Title: Provoked (Enlightenment #1)
Author: Joanna Chambers
Length: 54,571 words
Genre: m/m Historical Romance
Heat: 4 – Spicy & Smutty
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Series, Scotland, 1820s, Closeted, Homophobia, Rich/Poor, Lawyers, Secrets & Lies, Mystery, Aristocracy, HFN (this was just the first part of a longer romance arc)
Rating: Really Like It
When a man loses his heart, he has no choice but to follow…
Enlightenment, Book 1
Lowborn David Lauriston lacks the family connections needed to rise in Edinburgh’s privileged legal world. Worse, his latest case—defending weavers accused of treason—has brought him under suspicion of harbouring radical sympathies.
Troubled by his sexuality, tormented by memories of a man he once platonically loved, David lives a largely celibate life—until a rare sexual encounter with a compelling stranger turns his world on its head.
Cynical and worldly, Lord Murdo Balfour is more at home in hedonistic London than dingy, repressed Edinburgh. Unlike David, he intends to eventually marry while continuing to enjoy the company of men whenever he pleases. Yet sex with David is different. It’s personal, intimate, and instead of extinguishing his desire, it only leaves him hungry for more.
As David’s search for the man who betrayed the weavers deepens, he begins to suspect that his mysterious lover has more sinister reasons for his presence in Edinburgh. The truth could leave his heart broken…and more necks stretching on the gallows.
Contains mystery and danger set in 1822 Scotland, and a forbidden love between two men that will leave you on the edge of your seat—until the next book.
I don’t know why exactly, but I was really, really excited to read this book. It makes no sense really, because I rarely read historical novels and Joanna Chambers is a new author to me. Perhaps it was a latent psychic power because once I started this book I never wanted to stop. I was forced to stop to get some other reviews done, but if I hadn’t been forced to I don’t think I would have. I was immediately drawn into the lush prose and the strange love/hate dynamic between David and Balfour.
David’s actions in the first chapter of Provoked introduce him to us so perfectly. Jostled in an excited crowd to see the death of two men charged with treason for their part in an uprising against the government, David watches on helplessly. He worked on their case as part of their legal defense, but he’s still a junior in his field and there wasn’t much he could do. But, what he could do was work tirelessly, and in the end it didn’t make a lot of difference. David throws himself into everything and this was no different. To put the families of the condemned at ease he shares with them his own childhood. He was raised by a farmer in a country village in Scotland but worked and did everything he could to further his education. Now, he’s gone up in the world and is working among the higher classes in Edinburgh. Still, he isn’t far from his roots. Being a witness to the deaths of these two men is something that he owes them.
Over a thoughtful and depressing meal later that evening another man sits to dine with him. He’s handsome and confident with an interesting face. He introduces himself as Mr. Balfour and after a considerable amount of shared whisky, David finds himself on his knees in a wet alley. He can’t stand that he always falls prey to his demons and tells himself that this time will be the last time. Or at least, that’s what he always says. Balfour seems surprised by his behavior after their tryst and has a rather more hedonistic outlook on life. Where David is bound tightly to his morality and refuses to move into a life of dishonesty by marrying a woman and starting a family, Balfour seems to have no problem with that. He’s looking for happiness, he says, and the only version for him is the one of his own making. Ideals have no place over them.
It is a surprise to David some months later when he again runs into Balfour while dining at the home of his boss. In the meantime, the case that brought about their first meeting, that of the weavers, barges back into David’s life. Euan, the younger brother of one of the men brought down in the case needs his help. His brother Peter wasn’t hanged but is en route on a ship in chains for his part in the conspiracy. Euan needs David’s help to find Lees, the government man who infiltrated their group, incited them from a small idealistic group into an active anti-government rebellion and then turned them in. David wants to help Euan but is afraid for him. He’s just a kid who, like him, has also worked himself up to a higher education and David doesn’t want him to throw all of that away by searching for vengeance, and he knows that his brother wouldn’t want him to either. But Euan won’t be swayed, so David agrees to help him find Lees, knowing that it will most likely be a lost cause.
When Balfour comes up as a possible identity for Lees, David doesn’t want to believe it. He also doesn’t want to continue forming an attachment to the man. It’s gone past the physical with them and David can’t allow himself to sin in such a way, nor allow his heart to be handled by a man often so callous, and so fundamentally different from him.
