Rating: 4 stars
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Normally I would give each story within an anthology its own rating and its own little mini-review. However this particular collection, Mixed Tape, Volume 1, begged me to approach this review differently. The unique beauty of this work was its cohesive theme: coming of age…first loves…this anthology got better and better as each new story was presented.
Tying each story together was the music theme that ran through each, whether it be a certain song that reminded a character of his realization that he was truly gay, or a series of songs on a “mixed tape” that led a character to reminisce about how he met the one he loved. Each story used the thematic element so cleverly and as one who actually remembers the dinosaur age of cassette payers and yes, did my own fair share of mixed tapes, I was delighted with this aspect of the anthology. So with all that in mind, the rating above reflects the success of the excellent editing as well as the talent of each author presented. Now, lets begin discussing this delightful collection of stories.
Every collection has its standouts and its weaknesses. While these first two stories were not the strongest this series had to offer, they were by no means poorly written. Instead I felt that they lacked in pacing and structure and were not as cohesive a read as the other offerings presented in the anthology. I think that the first story by Logan Zachary, Wouldn’t It Be Good, and the last by TA Chase, Sharp Dressed Man, were, for me, the weaker selections, for very different reasons.
Wouldn’t It Be Good by Logan Zachary was a sweet coming of age and anti-bullying short story, yet I felt that there was a lack of depth that was intrinsic to the rest of the anthology. I also felt that this story was the most unbelievable as well.
Scott Parker was a loner and often bullied by his peers. He had harbored a secret crush on Jason Leigh, a football player and fellow high school, student for a while. What I found hard to grasp was that not only Jason, but also many of his friends from high school, all ended up at the same college with Scott and the bullying continued, seemingly unchecked. However this time, Jason stands up for Scott and the main bully backs down—without a fuss, even after having been benched during a critical game because of being reported for threatening Scott. While I can imagine and believe one boy standing up for another, it was hard for me to swallow that the other obvious bully would back down so easily—it was all a little too contrived and easy. Plus it was quick; there was little time to really get a sense of the characters and, consequently, it was difficult to feel really sympathy for Scott’s plight or the strength it took for Jason to stand up to his friends.
Sharp Dressed Men by TA Chase, on the other hand, dealt with two men meeting for the first time since their graduation, twenty-five years earlier. I like this author immensely but this short story had a rushed feeling to it and a really implausible outcome. For two men who had moved on in their lives, dated others, and had successful careers, the idea that within minutes of meeting after so many years of silence and immediately falling into bed with one another, declaring love for each other—well, it was just too unbelievable. I felt as though I barely got to know these characters and that the trajectory of this story was so obvious from the very beginning. Such transparency meant underdeveloped plot and characters. I felt I we just met these characters and suddenly their story was finished. This was not the quality of product one so often sees from this author and, again, the story was not poorly written, just sloppily executed.
Now, let’s move onto the gems hidden inside this work.
True by Sabrina Luna was a little snippet of a boy’s first sexual encounter as a gay young man. Dan, now happily married to Ian, returns home to help his mother clean out the attic. While there he finds and old box of his own and it recalls for Ian the first time he acted on the crush he had on a boy from high school. Still in the closet at eighteen, Dan goes to a party and sees Russ, the guy who always had it so together and lived out and proud. They have one night together, and that night really begins Dan’s journey towards accepting himself and solidifies the idea that gay is who he is and will be for the rest of his life. The story, while simple, is well done and just a lovely memory told by one man to his partner—a glimpse into who he is and how he started on that path of self-awareness.
500 Miles by Will Parkinson was a sweet and gentle love story that spanned a boy’s younger years to his coming of age at eighteen and beyond. At the age of 14, Mark begins to have an innocent crush on his brother’s best friend, Jase. As the years go by and Mark’s crush develops into the beginning stages of young love, we watch as both Mark’s brother and Jase got off to join the army and eventually are deployed to Kuwait.
500 Miles is very much Mark’s story and we get a beautifully written window into his soul and how his love blossoms and develops for Jase. The only real drawback to this story is that I felt it could have been much longer. Parkinson just begins to tap into these characters and then rushes to get their story wrapped up so that they can have their happy ever after. I felt as though there was more to be written here and that the author should have taken time to develop his secondary characters—particularly Mark’s love interest, Jase. However, overall this story was sweet and a treat to read.
Heaven by C.J. Anthony simply blew me away! By story’s end I wanted to adopt both Joey and Brian and then go camp outside Anthony’s door and beg for a sequel. I could not get enough of her sharp humor that was so apparent in her story. At the tender age of 5, Brian goes to live with his gay Uncle Jay and away from his drug addicted mother. His very first day he meets the little dynamo that lives next door, Joey, and the normally shy and socially stunted Brian finds his best friend. For the next 13 years, these boys will share just about every milestone together and, in the end, despite their extreme differences in personality and styles, will come to find that they are made for each other. But the journey in getting there—oh dear reader—what an incredible story. Chocked full of fun, tenderness, and compelling to the end, this story was just outstanding.
Finally, Say Everything by Gina A. Rogers was perhaps the most gut wrenching of all the stories. Gregory is a man trapped by guilt over the death of his best friend. Until Chad enters his life, he has carefully kept himself walled off from loving another person and has buried himself in the past along with the room full of old memories. With just a hint of BDSM, the hot passions and deep emotions that are packed into this story were staggering. In just a few short chapters, Rogers manages to evolve her main character so effectively—I felt I had gained as much insight into Gregory as I could have in a full length novel—really stunning character work. I also really appreciated that the demons Greg struggled with did not just go away as he fell more and more in love with Chad. In the end, he had to confront them and, thankfully, Chad was there to help him. This was a really well written story of forgiveness and redemption.
Mixed Tape, Volume 1 is a fine collection of stories that meshed well together due to both excellent writing and superior editing. I definitely recommend this anthology to you.
Note: These stories are sold as a full set in Mixed Tape, Vol 1, or can each be purchased individually as well.