Review – The Henchmen of Zenda by K.J. Charles

Title: The Henchmen of Zenda
Author: K.J. Charles
Publisher: Self-published
Our rating: 5 stars

Publication date: May 15, 2018
Genre: M/M romance/Historical/Adventure/Retelling
Length: 232 pages
Click to see price at Amazon

Review Summary: An adorably fun, swashbuckling adventure with hot swordplay, retelling The Prisoner of Zenda.

Plot Summary/Description

This is a retelling of a classic swashbuckling story from the 19th century, The Prisoner of Zenda, told in the same timeframe and following the same events, but from a different point of view which makes the heroes of one the villains of the other.

There’s a struggle for the throne of Ruritania in Eastern Europe. Jasper Detchard is hired as one of six henchmen by the king’s half-brother Michael who imprisons the king (in Michael’s castle at Zenda, hence title) and aims to take the throne. Jasper has his own reasons for taking on this job, but finds himself distracted by another of the six, the handsome and reckless Rupert of Hentzau.

The Henchmen of Zenda Review

The original Prisoner of Zenda is a short, easy read. I think it was aimed at children of the 19th century who (if they had enough time and schooling to read for pleasure at all) tended to have a higher reading ability and greater powers of concentration than today’s kids, due to having zero screentime.

So, while the sentence structure may be more complex than the average Harlequin romance, it’s much simpler than something like Dickens (and way shorter). I say that because I think it’s worth reading the original first, and I wouldn’t want someone to be put off just because it was written in 1880 or whatever. I found it a lot of fun, and it’s only like 150 pages and very fast-moving.

So then the first thing I will say is that if you hate the Prisoner, you may not like the Henchmen, because despite the fact that Jasper and Rupert are hot and lovely, the main focus is on the adventure, not on the romance. Also, for me, a lot of the fun of reading it came from seeing how K.J. Charles had turned things around, making the heroes the villains and reinterpreting events.

The whole thing she did with the French woman was just brilliant. Also the Princess. The female characters have a lot more life and power in Charles’s version. In fact, the characters are all round better developed and less stereotyped, while still saying and doing most of the same things. And I’m sure I’d still have loved it if I hadn’t read the Prisoner, so that’s not a requirement. It just added a little something.

But be warned, this isn’t a soft fluffy read with a conventional ending. Jasper and Rupert are both strongwilled, adventurous guys and while that leads to some hot sex, it also leads to a fair bit of conflict, including murders. They don’t kill each other, but they may come close.

It’s heavy on plot and sassy humor, light on hearts and flowers. For me that’s the perfect gay “romance” so I adored it.

Review – Count The Shells by Charlie Cochrane

Count The Shells
Series: Porthkennack, #5
Author: Charlie Cochrane
Publisher: Riptide
Our rating: 3 stars

Publication date: October 16, 2017
Genre: Historical Romance (M/M)
Length: 253 pages
Click to see price at Amazon

Review Summary: A story of secrets and past loves, that had the potential to be a lot stronger than it was, but finished well.

Plot Summary/Description

It’s 1919. Michael Gray has lost most of his friends in the Great War, including his best friend and former lover, Thomas Carter-Clemence – though they’d already broken up, some years before the war started, after a stupid fight. Now, with his sister’s family, he’s come to Porthkennack where they always spent summers, and where Thomas’s younger brother still lives. But meeting Harry will stir up the past in a way that sends ripples through more lives than just Michael’s.

Count The Shells Review

I had high expectations of this book, which weren’t met right away. But I know I’m picky over certain things. Others may enjoy it a lot more. And really it was the first half where I had issues with it. I found the second half much stronger.

I liked the characters (although I wanted to know more about Harry) and I think the main relationship might have worked better for me if their first sex scenes hadn’t happened and the two men had worked through all their emotional stuff and secrets – which could have made a very powerful story – while they were attracted but before they got together. The resemblance of the younger brother to the older could have been deeply disturbing for our hero, but I felt it was all smoothed over too easily.

As a reading experience, it didn’t start well for me. I found the first few chapters especially slow and frustrating, as I kept getting annoyed over little things that threw me out of the story.

This is supposed to be 1919, but it felt like 1999. In 1919, a nursery maid wouldn’t socialize with the family. Her status was very different from a governess. She ate with other servants, if not eating separately with the children. A 9-year-old boy wouldn’t call a newly-introduced grown man ‘Harry’ – no freaking way. Not without getting severely punished for his impertinence. And people in Britain didn’t say things like “I guess so” and “I’m sorry for your loss.” Those are phrases of American origin that have crept into British English in the last 10-20 years.

