Book Review – Christina E. Pilz “Fagin’s Boy”

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First, I must confess to putting off reading Fagin’s Boy, which I downloaded for free from Amazon several weeks ago, because I read a lot of historical literature like Dickens, George Eliot and Charlotte Bronte, and I was really worried that this book would not live up to my expectations of it. I’ve always loved the story of Oliver Twist and the movie musical as well. But the idea of a follow up story wherein Oliver and Jack (the Artful Dodger) grow up and fall in love made me giddy with excitement. But I was nervous about the writing.

When I finally began this story and immediately found myself transported back to Victorian London with all its period charm as well as its grime, brutality and criminal underbelly, I was thrilled.

I usually like my gay romance reads to be fast-moving, full of sexual tension and graphically described intimate scenes. This story read more like a literary novel with a leisurely plot and much introspection on the part of the central character (Oliver) which was absolutely fine because the quality of the writing and the author’s attention to period detail supported that. Indeed, I found myself entranced by her vivid descriptions of life in middle class London, then later by the squalid lifestyles of the lower classes.

Pilz does a wonderful job of navigating the subtle dance between two men who share an unstated obsession with each other but don’t fully understand where that obsession comes from or to where it might lead. When it gets there, her handling of Jack and Oliver’s acknowledgment of their physical attraction to each other is beautiful to behold and hotter than Hades.

I recommend this book for anyone who enjoys historical romances with strong, vividly depicted characters and setting and an undeniable passion between two people struggling to survive and thrive in a harsh and unforgiving world.

There are five more stories in this series and I look forward to enjoying each and every one of them, the next being Oliver and Jack: At Lodgings in Lyme.

Thank you to Christina E. Pilz for permitting me to combine my love for historic literature with my fondness for gay romance in her painstakingly researched and beautifully written series.

Movie Review – “Call Me By Your Name”

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*Contains spoilers*

I have watched this film three times now, and it gets better at each viewing.

Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name is a feast for the senses – an erotic buffet filled to the brim with symbolism, intellect and culture.

But most of all, innocence.

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Call Me By Your Name is the story of 17 year-old Elio’s sudden infatuation with 24 year-old graduate student, Oliver, one of a succession of yearly summer visitors brought to the beautiful Italian villa by his father to help with paperwork and for the chosen student’s own intellectual and spiritual enrichment. It is based on the book of the same name by André Aciman, which I read before viewing the film. In this case, the movie exceeded the promise of the book – which in itself was wonderful – by immersing the viewer in the lush Italian summer that Aciman writes about and by selecting Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer as the two lead actors.

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Their chemistry is palpable from the moment they first meet through the tentative attempts at flirting and seduction, through to the final moments at the train station when Oliver has to leave. Chalamet was deservedly nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor. Somehow, he is able to show every emotion and thought that crosses Elio’s mind as he tries to figure Oliver out and decipher his own confusing feelings of attraction.

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This is one of the most mature films I’ve ever had the privilege to watch. It is a story in which sex is as natural as breathing, as wonderful a part of growing up as anything else, where nothing is shameful about embracing one’s desires and enjoying the fruit of life. The peaches that ripen in Anella’s orchard are as full of promise and as sweet as Elio. They are innocent but sensual in their own right, just like him.

As Elio and Oliver bicycle through the Italian countryside growing ever more aware of their mutual attraction, the viewer is treated to such a natural growth of love and longing that it becomes a part of the landscape.

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The house in which Elio lives and where Oliver stays for the summer is a character in itself. Like Elio’s parents, the ancient villa is always welcoming, doors open wide to the sunshine, balconies overlooking vast expanses of grass and trees. But there are hidden passages and secret rooms too, where only the most loyal companions are taken. Elio’s private escape above back of the kitchen, where he brings Marzia to wile away the hours until his tryst with Oliver, is also the room where he has intimate relations with a ripe peach and later cries in Oliver’s arms over the fact that Oliver must soon leave.

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This film is a celebration of summertime, first love, sexual exploration of all kinds — opposite sex, same sex, solitary sex with a peach — beauty and desire. It is also a celebration of how a parent can let their child become an adult by sitting back and letting that child explore the world on his/her own terms. By understanding that sexuality is a natural part of living and that putting barriers around who we’re allowed to fall in love with or engage with sexually is a losing game, and why would we want to play it anyway?

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Friday Flash Fiction – Jingle Balls

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Dear Lord, it was sweltering outside. How was I supposed to get in the Christmas spirit surrounded by palm trees, surfers and ancient volcanoes?

I’d jumped at the opportunity to move to Hawaii when the possibility of a transfer had come up within the company. It had been absolutely amazing for the first six months until I’d realized that nothing was changing. The weather was the same as it had been at the start of my stay.

