Happy Pride Month, everyone!
“First Line Fridays” is by Hoarding Books and is all about the first line of a current/upcoming read. Friday 56 is a meme hosted by Freda’s Voice, where you turn to page 56 (or 56%) in what you’re reading a find a snippet that jumps out at you. The idea to combine the two came from Kat @ Here There Be Dragons“
I found this meme on The Writerly Way. And I’m doing this on a Thursday just to be difficult.
Tyack & Frayne: Kitto – Harper Fox
Now Lee is free from the malevolent ghost of Morris Hawke, his clairvoyant gifts are expanding fast. Too fast for comfort, and he and Gideon find themselves wrestling with his unsettling capacity to see the future. In some ways this new power is wonderful, and Lee finds himself a local hero after predicting a flood.
But there’s one aspect he can’t bear, and that’s the blind spot he sees when he thinks about the wedding plans he and Gideon have started to make. It’s as if this event, which he wants more than life, simply isn’t going to happen. He’s troubled and stressed out, and Gideon decides to intervene, whisking him off to an isolated creek-side cabin in the mysterious Cornish ria country. All is peaceful there, and the clamour in Lee’s head subsides. It’s time for companionship, peace, good food and plenty of sex…
Then a young man wanders out of the woods and turns their blissed-out retreat into chaos. Kitto is harmless – a charming drifter, very handsome. To Gideon he’s just a kid, flesh and blood and a bit of a nuisance. But Lee reacts with horror. Since when can Gideon – Lee’s rock, his connection to the real world and sanity – see ghosts?
Mysterious midsummer is rising in the deep green Cornish countryside, and as the village gears up for the eerie Golowan festival, Lee and Gideon face their toughest case yet: a battle between the real and spirit worlds that threatens to tear their own apart.
Kitto started off with an air of nervous anticipation. Lee and Zeke form an unlikely friendship and embark on a search for the perfect ring. The wedding is near and Lee is turning into a Bridezilla. Zeke, in his usual dry humor tries to comfort his brother’s fiance. Lee then receives a vision of a natural disaster, cue Zeke’s hilarious reaction and our favorite psychic becomes a hero. It all became too much for him. He and Gid decided to go on a vacation to get away from it all but a certain ‘teenage nutcase‘, falls into their hands. The psychic is convinced he’s a ghost but the copper insists he’s real and sets out to prove it. For the first time in their relationship, conflict and ugly fights ensue. At one point, Lee even tells his boyfriend in no uncertain terms to “fuck off“. To his amazement, Gideon still calls him “love” after that. ♥(ˆ⌣ˆԅ)
After that flood and the boys took a break, I was expecting something sedate. But again, they were thrust into another mystery, this time not that creepy but more disturbing . The monster is very real and very sinister because of the implications and that eerie horse skull. I wasn’t familiar with the Penglas character but I definitely don’t want him lurking around.
The couple were also roped into joining the Golowan or the Midsummer festival. There’s always something so dark and primal about these pagan festivals and Harper Fox did a good job using this not only to give an extra thrum of chaos and heighten the suspense at the climax but also in binding the two men together in an ancient ceremony. The confrontation with the monster was brutal. There were heart stopping moments when all seemed lost and the wedding almost didn’t happened. But after hanging on by the skin of their teeth, and some backseat interlude, they finally made it.
And so, the wedding. Lee and Gid looked dashing in their dove gray suits. Their happiness was contagious. Everybody was there including Isolde. And then Lee’s sister showed up and dropped a bombshell. I thought this part was a little too much too soon. I expected it to happened, not then and there, but perhaps sometime in the next books. Oh well, I guess the boys get an early start on raising those goldfish.
Kitto was another enthralling installment of the Tyack & Frayne series, serving up spooky romance with a rich play of words and a Celtic vibe. At this point, I am committed to seeing this series through to the end. Love Lee and Gid! Can’t wait to see what that goldfish turns out to be.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
“Look, don’t make me say you are my sunshine, or I’ll have to kill us both.” Gideon kissed his brow. “But you are, love. You are.”
Tyack & Frayne: Don’t Let Go – Harper Fox
What’s haunting Lee Tyack? He’s moved in with Gideon Frayne, and they’re both loving their new lives. But the shadow is still there – a voice from hell that torments clairvoyant Lee, and which even the pragmatic copper Gideon can hear.
Gideon’s determined to protect his lover. But after a serious injury on duty, Gideon finds out the hard way that he needs protection too. His job’s on the line and he’s scared. Worst of all, he thinks he knows who that voice belongs to – and he can’t stop Lee from heading off to confront this most terrifying ghost from his past.
