Review in Progress: Uniform Appeal (an Anthology)

Uniform Appeal CoverTitle & Author: Uniform Appeal by Various Authors (Anne Regan, Editor)
Release Date: April 11, 2011
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages: 308 pages

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):
Everyone loves a man in uniform. From the Armed Forces to civil service, it’s often a matter of logistics to balance work and love in life, and these men are specialists, up to the task of finding romance amidst crime, fire, and military service.

My Thoughts:

I have a love/hate relationship with anthologies.

On the one hand, they’re a great way for me to try a bunch of new-to-me authors with relatively little investment of money and/or time. I mean, who wants to shell out $6.99 for a full-length e-book or spend all day reading hundreds of pages only to find out that the author’s writing style is completely not to their taste? Not this girl. So I was pretty excited when I stumbled across Uniform Appeal; not only did the anthology include enough short stories about men in uniform to permanently melt my ovaries, but with the exception of Lisa Worrall, all of the authors were ones whose work I hadn’t had a chance to read yet. Yipee!

That’s the upside of anthologies.

The downside? The anthology is 308 pages long and there are 16 stories included in it. If you’re doing the math, you’ll know that means that not only are these all short stories, but they’re all short short stories. This might not be a problem for some readers, but I’ve always found that it was the richness of the main characters and the connection – or lack thereof – between them that was one of the biggest determining factors in whether or not I enjoy a book. No disrespect to these authors, but it’s damn difficult to make me feel anything for a character in only a handful of pages.

Still, Uniform Appeal has men (lots of men!) in uniform (lots of uniforms!). How could I truly resist?

Below, I’ve broken the anthology down story by story to tell you what worked and what didn’t.

Chasing Jamie by Eric Arvin:
I hate to say it, but this story read like a hick’s stream of consciousness exercise. The author provided too many extraneous details about the couple’s life and history together for a story of this length. Though I’m sure this was intended as a way to give his characters more depth, I found that it only served to pull focus from the central action of the story, leaving it feeling chaotic and melodramatic. I also wasn’t a huge fan of the titular character; Jamie came across more as a petulant child than a grown man in a serious, committed relationship. I found myself completely apathetic to him and his pink tights. Okay, maybe that’s not entirely true – I did want to put him in a time out. (Does that count as caring?!)

The one thing that I will say for this story is that Arvin did a good job of creating a distinct voice for Wade’s character using a drawl and regional expressions. When combined with the carnival atmosphere of the setting, these details helped to give the story a strong sense of place and time. [1.5 smooches]

Famished by Lou Harper:
Well, I have no idea what the title had to do with the story, but I liked what I read. Neither of the main characters were terribly original, but the story was well-written, well-paced, a little bit funny, and a lot a bit sexy. The tone was perfectly flirtatious, and Sean’s character was just awkward enough to be endearing. In short, it was everything that I was looking for in a story about a man in uniform (a motorcycle cop, no less!). After this, I’m definitely looking forward to getting my hands on a full-length novel by this author. [3.5 smooches]

Delayed in San Diego by Pepper Espinoza:
Chandler’s in a bit of a jam; his restaurant has failed, he’s flat broke, and he’s headed home to Utah so that he can be with family while he licks his wounds and tries to get back on his feet. Cody is a U.S. Marine returning from a harrowing tour of duty in Afghanistan. After years of bravely serving his country while denying who he is and who he loves, he’s ready to come home and move on. The only problem is, he doesn’t have a home to go to. When a winter blizzard grounds all flights to Salt Lake City, Cody and Chandler find the perfect way to kill time between flights — together.

I LOVED THIS STORY! Espinoza may have only been working with a handful of pages, but she managed to push every one of my humina humina buttons and still tug my heart strings. I found myself caught up in the action, entranced by the characters’ chance meeting, their first shy, clumsy overtures, and their downright combustible chemistry in the bedroom. These men were sexy as fuck together, but it was the hints of vulnerability and their willingness to take a chance on more than a one night stand that ultimately won me over. [4 smooches]

Hot Stuff by Maria Albert:
This story had such promise! It started out with a sexy, but exhausted man running a stop sign and being pulled over by a cop. Bow-chicka-bow-wow! The exhausted man is Drake, a firefighter and all around do-gooder. The patrol cop, Perrin, is a cute blonde twink and a rookie. I can hear the porn soundtrack revving up in the background, can’t you? But before Perrin can even issue Drake a ticket, there’s a shooting, and a car accident, and Perrin ends up injured and in the hospital with Drake at his bedside.

By this point, I am enjoying the story – the characters are likeable, the action’s good, there’s two men in uniform for the price of one, and we’re about to get some sexy time… aren’t we?! Nope. We’re about to get a whole lot of extraneous I-don’t-give-a-fuck-about-this details. I didn’t need a sub-plot about an arsonist. Nor did I need one about a gay-bashing. Oh, and I especially didn’t need to be introduced to 15 secondary characters by name, get a run-down of Perrin’s entire family tree in excruciating detail, and listen to a back-story for each of them. I just want witty banter, smiles, sex, and a couple of feels, thank you very much. But I didn’t get that. Instead, I got our main characters’ first – and only – sex scene given to us as a DREAM SEQUENCE. [2 smooches]

Duty by Emily Moreton:

Discovering Columbus by Shae Connor:

Fire House Flame by Paul Taylor:

Sold! By K.R. Foster:

Heat of the Moment by Dawn Douglas:

Double Cross by Lesley Hastings:

The Night Shift by Louise Blaydon:

Jean-Paul by Ryan Loveless:

Walk a Mile by G.R. Richards:

Secrets and Lies by Jay Starre:

The US Male by Lisa Worrall:

Good Things Come… by Rowan McAllister:

My Rating:

*My overall rating is the average rating of all stories in the anthology.

