We're into the penultimate book of this series now. A series I've followed compulsively since I first read Enlightened. Those of you who are thinking...moreWe're into the penultimate book of this series now. A series I've followed compulsively since I first read Enlightened. Those of you who are thinking that maybe it's time for the angst levels to drop are going to be disappointed as this book is just as emotion filled and harrowing as the previous stories.
The story begins directly after the previous book. Jamie has been gravely injured by his lover Steven and been forced to take an alarming amount of cocaine. He's rescued by Brian, Mike, Alex and Leo, as well as others from the porn studio, and taken to the boarding house where his injuries are tended to and he has chance to recover. Brian has rented a studio apartment for them both and looks after Jamie as he starts to go through his withdrawal. Jamie hates being so dependent on Brian, and so begins to take risks and tell lies which leads them both into danger.
Like the previous book, this story is narrated by Jamie's first person perspective. This is entirely necessary in my opinion because some of Jamie's actions in this book would not have come across well if we didn't get a deep insight into his mind during the course of the book. Knowing his thoughts made his actions realistic and without them I would have wondered why on earth Brian stayed with Jamie.
The main focus of the story is Jamie's recovery from domestic abuse and drug addiction. The first is not an easy theme, as many readers of book 4 will already know. The men live in fear of being discovered, and of Jamie being taken again by Steven. There's a constant uneasiness in the story, which gives the tone of the book an unsettling edge. Like the previous book, I thought the author had shown well the fear of living with an unstable partner, and how that bleeds into Jamie and Brian's relationship even when they are supposedly safe. Jamie hates the scars that mar his body and make him unable to work in front of the camera any more, but more than that, he hates how the withdrawal from the drugs makes him weak and unable to look after himself properly. Again, this aspect of the story was realistic and whilst Jamie isn't shown in the best light, especially when he takes foolish and selfish risks, I could still understand why he acted in that way.
The hard and uncompromising themes are then contrasted with the almost sweet and beautiful love that Brian has for Jamie. My heart ached for him because he seems so pure beside the ugliness in Jamie, and he's desperate to recapture the beauty of their relationship before Jamie was taken from him. Jamie himself recognises this and knows that he doesn't deserve the love, affection and attention that Brian gives him - one of the reasons, I think, which makes him almost self-destructive. On one hand Jamie wants to be the strong one again - as he was when we first met him in book one - but he's not prepared to wait to be well again and so instead is weaker than ever. This is the first time since that first book that the pair have been able to spend time with each other for a sustained period and to me it just highlighted how much both men had changed through the course of the series, and the depth of character growth in both of them. The growth in Jamie, just within these pages is phenomenal and it's proof of the skill of this author that by the end my feelings for Jamie had changed. My heart ached for him at the end.
Another part I enjoyed was seeing the support network that Brian now has. He has strong friendships and people around him who are willing to take risks to protect him. These are people who love Brian for his sweetness and resolve and who will help him even when they are not sure he's doing the right thing. In particular I liked how these guys are turning to each other for love, Alex and Mike especially. Their relationship provides a ray of sunshine in what could be seen as quite a bleak installment of this series.
This was not an easy book to read and we are left on another cliffhanger. It was, however, a rewarding read and a necessary development in the relationship between Jamie and Brian. I'm wholly committed to seeing this series through now and really, really hope that the final book gives a much needed happy ending for Brian and Jamie.
One final caution: This series is meant to be read in order and so this cannot be read as a standalone story. I do urge you to read the series though, which starts with Enlightened.(less)
I have to admit, I'm a huge fan of this author so I was keen to read this story. I've read and loved her Mountain series and this one was a standalone...moreI have to admit, I'm a huge fan of this author so I was keen to read this story. I've read and loved her Mountain series and this one was a standalone, so despite knowing there would be no Jake and Kurt I happily dived into the book.
Before I started to read, I'd had a few warnings from people that it was a slow start but that I should persevere because it was a great book. It turned out to be a good thing that I'd had those warnings otherwise I may well have given up after the opening sequence. This wasn't because the writing was bad or that I didn't like the characters. In fact I loved Jon and I could see that Ricky was headed for a total smackdown followed by lots of grovelling which is the sort of character I like to read about - after all who doesn't love a reformed rake? No, what initially put me off the book was that it started right smack in the middle of a company who trade in hedge funds, and the first few pages are lots of conversations about stocks and shares, complete with jargon that I had no hope of understanding. I'm the sort of person who at any mention of maths, adding/subtracting, money stocks, shares and funds my eyes glaze over. I employ an independent financial adviser for a reason and that is so she can tell me what to do with my money so that I don't need to think about it, and the treasurer at my work despairs of me when I have to do anything involving adding up. The opening few pages bamboozled me with the sort of thing I usually run and hide from and so it was no wonder that I was confused and found it very difficult to get into the story. I didn't wants to skip or skim it either in case I missed something important. Now, I'll break off a minute here and tell you that when I reached the end of the book, I discovered a glossary of terms, which I'd missed knowing about because I never read through the contents page at the beginning of a book - my fault I know. However, the glossary would have been much better placed at the front of the book and I wouldn't have missed it then, and maybe wouldn't have struggled so much with the jargon.
