A Guest Review by Jenre
I don’t think I can tell you enough of how much I love the anthologies put out byDreamspinner Press. They are always remarkably good value and contain a wide selection of m/m stories from a number of talented authors. This particular anthology was all on the theme of Valentine’s Day, so you would expect that there would be a huge amount of slushy love declarations and shmaltzy storylines. Well, actually, you would be wrong. Some of the stories are a bit mushy on occasion, but this is m/m we’re talking about here and, as all women know, men are notoriously bad at expressing their feelings!
I’ve read a number of the anthologies put out by DSP and recognised a few of the authors writing here. Some of the stories are follow ons from previous stories in other anthologies or use characters featured in books by the authors. However, with the exception of maybe one of these stories, it isn’t necessary to have read the previous work. With that in mind, let me take you through each story.
Don’t Shoot the Messenger by Sean Kennedy
I have to admit that I really like Sean Kennedy’s writing. He has such a sly sense of humour and his men are always ‘proper blokes’. This can be seen in this cute, funny story about Dave, who works for a singing telegram company, being sent to sing an ‘I’m breaking up with you’ song from a client to poor other hero, Mitch, whilst dressed as a large yellow teddy bear. The description of the ‘jazz hands’ alone made me snort with laughter. The way that Dave then tries to console Mitch was delightful and I was very satisfied with the sweet last image in the story.
The Second Time is the Charm by Maria Albert
This was the only story in the anthology where you do need to have read her previous stories. Every single previous couple appears in here as well as a couple of new ones. So we once again get to meet Kevin & Tim, Dillon & Gabriel, Rick & Jeremy and even Dana & Cat get a mention. Plus we are introduced to Seamus & Jamal and our main heroes (sort of) Sean & Jeff. Does it seem a bit crowded to you? It certainly did to me! The story was a mix between a follow on from Rick & Jeremy’s story from Make me a Match Vol2 and the new relationship between Sean & Jeff. In some ways I would have like to have seen less of the previous couple and more of Sean’s romance which ended up being rather tacked onto the end.
Better Late than Never by Ashlyn Kane
This story is a prequel to the novel True North (reviewed by Kris here) written by Kane and Bethany Brown. It is set about 10 years before that book and tells the story of a very young, insecure Julian (the hero from True North) meeting his very first boyfriend, Patrick. The main enjoyment I got out of this story was seeing the difference between the painfully shy Julian as opposed to the witty man we see in True North. If you haven’t read True North this will probably come across as a lovely first romance between a confident gay man and one who is just starting to come to terms with his own sexuality.
Indulge on Valentine’s Day by S Blaise
This was one of my favourite stories in the anthology and not just because it is set in Britain. It is about welsh hunk, Glyn, who works part time in a shop that sells chocolate, and his crush on the manager, Max. There are a lot of misunderstandings in the story, but that didn’t bother me because the format was short enough to resolve most issues quickly. I really liked Glyn who was quite insecure and a bit shy but tried very hard to keep up a show of bravado even when he was feeling bad. A bit like many British men! The other plus point, of course, was the description of chocolate and how it made Glyn feel (he loves chocolate). It really made me want to rush out and break my diet!
Dr Hot Reindeer Antlers Kisses it Better by Bethany Brown
This story was a follow on from a story in the Christmas Dreams anthology. Seth and Noah (the hot doctor from the title) met at Christmas when Seth had to visit ER after falling off a roof. Now it’s six weeks later and Seth is shopping for food for a romantic meal for Noah and his son when he bumps into an ex-lover who claims to have seen Noah going into a hotel with another man. This brings out all Seth’s insecurities and basically turns hims into a completely different man to the one we met in the previous story. This probably wouldn’t bother those who haven’t read the other story, but it bothered me. I liked Seth in the first story. He was a laid back man with a self-depreciating sense of humour who, although sad at the break-up of a previous relationship, was philosophical about it. In this story he becomes a paranoid, insecure, overly-emotional man and I wondered what had happened to the other Seth. It implied that falling in love makes your emotions more extreme.
