or, if you prefer ebooks, at All Romance E-books.

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