7&7 Anthology of Virtue and Vice, Various Authors
Rating: (Approximate rating) 4 Stars
Publisher: DSP Publications
Tags: Anthology Containing – Fantasy, Superheroes/Villains, UF, Horror, Sci-Fi, Romance, Retro, Spies, Traitors, Erotic/a, Historical, Mythical, Humour, Psychological, Contemporary
Length: 360 Pages
Reviewer: Kazza K
Purchase At: DSP Publications, amazon.com
Humankind possesses a dual nature, the ability to rise to the brightest heights—or sink to the darkest and most perverse depths.
What inspires some to reach the pinnacles of virtue while others cannot resist the temptations of vice? Is it something innate, or a result of destiny and circumstance?
Delve into the minds and spirits of saints and sinners alike with a collection of stories that explore the call toward good or evil—and the consequences of answering it. For while rewards certainly await the righteous, there are also pleasures to be found in the darkness. Venture off the expected path with some of the most innovative voices in LGBT speculative fiction as they present their unique takes on the classic vices and virtues.
Many authors including: Andrea Speed, Brandon Witt, Sean Michael, J Tullos Hennig, Carol Cummings, Rick R. Reed, John Inman, Rhys Ford, Clare London, Pearl Love, Jamie Fessenden, J. S. Cook, Amy Rae Durresson, Serena Yates
**I know this is a very long review but all the stories are in order of their anthology location with the author noted at the top.**
1)The Dark of the Sun (Faith) – Amy Rae Durreson – 4 Stars!
This story is set in a fantasy world that parallels Earth. A travelling party arrives in a local village that has a holy shrine up on a mountain which has the perfect view of a solar eclipse due in five days. Everyone has their reasons for being in the travelling party and looking forward to the solar eclipse – a man most holy, professors, someone with a touch of spiritual magic, and two people who have lost their lovers and faith. Tomal lost his husband who died of a heart attack, and Vrahi lost her lover to God/religion. The group are lead up by Tomal when they wander into his village. Tomal is a solas -somewhere between a priest and a monk – and his faith has left him. However, he leads the travellers up the mountain, knowing that they are braving altitude sickness, to see “God” at the eclipse; some to revel in His light, some to wish Him ill for taking loved ones away, others from professional interest.
“You seem troubled, son.”
Tomal closed his eyes, summoned his courage, and spoke the question that had tortured him for months. “Holy One, how can God let a good man die?”
The old man considered it before he asked, very gently, “What would you say, Solas, if one of your village asked you that question?”
“Foolish things,” Tomal said bitterly, “stupid things. I would have said that it is not for us to know God’s will, that their loved ones were safe with God now, to trust in God. None of that helps.”
The Dark of the Sun is a gentle, quiet story that is big on faith, without preaching at anyone, and kindness. The world building is pretty good and all the main characters are given plenty of dimension which allows the reader to feel for them and care. This is a story that would definitely make a nice longer novella.
2)The Bank Job (Greed )- Andrea Speed – Hard to rate something so short – 2.5 Stars!
This was short, as in way too short to do much with in a review. I guess it’s an injection of something easy and tongue-in-cheek into the overall anthology. Minimal character development which is a shame because there was a lot of potential. However, I did enjoy the fun poked at masks that hide no ones identity, ever, and the use of an extremely obvious villain. It’s always the one extra job that gets ’em every time.
He could only be the long-lost son of tycoon Roberto Shaw, Jordan Shaw, the good-looking playboy who went missing five years ago under mysterious circumstances. Why did the press insist there was any mystery to the identity of the Crimson Archer when he was the perfect physical match of Shaw? Maybe civilians were just naturally idiots.
2.5 stars for The Bank Job because it is literally a quickie.
3)Prudence for Fools (Prudence)- Sean Michael – 4.5 Stars!
Del the Red is a seer and has been ordered out of the City of Clouds because his vision of the City being destroyed didn’t come to fruition in the young king’s mind. There was no time frame on the prediction, but still, the king isn’t happy. He leaves with his Ridan, his husband Brawn, and his apprentice, Wu. They travel to Brawn’s original Ugul tribal home out in the plains and mountains well beyond the city.
Brawn just rolled his dark eyes. “It’s time to go, Del. We will find a place where you are appreciated and revered. They do not deserve you here.”
