Sunday, November 17, 2013

REVIEW: Fall Fires m/m anthology from Renaissance Romance Publishing

Fall FiresFall Fires by N.L. Leeks, Jude Ouvrard, K.L. Platt, M.C. Rayne, C.W. Stephens, and N.Wood
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

ANTHOLOGY RATING: 3.75 (rounding down to 3 because not all of the stories were ready for publication, and I don't approve of adding clearly MA material into a collection with YA material. IMHO, two collections would've been better.)

Winter’s Love by N.L. Leeks
Rating: 3

This was an ‘okay’ read. It has the expected good looking main characters and is a quick and easy to read love story. What held me back from really getting into this and loving it was that the story wasn’t as well developed as it could have been. The pacing wasn’t consistent throughout, starting off very sluggish – almost abusing the ‘show, don’t tell’ premise – to a sudden, fast paced ending.
Winter’s Love is good effort at a first published attempt. I would’ve liked to have seen Jared a little less bi-polar in his emotions which often bordered on hysterical anger. Some of the scenarios seemed a bit far-fetched and ‘staged’ to create angst and drama within the story. Less of the robotic “I” starts to sentences, along with more restraint on taking down the fourth wall could have also made this story shine.
I am giving kudos to Leeks for the twist at the end and the message at the heart of her story which she is trying to convey: love, in any form, should not be discriminated against.

Wonderland by Jude Ouvrard
Rating: 5

Where to begin? This is actually the first offering of Ouvrard’s that I’ve gotten the chance to read, and I have to say, if her style carries over to future projects, I’ll be reading more of Ms. Jude.
Wonderland is a novella, so it’s short, but the amount of emotion packed into this little jewel is almost mind blowing. With just a few words, the reader gets to watch a relationship bloom and flourish, despite being under the eye of the grim reaper. The beauty of this tale, is that the relationship comes not from your stereotypical ‘lust at first sight’ scenario, but because of who the main characters are in their hearts. In fact, there’s very little ‘physical’ to this tale, yet the reader is not left wanting for anything.
I’m at a loss of how to encourage you to give this story a chance without spoilers. Simply put, it is heartbreakingly beautiful and you would be doing yourself a disservice to skip over it.

If This is Wrong by K.L. Platt
Rating: 2

This novella follows two main characters from when they meet as children, on through to adulthood. In that time, they become friends and eventually more while facing the trials and tribulations of adolescence. Given that my rating on this one is a little harsher than I what normally give, I want to start off by emphasizing the sheer potential of this story. I love the premise, just wish the execution had been better.
I’m a nit-picky reader; it comes from the editor side of me that is always reading with an eye to catch errors. I know this and acknowledge it; I even try to put that side of me to the backburner when reading for pleasure, however, the ARC I was given in exchange for an honest review left me hoping that a much cleaner, more polished version of this story made it to print. I don’t want to harp on the negative, but the following are the issues I had with this particular piece:
• Point of view and tense slips
• Overuse of character’s FULL names; once is enough, yet it seemed like the characters were using full names (including middle) at least once a chapter. There is such thing as too much.
• Uncertain as to the setting. We are told the story takes place in the small town of Buckland Falls; I have no idea if this is a real or made up place. What I do know, is that for the majority of the story, it has an American feel, yet there are several instances of British spellings and terminology (i.e. ‘reception’ for attendance office, ‘time table’ for class schedule, ‘Form teacher’ – I think for what we know as English teachers, and the mention of tenth graders still having recess?) that tripped up my reading flow.
• The pacing of the story felt scattered to me; it was hard to keep up, and there were some major milestones in the boys’ lives that I seemed to miss. I was reading along, and suddenly time-jumped forward to a whole new dynamic. Perhaps it was just me?
• And lastly, while it may be a minor thing, it just threw me for a loop. The story closes with an exchange of endearments in Italian. Not once in the whole story is the reader ever given any reason to understand why the story would close that way, or what the importance would be. The characters aren’t from Italy, there was no mention of a fondness for all things Italian, the boys didn’t take the language in school, they weren’t raised by an Italian nanny . . . I’m just at a loss for why the foreign language was used.
Again, the idea behind the story is fantastic. I would love to see Platt take this one back to the ‘drawing board’ and flesh it out, polish it up, and really make it shine.