I want to have the sequel now! I say that, not just as someone who really liked this first book and wants more, but also as a reader who wants more of the story. There are two arcs — the romance and the quasi-mystery plot — the first of which definitely spans the series. I’m not sure about the second, though. Was the external plot just a part of this book and the next one will see these two guys in a different situation dealing with different issues? I don’t know. But, as far as the romance arc, this story was really just the setup for what is to come, which leaves me really wanting to see where their relationship will go. That, after all, is what really brought this story forward for me and what drew me in. David and Balfour are two such interesting characters and together they have such interesting conversations. The writing of these two guys and their evolving dynamic hit a sweet spot. The language is beautiful and I really felt like I was getting to know both of them well. David, of course, isn’t difficult to read. Balfour offers a delicious treat because what he says and obviously thinks/believes are often different and puzzling those things out (along with David) filled their interactions with meaning.
I definitely recommend this one to all readers of m/m romance, not just those that like historicals. And I’m definitely going to be looking out for more books by Joanna Chambers 🙂
Posted by Cole in 41-75k, 5 Really Like It, Authors A-C, Heat 4 - Spicy & Smutty, Historical, Romance, Sex Freq 2 - Few and Far Between Tags: 1820s, Aristocracy, Closeted, HFN, Homophobia, Joanna Chambers, Lawyers, Mystery, Rich/Poor, Samhain Publishing, Scotland, Secrets & Lies, Series
Title: The Unforgiving Minute
Author: Sarah Granger
Length: 72,925 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Tennis, Sports, Athletes, Closeted/Coming Out, Awesome Female Characters!, Past Injury/Trauma, Nasty Exes (and I mean nasty!), Famous, Paparazzi!, Around the World settings, Animals, Meet the Parents, Rich/Poor, HEA, Adorable!, Light & Sweet
Rating: Really Liked It!
Ryan Betancourt has got it made: he’s reached the top tier of the tennis world thanks to a wild-card entry to the US Open. Ryan is meeting players he has idolized for years, including his teenage crush, Josh Andrews. But he isn’t ready for the politics and manipulation that come with life at the top.
Josh Andrews is closeted, private, and difficult to get to know. He’s been playing tennis since he could walk, won his first tournament at five, and was sent to Spain at thirteen to attend a tennis academy. Before a knee injury forced him into a year off, he was ranked the number one player in the world. Now he’s back—and intent on winning.
Josh and Ryan first meet at a tournament in Brisbane. Ryan excitedly greets Josh only to be ignored. Crushed, he realizes the golden boy of tennis isn’t all he seems. Only in the team-building environment of training for the Davis Cup does Josh open up enough for them to grow closer. Their developing relationship is everything Ryan ever wanted, and he is blissfully happy. But inevitably they have to play against each other, and everything changes.
So that’s how I feel now, just having finished this. In the words of Fake Joy Behar Fred Armison, So What? Who Cares? This might not be the perfectly executed book, but it wins on more than one account, most importantly rating high on the Swoon Meter!
It took a late blooming start for Ryan Betancourt to play in the big leagues, against his childhood idols and masters of tennis, but in the past year something clicked for him. His maybe late but now meteoric rise from the Futures and Challengers tournaments won him a wild card place in the US Open, and his new more confident playing gave him the points the enter the top tier of international men’s singles and entrance into the most celebrated top tournaments worldwide. Sincerely optimistic without fault, Ryan starts the season in awe of the his new contemporaries, many who used to grace his teenage walls. One, more than any other, however, has always been his idol. Perfectly poised in tennis and life, Josh Andrews is the wunderkind of tennis on his comeback after a torn ACL and several year absence from the circuit. Meeting his inordinately beautiful and talented hero in real life… well, that’s a big disappointment.
Ryan’s personal life seems to progress with his success at the game, and the more time he spends as a part of the famous and elite players, the more he realizes he deserves to be among them. In correlation, his confidence in his own performance shines. It seems that everyone has undervalued him, but that’s only because his successful rise is climbing faster than their expectations. He soon finds that he has friends and a place among the top tennis world.
Ryan is eternally optimistic, but with that comes a tenacity and perseverance. When he still can’t get his mind off of Josh Andrews, even when everyone else seems to have a conflicting observation about the man, Ryan decides to speak to him himself. Soon after, their paths continue to cross and the two become friends. But what Ryan expected to find in Josh Andrews is rather different than what he finds — a conflicted, somewhat broken man only held together by the determination to win.
