A MelanieM Review: Blue Steel Chain (Trowchester Blues #3) by Alex Beecroft

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

BlueSteelChain_600x900At sixteen, Aidan Swift was swept off his feet by a rich older man who promised to take care of him for the rest of his life. But eight years later, his sugar daddy has turned from a prince into a beast. Trapped and terrified, Aidan snatches an hour’s respite at the Trowchester Museum.

Local archaeologist James Summers is in a failing long distance relationship with a rock star, and Aidan—nervous, bruised, and clearly in need of a champion—brings out all his white knight tendencies. When everything falls apart for Aidan, James saves him from certain death . . . and discovers a skeleton of another boy who wasn’t so lucky.

As Aidan recovers, James falls desperately in love. But though Aidan acts like an adoring boyfriend, he doesn’t seem to feel any sexual attraction at all. Meanwhile there are two angry exes on the horizon, one coming after them with the press and the other with a butcher’s knife. To be together, Aidan and James must conquer death, sex, and everyone’s preconceptions about the right way to love—even their own.

There are certain books you approach with definite expectations of what you will find with the characters and plot.  Sometimes those expectations are met, other times they aren’t.  But on those rare occasions, something else happens, a book doesn’t exceed your expectations, it blows them all to hell, widening your horizons and smacking you in the face with your assumptions.  That’s what occurred  with Alex Beecroft’s Blue Steel Chain, the 3rd book in the Trowchester  Blues series.

My love for the previous novels is apparent in the reviews I wrote and the author interview I conducted.  Alex Beecroft brought alive the small village of Trowchester, with its canals, long boats, antique bookshops, Morris Dancers, historic reinactors and characters of every type imaginable, every type except boring and uninspired. Up until now Beecroft has ushered me into her world with such amazing details such as musical instruments of antiquity I yearned to hear, dances I wanted to watch and a place I desperately wanted to be real.  Her characters, wounded, snarky, and amazing made me laugh, cry and nod my head in recognition and joy.   Then came Blue Steel Chain and everything went topsy turvy.

Where to start when everything is unexpected and sometimes hard to understand?

Blue Steel Chain is beautifully written and thought provoking.  And for me, it was also hard, emotionally, to digest at times.  At the heart of all the thoughts and feelings whirling around in my head is the character of Aidan Swift.  At sixteen, already thrown away by his family for his sexuality, he is fair prey for an older man hiding sick, abusive behaviors and deeds.  Now eight years later, Aidan is a perpetually frightened, submissive, abused young man.  Sometimes left chained and alone for hours as punishment, isolated from all around him, his state of mind is one of fear, chaos, an overwhelming need to please and much , much more.

Alex Beecroft makes Aiden so real your heart bleeds for him and your stomach churns during the scenes he has with his abuser.  Trust me, those are hard to take because we have quickly come to love Aiden so.  But Aiden has another secret.  He’s asexual.  That makes those scenes where he is being sexually abused even more problematic.  Why?  Because of the way he sees them.  I thought I understood what  asexuality meant.  Apparently not.

I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a character  (or author for that matter) recently that made me question my assumptions about sexuality and relationships as Aiden and Alex Beecroft have. We live in Aiden’s skin here.  Every moment, every thought that occurs from his  brief secret excursions away from the house where he is kept, out over the meadows, into the local museum where archaeologist James Summers is toiling over the latest batch of “finds” and having his own relationship issues.  Aiden’s brief moments of joy, his initial fear of Jamie, his curiosity and ,man,, this makes me want to cry again, his love of pottery and the art he was forced to abandon…we are there inside him, listening and weeping.  And hoping for a rescue.

Jamie too needs help. We’re let into his point of view as well, important in a story such as this one. His long term  relationship has diminished to the point that he rarely sees his “partner, and when he does, he dissolves into  a doormat for his rockstar lover to walk over. Jamie too is a believable human being, full of frailties, preoccupied with his bits and pieces of antiquity and his life in Trowchester.  It takes the arrival of Aiden in his life to shake up the status quo and get him moving again.  Jamie is not asexual but gay with a healthy appetite that’s been repressed by his current relationship and lover.

