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Review: Resisting Miss Merryweather; Trusting Miss Trenthem; Claiming Mister Kemp by Emily Larkin

Catching you all up with some of my Happy June reading, because part of it was catching up with all the Baleful Godmother stories by Emily Larkin I hadn’t yet read before launching into Ruining Miss Wrotham!

I’ve already said how much I loved the first in the series, Unmasking Miss Appleby, and I’ve also read The Fey Quartet, which follows the stories of Maythorn Miller and her three daughters, the progenitors of the faerie gift that keeps on giving.

When Ruining Miss Wrotham came out just when I needed a happy book, I gobbled it up pretty quickly, and then went back to the intervening tales – Resisting Miss Merryweather, the second in the series, is a novella, as is #4, Claiming Mister Kemp – and it was seeing that the series included an M/M romance that made me keen to see what Larkin was going to do with it all.

Resisting Miss Merryweather

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that Faerie godmothers do not exist.

Thus proclaims the facing page of each of the Baleful Godmother series, just before launching into a story where a woman descended from Maythorn Miller’s three daughters either has received, or is about to, her faerie gift from a resentful Faerie queen. These women must choose well, or risk madness and death. Even when they have a gift, life isn’t necessarily made easy.

In this novella, following up on Unmasking Miss Appleby, we meet Anne Merryweather – known as Merry to her family and friends – and her encounter with Barnaby Ware.

Ware is on his way to meet his estranged friend Marcus Cosgrove and his new wife – none other than the Charlotte Appleby of the previous book! Barnaby is grappling with the way he cuckolded Marcus with Marcus’s devious first wife, and is unable to forgive himself although his friend is certainly ready to forgive him. But that betrayal means that Barnaby doesn’t think he’s fit for love. He thinks he’s irredeemable. Merry thinks he’s wrong, and sets out to prove it.

Readers of the first book in the series will know what Marcus’s betrayal was, and how he was not entirely to blame. He’s a very hangdog character for a while, though it’s easy to see his more admirable qualities. Fortunately, Merry – Charlotte’s cousin, whose father was a dancing master and her mother a noblewoman – has got plenty of joie de vivre for them both.

An accident while exploring a cave brings all these unhappy events and unresolved guilt to a head. Between Marcus and Charlotte Cosgrove, the sparkling Merry (and her imminent Faerie gift), self-respect, trust and hope are restored, love is declared and happiness ever after is achieved. It’s a charming, snappy, happy read. Just the ticket for #happyjune.

Trusting Miss Trentham

With Trusting Miss Trentham, Larkin goes back to a full length novel to tell the story of Letitia Trentham, a wealthy heiress, still unmarried because she’s turned down every offer of marriage ever made to her. She already has her faerie gift, you see. She can tell truth from lies, and no man has ever wanted to marry her for love. Only for her wealth.

She’s resigned herself to never knowing love when Icarus Reid comes into her life. Reid is a former soldier, traumatised by dreadful events at the Battle of Vimeiro. All he wants from Letty is for her to use her unusual ability to find out who betrayed him and his scouts before the battle – who is responsible for the deaths of his comrades and something worse that happened to him.

Letty finds herself challenged out of her ladylike comfort zone, pretending to be someone she’s not, doing things she never thought a lady would do, to find out who betrayed this troubled man, and perhaps bring an end to his nightmares.

Letty is lovely – a woman who is profoundly tied to the necessities of truth, who finds herself committing little falsehoods in pursuit of helping this emotionally scarred war veteran. She learns about herself and the sometimes too honest Reid, including his darkest secrets. For all that she’s so aware of how much lying people do, she’s kind, spirited and will always stand up for those who need protection. Especially if they’ve been unjustly accused of wrongdoing. She, after all, can tell if they’re innocent.

I loved the way Larkin explored Reid’s experience of PTSD, long before the term was ever applied to traumatised survivors. I also loved the attention she paid to creating Letitia Trentham, who has endured a lifetime of disappointments in men who don’t see her, only the way her wealth can give them ease and repay their debts. Instead of being bitter, Letty is strong and kind. Her determination to find the truth of what happened in France, motivated by compassion, is a nice counterpoint to Reid’s more despairing need to find the truth. His slow recovery is well handled – not too pat. Letty’s connection with and love for him can’t save him, but she can help show the way to safety at last.

I enjoyed the crossovers hinting at events in the next book in the series – Claiming Mister Kemp – so that the series is loosely tied together by more than the theme. We even get to meet Barnaby and Merry Ware again!

There’s grit and pain in Icarus Reid’s story as he confronts people on the trail of the traitor, but there’s also hope and redemption, led by Letty’s kind but not naive heart and mind.

