Rating: 3 stars
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Stand to Attention is a military-themed anthology from Totally Bound Publishing. It has six individual stories set around various interpretations of the theme, contributed by the authors: Sean Michael, Jambrea Jo Jones, Lily Harlem, Elizabeth Coldwell, Noelle Keaton, and Lucy Felthouse.
Okay, I’m disappointed. I jumped on this anthology with both hands – military fics are one of my favorite genres within m/m – but I wasn’t terribly impressed by this anthology. The writing is middling to poor, and the standard of editing leaves a lot to be desired. Head hopping, tense flip-flops, I could go on, but (for once) I won’t. Ack.
And, actually, I’m more than disappointed. I’m torn…torn between feeling like an opportunity has been missed to highlight some of the hardships war vets go through, and seething that these hardships were exploited to write some smut. And for the most part, it wasn’t even good smut.
The very first story in the anthology, Almost, by Sean Michael, is a perfect example. The plot centers around Lane and Hammer. Lane is a double-amputee war vet, who has lost both his legs below the knee. Hammer is his old comrade and lover, and turns up out of the blue one day to Lane’s dilapidated cabin in the wilderness. The scene is set for a beautiful, heartfelt reunion, but unfortunately it’s ruined by page after page of crass sex. And what makes it worse is that every so often a single line, or a flicker of dialogue, is magical, and only serves to remind me that something that turned out to be a vulgar indulgence of smut, could’ve been something wonderful. So frustrating. Three stars.
The rest of the stories are very similar, though there is the occasional stroke of hope, I liked Moby from the second story, On the Home Front, by Jambrea Jones, and enjoyed the bond between him and ‘Bulldog’, but the plot was too far farfetched for me to take seriously: A soldier is called home because his whole family, bar his eight year old niece, has been murdered, and within ten minutes of returning home he’s locked said niece out of his bedroom so he can fuck his friend. Ew. The whole thing was thoroughly hideous. Two stars.
The best writing came in the third story, Who Dares Wins, by Lily Harlem, but sadly, with little plot. Ken is waiting for his lover, Jack, to come home from a mission, and he’s horny. He’s missed Jack and his “lust is cranked up to sky-high levels.” Thus, when Jack brings home a friend, Slider, Ken is set for the “ride of his life.”
There was little to the story but a contrived threesome, though the line “a quiver attacked my arsehole” did, in fact, make the whole book for me. I enjoyed the threeway, fantasy scenario, and though it had little bearing on the theme of the anthology, this was the best story all around. I just wish one of the MCs hadn’t been called Ken. The name didn’t work for me at all. Also, I’m not sure whether this was supposed to be British or American as the language was inconsistent. Three stars.
The fourth story, An Act of Duty, by Elizabeth Coldwell, is a bad BDSM romp, though the blurb for it is excellent. An army Corporal, mourning the loss of a friend, takes a trip to Amsterdam as a kind of homage to his fallen pal. His friend and his time at war remain on his mind, and for a moment, I was almost convinced. The lead up to the erotica, beneath some awkward sentence construction, has all the ingredients to touch the heart, but the execution let it down. The grieving soldier meets a guy in a bar, fucks him, and any meaningful plot evaporates. Graphic IED flashbacks and “enticing creamy moons” do not fit together. The dialogue was awkward too. Two stars.
Story number five, Trusting the Army Captain, by Noelle Keaton, is rather forgettable. I was hoping the intelligence angle would be interesting, but it was never explored and yes, again, descended into shallow smut before the plot grabbed me. Patrick Bosworth is recruited to investigate a fellow captain in the Medical Corps, but obviously ends up having sex with him. Bad sex. Two stars.
The final story, Letters to a War Zone, by Lucy Felthouse, began with an interesting premise, but it never really got going. I’m not complaining that it was short, more that the plot was never fulfilled. Bailey Hodgkiss, an insurance broker, begins writing to an army Corporal. Their relationship develops on paper, and I found I enjoyed this far more than what it eventually became. This story, perhaps, would’ve benefited from being a developed stand alone. I felt it rather shortchanged itself here. Three stars.
So, to sum up, this anthology is basically a vehicle for some mediocre smut. If you want testosterone laced porn without plot, great, but if you’re looking for something with a little heart and some good quality writing, I’d advise you to look elsewhere. Yes, I wanted some hot military boy sex, but I expected some crust with my pie…a solid foundation of plot and competent writing.
Sadly, it was not to be.
Three stars for the anthology as a whole.