There are some incredibly scary scenes that involve characters from the previous stories who help Aiden escape and start a new life.  These moments in the novel are heart-stopping, white-knuckle, “wap your head against the wall” exciting and frustrating, all at the same time.  You know those bits where you are yelling at the actors on the scene to get moving?  Yep, that happens here.  But its what comes later that will blow your perceptions of romance and a relationship to bits.  Some will like it, some will love it and others won’t get it at all.  At times, I was all  three.

Ever think what it must be like to be asexual and love someone who is not?  What does it mean to be in a relationship when one partner loves sex and the other doesn’t?  How does that work?  If it does? Beecroft takes those questions and gives us some answers through the relationship dynamics between Jamie and Aiden.  At times I found myself shaking my head, thinking this can’t possibly work  But a conversation with a friend who is asexual basically confirmed that is does, more often than we think.

Can a relationship work when you must schedule times for sex because to do otherwise is an abuse of another’s wishes and needs?  Can a sexual being truly understand how an asexual person feels and act accordingly?  And visa versa?  These are all issues Alex Beecroft brings into her characters and storyline.  It made me rethink my own assumptions about relationships, what works, what doesn’t and  Steel Blue Chain has left me with even more questions and jumbled ideas, making me revaluate what I thought I knew about people, recovery and love. And did so through the character of a wounded,yet resilient young man called Aiden.

Blue Steel Chain came very close to a five star rating but a few things still bothered me at the end.   There was so much going on here that I thought the idea of all those years of abuse would leave mental, emotional scarring far wore than the physical marks Aiden wore from his time in captivity.  Yes, it was mentioned he was seeing a therapist, but it felt a little glossed over and not in keeping with the realism of the rest of the story.   Perhaps that would have made this a 600 page story, who knows?

Still, I find that Blue Steel Chain is the most ambitious and surprising of the three novels.  Is it my favorite? No. Is it the most remarkable?  Yes, I think so. Blue Steel Chain will challenge your perceptions of love and romance, it will make you rethink your definitions of love and long term happiness.  And it makes me yearn for more of this remarkable village, its incrediblely human and addicting inhabitants, and the stories they still have to tell.

Cover Art by Lou Harper.  I  like the branding, the tone and design works with all three stories but I’m just not sure that model works for any of the characters within.

Sales Links:  Riptide Publishing | All  Romance (ARe) | Amazon | Buy It Here

Book Details:

ebook, 250 pages
Published July 27th 2015 by Riptide Publishing (first published July 25th 2015)
original titleBlue Steel Chain
ISBN139781626492066
edition languageEnglish

Trowchester: it’s the fourth smallest city in Britain, and visitors sometimes think it hasn’t left the Middle Ages yet. There’s a Bronze Age barrow, a wide network of ley lines, the best tea shop in the county, and more morris dancers than you can shake a stick at. Trowchester attracts those who have been hurt and those who are looking for sanctuary from the modern world. But scratch the surface and there’s murder and mayhem aplenty. People come here to find love, but they’re forced to learn bravery first.

The release order of the Trowchester series is Trowchester Blues, Blue Eyed Stranger, and Blue Steel Chain, but you can start with withichever book catches your eye; they each stand alone. I highly recommend them all.

Trowchester Blues (A Trowchester Blues Novel)
Blue Eyed Stranger (A Trowchester Blues Novel)
Blue Steel Chain (A Trowchester Blues Novel)

A MelanieM Review: Blue Eyed Stranger (Trowchester Blues #2) by Alex Beecroft

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Blue eyed Stranger coverFor Billy Wright and Martin Deng, life presents very different but just as challenging obstacles to overcome on  a daily basis.  Billy Wright’s problem? He’s only visible when he’s wearing a mask, which is  fine as Billy performs at country fairs with his local morris dancing troupe. But when the dancing is over, Billy’s life is lonely and empty, made seriously worse by his crippling depression.

In any crowd Martin Deng would stand out but he is that more startling as a member of a historical reenactment troop . After all, there aren’t that many black Vikings on the living history circuit. But as the founder of a fledgling historical re-enactment society, Martin is  lonely and harried. The headmaster as the school he teaches at doesn’t like his weekend activities, his warriors seem to expect him to run everything single-handedly, and it’s stressful enough being one minority without telling the hard men of his group he’s also gay.  Or coming out to his family.