Claiming Mister Kemp

There was so much to love about this novella, but I confess I found it occasionally uncomfortable. Being set in the regency period, attitudes to homosexuality were naturally going to affect the storyline and the way in which Lucas and Tom interacted.

Lucas Kemp’s twin sister has recently died, and he’s still overcome with grief. When his childhood friend Thomas Matlock returns from the war in France in which he came too close to death, Tom’s decides to act on his love for Lucas, which he is certain is reciprocated.

It is, and we know it is from early on, but Lucas is also struggling with shame about his desire for Tom, as well as all the grief he bears from the loss of his beloved sister Julia.

In so many ways this is Larkin’s usual charming, witty love story, with just a touch of the magic that is such a feature of the other stories in the series. The nature of Lucas’s discomfort with his desire, however, means some of the intimate scenes with Tom are what might be tagged ‘dubious consent’. Tom sometimes pushes past Lucas’s “no” and it later becomes a “yes” but I confess a preference for clear consent. Tom promises never to push Lucas beyond what he wants, but he skates very close to and occasionally over that line for my preferences.

But Lucas’s heart is definitely saying yes, even if his brain is throwing up walls, so ultimately, they work themselves out and even find they have the support of family who just want them to be happy.

That unreconciled discomfort I feel is at least counterbalanced with some loving scenes, some wonderful crossover moments with the preceding book, Trusting Miss Trentham, and after trials and anguish the happy ending.

I hope Emily Larkin continues to write love stories for all kinds of people, and I’m very much looking forward to #6 in the series, Discovering Miss Dalrymple.

Reading Miss Larkin

Visit Emily Larkin’s website – where you can join her mailing list and get The Fey Quartet and Unmasking Miss Appleby for free.

Buy:

Resisting Miss Merryweather

Trusting Miss Trentham

Claiming Mister Kemp

Ruining Miss Wrotham

Cover Reveal: Near Miss

I’m excited to reveal the cover of my next work of fiction – a Clan Destine Press Encounters short story. Near Miss is full of romance, sex, fabulous hair, rock music and political yarn.

Near Miss

Glory is a rock chick. She’s fierce. From a distance she keeps seeing a gorgeous woman with fantastic hair.

Ness is a hairdresser. She was named for the Loch. She’s been admiring the lead singer of Glory Be for ages.

Fate keeps preventing them from meeting, until the night of the yarnbombing in Melbourne’s Treasury Gardens – a night that knits their lives together.

*

Near Miss is due out in July 2017

Cover art by Willson Rowe

 

Quintette of Questions: Heloise West

Quintette asks writers five quick questions. This week’s interview is with:

Heloise West

COVER IDEAS 31.What’s the name of your latest book – and how hard was it to pick a title?

Ardent is the title of the book. Morello named the colour he invented for his feelings for Benedetto, ardent red. Originally, the title was Ardent Fire, but I had three titles with fire or burning in them, so I dropped Fire.

2. If you could choose anyone from any time period, who would you cast as the leads in your latest book?

I have images in my head that don’t relate to actors—I don’t go looking unless someone, like you, asks. There are a few occasions when I’ve come across someone who reminds me of my characters without specifically looking. So I can’t really answer that.

3. What five words best describe your story?

Art, love, lust, murder, justice

4. Who is your favourite fictional couple or team?

I recently read all the books in Imogen Roberson’s Westerman and Crowther series, set in Georgian England. I do hope there’s more. They’re not a couple, but it seemed there were a few hints about that in the future in the last book—though I like them better as a team. I recommend this series highly if you like your historical mysteries with a lot of depth and complications.

5. What song always makes you cry? 

Put me in a room with John Dowland while I’m creating a sad scene (like the last scenes in Ardent), and I’ll be typing with tears in my eyes, but other than that, music won’t do it for me—I’m just not a good crier.

About Ardent

In the village of Torrenta, master painter Morello has created a colour that mimics the most expensive pigment of all, the crimson red. Master Zeno, from strife-ridden Medici Florence, tells him the colour gives him a competitive advantage – but Morello must be careful. Fraud is ever-present in the dye and pigment markets.

 

As they work together in Torrenta, Morello falls hard for Zeno’s assistant, Benedetto Tagliaferro, a young man of uncommon beauty and intelligence. Benedetto is still fixed on his old lover, the master painter Leo Guisculo, and cannot return Morello’s affections.

 

But when Leo dies in a terrible accident, it’s to Morello that Zeno and Benedetto turn for help. And Morello soon finds that in Florence, every surface hides layers of intrigue.