The biggest part of what made this book so satisfying was in the creation of Chase MItchell, the antagonist. Granger is pretty crafty in the trajectory of Mitch’s character, though I have to tell you that while I couldn’t have said just what direction the book ultimately took, I didn’t warm up to him at all. (Pardon me while I go off on a tangent you might not understand unless you’ve read the book!) When we first meet him he comes off with just the right amount of cultured charm, which (probably intentionally) slightly rubs the reader. He seems like the kind of guy with ulterior motives, but he’s handsome, charming and doesn’t really display any kind of negative behavior — at least to Ryan. It’s was also pretty clear to me that he had some secrets by his few mentions of Josh to Ryan and the fact that Ryan is never in the same room as both of them. By the time the story is set up to reveal the real Mitch, he goes from confidante and friend to Ryan yet coming betwixt the two of them to the absolutely perfect target and one of the reasons to bring Ryan and Josh together for a final time. And when you finally hear about all of his past deeds and crimes and realize just how despicable of a man he really is, then he’s the perfect antagonist, and a perfect opportunity for Josh to get his comeback. And through Josh, Ryan as well. (Okay, tangent over.)
What originally drew me to this book was the tennis aspect. I took tennis lessons from age 5 to 14 and was pretty good, actually. I never would have gone anywhere — I just don’t have the drive for it and I’m the least competitive person. I like to read about athletes that push themselves because that was never me. This definitely gave me what I wanted, but I was drawn into the story immediately by Ryan, who is an enigmatic narrator. He’s driven yes, but without many of the faults of exceedingly talented athletes — like ego, aggression and other stereotypical Type A behavior. And of course, he’s the underdog. We naturally want to cheer him on.
All I can really say is that analysis aside, this was just a really enjoyable book to read. Part of that is the action, which cut into the drama nicely. Also, that creation of such a satisfying antagonist in Mitch. There’s quite a bit of detail about tennis and some jargon about the game that some reader’s might not quite understand. I found the detail about the whole system much more intriguing, and though I know very little about the real life tennis world to compare, the story came off as authentically set in the real world and not an idealistic one. But mostly, it read like a novel masquerading as a novella, meaning that the reading experience passed by in no time because of my enjoyment of the story and becoming immersed in the characters. There’s no deep analysis of them or a really intricate plot in the narration, but instead a light tone and satisfying finish that made me a fan of Sarah Granger. Now, I need to go back and read her other story published earlier this year — The Long Road Home.
Posted by Cole in 41-75k, 5 Really Like It, Authors G-I, Contemporary, Heat 3 - Sexy & Mild, Romance, Sex Freq 2 - Few and Far Between Tags: Adorable!, Animals, Around the World settings, Athletes, Awesome Female Characters, Closeted, Coming Out, Dreamspinner Press, Famous, HEA, Light & Sweet, Meet the Parents, Nasty Exes, Paparazzi!, Physical Injury/Trauma, Rich/Poor, Sarah Granger, Sports, Tennis
Title: Crow and Firefly
Author: Sam C Leonhard
Length: 20,053 words
Genre: m/m Fantasy Romance
Heat: 2 – Romantic & Tame
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Short Story, Shifters (Multiple – Crow, Fox, Wolf, Horse, Cat), Royalty, Secrets & Lies, Rich/Poor, Kids
Rating: Pretty Good
The laws of man and nature are harsh and decisive: Unwed mothers are not allowed to raise their children, and shapehifters must wed and consummate the marriage to satisfy the magic that would otherwise render them beasts forever upon the morning of their twenty-third birthday.
With the life of his sister and newborn nephew at stake, shapeshifter Ari is trapped in a castle and compelled to accept a situation he’d dreaded: he is forced to marry Lord Dagur, a man he’s never met. A man called “The Cruel.” A man he fears, and not just because he fancies someone else.
Though I have a few of this author’s books, I’ve yet to read any and even though it’s been a while since it’s release, I haven’t been able to forget this story due to it’s amazing cover. Talk about marketing! A good cover can carry a book much further than the book itself would go, and in this case, it kept a story I might have forgotten about firmly in my mind. And thankfully, I enjoyed it quite a bit. This story gets an A++++ for worldbuilding, but sadly didn’t carry the story through to it’s natural conclusion..
