Bangkok-based travel writer who occasionally makes a foray into fiction.
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Smashwords book reviews by Michael Joseph
- Treasures of the Nile
on July 26, 2011
It's hard to know what to say about this book. It's about an almost non-stop sexual adventure of one Englishman, and I assume meant to be a "one handed read." Nothing wrong with that, as that's what I assumed when I bought it, but it really didn't work for me. The sex scenes, which are incredibly numerous, are described too briefly to really be arousing. It gets slightly better towards the middle, but it was still a bit too terse for me, and by that point it was also getting boringly similar. Every man the protagonist meets seems to want to have sex with him.
The background plot to this story is a trip up and down the Nile. Here again the story is a bit lackluster. Some of the text seems to come right out of a museum brochure. There are occasional glimpses that the author can write well, but it seems like he just couldn't be bothered most of the time.
- Despoiling David (A Gay Erotica / Historical Romance)
on Aug. 08, 2011
Interesting story, of three men fighting to control a third - a ripe young man who is heir to a substantial estate. I thought the book would have benefited from a bit more character development. All four men come off as a bit one-dimensional, especially the title character, who seems to be little more than a sex-crazed teenager. This actually helps to make the abrupt ending even more disappointing, as time suddenly jumps 18 years into the future.
I also think the author may have made a mistake trying to tell the story from three different points of view. It makes for some abrupt jumps in the story.
- Gentle Persuasion X
on Oct. 17, 2011
This collection of one-handed reads didn't really do it for me. I was expecting some BDSM stories but the collection focuses mostly on 'straights' being seduced, or in some cases doing the seduction. There's sometimes a little bit of force involved, but not at all what I was looking for.
- Hell's Pawn
on Oct. 23, 2011
This book was a really pleasant surprise. It was a really nice change from what I have been reading lately, and reminded me how much I like a good sci-fi/alternate universe story. It was my first reading love, before puberty got me interested in sex and smut.
Bell has crafted a very believable vision of the afterlife, where the various belief systems of humanity – Christian, Hindu, Celt, ancient Egyptian, etc. – all have their concepts of the afterlife realized. There’s Heaven, Hell, Asgard, Olympus and all the other ideals, along with their respective gods, such as Thor, Zeus, Set and so on.
But things are not exactly as they should be in the afterlife. Something has gone wrong, and it becomes our hero John Grey’s task to help set it right. John is a new arrival in what turns out to be Purgatory, why some kind of cosmic game is being played, like a twisted version of Farmville. John befriends a couple of other lost souls, and together they try to escape from Purgatory, only to find out just how far out of hand the place has become.
They do eventually make their escape, but John ends up riding Dante’s sins straight to Hell, which turns out to be a rather nicer place than expected. But then, Hell is trying to enlist John’s help in their war against Heaven, which they believe is responsible for the mess the afterlife is in. They use a sexy incubus to seduce John and guide him through the various realms of the afterlife in his quest to raise an army to free the souls from Purgatory.
It’s quite a roller-coaster ride that takes you to the halls of Asgard, Mount Olympus, the tomb of a Chinese emperor and more. Along the way, John manages to learn the secret of why he was uniquely qualified to take on this quest. Despite this, and some misgivings about being “Hell’s Pawn”, he continues his quest.
The final ending is a bit of an anti-climax, and for that I’d give the book 4½ stars rather than five. A few things are left unexplained, but by the end it really doesn’t matter, as it’s been such a good ride. The story is told in rich detail, but without being pedantic or boring. There’s a bit of a message near the ending, but it’s delivered rather subtly and I’ll let you figure out what it is.
- Spoils of War
on Oct. 23, 2011
Nice short story about Ares' (the Greek god of war) attempt to take Achillius (more commonly spelled Achilles) into his house and make him a god after the warrior's death during the Trojan war.
- Fun with Dick and Shane: memoirs of a Houseboy
on Oct. 30, 2011
This is the biggest surprise I've had for quite some time. I was expecting a bit of light fluff, and while there's lots of humor in the author's breezy first-person account of the 'adventures' of a 24 year-old houseboy/partner of two older men, the book still manages to tackle some very serious subjects.