See more at Manifold Press.

About Heloise West

heloisewestinlisbonHeloise West, when not hunched over the keyboard plotting love and mayhem, dreams about moving to a villa in Tuscany. She loves history, mysteries, and romance of all flavors. She travels and gardens with her partner of thirteen years, and their home overflows with books, cats, art, and red wine.

Follow Heloise West:

Buy Ardent

Narrelle’s 2016 Holiday Reading Rec List

2016-banner

 

Whatever the end of the year means to you, generally it means a few lazy days and grabbing some time for a bit of reading. Whether you’re preparing to soak up the sun in the southern hemisphere, or rug up warm in front of the fire (or frolic how you please somewhere in the middle) it’s always a good time for a new book!

Naturally, I have some recommendations for you!

Narrelle M Harris has a bumper year

If you’ve somehow missed the excellent year I’ve had, may I draw your attention not only to The Adventure of the Colonial Boy, a Holmes/Watson romance set in Australia in 1893, but also to Wilderness, the third of my sexy spy thrillers about Martine Dubois and Philip Marsden.

In addition, there are the many wonderful anthologies in which my work’s appeared this year: Intrepid Horizons, A Certain Persuasion (queer interpretations of Jane Austen), The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes stories Part V: Christmas Adventures (traditional Victorian era Holmes and Watson) and A Murmuring of Bees (queer Holmes/Watson romance and erotica). In the next few weeks, Clan Destine’s And Then… anthology will be joining them with my 1851 fantasy, “Virgin Soil”.

That’s enough variety to keep you going for a few weeks, but if you’ve already been a champion and supported my work throughtout the year, I can also recommend some other fantastic books.

Narrelle’s 2016 recommendations

GoodReads stats tell me that I read 84 books this year, so I was clearly reading as fast and hard as I was writing.  So many good books too! Here are some of my favourites:

Romance and Erotica

alberts wars 2Herotica Volume 1 by Kerry Greenwood. Full of delicious queer love stories throughout history.

Albert’s Wars by Stewart Jackel. A bittersweet wartime love story. I cried. 

Definitely Naughty by Jo Leigh. Short, fast, fun, sexy read!

Science Fiction

THRIVE coverThrive by Mary Borsellino. This is the review in which I sang songs of praise to this book.

Are you there, God? It is I, Robot by Tom Cho. Tom’s work, like Mary Borsellino’s, is always an absolutely brilliant, brain-opening treat.

Trucksong by Andrew Macrae. Sentient trucks. Post apocalyptic Australia. So Aussie. So gritty. So good.

 

Fantasy

12th nightMonstrous Little Voices: These five novellas set in and around Shakespeare’s plays and life were an early gem and utterly brilliant.

  • Coral Bones by Foz Meadows;
  • The Course of True Love by Kate Hearfield;
  • The Unkindest Cut by Emma Newman;
  • Even in the Cannon’s Mouth by Adrian Tchaikovsky; and
  • On the Twelfth Night by Jonathan Barnes

Lady Helen and The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman. Regency-era demon hunters, deft and fast-paced with fabulous frocks, manners that are not always impeccable and sexual tension you could cut with a knife!

The Time of the Ghosts by Gillian Polack. I didn’t think anybody could make me find Canberra interesting, but I was mistaken. Gillian Pollack does it effortlessly with the intriguing and marvellous tale of three older women, their protege Kat and all the kid-darkghosts becoming corporeal and dangerous in the ACT.

Tansy Rayner Roberts’ delightful novellas Glass Slipper Scandal: A Castle Charming Story, Unmagical Boy Story: a Belladonna University novella and Kid Dark Against The Machine. This woman keeps writing winners.

Young Adult

Pin Drop by Roz Monette. Life on the street for a young woman in America. Realistic but hopeful, with a positive ending.

fast pitch coverFast Pitch by Tim Martin and J Creighton Brown. I don’t normally go for sports books. I really loved this one.

Thyla by Kate Gordon. Tasmanian YA. An amnesiac girl is found in the wilderness. As her memory slowly returns, we learn why Tessa is a bit unclear on modern technology and what’s really going on with some missing girls from the school she now attends. Loved this one. Looking to get my hands on the next, Vulpi.

.

Crime

DrownedVanillaGhost Girls by Cath Ferla. Set in Sydney’s Chinatown, it’s crime in a transient Australian community and it’s fantastic.