The blurb for this story gives us two crucial facts that say quite a bit about the world in Crow and Firefly. First is that unwed mothers cannot raise their children. They are taken by the priestesses to give to a married couple to raise.
Second, there are regular humans and there are shapeshifters. Roughly between puberty and the age of 20, those humans who would become shapeshifters (into any animal they choose) develop differently colored eyes — a trademark among their kind. Also, though no one knows why, shapeshifters permanently turn into an animal (again, different kinds) on their 23rd birthday, unless they’re married first. For some reason, the consummation of marriage keeps those from turning to beasts and losing their humanity. A further difficulty, however, is that shapeshifters can only have sex with others of their kind. Having sex with a regular human will kill the human.
LIfe is difficult for Ari. He’s a shapeshifter with a pregnant and unwed sister living on the plains, a place with harsh winters that routinely claim the lives of it’s poor inhabitants. And Ari and his sister are indeed poor. They live on the outskirts of the town Farrow amid the plains, with food caught by Ari in his fox or wolf form. Our story starts with Ari only a few months away from his 23rd birthday and no one around to marry. He’s made peace with the probability that he’ll turn into a beast and forget his sister and nephew. That all changes when the King’s nephew and heir to the throne, Lord Dagur “The Cruel” and his hunting party move through Farrow and their party, including a nasty priestess, take notice of Ari and his sister.
The worldbuilding in this story is really wonderful. It helps to have those two clear cut facts straight before the story starts (or, it did me) so that I knew a general direction this story was headed in. It also helps you to get into the mindset of Ari straight away, so that you understand what exactly it means when he and his sister are noticed by Lord Dagur’s party. Though the strange shapeshifter details to me at first seemed arbitrary — I mean, the sex causing death and strange transformation on your 23rd birthday? — the author really grew the world around them so that they seemed to make sense. I found myself immediately drawn in and fascinated by the world and the politics between humans and shapeshifters. The only hitch I had, in the end, was that those strange shapeshifter rules I talked about never quite seemed organic to me because the story didn’t provide a reason for them, only mentioning that no one understood why they were as they were.
No, though I really liked the story, my main problem was that this story really stopped right as it was getting good. You almost can’t call this a romance, because we never really get to see a relationship forming between Ari and Lord Dagur, not until the very end. And Lord Dagur calls into question what we really know of him without carrying the story further and then showing what a relationship between the two of them really means. We get a good picture, but it would have been nice to see all the same.
I will make sure to take more notice of this author in the future. I do hope that Sam C Leonhard continues to write stories like this, with a strong world, because that’s something the fantasy geek in my really loves. I definitely recommend this one, but mostly to fantasy lovers who want something short.
Posted by Cole in 16-40k, 4 Pretty Good, Authors J-L, Fantasy, Heat 2 - Romantic & Tame, Romance, Sex Freq 2 - Few and Far Between Tags: Dreamspinner Press, Kids, Rich/Poor, Royalty, Sam C Leonhard, Secrets & Lies, Shifters, Short Story
Title: Surviving Elite High (Surviving Elite High #1)
Author: John H Ames
Publisher: Budding Moon Press (an imprint of Storm Moon Press)
Length: 53k words
Genre: m/m Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Keywords/Tags: Series, High School, Nerd/Jock, Nerds/Geeks, Poor/Rich, School Shooting, Bullying, Bisexual
Rating: Didn’t Like It
John Henry Ames is a sixteen-year-old boy from a small New Jersey town. John is humble, shy, and studious. He lives as an outcast in the shadows of an elite high school where he is tormented by two psychopathic bullies.
On the verge of dropping out of school due to overdue payments, a teacher enrolls him in a tutoring program where he meets the school’s star quarterback and hero, Nick Anthony Hawking. Since he was doing poorly in several subjects, Nick needs John’s help to pass and graduate high school. As John becomes closer to the jock, he develops a strong affection towards him even though Nick has a strong reputation of sleeping around with a lot of women. Nick becomes his friend and protector in school. Their sincere friendship helps to bring out the best in each of them, even as several tragedies, like a school shooting, threaten to change their young lives forever.
