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Book Review: One Pulse Anthology

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Stories drive life. Sometimes life is good; sometimes life is bad. But it’s the nature of our community that in the aftermath of an act of hatred, we respond with love. Because darkness cannot exist in the presence of light. Cruelty cannot stand against compassion. Negativity will never overcome hope.

To show our support for those affected by the Orlando shooting, our authors, editors, artists, and staff have volunteered their talents to create this anthology. All proceeds will be donated to LGBT organizations in central Florida. Join us as we celebrate the triumph of love over every obstacle.

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Book – One Pulse Anthology

Star rating – ★★★★

No. of Pages – 574

Cover – Very nice!

Would I read it again – Some stories, yes.

Genre – LGBT, Contemporary, New Adult, Shapeshifters, Pulse

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** I WAS GIVEN THIS BOOK FOR MY READING PLEASURE **

Reviewed for Divine Magazine

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When I first agreed to read this, I was unable to start right away. The Pulse shooting was still a very emotional thing for me and I was unprepared for how that would effect me when I began. I don’t think it helped that the first story centered around a shooting in a club. Perhaps if it had eased me in with one of the non-tragic stories that came later, I’d have been able to read and review this immediately.

However, after finally getting round to taking the plunge, I was initially disappointed. The first few stories didn’t go well and, to be quite honest, the amount of time it takes to stop after each story, write my review, fill in all the info and then get back to reading makes it feel like it takes forever to get through. There is an overwhelming volume of stories – 30 in total – and some are so short that you don’t get to feel ‘comfortably settles’ in the story before it ends and you move on. Most of the lesser rated stories I’ve read could have benefited from more time to expand upon the issues I had.

There is also a very mixed bag of storytellers and stories, with some well experienced DSP authors and some that I haven’t heard of or read before.

I didn’t read five stories, in total. This is because there is one FF, which I don’t feel qualified to review since it’s not a genre I read, while the others were due to being linked stories for series I haven’t read yet. However, for the series that I do plan to read in the future, I’ll come back and read the shorts then.

For now, I’ve taken an average of the stars I’ve given the stories I did read and used that to rate the entire anthology.

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A Single Night by Jon Keys

★★★☆☆

POV: 3rd person, dual character

Length: 0-3%

Theme: Contemporary, Disability, Established couple

I had to admit that I didn’t really get this one. For me, a story has to have some kind of conflict to overcome, some kind of “aim” or “goal” to reach by the end and this one didn’t have that.

The story was all about the couple Logan and Devon, but it says ‘the aftermath’ in the blurb like this is immediately after the club shooting (no doubt Pulse inspired) took place, however we learn that Devon’s sister lost her fiancé that night and is not only now in a relationship with his best friend, but is also pregnant. So, there’s definitely an unexplained timeline there.

As someone who is disabled (not in the same way or by the circumstances Devon is) I feel that the story focused too much on how ‘incapable’ he was, but how he was trying to be strong. It also landed a very heavy sense of responsibility onto Logan’s shoulders, having him admit that Devon was only disabled because he’d tried to protect him, while he couldn’t do a single thing without thinking back on the night it happened. For me, I couldn’t be with someone who forever looked at my disability as their fault or as something they couldn’t accept and be around without thinking about the cause of the injury. I feel like maybe that should have been the story – Logan overcoming his obsession with Devon’s disability and coming to terms with it.

However, sadly, I didn’t see either of them make any emotional growth or stumble upon a revelation within the story. It was simply the story of two guys who had been affected by this event and how they handled day-to-day life. There was nothing gained by the end of the story and I wasn’t particularly attached to the characters.

The writing felt a little too clinical in places and the plot was very straight forward, with nothing to gain at the end, with no momentum and no resolution to this inability Logan has to move past the shooting.

Favourite Quote

“Tony was the love of my life.” ← I picked this one, only because it kind of encapsulates how I felt about this story. The fact that the character, Devon’s sister, can say this while sitting next to a guy that is definitely not Tony, while carrying that guy’s baby, is weird and a little insulting. Maybe it’s the way it came across, but it definitely could have been put in a better way.

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About Best Friends & Boyfriends by Alicia Nordwell

★★★★

POV: 3rd person, dual character

Length: 3-8%

Theme: Contemporary, Best Friends, Friends-to-Lovers

This was such a sweet, cute story. I really connected with and loved the main characters – Cory and Elliot. I loved how they weren’t cookie cutter people, but had complexity and managed to show that, even in such a short story.

Cory was a great surprise – young, geeky, but overall the instigator in everything once he knew that Elliot returned his affection. It was refreshing to see the younger guy having the guts to go after what he wanted, once he knew it was also what Elliot wanted. Yet, at the same time, the reasons they both had for not moving forward together made a whole lot of sense.