Livia Day’s Cafe La Femme series:  A Trifle Dead, Drowned Vanilla and The Blackmail Blend novella. Set in Hobart. Tasty, tasty crime! (Livia Day is another name for Tansy Rayner Roberts, just going to prove that everything she writes is perfect)

The Astrologer’s Daughter by Rebecca Lim. Another crime novel exploring more diverse sections of Australia’s community. The splash of paranormal with the astrological charts just adds piquancy to the fantastic whole.

Non Fiction

Richard III: The Maligned Kingthe-maligned-king by Annette Carson. I’m convinced. I’m now a committed Ricardian. What’s more, I think Henry Tudor is the one who did for the kids. Boo. Hiss.

Reckoning: A Memoir by Magda Szubanksi. Powerful and deeply moving.

Blockbuster! Fergus Hume and The Mystery of a Hansom Cab by Lucy Sussex. Lucy breathes vitality and wry humour into this biography of a book.

Lives Beyond Baker Street: A Biographical Dictionary of Sherlock Holmes’s Contemporaries by Christopher Redmond is an incredibly useful book of the prominent, the famous, the influential and the infamous of the Victorian era. Handy if you’re writing Sherlockian fiction.


That’s probably enough to be getting on with!

Enjoy your reading, one and all, and I hope you have a relaxing break as we head into 2017, filled with excellent reading!

And please share your recommendations in the comments for holiday reading.

New release: A Murmuring of Bees

amob-5Improbable Press has a new anthology of Holmes/Watson romance stories, celebrating the celebrated sleuth Sherlock Holmes and his biographer, friend and (in these stories) lover John Watson.

Some stories are sweet, others steamy. Many involve cases. Some are set in the Victorian era while others take place in 21st century London. In some they are young men solving crimes, and in others they have retired to Sussex.

They all contain some sort of reference to bees or honey.

I’m utterly delighted to have both a short story and a poem in the book and to be in the company of other writers including Kerry Greenwood (the Phryne Fisher series) and Atlin Merrick (The Night They Met) as well as many excellent writers being professionally published for the first time.

The Blurb

cover-a-murmuring-of-beesThink of Sherlock Holmes and you think of mysteries, John Watson…and bees. While Arthur Conan Doyle sent the great detective to tend hives in retirement, here bees are front and centre in stories of love and romance, war and hope, of honey on the tongue and a sting in the tail. In tales of rare nectars, secret diaries, and the private language of lovers, bees may be the buzzing heart of the story…or as ephemeral as a murmur. What you’ll find in every tale are John Watson and Sherlock Holmes helping one another, wanting one another, loving one another.

To encourage a world where such love is seen for the precious thing it is, profits from “A Murmuring of Bees” will be donated to the It Gets Better Project.

Excerpt from my story, Nectar

After they’d been in the basement for thirty six hours, they weren’t joking any more. Sherlock refused to discuss his symptoms but John knew them anyway: the decreased sweating; the onset of muscle cramps; the increased respiration and the incipient fever. Sherlock was more dehydrated than John, and was betraying the signs sooner. Neither of them was critical yet, but they were far from comfortable.

After everything they’d been through together, it began to look like this was how they’d die. Together. Of thirst.

In the thirty-seventh hour, the storm broke out.

Rain spattered through the open window onto John’s face, waking him from a reverie that was more a stupor. He absently licked drops of water from his lips, and again: then his eyes were wide open. He lurched to his feet and staggered towards the window.

The pattering rain became a driving downfall. It ran in rivulets through the broken window.

John pushed his cheek against the wall, shoving the side of his mouth against a steady stream that gathered in a crack and poured down the bricks. Water flowed over his lips and tongue and down his dry, dry, dry throat. The water tasted of dust and brick and God knew what else, and it was the best water John had ever tasted in his life. He pooled a mouthful and swallowed it. Pooled a second. Swallowed it.

He tried to put his hands under the stream, but the chains wouldn’t let him get that close. So he pooled a third mouthful, larger than the first two, and held it behind pressed lips.

He took two strides to Sherlock’s side, dropped to his knees, and shook Sherlock awake.

Sherlock peered at him with weary perplexity. John tapped Sherlock’s mouth with his fingers. When Sherlock didn’t respond immediately, John poked his fingers between Sherlock’s dry lips to part them, hovered—his mouth millimetres from Sherlock’s—and then he opened his mouth to let the water dribble carefully down.

Sherlock made a small, desperate noise and swallowed the water. He tried to catch a spilled droplet with his tongue.

“Sorry,” rasped John, “Had a full mouth and couldn’t warn you. Wake up, now.” He was already moving back to the wet bricks; to the precious rivulet of rainwater.

