Anthologies, Love Them or Leave Them?

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I seem to be running into more and more anthologies these days.  Name a publisher and I can show you a long list of anthologies they have published in just this year alone.  I am not sure what is driving this trend.  Are authors writing more short stories? Do publishers find it easier to publish short stories in an anthology rather than  release them on their own?  Torquere Press has their Torquere Sips.  Dreamspinner Press has Nap-sized Dreams but  is now only accepting stories under 15,000 words for use in their anthologies alone.  For the most part, I look to find short stories in anthologies these days.

What is an anthology? An anthology is a collection of short stories by various authors that is usually grouped together by a common theme.  I have seen anthologies where the stories all occurred in the same city, that was the common thread.  Or different stories about a group of friends, each having their own tale in the anthology. Think Hearts From The Ashes from Samhain Press, a favorite of mine, for an anthology along these lines.  And the number of authors found in each anthology can be anywhere from three to thirty!  An anthology is quite the diverse creature.

So why all the mixed feelings with regard to anthologies?  For some readers, its because they prefer a much longer story.  They want a novel.  These are readers who revel in the long view, jump with joy over complex characterizations and equally complicated story lines.  And for the most part, those can only be found in the novel or novella form.  Think banquet versus amuse-bouche (a one bite appetizer).  Some readers get frustrated with anthologies or short stories because they feel they just get engaged with the characters and plot only to have them end abruptly.  I understand that but often feel that is due to the quality of the short story being read.  A well done short story should leave a reader satisfied in every way, an increasingly rare occasion these days (see Scattered Thoughts Looks A Short Story Writing).

I think we need to look at anthologies a bit differently than we do with novels or novellas. And perhaps with a different expectation as well.  We all have our preset notions when it comes to novels we like.  And when we finish a novel, after having invested a certain amount of time and emotion, if it does not meet those expectations, than we are disappointed and frustrated with book and author alike. But an anthology can represent, should we choose to look at it this way, a chance to look at a compilation as something quite different. And rightly so, because there is a different expectation in the amount of time invested because of the shorter length as well as large quantity of stories involved.

Perhaps an anthology becomes a daunting proposal when you think of reading multiple stories one right after the other.  I get that as some of these collections are quite huge.    I used to just plow through the collection, one right after the other, only to find the stories running together towards the middle, a method that never seemed to do the authors or their tales justice.  Now I try to read them in short bursts and that has made it easier for me when not only reading but reviewing the anthology.  These are short stories, not a run on novel and they should be read as such.  I think we forget that at times because they have been grouped together in one volume.  But that fact doesn’t change the actuality that these are short stories, separate from each other except for an artificial grouping made by a publisher.

For me, an anthology is often a smorgasbord or even a Tapas Bar. A series of small plates or appetizers, instead of a formal banquet of a novel.   There will often be something familiar,  maybe a well-known or well-loved author or two.  And there will be surprises, new writers or authors never heard of before.  Or just maybe there will be a story from an author whose literary works you don’t normally connect with for whatever reason but here you find a story from them that just blows you away, giving you a new perspective on this author you normally pass on.  All those reasons and more make the anthology a format to be looked at with anticipation and with affection.  Think your goody bag at the end of the evening on Halloween. How did you approach it? Did you dump it all out at once or pick through the candies left inside the bag?  For me, the anthology is the Halloween goody bag.  There will be some apples, or a banana, along with Twix, or Mounds Bar to go with the Reese’s Pieces and Hershey Kisses at the end of the night.  You can read it all at once or pick through it, reading it a little at a time. Like some, love some, pass on others.

I have come to love anthologies for the jewels I have found inside, authors and stories alike.  Inside anthologies I have discovered the joys of a sloth shifter (Charlie Cochrane for Lashings of Sauce) or the grief of love lost and found again (Two Tickets To Paradise). Give them a try, they will undoubtedly surprise you.  And let me know, anthologies, do you love them or leave them?

