7&7 – Anthology (review)

7&7 Anthology Book Cover

7 Vices & 7 Virtues
A DSP Anthology of Virtue and Vice
Genres: Fantasy / Historical / Paranormal / Science Fiction (+Horror)

Format:  Anthology of 14 short stories
Size: 360 pages (122k words)

Publisher: DSP Publications (May 2016)
ISBN: 9781634773607

Bonus:  Free on publisher’s site

Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)

Tagline: Mixed bag of decent to excellent writing, innovative but a bit uneven stories, and a couple that push the envelope (but not necessarily in a good way for me)    Individual reviews below

The establishment of a new boutique (LGBT-friendly) imprint to explore a wider-ranger of immersive, unique and unforgettable fiction is a welcome development.  This anthology of 14 short stories on each of 7 vices and 7 virtues provides a good introduction to a range of writers and styles that expand significantly upon the offerings of typical Dreamspinner releases.  “Speculative fiction” covers a wide array of approaches and genres, and a nice variety is reflected in the collected works.

Overall, I found 11 or 12 of the 14 stories to be rewarding, short reads, although one I found to be particularly offensive and another rather baffling.  I’ve included brief ratings and summaries of each story below along with links to more detailed reviews.

Horrific Content Warning:

Unfortunately, one or two of the pieces significantly push the envelope without, in my opinion, nearly enough warning.  I would classify two of the pieces as full-on horror (and the ending of a third can be interpreted that way).  Horror was not listed as a genre in the publisher’s description.  Although the blurb mentions “rise to the highest heights – or sink to the darkest and most perverse depths,” they also mention that the stories cover the consequences of the the call to good and evil, as well as there are pleasures to be found in the darkness.  These descriptions, combined with a lack of a horror tag and a general light treatment of vices in most of the stories, did not prepare some readers (including myself) for a couple of stories that went much, much darker than the others.

I am all for writers writing what they want, and readers enjoying what they like, but I would have much preferred a clearer indication (e.g. a horror tag in a more prominent place than buried in the editor’s introduction) to prepare me for the story I found to be particularly offensive.  It might have been the most well-written piece in the collection, but without a horror tag and based on the tenor of other stories (light treatment of vices, many with surprising twists at the end), despite some clear telegraphing of the direction, I couldn’t believe the story was heading to such a torturous, shaming ending without some kind of twist.

Individual Story Ratings and Summaries

The Darkness of the Sun by Amy Rae Durreson
Virtue: Faith. Genre: Fantasy
4 stars
Bereaved, unbelieving priest confronted with questions of faith. Set with an enticing array of characters in an interesting, slightly supernatural, pre-modern fantasy setting.

The Bank Job by Andrea Speed
Vice: Greed. Genre: Superhero
3.5 stars
Drats! Foiled Again! Attitudinal supervillain and minions encounter a couple of gay caped crusaders

Prudence for Fools by Sean Michael
Virtue: Prudence. Genre: Fantasy
3.75 stars
Magical seer with disturbing vision exiled to his husband’s remote homeland

The Gate by J. S. Cook
Vice: Anger Genre: Noir Fiction
2.75 stars (higher if you like Noir Fiction)
A gay man sees a seedier, dark side of the wartime effort

Heirs to Grace and Infinity by C. Cummings
Virtue: Justice. Genre: Urban Fantasy
5 stars
Fugitive sorcerer matches wits with the Bureau’s top agent

The Rendering by J. Inman
Vice: Gluttony. Genre: Hateful Horror
Zero stars
– (excellent writing, rating based on lack of a “horror” tag)
It was pretty clear from the start what was set-up to happen, but I thought surely they wouldn’t go to the obvious outcome, as most of the other stories in the anthology had a surprise twist in the end. Also, despite the clear signs from the story, I couldn’t imagine going to such a hateful and shaming place, taking an extremely sympathetic character (except for one over-the-top vice) to such a torturous end (and, of course, based on the genre headings, I was not expecting horror). In some ways, I think this piece had possibly the best writing, which may have ended up making the offensive, fat-shaming ending so incredibly much worse for me because of the empathy I had for the character. While reading, I thought a twist in the ending was especially likely given how lightly most of the other vices were dealt with in this anthology, which makes this lack of a horror tag extra-galling to me.
detailed review

Beyond the Temperance Effect by Serna Yates
Virtue: Temperance. Genre: Science Fiction
3.5 stars
How much temperance will you need for fifty years in space and beyond?