Having said all that, the part which really captured me was in the relationship between Jon and Ricky. If you're the sort of reader who hates cheating characters then this will not be a book for you, even if technically Ricky isn't cheating. At the beginning of the book Ricky and Jon are together in an open relationship which Jon wishes wasn't open. He loves Ricky and wants to be exclusive, but Ricky doesn't want to be tied down by that. When Jon has finally had enough and closed the door on their relationship, Ricky gets a sudden wake-up call and realises that he's thrown away a beautiful relationship with his selfish behaviour. He then spends much of the book trying to show Jon that he is worthy of Jon's love. One of the reasons why this aspect of the story worked for me is because we see into the head of both characters. Jon is a good, kind and patient man. He's cautious and perhaps a little dull, but he's also loving and steady, just what the more volatile Ricky needs. Much of the first part of the story (which isn't concerned with financial matters) focuses on Jon's feelings for Ricky as he grows increasingly upset at Ricky's refusal to be exclusive partners. He could have come across as a pushover and weak, but because we see him stepping out and calling off the relationship, and because we are shown how he refuses to back down, he actually comes over as strong. Ricky, if I have to be honest, is a complete idiot at the start of the book. However, it shows how skilled the author is at characterisation when I changed my mind about Ricky and was wanting him to succeed by the end. I .liked Ricky's vibrant and reckless personality and it was that which kept me reading through the times he came across as petulant and sulky. The way he uses his art as a form of therapy was an interesting concept and I liked his tenacity in winning Jon back. Both men are fully rounded with past experiences which have shaped their character, another plus point for me with this book.
There were several strands to the story as well as the romance. One was office politics including a very sleazy boss. Another was Jon's relationship with his ex-best friend's brother, and the circumstances which led to the break between the two friends. There's a third minor story between two characters from Jon's office which made me feel all warm and fuzzy. Finally there's a lot involving the ups and downs of a series of companies involved in the real estate market which forms the main dramatic tension within the office and which, as I said earlier, I struggled to follow. Once again I marvelled at the way these strands were interwoven in the story and expertly tied up by the end. This is by far the most complex of the novels by this author and one which showcases her talents.
I'm struggling really as to how to grade this book. On one hand the romance worked for me. I love a story which shows a man brought low before being redeemed and Ricky is a perfect example of that. On the other hand I struggled with much of the financial stuff, felt very annoyed at Jon's boss (which I know was probably the idea) and was tempted a few times to give up on the book, no matter how much I loved the main characters. After I had finished the book I asked myself whether I would ever read this book again - unlike other of the author's books which I have re-read - and the answer was no. The financial storyline was too complex for me as a self-proclaimed maths idiot, and so for that reason alone because it just wasn't my thing, this book gets three stars. However, if you are the sort of reader who can cope with finance and maths or if you like lots of talk about stocks and shares, then I would recommend this book because the writing and characters are wonderful.(less)
Fantastic story about a lonely unfulfilled married man, Michael, who in desperation about a lack of sex life decides to try going to a prostitute. Mic...moreFantastic story about a lonely unfulfilled married man, Michael, who in desperation about a lack of sex life decides to try going to a prostitute. Michael's picked up, not by a woman, but by James, who gradually opens his eyes to a lot of things about himself. Totally unapologetic in its portrayal of infidelity and prostitution, with some scenes relating to abuse (not between the main characters), it may not appeal to all readers, but I couldn't put it down. Both characters have flaws and make mistakes but remain sympathetic throughout.
My only niggle was in a few errors in the British setting. The setting is London, UK, but there were a few times when the characeters said things that jarred slightly with the setting. The most obvious example is when one of the characters makes a reference to the expensive squares on a Monopoly board. Instead of saying Mayfair and Park Lane - the UK version of Monopoloy, they say Park Avenue and Broadway - the US version of Monopoly. This and a few other things where I thought 'a British man wouldn't say things like that' just occasionally pulled me out the story.
Overall, apart from that niggle, I would highly recommend this story to those looking for a quality piece of romantic drama.(less)
I read this story before Christmas and was going to review it then but I read a review by DarienMoya (this was quite unusual because I rarely read rev...moreI read this story before Christmas and was going to review it then but I read a review by DarienMoya (this was quite unusual because I rarely read reviews of books I'm going to review myself) which made me look at the story from an entirely different angle. Since then, I've spent a bit of time pondering the story. It begins as a fairly straightforward prison drama. Troy has been imprisoned when a robbery he was involved in with his twin brother went wrong. His brother killed a cop before going down in a hail of bullets, leaving Troy with the blame and a life sentence. He's struggling to get into the prison routine when former mobster Franchetti gives him a choice: Kill inmate Daniel or be killed himself. Troy sets out to seduce Daniel as a prelude to killing him, only to find himself drawn to Daniel whose presence offers safety and security to the out-of-his-depth Troy.
Troy was a very interesting character. He's been dominated by his twin all his life and now is adrift without his guiding presence. He's mentally not too stable, on the verge of a breakdown and the pressure of having to kill Daniel, plus the fact that he keeps being attacked by Franchetti's goon, allows us to see a man on the edge. Daniel protects Troy, but a bad experience in the past makes him keep Troy at arms length. So far so good. There's then a point in the book where the story reaches a crisis point, before moving into a slightly paranormal ending involving a statue of the god Saturn. This can either be taken at face value into a HEA, or it can be seen from the deranged point of view of a man who has lost everything and retreated into the security of his own mind. It was all rather clever and engaged my brain as I re-read the story from the alternative side of things, making it a much better and more unusual story than I thought at first.
The story isn't going to be to everyone's taste because there's a lot of rather graphic violence in the story, plus a hint of dub-con sex, but I thought it a unique twist on the usual romance stories out there. (less)
Junction X is not a romance rather it's a drama centred around a gay romance, or perhaps even an obsession. It's a perfectly nuanced morality tale wit...moreJunction X is not a romance rather it's a drama centred around a gay romance, or perhaps even an obsession. It's a perfectly nuanced morality tale with a central character who tied me up in knots and made me experience such a wealth of emotion that it will be difficult to put down in words all my feelings for him.