Gillibran Brown, called Gilli by his friends, is the hero of the book, as well as in his own mind. He's domestically partnered with two older men, both of whom he calls Daddy. The emphasis here is on the 'domestic' partnership, since Gilli is responsible for the upkeep of the home while his two daddies are off working. The book is written as part daily journal of Gilli's life, interspersed with slightly longer stories of specific events.
The writing style is very light, and while I don't have a lot of exposure to 20-something English lads, I'd say the author nailed the language and attitudes quite accurately. While the subtitle of the book may be "The Memoirs Of A Submissive Houseboy", Gilli is a submissive only when it comes to sex - and even then it seems he can be rather demanding. The rest of the time he's a headstrong and temperamental young man, and that's usually what gets him in trouble. At times he has the emotional maturity of a two-year old. He gets jealous of the time his two daddies spend with each other, or with friends he doesn't like. He is bullheaded about doing what his daddies tell him to do, even (perhaps especially) when it's for his own good.
When Gilli gets out of line, which is often, he gets spanked. There's a lot of spanking in this book, more than is to my taste, to be honest. But there were times when even I wanted to give Gilli a smack. He seems to go out of his way to piss off the alpha daddy Shane. While there is a lot of spanking, and allusions to a bit of bondage, I didn't classify this as a BDSM book since there's very little actual sex described. This is not erotica, although there's a lot of discussion of sex, it's left mostly to the imagination.
The nature of discipline and the role it plays in their relationship is one of the more serious topics tackled in the book. It's all done in the same light-hearted style of life-according-to-Gilli and isn't the least bit heavy-handed. Other serious topics addressed include the challenges of cross-generation relationships, the stigma of epilepsy and even the impermanence of life. The light writing style hooks you and reels you in while the author conveys some very useful lessons. I was very impressed by what the writer managed to pull off, and I'll be reading the sequels for sure.
- In The Dark (Flaming Hot Erotic Gay BDSM)
on Nov. 05, 2011
In broad strokes, this is a pretty disturbing story, effectively involving kidnap and rape. You'll need to be able to get past that to read this novella - hey, it's fiction, right?
We never learn the name of the kidnapper. The kidnapped is Duncan, a 19 year old straight-identified young man. Personally, I don't really get the fixation some of my gay brothers have for straight guys. I have hard enough a time getting a second look from gay guys, I don't need the added rejection of pursuing straights. Not to mention that it feeds homophobic fears about trying to 'convert' people.
Anyhoo, the whole story recounts one night in a pitch black room where a restrained Duncan is alternatively coerced with pain and seduced with sexual stimulation until he begs to be penetrated. It's all recounted in great detail, as Duncan slowly convinces himself to give in to the pleasure the kidnapper gives him. Once you get past the improbability of the setup - how did the kidnapper manage to get into Duncan's room and transport him without being seen? - the story unfolds realistically.
I didn't put this on my BDSM shelf because it's not consensual. The text was very badly proofed and had a lot of typos.
- Kei's Gift (Darshian Tales #1)
on Dec. 02, 2011
The best word I can think of to describe Kei’s Gift is "epic" – in the very classical sense of the word. This is a broad tale of the clash of two cultures, set in an alternate world not far removed from Earth’s ancient antiquity. The ‘clash’ is actually an all out war, and against this background our two heroes struggle to find peace, and each other.
On the one side, we have Arman, a general in the Prij army. The Prij seemed to be loosely based on the ancient romans, a militaristic society with a thirst for expansion by conquest, ruled by a capricious young monarch advised by a senate of decrepit old men. The Prij believe they are the only civilized society, and that the peoples they conquer are all barbarians. Arman is an intelligent and honorable man, whose life, especially his evil bitch of a wife, brings him no happiness.
Kei is a gentle healer in a small village in Darshian. He has what the Darshianese call a ‘gift’, the ability to see into people’s souls and know what they’re feeling. People with gifts are rare and highly respected, but the gifts are not always a blessing to the person that has them.
