Review: Mixed Tapes Volume #2 Edited by Kris Jacen

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Rating 3.5 stars out of 5

Mixed Tape 2 coverRemember when there was nothing finer than someone putting together a tape of music that meant something to you both.  A song here that brought back memories of a special date or a song there that spelled out the love you had for each other.   That special list of songs on that Mixed Tape told you someone was thinking about you and your relationship with them when putting that list together.  Here is the second volume of songs and the stories that revolve around the relationships forever tied together by musical memories.

Mixed Tape – Volume #2:

“Never Goin’ to Let You Go” by Embry Carlysle
“Living On My Own” by Megan Slayer
“Save Your Love For Me” by Lex Valentine
“Up Where We Belong” by Rob Rosen
“It’s Raining Men” by Diana DeRicci
“How Soon Is Now” by Christopher Koehler

I did not read the first anthology in this series although I love the subject of these two volumes.  I still have locked away somewhere a tape or two that a former boyfriend mixed together for me, tapes that still manage to bring back smiles and perhaps a few tears along with the memories.  Among these stories I have found a new author to love, and several stories to recommend.  I am not sure if any of these stories have companion pieces in the first volume but one story here in particular is sending me back to check.   Here are the stories as they line up in the anthology:

1.  How Soon Is Now by Christopher Koehler.  Rating: 4 stars

Toby Meyer and Derek Tremaine are university undergraduates.  And each has been eyeing the other for months but neither has worked up the courage to approach the other man.  For Derek, past mistakes have made him overly cautious about relationship until the sight of Toby makes Derek want much more with the other man. For Toby, Derek is frustration personified.  He can’t understand why the man won’t ask him out on a date.  One night at a party which change the stalemate Toby and Derek are locked in.  For someone else has his eyes on Toby and Derek must decide to act for both their sakes.

I wished this story had been a little longer but the characters were interesting and endearing.  Derek especially was a interesting take on the “larger man”.  His sense of fashion is an important part of his personality, a trait more often seen in the young quirky characters instead of someone as huge as Derek.  Loved him, and this aspect of the story.  I only wish it has been a little longer and the resolution more drawn out.

2.  It’s Raining Men by Diana DeRicci. Rating: 5 stars

Dallas and his group of friends have come to Paper Dolls to cheer on their friend in the drag queen contest.  But from the moment he lays his eyes on Pepper Prince (aka Peter), the hostess of the club, Dallas knows he must do everything possible to get to know the man on stage.  Pepper Prince has a firm policy to never date any of his “dolls” or members of the audience who comes to see them.  Dallas, however, is impossible to ignore and persistent beyond measure.  When they do finally get together, the sparks fly.  But Peter has been hurt in the past.  Can Dallas overcome Peter’s past to make a future for himself and Peter together?

This is simply an amazing story.  Outstanding characterizations and terrific plot make this story a true standout.  DeRicci layers the story with several couples that you want to know better, along with the point of view of gay man who loves dressing as a woman and being a man.  The author makes Peter such an accessible personality, so well grounded in his beliefs that every reader will be able to understand exactly where Peter is coming from emotionally and applaud him.  Dallas too has so many wonderful strengths and accompanying insecurities that the pair is terrific apart and as a couple.  I simply wanted more of them, and their friends.  This is the best story of the anthology.  I want more in this universe.

3. Up Where We Belong by Rob Rosen. Rating: 3.5 stars

A limousine driver is standing in an airport holding a sign with a name on it – Ted Jackson.  Unfortunately for him, two men with the exact name arrive at the airport at the same time, one from the East Coast and one from the West.  The solution?  Both men take the same car to their hotel and a romance ensues that turns into something much more for them both.

This is a very cute story.  I loved the idea of two men with the same name and one very confused limousine driver.  There are some hot sexy scenes and a quick resolution.  Another case of instant love but here it kind of works.  Short and sweet.

4. Living On My Own by Megan Slayer. Rating 3 stars

Kelsey’s life is in turmoil.  He has just been dumped by his ex who has made awful accusations about him, his sister has trashed the house he let her stay in and he is lonely beyond measure.  Then Daniel Tate shows up, the man Kelsey has never gotten over.  They had a wonderful life before Daniel’s drinking destroyed their relationship.  Now Daniel is back and sober.  Daniel also wants Kelsey back.  Can Kelsey work through all the pain he has been put through and trust Daniel again?  Or will their last chance at a relationship be lost forever?