The story is taken from the first person point of view of Ed, who is a British middle class man in his thirties, and set in the early 1960s. He has a nice home; a good job; a reasonably good, if a little dull, relationship with his attractive wife and children; and a sort of 'friends with benefits' arrangement with his good friend and former neighbour, Phil. All that changes when Ed falls in love with the teenage son of his new neighbours and he and Alex begin an illicit affair.
I read the first half of this book pretty quickly, caught up in the character of Ed, who I really liked. His naivety was strangely endearing and I sympathised with the prickly relationship he has with his wife (they reminded me a little of Jerry and Margot from The Good Life), and the even more confusing relationship he has with Phil. It seemed quite cut and dried to me that Phil was taking advantage of Ed, that he was his friend only because of what Ed could do for him, or to him. One of the things I most admired about this story was the way that Phil turned out to be something rather unexpected in his friendship with Ed, and that all my preconceptions about him proved to be wrong, or misguided anyway. Ed bumbles along in this first part, allowing life to happen to him, cocooned in his middle class world which dampens all his emotions. He's a good man whose respectability is important to him but who isn't ambitious or forward thinking. A lot of time is spent during this first part in allowing the reader to get a good feel for Ed and his life as it stands. It wasn't dull by any means but I was a little puzzled at first as to when the romance aspect would begin. Later though, I realised why it was so important to see Ed and his comfortable life in this way. It lays down the foundations for the second half of the book, where circumstances and Ed's actions rocks his careful world and things change for him dramatically.
The romance between Ed and Alex left me feeling uncomfortable, and I think was a deliberate part of the book. We're not meant to wholly happy with the situation. On one hand I could understand the passions of both men (although in the 1960's, 18 year old Alex was still classed as a child), and yet there was always a constant niggle that Ed held all the cards. He obviously loves Alex, and the passages where Ed tries to explain his feelings for Alex were convincing and quite tender in their description. However, a few times suddenly I found myself trying to see things from Alex's point of view, the hero worship; the fierce love of a teenager; and the excitement of a secret affair mingled with the difficulties of hiding his love and the jealousy of being 'the other man'. There's no doubt in my mind that Ed should have been more responsible, more perceptive. He wasn't though, and that's ultimately where the tragedy lies in this story.
This second half of the book was a little difficult for me. Not because it was badly written, if anything Erastes' lyrical prose and stark characterisation remained compelling, but rather because I knew where the story was heading. I read it in chunks of about 30 pages at a time, before putting the book down as I mulled over what was happening and my changing feelings towards Ed. His, naivety, which was so endearing earlier in the book now became a source of frustration for me, as did his inability to think through his actions or his words before he speaks. True to character, Ed holds out on his feelings until he is forced to face them, and then his weakness allows things to get out of control. His decline from a morally upright person into a selfish, lying cheat is so gradual that I was almost at the end of the book before I realised how he'd changed. As a study in how much infidelity rips your life to shreds this was extremely well done. The fall out, when it happens, was swift, over in a matter of a few pages leaving me strangely numb. Only after an hour or so after I finished reading the book did the emotions come as I mentally raged at Ed for his foolishness, his inability to understand the feelings of others and his sheer stupidity in the way he handled things. Most of all I felt sorrow for what had happened, for the lives ruined. There aren't many authors who can leave me so worked up about a character or a situation and it's proof of how intense and powerful the writing is in this book that I was so emotionally connected to a work of fiction.
Junction X isn't an easy read. It's not light and fluffy. There are no clear cut characters or situations - rather the complexity of the characterisation was breathtaking. Instead it's a study of how love can lead to ruin; how taking what you want may not always be the best course; how the perfect life can be anything but. It's a beautifully written and vivid portrayal of a man's downfall. It may not have brought me to tears at the end, but it's a book which will stay with me for a very long time.(less)
This highly unusual short story from Ruth Sims is written from the point of view of Tony. He’...moreThis review can also be found at Brief Encounters Reviews
This highly unusual short story from Ruth Sims is written from the point of view of Tony. He’s an actor who spent his entire acting life in bit parts and later TV commercials. Now in his eighties he spends his days in a nursing home unable to get about due to weak legs. He uses his time making life awkward for the nursing staff and being grumpy about being an old man. Tony meets a young man, Drew, who comes to visit his friend Jesse at the nursing home. As the two get to know each other more Tony becomes attached to both Drew and Jesse, and in turn begins to see how life can be more than sitting about waiting to die.
As you can see from my quick summary above, this is not your conventional romance. It does, however, contain a romantic subplot and a happy ending of sorts. The story is more than a romance though and in fact has a rather poignant and bittersweet theme of lost chances and making the most of life as it is. Tony isn’t the most sympathetic of characters at first. He’s rude and disagreeable to the staff; he’s mired in a bitterness about his old age and lost youth; and he deliberately refuses to make changes to his life to improve his situation. His meeting with Drew acts as a catalyst for change and one of the most pleasing aspects of this book was the development of Tony. By the end of the story I liked him a great deal.
This is a story which makes you think and leaves you pondering long after you’ve finished the last page. It’s not often that a short story manages to effectively tackle such things as old age, tragedy, loss and ultimately hope but this one does in a way which was both sad and uplifting. The quality of the writing is superb, as is the depth of characterisation in Tony.
Overall, I highly recommend Song on the Sand to those looking for an unusual short with a romantic subplot.(less)
I like JP Barnaby’s writing and was pleased to see this short at DSP. The story is a Bittersw...moreThis review can also be found at Brief Encounters Reviews
I like JP Barnaby’s writing and was pleased to see this short at DSP. The story is a Bittersweet Dreams title so I knew I wasn’t in for a HEA, instead the ending is quite a surprise!
The story follows Kyle who, after splitting with his wife, has decided to face up to the fact that he’s at least bisexual. He’s completely failed at bars and clubs so decides to pick up a male prostitute. Jesse is that prostitute who only has sex with men for money so that he can help his sister have a better life. He’s surprised at the feelings that Kyle brings to their liaison and hopes that Kyle will become a regular client.