They are all welcomed by Brawn’s family and tribe, and while happy to a degree, Del doesn’t like that he has been scorned by the imprudent young king as well as the people of his home city. That they don’t believe in him or his abilities anymore stings. A stronger vision of the decimation of the City and when it will occur comes to Del. He feels compelled to go back to the City and warn the people of the fate that lies ahead of them. To do this he risks not only his life but his beloved Ridan’s and his loyal apprentice’s as well. But some things he won’t risk. So what does he do? Sound the alarm for those who will listen? Surely they will listen to a once revered seer? Or stay in safety with the Ugul and his beloved Brawn?
It’s been quite a while since I have read Sean Michael and after reading this short, I’m looking for something similar they have written. This is a good fantasy and I would have loved a longer version. Very good world building, very well written older and likeable MCs and an excellent concept that perfectly fitted prudence.
4)The Gate (Anger) – J.S. Cook – 4 Stars!
Set during WWII in Newfoundland and narrated by Jack, the owner of the Heartbreak Café, The Gate has two men true to their period as the leading characters. Jack sees a new business neighbour move in, Mark, who erects a gate between his business and Jack’s. The problems is, it makes access to the alleyway, where Jack and his staff dispose of rubbish, much harder. Jack is pissed and heads off to the laundromat to confront Mark, who certainly has an attitude of his own. There’s a battle of wills and words and stubbornness between the two expat Americans. However, something they can both agree on is that there’s a physical and social attraction. One that ends up turning into a night of passion.
Snarky or snippy certainly describes the two characters, especially Mark –
“Ma passed away last night. My sister called me from New York.
“Sorry,” he snapped. “Yeah, you said that already.”
Nicely written historical romance/mystery snippet without a cookie-cutter ending. My biggest complaint was that this story felt like a prelude to more. I think it may well be, I have a memory of another book I read by JoAnne Soper-Cook rattling around in my mind. Hmm, this rings a bell now. Anyway, I would have liked a bit more length to this short because it was definitely just beginning when it finished. Overall it’s very nice writing with a good – but brief – feel for the era. Anger is a slight stretch for the vice. Still, it’s slots comfortably within the vibe of the anthology.
5)Heirs to Grace and Infinity (Justice) – Carole Cummings – 5 Stars!
Fast paced UF/Fantasy with action, magic, romance and a page turning storyline. Very timely, it could equally be set now or in the future.
People—even good people—are fine knowing the Bureau regularly rounds up theurgists, as long as they’re told those theurgists are breaking the rules. Skirting the licensing laws; casting against citizens; spelling for personal gain. But seeing the Bureau herding a group of children from one detention facility to another, right out in the open, and with the sun shameless on their faces…. Even the Orthodoxers would balk at that. At least out loud.
Jackson works for the Bureau and the Bureau are taking theurgists – Google it if you’re unsure – and holding them in detention. It doesn’t matter that they separate families and hold children as hostage, sorry…detainees. Jackson’s superiors see no issues with the process, Jackson maybe not so much. He’s questioning capturing and holding children. He’s questioning sending his elite team on stakeouts. They’re after the Sorcerer who has been using his magic to break the theurgists out and spiriting them away to safety. The powers that be want Jackson and his team to find them and you cannot question orders, cannot speak your inner most thoughts when everywhere is sound and picture monitored.
Jackson is also in a relationship with an IT guy at the Bureau, Kyle. They’ve been together for a year. His feelings run deep but it’s not something they talk about. Sex yes, feelings not so much. It’s too risky. There needs to be trust in any world, particularly this one. Jackson requisitions Kyle to his team as tech support to help find the Sorcerer and as per the Bureau’s mandate – stop the theurgists from being liberated, or as they see it broken out. Kyle doesn’t work in the field and it’s not something he’s too thrilled about. Jackson has his orders but will those orders affect Jackson’s future with Kyle?
It would be so much easier if they could just say things. Kyle’s fingertips slip a ghost-touch over the implant scar on Jackson’s neck, just below his ear. The contact is there and gone, maybe even accidental, though there’s a stealth to it Jackson’s not sure he’s imagining and a residual tingle he’s certain he’s not.
Something else they don’t talk about. Can’t talk about.
The pace of this book is perfect. The viewpoints are very clear and switch between the Sorcerer’s actions and Jackson’s world. Until operations collide. Ultra-conservative politics, a timely statement that relates to our current world, or just a real action fiction read, take from Heirs to Grace and Infinity what you will. There is an excellent romance thrown into the mix too. A really good UF story with justice as the theme which worked so well. One of the best stories in the anthology.
6)The Rendering (Gluttony) – John Inman – If I rate this story it impacts the whole anthology. That’s unfair, so no rating.
