Rating: 3.5 stars
Unconventional at Best is an anthology from six authors of stories featuring romance in and around conventions. GayRomLit convention last year provided the inspiration for this selection of stories by Carol Lynne, TA Chase, Amber Kell, Jambrea Jo Jones, Stephani Hecht, and Devon Rhodes. The stories run the gamut of lovers reunited, best friends to lovers, alien love, geek love, confectionary love and love among tops and it all occurs at a convention.
I found this anthology to be a fifty fifty proposition. Out of 6 stories,only three kept me completely entertained, staying with me once I was done with the anthology. The others remained just nice stories, forgotten as soon as I put them down.
Here are the ones that stayed with me. I think they are just wonderful stories.
‘Ninja Cupcakes’ by T.A. Chase
Ethan Gallagher is a baker of very special talents. His cupcakes are not only delicious confections but when certain ingredients are added, downright magical. When Ethan and his business partner agree to supply the desserts for his brother’s sci-fi convention, it presents the perfect opportunity for Ethan’s floury confections to work their particular magic on certain participants, including an astrophysicist Ethan has been corresponding with for four years. With just the right timing and the special ingredients, Ethan bakes cupcakes that insure that love is in the air or desserts. Or perhaps we should say Ethan insures that everyone gets their just desserts!
This is a delicious little story. I have always found that cooking, or in this case baking, and magic were natural combinations. T.A. Chase does a terrific job of doing just that in Ninja Cupcakes. From that great title to Chase’s wonderful characters, I just loved this story and wished to see them all again once I was done. This is fun, frothy and still is grounded in realistic characters that capture your hearts. Ethan and Callum were an especially endearing couple. I wish I had their story, complete with how they first met, and what happening to each of them during their four year correspondence.T.A Chase, this would make a wonderful story. Just saying.
‘Operation: Get Spencer’ by Jambrea Jo Jones:
“Even if superpowers were real, Benjamin still might not get his man.” Good friends Benjamin and Spencer are spending the day at Comic-Con, something Spencer has always wanted to do. Benjamin has a surprise for Spencer to go with their day at Comic-Con. Benjamin intends to tell his friend that he is in love with him and decides the convention is the perfect time to reveal it. The problem? Spencer believes Benjamin is straight and with good reason as Benjamin has told everyone he is straight over and over again. But Ben hopes that a convention where everything is possible is the perfect place to make Spencer believe in his love.
Friends to lovers and gay for you, both happen here in this story about sexuality, perceptions and fear of change. Jones takes two completely recognizable characters and brings them together at Comic-Con for her story of friends and lovers. Ben has been so busy denying that he is gay that everyone believes Ben is straight even if Ben no longer believes it himself. His best friend Spencer is gay and they have always done everything together. But recently Ben has discovered that his feelings for Spencer go beyond friendship and into romantic love, but how to tell his best friend?
Jambrea Jo Jones makes us laugh and sympathize with Ben and Spencer throughout it all. From Ben’s mishaps, missteps and outright screwing up his announcement, we are still on his side and hope he gets his man. Spencer is authentically confused about Ben’s change of heart regarding his sexuality, we understand his point of view as well. He doesn’t want to mess up his relationship with his best friend, his confidant, and we get that too. Somehow it all comes together in a satisfying end back where they started it all – Comic-con.
‘Fan-Tastic’ by Stephani Hecht
“Everybody knows the best lovers are geeks.” The setting this time is the annual Comic Book and Horror Convention. Here Deke Masters, a well-known actor in a zombie TV show is ordered to appear on a panel for his show. Also in attendance is Blake Tallision. Blake is trying to sell his comic book Star Cats and other items that he has been working on so hard. Blake also has a crush on Deke going back to their school days. Even then Deke was a star and Blake the nerd hiding in the shadows of the stage. To Blake’s amazement, Deke is a fan of Star Cats. The convention turns out to be the perfect stage for a romance neither saw coming.
This was my favorite story of the anthology. In Deke Masters and Blake Tallision author Hecht gives us characters worth cheering for. Blake is an especially memorable one. In pursuit of his art, he has starved himself, living in the basement of his abusive mother’s home, almost despairing of making it. Blake was so real I could see his skeletal frame and intense features. His vulnerability drew me in and kept me there. Deke also came across a fully realized human being, a guy who has worked to get where he is now but misses being wanted for just himself. While Blake wants nothing more than to be noticed by Deke, when that happens, Blake is believably wary and insecure, not seeing himself as others do. Deke is perfect for him, the normal guy who just happens to be a tv star, he understands Blake’s struggle because he was once at that stage himself. Everything about this story from the dialog to the characters just cried out for a larger version, especially to delve further into the relationship between Blake and his mother who had a secret she was hiding from him. Great job.