The two men are enemies, on opposite sides of a very unjust war, yet it seems like they are somehow destined to be together. But circumstances, their differences, and their honor, seems to be constantly pulling them apart. At times, it really looks like they will never find happiness.
This is what I would call a very ‘dense’ book, and by that I don’t mean it’s difficult to read. It’s actually quite readable. But unlike many other books of such length, there’s no fluff of unnecessary prose, no lengthy tirades. There are plenty of tirades, against war and stupidity for the most part, but they’re short and to the point. Every word on every page is important and adds to the story. It’s a very rich tale, with sadness, humor, and some real tear-jerking moments near the end.
on April 05, 2012
Russell Grant is a scientist, a geneticist in fact, and the son of a geneticist who helped create the ‘Aquarians’, a new human subspecies able to live in the water, almost like a fish. That’s important because the polar ice caps have melted and the world is almost completely covered in water.
Russell’s lover of many years is Eric Devlin, one of the first Aquarians. Eric can ‘breath’ under water and has skin that will protect him from some of the problems normal humans experience from being in the water for long periods. Eric and Russell are devoted to each other, sharing their lives on the tiny artificial island of Pacifica.
Russell and Eric are pretty happy, living and working on the tiny little artificial island of Pacifica, the brainchild of billionaire Gerald Duquesne. But trouble comes looking for the pair one day, in the form of two strangers who want to hire Russell, his submersible, and especially Eric for a little salvage job. Russell is suspicious, especially when the men won’t discuss the details of what they’re salvaging or what the conditions are, and so he turns down the job. A few days later, Eric goes missing, and Russell is pretty sure the two men are behind it. Thus the adventure begins.
The resourceful Russell tracks down Eric and rides to the rescue. But getting his lover away from the bad guys is just the start of the adventure for these two, as the tiny remnants of humanity seem to be teetering on the edge of a new global conflict.
It’s been a while since I read any of Mel Keegan’s work, but Aquamarine is everything I expect from him. There are two likable guys in love, action, adventure, a little sex, mystery and intrigue. This isn’t great literature, it’s more like classic pulp fiction, but Keegan is a good example of why that style of writing remains so popular. Aquamarine is quite a nice little read, despite a number typos. The only real issue I had with the story were the unanswered questions regarding the technology. The genetic alterations to make the Aquarians I just had to take a leap of faith on. The author goes into a lot of details about other technical aspects of how people are surviving – hydroponic vegetables, chickens, rabbit and fish for protein, etc. – but he leaves out things like where the fuel is coming from, or the rare earth minerals needed to keep producing computer chips. These are minor quibbles in the grand scheme of things, and some readers might not even notice them. As with most science fiction, it’s easy to poke holes in it if you try.
- Games & Consequences (Remastering Jerna #2)
on April 14, 2012
Games & Consequences is essentially a mystery, largely told by Ria. While the reasons and people behind the frame-up are a little more obvious to the reader than they are to Ria and Sila, the police investigator on the case, there’s still enough of a mystery here to keep you reading. Even once Ria figures out that Darr is behind the plot, he still has to prove it. Along the way, as his private life gets exposed, he has to try and convince people that the BDSM sex he enjoys with Jerna is not the same as the abusive relationship that Darr had with Pavine.
While it is a good read, this sequel isn’t quite as good as the first book. It didn’t really tug at me emotionally the way Remastering Jerna. A big part of that is probably that you just know that Ria is going to work it out eventually and rescue Jerna, who isn’t quite as isolated this time, like he was in the first book. Still, it is a very good mystery, so I’m giving it four stars out of five.
- More Fun with Dick and Shane
on April 24, 2012
The houseboy is back, and he’s still in good form. Like the first book, there’s no real plot to this ‘memoir’. It’s mostly in the form of a diary with a few longer stories interspersed in.
