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Tag Archives: Halloween

walkinthedarkmcmurrayleadusnotindecemberhalloweenhowl

*Click the covers to be taken to the story/purchase info. Further info at the bottom of the post.
**”On the Stoop”, the DSP Halloween Howl story, is currently unavailable.

When I decided to review Kate McMurray’s backlist, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t forget any shorts. And while there aren’t many, when I did start making my list of the books I needed to read and to re-read, I decided that I’d go ahead and just do all of them. There are a very short list of short stories, most of them free. So, at the very least this is a good place for someone unfamiliar with this author to decide if they like her style and writing.

Also, I find it interesting to read short stories written by this author, who is definitely more well known for her novels. Both Kindling Fire for Snow and her newest, Save the Date, are shorter than most (the first at around 20k and the latter at around 33k words), but they aren’t really short stories either, which is a completely different style of writing in some ways. Some authors are terrible at writing shorts but write completely incredible novels, and vice versa. Of course, that’s mostly in the literary genre because short stories are much more valued there, but I always find it interesting to see how an m/m author I like transitions to writing shorts. And even though I’d read quite a few of Kate’s books, I had surprisingly read none of her short stories.

I started with the two that I already had: A Walk in the Dark (part of the 2011 Dreamspinner Advent Calendar) and Lead Us Not (one of the M/M Romance Group’s 2012 Love is Always Write stories). And… I can’t believe it but I loved them both. In fact, I think that this might be where Kate’s background in literature and literary fiction (mostly as a reader, as she said in her interview with me two days ago).

A Walk in the Dark tells the story of Jared’s unrequited love for his best friend and roommate’s boyfriend Brandon. Rex, Jared’s roommate, is a bit of a player, but in the way only best friends can still loves him and sees his good qualities no matter how much he hates seeing the guy he loves being dicked around and very possibly cheated on. I thought that the story did what it really needed to without giving us too much more, which is one of my biggest problems with short stories — when they try to be novels in disguise. The characters came through for me in a real way because of the awkward position they’re in and the story is good for the season, a sweet HEA for Christmas. I give it a Pretty Good.

Lead Us Not was really the surprise for me. I remember seeing the prompt that Kate chose and looking forward to reading the story, but somewhere in there I missed it and haven’t thought much about it since then. The prompt asks for a story about two actors and boyfriends who’ve moved to NYC to pursue their dreams and the temptations they face in order to get to their HEA. The story Kate gave us was simply beautiful, in emotion and in craft. Written in alternating first person between Sam and Jess, they each tell us about their own lives in NYC and how they’ve grown and moved from the naive boyfriends who moved there several years ago, two of them against the world. They recount how their lives have started to diverge and how no matter how much each still loves the other, how much doubt can harm a relationship. The temptations offered are in the form of two other guys, catalysts who seem to be a sounding board for all of their doubts about themselves, each other and their careers, which for both are going in directions they never really expected. The beauty of the story is how Kate shows us such a sweet love story without pulling punches. It’s a much more true to real life story than many sugarcoated fantasies in the romance genre and that gave it a real ring of authenticity that makes their hard-won HEA really worth it. I’ve only given Kate one 5-star review in the past, for Out in the Field, but this is my second. I Loved It. And it’s free!

The remaining two stories are both free stories. “In December My Heart’s Full of Spring” is currently available for download and read here, on Kate’s website. “On the Stoop”, the story that was released in October as part of the Dreamspinner Halloween Howls, is currently unavailable from their website, but is also up for download at Kate’s website.

Both stories are much shorter than the previous two. “On the Stoop” is the story of a recent transplant to NYC from St. Louis, a man who seeing the differences between Halloween celebrations in New York are different from his childhood in the suburbs in the midwest feels that they only reflect how out of place he feels. When he meets a cute guy sitting on his stoop in his neighborhood handing out candy to passing kids, he sits and talks and finally feels like he’s made a friend, or something more that could give him hope that he could call the city home. This was a cute, no-sex story. It’s quite short and doesn’t have a whole lot going on, but I still felt like Adrian was developed well for a story of this length. Because there isn’t a whole lot going on, I couldn’t really love it, though it was a nice read. So this one gets a cute So So 😉

And lastly, “In December My Heart’s Full of Spring” is the story of two men who meet at the top of the Empire State building on a lonely Christmas Eve. Both are at low points in their lives and seeing an old friend who they hadn’t seen in years gives them the energy to get through the night together when they thought they’d have to spend it alone and depressed. That night leads to a bonding between the two of them and eventually, more… I felt similarly about this story as I felt about “On the Stoop”, though where that story had less actual plot, I felt like this story actually had quite a bit going on. If Goodreads is right and this was made available (in whatever form) in 2009, that makes this one of Kate’s first public stories. I could see some of that in the writing. Perhaps the meeting atop the Empire State Building is a bit cliché, but the story quickly moves on and developed two really good characters, which showed me that Kate has a natural talent for writing realistic characters, even if her writing might have improved some over the intervening years. This one gets a So So as well.