Our Walk to Remember by M.C. Rayne
Rating: 5

I cried, need I say more?
I do? Well, allow me to elaborate. This is not the first time I’ve read this story; but Rayne has done such an amazing job expanding the tale since its humble beginnings as a fanfic oneshot, that it felt like the first time.
Tasteful and classy, this novella has two active main characters: a dad and his daughter, taking a very important walk. Be prepared to meet a cast of characters who will quickly pull you in, however, as the reason for the walk is revealed. Rayne balances the fine line of telling a story from two time frames, past and present, through the use of a series of ‘flashbacks.’ Don’t worry, you won’t get whiplash—the transitions are smooth and easy to follow.
I want to give a big round of applause to Rayne for avoiding the typical ‘cliché’ techniques that I’ve found in a lot of m/m romance. Not to downplay how horrific things like gay bashing and hate crimes are, but it was nice to read a story that didn’t have one of these elements thrown in just for angst sake. He was able to address real issues without losing the flow or feel of the story.
Our Walk to Remember is an outstanding debut piece, and one that will ensure readers remember M.C. Rayne for some time to come. Keep an eye on this up and coming author.

Love, Unexpected by C.W. Stephens
Rating: 4

Moving on to the fifth novella of the Fall Fires anthology...
So far this is the sweetest story in the collection (I still have one more to read). For a debut project, I applaud Stephens on an easy, light-hearted read with a well-developed storyline start to finish, even if it was a simple premise.
The dialogue was great and the author was able to handle multi-character scenes like a pro. There was never any confusion as to who 'had the mic' so to speak, despite there being a lot of moving bodies (the setting for this story is a weekend wedding—lots of guests and wedding party members to juggle!) Stephens was able to smoothly shift between scenes, taking the reader along.
One of my favorite parts of this story was the sweet innocence in the developing relationship between Jon and Evan. They're guarded and proceeding with caution, yet unable to fight the temptation. A great example of this:
"He stepped back when I rose from the chair, his eyes never leaving mine. There was that look again; the same look he had when we parted at the elevator last night. When I started walking towards the restaurant, he was right by my side, our hands brushing against each other before his pinky reached out and hooked with mine. A shy smile bloomed across my face when I glanced over at him, his eyes shifting from mine to my lips while he licked his own."
A word of warning... Stephens is not a fade-to-black girl, so when the temptation becomes too much for Jon and Evan, she delivers! It's a little bit of a surprise when reading the full anthology, as none of the stories to this point got quite this graphic.
All in all a sweet tale which shows the promising future of Stephens.

Woodshed Wishes by N. Wood
Rating: 3.5 rounded up to 4 for quality of writing

Woodshed Wishes is the sixth and final story in the Fall Fires collection. A small warning: like the one preceding it, Love, Unexpected, this tale is graphic and clearly meant for an adult audience. This is the third book of Wood’s I’ve had the pleasure of reading, so I was braced for a twist of some sort, and she delivers.
The writing style is almost wispy; filled with extensive detail, the story unfolds a little at a time. Unfortunately, for me, it was a little too slow this time around. While the writing is well-done, the pace is languid. However, when you get to the twist, it becomes clear why Woods chose to write her story this way. Overall, the plotline just lacked some oomph.
This novella introduces us to Ben, a reclusive gay romance author, who lives in the woods away from the distractions of city life. He is shy, not overly strong, and has a secret . . . fantasy. One that involves erotic spanking. I will insert here that the intimate scenes are penned with care, and class.
Overall, my initial reaction to Woodshed Wishes is a 3.5, but only because the storyline just didn’t grab me and reel me in. For quality of writing, I’m rounding to a 4. And if you’re in the mood for a fast read, with some hot boy-loving, you may find your wishes coming true with Wood’s latest offering.

*I was given an ARC in exchange for an honest review*

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