Last week - 31st July - we (Beaten Track) released our sixth anthology. Sixth! I can hardly believe it. It's a bit like giving birth, really. The pain, the hard labour...all forgotten once that beautiful new life is in our arms.
I made the decision back in 2014, with the release of Boughs of Evergreen (our firstborn) that Beaten Track anthologies would be diverse, with few creative limitations on authors beyond the specific remit of each anthology.
For Boughs of Evergreen, the call was for hopeful holiday stories featuring LGBTQ+ characters, suitable for young adults. For Summer Bigger Than Others, it was hot summer romances. Love Unlocked features stories themed around 'Love Lock Bridge'. Take A Chance is a collection of Young Adult M/M romance. Never Too Late features characters aged fifty-plus. And Seasons of Love...
Seasons of Love is our most diverse anthology yet. I've included the genre and keywords with my review of each story below, but in summary, there's young adult, new adult, adult, romance, fantasy, contemporary, comedy, neuro-diverse characters, LGBTQ characters, British stories, American stories... It's an amazing collection, if I do say so myself.
I'm going to keep my commentary on each story short and to the point, but know that I love them all, right along with the authors who permit me this privilege. So much talent! I live in awe. I really do.
What I also love about this anthology is the mix of authors familiar to me and less so, and even those I have read in most cases wrote something quite different to their usual fare.
We (the Seasons of Love authors) decided to add an 'advisory' note about mature content (sex, essentially) as most of the stories in this anthology are suitable for young adults. All of the stories are available to purchase separately - we're confident there's something for everyone.
Tourist Season - Deven Balsam
Genre: fantasy LGBT dark romance
Keywords: Asheville, greekgods, mythology, dark romance, queer, trans, gay
Sometimes the darkness becomes too familiar. Sometimes, love lights the way out.
One of Zeus's own children has a favorite office, hidden deep beneath the streets of Asheville, NC. Hades' existence, while satisfying, is due for a surprise when his path converges with that of Korey, a gifted art student.
This is the first full story of Deven's I've 'read', and my word, it's good. It's one of those stories which I like to share with my nearest and dearest by regaling them with snippets as I edit. There were no complaints, and why would there be? Deven's writing is incredible. I mean, look at this:
The maples held their yellow coins in gnarled fingers. The oaks shivered as the death-sweet wind teased their vintage, book-paper leaves, trying to pry them loose like a banker pulls a deposit slip from a confused, old man.I also admire authors who can write short stories that are fully fleshed out and complete, as is the case with Tourist Season, even though it makes writing a review difficult when the blurb already offers as much detail as is possible without spoiling the story.
Tourist Season is evocative, sensual, beautiful, melancholy yet uplifting. Black and purple...if you see what I mean.
Machete Betty and the Office Sharks - Neptune Flowers
Genre: contemporary LGBT fiction, humour
Keywords: surrealism, British, romance, LGBTQ+, mermen, mayhem, humour
Advisory: mature content
Tim is in the A team, professionally trained to investigate allegations of the potential mass hypnosis of the nation... But Tim is bored and horny. Who wouldn't be? The office is full of idiots, and summer just keeps getting hotter and hotter. Reality starts to blur, screensavers come to life, and before he can say jiggyjig, he finds himself cavorting with a chain-smoking foul-mouthed merman.
Tim's training is forgotten as he becomes immersed in fishy hedonism and office shenanigans. Can he save the day? Or will the team be forever lost in shameful acts of bouncybounce?
Find out in this tail of office boredom and surreal fun.
Warning! This story does not reflect realistic relationships with mermen or sharks.
Machete Betty is one of those stories that makes your eyebrows disappear into your hair while you laugh behind your hand, wondering what on earth is going on. It begins:
Monday, it was bloody boiling, the air stale with sun and apathy, both weighing heavy on my limbs and eyelids. Even the screensaver fishes seemed sluggish, limping past the coral reef like they couldn't be bothered....and only gets more bizarre, but with the recent heatwave in the UK, I imagine many an office worker will recognise the downward spiral into unproductivity, demotivation and losing one's grasp on reality.
This story can be read on various levels - in a quest for allegorical depth, a commentary on groupthink, or just a mad office caper in the heat of summer. It's fun, funny, surreal, a bit saucy in places, just generally a great read.
Once Around Seven - Ofelia Gränd
Genre: gay romance
Keywords: gay, Nortown, HFN, prior abusive relationship, lumberjacks, acupuncturist, romance
Advisory: mature content
Oswald Sattle is out of money and out of options. After more than eight months of sleeping in his car, when an acquaintance from his past offers him a job opportunity in the middle of nowhere, he can't turn it down. No matter how much he'd like to.
Joshua Roth moved to Nortown four years ago, and he has everything he needs - a job, friends, peace and quiet. He's not interested in a relationship, or anything else that would upset the life he's built for himself.
But sometimes fate has other plans, and a single glimpse can completely change the course of a life.
In a small town, where everyone knows everyone else's business, reaching for what you want can feel like a risk. But some risks are worth taking.
