There is never enough kindness in this world. In this anthology, we get the pleasure of reading fourteen stories where kindness is at the center. Random acts bring our MCs together in fun and interesting ways, and allows them to forge a connection that can be the beginning of more. I enjoyed this anthology, and I definitely recommend you pick it up.
The Favor of Kings by Rebecca Long
When Eli notices a notebook left behind in class, he picks it up and returns it to the owner. James is grateful to have his notebook back as it has the notes for the novel he’s writing. He tells Eli to give him a call anytime so he can return the favor, but Eli doesn’t call. When the two meet up again, and Eli agrees to tutor James, a friendship begins. Though they come from vastly different worlds, they two young men just fit together. Eli keeps a tally of the favors they do for one another, and when James goes home for Thanksgiving, he invites Eli along. Not only as his friend, but to be his pretend boyfriend so that James can finally convince his family he’s gay. But things to don’t work out like either of them think they will, and true feelings are revealed. Can these two guys turn their friendship into something more?
I liked this story quite a bit. Eli is a sweetheart who has had a really rough life. He’s a loner, he keeps to himself on purpose, and he doesn’t do well with people. With James, he can feel comfortable and be himself. And the Eli we see emerge is just awesome. For being a short story, the author managed to pack a lot of character growth and depth into it. There were a few little points where I had to just go with it and jump, as they didn’t quite seem believable. But that didn’t detract from the story overall. It was well done, and a great way to start the anthology.
A Table for Two by Emma Wilson
After a string of bad luck, Joey is at his wits end. If he can just finish graduate school, things will start looking up. But in order to do that, he needs to finish his thesis. He heads to his favorite coffee shop to use the power, Internet, and have a constant stream of caffeine. The shop is unusually full, and Joey panics because he really needs a place to sit. When a stranger offers him a place at his table, Joey is relieved. Paul and Joey begin a tradition, sitting at the same table every day together, but barely speaking as they work in companionable silence. When Joey’s thesis is done, he finally decides he can focus on Paul, and maybe get to know the man. But Paul has disappeared. Joey returns every day in hopes of seeing Paul, but the man doesn’t show up. Just as he is about to give up, Joey’s luck finally changes.
I kind of completely adored this story. Joey definitely has had a lot of bad luck in the recent past, and he just needs a break. Paul is the one to give it to him. I loved the way these two men interacted with each other. And we got to know them surprisingly well for how little they spoke to each other. It was a sweet, short, wonderful story about their meeting and their beginning. I really enjoyed it.
The Cambion’s Servent by Fil Preis
At eighteen, Tomas has refused to take the vows of a priest and has been kicked out the hermitage he’s called home since he was three. With no skills or talents, he takes a job as a laborer to travel with, and fetch and carry for, Rulio. Only later that night does Tomas discover just exactly what Rulio has in mind…and what he will force Tomas to do. Tomas calls for help, but no one comes to his rescue. That is, except for the cambion. The half demon man called Gavin rescues Tomas and agrees to let Tomas come with him as he lives his life as a hired hand. But as the two men grow closer, and share the hurts of their past, they find a much deeper connection.
This is a fantasy tale, and the author does a surprisingly good job of giving us enough background to get our footing in this short story. Which get a much better sense of Tomas and his plight than we do of Gavin, but it’s clear they form a connection. This one has a theme that’s a little bit darker, and past sexual abuse is talked about, though not described. I liked the development of the characters, but I did wish for a tiny bit more. Overall though, it was an enjoyable read.
The Jackson by Rob Rosen
Ben had no idea why he gives the homeless guy a twenty, but it was clearly the right thing to do when the man is so genuinely grateful. When Ben finds out that the man intends to use it for two nights at a fleabag hotel, Ben hands him another twenty to make it four. And he knows he’s crazy when he’s out for the next three days, looking for the homeless man with the stunning blue eyes so he can give him five more Jacksons. When fate puts the homeless man, Matt, back in Ben’s path, Ben thinks that karma just might be as crazy as he is.
I really very much liked the beginning of this story. Ben is a fantastic character, and I liked that he thought he was crazy for his actions, but that didn’t stop him from doing them. He was grounded in a way that I didn’t expect, and he was just really lovely to read. I did feel like this story was just skimming the surface though, and I would have liked a bit more depth from Matt to round it out. The premise and Ben himself saved this story for me.
Never Waste a Good Left Turn by Tray Ellis
The construction and congestion of Leif’s morning commute is enough to drive anyone to madness, and if it weren’t for the kindness of strangers, he’d never be able to make a particularly troublesome left turn. One car in particular, a beat up recognizable hatchback, always pauses to let Leif and others through. When Leif sees that car in a ditch on his way home from work, he stops to help and meets the generous driver, Jason. Leif extends the kindness even further, giving Jason a place to crash while his car gets fixed. As the two men get to know each other, Leif realizes that Jason is the sort of man that throws kindness around without a thought. Leif wants to know Jason even better, and Jason returns the sentiment.