Covetous by Pearl Love
Vice: Envy. Genre: Horror (or torture porn)
3 stars
Pissed off ex-lover asked what he would give to get his desires

Hope by Rick Reed
Virtue: Hope. Genre: Contemporary LGBT
5 stars  (no-doubt based on a personal connection)
Looking for hope in crises around a mother’s death and one’s personal life

Horseboy by J. Tullos Henry
Vice: Pride.  Genre: Historic LGBT
4.5 stars
A Horseboy of the Lebanon, a Templar Knight, and intimate desert secrets

Train to Sevmash by Jamie Fressenden
Virtue: Charity. Genre: Contemporary LGBT
4.5 stars
Would James Bond off a Bond vixen? (LGBT agent version)

Red Light Special by Rhys Ford
Vice: Lust.  Genre: Urban Fae Fantasy
4.5 stars
Fae and elves and a succubus, oh my! (In Detroit)

Traitor by Clare London
Virtue: Fortitude. Genre: Spy/Cloak and Dagger LGBT
4.5 stars
Twice betrayed – interrogating one’s ex-comrade and ex-lover agent

Couches of Fabric and Snow by Brandon Whitt
Vice: Sloth. Genre: I have no idea (horrific interpretation possible)
No rating
Too lazy to work, to relate, to love, to really live…




Couches of Fabric and Snow by B. Whitt (review)

Tagline: Too lazy to work, to relate, to love, to really live…
Personal note: Story just baffled me, so I am not rating (but commentary with spoilers)

7&7 Anthology Book Cover

Vice #7: Sloth
Title: Couches of Fabric and Snow
Author: Brandon Whitt

Genre:   I have no clue (Horror?)
Format:  Short Story (33 pages)
Series: 7&7 Anthology

Publisher: DSP Publications (May 2016)

Bonus:   Free on publisher’s site

Rating: ? stars (out of 5)

For the sake of completeness in covering this entire anthology, I am adding my commentary with no rating on this story, even though the author’s take on the vice of sloth was so far from mine I just couldn’t connect (or rate it fairly).

DSP Publication’s anthology covers 7 virtues and 7 vices, and the theme of Brandon Whitt’s story is the vice of sloth.

Levitt is a teacher who just skates by at work with an attitude about doing as little as possible to get through the day. He is looking forward to chaperoning a school trip to the mountains where he plans to enjoy as much quiet alone time as possible.  Unfortunately, his type-A, smart, sexy, and super ambitious ex-lover is the principal of the school retreat facility, and facing his former love brings back emotions that the slothful Levitt has a hard time processing because he is so lazy.

This story just baffled me.  The author elsewhere commented he didn’t really get sloth and wasn’t sure how to write about it.  Other reviews have found the resulting story to be an interesting take on this vice with a worthy exploration.  I just did not get it – many of Levitt’s actions (or inactions) did not seem like sloth or laziness to me, but perhaps more indicative of mental illness.  The writing and story idea were not bad or particularly offensive (except for one possible interpretation), so I’m not inclined to rate it poorly, but it missed the mark so much with me I feel I cannot rate it all.  (I would have just skipped any commentary – which I should have done with another story – but I wanted to complete a review of the entire anthology.  Also, reading it did provoke some reflection on my part, so I will share some thoughts – with spoilers).

Commentary with spoilers:

Levitt did not seem like a typically lazy person to me – his inaction in response to all kinds of stimuli seemed to be an extremely over-the-top interpretation of the vice of sloth. On the one hand, this anthology is about all kinds of interpretations of each vice and virtue, so such an extreme approach to one of them is not necessary out of place.  (And a critique of the vice being portrayed as “over-the-top” is a little unfair from me, as I have previously remarked on the low level of anger in the piece on that vice.)

However, to me Levitt’s behavior did not smack of a lazy or slothful character flaw that hindered him, but instead it really seemed like mental illness or extreme depression.  One can argue that extreme practices of various vices could be the sign of mental illnesses or disorders in general: someone who is extremely lustful might be a sex addict or a victim of abuse; anger could be a sign of depression, PTSD, or abuse; gluttony could be the result of physical disorders, addictive personalities, or response to abuse, etc.  Still, many of Levitt’s reactions did not seem like someone who liked to avoid work, but more someone shut down by depression, or extremely low self esteem sometimes bordering on self-loathing.

