A Jeri Review: Semper Fidelis Anthology (authors by S.A. McAuley , T.A. Chase , Devon Rhodes, LE Franks, Sara York, Kendall McKenna , Morticia Knight)

Standard

Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Semper Fidelis Anthology CoverWhew! Extremely cut, shirtless guy on the cover. How can you not want to read that?

Six short stories are in this anthology, with only the common thread of the military. I think that is one of the things that I liked the most about it- all 6 stories were very different from the others.

Anomaly by S.A. McAuley

Warning: Untested chemical reactions in process…

When Staff Sergeant Galen Welc is handed Temporary Additional Duty orders that move him to the Marine Corps base at Twentynine Palms, he thinks he’s prepared for what’s to come. Known for his uncanny ability to spot improvised explosive devices, he’s pitted against the latest in defense technology. He trusts his instincts and his training, but they may just be leading him somewhere—and to an explosive reaction with someone—he could never see coming.


This short involves a Marine involved in a study and a scientist who works at the same facility. I really enjoyed that they first connected through the phone app Waze. It’s nice to hear about “real life” things- especially since smart phones are such a part of life now.

Always Ready by T.A. Chase

Making a living on the Bering Sea is hard enough, but throw love into the equation, and things can blow into a hurricane.

Senior Chief Dean ‘Jake’ Jacobson loves his job as a Coast Guard rescue swimmer. Saving lives is the second best thing he could ever do. The first is loving Phil ‘Rhody’ Rhodes.

Phil is a third generation crabber who fishes the Bering Sea. Being gay and in love with Dean isn’t something he talks about, especially not with the six men he lives with on the Angela Kayla for weeks on end. But he’s been happy with his life.

Until one day the Bering Sea reminds them that she is a dangerous place to work. As her icy waters surround them, they discover one truth. Dean and Phil must always be ready to love each other because life can be taken so easily when one works on the sea.

A Coast Guard rescue swimmer and a local crab fisherman who have been in a relationship for two years. Until it is time to move forward. I liked that this couple was already established and in the love. The story mostly involved them trying to figure out how to move forward.

A Ring and a Vow by Devon Rhodes

Every promise must someday be fulfilled, and the best way Owen knows how to reward Cary’s faith is with a vow.

It’s been nearly five years since Owen went down on one knee with his Academy ring and promised Cary he’d someday do it for real. With Cary being a Naval aviator and Owen a Marine officer serving in Iraq, they’re rarely on the same continent, let alone together.

About time for them to fill out paperwork to re-up, Owen realizes that if they were married, they’d have a much better chance of being stationed nearby. But time is not on their side so he’s forced to compromise on his proposal in order to make it work.

Cary has been waiting for Owen for years—there was no chance he’d ever say anything but yes. Owen is coming home at last, and wants to make a home with him. However, between the chronic nightmares he’s been fighting and the ever more complicated wedding plans, the next month could be anything but a dream.


Two military men trying to figure out how to stay together when they could be restationed separately. And then they realize that since DADT was over turned and gay marriage was now legal- they can get married and apply for Joint Spouse. Very romantic and cute

 

My Marine by LE Franks and Sara York

For a man who made his career in intelligence, falling for an Afghani national in the middle of a war zone wasn’t the smartest thing a Marine could do.

Marine Captain Sean Kelley loves his country and the men he serves with, but when he meets Akim, he’s tempted to throw it all away for the mysterious man. He knows better than to chase after a local, but repeat encounters culminating in a moment of passion leave him reeling—he’ll do almost anything to figure out how they can be together.

Akim Bijan has a secret of his own—one large enough to get more than just himself killed if it’s revealed. But from the moment he first lays eyes on the handsome Marine, he’s tempted to do just that rather than hide his growing attraction to the man. Being a translator allows him access to the base and he finds Sean alone one night. They take things farther than he ever intended. If only he could tell Sean everything, but his lips are sealed.

When tragedy strikes, Akim is afraid he’s lost Sean for good and he’s forced to make a decision that will change both their lives. Will love win, or will Sean and Akim be separated for


I think this was my favorite of the 6. A Marine in Afghanistan falls for an Afghan native. Even though he is totally off limits, and the Marine is set to go home soon, sparks fly.

