AUTHORS: Lee Benoit, Kiernan Kelly, Syd McGinley, J.L. Merrow, G.R. Richards, J. Rocci, P.D. Singer, G.S. Wiley, Eden Winters
LENGTH: Anthology (roughly 65k)
GENRE: Gay erotic romance
A collection of gay erotic romance stories, all centered around the theme of home…
The theme of this anthology of gay romances centers around the idea of home, defining it in ways unique to each story. Some of them work much better than others, but then again, isn’t that usually the way with anthologies?
The collection begins with “Absence of Color” by Kiernan Kelly. Michael has been grieving the loss of his partner for three years. His brother isn’t happy with how he hasn’t moved and demands that he come out and live with him and his family for a while. There, he meets a nice guy in a mall, that actually leads to a date. But Michael hasn’t dealt with the loss of his partner well at all, and the date changes in ways he’s not sure he likes. I was wary after finishing this first story. The material is very dark, and the mood depressing. It deals with abusive relationships and grief and guilt in a very heavy-handed way, and I wasn’t sure if this meant the entire anthology was going to be like this. As a starter, it almost stopped me in my tracks, because I would expect anthologies to be edited to have a definite building flow, rather than starting on such in your face drama. Perhaps it would have been better if I’d liked the story more than I did, but it was too doom and gloom for most of it. Then, during the date, both guys end up spilling lots of deep, heavy secrets to each other. On a first date. Compared to how realistically it seemed the rest of the story was being told, this seemed really far-fetched. Too far-fetched for me, actually.
Next comes “The Prodigal” by Eden Winters, the story of prostitute Mark and his journey home again. As you can tell from the subject matter, this was another grim tale, but contrary to the first, this one felt a lot more genuine, with very realistic reactions and nothing sexually inappropriate for the situation just because of who the publisher is. One of my top three in the anthology.
I had higher hopes going onto “The Magic of Moving Houses” by G.R. Richards. It’s the story of two neighboring families whose houses start disappearing in the middle of the night, leaving them to figure out what happened to them. Though I liked the general idea behind this, the execution fell flat. POV is looser in this than in any of the other stories, and the sex scene at the end is over the top. I just couldn’t buy it in the end.
Some of that was redeemed in “Comeback,” by G.S. Wiley, the story of an A-list Hollywood actor trying to get back in the game after rehab. I loved the set-up and the characters in this, as well as the vivid descriptions, but all that potential was sold short by and ending that was too rushed and simplified for the complexity of the voice and characterizations I’d already been sold. It didn’t improve with much with “Return to the Mountain” by P.D. Singer, either. I realized right away this was part of a series I hadn’t read, and spent most of the first half just trying to keep straight all the characters. Definitely a miss if one hasn’t already read the others. It’s one redeeming grace was the character of Seth, a young man I would’ve loved to have known better.
My absolute favorite story of the anthology was J. Rocci’s “Oilsmouth.” This is a steampunk offering about a mercenary named Edge, who will do anything to protect his boyfriend Kit. That’s all I’m telling about the plot, because more will spoil it. The action is swift and crisp, the characterizations gritty and compelling, and the realistic ending wonderful.
It would have been hard to top anything after this, to be honest, and none of the last three stories did. “Light the Fire” by J.L. Merrow is a surprisingly fluffy contemporary about two guys who meet at a gym. One’s in mourning and keeps refusing the other, who frankly, got very annoying very early on. Then came Lee Benoit’s “Pack Horse.” I normally love Benoit, but I found this very difficult to slog through. The setting felt muddy for too long, and I struggled to place it until some very specific references showed up. The two leads were all right, their banter almost fun in parts, but the declarations at the end came out of left field. I did enjoy the final story, Syd McGinley’s “Home Is the Hunter,” the tale of two high school sweethearts who are reunited when one comes home from Afghanistan, but its charm was very ephemeral and fleeting. When I’d finished, I had difficulty even remembering the names of the two male leads.
Overall, it’s certainly not a bad anthology, though only two were truly excellent for me. Be prepared for a lot of downer topics, though. If you’re not in the mood for them, they probably won’t work for you.
7/10 – Varies from story to story, though mostly easy
6/10 – Like most anthologies, hit or miss
6/10 – Some were great, others not so much
6/10 – Slightly better than average, but there were enough clunkers to pull this down
6/10 – A couple really excellent ones pull this up better than average