I did not like this story. I really did not like this story. My son is also reading this anthology and he independently did not like the story either. He woke up this morning and told me how it still bothered him after sleeping on it. We both have people in our respective lives who have to deal with eating disorders and BDD. This type of story, with its tone of judgement, only creates more pain. This story perpetuates the BS that all overweight people are that way through choice. They’re pigs. That making fun of someone’s body and having a current in-joke to lend a hand to the narrative is all kinds of hilarious. You’ve heard them before, ‘they eat all that junk and wash it down with a diet drink, tsk tsk –
He fished around in the glove box and pulled out a Payday because he loved the way the caramel softened the salted peanuts and made them taste all stale and gooshy. Yum. There was a Diet Coke perched in the cupholder by the floor shift. The Diet Coke worked on the same principle as one man with a bucket trying to turn a tsunami.
Otis, or our resident butt of jokes, hates being lonely and reaches out via a dating website designed for the larger gay man. But poor Otis is ‘fat’ and he just loves his food so much more. Oh, lol –
It was the last time Otis had answered an online ad until answering the ad that led him to where he was at this very moment—on the freeway headed south toward Del Mar, a lovely coastal city just short of San Diego. As nervous as a cat at a shooting range, Otis was still not too nervous to eat. In fact, eating was the only thing that calmed his nerves. The Baby Ruth was his fourth candy bar already, and he was barely out of LA.
The evening before, as Otis sat alone in his condo eating two roast chickens because he thought poultry might not be as caloric as five or six bacon cheeseburgers, he had dragged out his magnifying glass and gazed more closely at the candles in Lester’s shop window.
God, Otis hated himself. He hated how hungry he always was. He hated how lonely he always felt. And he hated that he hadn’t bought any Mentos for the trip. Otis loved Mentos. Sweetened the breath too. An added bonus.
I thought that maybe I could relax into the story on the paragraph above, that something interesting and fresh may occur. Nope. Wrong. The Mentos had to be added to let us now that Otis is all kinds of disgracefully food addicted, gluttonous and unworthy. He has no real feelings otherwise he’d do something about it.
…he was on full display from the crown of his head to the penny loafers on his feet, not to mention the mountainous equatorial ranges of his belly and ass in between. He figured it best to get the bad news out of the way before he drove a hundred miles down the coast just to be dumped and have to drive right back up to Van Nuys without dinner.
Because he may not just feel sad at being dumped. He may not feel a correlation between how he feels and how he reacts to circumstances in his current life. No, in this story, he just wants dinner. Charming description by the way – mountainous equatorial ranges…
Otis may be headed for an awful demise but, hey, not only is he fat, he’s not particularly nice. He thinks something insulting about the guy he is going to meet up with, Lester. He has a “gay” business – making candles – and he’s effeminate. So it’s all good, ‘fat guy’s’ ironically insensitive, how convenient. It’s now okay to make a few more quips about him and end him in a manner befitting his size –
“You mean… a hog?” Lester fiddled with a dial on the wall that Otis suspected might control the water temperature in the vat.
“That’s right, Otis. A big fat hog.”
“Poor piggy,” Otis said.
Lester followed Otis’s eyes to the vat. “I know. It’s sad, dear boy. But they don’t have much of a life anyway. And this way they leave a little piece of beauty behind when they go. Just a whiff of aromatic soul, as it were.”
As for the horror aspect, I enjoy well written horror but I took issue with it here because this story comes off as a vehicle to stereotype, to weight bully, to fat shame, all feeling justified and protected under the guise of a (vice) horror story/black humour. Not cool! The Rendering has no other message than fat people bring it on themselves, are a burden, and they don’t make good choices. That they deserve to be unloved, hurt, and treated like the gluttonous pigs they are. Yes, gluttony is part of this anthology’s brief, but give me a break. This could have been a very good story with better delivery. It isn’t funny. It isn’t poignant. It relays a poor message and, in my opinion, it’s a mean-spirited tale. I am ticked off. I know it’s fiction, but I don’t care. Between the author and DSP Publications / the editor, who thought this was okay? I mean, really! Rethink your core values and move outside a narrow frame of reference about people and their value as human beings.
7)Beyond the Temperance Effect (Temperance) – Serena Yates – 3 Stars!
Moderation had been declared as the solution to all human problems, and the Temperance Effect, as the zeta waves’ result was called in popular culture, had probably saved humankind from destroying itself and Earth.
