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: Reparation by Eli Easton

StitchTitle & Author: Reparation by Eli Easton
Anthology: Stitch (Gothika #1)

Release Date: April 21, 2014
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages: Unknown (the entire anthology is 294 pages)

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):

Stitch is an anthology of 4 novellas by m/m romance authors, each with a Frankenstein/Creature theme. It is the first in a series of gothic m/m romance anthologies called gothika.

Reparation by Eli Easton

On the harsh planet of Kalan, weakness is not tolerated. When young spore farmer Edward suffers an carriage accident that kills his mail-order bride and his factory manager, Edward has little chance of survival, until Knox—an enormous “reconstitute” labor slave—plucks him from disaster.

Recons are part machine, part human remains from executed Federation prisoners. But Knox is different from other recons. He can read and has flashes of brilliance. With no one else to rely on over the bleak winter, Edward forms an alliance with Knox, and against social taboos, they become friends. Edward struggles against his growing lust for the large humanoid, and while Knox thrives in his new life, memories of his past torment him.

A twist of fate brought Knox and Edward together, but there will be a price to pay in blood when they learn how deeply their lives truly intersect

My Thoughts:

I should probably start by admitting that I’m not a fan of Gothic novels. In university, I read a few chapters of Frankenstein and couldn’t get into it. The characters, the language, even the settings just didn’t draw me in like I wanted them to. Later, I tried a few chapters of Jane Eyre. Same reaction. And, though I gave Wuthering Heights the old college try, before long the idea of putting my head in an oven held more appeal to me than finding out how Catherine and Heathcliff fared at the end of the novel.

So you think I’d avoid this anthology like the plague. However, there is just no denying the power of that cover. It. Is. Awesome. Moody and dark and evocative. All of a sudden it didn’t matter that I don’t typically read horror or sci-fi or Gothic novels; I had to read this one. (So bravo, Ms. Easton. Clearly, if this author thing doesn’t work out for you, you won’t go hungry.

Eli Easton is a real life Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There is no other rational explanation for how the author of the sweet, fluffy, holiday romance Blame It on the Mistletoe is also the author of the darkly romantic slave tale, Reparation. But while I really enjoyed the first, it is the second that I know will stay with me over time.

Simply put, Reparation blew me away.

In Easton’s introduction, she mentions that the inspiration for her novella was a mix between Frankenstein and Wuthering Heights. And, while I can clearly see the parallels between those two classic novels and this one (with a little Pinocchio thrown in for good measure), Easton managed to give Reparation a few twists all her own.

Readers are introduced to Edward in the wake of a horrific carriage accident that has left his young wife and his foreman dead and his own life’s blood pumping steadily into the soil beneath him. This is how Knox, one of Edward’s Reconstitutes – a part human, part robot, entirely slave cyborg – stumbles upon him in the face of a terrible storm. Even devastated by his losses and fearing for his life, Edward can’t help but notice the unusual tenderness and compassion with which Knox handles him. And neither can I.

Life is sacred.

While I appreciated Edward and his struggles, all it took was one simple thought to have me putty in Knox’s overly large hands. There were just so many layers of complexity and vulnerability to his character that I couldn’t help but ache for him. And root for him. And love him. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time a character gripped me by the throat and refused to let go of my attention until I had discovered every last facet of his personality and history. And the fact that Easton managed a character of this depth within the space of a novella is all the more impressive.

And then there’s the story’s setting – that of the fictional planet of Kalan – which was at once both completely foreign and strangely familiar to me. I had no trouble envisioning the planet’s stark beauty, its endless “fields” of lichen, the haze of the spores in the air, the razor sharp rocks that cut Knox’s feet like glass, or the ferociously icy wind storms that swept away everyone and everything in its path. And then there were times as I was reading that I would feel this oppressive pressure in my chest – a sort of borderline claustrophobic feeling – at the thought of being surrounded by all that completely toxic air. It was legitimately frightening. It may sound strange, but for me, Easton described Kalan so vividly that it became another main character in the story – a beast that the story’s actual main character, Knox and Edward, had to battle together.

The story’s conflict felt inevitable and the resolution, organic; both were true to every breath the characters had taken to get to that point. I believed their actions. I believed their words. And I believed in Knox and Edward’s happily ever after.

As I said in the beginning of this review, this story is a memorable one. I have a feeling that at the end of the year – with hundreds of books read and thousands of characters met – this will still be one of my favourites of 2014. I hope that you read it and love it as much as I did.

Still to read in this anthology:
Made For Aaron by Sue Brown
Watchworks by Jamie Fessenden
The Golem of Mala Lubovnya by Kim Fielding

My Rating:

2 Smooch1 Smooch2 Smooch

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