For anyone interested, Dreamspinner recently published a free sequel short about Four Corner characters Jake and Adam’s anniversary on the DSP Blog, called “Shortstop.” I talked a bit about it (it’s cute!) in my review of Four Corners the other day. Here’s the link for anyone interested in read it.

Well, sadly that ends Kate McMurray Week 😦 I hope all of you enjoyed taking a tour through her books with me and also enjoyed our interview on Thursday. Remember, comment on the interview before Midnight, Tuesday June 11th for a chance to win a copy of her book, Save the Date!

Next Up: I do the same with Lou Harper the last week of June. I’ll be reviewing her entire backlist and interviewing her as well as talking about her upcoming book, Dead Man and the Restless Spirits, about Denton from Spirit Sanguine, available on June 25th. I hope you’ll join me for that!


**Note: this review contains spoiler tags, which are shown only on the bottom of the review and are not included in the book info at the top. If you don’t want to be spoiled, avoid the bottom of the post please!**

neveraheroTitle: Never a Hero (Tucker Springs #5)
Author: Marie Sexton
Publisher: Riptide
Length: 45k words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Series, Tucker Springs series, Neighbors, First Times, Veterinarians, Animals, Physical Injuries/Disabilities, Music (Piano), Behavioral Disorders (Social Anxiety), Horrendous Mothers!, Stutters, Awesome Female Characters!, Halloween
Rating: Really Liked It

BLURB

Everyone deserves a hero.

Owen Meade is desperately in need of a hero. Raised by a mother who made him ashamed of his stutter, his sexual orientation, and his congenitally amputated arm, Owen lives like a hermit in his Tucker Springs apartment. But then hunky veterinarian Nick Reynolds moves in downstairs.

Nick is sexy and confident, and makes Owen comfortable with himself in a way nobody ever has. He also introduces Owen to his firecracker of a little sister, who was born with a similar congenital amputation but never let it stand in her way. When she signs the two of them up for piano lessons—and insists that they play together in a recital—Owen can’t find a way to say no. Especially since it gives him a good excuse to spend more time with Nick.

Owen knows he’s falling hard for his neighbor, but every time he gets close, Nick inexplicably pulls away. Battling his mother’s scorn and Nick’s secrets, Owen soon realizes that instead of waiting for a hero, it’s time to be one—for himself and for Nick.

REVIEW

To be honest, I was a bit daunted when I started thinking of writing this review. Not because of the book itself, but because I read this book about two months ago and then didn’t write the review promptly (not a surprise, honestly!). But, in a twist I didn’t expect, but should have, I find that this book comes back to me in detail that books I read two months previously usually never do. And that just shows how much of this book stuck with me. I remember thinking about it for a couple of weeks afterward, and when I consider that I usually hold books that stay with me for a few days in high esteem, then this was a really special read for me. And without doubt, the best book in the Tucker Springs series by far. Admittedly, my feelings about the books in this series so far have been so so; while I liked them all, none of them really stuck with me (a statement I’ve made in past reviews of those books). Enter Never a Hero to make me eat my words…

We first meet Owen sequestered in his dark apartment, the main floor of a split level home in Tucker Springs. He rarely leaves, working at home on his computer and getting his groceries delivered. His life is a pretty depressing one. Raised to be ashamed of his missing arm, the result of a congenital amputation (that’s where the blood supply to a limb is cut off by the amniotic cord in the womb and the fetus is born without a limb or with a partial limb), Owen was further humiliated by his mother’s negativity and verbal abuse as a child to the point where he has extreme social anxiety that goes even beyond his embarrassment over his missing arm and his stutter. Even worse, his mother’s campaign of abuse frequently centered on his obvious homosexuality and her relative displeasure at such a prospect of a gay son. Naturally, as an adult Owen’s life is rather tormented and lonely, and even though his courage stretched far enough to move away from her influence, his mother’s work was done. Owen takes hardly any pleasures in life, and the one he cherishes is soon to end. Owen has fallen in love with his downstair neighbor’s daily piano playing and by proxy, Owen fancies himself in love with the woman himself.

