Sunday Shorts – “Overgrowth” by Anita Dolman


Available from Morning Rain Publishing.

I’ve been working my way through Dolman’s Lost Enough story by story, a tale a week or so, for a while now. The collection as a whole has the feel of a dessert wine in that sense (and I mean this in a good way): I want to savour it, one small sip at a time. I’m not finished the collection, and it’s likely I’ll come back to it again before this year’s Sunday Shorts are done, but one story just smacked me in the middle of the forehead so much.

“Overgrowth” is a tale of vengeance, but to be clear it’s not just that by any means. At the story’s open, we meet Jules as she steps from her imagination during a wander to a childhood refuge to the reality: the slowly decaying farmhouse she and her friend played in is not doing well, and this may be a final visit.

Dolman weaves a complexity to Jules’ thoughts and character. She sort of snuck up on me, painted in light touches until suddenly I was looking at a full portrait of well deserved anger and fury, but the shift from those small strokes of her past to the dawning realization of where she is now—and why—both builds steadily and takes the reader completely by surprise. Her motivation to strike out at someone who abused her felt all too realistic, and far too easy to understand.

And the ending? Immensely satisfying. I put down Lost Enough after reading “Overgrowth” with a deep feeling of yes I’ve rarely felt, and a reminder of the power of things like #MeToo.

If only more justice was served in this style.

Written with style and elegance, this collection of short stories and flash fiction takes you on a journey of discovery. Set against the stark realism of the vast Canadian landscape, each piece highlights life’s compelling moments in the most poignant ways.

From broken youth to healing seniors, from love lost to relationships found, the stories explore the complicated and uncomfortable while embracing the incredible diversity found in humankind. This dynamic collection touches on cultural distinctions, the LGBTQ community, immigration, Indigenous peoples, and the marginalized aspects of society, opening our hearts to what’s lost or yet to be found.


Sunday Shorts — “Das Steingeschöpf” by G.V. Anderson

Found in Wilde Stories 2017, “Das Steingeschöpf” has so many balls in the air, juggled effortlessly, that it’s going to be forever bookmarked in my mind for when people ask me “Isn’t short fiction limiting?”

No. No it is not.

Anderson’s story handles an alternate world post-WWI historical setting (as WWII is about ready to explode), a queer main character where their queerness is not the narrative in and of itself, magical realism, gargoyles, world-building, style, and a complete narrative arc all with just sixteen pages.

It’s freaking brilliant.

Now, without spoiling anything from the tale, it’s about a very particular sort of stone restorationist—one who has the ability to work Queckstein, a particular kind of stone that can absorb life and memory and gives birth to living gargoyles. This young man is barely out of his training, and comes face to face with a piece of living art, and an opportunity to work with—and repair—a gargoyle crafted by one of the greats. It may be beyond his skill, however, and he’s already fighting the stigmas of being one of Germany’s hated peoples. But is the chance too great a temptation?

Wilde Stories 2017 has so many wonderful tales in it, I’m sure I’ll revisit the anthology again with my weekly mini-reviews, but in and of itself, “Das Steingesdchöpf,” makes this year’s anthology a must read.

A man named Turing visits a museum to see its rarest automata; during the Plague Years, three artists seeking to express a voice for their friends lost to AIDS unwittingly create life; a far-future restaurant offers patrons questionable cuisine; an immortal assassin may be one step closer to a paranoid king, despite his unspeakable precautions; the very existence of a mysterious and ancient golden android challenges a clergyman’s faith…

Wilde Stories showcases the previous year’s best offerings in gay short fantasy, science-fiction, and horror. This edition includes award-winning and critically acclaimed authors Sam J. Miller, A. Merc Rustad, A.C. Wise, Martin Pousson, and more. The stories in this, the latest volume in this annual series, challenges the definition of life and infamy, existence and reputation, were chosen by Steve Berman, the premier editor of queer speculative fiction for more than a decade. Contains the World Fantasy Award-winning story by G.V. Anderson!