I have been around plenty of people who avoid hard work or tackling difficult issues, but most of them either seemed much more calculating in their self-interest or focused on receiving some kind of self-pleasure through the easiest means possible.  I did not see those characteristics in Levitt, but rather a self-destructive, depressed, and ultimately self-loathing individual.  (I guess that’s a vice, but that seems far from the work-avoiding, self-centered, self-pleasuring countenance I equate with laziness and sloth.)

“Nor did he really care. He’d quit worrying about what cute guys thought about him long ago.” – I guess not caring what others think is a sign of self-centered laziness, but the total disregard of one’s own pleasure or attractiveness seems more like depression or self-sabotage (or low self-confidence) than slothful.

Levitt fell asleep in a program where his ex-lover wakes him up and then berates him, saying “nothing ever changes.”  This seemed much more like a physical or mental illness than lazy, slothful behavior.

LEVITT’S EXHAUSTION was so great, and so genuine, that he asked Ms. Apel to cover for him at the evening program.”  Again, this type of “great and genuine” physical exhaustion seems more like a physical problem or extreme depression rather than laziness.

After a rather devastating heart to heart with his ex-lover, he falls asleep in the office until 11 the next morning.  Again, would a slothful person just sleep where he’s at after such a devastating blow?  Too lazy to move after having one’s emotions ripped out?

He walked and he walked. No thoughts. No feelings. No hunger. No hurt. Just exhaustion. Levitt was tired. So very, very tired. Yet still he walked. Until he didn’t.

He sighed, content. Levitt began to feel warm. He’d found his couch after all.”

What I got out of the ending is Levitt’s mental state was so screwed up, he walked into a blizzard, laid in the snow, and basically enjoyed the “warmth” of the snow carrying him off to suicidal oblivion.

This certainly wasn’t a story I enjoyed, but the examples were so extreme as to not make sense to me except in the terms of extreme depression and/or mental illness.  Most of the time, Levitt did not seem to be consciously practicing a vice, but was so wrapped up in his drained condition that any capacity of self-love or even self-preservation just led to totally unconscious and oblivious self-destruction.  I guess that is one way to interpret the consequence of extreme “sloth,” it just did not resonate as that vice to me.

Excerpt From:  7&7 – A DSP Publications Anthology of Virtue and Vice. Dreamspinner Press, 2016.

Traitor by Clare London (review)

Tagline: Twice betrayed – interrogating one’s ex-comrade and ex-lover

7&7 Anthology Book Cover

Virtue #7: Fortitude
Title: Traitor
Author: Clare London
Genre:  Spy / Cloak & Dagger (LGBT)
Format:  Short Story (42 pages)

Series: 7&7 Anthology

Publisher: DSP Publications (May 2016)

Bonus:   Free on publisher’s site

Rating: 3.75 stars (out of 5)

DSP Publication’s anthology covers 7 virtues and 7 vices, and the theme of Clare London’s short story is the virtue of fortitude.

British intelligence officer Aiden is sent to interrogate a recently recaptured traitor, who also happens to be his ex-lover.  As if the situation was not bad enough, he must conduct the “interview” in the midst of his old unit that had expelled and demoted him not too long before.  Facing his former boss and seeing the depredations suffered by his traitorous ex make the cross-examination even more challenging.  How does the most skilled interrogator keep his own emotions in check to get to the bottom of his former friend’s dubious deeds?

This entry is difficult to rate, as the spy genre is not particularly enticing to me, interrogation and psychological one-upsmanship are not normally particularly my cup of tea.  Still, the characters and setting were certainly intriguing and kept my steady interest throughout the narrative.  The physical intimidation discussed and displayed was just one piece for characters who were seasoned agents yet also struggled a bit to keep their personal feelings in check, a nice counterpoint making an already tense situation worse.  The psychological thrill of the personal, professional, and political conflict was certainly present and explored efficiently and quickly in this short story, as their past intimacy spilled forth and affected the story in unexpected ways.