Soul Sick by Kendall McKenna

amie thought he made it home to Tucker, leaving war behind. Now, each day he battles to fit into his own life, and save the love that saved his life.

Jamie is a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps who carried a photo of Tucker with him throughout his deployment. His body and his heart both make it home, but he isn’t sure about his sanity. It no longer feels like his own life even fits.

Tucker is a reformed bad boy who has an advanced degree and an important job but still sports long hair and tattoos. He missed Jamie while he was on deployment, but he couldn’t stop living his own life. Now, they’re struggling to learn to live with one another again, and things are going downhill fast.

Jamie wants everything to be the way it used to, but his anger and self-destructive behaviour begin to push Tucker away. Too much alcohol and a night of violence inside their home take them nearly to the brink. Tucker is willing to fight alongside Jamie to keep it all from falling apart, if Jamie can learn to accept the help he needs…before it’s too late.

Since I had a favorite, I have to have a least favorite. A Marine coming back from war is haunted by his experiences there. To the point where he hurts the man he loves. His boyfriend encourages him to get help and be the man he was before war. Or they would be over. Least favorite because he seemed to “get better” too easily.

Safe Shores by Morticia Knight

Kirk’s Coast Guard lover, Shane, is the only person who can save his son from a vicious gale storm – if he’s not too late.

Fishing is the only life that Kirk has ever known. Born and raised in a small town on the Northern Oregon Coast, coming out of the closet was a struggle. Fortunately, he’s been lucky to find an amazing man to be with who serves in the Coast Guard. But he can’t help but wonder whether Shane wants more than just a shore leave romance.

Shane loves the Coast Guard, loves the sea. That’s one of the main things he has in common with his fisherman lover, Kirk. He just needs to make sure that Kirk knows how serious he is about their relationship and what he plans on doing about it.

Shane and Kirk’s joyful reunion is interrupted when a vicious gale storm threatens the coast. Kirk has to stand by helplessly and wait while his lover battles the raging seas to save his son. In an instant, Kirk could lose everyone he holds dear.

Another Coast Guard/ fisherman story- but different from the previous. I liked that there was an age difference and the two of them really compromised to be together.

This was a really great anthology to read. As I said previously, I liked how all of the books were different. You weren’t reading the same story six different ways. If you like hot, alpha military men- definitely give this a read.

Sexy cover!

Sales Links:  Pride Publishing | All Romance (ARe) | Amazon | Buy It Here

Book Details:

ebook, 213 pages
Published January 23rd 2015 by Totally Bound Publishing
ISBN1784304301 (ISBN13: 9781784304300)
edition languageEnglish
settingCalifornia (United States)
Alaska (United States) Virginia (United States)

Scattered Thoughts Summary of Reviews for August 2013

Standard

August banner with pencils

August 2013 Review and Blog Summary:

5 Star Rating:

Fifty Fifty Chances Are (Chances Are #3) by Lee Brazil, contemporary
Ghost of a Chance (Chances Are #4) by Lee Brazil, contemporary
Wicked Guidance (Wicked’s Way #4) by Havan Fellows, contemporary
Wicked Incarcerations (Wicked’s Way #3) by Havan Fellows contemporarysummer images with book

4 to 4.75 Star Rating:

Chances Are (Chances Are #1) by Lee Brazil (4.5 stars) contemporary
Dance Only For Me (Dance With The Devil #6) by Megan Derr (4.75 stars) fantasy
Demolished by Astrid Amara (4 stars), contemporary
Home Sweet Home (Home #5) by T.A. Chase, (4.5 stars) contemporary
Second Chances Are (Chances Are #2) by Lee Brazil
The Beast Without by Christian Baines (4.75 stars) supernatural
Welcome, Brother (College Fun and Gays #5) by Erica Pike (4 stars) contemporary
Wicked Bindings (Wicked’s Ways #2) by Havan Fellows
Wicked Solutions (Wicked’s Ways #1) by Havan Fellows

3 to 3.75 Star Rating:

Burden by Annmarie McKenna (3.5 stars) contemporary
Faire Fugitive by Madeleine Ribbon (3.75 stars) fantasy
Fall For Me (Rock Gods #1) by Ann Lister, contemporary
Handle With Care by Josephine Myles (3.5 stars) contemporary
Mixed Tapes, Vol. 2 by Kris Jacen editor (3.5 stars) contemporary
Nischal (Leopard’s Spots #9) by Bailey Bradford (3.75 stars) supernatural
Subtle Innuendos (Mixed Tape series) by Z. Allora (3 stars) contemporary
The Boy Who Came In From The Cold by B.G. Thomas ((3 stars) contemporary