Secondcrew are woken after 45 years in cryosleep on their way to a new planet that is suitable for colonisation. They’re travelling to Erdani 2, ten and a half light years from Earth. Everyone on board is excited about being pioneers, including those left from firstcrew who are now in their eighties. Along with the crew there are soldiers and eight five prisoners still in cryosleep. They will be utilised on the planet when they’re woken. Even though the prisoners outnumber the crew and soldiers there isn’t much to worry about because they have the Temperance Effect in their favour. As scientists and military personnel there’s much to be buoyed by.
“…I’d like to propose a toast to all the men and women who made this journey possible. Humankind is on the threshold of conquering a new frontier, and it will be our job to make sure the first extrasolar colony becomes a success.”
The Temperance Effect equals zeta waves. The Effect was developed in the 2030s to help moderate the aggression that nearly destroyed Earth. With nine crew members working and living within close proximity everyone is glad for temperance in their behaviour. However, as they move closer to Erdani 2 there are some changes occurring in the crew, even within Captain Baxter, the primary MC. One day he walks into the ship’s dining room and discovers all the crew yelling at one another about personal, “illogical” things. Obviously things aren’t working as preordained and the head of security has some news that could well be a game changer for their plans.
The Temperance Effect covers temperance. For me it’s a middle of the road story but in all fairness I’m not a sci-fi fan. I’ve also found over the years of my reading that sci-fi stories are incredibly hard to cover adequately in shorter story format. While there is some decent world building, and there is, I found myself questioning a few things in the story because they weren’t explained or the storyline dropped off. Nevertheless, if you enjoy a dash of sci-fi with a very small modicum of a queer bent, this is interesting enough.
8)Covetous (Envy) – Pearl Love – 3.5 Stars!
Jonathon’s having a bad day. Stan, a guy he once had an affair with, has just been promoted above him to Senior VP of Marketing at Ad Solutions. Stan drives a Jag, wears Armani and is now chatting up the latest hot young guy in the office. So Jonathon and his best friend, Ytasha, have a plan to meet up at Purgatory for drinks later and to hopefully get laid after Jonathon’s seemingly shitty day. Even at the club things aren’t looking up. Ytasha is making headway with the barmaid she’s keen on and Jonathon is feeling sad and sorry for himself with no one on his arm or, better still, blowing him. After he leaves the club a guy who initially rejected him inside, B.L., who had three hot twinks on his arm, pulls up in a limo to see if Jonathon might like to party with him and the three guys in the limo and then back at B.L’s penthouse. He shouldn’t get into a limo with someone he doesn’t know but, hey, hot twinks and a rich guy are in the offing and life sucks, so, sure, he’s up for some fun and games.
“What would you give?” is the burning question B. L. keeps asking Jonathon while he’s having sex with the four of them. The question is all based on the fact that Jonathon considers his life disappointing, with negative memories of everything he didn’t get, have, or achieve while everyone else he’s known all seem to be doing well – before and now. Even Ytasha appears to have found a relationship with the woman she wanted.
Covetous is an erotic paranormal horror short and I think the author did a good job showing envy in full swing. That the grass is not always greener on the other side, in fact, there can actually be consequences.
9)Hope (Hope) – Rick R Reed – 5 Stars!
“It’s only hopeless if you make it so.”
Todd moves from Chicago back to his childhood home in small town Ohio after his mother’s death. He missed being with his mother in the final stages of her cancer battle but Cal, a next door neighbour, looked after her during her final battle with the illness. When Todd meets Cal he already knows a lot about him through his mother, and he feels compounded guilt about Cal being there for his mother when he wasn’t… because he couldn’t cope.
It was self-pity that made him delay, causing him to miss a moment he could never get back. But in facing his own mother’s mortality, he was recently facing his own. At least Mom was approaching eighty. Todd was only thirty-four.
Todd has serious issues of his own. He has signs of his HIV infection showing – including night sweats and Kaposi’s Sarcoma. His mother’s illness reminds him of his own impending mortality. Before you’re quick to jump to judgement, Cal witnessed a lot of illness and death. This story is set approximately around 1996. AZT was a start of the anti-retrovirals, but a nasty medication – at initial doses given – and originally didn’t guarantee a long or good end result. When his doctor in Chicago explains there are drugs helping people, Todd automatically assumes AZT and leaves the surgery, and Chicago, without much hope.