‘Gilli’ is a 25 year-old houseboy and submissive ‘boy’ lover to two older ‘daddy’ doms, Dick and Shane. It isn’t always easy for the impulsive and headstrong young man to live up to the expectations his daddies place on him. Gilli has a hard time controlling his emotions, and sometimes jealously or resentment gets the best of him. However, in this sequel, it seems to me that Dick and Shane have mellowed a bit and are somewhat more understanding of Gilli’s feelings of insecurity, although they still don’t stand for any bad behavior and are quick with the spankings when he gets out of line.
What I loved about the first book was the light-hearted style in which much of the story is delivered. In this second volume, there are again many laugh-out-loud and face-palming moments as Gilli gets into all sorts of new situations that get him into trouble.
But there are also serious moments, and that’s what makes both of the books more than just a bit of fluff. In this book, Gilli has to deal with his mother’s terminal cancer, and all the pent-up resentment he has harbored towards her.
The one fault I have with this sequel, and why I’m not rating it as high as the first, is that it gets a bit too introspective and pedantic at times. The author seems to feel he needs to explain the complexities of Gilli’s relationship with his daddies, and while I can certainly believe that most people have trouble understanding D/s power exchanges, not to mention menage relationships, I thought the passages of reflection and explanation were a bit too numerous and long this time around. The reflection seems to show a young man maturing, which is a good thing, but for me it was a tad over-done. Towards the end, it came off as being more defensive than anything else. Still, on the whole this is a very enjoyable read, and I’m looking forward to the next one, which is due out soon.
- Needful (Remastering Jerna #3)
on May 03, 2012
Another year or so has passed since the events of the last book, Games & Consequences, and things are not going well for Jerna and his family. His youngest daughter is fighting cancer while the older one is facing bullying at school. Love and honor compel Jerna to spend more time with his wife and children, and less time with his lover Ria.
Ria feels lonely, and although he tries to understand Jerna’s situation, he can’t help but wonder if he can ever be really happy sharing Jerna with his wife and family. It doesn’t help that Ria’s old flame Orlan has reappeared to create mischief in both Ria and Jerna’s life. For much of the first half of this book, it seems that Needful is going to be the story of the end of a relationship, as conflicting demands tear Ria and Jerna apart, but then this author excels at painting her characters into a corner from which it seems they can’t escape without giving up something dear to them.
Orlan has also involved himself with Sila, the inspector who helped clear Jerna’s name in the previous book of the series. When Orlan is accused of a series of murders, as well as an attack on Sila, she, Ria and Jerna must work together to figure out what’s really going on.
Like Games & Consequence this is essentially a mystery. However, it lacks some of the urgency of the previous book. Although the relationship between Ria and Jerna is strained, neither of them is under threat this time. The only one in clear physical danger is Sila. Needful is still a good story, about the extent that greed and lust can push people, as well as the importance of communication in any relationship. While Jerna and Ria have been very open and honest with each other and their loved ones, there were still some things left un-said that very nearly put an end to things.
While on the whole I enjoyed this book as much as other works by the author, it did have a couple of issues that made me consider giving it three stars instead of four. The first issue is rather subjective, I admit, but for me there were too many characters. It’s a fine line in murder mysteries – you want lots of suspects, but the reader has to be able to keep track of them. In this case, there were a lot of characters involved in the murder plot, including victims, some of whom we never actually meet. I sometimes had to stop and try to remember who a particular person was when they were last mentioned several chapters ago. It became really tricky towards the end, when two men who turn out to be at the center of the plot had very similar names.
The other key issue with this book is simply editing. There were a large number of typographical errors. It was mainly incorrect words or word order, the kind of mistake that’s easy to make when you’re writing and hard to catch if you try to self-proof. There were enough errors to be really noticeable, but not enough to make reading overly frustrating, as has happened to me before.
- The Rabelais Alliance
on June 19, 2012
Curtis Marin is a hit man, although he would object strongly to that term. He would probably prefer something more along the lines of ‘avenging angel’. In the almost lawless fringes of the human colonies among the stars, where money and power lets you get away with murder (in other words, not much changes in 700 years), Marin works for a secret organization that, for a price, allows bereaved families to get justice. Marin does a lot of research, including hacking into computer systems, to ensure that the selected victim is guilty of their crime before he carries out a commission. He’s judge, jury and executioner.