I am sorry to say that I had to force myself to finish this. And I definitely won’t be reading the rest of the series. I originally picked this up because I was in the mood for a high school young adult romance at the time, and I quite like reading the nerd/jock trope. I thought I was lucky, actually, that the book had been released prior in another edition and goodreads had so many reviews. And even luckier that there were so many good reviews — no, great reviews! I should have read further. If I had, I would have found all the one star reviews, and though I might have taken the gamble on which camp I’d fall into, I might not have, in which case I wouldn’t have had to force myself to finish for the review.
I suppose it could be said that it is personal taste how some people love this book and others hate it, and to some extent I’m sure that’s true. After all, the prose is highly melodramatic and that’s something I look out for in young adult books because I’m not a bit fan. I prefer less angst and less melodrama in my young adult books. For the most part, however, I just couldn’t understand how so many people loved this book. I couldn’t connect with the writing at all, which I found at times really, really awkward, with strange word choices. Even more, I just did not understand or like any of the characters. The two leads, John Henry Ames (same name as the author, which made me wonder if this was autobiographical) and Nick, the popular and rich quarterback whose like a breeding stallion on meth with a horse sized cock that, and yes this was mentioned, is so big is breaks women so that they can’t walk after they sleep with him. And I don’t really feel that I’m being that biased here by my overall feelings after reading the book. This was why I couldn’t get into the story, everything was so over the top that I felt like it undermined the real emotions at play. From page one John is obsessed with Nick and Nick doesn’t really treat him that well either. But that’s who Nick is, which John already knows.
Honestly, I just found the whole book a bit strange and surreal. Sure, it wasn’t to my taste, but I just don’t understand how so many people liked it so much. I almost feel like I’m missing something.
I don’t want to rag on this book anymore. I know that you understand how I feel perfectly by now so there’s no reason for me to go on and on. And really, you shouldn’t take just my feelings into account. Even though I don’t understand it, I wouldn’t want to deprive anyone of reading a book they might really like. And so many people seem to really like this book. So, even more than usual, I encourage you to read a wide range of reviews on this one if you’re considering buying.
Posted by Cole in 1 Didn't Like It, 41-75k, Authors A-C, Contemporary, Romance, YA Tags: Bisexual, Budding Moon Press, Bullies/Bullying, High School, Jocks/Nerds, John H Ames, Nerds/Geeks, Rich/Poor, School Shooting, Series, Surviving Elite High
Title: Two Lips, Indifferent Red
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: 89k+ words, 326 pages
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 2 – Romantic & Tame
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Arranged Marriage, Cancer, Ex-Lovers, Gay Marriage, HEA, Injured Character, Light & Sweet, May/December, Mystery, Rich/Poor, Secrets & Lies
Rating: Really Liked It
Reviewed by Nikyta
Kipp Llewellyn would rather follow his dreams than toe the family line, so instead of the support of his wealthy family, he has estrangement and a part-time job with Hunter, an in-demand interior designer. Hunter opens a new world for Kipp to explore—and not just for his career. It’s through Hunter that Kipp meets and begins what he thinks is a one-sided flirtation with Ham, one of Hunter’s customers.
To Kipp’s astonishment, Ham asks him for a date. Unfortunately for Kipp, a mysterious phone call summons him home, where his father gives him an ultimatum: save the family company by marrying billionaire Hyde Wyndham, in which case all will be overlooked, or never set foot in his home again. But meeting Hyde leaves Kipp stunned and betrayed, because Hyde is actually Ham.
A guarantee of marriage is no excuse for making Kipp feel foolish, and Kipp had enough of the gilded cage in the first twenty-one years of his life. He turns Hyde down, stating that marriage should be about love rather than convenience. If Hyde wants him, he’ll have to court him the old-fashioned way.
This is a hard review to write, mostly because I don’t really know what to say. The blurb does a pretty good job of explaining the basics of the story so I don’t think it needs repeating. The only thing that probably needs mentioning is that Kipp’s father absolutely hates him, which plays a big role in the story. More than anything, though, this is a book that deals with reunions, scandals, affairs and deceit but not in a severely malicious way. If you like soap operas then you will enjoy this as much as I did.