Todd delivers a moving eulogy at his mother’s funeral, which is used as part of the narrative as opposed to being at the funeral, and it brought me to tears. It was loving and emotional and a clever way to let the reader know who Todd really is. In a less capable author’s hands, with a number of readers not having lived through the time, Todd could come off as selfish, but for me he comes off as scared, understandably worried and, most of all, human. It’s not easy to achieve that in a short story.
Living in his mum’s home has an… unnerving aspect. Todd swears he sees a woman, an apparition, in the house when he dims or turns off the lights. She seems to be looking off into the distance and her appearance and dress are that of an older woman. He wonders if she’s real or a figment of his less than stable mood and mind right now. He’d leave the house and sleep elsewhere but his bank balance is next to zero, so he stays. The added bonus of staying is that Cal is a nice guy with a warm and friendly demeanour. It doesn’t hurt that he’s nice to look at as well. However, Todd can’t start anything with Cal, even though there’s definite camaraderie there as well as hints of flirting from Cal. Todd gets to the point where he becomes downright aversive, he doesn’t want Cal to see the KS. He doesn’t want to repulse him with his +positive status and he doesn’t think Cal should be with someone like him. Weak and infected.
Meanwhile, the ghost starts talking to Todd. She is smart, direct, and incredibly hopeful in a pragmatic way. She spends more time on this plain than the hereafter because she likes to help people in need. Like Todd now. Like Todd’s mum before him. When Todd tells Cal about the ghost, Cal knows her name, Essie. He knows because Todd’s mother was talking to her well before her death. Cal couldn’t see her but Essie was a godsend when Todd’s mum was in so much pain. Now Todd is seeing her too he surmises it’s because he’s dying like his mum.
Todd wanted to die with dignity.
“What? In diapers? Is that your idea of dignity?” The voice emerged from the shadows gathered in the corners of his bedroom, where the pale light from his nightstand did not reach.
There was soft laughter then. It was Essie.
Hope is a little Angels in America – I kept seeing Meryl Streep talking to Al Pacino, not that Todd is anything like Al Pacino’s character, and it’s set later on, but it’s just the vibe. It’s a very well written, very emotional piece of writing – beautifully heartfelt, era apt, and compassionate. It fits the anthology and the story gives hope because it’s so human and, well, hopeful. One of the best stories in the anthology. Rick R Reed’s writing maturity and style shines brightly.
PS: To Cindi – Read. This. You will love it 🙂
11)Train to Sevmash (Charity) – Jamie Fessenden – 3.75 Stars!
Jax Colby is an American secret agent operating in 1967 Soviet Union. On this occasion he’s sent to specifically infiltrate Sevmash naval shipyard. He needs to kill Lt Uri Veselov in order to steal his transfer papers and gain access to a submarine. The problem is from the first time he sees Lt Veselov he’s smitten. When Uri has three friends on board the train they’re travelling on, counter to what intelligence has Jax believe, he not only finds it hard to kill his mark, he forms an attachment. He likes the good looking, very cute and amiable Yuri, which is more than complicated.
Train to Sevmash is a sweet and sexy gay romance with a none too gritty secret agent theme. Although it’s set in 1967 that’s more for effect than a feeling of the era. In all honesty the story reads like a contemporary romance set in Russia between an American and a Russian. It does deal with hiding sexuality and the desire to be able to be more than closeted, which I appreciated.
“Are you taking me to bed now?”
Colby didn’t know what to say to that, so he simply guided Veselov back down the corridor to the kupe. Was the man teasing, mocking him for treating him like a little boy? Or was he flirting? Colby couldn’t tell, but it was safer to assume the former.
Yuri’s innocence and Jax’s desire for more than having sleazy hook-ups with no intimacy fuels a protective side to Jax, enjoying comfort in his target’s arms, not taking opportunities to off the Russian when he can.
If you like “MM” romance of the sexy ‘n’ sweet variety you’ll probably enjoy Train to Sevmash – number 69 makes an appearance, and I don’t mean a secret agent code name. It’s written in a very readable, easy flowing, laidback style. The characters are uncomplicated and nice – I genuinely liked Yuri and Jax. I’d actually like to see them in a longer version of this story because, for the genre, it ended unsatisfactorily for me. I did like the overall story and some words Jax said to Yuri near the end made me think how much I’d love to see that play out in a longer novel. If you’re looking for intensity and suspense, particularly given the Cold war backdrop, you won’t find that, but it fits the concept of charity and it added another lighter, sexy style of writing within this anthology.
12)Red Light Special (Lust) – Rhys Ford – 3.75 Stars!