When the full spring moon rises over Cornwall’s rugged coast, and the veil between the worlds grows thin, Tyack and Frayne must join forces to solve a decades-old mystery that still has the power to tear their world apart.
A couple of years ago, I started on Tyack & Frayne. It was OK but book two, Tinsel Fish, wasn’t all that spectacular and I dropped the series. I passed too hasty a judgment it turned out because Don’t Let Go, the third book, succeeded in captivating me this time.
Some things I liked:
Zeke, who was introduced on Tinsel Fish, was a revelation. Gideon’s Methodist preacher brother showed Lee and Gid that he wasn’t the stone cold religious conservative Gid thought he was. Loved his dry sense of humor.
Lee and Gideon had moved in together and I totally loved how their relationship grew. Gid was a stubborn git when faced with his convalescence but Lee, bless him, dealt with it all like a saint. That’s true love for you.
Meeting Lee’s family and getting some closure. Locryn is a beautiful name. Lee and Gid exorcised a monster from the past. Boy, was it creepy, especially when listened to at wee hours of the night.
Once again, Harper Fox made me want to go to Cornwall and visit these two men. Her trademark lyrical prose is best read with a British accent and Tim Gilbert did a good job making it all come to life. The way HF describes Bodmin, the imagery she used, was very evocative. I’m glad I gave this series another chance. While it does meander a bit, it delivered a riveting and emotional story. I have loved Lee and Gid’s chemistry from the get go and here they are evolving into a comfortable domesticity which is just lovely and ‘normal’ in contrast to all the excitement of chasing criminals, ghosts and psychic monsters. Someday, when they are both old men, they could rest in front of the fire and feel nostalgic about all this but for now, they’re still up for another adventure in book 4, Kitto.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
He found himself gazing through stardust and sunshine at Lee Tyack’s hand. He smiled. He’d known it anywhere, even though just now he couldn’t quite get his eyes open and was watching it through sunny streaks between eyelashes. The hand was cupped gently around his.
Brothers of the Wild North Sea – Harper Fox
His deadliest enemy will become his heart’s desire.
Caius doesn’t feel like much of a Christian. He loves his life of learning as a monk in the far-flung stronghold of Fara, but the hot warrior blood of his chieftain father flows in his veins. Heat soothed only in the arms of his sweet-natured friend and lover, Leof.
When Leof is killed during a Viking raid, Cai’s grieving heart thirsts for vengeance—and he has his chance with Fenrir, a wounded young Viking warrior left for dead. But instead of reaching for a weapon, Cai finds himself defying his abbot’s orders and using his healing skills to save Fen’s life.
At first, Fen repays Cai’s kindness by attacking every Christian within reach. But as time passes, Cai’s persistent goodness touches his heart. And Cai, who had thought he would never love again, feels the stirring of a profound new attraction.
Yet old loyalties call Fen back to his tribe and a relentless quest to find the ancient secret of Fara—a powerful talisman that could render the Vikings indestructible, and tear the two lovers’ bonds beyond healing.
Warning: contains battles, bloodshed, explicit M/M sex, and the proper Latin term for what lies beneath those cassocks.
When more eloquent reviewers talk about lush, lyrical prose, Harper Fox’s writing comes to mind. Written in the same descriptive style as Seven Summer Nights and narrated beautifully by Hamish Long, Brothers of the Wild North Sea is a captivating tale of monks eking out a living at the northeastern edge of Britannia year 687. These were harsh time when Northernmen or Vikings frequently landed on these shores to raid villages.
Caius or Cai is a very spirited monk and also the abbey’s physician. He saved the Viking warrior Fenrir after the latter was left for dead by his fellow raiders. Soon Cai and Fen grew closer until they were closer than brothers. It warms the heart of unemotional me every time Fen says beloved and Cai calls him love in return.
Endearments were precious and they come easily to both.
Cai, beloved—he had taken the words, folded them carefully and placed them in the back of his mind. Endearments blurted out in passion’s extremity were too sweet, too fleeting to set store by. And yet still the world was transformed.
Cai is also the reluctant leader of the monks of Fara. Reluctant but a natural. The monks and the villagers come to turn to him for direction. At first Cai questioned his position but later made peace with it. Fen was at his side as Cai trained the monks to fight. I love how the monks accepted Fen into their fold, even calling him brother. They even seem to tacitly understand what Fen meant to Cai and leave them both to their business.
