The Private Secretary by Summer Devon (review)

Tagline: Struggling middle-class man must work for the upper-crust Victorian gentleman who bullied his lover out of the country

Private Secretary Book Cover

Title: The Private Secretary
Author: Summer Devon

Genre:  Historical M/M Romance
Format:  Novel (141 pages)

Sites: AuthorGoodreads

Publisher: Self-Published (June 2016)
AISN: B01G4OQDIS

Bonus: Kindle Unlimited

Retail: $2.99

Rating:   star  star  star  half-star  (I liked it alot.)


Synopsis:  After his middle-class father inherits wealth and squanders it away, Ezra Seton is left to care for his younger brother.  Unable to compete with his lover’s memory of a previous beau who swept Francis off his feat as well as bullied him mercilessly, Ezra is devastated when his love leaves him behind.  Desperate to support his brother, the young man seeks employment in the very house of this memorable bully, the wealthy Victorian gentleman Robert Deeme.  Accepting a position as secretary to Deeme’s off-kilter cousin means Ezra will be spending a great deal of time with the man he despises.  His position exposes him to continued interactions with the man who bullied his love, an erratic and eccentric cousin, the pitfalls of lunatic asylums in Victorian England, and, of course, a growing physical attraction to the pretentious gentlemen.  When Francis returns and eyes the “rude” gentleman just as relatives released from the asylum arrive, the secretary’s world is laced with passion, jealousy, and potential lunacy.

Review: This is a sweet (if a tad brief and sometimes simplistic) historical male/male romance set in Victorian London. Robert, the wealthy man of society, and Ezra, the struggling but educated man of middle class origins trying to take care of his siblings, were a nice combination.  There was a fair amount of disdain to accompany plenty of attraction and character growth as well as a little between the sheets sizzle.

I found some elements of the work to be strong and interesting, including a (sometimes abbreviated but) believable enemies-to-lovers plot and “cross-class” themes. There was also a particularly interesting glimpses at 19th century/Victorian Britain (including sanatoriums, upper class researcher scientists, a touch of upstairs / downstairs flavor, and a bit of “Society” mores).

As with other works by this author, the setting is a nice draw for fans of male lovers set in 19th century British society. The characters are sympathetic without being perfectly wonderful or awful, including the protagonists, the surrounding family/household, and the foils. The weakness is in the sometimes quick-moving and/or overly pat plot and relationship developments, conflicts, and/or resolutions. In other words, it’s great for a diverting, relatively quick, and entertaining read (rather than a deep or really angst/passion-filled or breathtaking/enveloping romance).


Recommended for fans of:  Historical romance; Victorian England; sweet stories.

Sizzle:
Explicit Heat: fire fire fire – Some sizzle with explicit content.
Genre:  Adult Romance


Other Comments:
Overall, I find Summon Devon stories to be entertaining and diverting, providing a pleasant trip into Victorian England with generally pleasant and sweet portrayals of male/male relations in a sometimes very repressive society.

7&7 – Anthology (review)

7&7 Anthology Book Cover

7 Vices & 7 Virtues
Title7&7
A DSP Anthology of Virtue and Vice
Genres: Fantasy / Historical / Paranormal / Science Fiction (+Horror)

Format:  Anthology of 14 short stories
Size: 360 pages (122k words)

Publisher: DSP Publications (May 2016)
ISBN: 9781634773607

Bonus:  Free on publisher’s site

Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)

Tagline: Mixed bag of decent to excellent writing, innovative but a bit uneven stories, and a couple that push the envelope (but not necessarily in a good way for me)    Individual reviews below

The establishment of a new boutique (LGBT-friendly) imprint to explore a wider-ranger of immersive, unique and unforgettable fiction is a welcome development.  This anthology of 14 short stories on each of 7 vices and 7 virtues provides a good introduction to a range of writers and styles that expand significantly upon the offerings of typical Dreamspinner releases.  “Speculative fiction” covers a wide array of approaches and genres, and a nice variety is reflected in the collected works.

Overall, I found 11 or 12 of the 14 stories to be rewarding, short reads, although one I found to be particularly offensive and another rather baffling.  I’ve included brief ratings and summaries of each story below along with links to more detailed reviews.

Horrific Content Warning:

Unfortunately, one or two of the pieces significantly push the envelope without, in my opinion, nearly enough warning.  I would classify two of the pieces as full-on horror (and the ending of a third can be interpreted that way).  Horror was not listed as a genre in the publisher’s description.  Although the blurb mentions “rise to the highest heights – or sink to the darkest and most perverse depths,” they also mention that the stories cover the consequences of the the call to good and evil, as well as there are pleasures to be found in the darkness.  These descriptions, combined with a lack of a horror tag and a general light treatment of vices in most of the stories, did not prepare some readers (including myself) for a couple of stories that went much, much darker than the others.