Even worse than the prospect of the absence of his unrequited hetero love, Owen’s new neighbor is a beautiful gay man. Owen could easily resent Nick’s presence — he’s confident, sexy and doesn’t deal with the same sort of social anxieties as Owen (proved by the loads of gay male friends who come to help him move in) — but Nick’s charm and easy going nature seem to deflate Owen’s bubble of derision and longing. As the two get to know each other, Owen starts to find it difficult to pretend that he still wants his old neighbor, the woman, especially when Nick cooks for him (nasty healthy food) and little by little starts to draw Owen out of his shell and out of his apartment. But the best thing about Nick is his reaction to Owen’s missing arm. He doesn’t stare, but he doesn’t ignore it either. He’s comfortable talking about it.

Of course, Nick isn’t perfect. As his self-confidence grows with Nick’s patient encouragement, Owen finds that as much as he needs a hero (and found one), Nick needs one too. He’s full of secrets that he’s extremely persistent to keep and each subsequent intimate step forward in their relationship leads to Nick taking two steps away.

Take one look at the tags for this book, even without knowing what the book is about or having read the blurb, and you’ll be able to tell that the characters in this story deal with a shitload of adversity. It’s enough to pound on the angst button and send me clamoring for the hills! But, once again, Marie Sexton won me over by the charm of her writing. Some writers just have a way of connecting to the reader through their words. Sometimes I like to think of it as if I’m reading the book out loud. Would it sound and feel like I’m telling a story? It doesn’t necessarily require a strong or unique character voice, but the narration immediately takes a spark in you and you’re hooked. I shouldn’t have been surprised… Marie’s words have done this to me before in other books of hers. Nevertheless, I felt as if the charm and honesty in the writing cut through whatever natural angst exists from dealing with characters who have such enormous difficulties.

While the growing relationship between Owen and Nick is central to the story, the real star of the story is Owen and the ongoing catalyst to keep the story moving is really Owen’s personal growth. Like the blurb says, Owen soon realizes that instead of waiting for a hero, it’s time to be one—for himself…. It is important that Owen take the steps to take control of his life himself. I think it’s also important that Owen has a goal other than his own self-worth. I think that having both characters dealing with really heavy issues isn’t only to show that the two much rely on one another in any kind of relationship, but it’s important to motivate Owen, to show that he can help not only himself but Nick as well.

There’s something I found unique to this book in the series that I was really happy to see. You can see in the book that Marie made a decision to incorporate all of the past characters from the books into the story, and not just the ones that are affiliated with her books. I really appreciated this, because the opposite has been true for some of the other books and showing the other characters really helped build a feeling of community in the story. It refreshed all of the connections between the men in a way that wasn’t as apparent before. When I first heard that there was going to be a multi-author series based on interconnected stories set in the same town, I think I got a (perhaps) misconstrued notion of a series that was going to be much more interconnected that it has been thus far, which has been somewhat disappointing to me. This book went quite a way appease that disappointment and I hope that in the future the characters from other books start to pop up here and there, or even better that characters would have a more important part to play in books that aren’t their own. Maybe authors have an unspoken rule not to fuck up other authors pet characters 😉 Maybe not. Maybe this isn’t even in the cards for this series, but I would love to see these authors having a more hands on approach to the other authors’ characters, perhaps even working together to plan character trajectories over each other’s books so that the stories are more integrated. Just my own wish 🙂

The fact that the stories are by and large separate means that though this is a series, you can feel free to enter at any stage and read whichever books take your particular fancy. If that’s the case with you and you haven’t read any of the Tucker Springs books, or even if you’ve read the others, this remains my favorite and as good of a place as any to start reading. You can always go back and read the others if you find yourself interested in the secondary characters in Never a Hero. Definitely Recommended!


courtesan400x600Title: The Courtesan
Author: Isabella Carter
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Length: 9,400 words
Genre: m/m Paranormal Fantasy Romance
Heat: 2 – Romantic & Tame
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Short Story, Halloween Rentboys collection, Halloween, Vampire, Royalty, Magic, Rent Boys, HFN
Rating: Pretty Good

Reviewed by Sadonna

BLURB

The city has been on eggshells since the arrival of the vampire delegation to the capital and Prince Alden has been ordered to his best behavior. Which means it’s definitely a bad time to find himself drawn to the handsome man he met late one night that asked him to dance. Especially when the man is already claimed…

REVIEW

This was a surprisingly enjoyable story that had some interesting twists and turns.