After a small swallow, John filled his mouth and returned to Sherlock. He transferred the precious cargo into Sherlock’s cupped hands. Sherlock was sucking at his wet fingers as John returned to the window; came back ready to fill Sherlock’s palms again.

Sherlock tilted his head back. “Lose too much that way,” he croaked, and opened his mouth.

London rained on them for an hour. It was almost like she wanted them to live. For an hour, John went back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. He drank sips almost as a by-product of collecting water for Sherlock, and fed mouthful after mouthful of water to his friend. Buying time.

Sherlock revived a little with every mouthful, though his first strange thought on waking to John watering him mouth-to-mouth persisted.

What kind of flower actively feeds nectar to the bee?

The rain stopped, and John stopped, slumping in exhaustion beside Sherlock on the floor. They leaned against each other.

“Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me,” laughed John, “You’ll make me think we’re not getting out of this.”

Sherlock didn’t say anything.

“You’re welcome,” said John.

To find out how they are rescued (of course they are rescued!) and what happens afterwards, pick up A Murmuring of Bees and support a good cause at the same time.

Pre-orders for the 5 December paperback release are now available at:

A Murmuring of Bees is already available as an ebook.

 

New release: A Certain Persuasion

a-certain-persuasionModern LGBTQ+ fiction inspired by Jane Austen’s novels.

Thirteen stories from eleven authors, exploring the world of Jane Austen and celebrating her influence on ours.

Manifold Press’s anthology of queered Jane Austen short stories became available on 1 November 2016. Some of the stories use Austen’s characters in their original setting; some are modern takes on Austen’s tales; and some are original characters in the Regency period.

My contribution to the anthology, ‘Know Your Own Happiness’, is a modern take on Persuasion. It’s the story of Cooper West, who was persuaded by his brother four years ago that it was easier to pretend to be straight than admit to being bi and having a boyfriend.  It was a stupid decision that cost him the love of his life, Archer Flynn. Now out, recently dumped and still harbouring regret for his lost love, Fate and Cooper’s cousin Kate are about to intervene.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Come to my book group with me on Thursday, Coop,” Kate told her melancholy new flatmate.

Cooper sighed and shook his head, resisting the inevitable.

“C’mon,” she wheedled. “You’ve been lying around the flat like a depressed slug for eight weeks. So it didn’t work out with Ruby.”

Cooper grunted.

“Or with Shen, or that boy with the mohawk,” she added, “or … Helena wasn’t it, before that, and Mandy? They were about the same time, anyway, and before that Isla, Poppy … “

He grunted again. More of a snarl, really.

“Okay, so you’ve had a run of miserable luck. Shake it off. Read a book, eat something with vitamins in it, have a fucking bath, spritz up your sad hair and come out with me on Thursday. We’re reading Jane Austen this month.”

Cooper made a noise like it was the end of the world, and the end-times smelled like cheap dog food. “Aren’t you meant to make this sound appealing?”

“What’s not appealing about Austen, you cretin?”

“It’s all fucking bonnets and county balls.”

“Shows what you know,” Kate sneered back. “It’s all sass and snark, though I will admit there are bonnets. And you like balls, don’t you? As well as boobies?”

“Ha fucking ha.”

“No, really Coop. You smell like a school bathroom. Scrub up, pull on your glad rags and come to book club. You could meet a lovely girl. Or a lovely boy. With or without bonnets. Besides, if you don’t, I won’t have anyone to be my wingman at the club after. And I need a wingman.”

“You said I had a face like a wet week and to stay the hell away from you when you were on the pull.”

“That was last week. This week I need a wingman. So get up you lazy, mopey sod, and read this.” She tossed a pre-loved paperback at him, “And gird your loins for Captain Wentworth. He’s hot. Imagine Hugh Jackman in tight breeches.”

Cooper took up the copy of Persuasion and leafed through the first few pages. “All right,” he said, unenthusiastically, “I’ll come to your book group. I’ll even wash.”

“That’s the spirit,” said Kate, with a little air punch. She grinned, then sobered at Cooper’s frown. “Really, Coop,” she said, “it’ll be good.”

Cooper smiled at her, giving her some crumb of effort in exchange for hers.

His cousin patted his shoulder and it made him want to weep.

“Are you ever going to tell me what happened? I mean … you came back with one bloody suitcase, and Ruby sent four boxes over, and that was it. Most of your stuff was still here in your room. My spare room.” She shook her head. “Your room. You never really moved in with her, did you? That was the problem.”

Cooper looked at his feet. “It was a manifestation of the problem.”

“Want to talk about it?”

“No.”

“Is it about what happened when you came out to your mum and dad?” Which was why Cooper now lived in Kate’s spare room on such a regular basis.