I am all for writers writing what they want, and readers enjoying what they like, but I would have much preferred a clearer indication (e.g. a horror tag in a more prominent place than buried in the editor’s introduction) to prepare me for the story I found to be particularly offensive.  It might have been the most well-written piece in the collection, but without a horror tag and based on the tenor of other stories (light treatment of vices, many with surprising twists at the end), despite some clear telegraphing of the direction, I couldn’t believe the story was heading to such a torturous, shaming ending without some kind of twist.


Individual Story Ratings and Summaries

The Darkness of the Sun by Amy Rae Durreson
Virtue: Faith. Genre: Fantasy
4 stars
Bereaved, unbelieving priest confronted with questions of faith. Set with an enticing array of characters in an interesting, slightly supernatural, pre-modern fantasy setting.
review

The Bank Job by Andrea Speed
Vice: Greed. Genre: Superhero
3.5 stars
Drats! Foiled Again! Attitudinal supervillain and minions encounter a couple of gay caped crusaders
review

Prudence for Fools by Sean Michael
Virtue: Prudence. Genre: Fantasy
3.75 stars
Magical seer with disturbing vision exiled to his husband’s remote homeland
review

The Gate by J. S. Cook
Vice: Anger Genre: Noir Fiction
2.75 stars (higher if you like Noir Fiction)
A gay man sees a seedier, dark side of the wartime effort
review

Heirs to Grace and Infinity by C. Cummings
Virtue: Justice. Genre: Urban Fantasy
5 stars
Fugitive sorcerer matches wits with the Bureau’s top agent
review

The Rendering by J. Inman
Vice: Gluttony. Genre: Hateful Horror
Zero stars
– (excellent writing, rating based on lack of a “horror” tag)
It was pretty clear from the start what was set-up to happen, but I thought surely they wouldn’t go to the obvious outcome, as most of the other stories in the anthology had a surprise twist in the end. Also, despite the clear signs from the story, I couldn’t imagine going to such a hateful and shaming place, taking an extremely sympathetic character (except for one over-the-top vice) to such a torturous end (and, of course, based on the genre headings, I was not expecting horror). In some ways, I think this piece had possibly the best writing, which may have ended up making the offensive, fat-shaming ending so incredibly much worse for me because of the empathy I had for the character. While reading, I thought a twist in the ending was especially likely given how lightly most of the other vices were dealt with in this anthology, which makes this lack of a horror tag extra-galling to me.
detailed review

Beyond the Temperance Effect by Serna Yates
Virtue: Temperance. Genre: Science Fiction
3.5 stars
How much temperance will you need for fifty years in space and beyond?
review

Covetous by Pearl Love
Vice: Envy. Genre: Horror (or torture porn)
3 stars
Pissed off ex-lover asked what he would give to get his desires
review

Hope by Rick Reed
Virtue: Hope. Genre: Contemporary LGBT
5 stars  (no-doubt based on a personal connection)
Looking for hope in crises around a mother’s death and one’s personal life
review

Horseboy by J. Tullos Henry
Vice: Pride.  Genre: Historic LGBT
4.5 stars
A Horseboy of the Lebanon, a Templar Knight, and intimate desert secrets
review

Train to Sevmash by Jamie Fressenden
Virtue: Charity. Genre: Contemporary LGBT
4.5 stars
Would James Bond off a Bond vixen? (LGBT agent version)
review

Red Light Special by Rhys Ford
Vice: Lust.  Genre: Urban Fae Fantasy
4.5 stars
Fae and elves and a succubus, oh my! (In Detroit)
review

Traitor by Clare London
Virtue: Fortitude. Genre: Spy/Cloak and Dagger LGBT
4.5 stars
Twice betrayed – interrogating one’s ex-comrade and ex-lover agent
review

Couches of Fabric and Snow by Brandon Whitt
Vice: Sloth. Genre: I have no idea (horrific interpretation possible)
No rating
Too lazy to work, to relate, to love, to really live…
review

 

 

Horseboy by J. Tullos Henry (review)

Tagline: A Horseboy of the Lebanon, a Templar Knight, and intimate desert secrets

7&7 Anthology Book Cover

Vice #5: Pride
Title: Horseboy
Author: J. Tullos Henry

Genre:   Historic (with a touch of Fantasy)
Format:  Short Story (28 pages)
Series: 7&7 Anthology

Publisher: DSP Publications (May 2016)

Bonus:   Free on publisher’s site

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)

DSP Publication’s anthology covers 7 virtues and 7 vices, and the theme of J. Tullos Henry’s story is the vice of pride.