I liked Kelsey and Daniel well enough,  although I would have appreciated a little more back history on them both.  They were involved in a BDSM relationship and they pick back up on that immediately as soon as Daniel reenters Kelsey’s life.  Kelsey has just been humiliated in public due to a man he trusted, the trust he had previously place in Daniel had been destroyed due to Daniel’s drinking.  So how it is that they pick back up on that part of their relationship immediately given their test issues?  I liked the rest of their story well enough but this issues dragged it down to a 3 star rating.

5. Never Goin’ to Let You Go by Embry Carlysle. Rating: 2 stars

Takes place in Chicago in the 1980’s.  Friends Drake and Shane come to grips with each other and their sexuality.  Drake is gay and unashamedly so.  Shane is sure that he is straight to the point of making fun of gays and throwing around gay slurs.  Shane is also attracted to Drake which confuses him and makes him act out in a cowardly fashion.  Months and months go by and the miscommunications and misplaced emotions pile up.  Can Drake and Shane break through Shane’s self imposed barriers to have the relationship they want with each other?

Sigh.  I almost didn’t make it through this story.  It feels impenetrably long, like slogging through molasses on a cold day.   The writing is overly dense, the same issues repeated innumerable times throughout the story until the reader just doesn’t care any longer how the boys resolve their problems to have any sort of relationship.   Shane particularly is not a likable or endearing character.  I am not sure why the author feels like the reader should connect with him,  Instead we are left thinking that Drake should have moved on eons ago.  My least favorite story of the group.

6.  Save Your Love by Lex Valentine. Rating 2.5 stars

Starts out May 1987 in San Jose, California.  On his 18th birthday, Jay Sparks loses his virginity and finds out he is gay at a rock festival. Jay also discovers that Matt Langdon, his friend and first lover is also his forever love.  But it will be years and many different paths and lovers for each of them before they will be ready to take the chance on a relationship and a forever love.

I just couldn’t connect with these characters, however much I wanted to.  Jay, now a rock star, and Matt, a firefighter, keep meeting, usually on birthdays, having sex and telling each other how much they love each other.  They also  have to tell each other they just got tested and when was the last time they slept with someone else.  Conversations then occur where they deny their many lovers mean anything and that they know this causes each other pain.  *head desk*  Nothing about their relationship or feelings felt very realistic or believable,  When Jay says “I don’t understand how I can be with other guys when loving you feels so right, ” well, by that time I really didn’t care.  Far too short to make the reader engaged in such a relationship.  My penultimate least favorite story in this anthology.

Book Details:

ebook, 253 pages
Published June 18th 2013 by MLR Press
ISBN 1020130092
edition languageEnglish
seriesMixed T

Review: Fever Anthology by M Rode

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

If you love cowboys, than this is the anthology for you.  From cowboy tv stars to those that ride bucking bulls and every permutation in between, these 8 stories will make you laugh, make you sigh, even reach for a fan or too but always make you remember why you love a cowboy.

Stories included in Fever are:Fever cover

Loose Riggin’ by Julia Talbot
Two Buckets and a Snakeskin Suit by Aaron Michaels
Torn by Sean Michael
Cowboy and Indian by Rob Rosen
Heart of Dixie by Mychael Black
Ready to Ride by Katherine Halle
White Hat/Black Hat by Kiernan Kelly
In the Pocket, a Roughstock story by BA Tortuga

I really enjoyed this anthology, especially because cowboys are a real weakness for me.  Of special interest was the new story from BA Tortuga in her Roughstock series, I cannot get enough of those boys.  It also introduced me to a series I hadn’t heard of, Mychael Black’s Hearth and Home series, so that was a plus too.  Here in sequence as they appear are mini reviews of each story:

1.  Loose Riggin‘ by Julia Talbot: 3.5 stars

One cowboy on the way up, one cowboy bull rider on the way down.  Baron LeBlanc is a top bullrider at the end of his career.  During one ride he injuries himself badly and an young bull rider, Arlen Deamus, offers to take care of him and become his traveling partner.  I loved this story and thought the characters and the plot were full of promise.  It is the perfect introduction for a longer story.  Julia Talbot draws us in with her wonderful characters, great names and vivid descriptions but just as we are settling in, its over. As a short story, it ends so abruptly that it feels incomplete and the reader feels more than a little frustrated after investing emotionally in the story.  I would love to see this author expand Baron and Arlen romance into a full length book.  I will be first in line to pick it up.

