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I believe that most readers of gay literature will agree that Josh Lanyon is one of the best writers in that genre, but in this collection of 4 novellas I have to give a slight edge to George Seaton, whose piece is the last of the four. The weakest of the quartet is the work of Victor Banis which reads like a clip from a longer piece that was sliced up by some editor who needed to conserve space (read: a question of money). Seaton's "Big Diehl" is compelling because I felt that the author "had been there" and the writing reflected that reality. I think it is likely that I gave a slight edge to Seaton because the locus is contemporary, and none of us today can feel the reality depicted in Lanyon's "Out of the Blue" from WWI. This is a good collection although, once again, I think the publishers are telling the writers to hype up the sex because it sells. So there has to be graphic depiction of sex where everyone has a very big cock or at least a very long one, and anal sex requires the top to pound away and the bottom has to yell for "harder", "more please." Well, we are in the realm of preferences, I suppose, but I am no innocent in these matters, nor do I think the male writers are either. I guess I'm a wuss who thinks romance requires some thoughtfulness for one's partner that precludes "rough". So, I'm expressing a view that is one sided, since many gay men love to be banged around and are not involved with "love" but "play" and simple sexual release. And the opposing view can rightly kiss me off as narrow minded, but for those share my view be aware of what you will find in this collection. [By the way, I happen to like the occasional graphic scenes; I object to being drowned in it--no pun intended.]
World War I flying ace Captain "Bat" Bryant is furious enough to lash out when a sneaky mechanic attempts to blackmail him following his lover's death in combat. Unfortunately, his angry reaction leaves his would-be blackmailer dead. American pilot "Cowboy" Cooper witnesses the incident and says he'll help Bat out--for a price. Unable to think of anything else to do, Bat is forced to agree to Cowboy's scheme.
"Out of the Blue" was without a doubt my favorite story in Esprit De Corps. Josh Lanyon has a knack for writing heroes that aren't quite what I expect, yet I end up liking them. That's especially true of Cowboy, who seems so self-interested but turns out to be something more than he seems. The historical atmosphere is well done, and the aerial battle scenes are exciting. If you like gay historical stories, you will like "Out of the Blue." Guaranteed.
"Islands" by Samantha Kane
Frenchman René Dubois loves his island home, Île Dorée, and its people. He's determined to protect them no matter what. Then Lieutenant Commander Gabriel Conlan of the United States Navy Seabees arrives, wanting to build an Allied hospital and airfield on the island. René doesn't really want to agree, but he does want Gabe, and Gabe feels the same way. Will they be able to be together, or will the war destroy everything they hope to build together?
"Islands" is a quick, hot story. Gabe and René come together almost immediately, but there's no magic wand solution for their issues: Gabe's career, the times they live in, and the war. While the ending felt a bit too happy given the times, I liked "Islands" quite a bit.
Warning: This review might contain what some people consider SPOILERS.
"Out of the Blue" by Josh Lanyon - 8/10
PROS: - Some excellent writing. Here's an example: "A crust of frost sparkled on the ground like broken stars and a hint of cordite drifted on the breeze." I just discovered Lanyon pretty recently, and I'm impressed. - Well-formed and interesting characters. - Intricate and all-encompassing WWI details. The historical setting is depicted very well. I found the air battles particularly intriguing. CON: - Kind of sad. Lots of secondary characters get killed in the course of the story (but I wasn't terribly attached to any of them), and the ending is very open. WWI wasn't really a Happily Ever After kind of time, though.
"Islands" by Samantha Kane - 9/10
PROS: - The sweetest, most romantic of the 4 stories. It's the only one with an ending that I think qualifies as an unequivocal HEA (although when I squint and hold my tongue just right, I can imagine the others as HEAs also). - More detailed sex scenes than the other stories. I didn't DISLIKE the sex scenes in the others, but these ones are the most emotional in the book. - Fairy taleish setting. Even though the story takes place during WWII, the action is set on an island where sexual orientation is not an issue. CONS: - I found the ending a little abrupt. There's a long span of time between the end of the novella and the beginning of the epilogue, yet the characters behave as though almost no time has passed. (The island has a timeless quality, though, so I was able to forgive this rather easily.)