KinKaid Wolf Pack Trilogy by Jessica Lee (review)

Tagline: Series of wolf shifter romantic erotica (gay and bisexual)

KinKaid Wolf Pack Triology Book Cover

TitleKinKaid Wolf Pack Trilogy
Author: Jessica Lee

Genre:  Paranormal Erotic Gay and Bi (MMF) Romance
Format:  Series of 3 connected stories (107k words)
Series: KinKaid Wolf Pack #1-3

Sites: AuthorGoodreads | Amazon

Publisher: Self-Published (Sep. 2013)
ISBN: 9781301298655

Retail: $5.99

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

 Wolf shifter twins’ sexuality (and heated encounters) collide with pack treachery 

Series: Originally released as three separate installments, this trilogy combines two stories (a novella and a short story) about a gay alpha heir and his beau followed by a third (novella-length) centered on his twin sister and her two best friends. (Individual parts detailed below.) A fourth installment in the same setting (but with a separate story) was published separately.

Synopsis: The story centers on threats, pack power struggles, and the personal lives of twin children of the alpha of the KinKaid pack. The first two installments focus on Evin, the gay alpha heir banished to a world where he meets a human he can’t resist. The last installment covers threats to the pack as well as the impending heat and need to mate of Rosa, Evin’s twin sister. She’s in love with two best friends and can’t choose between them.

Review: The three installments of this series contain plenty of heated scenes, and indeed the strength of the first two parts are the heated encounters between Evin and Mason. The third part, Rosa’s MMF story, has much more plot and more developed story telling.  While it delivers a bit fewer sizzling scenes, it still has several heated encounters between Rosa and her friends.

The work starts out with some formulaic and sometimes very thin writing, with decent story and character ideas that are not fleshed out but simply glossed over on the way to the more heated scenes, clearly the focus of the first two (m/m) stories. In the third installment, parts of the middle crank up the tension and read like they were written by an improved, more experienced and nuanced writer. In all of the books, the setting, plot, and character ideas were sound and much of the exposition weak, but  Rosa’s Heat Rising story had enough substance in the dialog and explored enough character and plot tension to make the build to the climatic scenes more substantive and interesting than the non-sexual portions of Evin and Mason’s stories.

Recommended for: Fans of erotic m/m and m/m/f wolf shifter heated eounters, who don’t mind if the supporting plot is a little weak. The underlying story of a shifter pack going through change extends through the trilogy (2 novellas and one short story) and had plenty of interesting elements, but the strength of this work (especially the first two installments) is clearly the erotic encounters, so I classify this as romantic erotica.

Heat: 7/10 – explicit, repeated (25-30%), some kink (variety of MM, including Domination; MMF)

Bloodlines Book Cover
Bloodlines – Free Novella (42k words, 192 pages), m/m
Evin, alpha heir to the KinKaid pack, is banished by his father when he refuses to mate a woman to cement a family and pack alliance. The gay shifter in exile encounters Mason, a human heir to a powerful family also rather outcast because of his sexuality. When the sparks begin to fly, the heated intimacy has great implications for both males’ families, health, and position.
Plenty of heat – (Full review)

Bloodlines Book Cover

Make Me– Short Story (8k words, 30 pages), m/m

The alpha and his mate face threats to the pack from outside, resulting in some fear and relief that leads to hot discipline from the dominant wolf.

“Yes, alpha!” sizzle –  (Full review)

Bloodlines Book Cover
Heat Rising – Novella (49k words, 180 pages), m/m/f
Rosa, twin sister of the KinKaid pack’s alpha, is on the cusp of going into “full heat” and therefore needs to choose a mate, but choosing one of the males she longs for would wound one of her best friends.  Kaleb learns his friends’ secrets and only is likely to spill his own when he’s had one too many.  Landry, the bisexual pack enforcer, knows his lineage and unrequited longings prevent him from pursuing his friends, but his resulting trips to the BDSM club have endangered the pack.
Some MMF menage steam-  (Full review)


Red Light Special by Rhys Ford (review)

Tagline: Fae and elves and a succubus, oh my! (In Detroit)

7&7 Anthology Book Cover

Vice #6: Lust
TitleRed Light Special
Author: Rhys Ford

Genre:   Urban Fae Fantasy
Format:  Short Story (38 pages)
Series: 7&7 Anthology

Publisher: DSP Publications (May 2016)

Bonus:   Free on publisher’s site

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)

DSP Publication’s anthology covers 7 virtues and 7 vices, and the theme of Rhys Ford’s story is the vice of lust.