Here are some of the anthologies I have reviewed:

Animal Magnetism

Closet Capers Anthology

Lashings of Sauce

Making Contact

Private Dicks Anthology

Two Tickets To Paradise

Fever Anthology

Unconventional At Best

Scattered Thoughts Best Books of 2012

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What a spectacular year for great books in every genre from historical to fantasy! I have read so many wonderful books and series this year that it is hard to even begin to narrow down the list, although I have tried. What makes a book great for me? So many things, that it needs its own list.

The books I listed here are ones that moved me to tears and made me laugh out loud, they took me to places I have never been to see sights fantastic, miraculous, and awe inspiring. I have watched dragons soar and seen twin suns set over alien worlds. Through these wonderful authors I have met people who continue to stay with me through the power of their stories and the connectedness that I feel with each of the characters I have read about. Sometimes the books have taught me something about myself and how I looked at others or just gave me a deeper appreciation for my fellow beings.

I have grieved with men who have lost their soul mates, been with them as they worked through the trauma and loss, and celebrated as they moved forward with their lives. I watched men fall in love, whether it be with shifters, wizards, or just a man they met on the side of the road. Love lost, love found or lovers rediscovering the best about each other…that seems to know no boundaries as far as who you are and what world you inhabit. It doesn’t even matter whether the story is set in the past or goes far into the future. The authors and books listed here are ones that I cherish and return to often to visit with them once more. If you haven’t already read them, I hope you will add them to your list of must reads, as they are surely mine.

Oh, and by the way, this list is not complete. There are some wonderful books still to be released in the last two weeks of December, and there are some that I just missed from my own reviews. So look to see a revised list after the first of the year. Really there is something for everyone here. Happy reading!

Best Historical Book:
All Lessons Learned by Charlie Cochrane (Best Series) review coming in 2013
The Celestial by Barry Brennessel
The Mystery of Ruby Lode by Scotty Cade

Best Short Story

Eight Days by Cardeno C
Fair Puckled by Bella Leone
Lily by Xavier Axelson
Leather Work and Lonely Cowboys, a Roughstock story, by BA Tortuga
Too Careful by Half, a Roughstock story, BA Tortuga

Best Contemporary Romance – Standalone

Fall Into the Sun by Val Kovalin
Marathon Cowboys by Sarah Black

Fallout by Ariel Tachna

Good Bones by Kim Fielding

Legend of the Apache Kid by Sarah Black

Mine by Mary Calmes
Play It Again, Charlie by RC CooperScrap Metal by Harper Fox
Sidecar by Amy Lane

The Cool Part of His Pillow by Rodney Ross

 Best Novels – Part of a Series

A Foreign Range by Andrew Grey
Acceleration by Amelia C. Gormley
But My Boyfriend Is by KA Mitchell
Chase the Stars by Ariel Tachna
Cherish, Faith, Love & Devotion 4 by Tere Michaels
Frat Boy and Toppy by Anne Tenino
Full Circle by RJ Scott
Hope by William Neale
Inherit the Sky by Ariel Tachna (Best Series)
Second Hand, a Tucker Springs story by Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton
Stars & Stripes by Abigail Roux (Best Series)
The Journal of Sanctuary One by RJ Scott
The Melody Thief by Shira Anthony (also Best Series)
Who We Are by TJ Klune

Best First Novels
The Cool Park of His Pillow by Rodney Ross
Shattered Glass by Dani Alexander
Inertia by Amelia C. Gormley (Best Series)

Best Supernatural Book:
A Token of Time by Ethan Day
Crucible of Fate by Mary Calmes (Best Series)
Druid Stone by Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane
Ghosts in the Wind by Marguerite Labbe
Hawaiian Gothic by Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane
Infected: Life After Death by Andrea Speed (Best Series)
Riot Boy by Katey Hawthorne
The Gravedigger’s Brawl by Abigail Roux

Science Fiction Books:
Emerald Fire by A. Catherine Noon and Rachel Wilder
The Trust by Shira Anthony

