Title & buy link:
Cover Artist: J.M. Snyder
Publisher: JMS Books
Genre: M/M contemporary and historical
Length: Anthology of short stories (193 pages)
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
A guest review by Leslie S
Review summary: A couple of real gems shine in an otherwise ordinary collection of short stories.
Raise your rainbow umbrellas high and celebrate!
Enjoy this enchanting, entertaining and thought-provoking collection, a heartfelt expression of what it means to be queer in Britain, past and present. All these stories reflect the iconic sights and national character of the British Isles: a taste of our idiosyncrasies and eccentricities, but also an unashamed representation of the love, loyalty and laughter of our people.
Including a wide range of style and subject, this is the perfect way to sample different authors and to find both existing and new favourites. Follow the British way of life from historic villages to modern cities, from the countryside to the sea, through history and with a fantasy twist, in gardens, churches, campus and the familiar, much-loved local pub.
The stories cover universal themes of romance, desire, remembrance and reconciliation. The authors range from multi-published to up-and-coming, and they all share a passion for their characters, whether through great drama, erotic excitement, humour — or a combination of all three!
Contributors include: Alex Beecroft, Jennie Caldwell, Stevie Carroll, Charlie Cochrane, Lucy Felthouse, Elin Gregory, Mara Ismine, Clare London, Anna Marie May, JL Merrow, Josephine Myles, Zahra Owens, Jay Rookwood, Chris Smith, Stevie Woods, Lisa Worrall, and Serena Yates.
Please be aware that this anthology contains two F/F stories and two stories in which the characters are bi. As per site guidelines, I won’t be reviewing those stories here.
Making Camp by Clare London
Nick fancies Max, the hot IT tech at his workplace. Nick’s matchmaking friend Emma decides that the two guys should spend quality time together—in a tent. Max is from the countryside and he invites Nick to go camping with him. Nick, a city boy through and through, manages to fail at everything—or does he? A sweet story to start the anthology, this one made me smile.
Good Breeding by J.L. Merrow
Giles was adopted into a posh family, but he’s decided to track down his birth mother. At first he’s horrified to find that she’s a chav in a council estate with a low-class family around her, but with the help of his housemate Oz, Giles realises that it’s heart rather than social standing that’s important. A great story about that most English of institutions, the class system. J.L. Merrow has packed a lot of characterisation into this short piece.
A Naughty Trip by Serena Yates
This is a short tale that takes place between two other stories by the author. Former gay porn star Scott and his lover, librarian Anton, are on their way to Edinburgh when they decide to join the mile-high club. Fans of the author will enjoy this one, though as it’s little more than a PWP about two characters from a series I haven’t read, it didn’t appeal all that much to me.
Fighting Cocks by Stevie Woods
It’s the end of the 16th century and young landowner Peter is being nagged by his mother to emulate his recently deceased father and take more interest in the farms and buildings. But Peter is only 18 and has other things on his mind—such as Norman, the taverner’s son. This felt like part of a much longer story. Once we’re introduced to the characters I was waiting for some conflict or something to happen, but nothing did, so I was disappointed. It just didn’t really go anywhere.
Fantasy Man by Jay Rookwood
Mack’s kitchen taps need fixing, so he calls on his neighbour Alex for assistance. Mack daydreams about Alex, but Alex is married and his wife is pregnant. Mack is shocked when Alex makes a pass at him, but not so shocked that he doesn’t go for it—and then he feels guilty. I have to be honest and say I strongly disliked this story. It’s far too short to deal with the kind of emotional issues it raises, and the characters are so thinly sketched that the whole thing feels cheap and manipulative.
On the Pull by Elin Gregory
Tom works in a pub in a small country village and has had to endure a lot of sidelong looks and teasing since he came out. There’s not a lot of boyfriend material around, but that changes when he meets the captain of a neighbouring village’s cricket team. Filled with British slang and all the atmosphere of a proper country pub, for me this was one of the most enjoyable stories in the anthology.
Frozen Angel by Lisa Worrall
Art student Joe has come to a historic church. He’s drawn by a statue of an angel and starts sketching, only stopping when a handsome man, Ryan, starts chatting to him about the church and its secrets. Ryan and Joe spend the night together, but Joe is in for a shock the next morning… A lovely self-contained story told with passion. I would read more from this author.
Silent Witness by Anna Marie May
Liam is frantic. His lover Davin, a fisherman, is missing at sea. Helpless, Liam goes to the Dromberg stone circle, where they first made love. He’s overcome by memories as he battles his grief. A short yet powerful tale; you can really feel the wind and rain as you read this one.
Sweet Temptation by Jennie Caldwell
Philip is the verger at his local church, and he’s spending too much time eyeing up the handsome young guy, Nathan, sent by the council to mow the lawns. But today Nathan introduces himself and flirts, and Philip is confused—until he realises that God moves in mysterious ways. This is a sweet little read with a strong sense of place. I felt Philip’s confusion as he realises that his crush on Nathan is returned and as he struggles to accept his faith and his attraction.
A Matter of Opinion by Mara Ismine
Rick is fed up with his bigoted workmate’s opinions and goes outside to cool off. He starts chatting to Steve, one of the company’s drivers. Rick’s always fancied Steve but he keeps his private life to himself, so he’s surprised when Steve asks him out. A nice, gentle story with a lot of British flavour, about taking opportunities when they come along.
Riding with Hob by Alex Beecroft
Mark feels unwanted. On a day out to Ely cathedral, he’s annoyed to see morris dancers getting ready to perform. He feels like an outsider, a feeling made worse by the fact that his ex-housemates have all moved elsewhere and not invited him. He’s fed up, but then the music starts and it captivates him, and the man beneath Hob invites Mark to come along with him… Short, atmospheric and creepy (though it helps to know something about English folklore to get the full effect), if you’ve never read anything by Beecroft then this is an excellent taster.
Bloody Mathematicians by Charlie Cochrane
Jonty and Orlando, the sleuthing lovers of Cochrane’s popular Cambridge Fellows series, have fallen out. They often argue and disagree, but this particular row has lasted two weeks and is making everyone around them very uncomfortable. Fans of this series will love this little peek into the chaotic but genteel lives of Jonty and Orlando.
We’ll Always Have Brighton #2 by Zahra Owens
First person narrative told in the present tense, with neither characters named, just known as ‘I’ and ‘you’. A history of a relationship, with its ups and downs and heartbreaks and joys. An interesting story in the way that you might enjoy eavesdropping on a conversation between strangers, though the narrative device felt distancing for me.
Blooming Marvellous by Josephine Myles
Graffiti artist Ky is told he’s got help with his community service of planting bulbs in a roundabout island—local businessman James, who seems quite stuffy until Ky starts flirting outrageously. The pair are an unlikely match, but opposites attract! This story was fantastic and left me with a big smile on my face. The characterisation is deft and there’s a rocking good pace to the whole thing, plus it showcases not just social class but also the UK’s multiculturalism. Far and away the best story in the anthology.
As usual with anthologies, Tea and Crumpet is a bit of a mixed bag. There’s a couple of outstanding stories that I really enjoyed. Does it give a flavour of being British and LGBT? In places, yes, but in general it better showcases the quirkiness of being British rather than anything else.