Kipp is a sweet kid. At twenty-one, he’s made the best life he can have without the support of his family while going after his dreams. He’s feisty and quirky but also innocent and sexy. He grew up privileged but now he’s almost frugal which makes him a great match for Hyde, who’s at least twenty years older than Kipp. Hyde grew up poor but made himself into a rich and well-known business man. He meets Kipp eighteen months before Kipp knows of the arranged marriage so he’s gotten to realize Kipp isn’t into him because of his money. Their relationship is odd because you don’t really see their developing connection but you can just tell how much they both adore each other.
The plot takes you on a wild ride ranging from allergies to illnesses, deceptions to affairs, and illegitimate children to cowardly ex-lovers. The one thing that is obvious through the whole story is that Kipp and Hyde trust each other explicitly and while they might get in some sticky situations, it’s easy to see that they won’t be swayed by deceitful people. One of the things I really enjoyed, though, is Kipp’s relationship with his grandfather. I adored that man and his regret over Kipp and Kipp’s mom. I also like that this story is so family oriented. Kipp reconnects with his estranged family in the time he and Hyde are planning their wedding and he also gets to meet family members he never met before. There’s also the added benefit that Hyde, who was not wanted in that town when he was younger, can rub it in all the arrogant people’s faces that he’s richer than them and has managed to snag such a beautiful and sweet man.
My only issue with the story is that sometimes I felt like Hyde treated Kipp like a child and Kipp’s acceptance of Hyde’s secrets grew frustrating for me. As a fiancé, Hyde should have been communicating with Kipp about certain things instead of just saying something along the lines of everything will be fine or don’t concern yourself with it. There are no doubt unanswered questions about the story but I didn’t mind so much the mysteriousness because of everything that happened over the course of the book. Although, I will say that I hated Hyde’s ex, Aaron Richardson, talk about someone I wanted to strangle! The only other thing readers might have an issue with (although I didn’t) is that Kipp sometimes could have been a woman instead of a man, for example, at times, his mannerisms were feminine and his speech was like how a cultured wife would speak. This story also took place over, more or less, a week so some might think everything happens too fast but, in my opinion, it was fast-paced without being rushed. Everything happened in its own time and were dealt with when needed to be.
All in all, there was something special about this story. I’ve always been a fan of Tinnean’s books but this one pushed all my happy buttons. Yes, it does have a feel of modern day Harlequin with a dash of soap opera to it but I found the story highly entertaining. I didn’t mind how much drama there was, unnecessary or otherwise, because it flowed so well with the rest of the story. It was an easy, enjoyable read because it featured a lot of different conflicts and situations that never made the story lose its appeal but more than anything, this one was sweet with a ton of funny and amusing moments. It’s adorable and I loved the fact that it left me with a smile, especially since I found the ending so incredibly sweet.
Posted by Nikyta in 5 Really Like It, 76-100k, Authors S-U, Contemporary, Heat 2 - Romantic & Tame, Romance, Sex Freq 2 - Few and Far Between Tags: Arranged Marriage, Cancer, Dreamspinner Press, ex-lovers, Gay Marriage, HEA, Injured Character, Light & Sweet, May/December, Mystery, Rich/Poor, Secrets & Lies, Tinnean
Title: Poacher’s Fall and Keeper’s Pledge (Midwinter Manor series)
Author: JL Merrow
Length: 15,641 words & 27,244 words
Genre: m/m Historical Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Series, Double Review, 1920s, Edwardian Period, England, Rich/Poor, Family Issues, Closeted, Grieving Partner
Rating: Pretty Good & Really Liked It (Respectively)
**This review contains spoilers for the first story in this review, so to be able to talk about the second**
One snowy night just before Christmas, 1922, poacher Danny Costessey rounds off a night trapping rabbits by climbing a tree to fetch some mistletoe for his mother—only to fall and break his leg. Taken to the manor house to recover from his injuries, Danny meets the reclusive owner, Philip Luccombe. Village gossip has it Luccombe went mad during the war, but Danny soon realizes he’s simply still mourning his late lover. As friendship grows between them, Danny starts to fall for handsome, shy Philip.
Danny’s lively nature, roguish good looks, and ready laughter enchant Philip, and he finds himself being drawn out of his shell whether he will it or not. But when Danny tries to move beyond friendship, Philip panics—and his rejection threatens not only their happiness, but Danny’s health.
Previously published as the short story Pleasures With Rough Strife in December 2009 by Dreamspinner Press.