There were a couple of info dumps at the beginning, where we had to learn a whole lot about Cory and Elliot’s history. If it wasn’t for the fact that these dumps cut dialogue in unnatural places and made it slightly awkward to keep track of the conversation, then this would have been a 5 star read.

Favourite Quote

““I’ve known you practically my whole life, and I would’ve waited for as long as it took to be with you.”

“Maybe I’m not that patient.” Cory raised an eyebrow. “Did you think of that?”

Elliot rolled his eyes. “I know you’re not. That’s why I didn’t tell you.””

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Adíos by Mickie B. Ashling

★★★☆☆ (2.5 rounded up to 3)

POV: 1st person, one character; 3rd person, dual character

Length: 8-13%

Theme: Contemporary, Death, Family, Homophobia

Unfortunately, I had a few issues with this story. First off, the format didn’t sit well with me. For a story that was five percent in length, there were no chapter headings, no scene breaks bar a one line gap and no clear timeline. There were a few times where the ‘ghost’ of Joaquin told us that there were only so many hours for the journal to be read, or there were only so many hours left, but that didn’t really help much.

Another problem, was the couple’s – Ricky and Mario’s – romance. For me, it didn’t come across as romantic in any sense. In fact, it didn’t feel much like love at all. The only connection we got to see between these two was them having ridiculous amounts of sex, smoking together or Ricky occasionally holding Mario while he cried. There was no real spark or chemistry between them that could explain this constantly mentioned ‘love’ that was so strong and unbreakable. It felt too much like I was being “told” these two loved each other, without ever seeing it for myself.

The other problem I had was that the story was just so negative. I mean, it’s supposed to be about forgiveness and moving beyond previous hate felt towards each other, but Mario forgives his dad when I wouldn’t. Joaquin showed zero remorse for what he’d done to his son, only for how it had affected him. Joaquin was blatantly homophobic, rude and arrogant, all of which I’d expected from the blurb. I didn’t expect the rude and insulting description of hospital staff or cancer – both of which I have ample experience of. But, honestly, I think the worst thing was that Mario said this and had no idea how insulting it is to call any LGBT person’s life a “lifestyle”, as if it’s a choice. I don’t know if this was the author’s deliberate choice, because of being raised by a homophobe, if he was using the word Joaquin would have used or if it’s really how they see it, but it made me really angry either way:

“He disowned me and my lifestyle.”

Sadly, this story lacked depth and the characterisation it needed to make me care for or feel for these characters. I left the story not really caring about their journey or about the story all that much at all. Mario forgave his father far too easily, there was no sign of true remorse from Joaquin except for the fact that things didn’t go his way and there was no ‘love’ story or romance between the couple that I could see. And, as someone who has had cancer, I found the treatment of it and the hospital staff disturbingly uninformed.

Favourite Quote

“I’ve admitted I was wrong. Maybe that will earn me a pass when I get to the pearly gates.” ← If this is remorse, then I must be an idiot. Because, to me, this is a guy who is still as selfish as ever and still looking for whatever he can get out of a situation, regardless of how it affects other people.

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Asking for Trouble by M.T. Aspen

Length: 13-19%

I chose to skip this one, because I don’t really read FF and it wouldn’t be fair to read and review it, knowing it’s not to my taste.

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Chasing Tyme by M.A. Church

★★★★★

POV: 3rd person, dual character

Length: 19-24%

Theme: Contemporary, Anniversary, Established Couple, Age-gap

Perfect. Beautiful. Romantic. What more can I say?

The love that Dayton and Alex have is so obvious in every little thing they do. From the champagne, limo and blindfold start to the hot tub, cabin and nature walk, it’s clear that not only does Dayton know Alex inside out, but he also knows what is good for him and how to comfortably remove him from his comfort zone, without causing panic.

I loved the way that Alex’s fear of the dark was explored and the way Dayton provided the history/background for it. The transition from the current events to the recollection of his past was flawlessly executed.

The characterisation was brilliant. I loved Alex’s stuffy but sweet ways right from the start and they contrasted perfectly with Dayton’s laid back, gruff take-charge manner. Quincy, for a briefly seen side character, was a hoot and you could really see the affection he and Alex had for each other.

With some really nice use of humour, plenty of romance and a few serious issues explored through brilliant storytelling, this is my favourite story so far.

Favourite Quote

There were so many, but I chose two of my favourites to keep it short.

“Alex lay there and studied Dayton. He looked a little wild, a little intimidating. All he needed was a helmet with horns on it, a couple of swords strapped to his back, and voila – Viking.””

“Alex set his coffee mug down. “We’re going to wander around the woods.”

“Well, yes.”

“With the wild animals.”

Dayton snorted. “Go get dressed, baby. I promise I won’t let any wild animals nibble on you.”

“Good thing, since the only ‘animal’ I want nibbling on me is you.””

