A BJ Review: The Hardest Thing: A Dan Stagg Mystery by James Lear

Rating:  4.5 stars out of 5

Killing is easy. Love is… The Hardest Thing

The Hardest Thing coverDan Stagg, formerly Major Dan Stagg in the military, was forced out of the Crops when he lost his partner Will to a sniper in Afghanistan and in his grief violated the DADT system in place at the time. Now, having recently lost his job as a bouncer at club, he’s ripe for the picking when offered a lot of money to get a sexy young male “secretary” safely out of town and provide him protection. But Dan quickly comes to realize that something is fishy and soon things begin to go very wrong.

This isn’t flowery prose or whitewashing. This author puts you right inside this hardened former military man’s head, and he pulls no punches. Its raw, gritty, and lots of messy sex. Lots. But don’t let that fool you. This book is in no way light on story. There’s a plot here with plenty of twists and turns. It’s humorous at times and rip-you-heart-out sad at others.

Here’s the thing… I toyed with giving this less stars for a brief minute because normally, I don’t enjoy books in which there’s detailed sex happening being the MCs and other people. Usually that comes across to me as cheating and often prompts me to put the book aside. I never once considered doing that here. I can’t say I enjoyed reading those parts, but the author did make me understand. These are both broken guys who are a product of what they’ve been taught and the lives they’ve led.

Just when I thought I’d gotten a handle on them and on how the story was going to play out, I realize I’m wrong. There are twists right up to the end, folks. Which is why I’m not revealing too much of the story in this review. I will say that the end had me in tears. Because yeah, sometimes love is the hardest thing. While I didn’t quite understand exactly why Dan loved Jodi, aside from the sex, I did completely believe that he loved him. Sometimes the heart just loves whom it loves. I will be eager to read the next installment in this series.

Cover Artist: ?I like the cover in that it’s gritty and urban, giving a good clue of contents. But when I read that Dan Stagg is actually bald, I felt a bit unhappy at the cover model being so unlike the character. (Note if anyone knows who the artists is please send us the name so we can credit them.)

Sales Links for eBook and paperback:   Cleis Press       Amazon    Buy It Here
Book Details:

paperback, 255 pages –
Published November 14th 2014 by Cleis Press (first published January 1st 2013)
ISBN 1306434912 (ISBN13: 9781306434911)
seriesDan Stagg Mystery #1

Note:  James Lear is the nom de plume of prolific and acclaimed novelist, Rupert Smith. He lives in London and is the 2008 Winner of Erotic Awards “Best Writer”.

A MelanieM Review: Men of the Manor: Erotic Encounters between Upstairs Lords and Downstairs Lads by Rob Rosen

Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5

MenOfTheManorCover2-413x600Thirteen authors with thirteen stories that take you back to the turn of the century to explore the Lords of the Manor and their varied relationships with the servants of the back halls and downstairs.  From the naughty to the salacious, from the  humorous to the romantic, all sorts of relationships are set against the backdrop of pre World War I Europe, a time where the wealthy aristocrats may only think they rule the world but the working class has far different ideas

Thirteen stories by various authors such as Dale Chase, J. L. Merrow, Rob Rosen, Brent Archer, Michael Landon and more explore the ups and downs, ins and outs of the Lords of the Manor and the downstairs help who serve them in so many ways.  Randy members of the ruling class and footman, manipulative butlers and hedonistic lords, and even a stable boy or two to bring joy and kink into an aristocrat’s life…variety is the spice of life and this anthology has it all.

Stories in this anthology in the order they appear in the anthology:

  • The Maze by Dale Chase
  • Finnias Laredo by Alex Stitt
  • Finsloe by Xavier Axelson
  • Booting by Salome Wilde
  • Seducing the Footman by Brent Archer
  • Folly’s Ditch by Felice Picano
  • Manor Games by Michael Roberts
  • Brass Rags by J.L. Merrow
  • Mutable Memories by Michael Bracken
  • Front Door, Back Door by Logan Zachary
  • Chauffeur’s Hole by Landon Dixon
  • Master Jeffy Learns a Lesson by Sasha Payne
  • Bohemian Rhapsody by Rob Rosen

Men of the Manor Anthology is described by its editor Rob Rosen as a sort of layered english drama of classes. Or in his words “Think Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs, but with enough sex to make the town vicar blush.”  So how you feel about those shows and the expectations you bring to this anthology will determine what you think about the mixed bag of stories this anthology represents.