I know Charlie Cochrane is British, and I know she writes a lot of fiction set in the early 20th century, so I can’t understand what happened here. A major edit fail?

I like this series and I enjoyed the way the caves etc were brought in. I’d certainly read more by this author. I guess I like more angst in my stories, and this one was frustrating because the potential was there but the angst was avoided. However, the ending was well done, with satisfying tie-ups to the family side of things. HFN rather than HEA, however.

Review – Damned If You Do by Marie Sexton

Title: Damned If You Do
Author: Marie Sexton
Publisher: Samhain
Our rating: 5 stars

Publication date: June 14, 2016
Genre: M/M romance/Paranormal
Length: 172 pages
Click to see price at Amazon

Review Summary: Loved these characters! Seth was so cute and Abbadon made me laugh.

Plot Summary/Description

Abaddon is a demon who needs to collect a certain quota of souls to satisfy the boss. He’s way behind on his targets, and if he doesn’t buck up soon he’s going to find himself demoted to the dirtiest tasks in Hell.

But some souls are worth more than others, and the soul of an innocent blind faith-healer type guy will move him way up the scale. So Abaddon is out to get Seth’s soul – but he finds himself drawn to the young preacher for other reasons too.

Damned If You Do Review

Phobia warning: snakes! If snakes freak you out, you might want to take a rain check on this one…

This is a cute and funny take on the “sell your soul to the devil” idea. If you’re interested, it does raise some real issues about faith, and settle them in a lovely way, but if you could care less about religion you can take it as myth. It’s a feel-good read either way.

Seth a sweet virgin who longs to find love, but he’s carefully guarded by a hard nut named Zeb who picks up on one of Abaddon’s ulterior motives right away and works hard to keep them apart.

This is a sweet romance with low heat ratings, as you might expect given Seth’s sweet and innocent character. However, there’s plenty of emotion and just the right level of angst. It’s a longish novella, and I thought the length was perfect for the story.

Seth’s blindness is handled well, and I liked that he isn’t too goody-good, so we’re for real wondering if Abaddon might succeed in tempting him off the straight and narrow and onto the path to damnation.

How will it end? Will good win out, is Seth a charlatan who’s in Abaddon’s camp already, or will they be separated for ever, one in Heaven and one in Hell? You’ll have to read it to find out for yourself.

Review – An Unseen Attraction by K.J. Charles

Title: An Unseen Attraction
Author: K.J. Charles
Publisher: Loveswept from Random House
Our rating: 4 stars

Publication date: February 21, 2017
Genre: M/M romance/Historical/Mystery
Length: 209 pages
Click to see price at Amazon

Review Summary: A strong historical gay romance/mystery, with a convincing Dickensian feel.

Plot Summary/Description

Clem Talleyfer is the keeper of a lodging house in Victorian London. He doesn’t own the house but works as a kind of glorified janitor for his wealthy half-brother He runs it well, and it’s much appreciated by the lodgers including the attractive taxidermist Rowley Green, who gradually becomes a closer and closer friend.

But the house has its oddities, too, including an abusive alcoholic tenant whom Clem isn’t allowed to kick out. Then the alcoholic is murdered. Could Clem and Rowley’s lives be in danger, as well as their livelihoods and their budding relationship?

An Unseen Attraction Review

This has a lovely Dickensian London feel to it. I loved the descriptions of rainy streets, bizarre characters, and smoggy nights. The characters are well-rounded and feel real.

Clem needs everything spelled out, and it takes him forever to figure out that Rowley is interested in him. Add that to the prevailing Victorian morality and you get a slow-burning romance rather than high heat levels. I liked that, I found it realistic and I don’t mind waiting for characters to be sure of each other.

So why not 5 stars? I don’t like the cover, but I wouldn’t mark it down for that. (When you read, you do find out that his suit isn’t meant to fit well, but that doesn’t explain why his head is so small, or why he looks to me more like the “neat, precise” Rowley Green than my idea of Clem Talleyfer.)

It’s more that somehow the story didn’t stick with me. I loved Clem and liked Rowley, and I was rooting for them as a couple. But the reader is always several steps ahead of the characters in figuring out that something odd is going on, and wondering why Clem is allowing himself to be exploited to the extent he is. Plus I think stuffed animals are gross…

There’s a local gay pub from which I imagine future couples will be drawn, since this is a first in series. I’m pleased about that and I’ll be looking forward to the rest of the series.