Those of you who are looking for a light and fluffy read may not find this story to your taste. It’s not bleak, but certainly doesn’t shy away from the realities of being a whore. There’s a closed off cynicism to Jesse which was ideal for his situation. Kyle is a good mix of embarrassment and determination. He wants his first time with a man to be a good experience, and so refuses to see it as the transaction Jesse wants it to be. The way that Jesse is at first surprised and then won over by Kyle’s attentive gentleness was the most enjoyable part of the story for me.
What worked less well was the ending. Not that it left me feeling bad, just that I wanted the story to continue. There’s scope in this story for the characters to develop and grow into something that could be a HEA and the end only whetted my appetite for what could be a longer story. I’m hoping that JP Barnaby will write more with these characters.
As it is, there’s enough characterisation and setting to provide the basis of a good story and I’d recommend Papi to those who like a touch of darkness to their romance and don’t mind a non-HEA.(less)
Confessions of a Rent Boy was one of those books I may never have read if the author hadn't sent it to me to review. The author is new to me and I'd n...moreConfessions of a Rent Boy was one of those books I may never have read if the author hadn't sent it to me to review. The author is new to me and I'd never heard of the publisher, and since I'm one of these rather conservative readers who tends to stick to the bigger league m/m publishers this book would have passed me by entirely. What a huge shame that would have been because I found this book utterly compelling.
I have to admit the title of the book led me to believe that this was going to be one of those red-hot, sex filled books where the hero loves his job as a prostitute and everything is rosy but this, thankfully, was not at all the case. Whilst the book is certainly filled with a lot of sex scenes, the subject matter is a realistic view of life as a rent boy with some of the good, bad and in between points of selling your body for a living. Having said that, this is not a bleak book, although the hero does suffer at times. This is for two reasons: The strong narrative voice of Andy and the way that the sex is used to show the better clients whilst the worst ones are glossed over a little.
The book is set in Britain, mainly London, and Andy has the voice of many typical British men. He's a bit of a lad, with a tough inner core. He's self-deprecatory with a wicked wit and humour. He's also very honest about his feelings, unapologetically so. It's this 'take me as you find me' attitude that I found very sympathetic. He's also unstable at times, mainly because whilst he's had a lot of sex in his life, he hasn't had much in terms of love and genuine affection. At times I felt so sorry for him as he struggled with loneliness and disappointment, with betrayal and unrequited love. This is then balanced by the pride he feels in his job, the act of giving of himself to provide a service to other lonely men. I also liked that he's not conventionally handsome, and even struggles with lack of confidence in his looks and body. It made him all the more human than these heroes with rippling muscles and movie star looks. The character of Andy was entirely rounded, filled with depth of emotion, realistic feelings and actions. He made me laugh, but at times I also wanted to cry.
As I said earlier there's a lot of sex in the book. However, each sex scene was used to show us something of Andy's development as a person. We see the extreme nerves he felt with his first client, the way he slowly builds up a client base, the different types of men he encounters, and even the way he gentles the nerves of a virgin. The sex scenes are all so tightly well written and sensuous, even when what is being described isn't always a positive experience. There's a freshness about the writing and Andy's feelings, especially during the sex, that lifted it beyond mere titillation and made it a part of Andy's experience.
The question for me by the end was how much of this book is a romance. There's a change in direction towards the end of the book where in a time of weakness Andy goes back to a previous lover. I wondered whether that would turn out to be the focus of the romantic core of the book, or whether he would begin a relationship with one of his clients. I'm not going to spoil things by giving too much away, but the romance is almost secondary in this book to the drama of Andy's life. The book ends on more of a promise of romance. I found this satisfying enough as my imagination supplied the rest. However, some readers may feel that they want more of a solid happy ending for Andy.
Before I conclude, I want to point out that Andy is bisexual and as such there is some m/f sex in the book. This didn't bother me because it's only briefly described but it may not appeal to all readers of m/m books. I'd urge you not to let it put you off though because you would be missing out on a great book.
Overall, I found this book to be a surprising gem. The writing is engaging, the character of Andy vivid and extremely sympathetic. I may not have heard of this author or publisher before, but I'm definitely intending to check out further books from them in the future. I highly recommend Confessions of a Rentboy with a grade of 'Excellent' to those looking for a book which is strong on character, emotion and drama. I couldn't put it down and intend reading it again very soon.(less)
Rather disappointingly there are no nubile young men in speedos in this book. Instead the bo...moreThis review can also be found at Brief Encounters Reviews.
Rather disappointingly there are no nubile young men in speedos in this book. Instead the book follows Sam, a man who is dissatisfied with his relationship with his current lover John, so much so that he feels stifled. These feelings lead to him meeting up with a man he met at a music recital, Richard, which in turn leads to a period of reflection and soul searching for Sam.
This is a bit of a difficult book to pin down. It wasn’t the romance I expected it to be, which isn’t a bad thing. Instead it was a bit of a psychological journey for the main character of Sam. We are in his head for most of the book, hearing his dissatisfied thoughts about the way that John has insinuated himself into his life. The interesting shift is that what Sam thinks is happening or has happened in the past is very different to John’s views, whose head we are in for a few startling moments of the story. The twists and turns of the plot, which is mostly static and confined to Sam’s head, rather than action-filled, was a very interesting aspect of the book and made it one of the more unusual romances I’ve read for a while.
As the whole book hinges on the character of Sam, then it’s important to like him, or have a measure of sympathy for him at least. I didn’t like him at all, and that is the only reason this story gets a 3 star grade because the ideas were original and the writing good. I just couldn’t get past him total dislike for Sam, and conversely my sympathetic feelings for John. It coloured my views of the romance between Sam and Richard because I couldn’t see what Richard saw in such an objectionable man. Even when Richard tries to explain his attraction to Sam towards the end of the book, I still didn’t really get it. Perhaps the book was just too much of a psychological drama for me. Who knows.