2 to 2.75 Star Rating:

The Queen’s Librarian by Carole Cummings (2.75 stars) fantasy

1 to 1.75 Star Rating:

Aching For It (Dominican Heat #1) by Stanley Bennett Clay (1 star) contemporary

Other Blogs:
Author Spotlight: Havan Fellows    
Author Spotlight: Lee Brazil
Wait? That Was The Ending? A Writing Mini rant From Scattered Thoughts

Review: Home Sweet Home (Home #5) by T. A. Chase

Standard

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Home Sweet Home coverYancey MacCafferty and Juan Romanos have been in love since the first time they met.  In a gay bar in Texas, an underage Juan just wanted to dance.  But danger was all around him.  Yancey, a young rent boy, sees Juan’s innocence and naivete and falls in love, all while saving Juan from a predator on the dance floor.  Eventually both ended up with their brothers on the ranch owned by Les Hardin and Randy Hersch, where they finished growing up and found their dreams.  For Juan, it was all about the horses and being a world class equestrian, eventually ending up at a show bar on the East coast. Yancey chose another path, that of college and an education needed to become a veterinarian.  And all during those years, Yancey and Juan never stopped loving each other, even though each was at opposite ends of the country.

Now Yancey has graduated from college and is ready to reunite with the man he loves and start his career. But to do that, he will have to leave the people he has grown to love including his brother for a new veterinarian practice in Virginia, just miles away from the show barn where Juan rides and lives.  He and Juan have been parted long enough.  He is sure that Juan feels the same way.  Or does he?  Yancey isn’t sure, exactly but its time to find out.  Can Yancey and Juan’s puppy love mature into the forever love they have always wanted or will the reality of being and living together bring their dreams crashing down?

I have been waiting like so many others for Juan and Yancey’s story since the first time we met them in Home of His Own (Home #2 – their brothers, Brody MacCafferty and Tony Romanos story).  These two young men were instantly endearing and their love story so heartwarming that it almost eclipsed that of their brothers.  Happily, I can announce that it was worth the wait.  Home Sweet Home is a wonderful story, reminescent of the first book in the series, No Going Home which remains my favorite.

In every book of the series, we kept getting glimpses of Juan and Yancey as they grew up.  The author always managed to throw in little details of their lives, whether it was Yancey returning for the holidays from college or Juan’s equestrian training at Edward’s barns in Virginia.  These small mentions managed to keep our interest in these young men alive and pique our curiosity over their future.  In fact, one of the many aspects I love about this series is that Chase continues to bring together all the characters from other books into the latest stories.  These people form a family, one cobbled together by need and choice so to have that family remain topical in every book is important to the cohesion and strength of the series.

The characters of Yancey and Juan have also grown as their characters have aged.  From teenage gay boys to confident, mature young men, Chase has developed their characters realistically relative to their age.  It’s wonderful getting reacquainted with these older versions of the boys we first met.  Along with their characters, their love for each other needs to grow as well. Luckily, Chase has taken care of that too.  The author has her characters adjust their views of each other and their careers in a very human and authentic manner.  I just loved how tentative and yet determined each man is to make their relationship and Yancey’s move work.  It is emotionally satisfying and oh so enjoyable to read about.

If I have a quibble, it would be with the ending.  In the epilogue we fly forward from 1 year to 5 years into the future, missing out on so much of their lives together that it felt like a missed chance to round out their story in favor of a quick finish (note see my mini rant on storying endings).   I don’t know if this rushed ending is due to Chase finishing up the series or just their story.  Either way, it didn’t measure up to the first part of the story and that was a shame.  But even with that quibble, I still love this series and recommend it. The Home series is heartwarming, sexy, and full of wonderful characters you will never get tired of.   Home Sweet Home is another great installment and one you won’t want to miss.

Cover art by Posh Gosh.  The young model in front is perfect for Juan and the cover gorgeous in design and detail.