Only some of these stories can be considered romantic, one or two pornographic or  “erotic” depending upon your  classification of a “sex only” type of  short story.  There are a few revenge type tales or getting their comeuppance plots.  One of sexual exploration and epipanies as well as some hilarious installments that kept me giggling past the endings.  I loved those with humor, clearly they were my favorites.

What did I find mostly absent?  Stories that included romance, and perhaps deeper feelings that might just be love.  What can be found in abundance?  Sexual encounters of all kinds and places.  Sex scenes both casual and coarse as well as sexual liaisons that were instructive, illuminating and guffaw inducing.  One story of one type, a couple of another, and so on.  To appreciate this collection of authors and plots, a reader should bring an appreciation for a variety of sexual relationships and encounters found within this anthology’s stories or  they will find this a disappointing read.

Which were my favorites?  Brass Rags by J. L Merrow.  Merrow’s Algy, aka Lord Algernon Huffingham, had me in stitches for the entire story.  Algy, a sort of perverted Bertie Wooster (P.G. Wodehouse), is in search of his own Jeeves, one who comes equipped to deal with Algy’s very specific and kinky sexual desires.  He finds him at Blithering Coombe, the country estate of his friend Cedric’s father.  Oh the joys of Algy’s mind and musings.  Whether Algy is remembering fondly why he was banned from his father’s stables (being discovered being ridden and whipped like a pony by a stable boy will do that) or despondently telling Cedric that he prefers “horny-handed sons of toil” , Algy and his story will leaving you grinning and wishing they had their own series.  His humorous and singular voice deserves it.

On the more serious side is  Front Door, Back Door by  Logan Zachary.  A short tale of increasing anxiety and dread over the actions of a spoiled son of the landed gentry,  Zachary weaves a lovely tale of tenderness and comeuppance.  I thought the ending of Front Door, Back Door was especially well done and unexpected.  Just lovely.

Back to the unexpected and humorous, Brent Archer’s Seducing the Footman contained a wonderful unexpected twist that made me appreciate his story even more.  Manor Games by Michael Roberts has a loyal and mischeivous gentlemen’s gentleman, Tompkins, whose Master is unfortunate at cards.  What happens to level the playing field and bring a certain Kensington-Ffoulke to heal is an entertaining and hilarious game of cards never to be forgotten.  Master Jeffy Learns a Lesson by Sasha Payne is a delight if for no other reason than that title.  Good thing the well crafted characters and comical situations inside the story match up nicely with each other as well as the title.

Those were my favorites and they consisted mostly of the stories that you would consider light hearted, droll, and oh so entertaining.  I love the characters and the situation they found themselves in.  They “tickled my fancy” as none of the others did.  Plus they had staying power.  For a different reader, perhaps they might find them too light hearted and would be content with the offerings from the other authors.

Men of the Manor is only available in paperback format which can make buying a collection more problematic when such variety is involved.  That’s why I am hesitating in my recommendations.  If this was an ebook, I would absolutely recommend it.  Brass Rags by J. L. Merrow and Sasha Payne;s Master Jeffy Learns a Lesson would be worth the price alone.  But a paperback?  Not so sure.  You must decide.  If you are a fan of a majority of those authors, than go ahead and pick it up.  You will have a better understanding of what type of story awaits you inside.

Cover art by Scott Idelman/Blink.  Wish it had a more historical feel to it. Just ok.

Sales Links – Paperback and ebook: Cleis Press   All Romance $15.95   Amazon from $12.16  Men of the Manor

Book Details:

Paperback only, 232 pages
Expected publication: October 7th 2014 by Cleis Press (first published September 9th 2014)
ISBN 1627780661 (ISBN13: 9781627780667)