At a celebratory ball, Prince Alden meets Bran Devlin, a member the visiting vampire delegation. He has escaped the dancing after one too many dances with anxious potential suitors and is taking a breather outside the ballroom. But when the handsome Bran sweeps him into a graceful waltz, he seems to perk up. They share a dance and a kiss and then Bran returns to his compatriots. Alden then learns that Bran is a courtesan.

Alden’s family is not sure what the true intention of the vampire delegation is and they warn him to be careful. But Alden is already somewhat smitten with Bran and decides he needs to know if he is interested in Alden the person or the prince. He arranges to spend some time with Bran the next evening. They share an intimate moment and then Bran leaves.

The following day, the delegation requests a meeting with the king and the princes. The true nature of the visit is revealed and Lord Langdon, the head of the delegation asks for Alden’s hand in marriage. While Alden or course objects to this, his family appears to be considering it quite seriously. Alden wants to talk to Bran and he is able to find him the following night and takes him on a surprise outing. They try to spend as much time as they can together until the end of the celebration and a decision about Alden’s future. But at the final feast, there is a nasty surprise that jeopardizes both Alden and Bran and any future they might have together.

This is the first story I’ve read by this author. I liked the style and the characters and world she created. Bran and Alden are both convincing characters and I enjoyed the secondary characters as well. If you are looking for a short and a bit mysterious but sensuous read, I think you’ll like this little gem.


darkzone400x600Title: Love in the Dark Zone
Author: Diana Sheridan
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Length: 7,300 words
Genre: m/m Paranormal Romance
Heat: 4 – Spicy & Smutty
Sex Frequency: 4 – Very Often
Keywords/Tags: Short Story, Halloween Rentboys collection, Hallowen, Ghosts/Spirits, Grieving Partner, Magic, Second Chances, Rent Boy, Spanking, HEA
Rating: So So

Reviewed by Sadonna

BLURB

Trent has given up on life since losing his lover, Luke. He sells his body for cash, goes through one failed relationship after another, and clings helplessly to the memory of a man he’ll never see again. Bailing on Trick or Treat plans with his friends to take care of a last minute client, Trent expects nothing but a normal night of fulfilling someone else’s desires. He certainly doesn’t expect payment to come in the form of one more chance to see his dead lover.

REVIEW

This is the first story I’ve read by this author. It’s a short story about a young man, Trent, who has lost the love of his life and cannot recover or move on. He’s lost his job and has had to resort to selling himself for a living. He feels like he will never ever love anyone again and so he just goes through the motions of living, including the sex he has with his clients. It’s just a means to an end and doesn’t affect the numbness that he has felt since Luke died.

On Halloween, he gets a call from a new client and so he bails on some plans with his friends and goes to meet this john. The john has a somewhat strange request but Trent is there to do a job so he does. He john is grateful to him and pays him, but asks him if he’d rather have something else than money. When Trent asks him what he’s getting at the guy becomes a bit mysterious, but asks Trent if there is something else he would like. Trent blurts out that he’d like his lover returned from the dead. The john thinks for a moment and while he admits he can’t actually do that, he does have a way for Trent to be with Luke once more. He offers him a magic potion that will allow him to meet with Luke in The Dark Zone. It will only be for one night but he’ll get a chance to see his lover again.

Trent is amazed that this potion works and he spend a wonderful night with Luke and they talk and make love and then he is back at his place alone. Well you can imagine that one night will not be enough for Trent and he’s not even sure what has happened. Trent talks to the john and asks for more of the potion because he wants to see Luke again and the john agrees to pay Trent with the potion for his services. As you can imagine, these short meetings with Luke are still not enough and Trent asks if there is a way for him to be with Luke permanently without dying. His john has an answer, but Trent and Luke might not exactly like it.