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Coming Out by Caitlin Ricci

★★★★

POV: 1st person, one character

Length: 24-26%

Theme: Contemporary, Coming Out, YA

This was a super short story, just 2% and I think that’s the reason why I feel like something is missing. There’s just a lot I would have liked to have seen, especially a glimpse of how Luke and Jason got together, maybe a pivotal moment in their relationship. I feel like that connection is a little lost in amongst the panic of coming out.

I loved the exploration of Jason being eighteen and nervous about a physical relationship, with Luke being the twenty year old. It was nicely handled and a very real moment that reflects the strength of their relationship and the strength Jason has, to ask for more time before anything is expected of him.

However, I still felt the sweetness between the couple and the support that Luke offered, even when he didn’t have it himself at his own coming out moment. I do love, though, that we saw both sides of the coming out coin – Luke’s negative experience and how he had to grow up fast and stand on his own two feet when it went badly for him, and Jason’s more positive, if nerve-wracking, experience with his parents. I also love that though Jason is bisexual, he makes it clear that he likes men more than women and that there will be no ‘well, you can just date a girl’ argument. It’s great to see a young kid, only eighteen, standing up to his parents about such an important thing.

Overall, a really cute, sweet story and with just enough angst. I would, however, have loved a little more.

Favourite Quote

““Could I sleep on the couch? Just at first?”

He gave me a soft smile. “Of course. I know you want to take your time and wait until you’re really ready. Doesn’t mean I don’t want you, just means I’m willing to wait for you.””

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Cucurrucucú by George Seaton

★★★★★

POV: 1st person, one character

Length: 26-30%

Theme: Life, Coming Out, Transformation, Self-Discovery

This isn’t your typical love story. But, it is a love story. One of self-love, self-acceptance, self-growth. In fact, it’s probably the most beautiful of all the stories I’ve read so far for the fact that Harley’s big epiphany comes from within, from experiencing an attraction to David that he doesn’t act upon and is inspired by the love he watches David find with someone else.

Because the story is told in a biographical way, we see John Harley, or Harley as he’s called, reminiscing about the past and explaining what it meant to him. In this way, the timeline confused me just a little, until I realised what was happening. At the beginning of Ch 2, the first two paragraphs are told from the present time, but then the third takes us back to when Harley first met David and realised that someone else knew how better to implement the ‘no not-jumping’ rule into their life.

Harley was an incredibly well written character. As a boy, I felt his fear and his anticipation, his mistrust and all the swirling emotions of a child who didn’t understand his place in the world. Then, he grew up and we saw him as a young man, finally realising that the world and life he thought he’d ‘figured out’ was actually a lot more complicated than he’d realised. Watching him challenge the racism and homophobia that he’d grown up experiencing and learning from his parents was beautiful to witness, but it was the eyeopening moments where he realised how deeply rooted those beliefs were in himself that were heartbreaking.

There’s so much story in just 4% that it’s really quite unbelievable.

Truly stunning.

Favourite Quote

“Maybe at that moment I’d finally been true to what had urged me to take the leap off the side of the pool when I was seven, that there would be no not-jumping today.”

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Dance by Jayce Ellis

★★★★★

POV: 1st person, one character

Length: 30-33%

Theme: Contemporary, Club, Age-Difference

Wow, what a hoot! This story had more sexiness in it’s little finger than a story that takes place entirely in the bedroom could hope to manage. Dylan is just sex on legs. No question about it. Add three years to Roger, change his job and make his cat a dog and it’s me! A total loner-loser who is quite happy to drift along with how boring life is and ignore the outside world. Until some annoying ass comes along and drags him out of his comfort zone, leaving him all alone in a foreign land.

The humour in this story I brilliant. Totally up my alley, hits all the right spots and everything I’d want in that comfortable balance between snark and not caring.

I loved that we started the story knowing that he was going to “bump into” his perfect guy and how it instantly came across as Big Man, only for Roger to turn and go “HELLO!” to the major hottie who was the complete opposite of Big Man in all the best ways. And, again, I’m totally Roger because Dylan was hot as hell.

The chemistry, the characterisation, the world building – all of it was perfection.

Favourite Quote

Come to the club, he said.

It’ll be fun, he said.

He was a lying liar who lied, and I was never going to forgive him for it.” ← THANK YOU! Finally, who says it like I do. “A lying liar who lied” is one of my favourites.

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Everyday Miracles by Bree Cariad

★★★★★

POV: 3rd person, dual character

Length: 33-37%

Theme: Faith, Homophobia, Healing

This story deals with some heavy material, so please do be warned. It mentions Paul, the inspiration for Jonathon’s LGBT youth centre, being sent to a conversion camp by his family and committing suicide there. The brief, but harrowing, details of his story made me cry and could be considered a trigger for some.