So overall, if you want to read a romance that takes an emotionally cold and rather callous man and analyses the reasons for his behaviour in the context of a budding new relationship, then this story is for you. My reactions to Sam meant it didn’t work as well for me but other readers may like it.(less)
This book isn’t actually a romance, and nor would it be called erotica, although there is a...moreThis review can also be found at Brief Encounters Reviews.
This book isn’t actually a romance, and nor would it be called erotica, although there is a very short sex scene. Instead it’s a drama about a young man, Felipe, who is beginning a two year stint in prison, and how he copes with the first few weeks of his prison sentence.
Felipe is a sympathetic narrator. He’s essentially a good guy but a family tragedy coupled with a thirst for revenge has got him where he is. He’s also an intelligent man who figures out very early on how to use the system to his advantage without losing his soul to prison. The writing is a mix of lyricism and harsh descriptions, often found in the same sentence, which sounds like an odd combination but works beautifully:
“The bus smelled of sweat and urine. Eight other inmates sat shackled with Felipe, swaying as the bus lurched through its gears, burly caricatures of the schoolboys they had once been.”
What struck me most though is the gentleness and compassion that we find in Felipe and his situation. Despite the harsh surroundings, Felipe’s grief was real, as was the way he tried to make the best that he could. I had a lump in my throat on a few occasions in sorrow for Felipe.
My biggest complaint is that the story just ends with no solution or resolution and I was left with a number of questions which I fear will never be answered, mainly to do with Felipe’s reaction to what happens to him at the end of the story. However, that didn’t stop me from liking this story a great deal and I would recommend it to those readers looking for a heartfelt story.(less)
This historical set in 1800s Bavaria tells the story of three characters. The first two, Bauer and Schiffer, are two men whose sons ran off together,...moreThis historical set in 1800s Bavaria tells the story of three characters. The first two, Bauer and Schiffer, are two men whose sons ran off together, leaving scandal in their wake. When the two young men die tragically their fathers are left with not only the ripples of the scandal to cope with, but also their own loss, their blame and their sorrow at what was said or not said between them and their sons. The story is set in the few days leading up to Christmas, over a year after the deaths of their sons, and follows the men as they face up to their grief and attempt to move on. Linked with this story is the character of Jakob, a fifteen year old boy who has come to realisation that he is gay. Two things happen to him during the story, firstly he discovers the story of Bauer and Schiffer’s sons which leads to realisation that he is not alone in his feelings, and secondly he becomes obsessed with an Englishman who is staying at the inn where he works.
The story is structured so that we have alternating chapters between the three main characters and each chapter begins with a short paragraph taken from the journal of Schiffer’s son Heinrich, as he records the growing love between him and Bauer’s son Stefan. Those short paragraphs form the only romance in the book and it’s bittersweet, as we know their fate is to die young. I have to admit this type of structure where we follow three separate stories, which then intertwine later, is never my favourite way of reading a book. I become too invested in one character – in this case, Jakob – and I got frustrated when I had to move onto the stories of Bauer and Schiffer. However, as the chapters were all quite short, it wasn’t long before I was back to Jakob. Jakob’s innocence and the almost painful way he latches onto the Englishman was very affecting, and I found myself sympathising with him and his young misguided love a great deal. Out of the three stories I least sympathised with Schiffer – as I think was expected. His selfish grief and the way it affects his family showed him to be self-absorbed and a little cruel. He hides behind the grief of Heinrich’s death and uses it as an excuse to behave badly, and even a redemptive conclusion to his story wasn’t enough for me to like him a great deal.
One of the successes of the story was in the way it looked at being gay and coming out from different perspectives, whilst also remaining true to the historical setting. Thus we see the joy and determination of Heinrich and Stefan to be together no matter the scandal and consequences for their families; the bewilderment and regret of Bauer over the way he handled Stefan’s confession of his feelings for Heinrich; and the loneliness and fear of Jakob as he realises that he is gay. These themes of loneliness, loss, regret, fear and longing circle through all the stories, making it rather a sombre and melancholy read, but also compelling and moving.
The historical setting is a backdrop to the events of the book, and especially Bauer’s shop and Jakob’s poverty are vivid and poignantly described. I liked that the setting wasn’t too aggressively realised, but rather was used to show the limitations of the characters and their lives. There was much that I found interesting, especially with the descriptions of the Christmas traditions.
Overall, this book was a well written drama, it’s character based plot was gentle but also convincing in its portrayal of the lives of these three characters. If you like historicals, especially sober dramas which make you think, then I would recommend The Glass Minstrel.(less)
In this novella, Josh Lanyon has stepped out of his comfort zone and written, not a mystery, but a drama set in 1st World War France. It tells the sto...moreIn this novella, Josh Lanyon has stepped out of his comfort zone and written, not a mystery, but a drama set in 1st World War France. It tells the story of Bat, who is serving as a pilot and the equivalent of a squadron leader, in the RFC (the forerunner of the Royal Air Force). This involves patrolling over enemy lines twice a day, in what was basically an aeroplane made of wood, canvas and engine parts, looking for, and engaging with German planes. It's a dangerous job and nearly every time they set out they lose a plane and a pilot. There are no parachutes and almost no chance of survival if a plane is hit and goes down, thus the average lifespan of a pilot is less than 3 weeks. Bat is one of the lucky ones: an experienced pilot who has managed to survive for several months. As the story begins, Bat is mourning the loss of his lover and best friend. Gene was one of the very few servicemen in his squadron that Bat had allowed himself to become attached to and they had been in love and in a relationship together since they both joined the war. When one of the engineers, Orton, threatens to blackmail Bat by exposing his relationship with Gene, he loses his temper and accidentally kills Orton. This is seen by one of the other pilots, Cowboy, an American who is serving with them. Cowboy sends Bat away and deals with the problem of Orton, but then uses that situation to blackmail Bat into having sex with him.
