Rating: 4.75 stars
Buy Link: Amazon | All Romance
Length: Novella Anthology
“Tales of Gay Pursuit and Passion,” that subtitle says it all. This anthology is packed full of tension and adrenaline as men run from the law or each other and thoroughly enjoy the thrill of the chase—or being caught. There’s a range of interpretations of this theme and a variety of genres and situations. We have outlaws from the Wild West, a Viking seeking to avenge the shame of his family, jewel thieves trying to make it to meet up with their fence before the law catches up to them, and a dying man hunting down his last chance at happiness.
Normally, when I review an anthology, I rate each story individually and then average those ratings to get an overall rating for the book. Not this time. This is the best anthology I’ve ever read, and while one rating is lower than that would suggest, overall this book was incredible and I wanted the rating to reflect that. All four of these authors crafted extremely enjoyable stories with such precision and skill. It was a delight to read. Also, these stories are longer than the average anthology length. Most are novella length, and the one that I would still classify as a “short story” is still lengthy and feels much richer than a typical short story. Each and every one of these stories could have stood on their own and been amazing, but it was so wonderful to read them as a collection. As always, more detailed reviews below!
Triple Cross by Hank Edwards
Rating: 4.75 stars
One set of heirloom jewels. Two thieves. Three people in on the plan. And a four-way split on the take. Not the way it was all supposed to go down, but infinitely more satisfying.
Cat burglar extraordinaire, Morgan, is expecting little more than a big score when he plots to steal the Lady Winchester’s jewels, but what he gets instead is life changing. With the help of his friend Sophia, he makes off with the loot, and manages to spend a steamy night between the sheets with his pretty new acquaintance Derron to celebrate. But when Morgan wakes, he finds the jewels and Derron gone and lawman, Wade, on his doorstep. Morgan’s sick over losing the biggest score of his life, but soon gets wrapped up in both evading Wade’s suspicion and ignoring his powerful attraction to the man. Meanwhile, Derron’s on the run with the jewels, but he’s made a critical error in leaving the address for his fence in Miami in Morgan’s apartment. When he contacts Sophia for help in getting the address from Morgan, thinking her ignorant of the heist, Sophia lets Morgan in on Derron’s whereabouts. Soon Sophia, Morgan, and Wade are all descending on Miami and the jewels. But a big score might not be all the two men are after.
This was such a fun, sexy story. There were a lot of moving parts to it and it felt a lot like one of those heist movies. The plot—the chase, and the drive to be the last one holding the stolen goods—was the driving force behind this tale and it worked perfectly. There was a perfect mix of tension and adrenaline here that kept me on the edge of my seat and unable to put this book down. I wanted desperately to see how it all worked out, and the eventual resolution was highly satisfying.
The writing and world-building here were also a real treat. Set in the forties, this tale had a real old-Hollywood-glamour sort of feel to it. It was the perfect backdrop for such a deliciously indulgent story of excitement, romance, and criminal mischief. The writing was tight and the story unfolded in a way that kept the mystery alive but made it easy to follow and easy to love.
I liked these characters a lot, but I didn’t really love them, with the exception of Derron. Oh man was he a sweetie (thievery of Morgan’s big score not withstanding) and he’s really had it rough. I felt so sorry for him and his desperation to be loved was palpable. Morgan was our quirky and imminently likable “glue” that held this story together. He was slick and suave, like any good thief needs to be, but he also had this steady quality to him that was enjoyable. Wade, our cop, is a sexy beast. The air of authority he wielded over Morgan and Derron was all at once natural and unexpected, but undeniably sexy. All in all, this was a pretty well developed menage.
I liked this one a great deal and it was the perfect opener for this anthology with its tense plot and its light-hearted, fun, and sexy tone.
The Saga of Einar and Gisli by Jeff Mann
Rating: 5 stars
A decade ago, teenaged Viking, Einar, spent three days on a remote island with his good friend and battle-brother, Gisli. Three days that were supposed to be about hunting and camping and satisfying a young man’s wander-lust, but turned into three days of passion and exploring each other’s bodies. For Einar, it’s love; for Gisli it brings shame. When they return home, Gisli ignores Einar, then subsequently gets engaged. Not long after, he begins composing bawdy poems about Einar’s shameful love of other men. He even erects a carving of Einar coupling with a horse. Embarrassed and angry—and more than a little heartbroken—Einar has one final brawl with Gisli and then flees Iceland, hoping to outrun his shame and his broken heart.
Now, ten years later, Einar returns after the death of his mother, still in love with Gisli and still haunted by the affront to his reputation. Upon his return, he learns that Gisli is an exiled outlaw, found guilty of killing Einar’s cousin and mutilating his body in a shameful way. Einar’s uncle wants more than just exile for his son’s killer, and he promises a hefty reward to Einar for tracking Gisli down and killing him. Einar doesn’t want to accept the task, but he knows he must to restore his own honor and the honor of his family.
He tracks Gisli down and captures him, and upon the advice of his aunt with prophetic powers, keeps Gisli gagged and unable to plead for mercy. On the return trip, Einar is unable to deny the lust he still harbors for Gisli, and having him bound and gagged and totally at his mercy excites the part of him still wounded over Gisli’s betrayal. They come together again in an explosion of heat and passion and Einar begins to realize that it’s his destiny to love this man and that he can’t hand him over to his uncle.
I’m going to try not to let this review get too long, but holy cow it’s going to be hard not to gush. I loved this story. The writing was superb, and the world-building is of the highest level. While this story is so tightly confined to Einar and Gisli, the journey it takes them on, that we the reader get to accompany them on, feels decidedly epic. The descriptions were beautiful and felt so incredibly authentic. This story had such a lush texture and I wanted to just roll around in it forever.