“Before then. But. I don’t want to talk about it. I messed up. I ran away because I was scared of losing everything, and lost it anyway when I stopped pretending I wasn’t bi. So.” He shrugged. “I’ll get over it.”

Kate stooped to kiss his forehead. “You’re a good guy, Coop. You’ve got a good heart, and a good brain. It’ll get better.”

He nodded and smiled, more successfully than last time.

He was better than he’d been after abandoning Archer. He was better than he’d been after his family abandoned him. It would get better again. Not as good as it had been with Archer, but better.

It would.

You can get A Certain Persuasion here:

Find out more about each of the stories at Manifold Press

Review: Albert’s Wars by Stewart Jackel

alberts wars 2In my review of Ice in Sunlight, I mentioned how often I felt teary reading of the protagonist’s pain and journey to healing and love. Well, perhaps I’m feeling especially sappy this month, though I think it’s more to do with excellent writing, because Stewart Jackel’s Albert’s Wars had me crying for the last 50 pages.

Albert’s Wars tells the story of two boys who end up lying about their age and joining up the armed services during World War II, though for very different reasons. Albert, with a passion for machines but in trouble with local authorities, joins the navy while Harry, looking to escape from a father he doesn’t get on with, joins the infantry.

We follow their separate paths for a while until fate brings them together – the ship on which Harry finds himself is sunk by enemy fire and it’s Albert’s ship that rescues him from the sea. Albert finds half drowned, barely conscious and delirious Harry in his cabin, and instructed to look after him. No punches are pulled in the realism of his state, including having soiled himself, and Albert’s non-judgemental and compassionate care of him is thoughtfully handled in the writing.

It’s a potentially awkward first meeting, but this is war and it’s the least of the terrible things to happen to combatants. A deep friendship springs up almost instantly between Harry and Albert, who share a cabin and all kinds of shenanigans until Harry can be returned to the army.

It’s also clear early on that Albert is gay, and that his feelings for Harry run deeper than friendship – but that friendship is plenty deep and plenty reciprocated. In defending Albert from a bullying superior officer, who accuses Harry of being Albert’s ‘soapy’, Harry declares, “I’m not his and he’s not mine, but if he was anybody’s I’d be proud that I was his.”

Albert’s Wars is about these boys and their friendship – but it’s also about war, and therefore about the cost of war.

Hence the crying I mentioned at the start.

Because in war, terrible things happen and you lose people you love: suddenly, stupidly, tragically. After becoming so fond of Albert and Harry and invested in their friendship we are faced with the loss of one of them. Jackel proceeds to delicately and with great compassion lead us through the grieving with the survivor.

Jackel tells Albert and Harry’s story with a robust 1940s Aussie vernacular and an energetic style that keeps you engaged from the start. The period slang could easily be too much, but instead it provides a vivid cultural and personal background for Albert, from Fitzroy, and Harry from Wangaratta. The language feels true to the era and to each of the boys’ backgrounds, and reminded me of ways in which my grandfathers used to speak.

It certainly works to create a rich background and to paint pictures of these two lively, likeable lads in their home lives, in training, in their deep friendship and in their grief.

Jackel has written a vivid, very Australian yet very individual account of two young men at war. It’s textured, humane and deeply moving and I hope one day that a hinted-at sequel will come to pass. I’d like to find out what happens next.

Buy Albert’s War

Review: Ice in Sunlight by Julia Leijon

IceInSUnlightSome stories that become beautiful start in ugly places. Mary Borsellino, writing here as Julia Leijon, is a master of this progression, never shying from harsh realities while simultaneously always offering hope for redemption.

Ice in Sunlight opens with a slave, Corwen, hiding in the kitchens while the assassination of his owner – the King of Genest – is taking place upstairs. Corwen is cold, cynical and unpleasant. He is in the habit of tormenting the kitchen dogs and comes from a society where the eating of one’s enemies is a literal thing, and several bodies are hanging in the pantr

For all this harsh beginning, it’s very easy to see how Corwen’s meanness and acceptance of cruel practices stem from his own experiences. He’s been a sex slave to a tyrant since he was ten years old; he carries a scar on his throat from a childhood attempt on his life; he has survived to almost twenty through cunning and cleverness. And yet his thoughts of the prince who was his friend remain kind. In the midst of his unpleasantness, there is a kernel that there may be more to Corwen than life has allowed him to be.

Corwen has been brutalised from an early age, and his greatest comfort seems to be imagining how he will die – young, certainly – in ways that give him more power and personhood that his life, and how he believes his end will really come. His antipathy towards the castle dogs comes from a very awful and bitter understanding.