There are a couple of themes which intertwine in this story. The first is the war and the effect that has on Bat. On the surface Bat is your typical upper class British man. He hides his emotions and fear behind a veneer of disdain and disinterest but underneath this exterior he is a man only just holding on to himself. He is ravaged by grief for Gene and feels a hopelessness about the war and the number of lives that are being lost each day. In order to protect himself from this he refuses to get close with any of the men, beyond the usual day to day dealings, preferring to keep his distance with all, except Gene and a couple of other men he knew at school. When Gene is killed, and then Bat kills Orton, things start to unravel inside Bat as he becomes reckless in the air and contemplates suicide. Alongside this, the story deals with the other aspect of war, engaging with the enemy, and contains a number of exhilarating action sequences involving Bat's squadron and the German fighters. These were always tinged afterwards with a certain sadness as yet another character is killed and Bat faces the knowledge that in a few short hours he will have to fly again and possibly face his own death. In fact it is the hopelessness of the war and the way it affects Bat and the other pilots which stayed with me long after I finished this book.
The second theme is the relationship between Cowboy and Bat. Cowboy rescues Bat not just from Orton but also from his own suicidal compulsions. Cowboy then makes his advances on Bat. At first I was appalled. The first couple of sex scenes (of which there are more than you might normally find in a Josh Lanyon book) tread a very fine line between consensual and forced seduction. I hated Cowboy for adding to Bat's already stressful life by making demands on him by blackmailing Bat for sex and I was also infuriated with Bat for allowing Cowboy to treat him like that and spent several pages hoping that Bat would take his service revolver and shoot Cowboy. However, as the story progressed I began to get glimpses into Cowboy and why he behaves as he does. This is wartime and people behave differently in times of war than they do during peace. Cowboy and Bat are aware that every time they go up in a plane they may never return and that tinges their relationship. It's obvious that Cowboy has feelings for Bat and has had for some time, even if Bat is never aware of it and initially feels nothing but a kind of horrified lust for Cowboy. There is no time for niceties, for courting or wooing. Cowboy seizes the opportunity to have Bat and takes him, even if it is with tenderness at times. Bat is reluctant to get involved again so soon after Gene's death, but craves the physical release that sex with Cowboy brings, despite being disgusted with himself, and eventually the two men do come to an, almost uneasy, understanding.
One thing that was very obvious when reading Out of the Blue is that Josh Lanyon has done his research. This came across strongly in the number of period details - from descriptions of the planes, flying formations and dog-fight strategies - and also in the way that the men, especially Bat, thought and spoke. I was immersed in the time period and felt all the hopelessness and despair at the number of casual deaths along with the tense thrill of the fighting. My heart was in my mouth several times during the action sequences and it ached with grief for the way that Bat is only 23 and yet is mature far beyond his years.
This story is not a nice wartime romance. In fact, I'll stick my neck out and say it's not a romance at all. How can it be? The year is 1916, two years before the end of the 1st world War. Bat and Cowboy fly over enemy territory twice a day, risking their lives each time they fly. It is not possible for them to have anything other than a very tentative and unlikely HFN - and thank goodness Josh Lanyon was not tempted to stick in a dreadful 'three years later' epilogue or the book reader really will have hit the wall! Theirs is a relationship based on the here and now and that's all than it can be, given their situation. I finished the book feeling extremely melancholy, but also aware that I'd read something truly extraordinary. I'm giving Out of the Blue a grade of 'Excellent', however, be warned that this novella will not appeal to everyone. It's not romantic, it doesn't contain any of Josh Lanyon's usual dry humour (except for one extremely black comic moment which surprised a laugh out of me), it is quite beautiful and also quite bleak, so those of you who like their m/m to be lighthearted with a solid happy ending would probably do best to look elsewhere which is a shame, to be honest, because you will be missing out on something special.(less)
Maloney's Law is the book previous to The Bones of Summer. One of the frustrations I had about The Bones of Summer is that I never really understood t...moreMaloney's Law is the book previous to The Bones of Summer. One of the frustrations I had about The Bones of Summer is that I never really understood the character of Paul Maloney. He seemed such a private person and yet also had baffling mood swings. I now realise that many of my questions would have been answered if I had read Maloney's Law first.
The book is taken from the first person point of view of small time private investigator Paul. At the beginning we learn several things about this complex man. Firstly he had an affair and fell in love with a married man, Dominic, three years before the start of the book, which ended badly leaving Paul broken hearted. This led to Paul having a nervous breakdown. Secondly, he has a long term friendship with his assistant Jade, who helped him through his breakdown and thirdly that he has an uncanny ability to keep track of dates, almost down to the hour:
As he’s the last man I’ve slept with, it must be three years, four months, and one week since I had sex at all. At least with someone else in the room. I wonder if that makes me unusual.
Dominic has called Paul out of the blue and asked him to take on a case for his company. Dominic owns a very successful IT company and he is thinking of merging with another company based in Egypt. He wants Paul to discover if there is anything underhand going on that would affect the merger. On the surface this seems like a simple job. Paul needs to do a bit of digging, travel to Cairo and dig some more and then bring a report back to Dominic. However, things hot up when firstly a dead woman turns up outside Dominic's offices and then Paul is threatened and an attempt is made on his life whilst staying in Cairo.
