Monday, November 5, 2012

Don't Try This At Home (Anthology)

Author: Anthology, several
Cover Artist: Paul Richmond
Publisher: Dreamspinner  
Genre: anthology
Length: 290 pages

Bonked heads. Rough carpet. Burned dinner. Awkward silence. Bitten lips. Startling length. Spilled wax. Pinched fingers. Shattered wineglass. Closet quickie. Flat souffle. Broken bedframe. Shower sex. Overzealous spanking. Embarrassing ex. Lost wallet. Terrible taste. Sore shoulders. Noxious odor. Absent date. Unbelievable girth. Kitchen canoodling. New toy. Stained sheets. Backward compliment. Stifling pillow. Locked handcuffs. Aching ass. Missing keys. Torn seams. Wrenched back. Angry cat. Overeager pass. Uncooperative zipper.

 Something always goes wrong in real life. Fortunately, in these stories love blunts the edges so that romance always triumphs over adversity.
 Stories included are:
 Midnight Caller by Anna Birmingham
Snapshots by Rena Butler
Basil's Luck by Henrietta Clarke
Boys, Toys, and Carpet Fitters by Taylin Clavelli
Outbursts by Bell Ellis
Tyler Wang Has a Ball by Kim Fielding
Boy Next Door by Ellee Hill
Gremlins in the Works by Kiernan Kelly
Good Food Gone Bad by Venona Keyes
Attack of the Hedgehogs by Kate Pavelle
It's Not What You Think by Teegan Loy
Slippery When Wet by K. Lynn
Desperate Measures by E.T. Malinowski
Gordon's Cat by Aundrea Singer
Photo Finish by AC Valentine

Oh boy. I love anthologies, because I encounter new-to-me authors and a wide variety of voices. And it usually works better than this. This is a huge collection, and unfortunately, only about half the stories work well. Most of them are plagued with excessive amounts of that which the anthology calls for. It isn’t enough to have one embarrassing issue or inciting problem: most of the MCs endure issue after issue after embarrassing and/or dangerous issue, to the point of making me wonder how on earth they survived to adulthood. The stories that have a single problem point work much better, unless the reader has a taste for slapstick. I never found the Three Stooges all that funny or sexy, and unfortunately several of these stories are operating on the same principle.

(Note to readers ER=emergency room/trauma department)

 Midnight Caller by Anna Birmingham Aaron is plagued with a noisy neighbor, and they work at cross purposes regarding the noise until they come together to make some racket of their own. This one went three disasters past my amusement point but got a smile at the end. 3

Snapshots by Rena Butler Starting with one character passed out on a bathroom floor is pretty inauspicious, and it takes quite a lot of convincing to get Alex into bed with Bryce. With disaster after disaster, culminating in words that should never have been uttered, the overwhelming number of disasters actually had a point here. 3.5

Basil's Luck by Henrietta Clarke – Basil, the POV character, is constantly attacked by inanimate objects and is one of the “how did he survive to adulthood” characters. The lead-in is funny but the humor isn’t sustained, though the other MC seems to find constant disaster with ER visits appealing. Perhaps broken glass and gashed hands are sexy to other readers. 1.5

Boys, Toys, and Carpet Fitters by Taylin Clavelli After wading through pages of backstory on the MC, his parents, his dog, his friends… I bailed. Trying to be fair, I came back to the story after a few days. However, more than 3000 words of meandering on topics as irrelevant as the MC’s mother’s musical tastes in the 80s and stupid dating tricks played by his friends were not any more appealing on second try, and damaged by overexplaining. When the actual story began, the premise was kind of cute but burdened with multiple multiple disasters, more meandering, and a reader with no patience left. The extraneous material may have been intended to establish character, but the same establishment could have been handled in about an eighth of the word count and in far more interesting fashion. A severe pruning and a major rewrite would rescue the premise, but as it stands, no. 1
Outbursts by Bell Ellis  The disasters are pretty much institutionalized here, with Mattastrophes and Mattaclysms happening every few paragraphs, unfortunately without enough panache to make it entertaining, mostly a function of the style. They do grope to a satisfactory conclusion. 2.5

Tyler Wang Has a Ball by Kim Fielding  A visit to the “Testicle Festival” plays fast and loose with the MC’s vegetarianism, but the things a guy will do to please a cute cowboy. Another trip to the ER as foreplay story with some errors of fact. 3

Boy Next Door by Ellee Hill Another three disasters past the funny story, but with some cute dialog. 3

Gremlins in the Works by Kiernan Kelly For as many disasters as this one had, there was also a unifying element, and very little goes completely awry in Kiernan Kelly’s hands. Not so for the MCs, who are convinced their house is out to get them. Her beleaguered homeowners solve their mystery and made me smile, for the solution and the humorous language of the entire tale. 4

Good Food Gone Bad by Venona Keyes Highly inconsistent story with completely over the top disasters brought crashing to earth with the not funny. Had it remained over the top, that would have been one thing, or more realistic, that would have been another, but it was burdened with both attitudes. This led to a character who bleaches the floor repeatedly while reciting the germs that might rise up to slay him but still sticks his fingers in his partner’s ass (source of floor germs) while cooking. Blech. 2

Attack of the Hedgehogs by Kate Pavelle  A little wandering at first, this story establishes a bit of D/s of the more mental kind, and is mostly sex. The story ends on a hilarious twist, ending rather far from where it started, and it got me to laugh out loud. 3.5

It's Not What You Think by Teegan Loy A little too much to drink at a party, and Micah’s having plenty of trouble deciding when to evade and when to clutch. What’s going on is quite clear to the reader early on, but it’s still cute, and here it’s how the story plays out more than what it is. Slapping a secondary character two or three times seemed like a good idea. 3.75

Slippery When Wet by K. Lynn  Given the nature of the injuries and the completely unrealistic response to them, I was left shaking my head. The way out of the rut may have led to the ER, but not like this. I couldn’t believe in the characters or the ending. 2

Desperate Measures by E.T. Malinowski  A situation that barely made sense beyond “impress the important client” has lovers Parker and Greg scrambling to make a lavish dinner and working at cross purposes. I didn’t buy in to either characters or situation, but the element of working to a common goal was refreshing. 3

Gordon's Cat by Aundrea Singer One of the most charming and romantic of the stories, this focuses on the budding relationship between Gordon and Mitch, who have the usual new couple bobbles, complicated by a spiteful feline. Each man’s solution to the cat problem is different, but they’re trying hard to make it work and give everyone what they need. Big Aw ending. 4

Photo Finish by AC Valentine My favorite of the collection, this story features Skylar, who plans his spontaneity in hopes of pleasing his unpleasable boyfriend. You know this can’t end well, at least in one direction, but serves for exposing the barrenness in one relationship and the richness in another. Nothing is forced or contrived here, it’s a one problem story, and it works. 4.25

 In the best of all possible readings, one would read a story or two at a time, which would lighten the effect of unrelenting disasters. Fifteen tales of things gone wrong is far too much at a gulp, particularly when some of the treatments are so heavy handed. I would revisit a few of these stories, but I’m not in love with the collection as a whole. Grading this anthology as an average of the individual scores is much kinder than the overall impression made, and results in 2.75 marbles.

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