Here are the Home series book in the order they were written and should be read to understand the characters and the events:

No Going Home (Home #1) – my favorite
Home of His Own (Home #2) Tony and Brody’s story (second favorite)
Wishing for a Home (Home #3) Derek and Max’s story
Leaving Home (Home #4) Peter and Chaz’s story
Home Sweet Home (Home #5) Juan and Yancey’s story (a tie with their brothers)

Book Details:

ebook, 137 pages
Published May 27th 2013 by Total-E-Bound
ISBN 1781843228 (ISBN13: 9781781843222)
edition language English
series Home #5

Scattered Thoughts May 2013 Book Reviews

Standard

mayIt was a great month in book reviews.  While most of the book fell into the contemporary fiction category, there was a book in just about every genre.  One of my favorites this month was Fragile Bond by Rhi Etzweiler, a science fiction gem of a story from Riptide Publishing. I have also found new authors like Sue Brown and her outstanding The Sky Is Dead.  Don’t pass either of these by. And if you loved Country Mouse by Amy Lane and Aleksandr Voinov, then you won’t want to miss the followup novel, City Mouse (Country Mouse #2).  I thought it was even better than its predecessor.

There are stand alone stories and new books in continuing series. This includes one series (The Night Wars) that I will be reevaluating on the basis of the third book in the series, a real stunner called The Hellfire Legacy by Missouri Dalton.  This is a terrific book and I had not rated the second book very highly.  Now I am going back in June, reading all three together and write a  review of the series in June (and probably a mea culpa or two on my part as well).

The titles are linked to my reviews.  Really, there is something for everyone here.  Here are May 2013’s book reviews in order of rating:

5 Star Rating:

City Mouse (Country Mouse #2) by Amy Lane and Aleksandr Voinov (contemporary)
Fragile Bond by Rhi Etzweiler (Science Fiction)
The Sky Is Dead by Sue Brown (contemporary)

4 to 4.75 Star Rating:
Adapting Instincts (Instincts #4) by S.J. Frost
Bad Attitude (Bad in Baltimore #3) by K.A. Mitchell (4.25 stars) (contemporary)
Bullheaded by Catt Ford (4.25 stars) (contemporary)
Closet Capers Anthology (4.25 stars) mixture
Damned If You Do: The Complete Collection by J.L. Merrow
Leaving Home (Home #4) by TA Chase (4 stars)
Moments by R.J. Scott (4.25 stars) (contemporary)
Never A Hero (a Tucker Springs novel) by Marie Sexton (4.5 stars) (contemporary)
Night of Ceremony (Notice #4) by M. Raiya (4.5 stars) (fantasy, romance)
Noah by Ben Ryder (4 stars) (contemporary)
Shy by John Inman (4.25 stars) (contemporary)
Still by Mary Calmes (4.75 stars) (contemporary)
The Hellfire Legacy (The Night Wars #3) by Missouri Dalton (4.5 stars) (supernatural)
The Isle of…Where? by Sue Brown (4.5 stars) (contemporary)
The Unforgiving Minute by Sarah Grainger (4.75 stars) (contemporary)

3 to 3.75 Star Rating:
Chateau D’Eternite by Ariel Tachna (3.75 stars) Fantasy
Fire Horse by Mickie B. Ashling (3.75 stars) (contemporary)
His Heart To Reap by Erin Lane (3 stars) (supernatural)
It Takes Practice by Willa Okati (3 stars) contemporary

2 to 2.75 Star Rating:

 

Review: Leaving Home (Home #4) by T.A. Chase

Standard

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Leaving Home coverPeter Skinner is now working full time for Les Hardin and Randy Hersch out at their ranch after the falling out with his family and grandfather over his sexuality.  With his family shunning him, Peter is happy to have found a home and new family with Les, Randy and their friends. But when he watches his friends, all couples and deeply in love, Peter feels acutely the lack of the same in his own life.  Peter wants someone to love and someone to love him back.  And when he does find it, Peter never expects the man to be a drunken mess collapsed in an alley.

Charles ‘Chaz’ O’Brien is in a world of pain and he has made it worse by his dependance upon painkillers and alcohol.  A top bullfighter for years, the profession has taken a severe toll on his body, the last injury to his back occurring only weeks ago.  Bullfighting is not only his profession, its his only love, and Chas will do anything to keep going on as a bullfighter.  While on a break between events, Chas gets lost in a haze of booze and pills and ends strung out in an alley.  Only the kindness of a passing stranger named Peter Skinner saves him from the drunk tank or worse.