2. Two Buckets and a Snakeskin Suit by Aaron Michaels: Rating 3.5 stars out of 5

While on vacation, Marcus and his sister Shelly attend camel races outside Las Vegas.  Shelly is dying to meet an Australian cowboy and these camel races have more than their share of those.  But when Marcus is hurt after he falls off a camel, he is the one who captures the attention of the only Aussie cowboy there.  This was a cute little romance between a man talked into riding a camel by his sister and the Aussie cowboy who just happens to be a chiropractor who comes to his aid.  Michaels did a nice job with presenting us with a well rounded character in Marcus and Shelly but I would have loved a little more back story on Vic.  But it’s cute, hot, and has a realistic HFN.

3.  Torn by Sean Michael: 5 stars for the heat alone

Pistol, an injured bull rider, returns home to his partner Bender and their ranch after a long  6 month absence on the rodeo circuit and shoulder surgery.  He is unsure of his welcome after receiving an angry  phone call from his  partner following his injury.  Bender’s love for Pistol is both the source of his anger and the one thing that will heal it.  This is my second favorite story in the collection.  Sean Michael gets everything right in this story.  We get all the information we need about these two men and their long term relationship from Michael’s descriptions of their tense posture, their loving gestures and a dialog that  telegraphs a well established intimacy at every level.  Bender is tired of his lover’s injuries and this last one scared him badly.  Pistol loves riding bulls and is frightened that his time as a bullrider is coming to an end.  The situation is tense, hot, loving, angry, gentle, just everything you would expect from two scared people who love each other deeply and are faced with a serious situation.  The ending is perfection, but then so is this short story.  It doesn’t need to be longer, it doesn’t need any additional backstory.  It ends where it should.  Lovely.  Here is a tease. Pistol is returning home after surgery unsure of his welcome:

He opened the door, pushed it open and stood, trying to keep them from the arm still in the sling. “Hey y’all, you happy to see me?”

“You should have called and let me know.” Bender waited for the dogs to have their hello, blue eyes on him like twin laser beams.

“I didn’t want you worrying. Jack needed his guest room back.” He’d been imposing. Not to mention, the man’s mother-in-law had come to help with the last few days of Mary Ellen’s pregnancy, and he’d wanted to come home. Bender told the dogs to “scatter,” and they did.

Before Pistol could say anything Bender was on him, mouth covering his in a kiss that smashed his lips against his teeth and totally stole his breath.

Oh. Oh, thank God. He pushed up into the kiss, damn near sobbing with relief.

4. Cowboy and Indian by Rob Rosen: 2 stars out of 5

Jed sees a poster for a fifty-dollar prize for the longest bronco buck advertised outside a saloon.  He figures his horse Bessy needs a new saddle and aims to get it for her by riding in the rodeo.  Along the way he runs into an Apache warrior, Taza, who wants to help his people.  They make love, not war and end up with a future neither of them ever dreamed of.   There are quite a number of things about this story that I have issues with, but the portrait of Taza, an Apache warrior, is the largest.  Having a Native American character, especially in a historical story, can be a iffy element if not handled just right.  For me, Taza just did not work.  From his pidgin English which reminded me of the “Me, Tonto, you white man” variety to the fact that he drops trow for an unknown white man just after the awful Apache wars have ended….well it’s not just unrealistic but downright ridiculous.  Here is their first interchange:

 “Jed,” I told him, with a polite nod. “White man sounds so, well now, formal.”

With his free hand, he pounded his chest. “Taza,” he informed me. “In your language, means Apache warrior.”

I nodded my head. “Pleasure, Taza.”

And then he nodded, releasing the beast before sending it swinging. “You want to pleasure Taza?”

The only way that piece of dialog would work is in a Mel Brooks comedy.  And it just goes further downhill from there.  This is the one story I would skip over.

5. Heart of Dixie by Mychael Black: Rating 4 stars out of 5

Mack Sexton has been in love with his best friend and handyman Les Spencer for a long time.  Les feels the same but neither man has acknowledged let alone acted on their feelings.  Then one day everything changes.  Heart of Dixie is a snapshot of a relationship that is part of a series called Hearth and Home by Mychael Black.  I am unfamiliar with that series but got enough of a taste of it from this story that I will be scampering back to pick up the rest.  Black develops the characters and setting to the point that it and both men feel real and the reader connects with them from the start.  Mack’s sister, Kate, is a lively character in her own right and the interaction among the three of them comes across as long established and affectionate.  Enjoyable and romantic.  I loved this one.