Available from Lethe Press, and wherever quality LGBT fiction is sold.

Sunday Shorts – “Skin,” by Christian Baines


Available from Bold Strokes Books.

Kyle, a young newcomer to New Orleans, is haunted by the memory of his first lover, brutally murdered just outside the French Quarter. 

Marc, a young Quarter hustler, is haunted by an eccentric spirit that shares his dreams, and by the handsome but vicious lover who shares his bed. 

When the barrier between these men comes down, it will prove thinner than the veil between the living and the dead…or between justice and revenge.

This novella was dark psychological/paranormal perfection. I know I say it too often, but I’m not a reader of horror, nor a reader of gore, so finding a dark read that walks the line of thriller without crossing over, or a paranormal nudging the edge of the same borders is a rare, rare treat for me, and Skin is the best example of this I’ve read in years.

Opening with Kyle, a young man coming to New Orleans without much of a net (or a plan), we watch as Kyle loses the first person who makes the city remotely welcoming for him. That death sets everything in motion.

We also follow Marc, a hustler in the quarter who dances for singles and shares a room with a dangerously tempered fellow dancer, and with whom he shares a love/hate/lust/obsession tangle of dark emotion.

The intersection of the two men goes down as one of my favourite moments in prose in years, and even as I dared to hope, I knew to expect the worst of the human psyche to be explored in Baines’s writing, and Skin delivers exactly that. After all, in the hands of Baines, you know what will come of a character’s best intentions.

Skin was so richly written, so incredibly twisted, and was so rewarding to me. If it’s possible to be darkly satisfied and still raw, that’s what Skin delivered. Grab it. Give it to all your friends who want to read something shadowy and twisted and vengeful.

Sunday Shorts – “A Holiday Ruse,” by Stephanie Hoyt

CoverKezia’s been harbouring feelings for Magdalena for what feels like an eternity. She’s made peace with that. But when her happily committed best friend is suddenly single, that peace is disturbed. Especially when Magdalena comes to Kezia asking for a huge, unreasonable favour. Kezia doesn’t know how to say no, even though she knows she should. Will she be able to maintain her composure while helping the broken-hearted Magdalena? Or will pretending to have the girl of her dreams only lead to a broken heart of her own?

I loved this holiday fake-relationship/hidden-feelings romance. A Holiday Ruse had the perfect narrative voice in Kezia, who is head-over-heels for her friend, Mags, and who will never say so because Mags is her best friend and is dating this girl she’s madly in love with.

And then they break up. And then Mags asks her to take on the role—just for pretend, of course—of girlfriend for the Christmas and Wedding that’s impending among her giant family, and how could Kezia say no?

Well, easily, according to her brother (who is also her only family, and I liked that: there was a lovely contrast between Mags’s giant family and Kezia’s just-her-and-her-brother one), but Kezia has a habit of putting her feelings second and letting herself get hurt, so she says yes.

What follows is a fun, fluffy, bright, snow-covered romp of a romance with just the right notes, and a great lead-up to the declaration and aw, I was just warm all over. It’s a romance type I also love to read that you don’t get to see often these days, which is to say it ends with said declaration and kisses, rather than a smouldering pile of erotic content (which I do also like, but it’s nice to have variety, frankly, and sometimes I just want something just like this). Also, Hoyt gets a big thumbs up for bi rep, women of colour, and serious cookie decorating.

Sunday Shorts – “Merry Christmas, Mr. Miggles,” by Eli Easton

CoverToby Kincaid loves being the junior librarian in his hometown of Sandy Lake, Ohio. He spends his days surrounded by books and chatting with the library patrons. He especially adores the head librarian, Mr. Miggles, who is kind, witty, knowlegable about everything, and hopelessly addicted to Christmas. Sean Miggles is also pretty cute—especially for an older guy who wears ties and suit pants every day. 

But Sean keeps himself at a distance, and there’s a sadness about him that Toby can’t figure out. When Sean is accused of a crime he didn’t commit, he gives up without a fight. Toby realizes that he alone can save the library—and their head librarian. 