Tam the Fae is the Knight of Detroit, exiled by Oberon to keep an eye on all things supernatural in this struggling city.  When a graffito insults the mighty Fae overlord, and suddenly a Knight of Chicago comes poking around, things get complicated for the half-breed, semi-snarky hero.  Throw in a succubus that makes his dick get hard over the most unlikely of souls (including a barely sentient tree – splinters!), and the fae’s day becomes more than a little complicated.

This author’s lightly snarky, street-sounding dialog seemed particularly authentic to my not-so-delicate (unless, apparently, it’s horror) sensibilities.  The characters were enticing and fun, with plenty of attitude that did not undermine their basic likability (for me).  The setting was brief but compelling, begging for further exploration for fans of Urban Fantasy, especially Fae-centered stories in modern times.  (I absolutely love Fae characters with the right mix of haughtiness and sympathetic qualities, and this writer does an excellent job in creating interesting and likable-enough Fae.)

Writing –  Clearly this is my kind of writing.  I bitched and moaned about the lack of intemperant, pissed-off language in the “Canadian nice” story on anger, which is to say I am accustomed to a different (south side of Chicago) brusqueness to language.  This Detroit-Chicago story certainly had an authentic, sometimes over-the-top, chuckle-inducing writing that matched the setting for me.  I’m not sure how Fae are supposed to sound, but the main character sounded like he was from Detroit or Chicago to me:

Favorite, fun quotes (sometimes sounding a bit like an adolescent trying to be street):

  • “Detroit was a wasteland. Sure, there were pockets of the city refusing to acknowledge it was dying, kind of like watching a chicken running around the yard after its head’s been cut off. Lots of feathers flying, wings churning, and legs kicking up dirt—that was Detroit.”  Unfortunately there is plenty of truth in that statement, as I recently commented on in a reblogged post. 
  • “But then my dick was the most elven thing about me, and kind of an arrogant, self-serving ass hat on most occasions.”
  • “Death not only touched him, it skull-fucked him, slam-dunked his worthless ass into the end zone, then danced through his entrails”.
  • “Just… get your dryad to stop leaving orange spooge all over our bed. It’s kind of creepy.”

Excerpts From: 7&7 – A DSP Publications Anthology of Virtue and Vice. Dreamspinner Press, 2016. ePub.

Looking over the comments that amused me, apparently I have a bit of a thing for juvenile, street-sounding, snarky comments.

Train to Sevmash by Jamie Fessenden (review)

Tagline: Would James Bond off a Bond vixen? (LGBT agent version)

7&7 Anthology Book Cover

Virtue #6: Charity
Title: Train to Sevmash 
Author: Jamie Fessenden
Genre:  Cloak and Dagger / Spy
Format:  Short Story (58 pages)

Series: 7&7 Anthology

Publisher: DSP Publications (May 2016)

Bonus:   Free on publisher’s site

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

DSP Publication’s anthology covers 7 virtues and 7 vices, and the theme of Jamie Fressenden’s short story is the virtue of charity.

An American spy and assassin boards a long train ride in the Soviet Union to find the Russian sailor he must kill to complete his mission.  The problem is, the more time he spends with his intended victim, the more attracted he is to the endearing man.  While it was plenty LGBT-friendly, this story perhaps has more in common with a James Bond story than I would have thought.

Although longer than most of the other stories in the anthology, the prose moved swiftly with a well-written depiction of Russian comraderie (Tovarishch!) and the right touch of a group of sailors giving each other guff on a train.  The diminutives and expressions shared among the men reminded me of my time in the Soviet Union, and even the English prose sounded like Russian phrasing, mannerisms, and patterns of thinking.  The quick story feels authentic in its setting as well as in a little emotional turmoil in the protagonist’s thoughts.  I also found it evocative of the “song and dance” gay men needed to feel each other out in the days of a deep closet.

Possible spoilers:

The pull of “Little Yura’s” sweetness was hard to resist, although a well-trained spy should be able to complete the mission.  However, if you add in considerations of the taboo, sexual attraction dance between two strangers in an extremely homophobic world, I would think that connection would push strongly either one way (can’t leave a witness to homosexual activity behind) or the other (it’s hard to kill someone who shares such a deep, central, personal and hidden characteristic).  But my overall take?  It’s pretty difficult to kill a man after your mouth made sweet love to his luscious puckered hole.