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Review: What Can Be by Mary Calmes

Mary CalmesTitle & Author: What Can Be by Mary Calmes
Series: I’ll Be Home For Christmas (Dreamspinner Press’ 2011 Advent Calendar)
Release Date: December 1, 2011
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages: 116

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):

Thirteen years ago, Eli went on a summer trip with his mother and never came back. Now, existing in a new life as Jacob Somerville, he’s again running from fear and memories, only to end up where he started. As Jacob struggles to reconnect with his father and brothers, he realizes that his lover, Craig Zhao, was the only thing filling his empty heart and standing between him and ghosts of the past. It will take the power of love—from his family, from Craig, and from himself—for Jacob to see that his life truly is filled with the promise of what can be.

My Thoughts:

This ain’t your typical Christmas story. In fact, I think it may have broken my brain. I need a minute to process my likes/dislikes before rating.

24 hours after reading…

Did I love it? Or, did I hate it? I still don’t know! Seriously. You can’t see me right now, but I have the most bewildered expression on my face.

The writing in this one felt kinda… sparse? But sometimes – especially nearer the beginning of the story as Calmes was establishing her characters and laying the trail of WTF? breadcrumbs for me – I reacted really positively to this method of storytelling. It felt refreshing. I was intrigued by the story (so many secrets, so much baggage!) AND by the way that she was telling it. Then, not too many pages later, the same bare bones technique was driving me bonkers and leaving me feeling cheated because I wasn’t getting the level of detail that I wanted in some scenes.

The dialogue was just as sparse. I often felt as if there were words or sentences that were left unsaid. On one hand, I was totally digging it because it felt like I was reading something that had finally captured that short hand that real people and real families use with one another. On the other hand, it was frickin’ disorienting.

And characters actions and reactions seemed to change almost by the paragraph. Just when I thought I had a character’s personality pegged, the next sentence out of their mouths or gesture of their bodies would be the complete opposite of what I was anticipating. Again, I found it disorienting. (Just as an example, Craig’s first phone call to Eli? I was convinced that the dude was a controlling, self-important asshat and that Eli was better off running in the opposite direction as far and as fast as he could. Then Craig would do or say something that had me shifting towards rooting for him. And then he’d do or say something that would have me shifting away from him again.) I felt like I was getting emotional whiplash.

(See what I mean about this story breaking my brain?!)

It also probably didn’t help that I felt like there were too many interactions between some characters and not enough between others, questions that went unanswered, and reactions I wish had been explored in greater depth. Not to mention the fact that I was really missing an epilogue to wrap things up with a big Christmas bow for me.

Ultimately, I think this story was great, but too layered and nuanced for a novella format. I’ve given it 4 stars, but only because my OCD wouldn’t allow me to leave it rating-less and I don’t know what else to do.

My Rating:

3 Smooch1 Smooch

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Review: Five Dates by Amy Jo Cousins

Five DatesTitle & Author: Five Dates by Amy Jo Cousins
Release Date: July 25, 2014
Publisher: Goodreads M/M Romance Group
Pages: 74

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):

Helping his sister Lucy raise her kid has put Devin’s love life on hold. When he loses a bet to her and the penalty is to go out on five dates with men she’s chosen from Guys4Guys.com, he thinks that’s bad enough. Finding out she used a thirteen-year-old picture of him to score a date with a young guy who looks like a rock star? Epically bad.

Jay thought he wanted to fall for an older man. But his last boyfriend left him feeling humiliated and determined to stick to guys his own age. When he realizes he’s been conned into a date with exactly the kind of man he’s sworn to avoid, he’s ready to walk away on the spot. Only Devin’s swift apologies convince Jay to accept dinner to make up for the deception.

“The date doesn’t count for the bet unless you get a goodnight kiss.” After one not-a-date dinner with Jay, Devin isn’t worried about his sister’s rules. He just wishes he could convince Jay to go out with him for real. Jay wants no part of Devin, but Devin wants every part of Jay . . . so he asks Jay to help update his look for the rest of his dates. But once Jay’s made Devin over into the perfect date, will he be able to let him go?

My Thoughts:

Okay, I’m going to be honest with you: there wasn’t much in this story that I haven’t already seen in a thousand Hollywood rom coms. Seriously. There was a meddling sibling, an implausible scenario used to bring two unlikely people together, some snark, some laughs, lust at first sight, pining, someone getting drunk, denial of feelings due to past baggage, the Big Realization, and an even bigger Declaration of Feelings (which naturally leads to scorching hot sex and a sweet as can be happily ever after).

And yet.

And yet I don’t give a flying $%& that Five Dates isn’t uber original because I fell for Devin and Jay hard and fast. I swear, it only took about 5 pages to have me wrapped around Devin’s little finger and grinning like a fool. Both characters were incredibly sweet, average, and relatable. They were just good guys and, unlike a large portion of the female population, I LOVE the good guys. The whole thing was just pure cute, fluffy escapism that made me genuinely happy as I was reading it. In fact, I had to create an all new shelf on Goodreads – “Too Cute For Words” – just to contain this one. I can’t recommend it highly enough for someone looking for a total mood-booster.

Oh, and if you needed any added incentive to read this short story? It’s entirely FREE as part of the Goodreads M/M Romance Group’s Loves Landscapes event. Grab your free copy of Five Dates here.

My Rating:

3 Smooch1 Smooch Half

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