Of course, that had been one of the major draws of moving here, but I hadn’t counted on the boredom of waking up to the same thing day in and day out. Sure, it rained sometimes. And some days the winds were stronger than others. But I had grown up in a climate that transformed itself on a regular basis. I had gotten used to the seasons changing and seemed to unconsciously have used them to mark the passage of time if nothing else. Here, on this island, I felt like I was trapped in a constantly repeating pattern. It was a pleasant pattern, there was no arguing that. Warm and sunny most of the time, with no hassles like shovelling snow, scraping car windows or trying to find a winter hat that looked half decent.

I couldn’t believe I was thinking this, but I missed winter. Actually, I missed the gradual change of Autumn to winter and the prospect of spring returning. Especially right now, with Christmas only a few days away.

The only good thing (and it was a really good thing) that made Hawaii feel like home was the fact that the man I’d met a month after setting down roots here had moved in with me and we shared a relationship that was astonishing in its honesty and passion.

As I pulled into the drive of our hilltop bungalow wondering how I’d get through the Christmas season without the things that made Christmas, well, Christmas, I knew that at least I had someone wonderful with whom to share my nostalgia and celebrate the season.

“Hey, Gorgeous, I’m home,” I said as I pushed open the door and dropped my parcels. “No peeking in any of these, by the way.”

“In here,” came Josh’s cheerful voice from the living room.

I toed off my flip flops and tossed my keys on the stand, then wandered towards the living area. When I got to the archway between the dining area and the living room I froze at the sight that greeted me.

“Josh? What the hall have you done? And holy shit, what the fuck are you wearing?” I said, staring open mouthed at my muscled boyfriend who stood in front of an artificial pine tree that was flecked with fake snow and decorated with white and blue balls and pretty paper snowflakes, in only a pair of tight white briefs embossed with the visage of the jolly old elf himself and the Aussibum logo.

He smiled and stepped back from the tree. “Ta da! What do you think?”

“I think,” I said, feeling the moisture collect in my eyes but fighting it back (it was just a fucking tree, for God’s sake!). “I think I love it.”

His smile grew bigger and the gratitude swelled inside me again. Then he gestured down to the tiny trunks he wore. “And these? Tell me what you think of these.”

My eyes drifted over the soft white cotton that contained his familiar package and outlined his beautiful, sexy ass.

I shook my head. “I can’t tell you that, Josh.”

He screwed up his features. “Huh? Why not?”

“Because my brain just exploded. Why did you get rid of the palm tree we decorated? I don’t miss it at all, but why?”

He shrugged. “Because I could tell you hated it. I wanted you to have something more reminiscent of Wisconsin. Something that would make your Christmas a little more enjoyable.”

I walked over to him and reached out to pull him in for a kiss. His lips were soft and welcoming and tasted of peppermint. “Have you been eating candy canes, Josh?”

He grinned. “Maybe.”

“You are the sweetest man I’ve ever known. Thank you for making my Christmas this year.”

“You’re welcome. Do you like the balls?”

“Oh Josh, I like them very much,” I said, staring down at his tiny white Christmas briefs.

He gasped in mock astonishment. “My goodness, someone’s in a better mood.”

“Thanks to you. Now let’s go pretend there’s a raging blizzard outside and we can’t leave the bedroom for three days.”

 

Scrabble – Nathan’s Flash Fic Challenge for March

My buddy, Nathan, runs a Flash Fiction challenge each month. He picks randomly from a selection of genres, objects, and locations and the results for March were: a Romance, with a VHS cassette, in a fire watch tower.

So I kind of played fast and loose with those guidelines because that’s how I roll.

Also, the stories are supposed to be within a 1000 word limit. Mine’s about 1500 words but I couldn’t bare to edit it down very much ’cause I like it the way it is.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to write but while researching fire watch towers I came upon this article about a guest house built as an authentic replica of a fire watch tower in Montana and my idea progressed from there. Especially when I read that it is occasionally used by fire fighters as an actual fire lookout.

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Photo by Heidi A. Long

SCRABBLE

After an intense hike to the top of Lion Mountain in Whitefish, Montana, I surprised my boyfriend, Michael, with the place we would be staying for two days and two nights to celebrate being together for six months.

“They wanted to recreate an old fire watch tower and went to pretty extreme lengths to make it authentic. And I found it on Air B&B. And now we are here.”

The wood-framed platform and cabin were perched securely on top of four wide flights of stairs that I had to force myself to ascend with the occasional encouragement from Michael who wasn’t afraid of heights.

The door was indeed unlocked and I was relieved to see the place looked just like it had on the website — the décor rustic and cozy. There was a small kitchen area, a tiny table with two chairs and a living space. I hadn’t yet told Michael that we’d have to climb down those steps whenever we needed to use the composting toilet.