Perhaps the most satisfying story in the entire anthology, Everyday Miracles, takes us on a journey of love that has nothing to do with romance or chemistry or sex. It’s about the love of ordinary people doing the right thing for the right reasons, no matter the obstacles in their way.

There is no romance in Bree’s story. No sex, no flirting, no snogging or relationships. Just the good will of a man who is fighting for what is right against people who can’t see beyond their own noses to see what is the right thing to do. However, the way that their homophobia – and that of the ordinary people of their town – is treated is not only well written but the unfortunate truth that so many face. Often, the greatest obstacle to LGBT equality and acceptance is the ignorance that so many carry with them; misguided readings and belief of the bible and God’s views on homosexuality, or the more complicated passed-down ignorance and resistance towards something different that they’ve been taught is sinful.

The host of characters you’ll read in this story are unlike any other. I fell in love with Jonathon from the first; his heart, his faith and his goodness drew me in immediately. I grieved with him for Paul the loss of their love. I hated Paul Senior and the councilmen. And, from the start, I had the warm and fuzzies for Court Brecker, who was a man on the cusp of two worlds he didn’t truly understand. His bravery, in being so honest with Jonathon, his generosity and the faith and trust he put in Jonathon to do the best for the kids in his care was wonderful to see.

Utterly beautiful. I almost wish it had gone on longer.

Favourite Quote

I’ll be honest in that I don’t know how I feel about homosexuality. It’s not something I grew up with, and all I hear is that it’s wrong. But what you’re doing is right. And my God says that where there’s love, he is. And there was definitely love in that home. So he must be there.

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Everything I Need by Chrissy Munder

★★★★★

POV: 3rd person, one character

Length: 37-41%

Theme: Paramedic, Romance, Family, Wedding, Established Couple

This was a really cute story with some serious undertones.

I love a story with an established couple, because it’s more than about the getting together. It’s all the little relationship niggles along the way that make it so exciting and lead to the most tension. This one is no different. With a wedding to plan, the last thing Joshua and Michael need is for their favourite bakery owner to leave on a family crisis and leave her homophobic relatives in charge. Using current events of the time this was written, Munder shows the devastation that ‘religious freedom’ not to serve a customer can have on an LGBT couple and their family.

Again, there’s a case of inherent homophobia, through religious beliefs, and it’s dealt with in a straight-forward but clever way. First with the blatant hate and then with reluctant acceptance through consequences that prove LGBT people are not sinners or evil, as some fear. I loved the fact that those who displayed the religious homophobia not only showed it without being overbearing, but they weren’t made the “irredeemable villains” of the story either.

A really sweet, cute story with some unfortunate realism thrown in. I’d go to Michael and Joshua’s wedding and you wouldn’t even have to bribe me with cake. Watching this pair get hitched would be a blast.

Favourite Quote

“I’ve not patience with anyone who takes a God of love and turns him into a mouthpiece for their own insecurities.”

“Sometimes it’s easy to forget being Christian is demonstrated by our actions, as well as our beliefs.”

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For the First Time by Ellis Carrington

★★★☆☆

POV: 1st person, one character, present tense

Length: 41-45%

Theme: Contemporary, Friends-to-Lovers, College

This one is a little…strange, for me. I enjoyed the overall story. It was cute and sweet, but to be honest, it read more like some sixteen or seventeen years olds trying to behave like adults. It felt, in no way, that Wyatt and Gary were about to head off to college. They talk like kids in high school and their behaviour is kind of juvenile.

The dilemma they have is really all about not communicating and playing games with each other that could have lost them their friendship. Instead, a little incredulously, it all turned out fine in the end. Thanks to a joint.

I don’t know. It just wasn’t for me, but it was written well and there weren’t any key parts missing that would have helped it along. The fact that it was told in 1st person is another strike, as it’s my least favourite POV, but to make it 1st person present? That really didn’t help at all.

Favourite Quote

“This’ll all be easier once I’m at school and seeing him every day doesn’t crack my chest open. That’s what I remind myself. That’s what I hold on to.”

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Get Me to the Church Town Hall on Time by Felicitas Ivey

★★★☆☆

POV: 3rd person, one character

Length: 45-48%

Theme: Contemporary, Marriage, Established Couple

This was a cute story, but it really was all that it said on the tin. Nothing actually happened that wasn’t already revealed in the blurb, so I guess I feel kind of disappointed. I’d hope maybe something big would happen or that there would be more. But it’s all there in the blurb.

Gabriel and Tobiah are decent characters, but I think the story was far too short to do them or their story any justice. We got a quick glimpse into their history together, into the problems Gabriel faced and their ‘family’ lives, but I really felt that there was something missing that would bring it all together into a story with a purpose. It just felt too contrived and too easy.

