If The Fates Allow~ A Holiday Anthology
Authors: Killian B. Brewer ~ Pene Henson ~ Erin Finnegan
Lilah Suzanne ~ Lynn Charles
Publisher: Interlude Press
Publication Date: December 1, 2017
Length: 212 pages
Reviewed by Erin
Synopsis & Bios
Gracious Living Magazine Says It Has to Be a Live Tree by Killian B. Brewer: Determined to make his first Christmas with his new boyfriend magazine-perfect, Marcus seeks the advice of lovable busy bodies, the Do-Nothings Club. When he learns that his boyfriend, Hank, may have ordered a ring, Marcus’ attempts to transform his home into a winter wonderland get out of hand. Featuring the characters from Lunch With the Do-Nothings at the Tammy Dinette.
Killian B. Brewer lives in his life-long home of Georgia with his partner and their dog. He has written poetry and short fiction since he was knee-high to a grasshopper. Brewer earned a BA in English and does not use this degree in his job in the banking industry. He has a love of greasy diner food that borders on obsessive. Lunch with the Do-Nothings at the Tammy Dinette was published in January, 2017. His debut novel, The Rules of Ever After, is available from Duet Books, the young adult imprint of Interlude Press.
True North by Pene Henson: Shay Allen returns to her hometown in Montana for the holidays with her best friend Devon with the intent to return home to L.A. by New Year’s Eve. Instead, the weather traps them in the small town, but the there’s a bright spot: her old crush Milla is still in town.
Pene Henson has gone from British boarding schools to New York City law firms. She now lives in Sydney, Australia, where she is an intellectual property lawyer and published poet who is deeply immersed in the city’s LGBTQIA community. She spends her spare time enjoying the outdoors and gazing at the ocean with her gorgeous wife and two unexpectedly exceptional sons. Her first novel Into the Blue (Interlude Press, 2016) received a Lambda Literary Award for Gay Romance. Her second novel, Storm Season, was published by Interlude Press in 2017.
Last Call at the Casa Blanca Bar & Grille by Erin Finnegan: As the one-year anniversary of his lover’s death rolls around on Christmas, Jack Volarde finds himself at their old haunt—a bar called the Casa Blanca, where a new bartender helps him open up about loss, and see brightness in a future that had grown dim.
Erin Finnegan is a former journalist and a winemaker who lives in the foothills outside Los Angeles. Her novel Luchador was named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2016, and along with her 2014 debut novel, Sotto Voce, received both a Foreword Reviews INDIES Book of the Year award and a PW starred review.
Halfway Home by Lilah Suzanne: Avery Puckett has begun to wonder if her life has become joyless. One night, fate intervenes in the form of a scraggly dog shivering and alone in a parking lot. Avery takes him to a nearby shelter called Halfway Home where she meets bright and beautiful Grace, who is determined to save the world one stray at a time.
Lilah Suzanne has been writing actively since the sixth grade, when a literary magazine published her essay about an uncle who lost his life to AIDS. A freelance writer from North Carolina, she spends most of her time behind a computer screen, but on the rare occasion she ventures outside she enjoys museums, libraries, live concerts, and quiet walks in the woods. Lilah is the author of the Interlude Press books Spice, Pivot and Slip, and the Amazon bestselling Spotlight series: Broken Records, Burning Tracks and Blended Notes.
Shelved by Lynn Charles: When library clerk Karina Ness meets a new patron, lonely business owner, Wesley Lloyd, she puts her own love life on hold and begins a holiday matchmaking mission to connect Wes with her uncle Tony.
Lynn Charles’ love of writing dates to her childhood, when thoughts, dreams, frustrations, and joys poured onto the pages of journals and diaries. She lives in Central Ohio with her husband and adult children where a blind dog and his guardian cat rule the roost. When she’s not writing, Lynn can be found planning a trip to New York or strolling its streets daydreaming about retirement. Her novel Black Dust (2016) was named a finalist for a Foreword Reviews INDIES Book of the Year award. Her other novels include Beneath the Stars (2017) and Chef’s Table (2014).
Every year I look forward to holiday stories. Christmas, Hanukkah, winter solstice ... the particulars don't matter because it's the spirit of the season that warms my heart. The sense of hope and love and joy always leaves a smile on my face and reminds why this is such a special time of year. When those stories are full of diverse characters, plots that are unique, and settings I've not read a million times before it's even better. I knew the If the Fates Allow anthology from Interlude Press would be excellent and I'm so happy to say I wasn't wrong.
I'm not going to review each story individually because as a whole, the entire thing is wonderful. Each story is unique, each one brings something different. Whether it's the humor and nostalgia in Gracious Living Says It Has to Be a Live Tree (some title, huh?!) by Killian B. Brewer or tons of heart and feel good vibes in True North by Pene Henson, you'll find something to connect to in each story. Perhaps you like your holiday stories with a bit of a magic to them, the kind with that sense of something bigger going on? If so, you're definitely going to enjoy Last Call at the Casa Blanca Bar & Grille by Erin Finnegan. This one will definitely hit your feels and leave you with that warm, fuzzy feeling that sticks with you for a long time. If you're like me, you are a sucker for those stories where people find love in the most expected places. If that kind of thing pushes your buttons, you'll for sure want to check out Shelved by Lynn Charles. This one was all kinds of sweet and romantic. And then there's Halfway Home by Lilah Suzanne where a scraggly dog without a home helps Avery find out there's more to life than just going through the motions.
