Series Review – Christina E. Pilz “Oliver and Jack”

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I just finished the sixth and final book in the Oliver and Jack series by Christina E. Pilz and am now in mourning that the story is complete.

Sometimes, in a lengthy series, the final books can seem lacklustre and underwhelming. Even if the writing continues on a level of excellence, the story can sometimes fizzle out and be less than comparable to the earlier books.

Well, not in this case.

The three books following Fagin’s Boy (which I reviewed here), At Lodgings in Lyme, In Axminster Workhouse and Out in the World, carried the story forward with the two main characters facing further challenges but feeling more and more affection for each other, both physical and otherwise and I found the final two books in the Oliver and Jack series – On the Isle of Dogs and In London Towne) – to be riveting, revelatory and supremely satisfying.

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Ms. Pilz’s unfailing ability to transport her reader to the streets and byways of 19th century London and environs is astonishing. She is able to convey the noise, the stench and, yes, the beauty of this unique setting with her eye for detail and the manner in which her finely drawn characters react to their surroundings. Her use of language, particularly, to show the difference between the social classes, is perfectly executed. Jack’s street-smart and profanity-laden dialogue contrasts beautifully with Oliver’s more polite turns of phrase in a way that keeps the characters quite distinct and beautifully contradictory.

I have to say that Pilz’s version of Jack Dawkins, the Artful Dodger, is one of the most vibrant and colourful character representations I have ever had the pleasure to read. I fell deeply in love with his expressive language, straightforward outlook on life, and ability to find pleasure and humour in even the most bleak of circumstances.

Pilz has a wonderful grasp of human psychology and how people react to traumatic circumstances. Her 19th century world is brutal in its veracity but the way these two characters struggle to survive and barely escape some horrible situations is a testament to the harshness of the Victorian reality and its rigid social structure. When addressing less-than-appealing events, Pilz manages to maintain a sense of delicacy and honesty that, while not shying away from important details, shows her characters’ great strength in the face of adversity.

In conclusion, a beautiful series written with a deft hand and sharp mind, presenting characters at odds with the times of their existence who nevertheless find love and laughter to carry them through until they can grasp their happy-ever-after, which is all the more special because of the trials they have endured to get there.

 

 

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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But First, Coffee – Friday Flash Fic., Jan. 25

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The final shot I wanted to get was of the luxurious Master bathroom with the view out the sliding doors to the hardwood deck and the sliver of beach, the expanse of blue ocean stretching to infinity. It took about five tries to get that perfect shot.

“And, done.”

Mr. Yanofsky grinned. “I can’t wait to see them. When will the issue be out?”

I looked everywhere but at Mr. Yanofsky’s intense grey eyes, because I felt safer behind the camera. Safer from my own desires. “Uh, well, it’s the July issue, so probably beginning of June. But they’ll send you a copy earlier.”

Mr. Yanofsky nodded, his hands in the pockets of his snug beige board shorts. “Would you like a coffee? I’ve got a lovely dark roast from Venezuela…”

I fiddled with my camera, pretending to readjust some settings before I put it away. “Sure, yeah. I could use some coffee.” I smiled, letting my eyes meet his and seeing something very attractive there. In a spur of the moment move I lifted the camera and took a quick shot of him standing, looking at me.

“Sorry,” I blushed. “Couldn’t resist.”

He smiled, and yeah, there was definitely something there. “Come on.”

I followed him to the absurdly beautiful main room of his luxury beach house where he bade me make myself comfortable while he moved into the adjoining kitchen and began to prepare a pot of coffee.

“How long are you in Fiji, Mr. Stone?”

I looked over at him from my seat on his white leather sectional. “Hmm? Oh, I go back Friday. I’m shooting two other homes while I’m here.”

“Will you have time for sightseeing?”

I nodded. “I hope so.”

“If you like I could take you around some of my favourite spots.” Mr. Yanofsky’s voice held a tenor of insecurity, like he wasn’t sure of my answer.

I was, however, positive. “That would be great. Sure.”

Mr. Yanofsky finished in the kitchen and set the coffee to brew, then walked slowly over to where I was sitting. He stood directly in front of me, a little closer than two relative strangers would normally be comfortable.

“Well, then. It’s probably a good idea to be on a first name basis, don’t you think?” He smiled down at me.

I straightened my position on the sofa, finally letting my eyes drift down Mr. Yanofsky’s trim form and back up to his eyes, in which the invitation seemed plain as day now.

“Jameson,” I breathed, anticipation and arousal swirling inside.