Fiach has been the Knight of Detroit for six months. He has a goofy, pervy Dryad, Seymour, as his owl clay pot loving sales assistant and he owns a $0.99 cent store, you know, like all elven/ fae Knights do. Some graffiti across from the store calling out Oberon – the Almighty and Pointy – as a fuckwad makes Fiach more interested than usual about what’s going on. He may laugh, because he believes in the sentiment, that Oberon is indeed a fuckwad, but it also makes him wonder if there’s another being in his territory that he knows nothing about.
Before he can think too much on it Fiach is inexplicably and unbearably horny and on his way to a perplexingly weird-arse situation – a booty call with his nonagenarian neighbour, Ms McCargal – when he has an accident with a semi. Luckily he is (inadvertently) caught and rescued by the Fabio of elves, Blondie, aka Oengus, aka Gus Gus (in Fiach speak) aka the Knight of Chicago.
“Yes, I will respect the dryad.” The smile on Blondie’s face didn’t warm the cockles of my heart, but my dick was sure as hell taking notice. But then my dick was the most elven thing about me, and kind of an arrogant, self-serving ass hat on most occasions.
The reason the Knight of the more upmarket Chicago has come to town has everything to do with Fiach’s burst of rampant lust. It seems Chicago has several Knights and one of them has lost their Jade succubus. Not a problem for the supe world, but it makes humans frenzied with lust, and Fiach is half human and that half wants to make a booty call to anything on legs when the succubus is nearby. Oengus has to get the succubus back before Oberon finds out, before a thigh-munching abertach does his nasty business…. in Fiach’s town. It may not be much of a territory, it may actually be shit on a stick, he may be there for the sins of his father… or just because, but it’s his goddamn territory and no one shreds thigh on his watch.
He was handsome enough. Okay, considering most of my days were spent staring at a dryad, crack hounds, and drunkards, Gus Gus was pretty damned hot. But he came with one fatal flaw—he was an elf.
Oddly, I found myself reading this short like I was Father Dougal, if you get that reference you’ll probably enjoy this story. Crazy, a tad frenetic, action packed and funny, I’d say Red Light Special is a must for avid Rhys Ford fans and those who like some ADD, non-stop humour and warped fantasy. The name of the story is perfect for lust and, all-up, it’s some entertaining and quirky reading.
13)Traitor (Fortitude) – Clare London – 3.75 Stars!
Aiden Hanwell is an interrogator for MI5. He now works in the head office but he used to work at their office near Essex, prior to being demoted. Now he’s back to interrogate a new detainee. One who used to work for MI5 but turned traitor and became involved in a Neo-Nazi group responsible for terrorist activities, including bombings.
The whole Department was a dichotomy like that. It never ceased to fascinate Aiden how MI5 Central had managed to set up a facility that operated so far beyond political correctness right in the heart of London’s suburbs.
Cam Fischer is the detainee. He won’t speak about the terrorist operation and he’s showing the bruises on his body for being tight-lipped and a traitor. He not only worked for MI5 previously but he was Aiden Hanwell’s partner, both at work and in their private lives. When he realises that Aiden is his new interrogator he doesn’t know how much longer he can hold out.
And now he saw the hatred in the eyes of men who’d lost friends and family in the bombings, who’d heard of his reputation as a field agent, who’d probably looked up to him in happier times. There was no doubt they believed totally in his betrayal.
The Traitor is a contemporary agents/romance story, and it’s told from both MCs POV. It’s somewhat suspenseful, although I did suspect – very strongly – the reasons for Cam’s defection, but I still found it an interesting and highly enjoyable read – I’m a sucker for this type of story – but I would have liked more. More suspense, more build-up, more before the parting of the ways. More after. In order to do that it needed to be longer. I’d read more if it happened to be written. Nevertheless, I found this book emotionally tense and quite sensual, odd given the setting. Like Train to Sevmash, it is not an edgy piece and you do wonder how people in this position can give themselves over to a personal connection so easily, but it’s romance fiction and I really liked the journey Clare London took me on. It’s a fitting concept and story for fortitude.
14)Couches of Fabric and Snow (Sloth) – Brandon Witt – 5 Stars!
Four nights and he’d be back to his couch.
Levitt Patterson is a primary school teacher. His life seemed to turn around, and not in a positive way, after his boyfriend, Jason, left. Two years on and Levitt is still maudlin, everything is grey, he doesn’t enjoy his job, life is too hard. To add to his overall demeanour and behaviour, he’s discovered that with the latest technology he can phone in his teaching.