I said earlier that Paul is an complex character. In fact it's difficult to put down in words all the various aspects of Paul's character. He's a man who is very much alone in his life. He never sees his father (for reasons I won't go into here as it would be spoilerish) and so the relationship with his mother is strained; he hasn't had a lover since Dominic; and he spends his time either working or alone in his house. His only friend is Jade and theirs is a delightful friendship full of love and laughter. They have an affection for each other which is shown in the way they joke with one another or share information and it is obvious that Paul holds Jade in deep regard. Jade's family also welcome Paul even if Jade's parents are a little perturbed over the exact nature of their friendship. Alongside Paul's relationships (or lack thereof) is his emotional state which seems to constantly hang in the balance. He spends most of the book barely holding onto his emotions, fighting to keep an impassive front in the face of the return of Dominic into his life and the wonderful/terrible memories that brings. When something happens to tip that status quo, Paul is unable to cope and goes into an emotional meltdown which was entirely in keeping with what I would have expected from his behaviour at the beginning of the book.
However, my favourite part of Paul's character were the little quirks given to him by the author. I've already mentioned the date keeping, but there were other things as well. Paul's love of whisky and the way he ruthlessly rations it out (hinting that he may once have had a serious problem with alcohol) is another great quirk sending him into rhapsodies of eloquence when he finally succombs and drinks some:
Last of all is The Macallan, rarely opened, its rich toffee glow hinting of secrets not yet understood, not yet known. Yes, this is the one. As I release it, the smell of new leather and dark Spanish sherry settles around me, and I pour a double measure, more, into my waiting glass. The golden liquid swings round, marking its place, waiting for me, calling.
He also has a number of amusing 'PI rules' which he brings out every so often, usually when he has broken one of them "Second rule of PI work: don’t employ someone who’s moral".
The story itself is a breathtaking ride from start to finish. Paul's tenacity leads him further and further into danger as he uncovers clues leading to the death of the young woman and the connection to her and the company Dominic wants investigating. Along the way there is action, excitement, tragedy, betrayal, pain and heartbreak until Paul is the only thing standing between corruption and justice. Not only does Paul have to face up to some of his greatest fears he also makes discoveries about those he loves the most. By the end of the book Paul has been put thoroughly through the wringer - as has the reader - and had his world turned completely upside down. It's no wonder then that he seemed so distant and so unwilling to get involved with Craig's problems in The Bones of Summer which is set only a few months after the end of this book.
I feel that I ought to point out that whilst there is some sex in this book, it is not a romance. There is hope though, especially as Paul meets Craig towards the end of the book. Maloney's Law is a mystery, and a great one at that which kept me guessing right to the end, but not romance.
Once again Anne Brooke has produced a book which is high in emotional intensity and yet never strays into hysteria. Her descriptions of setting, character and situation all combine to make Maloney's Law into an unforgettable read. I highly recommend that you read this book - preferably before The Bones of Summer - as you won't be disappointed. Grade: 'Excellent'.(less)
My first thought after finishing this book was, 'Well that was really good, but how the heck am I going to review it?!'. Bashed is one of those books...moreMy first thought after finishing this book was, 'Well that was really good, but how the heck am I going to review it?!'. Bashed is one of those books so full of churning emotion, that it almost defies description. It deals with a range of topics such as hate, anger, violence, frustration, confusion, contrition, guilt, despair, grief, intolerance, bigotry, revenge and several different types of love. The plot seems on one hand very simple, yet packs such an emotional punch that at times I could hardly bear to read it.
The book begins, horrifically, with a graphic description of a gay bashing that made me almost sick to my stomach to read and yet it was also terribly compelling. One of the victims, Donald, wakes up two days later to find that his world has fallen apart with the death of his lover, Mark. Whilst recovering from his injuries he is visited by the ghost of Mark, which is both a comfort and a torment for Donald. These visitations continue on and off as Donald struggles to come to terms with what has happened, tries to remember the identity of his attackers and attempts to rebuild his life. One of the group of men who attacked Donald is Justin, a sixteen year old boy. He is horrified that something which was supposed to be a bit of intimidation and name calling turned into murder and feels guilty even though he was not the one wielding the baseball bat. In an amazing piece of irony, the only person who cares about Justin is Walter, his gay uncle, who has recently moved into Donald's building. When Justin realises that his uncle and Donald are getting close he panics and starts a chain of events which leads to a nail biting finale.
Bashed is taken mostly from the viewpoint of either Donald or Justin. Donald is a fifty year old gay man who worked the gay leather scene for 30 years before meeting Mark and falling in love, 18 months prior to the story. I found myself feeling a mixture of pity and sorrow for Donald, who had finally found love and lost it in such a violent, unnecessary fashion. Before the attack he was a strong and independent man, who had taken the dominant role in the relationship with him and Mark. After the attack he becomes bewildered and frightened easily. He also doubts his own sanity when he is visited by Mark and yet looks forward to those times when he appears. Then, occasionally, we see flashes of the man he used to be, in his dealings with his sister and when he tries to forget his pain in casual sex.
The character of Justin brought out even more mixed feelings in me. For a start he is young, but still old enough to know right from wrong. He has a neglectful mother, but is loved unconditionally by his uncle. He knows that he hangs around with a bad crowd, drinking and smoking weed, but he does nothing to get himself out of that situation even after the attack. Justin is an example of how a weak attitude plus enough bravado and anger can lead to tragedy. Time and time again he thinks about doing the right thing and yet takes the wrong path at each opportunity.
We do occasionally get the point of view of other characters, especially Grace, Donald's sister; Walter; and for one enlightening chapter, Ronny, the young man who killed Mark. Each of these characters then provides us with insights into other characters - such as Grace's view of her brother, or the gay lifestyle - such as with Walter, or some explanation as to why people may behave as they do - as with Ronnie. There was never a point that I felt a scene or a character was wasted or not needed, even the scene at Mark's wake was included to show that even the most outwardly reasonable person can carry a homophobic attitude.