Heat Rising by Jessica Lee (review)

Tagline: Mating heat mixed among a bisexual wolf and his two best friends (MMF)

Heat Rising Book Cover

TitleHeat Rising 
Author: Jessica Lee

Genre:  Paranormal Adult Bi (MMF) Romance
Format:  Novella (57k words)
Series: KinKaid Wolf Pack #3

Sites: AuthorGoodreads | Amazon

Publisher: Self-Published (July 2013)
ISBN: 9781301396191

Retail: $2.99

Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)

Synopsis: Rosa, the twin sister of the alpha, has not yet mated, but her full wolf shifter heat is about to be upon her, and she will need to have a mate.  Unfortunately, she cannot choose between the two men she loves, as they are best friends and she does not to pick one over the other.  Landry, the bisexual chief enforcer for the pack, knows his questionable lineage makes him unsuitable for the alpha’s sister.  He is in a quandary over discovering that his past submissive lover at the BDSM club is the scheming brother of a rival pack alpha, while he also tries to tamp down his own feelings for his straight best friend.   Kaleb is dedicated to helping both of his friends through their predicaments, but only lets his only feelings out after a few too many drinks.  As the rival pack plots and schemes, Rosa, Landry and Kaleb are caught in a web of shifter intrigue, raging hormones, and the most dedicated friendship and love.

Review: This installment in the KinKiad Wolf Pack series is more focused on plot than the preceding stories.  While it shares a few of same eye-rolling weaknesses as its predecessors, overall it is much stronger in terms of story and relationship development. Indeed, while it stated out with some formulaic and thin writing, the middle of the novella cranks up the tension more thoroughly, seeming like it was written by a much improved, more experienced and nuanced writer.  In all of the books, the setting, plot, and character ideas were sound while much of the exposition was weak, but in this third installment there was enough meat in the dialog and tension to make the “build up” to the climatic scenes a bit more fleshed out and interesting than in the previous stories.

Recommended for: Readers who need well-developed and written stories might enjoy this story more than the previous ones.  Fans who like to focus on explicit MMF menage scenes in a wolf shifter setting will likely appreciate this novella the most.  Those who also like some addition male/male action (with a different couple) and the full (but not necessarily wonderfully written) backstory should start with the first two installments about Evin and Mason.

Heat: 6/10 – not as much as in the previous stories, but the few scenes are plenty hot and explicit (focused on MMF menage)

Specific (but rambling) minor critiques and little pet peeves (with possible spoilers):

The Male:

The author uses the term “the male” in place of “man” quite often.  I understand this practice and have seen it before, especially in shifter books, as the characters don’t necessarily think of themselves as men (humans), but shifters (or wolves).  On the one hand, this is a bit of “turnabout is fair play,” since so many male characters in shifter  books refer to female wolves as “the female” or “she-wolf” instead of as a woman.  However, since the characters refer to each other as “man,” this logic is at least a little bit inconsistent in this work.  Overall, the fact that the narration and inner-dialogue repeatedly, almost constantly, refereed to “the male” ended up making the prose read rather awkwardly.  For example:

Uncurling his fingers from the male’s biceps, he stepped away.”

There were plenty of times the author could have used other words instead of man (his friend’s biceps, the other’s biceps, the wolf’s biceps, the guy’s biceps, etc.)   A lighter sprinkling of using “the male” would have added a touch of flavor without making so many sentences sound awkward to my ears.

Not quite gay, not completely straight = fucked up

One of the characters was straight, except for his attraction to his best friend.  The “gay for you” trope is one of my least favorites, the way those stories are written often smack of bisexual erasure to me.  In this story, the main character was openly bisexual, which certainly helped make Kaleb’s thoughts about his own sexuality a little less offensive to me.

He wasn’t quite gay, but there was a part of him that wasn’t completely straight either. Christ. That was fucked up.

Given that his best friend was openly and “fully” bisexual, it strikes me as a stretch that being attracted to women but also one particular man is “not quite gay” (sounds pretty far from gay to me) and that not being “completely straight” is fucked up. Still, these words are Kaleb’s musings about his own sexuality (and not a narrative commentary on it), so even if they strike me as almost offensive, it’s certainly something a person struggling with their orientation could think, even if I wouldn’t have expected those thoughts from Landry’s best friend.