The main antagonist of the story was Aelfric, a hellfire and brimstone kind of monk which is the kind of lawful evil antagonist I hate the most. He succeeded the Abbot Theo after Theo died from a Viking raid. I thought Aelfric is going to make the entire book painful to listen to but I’m glad I put my preconceived notions aside and put my faith on on the author. The way Cai dealt with Aelfric was very satisfying indeed but I’m also glad Aelfric saw the truth at the end.
The big macguffin of the story was the Treasure of Fara. The Vikings want it because it is said to contain some power. The search was a minor thread but the treasure itself have a big symbolic and mystical significance. There was a prophetic dream and actual prophesies from the Lady Danan that were refreshingly quite literal and to the point unlike the obtuse and clever riddles that is usually the case with these things.
There were also a lot of WOLF that ties in with the whole thing.
He had a strange dream. In it, a wolf came from the sea. Cai, standing on the moonlit beach, felt no fear.
Pretty obvious who but it doesn’t detract from the beauty of this:
Fen caught his hand—a promise kept—and held on. “I have often wondered,” he said, “about the true meaning of Gleipnir. It was nothing but a scrap of leather—lost again now.”
“Yes. I think we left it in the dunes.”
“But you see, I still have it. To me you are home—my tribe, my honour. To me you are Gleipnir—the cord that binds the wolf where fetters fail. Forever, my beloved Cai.”
Harper Fox set herself a very challenging task of creating a convincing historical love story between a monk and a Viking. I have no way of knowing the accuracy of details but she was able to pull it off without making things anachronistic. The setting and the era is something rarely done in MM and she was able to draw me into the harsh Britannic life at the edge of the world, despite this being something that is far beyond my ken. There were also folklore and magic realism that added an extra layer to an already intricate tale. I liked the exploration of how religion and science should be in people’s life and it was interesting to see the kind of science they had at that time. The book is over 13 hours long, a bit lengthy and could use some pruning. I think the author was being thorough with the various threads and I’m just glad she has a deft hand that kept me glued to the story. Poetic, nuanced and evocative, I think this is one of Harper Fox’s best books.
4.5 – perfection is only half a step away
Seven Summer Nights – Harper Fox
It’s 1946, and the dust of World War Two has just begun to settle. When famous archaeologist Rufus Denby returns to London, his life and reputation are as devastated as the city around him.
He’s used to the most glamorous of excavations, but can’t turn down the offer of a job in rural Sussex. It’s a refuge, and the only means left to him of scraping a living. With nothing but his satchel and a mongrel dog he’s rescued from a bomb site, he sets out to investigate an ancient church in the sleepy village of Droyton Parva.
It’s an ordinary task, but Droyton is in the hands of a most extraordinary vicar. The Reverend Archie Thorne has tasted action too, as a motorcycle-riding army chaplain, and is struggling to readjust to the little world around him. He’s a lonely man, and Rufus’s arrival soon sparks off in him a lifetime of repressed desires.
Rufus is a combat case, amnesiac and shellshocked. As he and Archie begin to unfold the archaeological mystery of Droyton, their growing friendship makes Rufus believe he might one day recapture his lost memories of the war, and find his way back from the edge of insanity to love.
It’s summer on the South Downs, the air full of sunshine and enchantment. And Rufus and Archie’s seven summer nights have just begun…
Seven Summer Nights is a standalone novel featuring a disgraced archaeologist and an atheist vicar. The story could be split into two. One thread follows Rufus’ struggle with PTSD, his endearing friendship with Archie, Archie’s rescue and Rufus and Archie’s awakening.
That rescue scene in particular had me crossing my fingers and praying really hard for Rufus and Archie. Theirs was one of the most wholesome relationship I have seen so far and a delightful combination of insta-love and slow-burn. They were so kind to each other from the beginning, there was never any moment of unnecessary drama between them. The second thread was archaeology and witch craft. From the island of Sabros to the rural village of Droyton, mysterious labyrinth and mysterious women kept their secrets for centuries. Rufus and Archie uncovered these mysteries to reveal tragedy and bloodshed. But even with the cruelties, the book was overflowing with kindness and humanity. I felt sad that Archie had to give up his post. He was one of the kindest, most humane persons I have ever come across with.
Women were one of the most significant aspects of the book. I love the rest of the cast. Mrs. Nettles, the level headed, very practical housekeeper, Drusilla, the mystical priestess, Elspeth, the precocious changeling, even the difficult Mrs. Trigg. Together, they form a sort of network or sisterhood that went back to millennia before Christianity and patriarchy took over. The antagonists were effective as well. I felt a significant amount of schadenfreude when that ass of a brigadier had his Wizard of Oz-like comeuppance.
