Note to Readers: This story is written in the present tense (though it doesn’t bother me, I know it does some).
Eli is a Texas boy through and through, playing Big City Cowboy in DC for an internship with the USDA. He’s only been away from home a month, but it’s quite a bit of a culture shock, evidenced by the opening scene. As Eli searches the local supermarket’s beer section for Lone Star (according to his mother the ONLY beer appropriate to use for making brats), a beer he is going to have to substitute for mass-produced swill to make the recipe, he is approached by Bodie and “schooled” in the art of brewing and what is available to Eli locally so that his momma’s recipe won’t be sullied by bad beer. After a friendly and comfortable conversation, the two go back to Bodie’s house for a beer tasting and get to know each other.
I have never read anything by Bella Leone before and I believe this is one of her first published stories. Though I enjoyed the characters, I had trouble with quite a bit of the story. It fell into a few new author traps, but not ones impossible to work through. I counted quite a few cliches, as well as a general feeling of melodrama that just seemed a little too rosy for everyday life of these two men. That prevailing feeling made the story seem much more serious than it was presented to be, as it started out in quite a light humor.
The biggest difficulty I found, however, was in the pacing of the story. Again, it seemed to me that this was probably another trap easy to fall into. Generally, short stories (especially those in the moment, in present tense) don’t allow for much more than one or two scenes without a lot of creative crafting to keep the pace of the story. “Happy Hour” spanned several years, but in only a few scenes, so that the last scene felt like an epilogue. It was necessary then to know how Bodie and Eli came to be at this point in their relationship when we’ve left them on the verge of barely starting it, which took up several pages.
All in all not a bad effort and two characters that I really liked. I was a bit disappointed that what I was most looking forward to, the silly getting-to-know-you period spoken of in the blurb, was only quickly touched on. On the whole, the story could have used more work before being published, but there’s definitely promise in Bella Leone’s writing. I’d like to read more of what she writes in the future.(less)
Set roughly twenty-three years in the future, Home Fires Burning is the story of one man’s short vacation as...moreReview posted at Brief Encounters Reviews.
Set roughly twenty-three years in the future, Home Fires Burning is the story of one man’s short vacation as he reconnects with old friends and family, remembers bits about his past and constantly tries to soothe the ache he has for his husband serving abroad in the military.
Ryan is an official “Military Husband” and has been missing Daniel for seven months now, even though Daniel has been on a career track in the military for over twenty years and they have been mostly separated for the past five years, as Daniel leaves on tour after tour and is constantly being commissioned for extensions abroad. Even though he hates that he’s missing Daniel, Ryan knows how much Daniel loves serving in the Air Force, so he suffers his loneliness in silence. Called the Angsty Artist friend among his old high school buddies, Ryan has finally capitulated to his family and friend Phil and come for a visit to the east coast. Ryan constantly feels morose and yes, a bit angsty and sullen, he tries to fight the uncertainty in his relationship with Daniel by reconnecting with old friends and family.
Before I get into the details of what I liked about this story, I have to say that story was a very satisfying read for me, for some reason that I can’t quite explain. The tone of the story is very dampened by Ryan’s sadness at his separation from the love of his life, yet he’s surrounded by friends and family that really truly care for him, and support him so that he’s not swallowed by his loneliness. And no matter how introspective (and therefore tending to retreat into his sullen nature) that Ryan is, he really tries to look toward the future and the happy times that he knows must be ahead. I thought that the author made a really great choice in connecting Ryan’s situation with his old high school friends’ nostalgia as they talk over their shared history. The juxtaposition of Ryan’s situation with the fact that as an adult the old feelings from that time and the bullying and such now seem so small, yet that “the old truisms” still hold true, that things do really get better. This, along with the fact that being with people and not retreating into himself, really helps Ryan deal with his loneliness.
At first, I thought that the futuristic setting seemed strange. What does such a setting, in such a short time into the future really have to offer the story? In the end, I thought that it was a nice subtle touch. The story could certainly make sense in any time frame, but it serves to separate the political connections that such a story might automatically make if it was set in the present time. It also allowed the author to play with what the world might be like in reference to the decisions we make now — such as the subtle desolation and sadness about the world (erosion of beaches, the unavailability of “real food”). It very subtly alters the mood of the story to an almost post-apocalyptic tone, which very nicely marries into Ryan’s mood. The one part that I could have done without was the few electronic and systems differences that serve to remind us of the futuristic setting. While interesting in and of themselves, I didn’t feel like they furthered the story in any way except in exposition (i.e. a simple way to explain traveling long distances in short periods, etc.).
Of all the It Get’s Better Charity Sips I’ve read from Torquere this year, some of which were very good, I think I liked how the It Get’s Better theme was portrayed in this story the best. The story was heartwarming and I love to read about established couples. The focus of the story on Ryan’s personal growth was nice and I ended up really liking the relationship. I’ll recommend it and happily give it a B+.(less)
Erim is traveling with his lover Adair to his home for the first time, the first time that Adair has been home sin...moreReview for Brief Encounters Reviews.
Erim is traveling with his lover Adair to his home for the first time, the first time that Adair has been home since he left town after his first love Rhaine died. Even though Erim doesn’t share the beliefs of Adair and his family, he’s willing to light a candle for their spirits that night alongside Adair’s father and the candle for Rhaine. A soldier, Erim doesn’t believe himself eloquent, but he knows what Adair means to him and at some point he’ll have to find the words when Adair faces that the chapter of his life with Rhaine has ended and another with Erim has begun.