BDSM club pick-up line?

“I know a sub when I see one. And, pup, I can tell you’re just itching for someone to call Daddy.”

As I, myself, am a submissive who formerly frequented BDSM clubs, this line just floored me and struck me as ridiculous. If an unfamiliar Dom said that to me in a club, I think I’d be horrified and aghast (as was the target of this line in the book).  But the more I think about it, if the chemistry were right, I could have been flattered by such an over-the-top approach.  In the right situation, maybe a super-cheesy BDSM pickup line would have worked on me? Yikes!

Issues with the “gay for you” trope (not in this book but, unfortunately many others):

Apart from a personal mini-reaction one semi-offensive line (that actually makes some sense for the character who said it), this mini-rant is not directed at this author (who has a rare, fully bisexual character – which is much appreciated).

Often a character at the center of a “gay for you” story seems to be written as 100% straight but, because they are attracted to one man, they are often labelled as fully gay for that person. In other words, there is often with no recognition of bisexuality – that there are plenty of men who are attracted to women and men to some degree or another. Often, the word bisexual is not mentioned at all or maybe be referred to once in a whole story about a “straight” man attracted to another man. In this book, the author includes a fully bisexual character, and over all Kaleb’s confusion lines hit a negative chord with me. (Just a pet peeve of mine, probably worth a more thoughtful, better researched and supported post, but the “fucked up” line just gave me an opportunity for a mini-rant…)

Horseboy by J. Tullos Henry (review)

Tagline: A Horseboy of the Lebanon, a Templar Knight, and intimate desert secrets

7&7 Anthology Book Cover

Vice #5: Pride
Title: Horseboy
Author: J. Tullos Henry

Genre:   Historic (with a touch of Fantasy)
Format:  Short Story (28 pages)
Series: 7&7 Anthology

Publisher: DSP Publications (May 2016)

Bonus:   Free on publisher’s site

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)

DSP Publication’s anthology covers 7 virtues and 7 vices, and the theme of J. Tullos Henry’s story is the vice of pride.

In the shadows of a burnt stronghold in the Levant, the horseboy with a secret works his herd of horses away from the fighting and towards possible safety.  The mounts respect the lad with the talent to soothe their kind, but lead him to an encounter with a wounded infidel, a Templar, his wounded warhorse, and his fallen knightly comrade.  The  situaton calls forth both magic and danger, with the local lad revealing secrets that usually bring death, while the Templar finds himself fearful and confused by the handful of foreign deception.  The two pose almost as much danger to each other as the desert heat and the vultures.

A trip to the Crusades and the wariness between religious enemies is timely in itself, but the author weaves timeless issues of sexuality and gender into this historic setting.  Add in a touch of supernatural folk tradition and the danger of being different in a society of strong moral norms, and the reader is treated to story that should work for LGBT-friendly hisotry and fantasy fans on many levels.  While we see the current struggle for gay and transgender rights as particularly heightened at the moment, it’s good to remember folk have always struggled with being true to themselves in the face of intolerance throughout history.

My one critique would be the theme of pride was very understated to me (although both characters proudly but secretly lived their lives, and had to choose whether they would swallow some to survive their encounter in the harsh desert).

Hope by Rick Reed (review)

Story tagline: Looking for hope in the crises around a mother’s death and one’s personal life
Personal comment:  Memories of slowing building hope during a key period in LGBT history, and an ex-lover who faced similar issues as the main character

7&7 Anthology Book Cover

Virtue #5: Hope
Title: Hope
Author: Rick Reed
Genre:  Contemporary Romance
Format:  Short Story (47 pages)

Series: 7&7 Anthology

Publisher: DSP Publications (May 2016)

Bonus:   Free on publisher’s site

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

This story took me on a trip to my personal bittersweet memories of a slow sea change in the realities and hopeful aspirations during a time of enormous crisis in the LGBT community.

DSP Publication’s anthology covers 7 virtues and 7 vices, and the theme of Rick Reed’s short story is the virtue of hope.