6. Ready To Ride by Katherine Halle: 4 stars out of 5

Eric is an orthopedic surgeon volunteering his time with the Justin Sports Medicine program. Ben Greene is champion Saddle Bronc rider Eric has come to love.  When Eric’s volunteer time with the rodeo comes to an end, Ben must travel on the circuit alone.  And while neither man has talked about where their relationship is going, both love each other deeply.  When Ben is receives a season-ending injury during a ride, Eric decides that, conversation or not, he is bringing his man home for good.  I loved Halle’s characters and thought she got the character of Ben with his avoidance of “mushy talk” just right.  While most of the story is seen through Eric’s eyes,  Halle shows us that Ben’s actions telegraph his feelings perfectly to his lover and that words are not always necessary.  This story has romance, cowboys and HEA in a nice short package.

7. White Hat/Black Hat by Kiernan Kelly: 4.25 stars out of 5

The time is 1968, the place Hollywood where a new TV western is getting ready to go into production.  Two men, Dallas Frank and Stone Grant, arrive to audition for the two leads, Black Bart and Sheriff Carson Star, the White Hat/Black Hat title characters.  To each man’s surprise and delight, they win the roles and secretly the love of each other.   For the next forty years, they pretend to hate each other in public while continuing a love affair that has lasted as long as their show.  Then their show is cancelled.  What will they do now?  Kelly gives us a terrific look back at old Hollywood and its outlook on homosexuality.  Through small interludes we watch as Dallas (real name Joe Bob) and Stone Grant (real name Arvin Mason) settle into a long term relationship while playing the Hollywood game to protect the series and their reputation. The ending is rewarding, the relationship has a very authentic feel as does the times the men pass through.  My third favorite story of the collection.

8. In the Pocket, a Roughstock story by BA Tortuga: 5 out of 5 stars

Sterling is a new bullfighter and he loves his job.  He also loves working with his hero and fellow bullfighter, Coke Pharris.  But rodeo clown Dillon Walsh is tired of the youngster drooling on his man and figures a little matchmaking is in order.  When stock  contractor Colby Tyburn asks for an introduction to Sterling, Dillon sees an opportunity and takes it, maneuvering Sterling into a date with the stock contractor.  Colby Tyburn has been watching Sterling for some time and loves what he sees….a gorgeous energetic young man, all want and desire.  Sparks fly at the first introduction but neither man expects the white hot sex to turn into something deeper and just perhaps, permanent.  In the Pocket is a Roughstock story. So if the reader is familiar with the series, than you already know all about Coke Pharris and his rodeo clown lover, Dillon Walsh.  They happen to be a favorite couple of mine so it is wonderful to see them make an appearance here.  But the focus of the story is the young (and virginal) bullfighter, Sterling, and the older, more experienced man, Colby Tyburn, a roughstock contractor.

Sterling is a bouncy Tigger of a character.  He is youthful, energetic to the extreme and has a bad case of hero worship when it comes to Coke Pharris.  Unfortunately for Sterling, Coke is taken and Dillon is not happy that Sterling can’t keep his hands off his man.  BA Tortuga paints the perfect portrait of innocent enthusiasm and lustful need all wrapped up in one young man who doesn’t seem to know what to do with it all.  I just loved Sterling, he absolutely made me smile.  Colby Tyburn could have come off as a predator but his appreciation for Sterling and all of his qualities, not just his physical traits, brings him back to a person the reader can relate to.  Their sexual encounter is sexy, white hot, and ultimately very touching.  It is not necessary to have read the other Roughstock stories, but it does help to round out the back history of the other men mentioned, however casually.   There are over 17 stories in the Roughstock series, Coke and Dillon’s story is called Roughstock: And a Smile- Season One. I absolutely recommend them all.  Here is a taste:

Nate (was) screaming his head off to get the bull’s attention. Joa landed, but luckily the Brazilian was ready, and they sort of strong-armed each other.

“Gotcha.”

He flung Joa toward Pharris and put himself between the cowboy and Merry-Go-Round. He heard Coke grunt, but then he and Nate were busy playing a game of slap the bull on the nose, trading off as it went round and round. This was his favorite part, the fun part. They did their little dance, and he pulled his butt in, hearing the whoosh as two thousand pounds went by.

“Woohoo!” He grinned at the gate shut, jogging over to Pharris, who clapped him on the back.

He loved his life.

Loved it.

Cover illustration by BSClay is perfect in tone and design for this collection.

Book Details:

ebook, 195 pages
Published June 5th 2013 by Torquere Press
ISBN
1610404858 (ISBN13: 9781610404853)
edition language
English