Best Fantasy Books:
 Black Magic by Megan Derr
Burning Bright by Megan Derr (Lost Gods series)
Chaos (Lost Gods series) by Megan Derr
Magic’s Muse by Anne Barwell
Poison by Megan Derr (Lost Gods series)
Treasure by Megan Derr (Lost Gods series)
Best Series – new books this year:
A Change of Heart series by Mary Calmes (supernatural)
Blue Notes series by Shira Anthony (contemporary)
Cambridge Fellows series by Charlie Cochrane (historical)
Cut & Run series by Abigail Roux (and Madeleine Urban) (Contemporary)
Faith, Love & Devotion series by Tere Michaels (contemporary)
Infected Series by Andrea Speed (supernatural)
Knitting series by Amy Lane (contemporary)
Lost Gods by Megan Derr (Fantasy)
Sanctuary series by RJ Scott (contemporary)
Sci Regency series by JL Langley (science fiction)

So Many Great Series, here are more of my favorites:

A Matter of Time series by Mary Calmes (contemporary)

Jewel Bonds series by Megan Derr (fantasy)

Superpowered Love series by Katey Hawthorne

Wick series by Megan Derr
Best Anthologies:

Three Fates
Animal Magnetism
Lashings of Sauce
Making Contact

I know that many books are missing but I just did not get to them this year, including JP Barnaby’s Little Boy Lost series, Andrew Grey’s Range series, and so many more.  Look for them in 2013.  Do you have a favorite I should know about?  Write me and let me know.

Review of Lashings of Sauce Anthology

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3rdRating: 4.5 stars

Lashing: British slang for lots or large amounts.  In celebration of 2012 Olympics, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the 3rd Annual UK GLBTQ Fiction Meet, a lashing of authors from all over the Globe put forth an GLBTQ anthology of stories that highlight everything that makes Britain  (and mainland Europe) a great place for GLBTQ people to love and live.

Here is a list of stories and authors in the order they appear:

• Post Mortem by Jordan Castillo Price
• Dressing Down by Clare London
• Et Tu, Fishies? by JL Merrow
• Zones by Elyan Smith
• Sollicito by Charlie Cochrane
• A Few Days Away by Elin Gregory
• Vidi Velo Vici by Robbie Whyte
• Shelter From Storms by Sandra Lindsey
• Faulty Genes by Rebecca Cohen
• Lost in London by Tam Ames
• My Husband by Zahra Owens
• Waiting for a Spark by Lillian Francis
• Social Whirl by Emily Moreton
• School for Doms by Anne Brooke
• Dragon Dance by Josephine Myles
• Reclaiming Territory by Becky Black

The stories contained within this anthology really run the gamut of GLBTQ sexuality as well as genre.  Here you will find stories of wereshifters of London (no, not those, quite the contrary) to lesbians in love, love in transition, timeless love or should that be love amuck the ages and finally lost lovers reunited after a long separation.  There is humor, ok, humour (sheesh) and brooding, and angst, all the emotions love pulls out of you and more.  And oh what authors await you between the pages, it is almost sinful to have such a wealth of talent in one book.

Some of the stories don’t fall into the realm of books I normally read and review but I will say that I enjoyed them all.  Thank you for my visit into f/f fiction as well as D/s.  There are stories of transgender persons and one who cross dresses with panache. These stories manage to combine great characterizations, vivid descriptions from locations all over Britain and plots that make you guffaw and break down in tears.  Here were some of my favorites among a list of outstanding stories:

Et Tu, Fishies? by J.L. Merrow.  When Bill leaves his fish tank along with his flat in the hands of Marty for the week, Marty was prepared for many things.  Cleaning, feeding the fish, masturbating in Bill’s bed, lots of things.  Nothing, however, prepared him for Arthur, the weird upstairs neighbor.  That would be Arthur Prefect. When Marty challenges him on his name, he says it used to be Herbert Wells.  Right.  And Arthur has lost his lover.  That would be..nope not giving that one away.  Yes, indeedy, we are off on a wonderful romp involving lashings of vodka, wine , walnuts and cheesy balls.  And time travel, snappy dialog and drunken sex.  Loved it.