“Wow,” Michael said as we looked at the panoramic view out the windows. The green and brown wilderness of Montana spread out in all directions. “This is beautiful.”

After staring for several moments we shucked our backpacks and collapsed on the banquet sofa, breathing heavily from the hike and climb.

Michael looked around the small cabin, taking it all in. I’d already seen the photos online but it was wonderful to see the place in person and know it was ours for the next forty-eight hours.

Finally, he turned to me. “But where do we sleep?”

I raised my eyebrows. As far as I was concerned, there would not be a whole lot of sleep going on this weekend.

He must have seen the desire in my eyes because he grinned and leaned closer, brushing my cheek with his nose and murmuring into my ear. “Let me rephrase that. Where is the comfortable but firm surface I can throw you on to have my depraved way with you? Please tell me there is one.”

His warm breath caused goose bumps to rise on me everywhere and my cock to thicken in my shorts. I almost couldn’t reply but when I found my voice I said, “There’s a pull-out bed in here.” I pointed down at the sofa we were sitting on.

“Oh good,” he said, nuzzling my stubbled cheek and nipping at my chin, which caused my mouth to drop open and my breaths to come more quickly. “Because I thought we might have to do it on the balcony.”

I pulled back and stared at him, eyes wide and my dick a steel rod.

“I think we may just have to now that you’ve put that idea in my head.”

He laughed softly and kissed me with increasing ardor, his hand finding its way past the waistband of my shorts.

Later, so much later, after we’d fucked on the pull-out bed AND on the balcony, and then again with me bent over the kitchen counter, we relaxed on the tangled sheets and enjoyed the peace of the dark forest surrounding us. It was so quiet but for the sounds of crickets and night birds and it made something deep inside me relax for the first time in a long while.

“This reminds me of something,” I suddenly realized and the words were out of my mouth before I could stop them.

“Yeah?”

I nodded, snuggling into Michael’s side and enjoying the smell of him and the lingering scent of our adventures. “This old movie I had way back in the day of VHS players. I can’t even remember the title of the thing and the cassette always came unwound but I remember there was this one scene where the lovers — they were straight of course— were chatting like us in a cabin in the woods with darkness all around, just like this, and it was so, I don’t know, evocative of something. Something important and valuable and beautiful.”

Michael stared down at me, breathing softly. “I like the way you say things, Mattéo.”

“You do?”

“Yes, I do. And I think that you are something important and valuable and beautiful.”

I swallowed, too overcome by what he’d said to reply. All I could do was lock onto his gaze and lose myself in the truth of his words.

A sound outside made me jerk in his arms.

“What the fuck was that?” Michael said as our quiet lover’s chat was interrupted by sounds of movement and talking below. We froze and listened.

A man’s voice, confident and deep: “I know. I just want to get a better look. Wait here.”

Soon we heard the sounds of booted feet on the steps below.

“Oh shit,” I cried out, scrambling to find my clothes. Michael did the same. But before we could get completely dressed the door to the cabin opened and a man stepped inside.

“Oh shit!” He exclaimed, his eyes flying over the scene of our debauchery with confusion and surprise. “I didn’t realize there was anyone in here.”

“Oh shit!” I said again, staring at the fully uniformed firefighter in his coveralls, boots and fire hat. “Is there a fire?”

The man stared at me, then at Michael as we continued to frantically dress ourselves.

He gave out a soft laugh and smiled. He looked back and forth between us again and I suddenly noticed he had the bluest eyes and a handsome goatee. “That’s what I’m here to find out. But nothing close.”

His eyes sparkled as he took off his fire hat and held out his hand. “I’m Officer Markholm. I’m so sorry to intrude but the owner lets us use this place as an actual fire watch tower when we need to. Unfortunately she neglected to tell us it was being used this weekend.”

Officer Markholm’s black hair was wet with sweat and curled charmingly around his ears. I didn’t realize I was staring until Michael told me to close my mouth. Officer Markholm laughed, apologized again and asked if he could just have a look out the back windows? He was just making sure a small fire that was miles away had been successfully extinguished.

Of course we said sure and moved aside, hoping the smell of the sex we’d had all over the place wasn’t as strong as it seemed. I suddenly noticed Michael’s jar of Boy Butter lube on the table by the window where Officer Markholm stood looking out. I nudged Michael and nodded toward it. He paled slightly. He moved quickly to the window beside the firefighter, blocking Officer Markholm’s view of the table.

“It’s so dark, what can you possibly see out there?”

I darted to the table and grabbed the bottle, whisking it out of sight. It was slippery, as lube bottles tend to get, and slid from my fingers, clattering onto the floor and rolling under the pullout bed as Officer Markholm said, “Fire. If there’s even a tiny fire, I’ll see it. But if we could switch the lights off in here, that would help.”

