Friday, 19 May 2017

The Truth About Goodbye by Russell Ricard

This review was first published on the WROTE Podcast LGBT website. 

The Truth About Goodbye is the self-assured debut novel from Russell Ricard, handling a tough subject with humour and grace. How does one move on from the grief of losing one’s husband? Of course, everyone is different, but it is Sebastian’s story which is told here. On the face of it, an ageing chorus boy, is dealing with two significant life events. The one year anniversary of the death of his husband, and turning 40 in the midst of an unforgiving and cruel environment; the New York show scene.

Sebastian’s well-meaning friend, Chloe, tries to make him feel better by setting him up with a date, failing miserably as Sebastian is still trying to accept and move on from his husband’s death. (Not surprisingly. A year is not that long when it comes to the loss of a true love.) Sebastian has tried a variety of distractions, including throwing himself into his choreographing work, with limited success. In the end, he has to face his grief alone, with all the requisite elements it throws at him. Anger, both at himself and his husband for leaving him, guilt at what was said or not said on the night he died, and fright at the thought of losing what they had forever, and erasing it with someone new. Through techniques taught by his lifestyle guru and grief counsellor, Sebastian gradually learns to accept his aloneness, and not be afraid of it. It is this journey of acceptance and dealing with loss, on which the novel is founded.
A very self-assured book, yet not an over-confident one.
Sebastian has lost a lot, as we discover through the book. Abandoned at birth, then losing his eccentric but much-loved adoptive parents, followed by the death of his husband, it seems inevitable that Sebastian expects to lose everything he loves. As he gradually learns to accept that loss, and realises that life is for living, not waiting to die, we see him blossom from a fragile, vulnerable man to one who regains his confidence and vitality. The emotional way he finally looks back on the night his husband dies, and eventually accepts it, is accomplished. Like I said at the beginning, this is a very self-assured book, yet not an over-confident one.
I didn’t get the strong feeling this was a “New York” novel, or even one set in the show business arena. There are elements of dance, as Sebastian is shown tutoring a group who are already stealing his thunder as younger, fitter versions of himself, but the main story is about how he deals with a painful event in a life that has been defined by loss. The author has a talent for letting the reader into the lives of his characters from the beginning. Sebastian is flawed but you feel his pain, as he doubts his own sanity and viability as a man alone. Middle-aged wild child, Chloe, is frustrating but ultimately endearing. Greg, Sabastian’s nemesis and rival, could easily be a caricature but somehow manages not to be. And Reid, Sebastian’s potential love interest, is cute as a button and kind with it, but is it too soon for Sebastian to find love?
Due to the central premise of the book, there is a fair amount of navel-gazing, but Sebastian’s friends provide light relief, notably ex-Rockette Chloe. The dialogue between them felt real and convincing. Sebastian comes across as fragile, needy, a little bit tetchy, but ultimately I liked him and wished him well. You get to know about his family, why he is the way he is. It’s a balanced story that pulls you with it, like a seemingly calm river hiding rip currents beneath the surface. I found it to be that rare thing, a fairly light read that leaves an echo long after it has been completed.


Sebastian Hart has dealt with a lifetime of goodbyes. And now, a year after his husband Frank’s death, the forty-year-old Broadway chorus boy still blames himself. After all, Sebastian started the argument that night over one of Frank’s former date items, someone younger than Sebastian who still wanted Frank.

Challenged by his best friend, the quirky ex-Rockettes dancer Chloe, Sebastian struggles toward his dream of becoming a choreographer and grapples with romantic feelings for Reid, a new student in his tap class.

Ultimately, Sebastian begins to wonder whether it’s his imagination, or not, that Frank’s ghost is here, warning him that he daren’t move on with another love. He questions the truth: Is death really the final goodbye?

Sugar & Spice by Garett Groves

Hello! Review time again. This review first appeared on the WROTE Podcast LGBT writers website.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Although part of a series (Spice of Life), it was a standalone, straightforward read, with zingy dialogue and two engaging main characters.
When I first started reading, I thought Max, the young, hot, clueless wannabe model, was a bit of a knob, to be honest (US readers, that isn’t a good thing.) He certainly didn’t endear himself to me when we were first introduced. Yes, he has the body, but he also has a self-destructive streak that I wanted to slap out of him. It was hardly surprising that Lucas, the older man who had been around the block a few times, was wary when Max made play for him in a gay bar. Encounters like that seem rarely destined to last.

But Lucas was a sweetie. I had the feeling that the author was trying for David Gandy, but I read Lucas as Henry from Cucumber. The image was thankfully shaken off when he and Max first hook up for their first pearl-clutching sexual encounter, after which, Lucas has the presence of mind to leave, rather than fall headlong into an improbable “mind-blowing sex all night” scenario.

