The best gay male historical romances solidly grounded in time and place

Lance Ringel Author Of Flower of Iowa
By Lance Ringel

Who am I?

I was never a little boy who played soldier. But when I was 13, I read Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, and developed a lifelong fascination (unusual for an American) with the First World War. Decades later, having achieved a happy life as a gay man, I started to wonder during the debate over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”: What would life have been like for two soldiers in the Great War who fell in love? So, I traveled to the battlefields and cemeteries of France, and to the Imperial War Museum in London, and read anything and everything I could about WW1. And then I wrote Flower of Iowa.

I wrote...

Flower of Iowa

By Lance Ringel,

Book cover of Flower of Iowa

What is my book about?

France, 1918: Naïve, idealistic American Tommy Flowers, a small-town boy from the Midwest, struggles to be a good soldier in the trenches of World War 1. He is gratified to find a best pal in savvy British private David Pearson – but soon, their friendship develops an intimacy that neither one expected. Baffled by their feelings, yet committed to exploring them further, the two young men must navigate this revelation as the war reaches a crescendo.

This sprawling tale of battle and romance showcases a gallery of unforgettable characters as well as meticulous historical research, documenting everyday life at the front lines of the Great War while recalling a fraught time when love between two men was as perilous and uncharted as No Man’s Land. 

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The books I picked & why


By Lonnie Coleman,

Book cover of Mark

Why did I love this book?

Coleman got very famous, and very rich, from Beulah Land, a trilogy of plantation life in the pre-Civil War South that was variously viewed as a much racier Gone with the Wind or simply dismissed as an interracial soap opera. What a surprise, then, to find he wrote this beautiful coming-of-age story about a sensitive boy who is a budding writer. The novel richly depicts Mark’s life in Alabama and Georgia during the 1930s and early ’40s. We are as elated as he is when he finally finds people who understand him, most notably his teacher, who is the kind of quietly strong woman character all too often overlooked in such a milieu, and equally, the unexpected young man with whom Mark finally finds a romance both exhilarating and heartbreaking.

By Lonnie Coleman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mark as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The work of a superbly gifted writer at the height of his powers, Lonnie Coleman’s Mark is destined to become a classic—the wonderfully moving story of a young man growing up in a small southern town. It is a novel about the lives of ordinary people, the exploration of feelings, the capacity to love, the discovery of sexual choice.
Set in Montgomery, Alabama, and Savannah, Georgia, in the twenties and thirties, Mark is the story of a young boy, orphaned by death of both parents and raised by his aunt and uncle, from adolescence to adulthood, and ending with the…

At Swim, Two Boys

By Jamie O'Neill,

Book cover of At Swim, Two Boys

Why did I love this book?

A confession: Though part Irish by heritage, I have long since lost patience with the romanticization of the Easter Rising, which seems to me a sort of Celtic Alamo – an unholy mess that has been retroactively lionized.  And author O’Neill has been widely compared to James Joyce, which should inspire trepidation in anyone (like me) who just doesn’t get the acclaim for UlyssesFortunately, At Swim, Two Boys is far more reminiscent of the Joyce of The Dubliners, with writing that is highly accessible while uncompromisingly lyrical. And the heady heart of the tale, in which childhood buddies Jim and Doyler find that their affections have evolved into something much more heated, is riveting, as is the juxtaposition of their rising sexual tensions with the about-to-boil-over tensions of 1916 Dublin.

By Jamie O'Neill,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked At Swim, Two Boys as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Praised as “a work of wild, vaulting ambition and achievement” by Entertainment Weekly, Jamie O’Neill’s first novel invites comparison to such literary greats as James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Charles Dickens.

Jim Mack is a naïve young scholar and the son of a foolish, aspiring shopkeeper. Doyler Doyle is the rough-diamond son—revolutionary and blasphemous—of Mr. Mack’s old army pal. Out at the Forty Foot, that great jut of rock where gentlemen bathe in the nude, the two boys make a pact: Doyler will teach Jim to swim, and in a year, on Easter of 1916, they will swim to the…


By E.M. Forster,

Book cover of Maurice

Why did I love this book?

From the moment this novel was published, a year after Forster’s death (no coincidence, that), the Literary Powers That Be decreed that Maurice was, at best, a decidedly minor work from the celebrated writer of Howards EndDon’t believe it, or the homophobia that colors that judgment. The evocation of pre-Great War England is every bit as compelling as in the author’s more famous books. Here it serves to depict the stifling nature of life for those who could not conform to the prevailing mores. The most compelling moment comes when the novel’s key relationship is belatedly introduced through the slightest, most offhand observation by the title character – an ineffably smooth move by the author that simultaneously indicts the class system and belies the lush romance that will soon blossom. 

By E.M. Forster,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Maurice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As Maurice Hall makes his way through a traditional English education, he projects an outer confidence that masks troubling questions about his own identity. Frustrated and unfulfilled, a product of the bourgeoisie he will grow to despise, he has difficulty acknowledging his nascent attraction to men.

At Cambridge he meets Clive, who opens his eyes to a less conventional view of the nature of love. Yet when Maurice is confronted by the societal pressures of life beyond university, self-doubt and heartbreak threaten his quest for happiness.

Book cover of The Bitterweed Path: A Rediscovered Novel

Why did I love this book?

Perhaps the most powerful story surrounding The Bitterweed Path concerns the creation of the novel itself. This tale of cross-class, same-sex love set in late 19th century rural Mississippi – a place and time so well evoked you can feel the heat – was originally published in 1950(!). They say historical novels reflect the time in which they’re written at least as much as the time in which they’re set, and there’s a distinct obliqueness to the writing here. That does not detract from the astonishing eroticism of main character Darrell’s first glance at Roger, the boy he will fall in love with (and vice versa). Nor does it diminish the radical shift, in more than one sense of the term, when Roger’s father also emerges as a mutual love interest for Darrell.

By Thomas Hal Phillips,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Bitterweed Path as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This long out-of-print and newly rediscovered novel tells the story of two boys growing up in the cotton country of Mississippi a generation after the Civil War. Originally published in 1950, the novel's unique contribution lies in its subtle engagement of homosexuality and cross-class love. In The Bitterweed Path , Thomas Hal Phillips vividly recreates rural Mississippi at the turn of the century. In elegant prose, he draws on the Old Testament story of David and Jonathan and writes of the friendship and love between two boys--one a sharecropper's son and the other the son of the landlord--and the complications…


By Ensan Case,

Book cover of Wingmen

Why did I love this book?

When Wingmen was published in 1979, there had been nothing else quite like it: a war novel, very well researched, with plenty of action and adventure… plus a romance between two men at its center. Those feelings emerge, in a classic slow burn, between young Ensign Fred Trusteau and the more seasoned Lieutenant Commander Fred Hartigan against the backdrop of the Pacific Theatre of World War II. The often-harrowing life of naval aviators is vividly conveyed in action scenes set in places whose names will be familiar to students of WW2 – Wake Island, Tarawa, Kwajalein, Truk. Case has certainly done his homework on the hardware and the military lingo, but what lifts the narrative is the uncertain, unconventional romance between the main characters. What Top Gun could have been.

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