We first meet Marin while he’s on assignment, taking out a particularly nasty gun-runner who murdered a dozen people just because they discovered what he was doing, or might have seen something they shouldn’t have. By the time Marin pulls the trigger, the reader is convinced the man is getting exactly what’s coming to him.
Neil Travers is a Sergeant aboard the Intrepid, a huge deep space carrier currently assigned to an unstable area of space commonly known as Hellgate. The ‘Fleet’, as the military is called, enforces Earth’s ever more tenuous hold over its colonies. In an entirely self-defeating manner, Fleet relies on massive numbers of conscripts from the colonies to support its mission. New inductees are put through a training program that tests them to their limits, and some of them don’t live through it. On the Intrepid, things are even worse. A sadistic training officer called Neville takes special pleasure in torturing recruits with his simulated battle scenarios. The simulations are very real, and some recruits are killed during them. Some simply screw up, and are then flogged to teach them a lesson. One of these whippings results in the death of a young man, whose rich and powerful father wants justice.
The first half of the book weaves the stories of Marin and Travers together until they finally meet aboard the Intrepid. It was Travers who smuggled out the information about the true cause of the young man’s death to his father, and of course Marin is the man hired to obtain justice. When they meet, the sparks fly. In this version of the future, sexual preference is a non-issue, so the only thing standing in the way for Travers and Marin is the job Marin has been hired to do. Travers has very little compunction about helping Marin complete his assignment. He and the entire ship have been through hell at the hands of Neville, and the unseen commander Colonel Falk. But things don’t go exactly to plan, and soon the two men are struggling to save their own skins, and the lives of their friends aboard the Intrepid.
Of course, this being Mel Keegan, the story isn’t really over once the bad guy is put out of the way and the boys are safe. No, that’s just the beginning. There’s still another mystery or two to unravel before we get to the conclusion.
The Rabelais Alliance is classic Mel Keegan, in space. You have two hot and perfect for each other heroes, a rich supporting cast, action, adventure and mystery. It’s no wonder that the book has spawned at least four sequels.
Marin and Travers both have older mentors who were also sometime-lovers. Mark Sherratt is Marin’s boss, the head of the secret organization Marin works for, and a member of an alien race thought long extinct. Traver’s friend and mentor is Richard Vaurien, the roguish captain of a band of privateers. Both of these men are interesting in their own right, and I assume they continue to play key rolls in the later books.
- Unnatural Selection Collection
on Oct. 08, 2012
“Unnatural Selection” is told in the first person by Nick himself. It’s clear he’s made some hard, and unpopular, choices in his life, that make him doubt if he will ever find someone to accept him for who he is, policeman, vee, and all. But he’s not one to cry over having a hard life. The mystery of the serial murders is engrossing, and the revelation of the real culprit near the end is truly a surprise.
Despite the tension created by the stalker, “Every Move You Make” is largely a sweet, even mushy story about two men realizing how much they mean to each other. Like the first book, this story is told in the first person by Nick. Although Nick’s status as a ‘vee’ plays a small role in this mystery, it’s much less about that and more about the relationship between he and Anton.
Unlike the first two books, which were told by Nick, this last volume is all about Anton, told in the first person by him, as he marshals his friends and family to help in the search for Nick. The real reasons behind Nick’s disappearance are very sinister, but I for one figured them out long before Anton did. Still, guessing what happened doesn’t spoil the story of following Anton as he attempts to find and rescue his husband.
All three novellas in this series are quite good. They lack the depth and drama I’ve come to expect from this author, which is why I’ve only given the collection three stars, but they’re quite good reads. I didn’t get as emotionally involved in the characters as I might have hoped, but the books are still entertaining. Like any speculative or science fiction, you have to suspend belief just a little, but the idea of a virus like ISH is really no more fanciful than faster-than-light travel, when you get right down to it.