Milestones by Chrissy Munder
Chrissy Munder always writes a great story and I wasn’t disappointed here. This is the story of a relationship slowly dying from lack of attention. Jeff spends most of his time building up his business and as a result has let his relationship with Devon take second place. Devon feels pushed out and unloved, so he is gradually withdrawing from Jeff, spending more and more time working away from home. It takes the intervention of a mutual friend to make Jeff realise what an idiot he is being. What made this story work for me is how realistic it was in showing how easy it is to allow life to get in the way of love and also how all relationships have to be worked on if they are going to thrive.
Under Protest by GS Wiley
This story is set in the heady days of 1973, where general waster and wannabe writer, Bobby, is caught up in the whirlwind of events surrounding the protest rallies against the Vietnam wars. During one rally Bobby meets with Jim, his first boyfriend, and we have flashbacks to their time together. The flashbacks told a lovely coming of age story which contrasted nicely with the present time which showed the ugliness of living in a squat and having your illusions shattered. It was all very well done.
A Year Long Valentine by Jaxx Steele
The message in this story is that the best things are worth waiting for. Stephen is a jazz singer at a club. The mysterious owner of the club takes an interest (both professional and sexual) in Stephen and sends him on a tour of the other clubs he owns without ever meeting him. Whilst away, at each of the locations, Stephen meets a sexy, disguised man, not knowing that this is the same man and the owner of the club. I liked the idea of the story, Julio (the club owner) wants to allow Stephen time to build up his reputation as a singer and doesn’t want Stephen to see him as a step up to fame. This is why he doesn’t reveal his true identity until a year later once the tour is over. What spoiled it for me is when Julio finally reveals his identity, Stephen instantly falls in love with him even though he has only met him three times. The story would have worked much better with a HFN rather than a HEA.
Meant to Be by Zahra Owens
This is a lovely tale of long distance love. Kai and Toby meet each other in an airport whilst waiting for a delayed flight. There is an instant attraction between them and they start a relationship. We then fast forward 5 years where Kai is feeling the strain of loving someone who works away for most of the year. I liked these two men. They were sensible and worked out their problem with great maturity. There was no histrionics, no ultimatums, just two men who loved each other trying to solve their issues. Brilliant.
The Wild Side by Janey Chapel
This was my joint favourite story along with Indulge on Valentine’s Day. In this story we meet Ryan who is, to put it bluntly, a bit of a man-slut. He sleeps around, never with the same man twice. Despite this, Ryan is actually quite a likeable character. He has a joy of life and his sexuality which is quite charming and makes you forgive his whoreish ways. Whilst helping out a friend by waiting tables at a seaside resort club, he meets Nick who is recovering from a painful and embarrassing divorce and has sworn off one night stands. The great bit about this story is how the two men complement each other. Ryan’s love of life and sex overcomes Nick’s cynicism and hurt and Nick’s cautiousness makes Ryan see that some things are worth the wait. I was rooting for these guys all the way and was pleased that the romantic ending fit the mood of the story exactly. I’ve not read anything by this author before but she has definitely gone on my ‘one to watch out for’ list.
Coming Home by Nicki Bennett and Ariel Tachna
This story is a follow on from one of my favourite stories in the Christmas Dreams anthology, although you don’t have to have read that one to understand this story. Tate and Mason met each other when trucker Tate rescued Mason in a snow storm. It is now six weeks later and both men are feeling the strain of Tate’s long weeks away on his rig. Like the story by Zahra Owens this tale of coping with long distance love works well because the men are willing to talk sensibly to each other without reproach or recriminations. I really enjoyed meeting these characters again and watching them come to a decision about their future together.
On the whole, this anthology was a delightful mix of romantic stories, showing how ordinary gay men cope with love and relationships. I would recommend this anthology to anyone who likes great love stories (and some sex) as it certainly warmed my heart to read them.