In the shadows of a burnt stronghold in the Levant, the horseboy with a secret works his herd of horses away from the fighting and towards possible safety.  The mounts respect the lad with the talent to soothe their kind, but lead him to an encounter with a wounded infidel, a Templar, his wounded warhorse, and his fallen knightly comrade.  The  situaton calls forth both magic and danger, with the local lad revealing secrets that usually bring death, while the Templar finds himself fearful and confused by the handful of foreign deception.  The two pose almost as much danger to each other as the desert heat and the vultures.

A trip to the Crusades and the wariness between religious enemies is timely in itself, but the author weaves timeless issues of sexuality and gender into this historic setting.  Add in a touch of supernatural folk tradition and the danger of being different in a society of strong moral norms, and the reader is treated to story that should work for LGBT-friendly hisotry and fantasy fans on many levels.  While we see the current struggle for gay and transgender rights as particularly heightened at the moment, it’s good to remember folk have always struggled with being true to themselves in the face of intolerance throughout history.

My one critique would be the theme of pride was very understated to me (although both characters proudly but secretly lived their lives, and had to choose whether they would swallow some to survive their encounter in the harsh desert).

The Rendering by J. Inman (review)

Tagline: Fat gay guy gets led-on, lured in, teased, tantalized and then… sweetly written sickness (that turned my stomach)

7&7 Anthology Book Cover

Vice #3: Gluttony
Title: The Rendering
Author: J. Inman

Genre:  Horror
Format:  Short Story
Series: 7&7 Anthology

Publisher: DSP Publications (May 2016)

Bonus:   Free on publisher’s site

Rating: 0 stars (out of 5)

DSP Publication’s anthology covers 7 virtues and 7 vices, and the theme of J. Inman’s short story is the vice of gluttony.

They need a fucking trigger warning.

————————

Review:

I have two extremely negative reactions to this story. The first is this is an extremely horrific “historical” folk story, but the publisher provided basically no warning of its content. Even worse, the horrors in the story are sharpened by taking the most intimate fears, desperation, and longing hopes of a very often disdained subgroup in the LGBT community and viciously and maliciously exploits them for a cheap thrill.

Upon reflection, this story reminds me a bit of the brilliant but depraved story The Lottery. Whereas The Lottery was a sick but pointedly insightful critique of human social customs and potential for cruelty, The Rendering takes a horrific folk/fairy tale and targets an often troubled, marginalized, and disrespected group in the LGBT community.

It’s really a horror story (despite how the publisher only lists as historical or fantasy as possibly relevant genres) and I find many horror stories to disturbing, and some extreme ones, such as The Rendering, to be way beyond the pale for me, and therefore I obviously personally avoid them if at all possible.  I understand and respect that there are fans who find these types of stories to be engrossing and entertaining, and I do not begrudge authors for writing them or readers for liking them. I do expect authors and publishers to provide fair warning and clear labels, and in this case I believe they clearly failed.

There are several genre headings listed on the publisher’s website for this anthology (Fantasy, Historical, Paranormal, Science Fiction), but not one of them is horror. The book’s description does warn the exploration of virtue and vice could “sink to the darkest and most perverse depths.” But they go on to say the stories “explore the call to good and evil – and the consequences of answering it.” So one could reasonably expect there to be no horror in this collection, and any “consequences” fit whatever “evil” is explored. What I take from this is the consequence of an exploration of the “evil” of a gluttonous gay man’s deepest, most intimate, and most fervent yearnings is to be tantalized, lured, led on, and teased until they find a fate of torture and slow, agonizing death. Having little or no warning about this type of content is pretty disturbing.

It was pretty clear from the start of this work – the title is obviously indicative – what was set-up to happen, but I thought surely they would end up with a surprise, since most of the other works in the anthology included a significant a twist at the end.  Not this one. I couldn’t believe an LGBT-friendly publisher would go to such a hateful, shaming, horrific place with no warning (this is historical and a consequence of gluttonous “evil”?).  I thought this telegraphed ending to be especially unlikely given how lightly the other vices were dealt with in this anthology (except for one other, which unfortunately I read last after I had recovered from this one), which makes a lack of any real warning extra-galling. Their story on anger has one guy unilaterally impacting another’s business, and the “anger” response is one slightly brusque conversation. But they turn the fat gay guy into an extraordinarily gluttonous pig but extremely sympathetic and endearing in his yearnings and needs – and then treat him much worse than, well, it’s hard imagine a worse emotional or physical fate (and I’ve read plenty of edgy, non-con and torturous works over the years).

There was one other horror story in the series, but it didn’t bother me personally nearly as much.  However, I imagine other readers might find it even worse than The Rendering, making me doubly question the publisher’s publicist’s judgment and sensitivity.