Clocking at around 16 hours, the book was, admittedly, a tad too long but god was it beautiful! At the hands of another, less talented writer, the pace might have been called glacial but Harper Fox imbued the story with so much charm and appeal that I was swept along its languid pace. That summertime ambiance, the easy camaraderie, the small town quaintness, I was effortlessly transported to post-war rural Sussex. Living in a small rural town myself, I could easily relate to both the simple, hospitable, kind-heartedness and the religious narrow mindedness of small town folks.
I also have a special shout out to the narrator. Chris Clogg’s calm, measured delivery and the voices he created for the characters were perfect, especially Rufus’ mild-mannered, very polite and proper Englishman tone.
I think Seven Summer Nights is one of Harper Fox’s best books. Soft, surreal and pure with tight, suspenseful episodes that left me on the edge of my seat. I am not familiar with any archaeological expeditions of the 1940s so I am not sure how close to the facts the details are, but the mystery combined with the romance, post-war struggles and archaeological adventures make a potent brew.
4.5 – perfection is only half a step away
Tyack & Frayne: Tinsel Fish – Harper Fox
Christmas in a Cornish seaside town, bright lights and a hot new romance to ward off the winter storms… What could be finer? But Gideon and Lee’s first festive season together is shockingly interrupted when Lee tries to rid a client’s home of a malevolent presence. The ritual goes wrong, and in its aftermath Lee is strangely altered. As well as dealing with the changes in his lover, Gideon has a sinister thread to follow, linking the haunted house with disappearances among the homeless people of Falmouth.
Can love withstand what looks like a case of possession? As the darkest night of the year comes down, Gideon finds himself locked in a battle to restore his lover’s soul.
Someday, I’ll go to London, Manchester, Edinburgh, Cornwall and all these places I have read about and make a pilgrimage to sites mentioned in books like Camlet Moat, Gretna Green or a desolate moor.
The second book of the Tyack and Frayne series had Lee attempt to do a sort of cleansing and ended up not being himself. The result was a riotous scene where he picked a fight at a restaurant and ended up being hauled away like a sack of potatoes by Gideon. That was the best and one of the very few highlights of the book for me. The rest of the book was flat and uninteresting but those into steam would be glad that Lee and Gid had a lot of smexy time together.
Another thing of note is the appearance of Gideon’s brother Ezekiel and Lee ‘s meeting with Gideon’s parents. There was also a nice follow up on the Kemp kid’s situation and Isolde had more page time but all of these were not enough to save the book. I think I couldn’t be arsed to read the rest of the series anymore but a visit to Cornwall is still in order.
2 Stars – it’s a struggle to finish the damn book
Tyack & Frayne: Once Upon a Haunted Moor – Harper Fox
Gideon Frayne has spent his whole working life as a policeman in the village of Dark on Bodmin Moor. It’s not life in the fast lane, but he takes it very seriously, and his first missing-child case is eating him alive. When his own boss sends in a psychic to help with the case, he’s gutted – he’s a level-headed copper who doesn’t believe in such things, and he can’t help but think that the arrival of clairvoyant Lee Tyack is a comment on his failure to find the little girl.
But Lee is hard to hate, no matter how Gideon tries. At first Lee’s insights into the case make no sense, but he seems to have a window straight into Gideon’s heart. Son of a Methodist minister, raised in a tiny Cornish village, Gideon has hidden his sexuality for years. It’s cost him one lover, and he can’t believe it when this green-eyed newcomer stirs up old feelings and starts to exert a powerful force of attraction.
Gideon and Lee begin to work together on the case. But there are malignant forces at work in the sleepy little village of Dark, and not only human ones – Gideon is starting to wonder, against all common sense, if there might be some truth in the terrifying legend of the Bodmin Beast after all. As a misty Halloween night consumes the moor, Gideon must race against time to save not only the lost child but the man who’s begun to restore his faith in his own heart.
Cornwall is a place I often meet in literature with its moors and fogs and craggy hills. Living in a tropical country and never been abroad, sometimes I find it hard to imagine what the whole Cornish countryside looked like. Harper Fox, who is probably a Cornwall native, gives a good sense of the place and atmosphere in this first Tyack and Frayne novella. The cover also perfectly captured that walk in the desolate countryside. The mystery was straightforward and not so complicated. The main characters were likable and there’s a dog too. Overall, a nice, cozy, spooky read.
3 Stars – not exactly setting my world on fire but I liked it