The King’s assassins turn out to be philosophers of a sort, here to do this one unpleasant but, they think, necessary deed. Corwen believes he will be slaughtered as a traitor if he stays, so they allow him to return with them to Ardvi Aban, despite their misgivings and his.

Nobody, thinks Corwen, can be as kind as these people pretend to be. Certainly, Corwen does not think he has any worth at all, and cannot understand why anybody would think better of him.

And so we get the story of how Corwen, made flinty and cynical through abuse, discovers kindness. He learns that sex doesn’t have to be about power, and learns not only that love is possible, but that he does deserve it.

That paragraph makes it sound like a sweet and sentimental journey, and Ice in Sunlight is not that. Corwen’s self-worth (or rather, self-loathing) is also caught up with his sometimes complex relationship with his abuser (or abusers, if you consider how he got his scar). There’s a lot of pain in his growth, and often I was close to tears as I read. Many of his thought processes, and the revelations he has on the way, reflected things I’ve read from people who have survived abuse and how complex the thinking can be when you are both reliant upon and frightened of the person doing you harm.

Ultimately, it’s a beautiful story of redemption and love. Not every problem is solved by the end, but there is growth and a place of peace. Corwen is written with compassion even for his worst behaviours, because he has been taught it is literally an ‘eat or be eaten’ world. That the reader can be invested in him, even at his worst, and can feel pain for his pain, is a deft bit of writing – one at which Leijon excels.

The supporting characters are also beautifully written: the seeming Utopia of Ardvi Aban is indeed a wonderful place, but it’s a very wonderful human place, a sanctuary of the best that humans can be, in contrast to the Genestian environment in which he was warped. People aren’t perfect, but they are seeking balance. The final philosophical revelations – about water and waves and ice – are perfect metaphors for love and loss and Corwen’s journey of transformation.

In Ice in Sunlight, Corwen finds peace, kindness and love. He is healing from his terrible wounds of the soul. It makes for heartbreaking reading at times, but by the end my heart was mended and as full as Corwen’s for the new hope he has for his life.

Buy Ice in Sunlight

Review: Herotica, Volume 1 by Kerry Greenwood

HeroticaKerry Greenwood may be best known for her Phryne Fisher and Corinna Chapman series, but she has written far and wide, including SF, fantasy and her Delphic Women trilogy, retelling the stories of Media, Cassandra and Electra.

The fabulously diverse and busy Ms Greenwood also takes great delight in romance, including queermance, and has just launched two books of Herotica – that is, ‘heroic erotica’

Clan Destine describes the first volume of Herotica as ‘tales of love and lust between heroic and adventurous men across the ages from Ancient Egypt to a future in space’. Kerry Greenwood describes it as ‘wonderful stories of gorgeous gay men shagging each other senseless in impeccable historical settings’.

Both descriptions are delightfully accurate, and it’s a wonderful thing to read so many stories of men falling in love and getting a happy-ever-after (with an occasional ‘happy-for-now’) ending. I love a happy ending and given the mainstream’s habit of presenting queer stories full of punishment and pain, these stories were an especial joy.

Greenwood has cleverly – and quite charmingly – followed storytelling conventions of the eras in which the stories are set. In tales set in classic ancient cultures, men tend to meet, declare their undying love for each other on the instant and then dedicate themselves to one another thereafter. Stories in later eras have the protagonists generally taking a bit of time to get to know each other, before, bless them, declaring thir undying love and dedicating themselves to one another for life.

The 36 stories start with two men conducting a symbolic battle between Horus and Set and the evacuation of Atlantis; they end with spaceships, androids, heavenly beings and earthy, loving humans. In between are Romans, Greeks and Welsh druids; there are time travellers and summoners of demons; there’s Leonardo Da Vinci, William Shakespeare and Noel Coward; Holmes and Watson and King Arthur’s Court; wars and peacetime, humour and drama; and above all, love.

It’s inexpressibly charming that all the stories and their couples having happy endings (though some are a little bittersweet). Most of the do indeed have these ‘gorgeous gay men shagging each other senseless’, but their communion is rarely explicit, full of the sweetness of love as well as passion.

Favourite stories include… well, all of them. But that’s not especially helpful, so I’ll single out a few.