And it is this restraint which makes the book work. Max does all the running. Lucas is the one holding back. At 45, he has doubts about his viability both as a lover and and photographer, so when Max has eyes for no-one else, he is understandably wary.

Max is also learning a sharp lesson in humility, after being fired from his job and dumped as favoured model for his photographer ex-boyfriend, but he is also wary of Lucas’s motives for wanting to hire him for his own photography purposes.

When they begin to work together, the awkwardness is almost painful, and Lucas’s attempts to make things right between Max and his former crush are excruciating, but in a good, “read it behind my fingers” way. You’re never really sure whether these two will make a successful couple. The odds seem stacked against them, for all Lucas’s wealth and Max’s worldliness, but the pay-off is worth the slow burn. (No spoilers – the author guarantees an HEA on Amazon. Also, no cheating or cliffhangers – good to know for people who hate both, like me.)

The author has paced this book very skilfully, creating an enjoyable, fun read with depth, and characters that feel real and well-rounded. And Lance, Max’s frenemy, is hilarious. I spent most of the book not trusting him, expecting him to stab Max in the back. Will he? Won’t he? Read it and find out.


After getting rejected by the only guy that he’s ever allowed himself to feel something more than lust for, Max Williams has convinced himself that the bachelor’s life is the only way for him to live. At 28, Max has everything he needs for it: a smoking body, just enough money to keep the drinks coming, and an endless supply of guys that are more than happy to keep his bed warm at night. Still, he can’t shake the feeling that something is missing.

When he loses his day job thanks to his partying and the modeling career he’d been trying to build collapses, Max isn’t sure of so sure of himself anymore, but there’s one thing he knows without a doubt: something’s got to give.

Lucas White has a reputation of his own–and he’s tired of it. The security provided by his cushy job as editor-in-chief of a legendary local photography magazine has kept him stagnant for too long both professionally and personally. He never dreamed he’d be able to retire by the age of 45 and start his own passion project, but that’s exactly where he’s found himself and it hasn’t been an easy transition.

While celebrating his last day at the office, Lucas and Max get up close and personal at a new bar and Lucas’s entire world turns into a photo negative. Max is the perfect model that he’s been looking for to bring fresh eyes to his new venture, but he looks so much like someone who once broke his heart–and Lucas isn’t sure that he can look at Max’s beautiful body every day for work without continuing to touch it.

Against his better judgment, Lucas hires Max. As they start working together, the line between employer and employee quickly blurs, and not even the pact they made to remain strictly professional seems to keep things in focus. Though they know better, neither man can resist their desire for something more–but Max is afraid of commitment, and Lucas can’t stomach the idea of being taken advantage of by another pretty face. 

Will their differences bring them down, or will they come together like sugar and spice?

Saturday, 15 April 2017

I'm Now On Instagram!

Yes, folks, I've discovered another way of reaching out to you, after being reliably informed that all the wise authors use Instagram instead of Facebook, where they are too easily distracted by cat videos and heated discussions.

They obviously hadn't heard of Cats Of Instagram, or followed Bianca del Rio. 

Anyhoo, I'm now on Instagram, so if you want to stalk me, I post lovely pictures of the Chilterns countryside, my cat, clouds, and teasers/excerpts from my books, and my name on there is.......

Hope to see you there!

Friday, 14 April 2017

An Asian Minor: The True Story of Ganymede (Audiobook) by Felice Picano

This book was originally written in 1981 by Felice Picano, and details the early life and career of Ganymede, as told by the alluring boy in his own words. It is extremely well-written, a colourful, ribald account of his escapades as he fights off the attentions of men of all rank and age. His beauty also captures the attention of various Immortals, who will go to great lengths to seduce him. It probably should be noted to those unfamiliar with Ancient history that Ganymede is 12 at the beginning of the book, so 21st century sensibilities do not apply.

The book hasn’t been in print for a long while, but now it has been republished as an audiobook, narrated in a salacious drawl by Jason Frazier. This is the first audiobook I have listened to all the way through. The delivery is everything, especially with a book that could be dismissed as being either too highbrow by some or too lightweight by others. This would be a shame. In fact, it is a witty, sexy, sometimes humorous account of Ganymede’s life. The reader gets a peephole view into the lusty world of Troy and its inhabitants, where beauty is highly prized and judged at every turn. Ganymede is the most beautiful of all boys, gaining sexual experience with a variety of Immortal lovers, before being disgraced and shunned for rejecting the top man, Zeus; probably not his greatest career move.