After a time, he returned to his daily routine and to his students—somehow managing to approach each situation with even less lackluster enthusiasm than he’d had prior. In a kind twist of fate, the school had recently installed Smart Boards in every classroom. To Levitt’s pleasure, he discovered that lessons could be downloaded from the Internet. All he had to do was sit at his desk in back of the dimly lit classroom while his sixth-grade students “taught” themselves through the latest and greatest technology. Levitt quit feeling the need to arrive to work ten minutes early.
On the surface he appears incredibly lazy and, well, sloth-like. As someone who has been a workaholic all their life I was initially frustrated with Levitt. Then I kept reading and I found myself inside his head.
This short fits the brief of sloth in a highly emotional, compassionate and interesting way. The MC has depression, that much is clear, but he also reads like someone with, at minimum, a mood disorder to, perhaps, someone with a personality disorder. His reactions and feelings about himself and others are unreasonably heightened and constitute lack of interest in others, self alienation, engulfment and catastrophizing.
The more grateful and helpless he seemed, the greater the mileage he could wring out of her naive concern. If he played his cards right, Ms. Apel could prove useful for unwanted tasks once they were back at school.
Levitt cut him off. “That’s bullshit. There’s no way someone like you would love me. And if you did love me like you claim, you wouldn’t have left. You had fun doing some mindfuck. Messing with the loser, making him believe he could actually have someone like you, then just ripping it away…”
Jason – who in Levitt’s mind was always far more attractive than Levitt, far from Levitt’s ordinary, and far from a nothing (as Levitt views himself) – left over two years prior. He actually left because Levitt didn’t know what constituted a healthy, committed relationship, but Levitt doesn’t see the genuine reasons behind what occurred. The sad, self-fulfilling prophecy.
In fact, the only thing that had ever made Levitt feel like more than average had walked out the door over two years ago. Jason Carpenter had been everything Levitt was not. Tall, dark, handsome, funny, dynamic.
Levitt has to attend the school camp for the next week of school. He doesn’t want to go but he has to. While he’s there he does everything he can to avoid activities, and the ones he does are the easiest activities available. He manages to convince one of the newest teachers to cover for him – as he’s *cough cough* sick – while he lays in bed, grabs some good food, watches TV, blocking out the world, people, and life in general.
After a few moments, it connected to the mountain school’s wireless, and Levitt settled back to watch the Food Network program. Letting out a sigh, Levitt had to admit that, so far, Outdoor Lab at Boyer Lodge was even better than home.
However, “Heaven” comes crashing down around him as he discovers the camp’s principal, who has been delayed elsewhere for the first few days, is his ex, Jason. To say that a wall breaks when Jason is there right in front of him again is an understatement.
Couches of Fabric and Snow is a story you can take away as much meaning from as you choose. Levitt could be a sad, lazy, sloth-like guy, or you can psychoanalyse the crap out of him, like I did, and feel great sorrow for him. That’s a really terrific aspect of this writing. It is beautiful, poignant… and incredibly sad. This is how you take a brief and give it depth and emotion. This is how you take every single word and action in a short story and make it count.
I have a love affair with well written short stories. Most of these stories are around 25 pages, some less, some a bit more. It isn’t easy to convey real emotions, depth, character development and world building in such a small page count per author, yet most of these authors did an amazing job. The beauty of this anthology is that there will be something for everyone. What didn’t grab me as much someone else will love, and so on and so forth. Overall, this is a very good anthology. Fourteen different authors represents choice, and if you go to DSP Publications you’ll pay nothing for it. I found several new-to-me authors whose books I’ll definitely be reading and I reconnected with others. If you know some of these authors and enjoy them then there is nothing to lose by grabbing a copy, you might find some new authors for yourself as well. 4 Stars!
I started reading this anthology but I’m going to admit that I cheated and read 2 of the stories out of order. I read Hope by Rick R. Reed and Red Light Special by Rhys Ford. I’d already planned to read this but when you sent me a PM saying, “If you don’t read any of the other stories, you have to read Hope,” I started reading it minutes later and I can’t say enough about how much I loved it. You know I’m a big fan of the author anyway, but this story blew me away. I went from… Read more »
As I was reading Hope I was thinking, “Cindi will definitely love this.” It really is great writing. It was a story that resonated with me for a number of reasons. I enjoyed the Rhys Ford story as well. Plenty of fun in that short. A couple of authors blew me away with what they contributed and I discovered some new ones. It was worth the marathon review.