  • The Library Angel is a love story for booklovers. The Angel presides over an afterlife where all the storytellers and those who loved, and saved, knowledge find their rest, along with all the lost books. This is where our heroes from the burning library of Alexandria find themselves, and it sounds like paradise to me.
  • Aqaue Sulis is one of the stories that ends with notes indicating the story was built on little hints from real life (in this case, an unusual grave from the borders of Roman Bath). In the story, two people have been pulled through time to the Minerva Pool from their respective futures and forge a new life in their new shared past.
  • The Devil’s Bargain sees a scholar summoning a demon to ask for love. Of course, demons can’t be trusted, but things don’t turn out quite how either the summoner or the demon predicted.
  • Salai and Mentzi  is the story of two of  Leonardo Da Vinci’s household and the last days of the Great Master’s life. Salai is the name given to the man who was the model for Da Vinci’s last great painting of John the Baptist.
  • The Secret Diary of Dr John Watson, MD is of course a story after my own heart, with its reading of Holmes and Watson as a love story.
  • Do Not Despair is not likewise a Biggles story, but it’s Biggles-esque and full of derring-do as well as heroic love.
  • I Never Got the Hang of Thursdays is a space opera of a story: it’s a lot of fun and pays tribute to a lot of humorous forebears, including Douglas Adams and The Princess Bride. A sexy space pirate is always good value.
  • Spaceships Other Planets has an awkward genius and his longsuffering best friend finally working their secretly-in-love selves out. I love this sort of thing better than chocolate!

These are particular favourites, but all the stories are a delight – and for all that the theme is consistent, they each have a fresh story to tell, proving Kerry Greenwood has hundreds of stories yet to tell us.

Which is by way of saying that I need to get my hands on volume 2!

Buy Herotica Volume 1

This year: the writing whirlwind!

And thenSome years, my writing schedule looks pretty quiet. I’m always writing up a storm, but in the way of the writing world, I am not always publishing up a storm.

This year seems a little different. Of course, numerous projects are still in waiting and may be delayed, but if all goes well it’ll look like I haven’t slept for six months while I wrote ALL THE THINGS.

As a bit of a round-up:

And Then… anthology

My story, Virgin Soil, is slated to appear late in 2016 in the two-volume And Then… anthology of Antipodean adventure stories, coming from Clan Destine Press!

Virgin Soil is set in Melbourne and the goldfields in 1851. It’s about a young man with magical powers, his equally gifted friend, a 400 year old shapeshifter who can’t remember if he began as a rat or a man because he has both memories, and a monster that requires a virgin sacrifice. Which may not mean what you think it means. Moran and Cato might look like the bad guys, but even the good guys need someone who’ll do the dirty work…

An Indiegogo project is underway for people who’d like to pre-order the anthology, which contains stories from fantastic Australian genre writers like Kerry Greenwood, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Jason Franks, Alan Baxter, and heaps more. Pop on over and pre-order the anthology as ebooks, paperbacks or hardbacks, and with extra book incentives!

Intrepid Horizons

intrepidhorizonskindlecoverA story called Death’s Door is in a science fiction anthology called Intrepid Horizons, published by UK small press, Jay Henge in April 2016.

The story is about a young woman who writes poetry about Death. Death is a bit of a fanboy and is stalking her to read it. They get to know each other and that changes how they view their own existence… If you’re interested:

The Adventure of the Colonial Boy

ACB launchThis Holmes/Watson adventure romance set in Australia in 1893 takes a homoerotic interpretation of the legendary friendship out of subtext and makes it just plain text.

In it, Watson, believing Holmes to have died at the Reichenbach Falls, received a summons to Australia. Shocked and hardly daring to believe it true, Watson sails for Melbourne. There, he and Sherlock Holmes have to confront their heretofore unexpressed attachment to each other, while at the same time in pursuit of (and pursued by) a deadly menace involving a repulsive red leech.

Reviews have been great so far, and I’ve spoken about it on the radio and in a couple of interviews. It’s from UK publisher Improbable Press, and I’m already doing more work with them. (There’s a big list of where to get the book in paperback or ebook on this page.)

The rest of the year

As I said, it’s all in flux to a degree, but on the cards for publication later this year are a Secret Agents, Secret Lives story, and another for the Talbott and Burns Mysteries. I’ve just submitted a short queermance story to one publisher with a positive reception, so if that comes off, it’ll be out towards the end of the year. Another queermance story submitted to an anthology may go ahead round that time too, so that will be cool.

A paranormal queermance novel is looking good with one publisher, and I’m co-writing a new Holmes/Watson adventure romance in a modern setting for Improbable Press, called God Save the Queen, which will be out in the latter half of 2016 all being equal.

A few more stories are in various pipelines, so we’ll see how they go. And of course I’m still writing up a storm, as usual.

Whatever happens, it’s a very big year for me already. Thank you to everyone who’s been part of my journey so far, and who continue to support me. May your library be ever full of books that give you joy.