Landowner Philip Luccombe has been enjoying a passionate relationship with young poacher turned gamekeeper Danny Costessey for four years now. Danny’s love has brought him out of the shell he retreated into when his first lover died after the Great War. But this Christmas, visitors to the manor threaten their happiness. Philip’s young cousin Matthew is artistic, vivacious, and flirtatious: just the sort to remind him of his long-dead first love—and to emphasise the social gulf between Philip and Danny.
But the worst danger comes from much nearer home. An old flame of Danny’s is discovered in incriminating circumstances, forcing the lovers to keep their distance for fear of being tarred with the same brush. Meanwhile, Danny’s younger brother, Toby, has grown to resent the connection between his brother and the lord of the manor. Danny wants to do the right thing—but that could divide the lovers forever.
I hadn’t read Pleasures with Rough Strife previously when it was first released, and I admit that I’m a bit happy that I got to wait and read it now in it’s second incarnation as Poacher’s Fall, along with the new sequel, Keeper’s Pledge. I’m not sure how much has changed between the first story and it’s revision and new release, but I think I would have been a bit disappointed if I didn’t have the second story to read after I finished it. No matter much I enjoyed it, it was a bit of a teaser. Not to say that it wasn’t a well-rounded short story on it’s own — no, just that I was really glad that I got to see most of the relationship development in my first read and all of that comes in the second story.
That is the reason I’m reviewing these together. In a way, they’re just one story, and they should be read together as such. I’m not a huge fan of historicals, but I am a fan of JL Merrow and I’ll always read whatever she writes. I know that in the hands of this author, I’ll enjoy the story. And I really did. This is a beautiful story and in a period that I’m rather fond of in historicals, the time around the Great War in England, the early 1900s or the Edwardian period because of my love of Maurice by EM Forster (which I’ve read about a dozen times!). I can’t claim any sort of historical accuracies or not, because I don’t really know much about this time in history, but I thought that there was a seamless integration of historical detail that didn’t detract from the story for a modern reader, which is something I think is important for readers who might not be huge fans of historicals either.
The story is rather simple — poor man meets rich man and they defy their fear of persecution and even more to share a life together, no matter the lies they have to perpetrate to share that life. When they first meet, Danny is a young man who lives on the land of Philip Luccombe. Danny regularly poaches on their benefactor’s land in order to feed his family, and after the death of his father, who used to work on the estate, he has to take care of his mother and younger siblings. Just before Christmas, Danny is on his way back with a few snared rabbits and decides to climb a tree for a sprig of mistletoe to brighten up his mother’s Christmas. But, the tree and grounds are icy, and he falls.
Philip is a rather lonely man. People think him strange. He rarely leaves his home. But most don’t know the real reason he’s locked himself away — he’s grieving for the man he loved and lost to the Spanish Flu. Having a new person in his home over the holidays is at first difficult for Philip, but Danny’s charm and vivacious zest for life bring him slowly out of his shell. They quickly become friends, talking over Danny’s sickbed, as both learn more about the other man they are starting to have feelings for over the Christmas season.
Keeper’s Pledge returns to the couple a short time later. Danny is now the gamekeeper of the estate and he and Philip have a carefully cultivated life and secret romance. It is the most they can hope for — to be left alone and in love. But, some of Philip’s relatives come to call over the Christmas season, disrupting their lives and putting a damper on their relationship. Having relative strangers in the house makes it almost impossible to sneak away for secret trysts, especially when one is rather openly queer and quite perceptive. At the same time, Danny must deal with family troubles in the form of his younger brother, who seems headed for real trouble and desperate to break away from the family.
I think that Keeper’s Pledge is where this story really shines. I really enjoyed reading Poacher’s Fall, but it’s much like the setup to the real story. I’m so happy that Jamie decided pick this story back up, because it really turned out well. This story is sweet and clever and really, really well done in the amount of space, a short story and a short novella. It only further shows the talent this author has. Make sure you pick these up!
Posted by Cole in 16-40k, 4 Pretty Good, 5 Really Like It, Authors M-O, Heat 3 - Sexy & Mild, Historical, Romance, Sex Freq 2 - Few and Far Between, up to 15k Tags: 1920s, Christmas, Closeted, Double Review, Dreamspinner Press, Edwardian England, England, Family Issues, Grieving Partner, JL Merrow, Midwinter Manor, Rich/Poor, Series