Ah, Nortown, how I have missed you, you curious little town. For those unfamiliar with Ofelia's Nortown series, each story is stand-alone and focuses on an M/M couple, one of whom is a lumberjack or close approximation thereof (beards and check shirts abound), and native of Nortown, the other a visitor. They stay. Of course they do.
Once Around Seven is (visiting acupuncturist) Oswald and (almost but not quite a lumberjack) Joshua's story. Their first meeting is...well, wet.
The form moved again, and a moan travelled in the wind. F*ck [Josh] hoped he'd imagined it. "Are you all right?" Stupid question.
"Splendid. Thanks for asking."
Josh smiled. A man, judging from the voice, and probably not in danger of dying on him. "Well, then, are you planning on sleeping out there tonight or could I perhaps persuade you to join me up here where it's a little dryer?"
This is a fun story, but there is a serious undercurrent too, as well as the trademark Nortown sexy times, so definitely an 18+ read.
Winter Blossoms - Paul Iasevoli
Genre: gay/bisexual literary fiction
Keywords: love, romance, New York City, 1980s
Advisory: mature content
Chris, a naïve twenty-four-year-old, breaks up with the first man he's ever lived with. In the months that follow, he travels from Queens to The Hamptons, Manhattan to Brooklyn to find love. In the process, he discovers more about himself and realizes the man he hoped to meet has been in front of him the entire time.
Winter Blossoms will take you on a ride through the streets and subways of New York City. Every stop along the way highlights the 1980s' vibrant, gay nightlife. Part nostalgic romp, part coming-of-age story, Winter Blossoms will delight the reader as it comes into full bloom.
I love literary fiction - not the pretentious nonsense that has to be read with a side order of Roget's, but the real deal. Clever plays on words, themes, metaphors and other literary devices that the author hasn't forcibly inserted into the story to elevate it to high-brow.
Winter Blossoms is a beautiful piece of literary fiction, and it was only when I came to writing this review that I noticed the sheer brilliance of juxtaposition all the way through the story:
As I climbed down the subway stairs, the smells of alcohol-laced urine and the smoky essence of axle grease mingled with the September night's cool scents from above.This constant push-pull drives (and puts the brakes on) protagonist Chris's personal journey as he comes to terms with a failed relationship and tries to rebuild his social life.
Winter Blossoms is a story that will resonate with those who were there, in 1980s New York City, but also with 'modern' readers of LGBTQ+ fiction with love/romance.
Year of the Guilty Soul - A.M. Leibowitz
Genre: young adult LGBT fiction
Keywords: bisexual, genderqueer, literary YA, romantic elements, religious (Christianity & Judaism)
Antonia Moskowitz is caught in the middle, always having to pick a side. Whether it's between her family's two religions or in her relationships, she has choices to make. But learning who she is has a price, and every decision has consequences. Sometimes it's hard to choose between being good and being right. Four seasons. Four kisses. One year to figure out what her heart wants.
Rain is beating down sideways. The wind whips around me, blowing my hair into my eyes as I fumble in my bag for my key. The key I've apparently forgotten or lost because it's not in there in the inside zipper pouch. Frustrated, I stamp my foot and make a small screech. No one will be home for at least an hour.This is from the very first scene I read from Year of the Guilty Soul, and even now, after reading the story three times and loving it more each time, it is still my favourite scene. I was amazed how many parallels there were with my adolescence - the (church) social situations, the understanding of self, the not quite knowing if relationships are meant to feel like that...
This is a story that should be in every high school library, and on film. At the centre of the story is Toni and her friendship group, all distinct and imperfect in their own ways. Their conversations, the stuff they do together...I was there with them (I find this happens a lot when I'm reading A.M. Leibowitz's stories), and I'm now thoroughly invested and attached to these guys. I now know how to answer that author question 'if you could go back in time, what would you tell your teenaged self?' I'd just hand them a copy of Year of the Guilty Soul.
The Great Village Bun Fight - Debbie McGowan
Genre: contemporary fiction, humour
Keywords: LGBTQ+, humour, British, rockin' reverend, village politics, love
Advisory: There is some coarse language in the first chapter, as appropriate to the context, after which there are only a few mild swear words.
All's fair in love and war. But not in baking.
"Oooooh...gossip time!" [Nessa] perched on Henry's desk, her disgruntlement forgotten. "Someone told the council they found mouse droppings in their seeded batch."Obviously, I can't review this one, seeing as I wrote it, but here's A.M. Leibowitz's review:
"Now that's what you call an eye for detail," Henry joked, though he was terrified of mice, especially if they were only three doors down the high street. "So that's why she was here - she's been shut down?"
This story is charming and funny and sweet in multiple senses of the word. The synopsis says it all, and I don't think there's any good way to describe it without spoiling the secret recipe. Let's just say that I loved it so much I read it out loud to my family, something I haven't done since before my younger one hit middle school. They hung on every word, though the interruptions to guess at what was coming next did get a little out of hand. This would make some quality radio theater. It's a good one to read if you're feeling down and need a hug.