Favourite Quote

“The joy of being a military historian is you get to write about violence a lot. And it makes you the popular professor, teaching the “fun” history class too.”

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Happy Pride by John Amory

★★★★★

POV: 1st person, one character

Length: 48-49%

Theme: Contemporary, Pride, Celebration, Drag Queens

This one was literally three pages, but it was a goody. Short, to the point, and doing exactly what it said, celebrating a Happy Pride parade. This probably explains why the blurb is almost word-for-word the second paragraph, but it doesn’t matter. This is a super short love letter to Pride and rising LGBT equality, LGBT marriage and all the good stuff that comes with having a family to share yourself with and the ability to be open about who you are.

Favourite Quote

“Thinking of how far we’d come in so little time, how different things were just a decade ago. I used to be so scared to be myself. It seemed surreal. I caught myself in the moment and willed time to stop, to take it all in and be fully present.”

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Hope by Grace R. Duncan

★★★★

POV: 3rd person, dual character

Length: 49-54%

Theme: Contemporary, Shifter, Series, Homophobia

This story is part of the Forbes Mates series.

As a happy addict of the Forbes Mates series, I naturally loved this story. It was great to see some of the old characters back again, but equally great to meet Miguel and Luis as new characters and follow their journey through the various packs until they could find their home.

Naturally, I would want it to be longer, but that’s just because I love a great Forbes Mates novel. However, the romance, the characterisation and the attention to detail, both of the language and the setting of the series, were all perfect.

Favourite Quote

“We are behind this 100 perfect. Especially in light of the loss of a mated pair from our pack in the Pulse shooting. They’d been kicked out of their home pack and came to us. They might just be alive today if they hadn’t been kicked out. It’s time this changes.”

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Let Them Eat Cake by John Goode

A Tales from Foster High story

Length: 54-56%

I chose to skip this one, because I haven’t read the Tales from Foster High series, yet. I’ll come back and read this story once I’ve read the series.

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Magical Boys Just Wanna Have Fun by J. C. Long

★★★★

POV: 3rd person, one character

Length: 56-60%

Theme: Supernatural, Fairy, Superhero

This was a cute, fun little story with a Japanese flair. You’ve got magical beings, two kids of high school/college age in a romantic tangle and a drool-or-cringe-worthy superhero outfit (depending on how you look at it).

The characterisation was nice, clean and efficient for the story it had to tell. The romance was cute and adorable in all the right ways, without being flashy or too hot, for the ages of the characters, and the storytelling and world building were on point for the length of the story.

There was a good balance of action and romance, enough teen awkwardness to make it real and some good fun along the way. Even if it got a little weird at times.

Favourite Quote

“It was bad timing that a Vampire shaped like a condom was loose in the red light district at the same time. That was one battle Yuki would not be able to get over anytime soon.”

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Magicicada by Elizabeth Noble

★★★★★

POV: 3rd person, one character

Length: 60-62%

Theme: Contemporary, Family, Homophobia, Death

This story takes us back into the serious aspects of love. Not the love of a couple finding each other or rediscovering each other, but the love of family and of life.

Russell’s life story is told through recollections of memories, as he flips through a photo album, using the tracking the broods of magicicada to pinpoint the most important parts of his life. There’s a little thing of magic in the story, though it’s never explicit and is definitely in the eye of the beholder, but it feels magical and that’s the beautiful part.

I love the way that Russell trusts himself and his belief in the magicicada’s, from a young age and into adulthood, never losing his faith in them. It was sad to read about his mother and her reaction to his being gay, with her homophobic reactions to even the most innocent of friendships. But, I loved so much that his dad, Mike, stood by him all the way and became the support and love that he needed to trust himself and believe in who he was. Add in the magic of Ian and I fell in love with this sweet story.

Favourite Quote

““Brood eight.” Russell swiped a few fries through a puddle of ketchup and popped them in his mouth.

“You know the brood? No one knows the brood, not right off the top of their heads. I’m in love.”

Russell laughed. “When I was nine, I broke my arm and drew the magicicada all over it with the different years they hatch.”

“I’m definitely in love.””

~

More Than a Pact by Renee Stevens

★★★☆☆

POV: 3rd person, one character

Length: 62-66%

Theme: Contemporary, Best Friends, Friends-to-Lovers

This story was okay, but lacking something. I think the problem was that we were told so much of Paul and Mac’s history, but never got to see it for ourselves. We’re told they had one night together before, that Mac basically waded through boyfriends like there was no tomorrow and that Paul tried to get over him but couldn’t. Nothing about that tells me that they have a chance at a relationship. Even when Mac shows up, it’s very clear-cut, straight out of the blurb. Mac wants to implement their pact because they’ve turned 35 and are still single.