Hell yes, anthologies are painful to review and it seems I can’t shut up no matter how short the story is, lol.
Thanks, Cindi 🙂
I meant to sat that it’s very brave of you to mention that you have battled an eating disorder. That is not easy and I wish people respected that. Do not read The Rendering, Cindi. Kazza’s orders 🙂
Thanks, Kazza, re: the eating disorder. It’s not something I tend to go on about publicly but it’s not something I’m ashamed of either. It’s part of who I am. It also makes me more sensitive about certain things so I often avoid books that go on about weight, regardless of who wrote them.
Thanks for the review! And, yes, I realized myself that Jax and Yuri needed a longer novel, so I’m about halfway through writing that. Hopefully it will be out early next year.
Thanks for the heads up, Jamie. I’m now looking forward to more of Jax and Yuri early next year.
That’s good news, loved your story.
Kazza! Thank you so much for your take on Couches of Fabric and Snow! I was scared how people would respond to this story. I chose Sloth because it’s the one ‘sin’ I don’t understand in the slightest. I don’t deal with all of the rest, but I at least understand them. However, I can’t quite comprehend being lazy. I thought this story was going to kill me! LOL! I’m so glad you ‘get’ Levitt and could feel for him. And thank you for the images, as ever. That snow one! PERFECTION!!!! Nailed what was in my mind. I actually… Read more »
You’re welcome, Brandon.
Clearly sloth is not something either of us understands terribly well, although I admit to some mini sloth-like moments these days 🙂
I seem to gel with your style of writing and this was a beautiful story. Really mournful and moving. The snow GIF is my favourite as well, it suits the quote and the general feel.
What a marvellously thorough review, you’ve put so much time and thought into it. It’s really appreciated. As a reader, I’m a great fan of well-crafted short stories too, so I loved reading the antho – and as an author, I’m hoonoured and excited to be included :). So glad you enjoyed it!
Thank you, Clare. Much appreciated.
It’s definitely an art form, writing shorter stories well. Speaking of, I haven’t read one of your stories since the fabulous Compulsion and I enjoyed reading Traitor. I do enjoy that type of story. It would make a great longer novella or a series concept. Don’t mind me but *hint, hint* 😀
LOL *hint taken* 😀
Thanks so much for the kind words on my story! I tried to put a lot of heart into it. When I was first presented with the concept of an anthology built around virtue and vice, it seemed natural that I’d pick one of the vices (because I can be kind of dark that way), so I decided to go against my own grain and choose a virtue–hope. And I’m so glad I did. Those characters will live with me for a long time. I’m glad the message that I tried to send was receieved. Thank you so much!
You’re welcome, Rick. While dark would have been terrific, I do love dark, Hope was a beautiful short that was clearly imbued with heart and soul. I can see why Todd, Cal and Essie will stay with you 🙂
I also read The Rendering and I found it grotesque in nature and in content, and the actual writing was more akin to effluvium than prose. So I completely agree with your tough words, Kazza.
I personally do not understand how that story got through an otherwise polished and well-rounded anthology, because I have known so many people in my life who would have found that story offensive and hurtful due to the perpetuation of an archaic stereotype that shouldn’t exist in modern day society.
What a shame.
I agree, what a shame. A few people have been upset by this take on gluttony. Obviously I wasn’t thrilled by it as a reader.
I had another person talking to me about it and they were telling me some very interesting ideas they had on the topic. So many unique spins that could have been used instead of this one.
Thanks for sharing your feelings. Apart from the above story, it is a good overall anthology 🙂
It’s nice that the publisher had this as a freebie but it’s all hot and cold when you read the stories back to back. I didn’t like the horror and the glutton story wasn’t nice was it? It’s free tho so you can read bits of it and not feel ripped. Rhys Ford’s story was real funny and the spy one was sexy. I think it helps to know the stories you want to read and leave the other ones alone. Thnx 🙂
It is nice that it’s a free anthology from the publisher and the various authors, Lee. I imagine this is so readers might check out some of the styles of different DSP authors. Maybe there will be series or books come from these short stories. No, I didn’t like the gluttony story. Yes, Rhys Ford’s was pretty funny and Train to Sevmash? or maybe Traitor were both on the sexy/sensual side 🙂
Great review. I’ve read a couple of these authors but not all. I’ll have to check this anthology out. I really like your pix and quotes.
Thanks, Lauren. It’s always a bit of fun to create some “art” down the side 🙂
I definitely recommend you check out the anthology and maybe some new writers will jump onto your to -read list.