When Billy’s and Martin’s societies are double-booked at a packed county show, they know at once they are kindred spirits, united by a deep feeling of connectedness to their history and culture. But they’re also both hiding in their different ways, and they need each other to be brave enough to take their masks off and still be seen.

The village of Trowchester crept into my heart with the first story in the Trowchester series, Trowchester Blues.  I fell whole heartedly in love with the layered characterizations, and richly textured story set within a fictional town so memorable and believable that I never wanted to leave. I knew another story was coming but wondered if it could possibly live up to the story that preceded it.  I shouldn’t have worried.   Blue Eyed Stranger is just as moving and rich as the first, perhaps even more.

Blue Eyed Stranger (Trowchester Blues #2) by Alex Beecroft is not a continuation of Finn and Michael’s story.  In fact, Finn, and his book club make only scant appearances here, along with Trowchester’s archaeologist James.  No, this story belongs totally and gloriously with the characters of Billy and Martin, a duo so odd and compelling that I wondered how Alex Beecroft came to think of them at all, let alone as a couple.

Billy Wright has so many layers to his character.  We meet him in the throes of a deep depression attack.  He is unable to move, even if its to save himself from the cold and exposure.  The thought that finally creeps through the  blackness enveloping him is the county fair his Morris troop, Griffins, is to dance at and we begin to understand how important dancing is to Billy’s survival.  The music, on my what  incredible music,that exists in Billy comes later.  With Billy, its at though he is enveloped in an invisibility cloak, one that oddly enough disappears once Billy dons the makeup and yes, cloak of a Morris dancer.  And then he flies, and takes our hearts with him.

I didn’t really understand that much about Morris dancing, the various types (Border, Cotswold, etc) and apparel and facial makeup the dancers put on.  But as Billy explains it to Martin, the knowledge and history (as well as misunderstandings about the black face  makeup), flow as naturally in the dialog as it would in a conversation with someone new and interested in what you were doing.   Beecroft gave me a nice foundation of knowledge that sent me off to Youtube for examples of all types of morris dancing and music.  But its not just in the explanations but in the descriptions of Billy and his troop as they whirl and jump and the clash of their wooden staffs that make this element of the story come alive!  I felt that not only could it see it happening, I could hear the various instruments played and the crowd react with glee and appreciation.

On the other side of this unlikely pair is Martin Deng, a phyically impressive man, whose biracial appearance sets him apart (father is from Ethiopia and an English mum).  His profession is to teach history in school but his passion?  To bring it to life as an active member and founder of a fledgling historical re-enactment society.  Martin is not only passionate about being historically correct in appearance and actions but as a black Viking he calls attention to himself just in his presence alone.  Martin is also gay, a fact he hides from almost everyone, including his family.  His small group, Bretwalda, is a splinter group from a larger more restrictive society and Martin is buried under the pressure of a new troop, obtaining new recruits and managing their increasing fair/event schedule while maintaining his job. It a precarious position, and becoming more so by the minute.   Martin may appear to be the opposite of Billy but underneath, that simply isn’t true.  Both men care deeply and passionately about history and representing it accurately.  While Billy is out with his sexuality, but unless he has his true self cloaked behind his Griffins attire, then Billy is less than assured about his attractiveness and appeal.

Their romance is believably full of obstacles, including Billy’s depression which is handled realistically and authentically and Martin’s fear of being ostracized if his homosexuality were known.   Both Bill and Martin need to address issues within themselves before they can move forward as a couple together and the manner in which Alex Beecroft understands this and makes the reader a part of their process elevates this narrative even higher.

Bily and Martin’s journey is fraught with misteps, fear, and ignorance but the trip they take together is gripping, emotionally rewarding, and results in what is one of my favorite books of the year to date.  You don’t have to have read the first story, Trowchester Blues, to read this one.  It does beautifully as a stand alone.  But together?  The portrait of an amazing small village full of people you would love to meet becomes richer and, quite frankly, more addictive.

Need a new passion or several?  Pick up Blue Eyed Stranger by Alex Beecroft, its my of my finest reads to date this year!