I thought this story had potential but somewhere it missed the mark a bit. I’m not sure if it was the length that didn’t allow enough story or just what. I wanted to know more about the mysterious john and also more about The Dark Zone and what it really meant for Luke to give up his earthly life. I guess in the end there were too many unanswered questions to make this story feel complete to me.


halloweentrick400x600Title: Halloween Trick
Author: Julia Alaric
Publisher: Less Then Three Press
Length: 10,600 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Paranormal Romance
Heat: 2 – Romantic & Tame
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Short Story, Halloween Rentboys collection, Halloween, Ghosts/Spirits, Rent Boys, Bicurious
Rating: Pretty Good

Reviewed by Sadonna

BLURB

Life was never easy for Robbie, and death isn’t any easier. Being both ghost and rentboy leaves him with a clientele that is strange at best, and he fervently wishes he could quit once and for all. But the job reminds him of what he is: a dead whore, completely unsuitable for Josh, his amazing roommate who is still very much alive.

REVIEW

This is a quirky and enjoyable little short story that takes place for the most part on Halloween. Robbie was a rent boy who was murdered on Halloween and left forever stuck in his 1980s hooker clothes. He’s in high demand on Halloween – whether for an actual trick or as ghost to just lend an “authenticity” to some party. This is particularly annoying to Robbie since he also died on Halloween – 1987 to be exact. He has been staying with Josh, his live roommate for four years as he is tethered to Josh’s Teddy Bear, Mr. Snuffles. Josh acts a bit as his agent – since being a ghost makes it impossible for Robbie to use any electronic devices. This is a job that Josh finds quite tedious and he cannot understand why Robbie is still renting himself out when he has no need of money. What Josh doesn’t understand and Robbie can’t explain to him is that being an escort is all Robbie has ever been or ever will be despite his deceased status. Josh tried to convince Robbie to give it up, but his pleas fall on deaf ears and Robbie does his best to push Josh away.

This Halloween, Josh decides that he’s going to go out and find his own party after all of his pleading and arguing with Robbie. He drops Robbie and teddy bear off with the night’s trick. Robbie is jealous but he wants Josh to find someone worthy so he once again purposely makes it clear that he is a whore and Josh shouldn’t forget about him. Turns out Robbie’s trick, Jerry isn’t really interested in sex with a hooker as much as he is confused and tired. Jerry recognizes the spark between Robbie and Josh even if Robbie doesn’t want to admit it.

Revealing any more of the story will ruin it, so let me just say that I was thoroughly charmed by Josh, who is wise beyond his years and Robbie who decides maybe he needs to take a chance. Julia Alaric is a new author to me. I really enjoyed this story and hope to read more of her work in the future.


Title: Laying in Wait
Author: Terry Milien
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Length: 6,400 words
Genre: m/m Paranormal Romance
Heat: 2 – Tame
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Short Story, Halloween Rentboys, Rent Boys, Friends to Lovers, Ghosts, Halloween, Reunions/Second Chances, Witches/Magic, Vampires, Mummies, Multiple/Other Partners
Rating: So So

BLURB

Despite the risk, witches Ryan and Jason hold a séance on Halloween night—a séance that results in Jason being possessed by the ghost of a rentboy. As Jason is dragged off by the ghost, which is determined to end its own misery once and for all, Ryan goes in search of a way to save his unfortunate friend—and learns much more than he expected.

REVIEW

Ryan and Jason each have a crush on the other — though for separate reasons they’ve kept it secret. Their friendship was forged in their common identity as witches and they both belong to the same coven. Jason is a bit of a rule-breaker, and also a secret rent boy. Ryan, because of his feelings for Jason, will do anything Jason wants. So, on Halloween, they both find themselves going against the rules of the coven and practicing magic on the night of the thinnest veil. The rules were there for good reason, because the ghost that comes to their call has enough power to take over their lives, their bodies and their decisions until he gets exactly what he came for.

Coming in at a rather short 6,400 words, this story still manages to cover quite a bit of ground, split between three different character’s POV. And while I did find it a good way to maximize space in the plot, the quick transitions between characters (who most of the time were not in the same scene, but switching between different ones, back and forth) drove me a little nuts. It was like whiplash — such quick turnarounds that I couldn’t quite keep up with what was going on the pace became so quick.

It works in the form that it is in, but I still would have liked the story better if we’d had more time between Ryan and Jason. As it is, we don’t get to know them very well, especially Ryan, and all we really get to know about Jason is his profession. So, I had a hard time really seeing a connection between the two, other than a simple crush and maybe more. Without knowing more about them and getting to see some more time with them together, I didn’t see any chemistry.

So, while I found the story cute, and it definitely has a lesson to teach about seizing love where you can, it wasn’t more than a So So read for me.