So out of the simplest of plots - an attack, a death, a grieving, a justice, a new beginning - comes a whole breadth of complex characters and motivations, showing that what might on the surface seem a pointless act has its roots firmly in cause and effect. It was enlightening and chilling.
This was not an easy book to read. I felt emotionally drained by the end as though I had been wrung out. This is a realistic portrayal of a gay bashing and its aftermath. There are no easy answers or excuses at the end of this book, which is as it should be. There may be a little explanation, a few hints as to why these attacks happen but this is real life and there's no fairytale ending because this still happens today, even in our so-called enlightened times. The book does end hopefully with the promise of new beginnings despite the sorrow but Bashed will not be to everyone's taste. The violence at the beginning was graphic so may be offputting to those who don't like violent stories; the themes, as you would expect, are rather depressing; and many of characters are unsympathetic, even on occasion Donald. However, this is a compulsive read and I think it's also a book that needs to be read by all those who sympathise with gay rights. For that reason alone I can wholeheartedly recommend Bashed with a grade of 'Very Good'.(less)
I'd not heard of Marquesate until I read her wonderful story Code of Honour in the I Do anthology. That story turned out to be one of my favourites fr...moreI'd not heard of Marquesate until I read her wonderful story Code of Honour in the I Do anthology. That story turned out to be one of my favourites from the anthology. I loved it for it's manly characters and testosterone fuelled sex. So when the opportunity came up for me to get hold of this book, I jumped at the chance, hoping to read something as good as that story had been. I wasn't disappointed.
Many of you who read this blog will know that I like my heroes to be 'real men'; to be masculine and to be comfortable in their alpha status. Well, to get an idea of how manly the characters are in this book, you need to think of the most manly man that you know or have read about and then inject him with three buckets of testosterone. That will give you an idea of the sort of men that Tom and Alex are in this book. Marvellous.
The book begins with our hero, Tom, in the shower. Tom is a Sergeant in the Royal Engineers and is gay. He joined the army at 16:
Sixteen, and he hadn't had a clue; would have fucked any girl if they had let him.
Hadn't intended to grind himself at eighteen against another guy in breathless need, loaded to the gills with cheap lager, denims pulled down to his knees.
Britain doesn't have an official 'don't ask, don't tell' policy. It's more implicit than that - keep it to yourself or get beaten up - is more the deal in this country, so Tom keeps away from the girls and visits gay clubs in the cities when he needs slake his lust.
In the opposite shower is Tom's best friend, Alex. Tom has been in love with Alex for a long time. He is particularly attracted to the scars on Alex's body which Alex got under torture. He has hidden his love and lust for his straight friend, but is almost at breaking point. Then one night Alex starts badgering Tom over why he never takes up any of the many offers that he receives from women. It is at that point that Tom cracks and confesses his sexuality to Alex. What follows from this confession changes their relationship from comradeship, to hate, to acceptance and even love. It's a long journey for these men full of excitement and danger. These were well rounded characters. It helped that the book is almost split in two with Tom's thoughts at the beginning as we learn about his feelings for Alex and his motivations for starting a relationship with him, and then Alex's thoughts as we move into the action based part of the book.
There were a number of things I really liked about Her Majesty's Men. Firstly, that the story takes place over a long time period - several years. This was necessary because both men, especially Alex, have a lot of healing to do. Alex hates his scars, believing them to be the reason his wife divorced him. Plus they are a constant reminder of the pain he underwent and the subsequent emotional fall out of the torture. Gradually, throughout the book he learns, with Tom's help, to accept what happened. We need the long time period for that to happen.
Secondly, both men are alphas. Their lovemaking is almost like fighting, with both determined to take control and neither one giving quarter. It was so violent that I was visibly wincing on a couple of occasions. This was very thrilling and so unlike much of the alpha/beta relationships that crop up in m/m. This also fits in with their situation, with Alex's reluctant reliance on Tom which causes him to lash out in anger as he strives for sexual fulfilment.
Finally, I love a great action book, and being a predominantly military storyline this contained action in spades, especially during the last third of the book, which was like something out of a Hollywood action movie. Marquestate writes in such vivid, gory detail that I could feel every ounce of pain, suffering and triumph that she puts these men through. This was coupled with believable thoughts and dialogue. These are men of action, not of words, and this is reflected in the way they speak to each other and the way they think. A prime example of this are Tom's thoughts in the first section of the book, which begins:
Goddammit! Here he was again, under the shower and with none other than Staff Sergeant Alex Turner in the stall opposite. They were bloody Royal Engineers and couldn't even fix shower stalls with fucking doors?
I only had a couple of issues with this book, mainly centred around Tom. He was such a strong man, and yet utterly crippled by his feelings for Alex. Time and time again, he allows Alex to use him which was something I found immensely frustrating and wished that Tom had been less submissive in this area. I also wanted to have much more grovelling from Alex at the end of the book and as a result more tenderness. However, I appreciate that at the end, Alex had come a long, long way, so maybe I shouldn't be so greedy!
Apart from that, this book was a rough ride from start to finish. I loved it because violence, pain and brutality are issues that don't bother me and I welcomed a read that was so different from the normal m/m fayre. If you don't like those things in your romance, then I suggest you stay away from Her Majesty's Men. If you like books filled to the brim with testosterone, packed with action with men who are a mix of arrogant and confident on the outside, yet a seething mass of insecurity and self-hatred on the inside, then this book is for you. For those people, I highly recommend you read this and it gets a grade of 'Excellent' from me. I understand that there may be a sequel in the pipeline (where Alex has to do some serious grovelling, damnit) and I look forward to reading that in the future.(less)