- Achilles and the Houseboy
on June 02, 2013
This further adventure of my favorite houseboy in a domestic menage with two older Doms is actually an outtake from his previous book, More Fun With Dick and Shane. With fewer digressions that the first two books, this volume squarely tackles an issue only briefly touched on in previous books, and one of the most sensitive aspects of a menage relationship: jealously.
After an hilarious introduction in which the reasoning – which only this author could conjure up – behind the title is explained, the book gets pretty serious. Gili is reminded, in very graphic fashion, that his daddies Dick and Shane share a history that he will never be a part of. They were together ten years before the stroppy young houseboy came into their lives, and their bed. Jealously rears its ugly head, and can’t be easily dismissed.
Dick and Shane know something is bothering their moody young pup, but they have no idea what’s causing it, since the immature Gili can’t simply open up about his feelings, which he knows, somewhere in that thick head of his, are wrong. Unfortunately, the two Doms just make things worse, giving their not-so-submissive houseboy even more cause to think he is surplus to requirements in the relationship. Of course, it all blows up eventually, and at the worst possible time for the two daddies. Of course, there’s no reason to worry, since there are at least two more books in the series, so all is not lost for our hero.
While delivered in the author’s inimitable style, this is a much more somber story than the two previous books in the series, and it’s easy to see why it has been set aside as a separate work. It’s easy to identify with Gili’s feelings, and while he takes full responsibility for his immature thoughts, I think he lets his daddies off lightly. They’re a little insensitive, and their approach to things they think might upset Gili is to exclude him from any involvement in the decision, which of course only fuels his insecurity. It’s all well and good to argue for openness in such a complex relationship, but the heart isn't very logical.
Taken in context with the previous book, it’s now easier to understand the previous work, and why there were such lengthy passages on the nature of Gili's complicated relationship with his two daddies. The events described in this book happened in the midst of the previous story, so if you read this soon after “More Fun With Dick and Shane” you’ll get a much better picture of what is happening.
- The Master of Seacliff: A Novel
on June 04, 2013
Andrew Wyndham dreams of escaping his mundane life of working in his aunt and uncle’s New York shop to become an artist in Paris. It’s the turn of the twentieth century, and the likes of Monet are shaking up the art world. When Andrew’s friend arranges for him to be the tutor for the son of wealthy Duncan Stewart, it seems he is well on his way to realizing his dream. Only, on arriving at the isolated Seacliff mansion, Andrew finds a brooding atmosphere that instantly makes him uneasy.
His employer is a tempestuous man whom some believe murdered his father and business partner. Andrew also has to fend off the attentions of Leo, Seacliff’s neighbor and family friend, and the creepy butler doesn't like him. Nonetheless, our hero is intrigued by the mysteries he uncovers and is determined to find the truth. Unfortunately, the deeper he digs, the more his life seems to be in danger.
“The Master of Seacliff” was on my wish list to read for a very long time. Unfortunately it went out of print before I got to read the original version, but then it was reissued in ebook form last year, so I've finally gotten the pleasure of reading it. This is a classic Gothic mystery, with a very heavy gay bent. Although the plot is very different, the setting reminded me a lot of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None”, and in true Christie style, the bodies just keep turning up.
The plot of this book will keep you guessing, and not just about the mystery at its heart. It’s also hard to tell where the romantic aspect will go as well. Our first introduction to Duncan Stewart makes him sound like an ogre, while the devil-may-care Leo seems to be the one meant for Andrew. But as the story unfolds, Andrew’s view of Duncan begins to soften, while Leo starts to look like a bit of an oaf. All this definitely adds to the mystery.
My one complaint about the story, and it’s one I can’t believe I’d ever make about a book, is the surfeit of gay characters. Just about every male main character in the story is queer, and while it’s great to read about people like me, it stretches believability in the story just a tiny bit too much. The sexual relationships, which would have been quite scandalous at the time the story is set, are certainly key to the plot, but it detracted, ever so slightly, from the story. Still, it is a delicious mystery tale and certainly deserves a read.