Sollicito by Charlie Cochrane.  She did it, she went ahead and did it. Charlie Cochrane gives us weresloths of London.  With shifters of all sorts bounding across the pages of book after book, there was nary a weresloth among them.  Until now. Told from the point of view of an unnamed bloke who sprouts fur and long curved claws at the most inopportune moment, he bemoans the fact that his shifting, unlike the numerous wolf shape shifters, has no rhyme nor reason to it.   One moment he is fine, the next he has fur and the urge to move slowly along a balustrade.  Yes, insert spew event.  The whole story is like that.  While laughing out loud, I found a new phrase to use “divvy doo dah”.  Love the sound of that.  Had to look up Martin Johnson (not a clue), read the words “brolly dangling stage” several times as obscene images flittered across my mental landscape while remaining completely in the dark about the Junction 6 of the M40. Yes,I know.  It’s a British thing!  Love this story even as it boggled my very American mind.

Vidi Velo Vici by Robbie Whyte. Whyte uses a clever format for this story of lust, if not love discovered during a daily commute through traffic.  Each day Evan sets out for the office in his car only to find himself trapped in horrific traffic. Each day finds him on the phone to his sarcastic assistant, Tia, to have her rearrange his schedule as he is going to be late into the office.  Monday, 8:38 am and Evan’s car mirror is clipped by a cyclist weaving through the clogged cars.  Evan’s rage is only abated by watching some outstanding glutes in tight spandex peddling away.  Day after day, Even and the faceless cyclist appear on the same road and at the same time.  You listen in on Evan’s inner dialog as he watches for that magnificent physique to appear in the mirror, Evan consults with his sat-nav with the voice of Vader, Evan talks to Tia whose droll comments on Evan’s current legal case involving a shih tzu,  dog custody and someone named Antonio who he keeps sleeping with had me giggling madly.  It’s funny, it’s real, and has a great ending.

Shelter From Storms by Sandra Lindsey takes us back to the French Revolution as a wounded, frail Louis appears on the doorstep of Daniel Elcott in England.  He has made his way through war torn France to Daniel’s country manor with only a small dirty calling card to hand the butler. Once the men were lovers when younger, now Daniel is married with children.  But Louis has no where else to go as he has lost it all.  The men reconnect as Louis falls ill and Daniel attends to his needs.  Their love sparks once more as Louis convalesces.  Daniel finds that with Louis’ return so does the man he once was.  Lovely, well told story that brings history to life and makes a gay relationship seem not only possible but realistic as well.

Lost In London by Tam Ames.  Here we meet Kevin Larton, from Calgary in Canada.  He’s in London to go to school but finding it difficult to navigate his way.  He is finding his courses difficult, making new friends more so and when it comes to reading maps and getting around town, he is at a complete loss.  It doesn’t matter that he is here to get his PhD in Economics or was a city planner.  Kevin just can’t read maps so he is always lost. A chance meeting with Benjamin White gives Kevin a change in direction.  Everything starts to become possible, friends, degree and perhaps even a boyfriend.  There is a hilarious drunken scene, wonderful characters and I learned what a feedlot was.  Ewww.  Great story, though.

My Husband by Zahra Owen charts one person’s marriage through the tumultuous stages of their transitioning from female to male.  There is never a missed step as Owens treats the subject with sensitivity and authenticity.  Told from Sam’s POV, we meet Sean their husband and see their courtship and marriage through Sam’s memories.  Owen gives us a glimpse of what it must feel like to be born in the wrong body and the journey one person makes to correct nature’s mistake. Poignant and lovely.

Dragon Dance by Josephine Myles is the penultimate story and one of my top two (I have no intension of telling you all the other, guess why don’t you).  I love going to Chinatown here in DC and watching the Dragon Dance during the Chinese New Year so imagine my delight over a story wrapped around two friends and their families preparing the costumes and dragon for their neighborhood’s New Year celebration. Gan and Archie are two lifelong friends whose families are equally close in their small village’s Chinese community.  As their mothers make the Dragon from crimson parachute material and fashion the pearl it will chase after, the boys discover their sexuality and the love that has always been present.  Myles pulled me in completely from the vibrant portraits of the boys as they dance the Dragon Dance. As they practice, their movements are jerky and uncoordinated with respect to each other but as they communicate their love and desire  it becomes sinuous, motions beckoning each other forward that mimic the depth their relationship has finally achieved.  I could picture it unfolding so real did it all become. Sigh.