A Springful of Winters - Dawn Sister
Genre: LGBT romance, humour
Keywords: gay, autistic MC, humour, dogs with jobs, love, romance
Kit is a bit socially awkward. In fact, the rules of social encounters are mostly a bit of a mystery to him, but he gets by, with lots of lists and contingency plans. He doesn't have any plans in place for when he first meets Stephan, however, and he keeps bumping into the man in the most embarrassing situations. The trouble is, Stephan keeps turning up in unexpected places, arousing suspicion that this gorgeous man might just have some contingency plans of his own where Kit is concerned.
I was thinking back, the other day, to how excited I was when Dawn emailed, way back when, wishing to submit work to Beaten Track. I just love her writing so much. A lot of British authors feel pressured to write stories in a more generic, international form of English, but not Dawn Sister. In fact, all of the UK authors' contributions to this anthology are distinctly British, and it's not about accents or dialect. It's in the settings and the ways the characters deal with them. Like, for instance, the beginning of A Springful of Winters...
"Snow? On the first day of spring. It goes against all the rules of nature, Yenta." I huff as I look out the window of the bookshop where I work.Yes, we do all talk about the weather, all the time. We grumble when it's doing what it's supposed to, grumble when it isn't. Kit might be neuro-diverse, but he's still British through and through.
This is also a gorgeous romance with hilarious mishaps along the way and has one of my favourite endings of all time.
Out of Season - Bob Stone
Genre: fantasy fiction
Keywords: demons, unrequited love, time, literary
It's the old, old story. Demon meets girl, demon falls for girl, demon creates a perfect summer's day in the middle of winter. What could possibly go wrong?
The day was another wet one, just as four out of the seven days since they last met had been. There was talk that it could turn out to be one of the wettest spells on record. Rural areas were beset by flooding as rivers swelled and overflowed their banks. Here in the city, it was just very wet.Apparently, the adage 'when in Britain' even applies to demons, but Remick is no ordinary demon - by 'normal', my frame of reference is Supernatural. If you're a fan, Remick is more Crowley than the average Hell foot soldier, and I think I developed a bit of a soft spot for him in Missing Beat. Thus, I'm delighted he got a story of his own, Amy's editing comment at the end of the first chapter - 'are we meant to think Remick is a tool?' amused me far more than it should. Remick isn't one of the nice guys, and the power's most definitely gone to his head, but perhaps he isn't all bad.
Seashell Voices - Alexis Woods
Genre: young adult MM fantasy romance
Keywords: merman, love, romance, LGBT, gay
Once upon a time, a merboy spied a human child. The merboy, who longed to walk the sandy shore, spent his days watching the human boy grow to become a man who loved the sea. A man he's admired from afar. The one he wishes he could be.
But how can a merman express his greatest wish when he has no voice with which to speak?
I've been reading Alexis's stories for...four years! :o Seashell Voices is different in a many ways to all of the others, not least that it's Young Adult. However, Alexis has an admirable knack for fantasy romance, and this story is no exception, but it is exceptional. To build a world in so few words is an incredible skill, and there are just so many layers.
My people told horrific tales of what humans would do to us if we were ever caught. They'd cut us up to look inside. They'd put us in cages and display us to others. They'd make us learn skills and tricks and keep us far away from our homes and our families.It's a sad truth of human 'nature' (I don't believe it's natural for a minute). We make new discoveries and, in our pursuit of understanding, we destroy them. Fictional stories are safe spaces within which we (authors and readers) can reconsider our beliefs and assumptions, and I love that Seashell Voices operates on this deeper level while also being a lovely story.
Courting Light - A. Zukowski
Genre: LGBTQ+, young adult contemporary, lesbian lit
Keywords: lesbian, coming-of-age, disability, teens, young adult, friendship, romance
Our days were numbered but precious.
Courting Light is the story of Josie, an eighteen-year-old about to leave home to start university in London. She volunteers at a summer camp for disabled children. When Josie is paired with the autistic teenager Lucian, she faces intense experiences that are truly eye-opening. To her surprise, Lucian is not the only one who captures her attention. Over the weeks, Josie develops powerful desires evoked by the camp's enigmatic young leader with a shaved head and tattoo on her skull.
I more or less went straight from editing A. Zukowski's upcoming novel Liam For Hire to editing Courting Light. Silly me for thinking I knew what I'd be getting. Or, at least, I did in the sense that I knew I was in for an emotional ride; A.'s style sits between literary and contemporary, making for a deep sensory experience, and yes, I cried. The characters are so real, the events so natural, this is full-immersion reading. And Lucian...I loved his humour, his insights.
[Lucian] stared at the table next to me for long moments. He wasn't smiling but there was a rare inflection of his lips. "I saw you and her, and the way you always follow her with your eyes. You two are like these people on television. My mum said they're love stories."The romantic themes are clear, but this is not a 'happily ever after' romance. It's a young woman's coming of age, her first crush, her first taste of responsibility - those bittersweet youthful moments that underpin who we are and will always be.
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Purchase links for individual stories can be found on their respective Beaten Track pages (links on story titles above).