In 1997, Todd moves from the big city to his mother’s house upon her passing, finding a couple of surprising companions and advisers in the small town. The man next door, Cal, who took care of Todd’s mother in her final days, is welcoming but uncertain about the man from the big city who had missed his own mother’s funeral. In addition to some distrust from his new neighbor, add some very disturbing health news from Chicago and possible hallucinations in his mother’s house, and it seems Todd has little hope for any kind of a normal life.

The author touches on a couple of monumental and deeply felt issues that have dominated the gay community in different years over the last decades.   The story focuses on a period that saw a sea change from despair and resignation to brighter, more hopeful outlooks.  It was a quick but nicely personal and evocative trip through the realistic fears and the beginnings of a different outlook for the main character. The specter that offers the despairing man advice was a nice touch as, for me, it serves as a symbol of reaching for hope from a place that isn’t necessarily real or realistic but important to voice and latch onto none-the-less.

In this way, the author captured something very real to me (and I’m sure many others), the beginnings of true, realistic hope in the aftermath of an oppressive reality.  His wistful, aspirational tag at the end just reinforces the importance of this virtue and another nod to how wonderful it can be when “unrealistic” hopes are actually achieved.

Personal Reflections (with spoilers):

This quick read hit home very deeply for me as I lost a friend and former lover to HIV/AIDs during the same period covered by the story.  He faced the same hopelessness at the beginning of this period, as well as the loss of his mother.  Unfortunately for my friend and ex Eric, the hope of the new therapies did not materialize soon enough.

I vividly remember the very slow change in reality and realization that HIV was no longer an absolute death sentence, and how the people with HIV gradually began to live and plan for longer and longer lives.  The process was a slow one, as in the gay community in Chicago (where I was) and, I’m sure, around the world, we were still dealing with and reeling from the loss of so many friends and family, loved ones and lovers.  When I sang at an exhibition of the AIDS Memorial Quilt on World AIDS Day in the late 1990’s, I remembering feeling the hope that HIV was no longer a death sentence despite the devastation that each panel sewn onto the quilt represented.  The author captures a key time when hope for a long and fulfilling life became more and more real again for so many of our brothers and sisters.

I normally take into account how a story makes me feel as much as how much I appreciate the strength of the writing and general work.  This is one story I am happy to acknowledge there may be little or no objectivity in my rating, but works for me as a glimpse at a key period in my personal and LGBT history – and the author’s choice of “hope” is perfect.

Make Me by Jessica Lee (review)

Tagline: Dominant Alpha & newly turned mate in quick but rather erotic short

Make Me Book Cover

KinKaid Wolf Pack #2
Title: Make Me
Author: Jessica Lee

Genre:  Paranormal Male/Male Erotica
Format:  Short Story (7.8k words)
Series: KinKaid Wolf Pack #2

Publisher: Self-Published (2nd Ed., Aug. 2012)
ISBN:  9781301465460

Retail: $0.99 (May 2016)

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

 Heated, lightly BDSM-oriented (discipline) short male/male shifter erotica

While this is an older worker (2nd edition in 2012), it’s in the genre I prefer to review (paranormal/wolf shifter male/male romance) and part of a series that had a recent release (February 2016).

This second, brief installment in the KinKaid Wolf Pack series centers on events shortly after Evin’s assumption of a new position in the pack.  With political threats abounding, Mason must put to rest his past, learn about new dangers due to his mating, and ascertain just how much he is able (or wants) to resist the rough, commanding handling of a more dominant wolf.

There is a bit of a plot which advances the underlying story in the KinKaid Wolf Pack series, starting off with Evin’s assumption of a new position at the end of the first novella and setting up for future conflicts that unfold in the third novella.  However, the focus of this short story is certainly a long, heated, passionate and a tad kinky scene between two male wolves, one very dominant and the other figuring out how to respond to the strength of his partner.

Overall it was a nice, explicit (romantic erotica) shifter short story focused on a dominant and and just lightly BDSM/kinky (discipline and biting) male/male sexcapade.

Heat:  7/10. (Explicit, somewhat kinky – lightly Dominant and a bit of Domestic Discipline)  

Series information: The first two installments (the first novella and this follow-up short story) center on a male/male couple, while the third installment is a novella regarding a male/male/female potential menage. The first three titles have a general, underlying story regarding the pack. The fourth story is set in the same pack but otherwise has a standalone story covering a new male/male couple.