Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Review: Summer Love Anthology edited by Annie Harper

I was lent this by my friend Charlie, who's reviewed it herself at Charlie in a Book and pretty much says nearly everything I wanted to say. Her story by story approach is something I've never been good at for short story anthologies, so if you want more details, I'd highly recommend heading over to her blog; I just wanted to share a few thoughts here as well.

The overall feeling I got when reading this collection was of real happiness and joy - there's an amazing feelgood factor which I still don't think we see enough of in LGBT books (although with novels like Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda and Everything Leads To You recently, there's at least a real improvement happening!) I particularly loved the exceptional chemistry between several of the pairings, and the accepting families and friends which many, although not all, of the characters here had.

Naomi Tajedler's What The Heart Wants, a contemporary story taking place around a summer art class, is the masterpiece of the collection, managing to include a young girl coming out, a gorgeous first relationship, a strong friendship, sibling rivalry, and a character who identifies as asexual. (This last, in particular, is something I want to see SO MUCH more of and barely ever find!) This is so well done it feels as rich and fulfilling as many novels do, in the space of just 40 pages or so. I loved so many characters here and will pre-order multiple copies of anything by Tajedler after reading this.

The other stand-out for me is Amy Stilgenbauer's The Fire Eater's Daughter, a carnival-set 1950s romance with a young girl waiting for the return of the fire eater's daughter who she's fallen for. As well as protagonist Ruth and love interest Constance, I adored Ruth's mother Hannah, a Polish woman who cares deeply for her daughter. I originally wrote that this needed to be a novel of its own, but that's ridiculous, thinking about it. It doesn't NEED to be anything other than it is, a gorgeously evocative short story. That said, I'd absolutely read a full length work based on this, or following later adventures of any/all of these three superb characters!

'Gorgeously evocative' is also the best way to describe The Willow Weeps For Us, Suzey Ingold's story of two young men falling in love in the hazy summer and autumn of 1939, just before war breaks out. I loved Jack and Richard, and the quietness of their romance, and Ingold and Stilgenbauer are the two authors here whose writing style stands out as exceptionally good.

Brief thoughts on the others - Cody and Andre in Beautiful Monsters by Rachel Davidson Leigh have stunning chemistry between them, as do Poppy and Ava in On The Shore by Rachel Blackburn. Ella J Ash's Surface Tension features some of the best flirting I've seen for a long, long time, and I love reading great flirting. S J Martin's The Most Handsome, about a transgender main character learning to accept himself, is a lovely story and of all of the contemporary ones probably has the best sense of place, capturing the small town of Provincetown beautifully. The remaining two, Caroline Hanlin's Something Like Freedom and My Best Friend by H J Coulter, didn't stand out so much to me but are solid reads and add to the collection's diversity.

In general, I'd read more from any author included here - an impressive success rate for any anthology, particularly one featuring stories from 9 debutantes! Hugely recommended; I'm sure anyone with an interest in LGBTQ books will find several stories to love here.

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