Cover art by Lou Harper.  I love the cover, but the inclusion of the gun (a minor element) surprises me other than to brand the series.  Give me a hearpe or a true Viking helmet instead!

Sales Links:  Riptide Publishing   All Romance (ARe)   Amazon coming closer to April 6th.

Book Details:

ebook, 230 pages
Expected publication: April 6th 2015 by Riptide Publishing
original titleBlue Eyed Stranger
ISBN139781626492127
edition languageEnglish

Books in the Trowchester Series

  • Trowchester Blues
  • Blue Eyed Stranger (Trowchester #2) Expected publication April 6, preorder now
  • Blue Steel Chain (Trowchester Blues, #3)Expected publication: July 27th 2015

A Closer Look at Alex Beecroft and Trowchester Blues (contest)

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Trowchester Blues cover

 Trowchester Blues by Alex Beecroft

Here today is Alex Beecroft talking about Trowchester Blues, the first in a new series and one of Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words’ highly recommended reads.  Here Alex is talking a little bit about why England as a setting…

I’ve answered so many questions and written so many blog posts about this book that I’ve got to admit I’m running out of things to say, so I’m going to start plundering the questions people have asked me already.

In an early interview, I think with Riptide for their featured author spot, I was asked “Why do you choose to set your books in England?” I gave a short answer there, but I’ve got more to say, so I’m going to flesh it out a bit here.

The first factor, of course, is the simple requirement to “Write what you know.” When I write historicals or fantasies, that part isn’t really important. I imagine things hard, or I do as much research as I can, and – and this is the crucial thing – nobody else knows any better. So I can write whatever I like and nobody can say ‘pah, what do you know?’

But in contemporary life, if I wanted to write a story set in the USA, there would be thousands of people who knew that setting better than me. I’d be working from research and imagination, they’d be working from a knowledge that had settled into them over a lifetime. How could I, a stranger, ever draw a portrait of a location that was anything but a shallow veneer compared to the reality experienced by someone who actually lives there, someone who knows what the nights smell like, and how the dust on the pavements (sidewalks) squeaks under the shoe.

Much better to choose a setting that I know that intimately, so that when my editor says “You’ve said he left his sledgehammer ‘in’ the porch. Don’t you mean ‘on’ the porch?” I can reply “No. The kind of thing you call a porch we call a verandah. “This is a porch in the UK.

If I set a novel in the UK then suddenly I am the one who has a lifetime’s experience with the mores, assumptions and unstated expectations that rule the characters’ lives. As Oscar Wilde says, Britain and America are two great nations separated by a common language, but we’re also separated by different assumptions and cultures. Fifty Shades of Grey, from what I’ve heard, is written by a Brit who doesn’t really understand how the culture in the US works, and it shows. (Her characters wear dressing gowns instead of robes, and make cups of tea for visiting workmen, which is de rigueur over here but I hear is not done in the US.)

Plus, I know what the evening sunlight looks like on the Peaks, and I’ve experienced the intimidating unassailable politeness of your average policeman, and I have tasted the food, and attempted to hold my own in the relentless banter of your average pub, and I know whereof I speak.

All of that aside, why not set a story in the UK? It’s not the done thing to say so – patriotism is considered a bit suspicious in Britain, a bit vulgar and worrisome, as if it’s a sign that you’re also a closet UKIP member – but I kind of like my country. Admittedly, I don’t know any better, because I’ve never lived anywhere else. But although I hated London, as soon as I moved out into the countryside I felt like I’d come home.

Do you watch Miss Marple? With the gossipy neighbours in their beautiful, twee little villages. Murder, surrounded by dahlias? Those twee little villages actually do exist still. The churches and the ancient monuments, the landscape covered in ruins and history, the summer fetes in which the local vicar has to award a prize for the grower of the best marrow? It’s all true. And having plunged myself into that lifestyle eagerly and discovered the joys of the yearly agricultural shows, harvest festival, Plough Monday and the pagan weirdness of things like the “Straw Bear Festival”, I wanted to celebrate the charming eccentricity and the continued survival of that way of life.Straw Bear Festival

Variety is the spice of life, after all. And despite our reputation for the blandest food on the surface of the earth, you can’t go into a UK curry house and not realize that we also love our spice. There’s a lot to be explored in a country where the accent and the culture can change completely within five miles. Who better to explore it than someone who’s lived it all of their lives?