When Peter takes Chaz home to recover, neither man expects to find themselves falling in love for the first time in their lives.  But the path to happy ever after is full of obstacles for this couple, the largest one being Chaz himself.  For Chaz and Peter, the choices ahead will be the hardest ones of their lives to make. Sometimes its not enough to find love, but it takes courage to keep hold and have faith.  What will Peter and Chaz do?

I started this series with the best book of the group, No Going Home (Home #1).  It remains my favorite of the series and I think explains why this book gets a 4 star rating, rather than the 3.5 it probably deserves.  I just fell in love with all of the characters and need to follow each to the end of their journey.  Leaving Home is the story of Peter Skinner, a young feed clerk in his grandfather’s store when we first meet him in No Going Home.  His grandfather’s homophobia cost his grandfather’s store Les and Randy’s substantial feed account , then it cost him his grandson when Peter bravely stood up for Les and Randy, and finally Peter came out as gay himself.  Even as a secondary character, there was so much heart to Peter that the readers starting asking for his story and now we finally have it.

Chaz O’Brien is another one of the group of characters in this series that center their lives around the rodeo circuit.  T.A. Chase has given us bullriders, cowboys who ride the broncs as well as bulls, and now bullfighters.  It is a neat  way to tie together events in a series and it works perfectly here.  Reoccurring characters from previous books pop up here already familiar with Chaz because they know him from the circuit. Realistic and works well within the framework Chase has set down.  The  injuries and lifestyle of the bullfighter (as well as bullrider)  is authentically related as well.  It is a tough life for those who choose to live it.  It has its wonderful moments and its aspects of horrifying pain and terror.  I think Chase does a terrific job of capturing that as well.

One aspect of the story here is that of addiction, not a spoiler as it is mentioned in the publisher’s blurb.  Leaving Home is not a long book but for one of its length, I think again Chase does a realistic job of portraying a man in denial about his addictions and ability to handle it on his own.  My only quibble is that we see his addiction but none of the recovery which would have made this story more well rounded and satisfactory.

As it is, my largest issue with this story is the ending.  It is far too abrupt for the reader to feel that they received the resolution they were looking for.  In fact, I feel that we are missing about a fourth or more of a book here.  We are already 87 percent through the story when a traumatic event happens.  That’s the penultimate chapter.  That leaves only one chapter in which to tie up all the aspects of the story and give the reader a HEA and trust me, that’s just not enough to do the story or the characters justice.  It reads and feels rushed, an all too familiar occurrence with this author lately and this series.  You only have to look at the series to watch the books shrink as it continues.  My favorite, the first story No Going Home clocks in at 296 wonderful pages.  Leaving Home? 157 pages.  Still, the Home series has my deep affections so I will be staying with it.  I still need to know what happens with Yancey and Juan.

If you are new to this author and the Home series, start at the beginning, then wind your way through the rest of the stories.  You might find that you only last part of the way or become committed to seeing it through.  Let me know what you think.  I will be here for the journey and will keep you all apprised.

Here are the Home series in the order they were written and should be read in order to understand the characters and events that occur:

No Going Home (Home #1) 5 stars 296 pages

Home of His Own (Home #2) 131 pages

Wishing For A Home (Home #3) 196 pages

Leaving Home (Home #4) 157 pages

Home Sweet Home (Home #5) 131 pages (Yancey and Juan) to be published May 27th, 2013

Reviewer Note: In the TA Chase horseshifter story The Longest Stride, characters from the Home series make several appearances, which to my thinking was substandard and the use of characters from a favorite contemporary series in a new, different shifter world was dumbfounding.  Why would you collide two totally different worlds like that?  A huge misstep by this author.  Give that book the absolute pass it deserves.

Book Details:

ebook, 157 pages
Published April 2013 by Total E Bound Publishing
ISBN
1781843074 (ISBN13: 9781781843079)
edition language
English
series Home
Book Cover by Posh Gosh has lovely men on it.  That torso is far too unscarred to be a bullfighter but the scenery is lovely.

