Monday, April 16, 2012

Marvelous Collection of Short Stories

Those who follow my reviews probably know that I love m/m romance, preferably those that culminate in a happy ending. While some of the tales in Jerry L. Wheeler's Strawberries and Other Erotic Fruits fit that description, others do not. However, as different as they all are, each and every story drew me in, captured my full attention, and had me saying, "Oh, this is gonna be my favorite!" Until I read the next one...

I have to admit that the first two offerings had me worried about the overall tone of this collection of short stories. The first, Strawberries, I'd describe as erotica meets The Twilight Zone. Imaginative, unique, and left me shivering for hours. I'll never look at a scarecrow the same way again. 

In the forward of this volume, the author speaks of Poe's influence. That influence shows with creepy, macabre clarity in the second story, Spider Strands. A tattoo enthusiast, I'll be looking long and hard at the next guy I let ink my skin. 

At this point, I was worried that I was in for more "sitting around the campfire telling spooky stories," but with perfect timing the author lightened the mood with Waafrneeaasuu, a laughingly funny look at a man's attempt to erase the one undesirable trait in his otherwise perfect boyfriend. Man, I loved Eduardo and the cocky fortune teller. A bear in cargo short and leather vest? And before you picture a leather daddy, I'm talking a real (somewhat) bear here. 

The Fireside Bright tugged at my heartstrings. The author deftly paints enough of a background to allow us to fill in and flesh out the story however our personal view of the world sees fit. 

Snapshots isn't an easy story, but one filled with revenge, grudges, a touch of remorse and…poetic justice, perhaps? I found myself thinking of this one long after I'd finished reading. 

I found this collection well arranged, the stories dropping me into valleys then lifting me up again. The Fireside Bright began the descent (emotionally), it bottomed out with Snapshots, then climbed again with Changing Planes, a story of reaffirmation and finding a reason to go on living. 

Have you ever read in the paper about a man described as "such a quiet guy" who was discovered having done something heinous? Did you wonder how such an obscure person made the leap from loser to mindless, remorseless killer? We're shown in Love, Sex, & Death on the Daily Commute. Wow, I never saw that coming!

The Telephone Line is a little slice of life, a memorable afternoon interlude. Who hasn't fantasized about a hot telephone repair man showing up at the door and staying for a little fun? 

In the mood to have your heart broken and put back together again? Read Templeton's in Love. I cried tears both sad and happy. And if you're looking for a bittersweet but happy ending... ladies and gentlemen, step right this way. 

Little Danny's Donuts provides a tongue in cheek take on the old cliché about cops and donuts, and if ever two men belonged together, it was Danny and his "Nordic fishercop."

We began our descent again with the thought-provoking Cumsmoke, where justice fits the crime. Chilling and unexpected, this short story provided another twist that I just didn't see coming. As with each of these stories, I wholeheartedly admired the word choices and construction as much as the story itself. There is never a dull moment. 

You Know You Want To looked inside the mind of a basically good person, putting him in a situation and asking, "how much can you take?" and "what would you do if you knew there'd be no consequences?" Initially seduced, our hero retains enough clarity of mind to see the consequences, and he does the right thing to save the man he's never stopped loving. 

I think I know Yuri, from Yuri, a Pride Memoir, all bright-eyed and enthusiastically embracing the ability to live as he chooses, openly with no fear. I followed this "kid in a candy store" along through the thrill of his first Pride Weekend, bouncing around from sight to sight with him. Such an infectious energy captured by words! For all of the characters I "met" in this collection, there's not a single cookie-cutter, all are unique (well, except for maybe the two cops that the protag couldn't tell apart) and three-dimensional. Yuri had me grinning.

After all is said and done, I must admit that the very last story, A Thirst for Talent, is my favorite, if I have to choose. Vampires that feed on talent, not blood, and who compete with each other for the brightest and best. I fell totally in love with Wade, the prize squabbled over by two vampires. Fresh-faced country boy with tons of talent and zero guile meets Warner, a vampire who has a heart after all, and loses it to Wade, created a major "awwww" moment for this hopeless romantic. Even been-there-done-that-seen-it-all Stacks wormed his way into my heart. And then... The author took everything I thought I knew and turned it on its ear! Bad author! Or rather, good author! 

Sometimes you read a story and know what's going to happen but continue reading anyway because the view is so excellent on the ride. Well, get ready to throw the map away, because once you start reading, there's no telling where you'll end up. But you will enjoy the ride, and remember the journey, with Jerry L. Wheeler as your tour guide. 

Highly, highly recommended. 

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