Rating: 4 stars
Buy Link: Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
As someone who enjoys short stories and is generally charmed by well-crafted slice-of-life flash fiction, I figured Kaje Harper’s Distant Hills and Other Stories would be right up my alley, and I am glad to be right. This short-story anthology features some of Harper’s fans’ favorite stories (most arising from picture prompts) and is strong overall, with a nice mix of genres and tones, even one from a bestest boy’s POV. Most are romances and, in a book of thirty shorts, I enjoyed the vast majority of them. For the few that didn’t really land for me, they generally dealt with some heavier, more difficult subject matter, and I feel that these are going to be the most “your mileage may vary,” as there will be more varied responses to the choices made in presenting the issues. All stories come with an introduction, as well as any necessary content warnings. Overall, there are a lot of heartwarming, funny, and even bittersweet moments that brightened my day; below are brief overviews of some of them.
The Distant Hills
This eponymous story is one of a few two-parters. Part I features ranch owner, Roy as he reflects on the love of his life, Trevor—the man who rode off with his heart and his horse to pursue his dreams of country music stardom. Part II begins with Trevor’s POV at the zenith of success in his career, but the nadir of his happiness, sense of self, and personal life. There’s a feel of aching, understanding love, and a wistful sliver of hope that really resonates throughout most of the story as each man lives his life and owns their choices, but without the one person that has touched their souls.
“…and when the sun fades behind the hill, I go home to a life I wouldn’t leave to be your dirty secret. This is a good life. It feeds my soul. It’s just my heart that aches sometimes, wishing you were here.”
In Times of War and Homecoming
The trenches of WII is not a typical place to find love, but for David, the stolen moments and small signs of trust from a man shadowed in secrets is enough to give him hope and solace. Every brief moment with Jack sees his ephemeral lover slipping further into his heart in a time and place where no love should be able to blossom. To Jack, David is his light in the darkness and danger of his espionage missions; in his arms, he experiences his only moments of respite and quiet. But what, if anything, remains after the horrors of war, secrets, and time? This is another quietly hopeful story that tugs at the heart.
Growing up, Jason lived with an abusive father and indifferent mother until he was kicked out at age fifteen for being gay. A decade later, he’s decided he’s ready to return home and confront his parents, but often, closure doesn’t go to plan and comes in unexpected ways. This is a lovely little gem about acceptance and embracing yourself and what truly matters in life.
What happens when a sorcerer’s apprentice is tasked with summoning a manticore to take down an evil blood sorcerer using a termite-ravaged grimoire? Peacock feathers, a pint-sized predator, and a very un-merry chase in this delightful bite of fun.
Uncorked and In Vino Veritas
What do you do when your slime-ball boss and ex-lover informs you (post blow-job) that he is now engaged and orders you to bring a gift to the company party to celebrate? Find a nice bottle of passive-aggressive wine, naturally. That’s the interesting request Shane gets when he offers to help the hot blonde perusing the aisles of his store. This is a hilarious, banter-filled, meet cute and wedding shenanigans tale where payback (and petty) flow like wine and expensive champagne.
Rockets’ Red Glare
The 4th of July can be hell for pets and veterans, and unfortunately, Greg is no exception. Despite knowing his PTSD is nothing to be ashamed of, he’s determined to “tough it out” this year without the help of his Xanax, but as his nerves fray and the fireworks start to explode, he knows he’s going to unravel. When unexpected comfort and commiseration shows up from the house next door, Greg learns that needing help doesn’t make you weak and that his big and big-hearted neighbor is willing to offer him friendship, comfort, and so much more. This is another well-crafted story that pulled me into Greg’s turmoil, broke my heart, then offered up a nice dose of hope at the end.
What Grandpa Left
Ever since Noah was a small boy, he’d been curious about his Grandpa’s battered old trunk, even making up outlandish stories to appease his curiosity when he was told by his uncle that the trunk couldn’t be opened yet. Now a teenager and with permission to open the trunk, Noah is given a glimpse of his reserved, formidable grandfather’s life that he could scarcely imagine; he is also given a gift and opportunity he didn’t know he was waiting for, how it would bring him closer to his father, nor how much he needed it. This is one of the many stories that is just a warm hug and shot of unconditional love in written form.
This is a lovely collection full of simple, beautiful, heartfelt love, acceptance, possibility, and joy that may put a song in your heart and an “awwww” on your lips.
All stories in this volume were previously published in Kaje Harper’s Facebook group and have been edited and proofed for publication.
These stories sound great, Jovan. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.