I liked Paul’s initial anger and the way they were so honest with each other, but I saw no romance. I didn’t even see real chemistry between them. For me, nothing about these two says that they’d work as a couple or that they’d spent years as best friends. The whole thing felt a little forced and perfunctory.

Not enough characterisation and development of the relationship left me feeling disappointed, but otherwise a decent story and one that had a lot of potential it didn’t quite meet.

Favourite Quote

“Paul clutched the counter and took a few deep breaths. He was so screwed. Mac saw him as a backup – a last resort – but he couldn’t see Mac that way. Never been able to.”

~

One Big Happy… Bunch by Troy Storm

★★★☆☆ (2.5 rounded up to 3)

POV: 1st person, one character

Length: 66-69%

Theme: Contemporary, MMMM, Established Couple

I have to admit that this one didn’t really work for me. I can see where it was going and what the point was, but it just didn’t come across as it should have.

For me, a multi-person relationship needs to be just that – a relationship. This felt too much like four guys getting together spontaneously, just because Jason had a thing for Rennie. They didn’t talk, date or even get to know each other before plunging in at the deep end of a four-way sex group. There were no sex scenes on page, but that didn’t mean it didn’t come off as being all about sex. Sadly, it felt far too much like Jason was a shallow horn-dog, who couldn’t get enough sex out of his busy, workaholic husband, so turned to Rennie and the four-some to get all he could handle.

I didn’t like the way the author talked to the reader, as if it was Jason talking directly to us, nor did I like Jason. He came across as incredibly shallow, selfish and unlikeable, while the others weren’t much better. I don’t think either of the four boys had any idea what a real relationship between all four of them should or could be, and the final revelation didn’t change my mind about that, either.

Favourite Quote

“It’s not all that easy to get out the things that bug you. To put them into the right words. Words that let out how you feel, but don’t hurt…too much.”

~

One Heart at a Time by Connie Bailey

★★★★

POV: 3rd person, one character

Length: 69-72%

Theme: Contemporary, Pulse, Drag Queen

This one hits a little hard, at the end, because it covers the Pulse shooting in real time, with Frank only just avoiding being there because of a twist of fate.

I’ll admit, when I first read Frank’s POV, I hated him. He was a raging racist and terrified of his own shadow, despite claiming otherwise. I didn’t end the book liking him, so much, but I understood him a little better. I can’t really pinpoint what I didn’t like about Frank but there was just something a little false, a little forced about him that didn’t sit well with me.

Basically, Frank and Reza are the biggest stereotypes possible for a Muslim man and a gay Drag Queen. That’s probably what I didn’t like. But to be quite honest, they gained a friendship by the end of their story and I understood them both better.

The story was more of a message about not letting stereotypes, appearances, race or religion dictate how you feel about a person, without even attempting to get to know them.

Favourite Quote

““I hope someday we’ll all be able to see each other as just people instead of gay people, or black people, or Muslim people, or whatever.”

“I hope that as well.”

Frank smiled. “We can change the world, one heart at a time.””

~

Perfection by Dev Bentham

★★★★

POV: 3rd person, one character

Length: 72-76%

Theme: Contemporary, Army Vet, Coming Out, Pride

This was a nice short story about the realities of living with a disability and how it can affect relationships. Not only did we see Ty’s emotional guard raise with the prospect of a new romance and the pain of being rejected and thought repulsive because of his injuries, but we also got to see Kevin braving coming out of his closet, then judging Ty for his physical deformity and then morphing through the stages of shock, acceptance and then realization of the truth.

I liked the way the story was handled, but I’d have liked a little more of that “talking” they both went on about, for the reconciliation and the understanding. I’d rather have had a deeper emotional connection formed at the end than sex. It ended far too easily and without any real effort.

The story really could have benefited from being longer, both in terms of the romance, which lacked a lot emotionally, as well as letting us see the actual Pride parade.

Favourite Quote

“Kissing Ty made Kevin want to fight for justice, to play the piano, to grow wings and fly. Hell, kissing Ty made Kevin want to be a better man.”

~

Pride by Andrea Speed

An Infected Series story

Length: 76-78%

I chose to skip this one, because I haven’t read the Infected series, yet. I’ll come back and read this story once I’ve read the series.

~

Pull by Laura Lascarso

★★★★★

POV: 1st person, one character, present tense

Length: 78-80%

Theme: Contemporary, Enemies-to-Lovers (if you squint)

This was great! Full of teen angst, passion and nervousness, but a little hot too. What I love is that the blurb isn’t the whole story, it’s more like the precursor to everything that happens and isn’t told word-for-word or explored in detail within the story. It’s maybe the first paragraph only, summarised.

I loved the characterisation. How Hiro went from shy, nervous but brave and open to a new experience to the one instigating the flirtations, the kissing and whatever came next. In the same way, Berlin was the gruff but loveable football kid with the money, the ego and the confidence, until it came to Hiro.