About Trowchester Blues:

Michael May is losing it. Long ago, he joined the Metropolitan Police to escape his father’s tyranny and protect people like himself. Now his father is dead, and he’s been fired for punching a suspect. Afraid of his own rage, he returns to Trowchester—and to his childhood home, with all its old fears and memories. When he meets a charming, bohemian bookshop owner who seems to like him, he clings tight.

Fintan Hulme is an honest man now. Five years ago, he retired from his work as a high class London fence and opened a bookshop. Then an old client brings him a stolen book too precious to turn away, and suddenly he’s dealing with arson and kidnapping, to say nothing of all the lies he has to tell his friends. Falling in love with an ex-cop with anger management issues is the last thing he should be doing.

Finn thinks Michael is incredibly sexy. Michael knows Finn is the only thing that still makes him smile. But in a relationship where cops and robbers are natural enemies, that might not be enough to save them.

See more here at Riptide Publishing.  And you can follow the tour here.

About Alex Beecroft…

Alex Beecroft is an English author best known for historical fiction, notably Age of Sail, featuring gay characters and romantic storylines. Her novels and shorter works include paranormal, fantasy, and contemporary fiction.

Beecroft won Linden Bay Romance’s (now Samhain Publishing) Starlight Writing Competition in 2007 with her first novel, Captain’s Surrender, making it her first published book. On the subject of writing gay romance, Beecroft has appeared in the Charleston City Paper, LA Weekly, the New Haven Advocate, the Baltimore City Paper, and The Other Paper. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association of the UK and an occasional reviewer for the blog Speak Its Name, which highlights historical gay fiction.

Alex was born in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and grew up in the wild countryside of the English Peak District. She lives with her husband and two children in a little village near Cambridge and tries to avoid being mistaken for a tourist.

Alex is only intermittently present in the real world. She has led a Saxon shield wall into battle, toiled as a Georgian kitchen maid, and recently taken up an 800-year-old form of English folk dance, but she still hasn’t learned to operate a mobile phone.

She is represented by Louise Fury of the L. Perkins Literary Agency.

Connect with Alex:
Website: alexbeecroft.com
Blog: alexbeecroft.com/blog
Facebook: facebook.com/AlexBeecroftAuthor
Twitter: @Alex_Beecroft
Goodreads: goodreads.com/Alex_Beecroft

Giveaway

Every comment on this blog tour enters you in a drawing for an e-book from Alex Beecroft’s backlist (excepting Trowchester Blues). Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on February 15. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries.

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A MelanieM Review: Trowchester Blues (Trowchester Blues) by Alex Beecroft

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Rating: 4.75 stars rounded up to 5 out of 5

Trowchester Blues coverAs a Metropolitan Police Officer Michael May has seen it all, including the worst people can do to each other,  and it’s getting to him.  When confronted by the monster who has tortured and murdered a number of young girls, Michael loses it and  assaults him.  The ramifications of an officer attacking “an alleged suspect” will be ignored only if Michael “retires”.  It’s an act he agrees with even if it destroys a part of him.

The recent death of his brutal father gives Michael a place to disappear to, the small quaint town of Trowchester.  He’s inherited his childhood home with all its damaging memories of his abusive father and frail mom, and the narrowboats moored at the shared dock behind the house.   Beset by memories, afraid of his own rage, Michael is lost until a chance meeting with the town’s antique book seller changes everything.

Fintan Hulme is now an honest man.  Five years ago that wasn’t the case.  Then Finn was a happy  high class London fence, specializing in rare books and object’s d’Art.  But then everything changed and Finn turned his back on his old life and criminal associates to open a antique book shop in Trowchester where he became a model citizen.

Until the past finds him once more and embroils him in a crime with far reaching consequences.

For Finn, falling in love with an ex-cop with anger management issues is the last thing he should be doing, only he can’t seem to help himself.  And Michael, unaware of Finn’s background, is just starting to trust his instincts and people once more.