Jason Frazier’s voice should have an R rating. He could read a telephone directory and make it ooze with sexual promise. The book itself is not explicit, but the theme of lust runs through it in a pulsing thread. Ganymede learns humility, but still retains an arrogance that only truly beautiful people can get away with. He isn’t particularly likeable, but that doesn’t matter. His story is told in such rich and gorgeous detail, one cannot help but be captivated. This is a book to be savoured at home, rather than driving, or in a public place, as it would be a crime to miss a single word.

I was given a copy of this Audiobook in return for an honest review.

His Competent Woman by Ellen Whyte

This is the first in a new genre for Ellen Whyte, who is better known as dark romance/suspense author AJ Adams.

I was expecting great things of this book, which is a fairly quick read at 100 pages, and I wasn’t disappointed. This is a hugely enjoyable addition to the popular BBW-Billionaire genre, with an engaging character in the form of Emma, struggling to make ends meet with her young son, who has just been diagnosed as dyslexic. In order to pay for the equipment and tutoring he will need in the future, she has to find a job, and fast, but her interview with billionaire Curtis West does not go well. When his PA suddenly quits, Emma in the right place at the right time and she blags her way into the job. Curtis has his own secret, which Emma is well-qualified to help him with. 

Straight away, it was obvious this didn’t fit into the normal tropes of quick-read romances. For a start, Emma has a son with educational needs, and Curtis quickly becomes less of a tiger and more of a pussycat under Emma’s no-nonsense approach. The company that Curtis heads up isn’t there for window-dressing. He actually knows what he’s talking about. The author has done her research well and it feels effortless. Yes, it’s a romance, but it’s heart is based in reality, which makes both characters likeable from the start and gives the story a lot of depth for a relatively short book. 

The story is written in the first person, first from Emma’s point of view and then Curtis’s. Normally, I’m not keen on this, but because each chapter is marked with the name of the person talking, it actually works. After a few pages, I just didn’t think about it. It’s always worth mentioning though.

Finally, I loved the way Emma shared her most private thoughts with the reader, and some of them were very sexy. There is one hot scene which I won’t spoil but it is more romantic than balls-out sexy, and it totally fitted with the tone of the book.

So a quality read from Ms. Whyte, and a worth-while, intelligent addition to an increasingly crowded genre. If you only ever read one BBW-Billionaire romance, make it this one!

Monday, 10 April 2017

I identify as someone who listens, and takes heed when necessary

The original title of this post was "The Only Time In History When 'A Woman Should Know Her Place" really does apply." A couple of people have informed me that they found this title degrading, so I've changed it, and apologise for the offence caused.

Just putting this here to save me the effort of explaining yet again. These six ill-advised words will haunt Kindle Alexander’s writing career for a good long while after the recent debacle, and plenty more words have been said about the whole thing, which was presumably said in a flippant manner without any idea of the disapprobation about to rain down on her cisgender, female author head. I don't suppose we will ever know why she said it, because she hasn't thought to quantify her statement, only saying that she's an Ally (capital letter A) and that the haters should stop hating. There has since been an apology but I'm not going to go there with this post. It's just .... no. 

But isn't this interesting? Suddenly, as a result of Ms. Alexander's monumental FUBAR post, the whole MM Romance genre has a rather tainted, smells-like-rancid-cod air about it, with several high profile authors questioning whether they actually belong in the genre at all. A community that is used to being marginalised has been shoved out yet again, by women readers who don't want to know the nasty bits about being gay. The problem is, there is a LOT of them, outnumbering the people they are actually reading about. 

Come on, sisters, we should know better than this! We know what it is like not to have the vote, to be denied proper education, to be forced into marriage, to be overlooked for the top job, to be objectified and blamed for mens' weaknesses. We've fought tooth and nail and made huge sacrifices to claw back some equality to men, so why are we doing this to the gay community? I don't understand it. Those people saying, it's just a bit of fun, just don't get the bigger picture. It might be fun to be fabulous, but not if you can't walk safely home afterwards. We KNOW this, so what is the problem with acknowledging it in our fiction?

Unfortunately, I think with all these posts, there is an element of preaching to the choir, but you know, posting does help to sort your thoughts out into some kind or order, so maybe next time someone says something really dumb on the net, you might be able to save them from themselves. 

Or not....

Now an observation. A lot of male gay authors have written their own, eloquent and rightly infuriated, posts, but as yet, when I’ve looked for posts from cisgender female authors on the same subject, I hear nothing but crickets. This seems strange, as the MM Romance genre is bulging with female romance writers publishing MM fiction, so where are their voices? No-one seems to be saying a goddamned thing. If I’m subsequently proven wrong, then I will gladly withdraw this statement but nothing has come up on my newsfeed so far, which I think is odd.