Okay, this story was all kinds of awesome. Not in the least because I really think that drivers should show more kindness on the road, and to see it here in this story really made my heart swell. It was a perfect premise, and these guys were truly enjoyable. I loved Leif’s grumpy nature, and seeing the man who was starved for kindness underneath. I loved Jason’s easy going attitude, and he was just a sweetheart. I loved that they trusted each other from the start, but that it didn’t keep them both from protecting themselves should the other turn out to be crazy. Really, this was just a great story from start to finish.
One Cold Night in Prague bye Hannah Kollef
John-Jacob Jingleheimer—yes that’s really his name—is a retired solider who moves to Prague to teach English because he’s in desperate need of a change. Before his new job starts, he takes in the sights and does the touristy things. And when he’s out in the crowd waiting for the famous clock to chime the hour, his pocket gets picked. Chasing after the thief, he finds that the little pickpocket has been captured by another man. The wallet is returned, and Karel Peterkova offers to buy him a drink. The two men pass a pleasant night talking and getting to know one another, and for the first time in a long time, John is actually happy. Karel has to go out of the country for business, but he promises to call when he returns.
Overall, I thought this was a great little story about a guy who desperately needs something to remind him to live. John is a bit lost and broken, having been injured while stationed in a warzone, and Karel offers him kindness just when he needs it most. John was a beautifully crafted character and it was easy to see his pain, as well as his healing. Karel is a kind man, with an open heart, but I would have liked to see a little bit more of him and of their connection together. But this story had a lot of heart that I enjoyed.
Pleased as Punch by Liz Makar
Carter Phillips plans his time in the computer lab to coincide with Cal’s shifts so that he can look at the beautiful man. If it weren’t for Liam Hidalgo constantly poking at Carter, then his time there would be perfect. When a sudden rainstorm catches Carter unaware, Liam is the one to offer him a ride. And then Liam stays for dinner and meets Carter’s family. Quickly, Carter learns there’s much more to Liam than just his asshole-ish behavior, and Carter begins to see Liam in a new light.
Ah, this one super cute and I liked the way these two guys interacted with each other. Liam was snarky and funny, and Carter had a sweet southern charm that was just adorable. What I thought was particularly good was the way the author gave us an entire, full story in just a short space. The writing was tight and succinct, the pacing perfect, and everything about this story worked for me.
Spin Cycle by Nina Francis
Will lives a busy life as a grad student and errand-runner. He usually runs those errands while his clothes are drying at the launderette, and leaves a note for whomever to remove his clothes if he’s not back in time. It usually ends in disaster, but this time, his clothes are neatly folded and a man name Jeremy has left him a note. This happens several times, and Will is determined to catch the kindhearted man that has been helping him out. Finally, Will and Jeremy meet, and it turns out Will can do Jeremy a favor in return. When studying math turns into flirting, both men just might find something they didn’t know they were looking for.
This story had a lovely real feeling to it, as if I could see it actually happening in the real world. Will is doing what he can to make ends meet, and that means his life is very busy. Jeremy is a Marine who got a medical discharge, and is starting his life over. There’s no angst here, just two real guys finding ways to help each other out, and connecting in a real way. A really lovely story.
The Blue Umbrella by Lane Swift
Andy is dying. He’s on a final trip, one last grand adventure, and he wants to do the last bit alone to see where the land ends and the sea begins. But he’s too weak to go far, and he sits on a bench to gather his strength. When a stranger sits beside him, Andy is surprised, and people tend to give him a wide berth in his sickened state. But Vik is different, and they talk a little. When Vik offers to help Andy down the cliff so that he can see Land’s End, Andy agrees. And when Vik asks what Andy’s last wish is, he admits that he wants one last hard bout of sex, and cuddling after. Vik obliges him in a nearby cave. And then the truth comes to light.
I had to get vague there, because I don’t want to spoil anything about this story for you. Admittedly, I have mixed feelings about it. But in the end, I felt it left me with a great sense of hope. Andy and Vik are there for each other at time when they both really need it, and I loved that the author managed to convey such a sense of hope. Well done.
Two for Joy by Indra Vaughn
Matthias arrives in England for Uni only to find himself without the promised student housing. At a loss, he doesn’t quite know what to do. Until Sam shows up, offering help. Except they quickly find out that the alternative housing is also full. So Sam calls home, and Matt goes back to Sam’s place and stays with the Williams’ family. Matt quickly finds himself feeling like he’s home, Sam’s family is wonderful, and Sam himself is awesome. Sam is just beginning to admit to himself that he’s gay, because finally, he has someone who has grabbed his attention. Matt is all too willing to be the center of Sam’s attention.