“Kevin,” Mr. Yanofsky said in a soft tone that seemed to stroke over my skin. “Of course you’ve already seen my very favourite spot on the island.”

“I have?” I said, clearing my throat and trying not to stare.

Kevin nodded, a pink flush spreading across his cheeks. He laughed softly and sat down beside me. “Well, that would be my bedroom.” He reached out a hand and touched the back of my own. “Would you, maybe, like to see it again? No camera this time?”

I flipped my hand over so his fingertips grazed the sensitive skin of my palm, and said, “No camera.”

When he leaned in and kissed me with a polite, testing pressure that only teased of the future possibilities here, my body responded.

He pulled back and assessed me with satisfaction.

“But first, coffee.”

 

Personality – Monday Flash Fics, Jan. 22

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The most interesting person in the square was someone wearing a white cashmere coat over a dark red blouse with a floppy red bow at the neck. Perched on their head was a matching red fedora-like hat. I thought the outfit showed a lot of personality and a certain unwillingness to dress to convention.

The person had a closely trimmed beard and clutched a large brown handbag.

“Excuse me,” I said to them, after tapping them on the shoulder. “I’m a photographer from Ottawa. I love your outfit. Would I be able to take your picture?”

The person looked at me, surprised. But they nodded and gave me a guarded smile. “Sure.”

I thanked them and asked their name.

“Martha.”

I nodded, giving them a genuine smile. “Nice to meet you, Martha. I’m Carson.”

Martha nodded, still seeming wary.

“You’re fine right where you are, Martha. Just be yourself.”

At that, Martha laughed, seeming to let down their guard finally. “Oh, that is who I always am, I’m afraid. I can’t seem to help it!”

I took some shots of them, and smiled. “It shows. I really like your outfit.”

The wariness came back. “You’re not making fun of me, are you? Setting me up for some kind of joke?”

I lowered my camera and shook my head. “No, I’m not. I think you have more personality in your little finger than most of the people here. I wanted to capture it.”

They stared at me, and a small smile finally broke on their friendly face. “Thank you. It’s been a long time since someone gave me a compliment.”

“I’m sorry.”

They shrugged. “I guess my expectations of people have been lowered since I started dressing the way I want. Living the way I want.”

I looked at them with sympathy. “That’s a real shame.”

“Yes, it is. But thank you for renewing my hope in people.”

“Would you like me to send you a copy of the photos, Martha?”

“Yes, I’d love that!”

We exchanged contact info and parted with a warm handshake. I left the encounter with a lighter heart and some fantastic photos on my camera.

Science Fiction Double Feature – Friday Flash Fic., Jan. 19

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“Rocky, just sit back and enjoy the show,” Dr. Frank N. Furter suggested in his sensuously deep voice with a smirk of his luscious red lips. “It’s a science fiction double feature!” His pink tongue slid over those lips as he raised his eyebrows, clapping his manicured hands together. “My favourite!”

Rocky grunted, glancing at the man who had shocked him into consciousness just days ago.

Frank N. Furter was … well, he was something. Something Rocky was just starting to figure out.

Oh, he knew all about him physically. Frank had made sure of that, having created Rocky, he assumed, expressly for that purpose. And being new to the entire experience of living and fucking, Rocky had participated enthusiastically in that lesson.

Frank N. Furter was a gourmand in the excesses of the flesh. A veritable connoisseur of sexual pleasure. Nothing stood in the way of Frank getting what he needed or wanted but he was a seducer, not a cad. He made sure the objects of his affection were entirely willing participants in every delicious act of debauchment.

Something about him, something perhaps a bit otherworldly, convinced most people that Frank would enrich their experience and bring them home.

Rocky glued his eyes to the screen and tried to ignore what Frank’s hand was doing as it traced a path up his thigh to the very tight gold lamé trunks that had been given to him to wear. The movie was a classic B-Grade science fiction movie. Frank had explained the appeal of these movies to Rocky in vivid detail, and Rocky wanted to see for himself.

But he couldn’t help glancing down at Frank when the hand made it’s gentle way to…

“Oh Rocky!” Dr. Furter exclaimed when he reached his specific point of interest.

Rocky smiled down at the curly haired man in bustier, fish net stockings and high heels who appeared so very excited at the size of Rocky’s … endowments. Well, he’d been made to order, hadn’t he?

“You’re so … so … dominant! Such a perfect specimen of manhood! I’m so proud of you, Rocky.”

Rocky blushed, smiled and grunted again, this time with much pleasure and anticipation, the movie suddenly forgotten.

Wo oh oh oh oh,

At the late night, double feature, picture show…

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