My one niggle is this line – “I’ve hardly even thought about getting high.” ← I don’t understand the inclusion or the meaning behind this, since there has been zero mention of drugs until this point or after it. It’s a singular occurrence that makes no sense.

However, the tension, the characters and the really cute storytelling made it a hit.

Favourite Quote

“When Seth held me, it felt like he was dragging me under. With Berlin it feels like he’s bracing me up.”

“With Seth I always knew what he wanted – everything, immediately. I can’t say for sure with Berlin. Is he looking for a friend, one who happens to be gay, like a queer Yoda? Or is he looking for a hookup? His words say one thing, but his eyes say another.”

~

Raffled Kiss by Lila Leigh Hunter

★★★★★

POV: 3rd person, dual character

Length: 80-82%

Theme: Contemporary, Navy, Reunion

Adorable. A really cute, sweet story about a couple being reunited after their first experience of deployment. With a great set of characters and some really sweet romance, I couldn’t have asked for more.

I love that the LGBT equality was shown with both support and resistance within the sailor’s themselves, as well as mentioned by the photographer.

It was also really nice to see that they were both as worried about the other’s reaction, proving that they know each other well.

Favourite Quote

“Ford’s face heated as he imagined kissing Daniel at the pier. He giggled at the thought. Giggled. At twenty-one, he should have grown out of it by now, but just thinking about the sexual tension on that pier and the two of them kissing as some bigwigs had heart attacks – priceless.”

~

Ranch Dressing by Emery C. Walters

★★★☆☆ (2.5 rounded up to 3)

POV: 3rd person, dual character

Length: 82-85%

Theme: Contemporary, Cowboy, Homophobia

This one started okay and then escalated into the strange and unusual very quickly.

To start with, I didn’t get the whole “Rance was a man’s man…Terrance, however, was a big wuss.” People don’t have two sides of themselves unless in the worst way; they just are who they are and this really confused me. If he was going to be two different people, then he should have been labelled that way. Otherwise, it just read like a character who had split personality and no one had accepted it. He acted irrationally all the time.

I didn’t much get Rance or Remmy, since the characterisation was slim. Maybe it’s because the story had only 3% to delve into the plot, but it didn’t feel enough. I was left with a lot of unanswered questions and confusion. The ending was rushed and abrupt, and I didn’t for one second believe the old man’s regret.

Sadly, the entire blurb is repeated as the first paragraph, giving us about the only insight we get into Rance’s character. Beyond that, the story was too short, a little unbelievable and all wrapped up far too neartly, with a sudden ending that left a lot to be desired.

Favourite Quote

““My name’s Rance,” he added. “If it’s really dead, let’s push it off the road some more, and I’ll take you where you want to go.”

“I bet you could.” The face got redder. “My name is Ramiah; my mom says it means ‘Thunder’. Don’t ask. It’s a family thing. Call me Rammy. And no jokes! It’s too hot.”

I could have this man’s children, Rance thought dreamily.”

~

Read My Lips by C.C. Dado

★★★★

POV: 3rd person, dual character

Length: 85-90%

Theme: Contemporary, Deaf, Romance, Questioning

This was one hilarious story. From Toaster to the banana episode, I never stopped laughing or smiling.

The interactions between Marcus and Sam were so friggin’ adorable and sweet and romantic. There was so much romance going on. The looks across the room, the sign language, the kisses and the eye babies! Ugh, it couldn’t have been any better.

Yes, I wanted a story for Toaster the first minute I met him, but I will forgive the lack of that because of that ending; I’m forever going to be envisioning Toaster taking part in regular James Bond Pretend nights from now on.

Favourite Quote

“When Marcus reached out to grab the flyer, his fingers made contact with the back of the man’s hand, making them both pause again. Marcus felt the touch everywhere. He had no idea what he was doing. It was like internal want was overriding his inhibitions. He was sure later he would be freaking out over being attracted to a guy.”

~

The Stag’s Bane by Sera Kane

★★★★

POV: 3rd person, one character

Length: 90-92%

Theme: Fantasy, Humanoid, Animal, Shifters

That was…weird. There’s no real setting of time or place, except the “Lower World” and “Higher World”.

All we know about our main characters is that they’re animals in the Lower World and humanoid with animal features in the Higher. This makes the story kind of disturbing to read, because unlike most humanoid/animal crosses in fantasy stories – which tend to have their own species names and allow you to momentarily forget they’re animals – this one makes it impossible not to know. The stag is called Stag for 99.5% of the story, while the dog at least has the name Baine from the beginning. But you never forget that these are two humanoid, part-animal creatures even when they end up in bed together, which is where the weirdness sets in.

There is a very light BDSM, bondage, pain-play situation between them, but it’s nothing overt or hardcore.