“Sure,” I said, backing up to do as he’d asked. At least the lube was out of sight.

We all stood there then, silently looking out the large windows, watching the forest for any signs of red or yellow or orange.

Officer Markholm scanned the distance and I tried not to imagine how hard his muscles probably were underneath that brown coverall. How it might feel to be picked up in his strong arms and carried down the steps. How comforting it would be to hear his voice in the middle of a crisis.

I noticed that Michael was watching him too. No doubt thinking the same thing I was. I grinned but I don’t know if he saw it in the darkness.

Finally, Officer Markholm turned and said, “Looks like it’s all clear. Thanks for letting me invade your love nest, boys.”

My breath caught in my throat. “Wh- what? We were just, uh, playing scrabble.” It was all I could think of.

Officer Markholm switched the light on and I could see his wry smile. “Okay. Sure.”

The blood rushed to my face. He obvious didn’t believe me.

“Who’s winning?”

“Him,” Michael and I said together.

“Uh huh. And where’s the board? Same place as the lube?”

We were so busted. We said nothing, just stared at the handsome firefighter and choked.

Then his soft laugh floated through the small space again. “Anyway, looks like there’s no fire anywhere but in this room. Just play safe okay?”

And he was gone, closing the door and clomping down the wood steps, while Michael and I stared after him.

Friday Flash Fiction – Baby Talk

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“Thats … him?”

Cade nodded with a smug smile on his face. “Yep. That’s Mark. With little Jade.”

“Can the dog walk or is it missing its legs?” I asked.

Cade blinked and screwed up his forehead. “Huh?”

”He’s carrying his dog in a backpack. Don’t you think that’s a little … precious?”

Cade shrugged. “I think it’s kind of cute actually.”

“Really?”

Cade’s tone became a little pointed. “Dog and backpack aside, you gotta think Mark’s pretty hot, right?”

I looked at Cade’s phone again, holding it at all angles and trying to see what Cade was seeing. “Well…the dog kinda wrecks it for me. All I can think of is this hot guy talking baby talk to his precious little poodle or whatever the fuck it is.”

“It’s a yorkie, actually. God, you are fucking weird and cynical as shit,” Cade said, not even trying to hide his annoyance. “I don’t know why I showed this to you.”

He grabbed his phone back and shoved it in his pocket. “Mark’s the sweetest guy I’ve ever met and if you can’t get over the fact that he babies his dog, you’re alot more judgemental than I though.”

“Whatever.”

“Asshole.”

“Want to go get Subway?

“Sure.”

 

Book Review – “Confessions: Robbie”, by Ella Frank

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*I fell in love with the character of Robert Bianchi in Ella Frank’s fabulous Temptations series. While reading the final book in the six-book series, I was dying to know more about the “Priest” (Joel Priestley) and the “Prick” (celebrity chef Julien Thornton) who seemed to have an unconventional marriage and a private obsession with the young, extravagant Robbie. Luckily, Frank has decided to follow Robbie’s story with the first book in her new Confessions series. And, luckily for me, Robbie very quickly decides that he needs to know more about the married men who’ve shown an interest in him as well.

When I heard that Frank was accepting requests for ARC copies of the new book, I threw my name in and then promptly forgot I had done so. Wasn’t I thrilled and surprised when I received an email on Thursday promising an ARC copy in my inbox come Friday morning?

I started reading on Friday, tore myself away for a couple of hours to work on my own project, then continued, and finished this morning. I almost wish I’d read it a little more slowly to savour it, but I’m afraid that was impossible and, really, that’s what the reread is for, right?

Ella Frank has the innate ability to see into my head and write exactly what I want to see in her books. It is really quite rare for me to find an author that seems to think exactly like I do and writes a book that is perfectly what I want to read (usually, I have to write those books). She did that with the first half of the Temptations series and she’s done it again with Confessions: Robbie.

Because my own James Lucas Trilogy revolves around the development of a close and committed relationship between three different men, I loved the premise of this book. And Frank executed the resulting story perfectly. Ella Frank is able to write sizzling hot sex scenes AND scenes that cut through the bullshit of outward appearances and reveal the inner emotions of her characters, so VERY well. The entire first part of this book was a slow, delicious and tantalizing lead-up to what I knew was coming and what I was desperately waiting for. By the time I got it, the flames were licking up the sides of my Kindle.

Seriously. This book is HOT.

But it is also full of three dimensional characters who are all struggling with something and who find answers in each other.

I highly recommend Confessions: Robbie and look very much forward to the rest of the series. I was thrilled to read in the back matter that Confessions: Julien is supposed to be out by May of this year, because I so desperately want to read more about the Priest, the Prick and the Princess.

*A copy of this book was provided to me in exchange for a fair and honest review.