Sunday, January 16, 2011

"To All a (Very Sexy) Good Night" by K. A. Mitchell and Josh Lanyon

Every year around Christmas I give myself a present: books by Josh Lanyon. I first found him when looking for something new to read a few years ago, when Amazon suggested one of his Adrien English gay mysteries. Not usually my sort of thing, but I was in a reading funk, so I decided to take a chance and try it. Needless to say, Adrien (and Josh) won me over, and I've been reading Lanyon's work ever since. Unfortunately for this reader, most of his work is only available in e-book form, so I'm usually behind when it comes to his titles; I'm strange in that I really like the "physical" book in my hand.

This year was no different as far as giving myself my present; I ordered three books, all of which has short stories/novellas by Lanyon. I picked up this work first, thinking it would be a good choice for the holidays. And I wasn't disappointed - by Lanyon. The other story? Well, let's look at that one first, shall we?

In "An Improper Holiday" by K. A. Mitchell, "Ian Stanton is the earl's dutiful second son, always doing the proper thing. One exquisite exception: Nicholas Chatham. Except the consummation of their two-year relationship left Ian convinced that their desires were never meant to be indulged. Five years later, Ian is home from was, wounded in body and spirit. Nicky never believed what they felt for each other was wrong, and he has plans to make things right. Now he has only twelve nights to convince Ian that happiness is not the price of honor and duty, but its reward." So what's not to love, right? Hmm... that's what still has me wondering. The writing is good, I'll give the author that. But the feel of the story isn't to my liking. Ian is a classic case of the conflicted gay man, wanting what his heart and body tell him he wants, but knowing that society and religion tell him it's wrong. Nicky seems to be completely oblivious to those same social and religious mores, and I think that's part of the problem. He's a little too flamboyant for a gay man of those times (or that's how it felt to me). Another problem is the "love" story between the two men; I wasn't feeling that until almost the very end of the book. Rather the previous relationship gave the author reason to write sex scene after sex scene. Finally, there are other characters in the story as well that turn out to be gay - a lot of them, and some very central characters. While I agree that there are probably more gay people out there than some would think, this seemed to be taking a few liberties. Again, it just didn't feel right. And it gave the author a very convenient way to end the story, which didn't exactly sit right with me either. Overall, I'm not likely to pick up another work by Ms. Mitchell.

Let's move on to Josh's story, "The Dickens With Love". "Three years ago, antiquarian James Winter lost everything: his job, his lover and his self-respect. Now a rich collector wants him to do whatever it takes to buy a newly discovered Christmas story by Charles Dickens from the nutty professor who owns it. The catch: the buyer must remain anonymous. Sedgwick Crisparkle turns out to be totally gorgeous - and on the prowl. Faster than you can say "Old St. Nick", they're mixing business with pleasure. But once Sedgwick discovers James has been a very bad boy, their chance for happiness is disappearing quicker than Santa's sleigh."

Talk about a Christmas treat! Lanyon hits it out of the park again with this wonderful story about a man trying to redeem himself. Winter's buyer is appropriately sleazy, and you just know that he won't appreciate the newly found Dickens's story as he should. I liked the touch of Sedgwick's name, too; James doesn't believe it's his real name since it would mean that his parents named him after a character in another Dickens's novel. I think what makes this story (and most of Lanyon's, if I'm honest), is his attention to the details. Yes, he's writing man-on-man romance, but he always gives a good description of the physical setting, this time the Hotel Del Monte in California. I feel as if I'd know the place if I traveled there, that's how good he is with setting the scene! And he nails the character development, too, giving the reader a chance to know the characters. In fact, I always finish his stories wanting him to go back to said characters so we can catch up. I thought James was just perfect, a professional who has been burnt in his profession, doing what he has to do to survive, but desperately wanting to get back to what he used to be. He has a conscience, and that definitely plays into the story. Sedgwick is wonderful, too, giving us a taste of a man away from home, wanting to be who he really is, but not wanting to hurt his family. When the two come together to discuss the book, the sparks just fly - and you know what's just around the page.

Perhaps the best part of the story is James reading the newly found Dickens's story. After all, no book dealer worth his salt would sign off on the authenticity of such a work without thoroughly examining it. I felt James' excitement as he got farther and farther into the story, and also his extreme disappointment when it looks as if his world is crashing down again; he's upset over Sedgwick, but also devastated that he won't get to finish the story. That's exactly how real bibliophiles react! And that's the sort of detail that makes Lanyon's work such a pleasure to read. Yes, the male romance (and sex) angle isn't going to be for everyone, but trust me - his stories are good. And when the storyline can stand on its own, then the romance just adds to overall effect. I highly recommend you check out his work, regardless of your "usual" reading fare; you won't be disappointed.

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