This plot was well-developed and worked well, but it was little more than support for these amazing characters. It felt very real, but it was almost distant in a way because what happened to them is not as important as where it takes them, and being entirely from Einar’s point of view, it almost felt a little like a character study despite the fact that there actually is a lot going on here.
I adored Einar. He was immediately likeable and sympathetic because of his pained longing for Gisli and happier times gone by. In the beginning, he was wounded and empty, and there was a real feeling that he was content to spend his life searching for a love he never expected to find. It’s heartbreaking. But then, when he’s traveling with Gisli, it’s like he comes alive again and we get to see all of the good qualities he’s buried so deep for so long. He’s protective and loyal and surprisingly reasonable for such a fierce warrior. He’s good humored and thoughtful and really kind of sweet for a man so rough around the edges.
And Gisli, oh man, what to say about him… For a character that spent almost the entirety of the book either only a memory or bound and gagged, man did he convey some emotion. His longing and regret were clear, and it was obvious that there was more to his crime than met the eye. His desperation for a different life was so present it was almost like a third character in the book. And then, when we finally did get to hear his story, and see who he really was, it was really gratifying to see that the playfulness he’d harbored as a boy was still there beneath all the world-weary seriousness.
The romance between them was achingly beautiful and the sex was off the charts hot. I loved, loved, loved this story to pieces.
Sundance by Dale Chase
Rating: 3.75 stars
Roy’s been working with Butch and Sundance’s gang for a while now, and he sticks around for Sundance as much as the money. He’s completely gone on the other outlaw. When a new job comes around, Roy looks at the opportunity to make some money as a bonus on top of spending more time with Sundance. While fleeing from the law, their relationship becomes more physical and Roy hopes it means that things are changing between them, but since Sundance won’t talk about it, he doesn’t know for sure. He’s determined to sort things out when they get back to their hideout once and for all.
I need to start this review with a little bit of a disclaimer. This one just didn’t quite work for me for a couple of reasons that all boil down to personal taste. However, it was an incredibly well-crafted story and if it weren’t for those things, this would have likely been rated a whole star higher. So, if those things don’t bother you, then you’d probably enjoy it thoroughly.
The thing that really grabbed me about this story was the character voice. It’s written in first person from Roy’s perspective and it felt so damned authentic. I really felt like I was listening to an outlaw from the early 1900s throughout. It almost read a little bit like journal entries. It gave the tale an almost eerie, but quite beautiful feel. This world was immediately recognizable, but detailed in such an amazing way that you could really feel how raw and wild and bleak it was.
Where this one fell off was the romance, or lack thereof, here. Sundance is just using Roy, and it’s as obvious to the reader as it is to Butch in the story. Only poor Roy seems to be left out of the loop. Also, while Sundance isn’t technically in a relationship with a woman throughout the story, he is involved with her, and there’s the feel that he’s cheating on her throughout all of his involvement with Roy, which is not exactly my favorite thing.
I could have dealt with all of that, had there been a satisfying resolution, but the ending was just a total miss for me. [spoiler]Sundance leaves and goes back to Etta and Roy decides to leave the crew and go back home to Arizona. I have to say that I don’t always have to have a happy ending in my stories, though I prefer it. I understand why sometimes that’s just not the tale the author wants to tell. But this one was particularly unhappy. After everything that had happened leading up to that point, Sundance’s disregard for Roy is particularly gutting.[/spoiler]
As beautiful as the writing and the untamed world Chase crafted was, I just never could get into these characters and I wasn’t a fan of the ending.
In Memoriam by ‘Nathan Burgoine
Rating: 5 stars
James has just been diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer. He’s got days, maybe weeks if he’s lucky. His family and friends can’t seem to accept the diagnosis, but James knows in his heart that he’s dying and there’s nothing he can do to change it. All he wants is to find Andy. Andy, who was his best friend at one time and the one who got away. All he wants is one last chance to fix what he broke so irreparably. But the infernal cancer is robbing his memory, and he can’t remember the details he needs to figure out where Andy went. So he pulls out his journals, records of a life and a love long past, and he reads. And somehow, the more he reads, the more he feels like he might just get his second chance.
Good lord was this story amazing. The shortest of the bunch, it might just be the most powerful of them all. It hits you in the gut right from the start and the emotional assault just doesn’t let up. The writing was beautiful and the world-building was incredible. Which, I know is weird to say about a contemporary story, but, Burgoine lovingly crafted James’ world, so that everything in it—from his apartment, to his cat, to his family, to his friends—informed you about who he was as a person. It was so skillfully done and a real joy to read. It was also funny. So rare to find such a genuinely humorous voice in a story about a dying man. I loved it.
This plot was heartbreaking, yet still emotionally satisfying, but what really makes this story work are the characters. I fell in love with James before the end of the first page and I didn’t quit falling for him throughout the story. I loved his humor and his realism and the way he deals with his diagnosis by genuinely grieving but not wallowing in self-pity. I also really loved the little glimpse we got to see of what his priorities were for the last few days of his life. It was a fascinating way to get to know this character and one I really enjoyed.
My heart ached for Andy. He spends a lot of the story mostly just a product of James’ memory, but his personality and emotion still come across clearly, and boy did I want better things for him. It was so easy to see what was and what could have been between him and James, and they were so painfully sweet together. Saying much more would totally ruin this story, but I will say that I loved how in the end of this they both lifted each other up.
This story was painful (in the best way), but endearing and incredibly beautiful. It was everything I didn’t know to want to wrap up this incredible anthology.