Reclaiming Territory by Becky Black is the last story of the anthology so it is fitting that it is the story of  an old love lost and then later reclaimed.  Jim and Andy are riding a motorcycle and sidecar to Whitby, a place full of memories for both men and their relationship, good and bad.  As they wander through town, making various stops we learn their history and what is has taken for the men to get to this stage in their relationship where they are now.  The story bounds between 2012, 1987 the year they broke up, and 2009, the year they reconnected.  Jim is so very human in his fears and faults as is Andy in his anger over Jim’s betrayal and cowardice.  All it takes is a look at the date and remember what it meant to be gay during that time period.  Yes, things have changed, yes, they have gotten easier in some parts of the globe but this story is a reminder of the fears of coming out and staying together as a gay committed couple that many had during the 80’s.  It is fitting that in celebrating our present, the past is never forgotten and Black does an outstanding job of bringing that  to us in the forms of Jim and Andy riding into the future firmly hooked together by vehicle and by choice.

Go out and grab this anthology, read each story, find your own favorites, Mine might shuffle as I read it once more.  Happy Jubilee, Queen, Great Olympics, Britain and have a wonderful time at the UK GLBTQ Fiction Meet.  I really wish I was there with you.  Divvy doo dah!

Cover art by Alex Beecroft.  Smashing I say! lol

A New Addition to the Garden, the Week Ahead in Reviews and the Sazerac, an American classic cocktail

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So, here we are again.  It’s a rainy Sunday in Maryland, perfect day for reading and snoozing with the pooches.  I was out earlier in the week, gallivanting around and made a quick stop into one of our local nurseries to check out their perennial sale (50 percent off woo hoo!) and what did I behold? A zen froggy waiting for someone to take him home.  Really how could I pass him up?  Here’s are 2  pictures.   He is now perched in all his zen-like concentration behind the fish pond to Kirby’s everlasting confusion.  I watch Kirby looking at him every time he goes out and can just see the slow wheel turning in our third smartest dog’s mind.  Like “hmmmm, didn’t see that before, wonder if it is edible” “will he play with me?”.  Cracks me up everytime.  So I believe our zen froggy deserves a name.  Any suggestions?

 

Now on to the Week in Reviews.  There were just some lovely books this week. Lashings of Sauce was a standout based on just the shear number of great authors who contributed to this anthology. We run the gamut from contemporary romance to supernatural lovers this week:

Monday:                           (Un)Masked by Anyta Sunday & Andrew Q.Gordon

Tuesday:                           Shelton’s Homecoming by Dianne Hartsock

Wednesday:                    Wick by Megan Derr

Thursday:                         Lashings of Sauce-a British Anthology

Friday:                               Weekends by Edward Kendrick

Saturday:                           The Cool Part of His Pillow by Rodney Ross

Cocktail of the Week: The Sazerac

The Sazerac, created in New Orleans in the 1800’s, an American Classic Cocktail

Ingredients:

1 1/2 teaspoons (1/4 ounce) club soda
1 sugar cube (preferably rough-cut and unbleached*) or 1/2 teaspoon raw sugar, such as turbinado or Demerara
4 to 5 dashes Peychaud Bitters
5 tablespoons (2 1/2 ounces) VSOP Cognac
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) absinthe
1 cup ice
1 lemon
Directions:

In chilled cocktail shaker or pint glass, pour club soda over sugar cube. Using muddler or back of large spoon, gently crush sugar cube. Swirl glass until sugar dissolves, 20 to 30 seconds, then add bitters and Cognac and set aside.
Pour absinthe into chilled double old-fashioned glass or stemless wineglass. Holding glass horizontally, roll between your thumb and forefinger so absinthe completely coats the interior, then discard excess.
Add ice to cocktail and stir until well chilled, about 20 seconds. Strain cocktail into chilled glass rinsed with absinthe. Using channel knife, cut thin 4-inch strip of peel from lemon directly over glass, then place peel in glass and serve.