I have a couple of problems, beyond the animal thing, in that the writing had some issues. There were at least two instances where events suddenly didn’t make sense, because some new element had been introduced that we, the readers, hadn’t been aware of until that moment.

1 – the rope. It was never mentioned until well after Baine was yanked off his feet (though I assume that it was the rope that pulled him down? I don’t know, because it’s never explained). Suddenly, this is our introduction to the fact that there is rope involved: “The loops tightened swiftly around his wrist, pulling it upward as the stag whipped more of the rope around Baine’s throat.” ← Now, “loops” was the first telling thing that caught my attention and made me have to go back to read the fall twice, just to make sure I hadn’t missed something. I didn’t. The rope came into existence out of nowhere.

2 – teeth biting. When they’re in bed, there’s a moment when Baine registers pain, however this could easily be attributed to what happened immediately before, but when you read it over (again, as I did twice) it’s not until after that you get this explanation: “The stag rode the movement easily, teeth still firmly holding his ear.”

Other than that, the story was decent and was well written. The characters (if you avoid the whole animal part) were well done and good enough that I cared about their journey.

Favourite Quote

““You smell good.”

“And just what is it that I smell like?”

Baine huffed in amusement. “Life. Earth. Forest, blood. Everything.”

“You are a strange pup,” the stag said.”

~

The Tithe by KC Burn

★★★★★

POV: 3rd person, dual character

Length: 92-95%

Theme: Sci-Fi, Space, Farming, Soldier

This was one disturbing, but beautiful, story. It was an emotional rollercoaster from start to finish.

Through the dual POV and the one flashback, I was drawn even deeper into this world and the characters lives. Not only did I feel their love for each other, but I got to experience it, see the consequences of their separation and feel the pain of their reunion.

The organ growing/transplant storyline, I feel (as someone who has had multiple operations) is a little squeamy to read. Just thinking about it makes my scars twitch, so I was really able to feel the pain and unimaginable emotional turmoil Tobin had been put through.

This touching story made me cry and is one of my favourites of this anthology.

Favourite Quote

“he’d never expected the tithe to cost him his heart and his soul.”

“Aric. Home. He knew this had to be real because he’d never dared to dream so big.”

~

The Wooing of the Marqués de Sierra de Outes by Vicktor Alexander

A Scandalous Whispers of the Remmington Realm story

Length: 95-99%

I chose to skip this one, because I haven’t read the Scandalous Whispers of the Remmington Realm series, yet. I’ll come back and read this story once I’ve read the series.

~

They Danced by Edmond Manning

Length: 99-99%

I chose to skip this one, because I haven’t read the Lost and Founds series, yet. I’ll come back and read this story once I’ve read the series.

~

OVERALL

There were a lot of authors in this anthology that I’d never read or heard of before. There were a few that I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on from now on, thanks to their moving, sweet and funny stories within this anthology.

I have to admit that I probably wouldn’t have managed beyond the first story – with the club shooting – if it wasn’t for the fact that I was reviewing this. It’s the reason it took me so long to actually sit down and delve in. Once I got past that, very few of the stories relate to Pulse and it allowed me to feel less emotionally raw and settle a little more comfortably into the anthology. I’m also not sure if it was a suggested theme or not, but there are a whole lot of stories in here all about Pride parades, but we never get to see one in action.

I do think that there are just too many stories. It’s quite exhausting even thinking about sitting down to read thirty short stories, but to actually do it requires either a lot of picking up and putting down or a whole lot of dedication put into the time spent reading. I easily spent nearly two days reading this with only short breaks for my eyes in between.

What kind of disappoints me is the lack of diversity. Though I don’t normally read FF or trans stories, they were both seriously under-represented here. There was one FF story, but no trans or any of the other facets of sexuality. It was all gay, with the occasional bi. It’s a shame that more effort wasn’t taken to make it more inclusive of lesbian, transgender, demi, pan or even ace sexualities. I had hoped that, with thirty stories overall, there would be a little more equality amongst the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.

The anthology claims to “celebrate the triumph of love over every obstacle” however there is no real theme here, to link the stories. In previous DSP anthologies, the theme helped orientate a world or setting for all the stories, making it a more natural to flow from one to the other. This one, however, varies so much that a dedicated ‘theme’ would really have helped the flow from one story to the next.

However, there are some true gems in here. Two stories made me cry, there was some humour, joy, celebration and grieving. Covering a whole host of emotions, the anthology took me on a rollercoaster ride and left me, overall, satisfied.

~

MY FAVOURITES

Most romantic: Chasing Tyme, by M.A. Church

Best self-discovery: Cucurrucucú, by George Seaton

Bite-My-Lip Good: Dance, by Jayce Ellis

Most heartwarming: Everyday Miracles, by Bree Cariad

Beautiful but disturbing: The Tithe, by KC Burn

~

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