I loved this story. From beginning to end, these guys were just fantastic. Everything about it was believable and felt real. I adored the kindhearted, generous Sam. His entire family, actually, is pretty amazing. And sweet, kind, patient Matt is just as awesome. These guys fit from moment one, and I loved how everything progressed. Hands down, this is my favorite story in the anthology.
The Healer and The Thief by Jessica Chase
Healer Tobias comes home from collecting herbs when he finds his house broken into, things disturbed, and a man in a heap on his floor. Even though the man was trying to steal from him, Tobias can’t not help the injured man. Tobias stitches his wounds and gives him something for the pain. When Joshua awakes, he admits that not only was he trying to steal from Tobias, but that’s he stolen a lot of things and that he doesn’t deserve Tobias’ help. Tobias disagrees and keeps the man with him so he can heal. But with the guards on his tail, Joshua leaves once he’s healed sufficiently. Tobias doesn’t want him to go, the two men have grown close, but he knows it’s for the best. When a terrible sickness descends on Tobias’ town, he can do little to stop it. Until Joshua returns with a magic cure.
This story features an unknown time and setting, and could easily be either a fantasy world or a historical. I liked the details that the author gave, and it really made the whole thing feel sort of magical. Tobias is a goodhearted, kind man, and it shows through in everything he does. I did have a little trouble with the romance aspects, as I didn’t feel I had quite enough information to really connect to their relationship. But it was a nice story, and Tobias really shined.
Of Clockwork Marvels by Althea Claire Duffy
When Lorred almost steps on a lost watch, he notices how beautifully made and intricate it is. He recognizes the name etched on the back as a well know clockwork engineer, and knows the watch must be greatly missed, so he sets about returning it. Tivian is grateful to have his watch back, and seemingly intrigued with the bumbling Lorred, asks the man ‘round the next day. Together they go to a clockwork exhibition, and have a wonderful time. Both Lorred and Tivian are obsessed with machines and that just might work out in their favor.
The world building in this short story is simply astounding. The author packed so much into this little tale that I felt like I was right there in this clockwork, automatons, and spring powered machines. Lorred is endearingly sweet and, yes, bumbling. But it’s easy to see why Tivian is taken with him. These two men are absolutely made for each other. A fantastic little story.
The Blue Arrow by Reni Kieffer
Alec pays for a meal for the next homeless man that comes into the coffee shop. When the barista points out who paid for the man’s meal, the man comes over to sit with Alec and thank him profusely. But when the homeless man disappears, Alec can’t get him out of his head. A few days later, he’s back. Alec feeds him again, and then, when the man asks, takes him home so that he can shower. His name is Steve. Alec tries to connect with him, but the man runs off again. A week later, he’s back, and this time makes an advance that Alec isn’t ready for and Steve runs off. But Steve returns a third time, and finally, they are able to connect. Steve shares his past and how he came to be who is now. And Alec cares for him, and takes him in.
Okay, guys, I hate to say it but I’ve got to be honest here. This one didn’t work for me. It utilizes the second person narrative, and it kept me from engaging in the story because I felt like I was being talked at. While the plot itself had a lot of promise, and I really felt for Alec and Steve, I just couldn’t enjoy this story. Though Alec’s kindness was astounding and wonderful, and Steve’s plight was sad, I felt too far removed to feel any sort of connection to them at all.
Humming a Different Tune by Amy Rae Durreson
Neil gets the news that his father has only weeks to live. It’s worse for his twin sister, Lucy, who desperately wants her father at her wedding. But trying to plan a wedding to take place in a week or two is nearly impossible. Until Neil gets an email from one of Lucy’s friends from the dancing community. Monty and the others want to help Lucy achieve her dream wedding, and in time for her father to be there. With Monty at the helm, everything falls into place. Keeping it a surprise from Lucy, Monty and Neil plan the reception. And when they finally meet in person, sparks fly. Though Neil knows from the start that he enjoys Monty’s company, he’s a bit too dense to realize they were flirting. When a miscommunication sends Monty running, and Neil has to figure out what he really wants.
This story was a perfect end to this anthology and a perfect illustration of the theme. There were so many acts of kindness peppered throughout this story that my heart was just full to bursting when reading it. Monty is a flamboyant, eccentric, beautiful, complicated person, and I simply adored him from the moment he appeared. And Neil showed a tremendous amount of growth throughout this story. I loved watching him come to realize what his life had been and where he wanted it to go. Neil and Monty were utterly perfect for each other, and I loved this story.