Toby will need to uncover the darkness in Sean’s past and prove to him that he deserves a second chance at life and at love too. And while Christmas miracles are being handed out, maybe Toby will get his own dearest wish—to love and be loved by Mr. Miggles.

I listened to this holiday novella on audio, and before anything else I should mention how well it was performed. The reader, Tristan Wright, didn’t just read, he performed, and the range of voices presented clear definition of character, and the pacing was spot-on. So far, my luck with Eli Easton audiobooks continues to shine (and the bar was set very, very high with an annual re-listen of Blame it on the Mistletoe, performed by Jason Frazier).

Plot-wise, this holiday story ticks off a few boxes: small town holiday, the man trying to make good something from his past, books (it takes place mostly in a library), dating-the-boss, and a slow-to-kindle awareness of a budding romance. That the Mr. Miggles in question is older than Toby, our narrator, gets brought up quite a bit, but it’s only a decade, and we’re talking thirty-something with a twenty-something, so I can’t quite bring myself to call this a May-December. May-June? Whatever.

Toby’s voice is fun, light, and amusing, and also so easy to identify with, as a lit geek myself. His comparisons of his life and those around him to famous works of literature was a cute touch. Toby has a boyfriend (and is slow to realize he’s got a crappy boyfriend), a great boss (Mr. Miggles), and a strong family. Coming back to his small-town of origin was a wise move for him, and his job at the Library is perfect.

Until it’s isn’t. Things take a dark turn in this story when Mr. Miggles is accused of child abuse, and the bulk of the story is Toby juggling his absolute certainty that Mr. Miggles has done no such thing, and trying to save (in no particular order) the library, Mr. Miggles’s career, both their jobs, and the potential of love between them. And maybe Christmas.

(I will say that while the blurb did warn me of “a crime” I wasn’t expecting child abuse. The novella is really, really good, it’s off-scene and lightly described without what I imagine would hit triggering levels for most, and I really enjoyed it nonetheless.)

This was cute, and charming, and tugged on the heart-strings more than once. And although it did have a dose of penetrative-sex-is-just-for-true-love in it, I know that’s a staple of the genre, and it wasn’t a deal breaker by any means, and actually Toby’s thoughts on the topic had some good moments.

I can happily see myself listening to this one again, when the holidays reappear next year.

Sunday Shorts – Sock it to Me, Santa! by Madison Parker

CoverRyan is assigned to Jamie Peterson for his class’s secret gift exchange. If word gets out that he has to make a handcrafted gift for flamboyant and openly gay Jamie, Ryan will be the laughing stock of the school. It’s a good thing no self-respecting boy would be caught dead in a craft store, because otherwise he’d be at risk of being spotted when his mom drags him to her weekly craft workshops. He hopes Jamie will appreciate all the trouble he’s going to for this assignment. Finding the perfect gift is gonna be tricky. Jamie deserves something good, though, after all the crap he has to put up with at school. At least, Ryan tells himself that’s the reason he’s putting so much thought into the gift. It couldn’t be that he has feelings for Jamie, could it?

This was a totally adorable little holiday short that I picked up because I saw Jennifer Lavoie had read it and loved it. Sock it to Me, Santa! is a short, sweet, lovely little Christmas story about a young man in high school who ends up facing his feelings—and coming out—thanks to a tie, a spider ornament, a sock monkey, and a out-and-proud classmate named Jamie.

Ryan is given Jamie’s name for a three-week ongoing Secret Santa where the gifts have to be handmade and all the pieces can’t cost more than $10. He’s freaking out. What if people find out he made something for Jamie? What if people think he enjoyed doing it?

What if he did?

This was just the right level of angsty and cute, and even the brushes with homophobic bullying felt real without overshadowing all the joy in the piece. If you’re looking for a mostly completely upbeat little short about a boy coming to terms with himself, and getting brave enough to stand up for others as well as himself, this is it. That it’s also got a dash of the holiday spirit just added the shining snowflake on top for me.