Attack of the Planked Salmon and the Week Ahead in Reviews

Standard

This year we have had a real, honest to God or Goddess spring.  The weather has been seasonally cool, with light  winds and rain as appropriate.  No snow (sorry, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan), no heatwave, just spring and we are not sure how to deal with this phenomenon.  How quickly we have forgotten that it is not safe to plant annuals before the first week of May.  And board shorts and flip flops won’t be needed really until the end of May or June.  But one thing is always constant. And that is that spring and summer always herald is the advent of  the grill season.

We started grilleing a week or two ago just as the weather started turning lovely and the ponds and small spring in the backyard called to us to come out and sit a while.  And up until yesterday, all of our grilled dinners were delicious and uneventful.  Then we decided that planked Salmon would be just the thing for Saturday’s dinner.  Off we went to Harris Teeters to buy our fresh salmon and asparagus, then home to soak the planks and get everything ready.  I had gotten another flat of red double begonias for the bed in the front yard (needed some extra pop of color), and the cedar planks were in the sink, soaking away.  We had the glaze mixed and ready to go.  When the time came, the salmon and asparagus cooked beautifully and perfectly on their planks and the meal was wonderful.  We sat outside, with our wine, salmon and Bogle Sauvignon Blanc, and dogs of course  and basked in the serenity of the gardens and afternoon sun.  Then my own special hell hit me with a ferocity that would make the Hulk blink.

You see I keep forgetting that salmon hates me or that my insides hate such a rich and fatty fish.  I can eat it about once a year but no more and I already had my one salmon meal earlier in March.  Oh the idiosyncrasies of my aging mind , yeay, that’s what I keep telling myself it is but really, I just wanted that darn salmon.  It started ominously just a  few hours later.  A slight twinge and a “oh no, maybe it will pass” thought.  But I knew I was not to be so lucky and by early evening, I was commode hugging, Bluto frat boy sick.   I mean I haven’t been that nauseous since my college days of Old Frothingslosh and cemetery running.  Don’t ask.

By 10:30pm I was actively praying to the gods of Bacchus or anyone else that would listen, to let me just die in my bed before I had to race back to the bathroom, hoping desperately to make it there in time for some more porcelain worshiping.   Willow was hiding under the bed, watching with great fascination, Kirby was racing with me, thinking it was a game and Winston of course was sleeping off his bits of salmon.  Oh to be a dog, eat some grass and go on about one’s business.  And finally it passed, leaving me a wreck in the bed, and thinking “never again”.  Sigh.

So that was the great salmon attack.  But for those of you lucky enough to eat salmon with a nonchalance I admire, I have included the recipe at the end of the post.  Try it out and let me know what you think.  We used honey and it was delicious but the maple syrup would be great too.

So here is the week ahead in book reviews:

Monday, May 6:                      Fire Horse by Mickie B. Ashling

Tuesday, May 7:                      Leaving Home by T.A. Chase

Wed., May 8:                           Shy by John Inman

Thursday, May 9:                   The Hellfire Legacy by Missouri Dalton

Friday, May 10:                      His Heart To Reap by Erin Lane

Saturday, May 11:                   City Mouse by Amy Lane and Aleksandr Voinov

So there you have it.  It looks to be a great week.  Now if I can just stay away from those oysters……

Here is the Planked Salmon Recipe from Epicurious.com:

yield: Makes 6 servings
active time: 30 min
total time: 2 1/2 hr
Ingredients:

2 tablespoons grainy mustard
2 tablespoons mild honey or pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon minced rosemary
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 (2-pounds) salmon fillet with skin (1 1/2 inches thick)

Equipment: a cedar grilling plank (about 15 by 6 inches)

Cooking:

Soak cedar grilling plank in water to cover 2 hours, keeping it immersed.
Prepare grill for direct-heat cooking over medium-hot charcoal (medium-high heat for gas); see Grilling Procedure . Open vents on bottom and lid of charcoal grill.
Stir together mustard, honey, rosemary, zest, and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Spread mixture on flesh side of salmon and let stand at room temperature 15 minutes.
Put salmon on plank, skin side down (if salmon is too wide for plank, fold in thinner side to fit). Grill, covered with lid, until salmon is just cooked through and edges are browned, 13 to 15 minutes. Let salmon stand on plank 5 minutes before serving.

Review of Unconventional at Best Anthology

Standard

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.