Title: Encore! Encore!
Author: Jet Mykles, Charlie Cochrane & Kimberly Gardiner
Publisher: MLR Press
Genre: M/M contemporary, cross dressing romance
Buy Link: Amazon.com
Length: 261 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
A guest review by Jenre
Take a bow and blow a kiss as the curtain falls on love. Or does it?
From London’s West End to a New York drag bar and onto the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, three couples rediscover the passion that once burned as brightly as the stage lights.
Their plays might be over, but the show goes on. For these players, the heart discovers that just when you think a love story has come to its end, if you have the courage to turn the page then love will make a return to the stage.
This anthology of two novellas and a short story is a sort of follow on to the anthology of stories about cross dressing heroes, Bravo! Brava! released by MLRP last year and reviewed by me here. I really enjoyed that anthology and I was excited to learn that Jet Mykles and Kimberly Gardiner had written stories in Encore! Encore! featuring their characters from Bravo! Brava!. The novella by Charlie Cochrane is a stand-a-lone, but as I’ve read and enjoyed other stories by that author, I was sure that I was in for a treat all round. Happily for me all three of these stories turned out to be well worth the read.
Much Ado by Jet Mykles
This is the follow on from the story About Something. That story ended with our heroes, cross dressing actor, Shawn and director, Roscoe being happily set on their HEA. Unfortunately that HEA has had a bit of a hiccup because at the beginning of Much Ado the heroes have been apart for over a year. Shawn had wanted to follow-up his interest in cross dressing by becoming a drag artist and Roscoe felt that Shawn was wasting his talent by abandoning the acting stage for a cabaret act, leading to Shawn walking out on Roscoe. Over a year later, Roscoe turns up out of the blue to the drag club to see Shawn and offer him an acting job reprising the role of Beatrice in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ which Roscoe is intending to direct with an all male cast. It’s a dream job for any actor but Shawn is determined to stick to his drag act, even if he’s not enjoying it as much as he thought. It takes a night of passion and a run in with a stalker for Shawn to admit that he still loves Roscoe, but male pride prevents him from acting on that knowledge.
About Something was my favourite story in the Bravo! Brava! anthology and I was looking forward to revisiting tough but twinky Shawn and the broody Roscoe. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed to discover that they had split up and even more disappointed to find that the split was essentially over artistic differences. Having said that, I still liked the character of Shawn and his larger than life presence in the book. I also liked that the sudden reappearance of Roscoe sparked a self-appraisal of Shawn’s career and that he seemed to grow and develop as a character as the story progressed. Roscoe was a little less defined in this story and seemed only to act as a catalyst for Shawn. In some ways I felt that he got off quite easily by the end and didn’t do enough penance for his overbearing ways which had originally caused the split. At just over 60 pages this was the shortest of the stories in this anthology with most of the book being taken up with either sex scenes, or discussion between the heroes, or Shawn talking to others about his problems with Roscoe. This actually worked quite well because it lent a realistic tone to what is essentially a story of two men making a second go at their relationship. Grade: 4.25 Stars.
All That Jazz by Charlie Cochrane
Cross dressing actor, Francis has landed a dream job playing Velma in an all male version of ‘Cabaret’. The success of the play leads to TV appearances, parties and fame for Francis who at first finds it a novelty. It isn’t long before he realises that constant attention still leaves him lonely on the inside. After escaping yet another cast party, Francis stumbles upon a quiet gay pub where he meets gay rugby player, Tommy. There’s an obvious attraction between the pair but past relationships have made both men cautious and when Tommy expresses reservation at Francis’ cross dressing, it seems that their differences may be insurmountable.
There were two parts to this marvellous story. Firstly there is the focus on the glitz and glamour of the theatre and subsequent fame for Francis. The way this is portrayed reflects Francis’ feelings about it. We first meet him on opening night, full of nerves and anticipation as he waits to go onstage. Then we follow his career as the play gains momentum before opening to packed audiences in the west end of London. Up to and including that part Francis is excited and confident about his acting abilities – leading to several catty comments made about his co-stars and a general diva attitude. After a while though, things start to change and Francis begins being more reflective about fame and his role in the play. He begins to weary of the constant attention and demands on his time, his feet and legs ache from the dancing and he realises that fame is fleeting. It was all done rather well and I found that I had a great deal of sympathy for Francis, even if he was remarkably self-centred at times. This leads into the second part of the story – that being the relationship between Tommy and Francis. Their first meeting is filled with a slight awkwardness which seemed wholly realistic. Tommy is the opposite to Francis and admits that ‘the scene’ is something that he would have avoided at all costs before he met Francis. I liked Tommy, liked his honesty and downright ‘good guy’ attitude. That honesty leads to conflict between the two men when he attempts to wash Francis’ make-up off his face and says:
“You taste of blusher and powder. My tongue’s covered in the stuff. I only want to taste sweat and skin—I don’t want to have to kiss you when Boots’ cosmetic counter’s ladled on thick.”
I have to admit, I agreed with Tommy at this point but Francis doesn’t take it so well. What came across, in the end, was that for a relationship to work there needs to be discussion and compromise and I found myself very happy for this mis-matched couple who were also so right for each other. One note of warning, this story has a number of British cultural references that may pass over the heads of some non-Brit readers. I really liked that aspect of the story and it made a change for me to know the different TV personalities who are mentioned. Grade: 4.75 Stars.
His Leading Man by Kimberly Gardner
This story follows on from Women’s Weeds. Like the Jet Mykles story the heroes from the 1st story, David and Kieran have split up. This time the split wasn’t caused by an argument but rather the difficulties of maintaining a long distance relationship when Kieran gets the leading part in a TV show and has to move from NY to LA. As this story begins, David is in LA for a conference and attending the party run by the sister of his screenwriting partner. When the hostess drags him off to introduce him to a cute man, David is shocked to discover that the man is Kieran. Their physical chemistry is still there, but the men have a number of problems to overcome before they can get back on the road to a HEA.
One thing I particularly liked about this story is the way that David’s character is developed from the previous story. Although we get both hero’s point of view, there is just as much page time devoted to David than the flasher and more outgoing Kieran. This meant that I really felt like I got to know David, to understand his reasons for acting the way that he does and his remorse and sadness over the break-up between him and Kieran. David is still quiet and a little tongue tied, but during the story he begins to come out of himself a little more and actually talk to Kieran. Kieran is his usual flamboyant self, even more so now that he has found fame and fortune as the star of a hit TV show. He also makes a lot of mistakes in the story and at times I found myself losing sympathy for him for the wrong decisions that he makes. There were a couple of parts that didn’t sit too well, including the slightly forced way that the pair come together at the end, but they weren’t enough to detract from what was a well written story about two men with a second chance to get things right. Grade: 4.5.
Overall, I enjoyed this anthology – more, I think, than Bravo! Brava! This was possibly due to my familiarity with the characters in two of the stories, but also because I liked the greater complexity of Charlie Cochrane’s story so much. Highly recommended.