I really enjoyed this very short and sweet story. The plot is minimal, but I got the feeling that Erim and Adair really love each other and that they’ve found the one meant for them and appreciate it. There is a slow and steady tone to the story that works well with the celebration and remembrance of Samhain and the secondary characters of Adair’s family. I liked the little details about the world and time, especially in the beliefs of the family, which Adair mentions come from their supposed descendance from Fairies (which is given creed by his slightly tapered ears).
The sex scene between the two is sweet, even though I’d thought it could be a bit more intimate because of the placement in the story. In fact, even though having the scene worked in the story, I could have done without it. I thought that the message it meant of convey (a loving covenant) was pretty well made by then, as I thought the two characters had a pretty strong connection already.
The story is pretty well contained and certainly doesn’t overdo the amount of plot or story wanted in so short a word count. Still, I wouldn’t have minded a bit more — if not more plot, then a bit more about their relationship history, the beliefs of the family and their heritage, as well as world-building in general. Is there magic in this world? I understand that isn’t the point of the story. Still, the few little details about Adair’s ears and such made me curious.
Returning home to Vermont after a few weeks away, Kyle stops under an overpass in a violent storm when he sees a...moreReviewed at Brief Encounters Reviews.
Returning home to Vermont after a few weeks away, Kyle stops under an overpass in a violent storm when he sees a dispirited figure curled up in the elements riding out the storm. Forgoing his usual reserve, Kyle invites the stranger into his car and offers him a ride. But, not only is he shocked that the man seems to know his name, but by his visage in the car’s light, a beautiful and weathered face marred with one long thick scar. Looking past the scar, Kyle can see that the man is Gage, once the love of his young, teenaged life and the man that left him and their town behind after Gage’s conservative father found them together in the family’s hayloft. Now he is broken, scarred and suffers from seizures that cause short-term amnesia. On the way to Kyle’s home, he and Gage discuss their lives since they parted and if there’s any chance for them in the future, or if there even will be a future.
This story started out on a really strong note. The setting, tone and mood were superb in a classic B-movie horror flick scenario (storm, dark road, picking up a scared and scraggly hitchhiker), yet underscored with sadness and regret once Kyle understand’s just who the unkempt and sad man is. It made me excited about the story, but I was disappointed when after that scene, I felt the story progressed way too quickly. It isn’t only that the story is much too large for 24 pages, with too much shared history and anger and regret accumulated between them, but also that I felt the pace and tone changed from that first scene. Once the two men made it safety out of the storm, the story moved from slow, concerned and considering to a quick deluge of feelings and what seemed to me a more rosy view of the situation than I had seen from the beginning of the story.
Though I found that a major disruption from my enjoyment of the story, I still liked the story. It was hopeful and deals with a pretty literal translation of the It Gets Better theme, which I liked. Gage is truly broken, his face a manifestation of the split that has occurred within him, one that Kyle sees as part of his burden to help bear and heal. I liked the little bits of history that they share greatly, the random childhood stories they think of in lulls of conversation that really show the history they share and that they were once just two boys who were best friends. I felt like the characters would make a good team in the future from that shared history and those little stories. Yet, still, I wish the story had been twice as long, with a little more give and take in dialogue and more time for the characters to come together, make concessions in their mutual feelings and get to know each other again.
Cory’s car won’t start and just about everyone has left campus already to head home for winter break. Then, who should come to his rescue but Jeff, star basketball player and Cory’s secret high school crush? When his car won’t start, Jeff surprises Cory by not only waiting for a tow to a local garage, but also giving him a three hour ride home. Then, before he can even allow his old feelings for Jeff to resurface, one day Cory sees Jeff and his father fighting outside their house in their hometown. Cory isn’t sure whether he’s returning the favor of being a friend or furthering his fantasy of getting close to Jeff, but lending an ear to Jeff’s troubles gives him a shock or two than completely changes the game.
This was a short, sweet story that dealt with a pretty straight forward message against bullying by using a familiar opposites attract duo — the jock and the goth kid. Cory has grown out of his shyness with college and the network he as been able to enter there — friends, a Gay-Straight Alliance, acceptance. His rebellion from being stuck in his hometown has quieted and the goth clothes have gone away. From Cory’s POV, Jeff is the epitome of straight cool, and though his crush on Jeff has also gone a bit into history, he still holds some feelings for him, shown by the fact that he still never misses any of his home games. Yet, now the feelings are somewhat love/hate. Jeff once stood up for him when he was being taunted, but in light of the Jeff he knows now, was that still a cowardly act? He’s not sure.
This was well written and there isn’t much to critique. Though dealing with heavy issues, they were generally in the past and hadn’t overly-affected Cory in a negative way, so the story remained light. A good story for the them “It Get’s Better,” also evidenced in a line in the story. B-(less)
Steamy, deliciously smutty story about two lone wolves and roommates. Steve has just come out of the closet since he can't come out as a wolf, but mos...moreSteamy, deliciously smutty story about two lone wolves and roommates. Steve has just come out of the closet since he can't come out as a wolf, but mostly to get his roommate to notice him. It doesn't seem to work, nor does the parade of guys he's brought through the house in the one week he's been out of the closet, so Steve comes up with a new plan that hopefully won't fail as the others have. It gets four stars for the alone!(less)
This was such a cute story. I love reading about characters whose crushes show with frustration and fighting. It must be the schoolyard boy in me who...moreThis was such a cute story. I love reading about characters whose crushes show with frustration and fighting. It must be the schoolyard boy in me who loves to laugh and the oblivious characters. Plus, it makes for some funny dialogue.
My only wish was that there was about 10-15 extra pages. The story ended just as it was getting started. Still, I loved that scene at the end when they're drying off in the cab of Lulu :) So sweet.(less)