When the past collides with the present, and criminals starting to appear around every corner,  can an ex-cop and ex-con pull together to save not only their relationship but their lives as well?

Trowchester Blues by Alex Beecroft is such an amazing story.  It hooked me in from the opening paragraphs and our heartbreaking introduction to burned out cop Michael May.  He and his partner, Jenny Smith (another well done character), enter a basement that contains the mutilated corpse of a young girl.  The descriptions are horrifying and the reactions of May and his partner human and unstandable. But for Michael May, its the final straw, the last act of a depraved monster that puts Michael’s rage at himself and society over the top.  It’s impact is visceral, the memories of it on the reader and May lingers throughout the story.

We get May’s frustration and anger at his inability to keep something like this from happening as well as the possibility that the murderer will get off with a light sentence and do it again.  But the years and Michael’s abusive past turns Michael into a vengeful attacker, something that no law enforcement agency can afford to have working for them.   The scenes within the Metropoliton Police Station and its Captain give Michael an  authentic background and an avenue for our empathy and feelings for this sad, lonely man.  And the darkness follows May and the story as the location changes to the village of Trowchester.

This story has so many layers to it and all the characters you will meet.  These are complicated people with varied pasts, intellect and skills.  Michael, Finn, and all the rest lead lives that will fascinate, and compel you on through adventures, events both glorious and disastrous in nature. It’s sexy, and hot.  Be prepared for a little kink but the reasoning and actions not only make sense but feel right for both men and their burgeoning relationship. It all works sublimely as a whole. Beecroft’s narrative is lively, magnetic in its ability to hold your attention, and gripping in its suspense and ability to surprise you.  I hated to put this book down.

Confession time.  I wanted Trowchester to be real even though I knew through the author’s notes it was fabricated for the story.  Trowchester felt alive, its aged streets and canals so imaginatively described that I felt as though I could see them.  And it was the perfect setting in which to meet Fintan Hulme, a beautifully realized former thief of intellectual and emotional depth.  What a perfect character, not just in his personal qualities,  the wonderful way in which the author constructed him.  Fintan has such dimension, including his love of books. That is especially conveyed through the shop he owns and has lovingly decorated. It in his passionate tirade delivered to an unfortunate and all important book owner.  Fintan is a puzzle, but one the reader will love to figure out.  We take him to heart and fear for him when his past finds him again. And his matchup with a fireplug of an ex-cop who is his intellectual and emotional match is a true wonder.

I loved everything about this story, including learning about the narrowboats (more googling to my delight), and antique books. I enjoyed Beecroft’s creation of a village where the economical vicissitudes have wrought  a revival that brings with it the world-weary sophisticates and gay tea shop owners but still has a dark side that exists along the docks.  The suspense and pain of discovery, the desolate past that mixes with a hopeful but shaky present for all involved here.  Even a “ghost” in need of help appears and grabs at our hearts.  And I realized that the last thing I wanted to do was see the end of this story.  I wanted Trowchester Blues to continue and enlarge, pulling in more of the characters we meet along the way to the resolution.

Lucky for us, we’re going to get it.  Alex Beecroft is not done with Trowchester yet.  Be still my heart.  There is more to come. Alex Beecroft has at least 2 more stories planned for 2015 in the Trowchester series and I can’t wait.  Until then, grab up this marvelous tale and make the acquaintance of two opposite yet equally compelling men and their journey towards love and a future together.  It’s a book you won’t want to put down and one you will happily pick up again and again while waiting for the next in the series.  It’s one of my highly recommended reads!

Cover Artist Lou Harper does an amazing job.  It’s perfect.

Sales Links:  Riptide Publishing    All Romance (ARe)  Amazon    Buy it here

Book Details:

ebook, 290 pages
Expected publication: February 9th 2015 by Riptide Publishing
ISBN139781626491984
edition languageEnglish
seriesTrowchester Blues

Books in the Trowchester series are:

  • Trowchester Blues (Trowchester #1) to be published February 9th, 2015
  • Blue Eyed Stranger (Trowchester Blues #2) to be published April 6, 2015 by Riptide
  • Blue Steel Chain (Trowchester Blues #3) to be published July 27, 2015 by Riptide