If you can find anything, post the link and I'll share it!

The next thing, the the main reason for the post, is that we can all learn something from this. When I first saw KA's post, I thought immediately, “maybe she’s trans, and she’s just come out, so good for her!” But something felt a bit …. off, especially when I saw the comments, with lots of LOL’s and “me too!” and hearts, etc. It just didn’t feel… right. But I didn’t say anything, mainly because I couldn't quantify WHY it didn't feel right.

But the more I thought about it, the more stupid that post sounded. And THAT was the moment when I should have messaged her and said ‘y’know, that post may well piss a few people off (understatement) so if I were you, I’d reconsider it.” But I didn’t, because by then, someone else had noticed and said, “wait…. WHAT?” I do wish I had tried to say something to her. I'm not sure it would have made any difference, but I should have tried, as a fellow cisgender female author, because a lot of people DID feel hurt by this, and some trans people feel invalidated because a flippant comment makes light of their very real struggle. 

So this comes to M/M Romance, the tarnished genre which has actually brought about an honest discussion about what being part of it actually means. First off, TALENT IS NOT GOVERNED BY GENDER. This is not a poke at all women writers, but if MM Romance means the stereotypical, pornographic books with cardboard cutout MM protagonists, written for a female audience, then I’m not interested, thanks very much. For a while, I’ve felt uncomfortable with the whole, slightly giddy, MM Romance thing, the objectification of men, and the blinkered readers who resent it when gay men point out that they’ve been marginalised by their own genre. I’d really like my books to be read by the audience I intended them for; LGBTQIA, etc.THEY ARE NOT EXCLUSIVELY FOR WOMEN. I was very fortunate to “meet” an author who is very special to me. SA Collins, please step forward.) He said that the main thing I must remember was to respect the people I was writing about. So I do. Well …. I treat them with the same healthy disrespect that I treat all my characters with, regardless of gender, race, class, etc., but I got what he meant. I will never know what it is like to walk in the shoes of a gay person, to keep watching over my shoulder, to be called ‘faggot.' There ARE certain similarities with women’s rights and struggles, but they are not the same and never will be. They are equally as valid, but equally as different.

I for one try to remember my place. As a woman I still have more rights than many gay people. It would be wise for us never to forget that, and to be an ally (no capital letter necessary.)

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Beauty And The Beast (2017 - PG)

**** stars

I've just been to watch Beauty And The Beast, something I was looking forward to as I loved the original, and there is nothing like knowing the story so you can settle down and just enjoy the movie, rather than be awed, terrified, disturbed, etc., etc. Sometimes, just watching and enjoying is enough. 

And it didn't disappoint, staying very close to the original and throwing in some in-jokes that will go way over the kids' heads. The sets are lavish, and the musical numbers as accomplished as you would want them to be. Emma Watson is not a natural singer but she has good back up with an impressive cast of tuneful villagers, and she does well, with a light, clear voice that suits her role. One quibble would be that she isn't very animated, especially during the Be My Guest number, when you would expect her to show delight, maybe bounce in her seat a little. Instead, she was curiously passive, with her usual calm smile. I couldn't help thinking I was watching Hermione Granger, albeit with a better wardrobe. Talented as she is, she seems to be the same in every movie she stars in, even down to her hairstyle.

The film is long, over 2 hours, and bearing in mind the target audience, it could have been shaved by about 1/2 hour. There were a couple of extra songs, and an odd sequence involving a trip to Paris that could have been dispensed with, neatening the whole thing. I could see why they did it, to develop the relationship between the two main characters so they weren't just falling in love over a snowball fight, and to help Beauty understand what had happened to her mother, but it felt out of place and was ultimately unnecessary. The new songs were good, but ultimately forgettable and I'm sure smaller viewers would be wriggling at this point, wanting to get on with the story. This is a tale that doesn't need to be messed with too much, and it was the finer details that were far more fun; Le Fou's camp sidekick, the three tough guys turned into queens, Gaston's utter odiousness, the tender relationship between Lumiere and his feather duster lover, and the frankly eye-popping special affects that ran through the whole film. It was a gorgeous, colourul Regency extravaganza, so rich in detail, ones' eyes were in danger of suffering from indigestion. Those prone to migraines or with an aversion to sweet things take note. Toothache and gripes might ensue in natural-borne cynics, but I loved it. If I watch it again at home, though, I'll probably make a cup of tea during the prolonged pub scene. There is only so much Gaston self-love I can take.