Truly you guys, this anthology is one great story after another. They're each unique in a wonderful way and will leave you feeling like you just had a cup of yummy hot cocoa, snuggled under your favorite blanket while sitting in front of the fire. These stories will put you in the Christmas mood for sure. Be sure to check them out and be prepared to revel in the holiday spirit!
EMBRACING THE CURMUDGEON
By Erin Finnegan
One of the earliest trade reviews of If the Fates Allow described Jack Volarde, the protagonist in Last Call at the Casa Blanca Bar & Grille, as a “curmudgeon.”
I balked at first. It’s too easy an analogy, especially during the holiday season. Curmudgeons are everywhere this time of year. Think Ebenezer Scrooge, and all of the variations of Christmas cranks he has inspired. The holiday grump is a staple of books, film, and Hallmark holiday marathons.
A season that’s about giving, about putting others first, will inevitably inspire characters who represent a counter-balance to the holiday spirit.
They are as the definition suggests: miserly, crusty, with the temperament of an old man shouting, “Get off my lawn!” Curmudgeons— from Scrooge to Dr. Gregory House, Oscar the Grouch, Fred Sanford, and Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew—appear set in their ways, looking to lock the door on the intrusions of the outside world.
Jack certainly shares some of these characteristics. As Christmas rolls around a year after his lover’s death, he wants to pull a Garbo: He wants to be alone. He rejects invitations to share a holiday meal from colleagues and family under the pretense that he wants to take a day off, watch some basketball, and enjoy a rare day off. In his search for a bar open on Christmas day, he is drawn to his old haunt—a quirky tequila bar in the center of downtown Los Angeles.
Still, I felt scratchy about calling Jack a curmudgeon. He’s driven, not greedy. He’s trying to shut out pain. I could hardly think of him as a crank. But if you scratch beneath the surface of a curmudgeonly character, isn’t there usually something more?
In literary curmudgeon tradition, there is an inevitable moment of inspiration, of seeing the light, showing some heart, and perhaps embracing joy: Scrooge rejects greed, Katherine defends the husband she first fought (There’s an entirely separate discussion to be had about whether Katherine represents strong women or is an anti-feminist treatise, but that’s a discussion for another day.) Even Oscar the Grouch replaced Ernie’s rubber duck when it went missing.
There is another common thread for literary grumps: Underneath the surface of a curmudgeon is usually something deeper. They’re prickly for a reason, and it’s the road from misanthrope to fully realized character that engages us.
As readers, we’re looking for hope.
In Last Call, Jack gets his wake up call from top shelf tequila and a loquacious bartender, who gives him the nudge he needs to open up about grief, and come to terms with his partner’s death. It’s a moment of hope that Jack will get back on his feet, and realize that he no longer needs to shut out the world by diving headlong into his work.
So fine, Publishers Weekly. You win—Jack is a curmudgeon. Because in the finest of curmudgeonly traditions, he represents the hope that we can all change and become better, more fully realized people.
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Erin Finnegan is a former journalist and pubic relations veteran who gave it all up to write books and make wine in the foothills outside Los Angeles. Her novel Luchador was named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2016, and along with her 2014 debut novel, Sotto Voce, received both a Foreword Reviews INDIES Book of the Year award and a PW starred review. Connect with Erin at erin-finnegan.com, or on Twitter at @eringofinnegan or Facebook at facebook.com/eringofinnegan.
Gracious Living Magazine Says It Has to Be a Live Tree by Killian B. Brewer
Hank ran his hands down Marcus’s back and tucked them into Marcus’s back pockets. He pulled Marcus tight against his body. “So how was it today?”
“It was a good day, Baby.” The warmth of his boyfriend’s body soothed Marcus’s tired muscles, and he relaxed into the embrace. Marcus breathed in deeply at Hank’s collar bone. The smells of the home-cooked food reheating upstairs that lingered in Hank’s cotton shirt mixed with his cologne and filled Marcus with two types of hunger. He satisfied one by turning his face and placing his lips on Hank’s. The other man let out a low hum of pleasure as they kissed. Marcus pulled away slightly and looked into Hank’s eyes. “I’m going to want seconds of that later, but right now I’m starving.”
“Let’s get upstairs and get to rectifying that.” Hank stepped toward the stairs and pulled Marcus along behind him, only letting go of his hand when they reached the narrow stairway and had to ascend single file. “You can tell me all about how the dinner went. Was it a big crowd?”
“Big doesn’t even begin to describe it. I can’t count how many plates I fixed today.” Marcus concentrated on Hank’s backside, which was accented by worn spots on his tight blue jeans, as it bounced up the stairs ahead of him. The sight of Hank’s firm body inches away and the scents of food wafting from the apartment set Marcus’s two hungers warring inside him. As he clomped upward, a loud rumble from his stomach signaled which desire would win this time.
“Was that your stomach?” Hank paused on the stairs and turned to shoot Marcus a concerned look.
“Yeah,” Marcus’s answered as he pushed Hank up the stairs into the apartment, “we need to get some food into me.” Remembering the Do-Nothings admonition not to ruin Hank’s surprise, he added, “I’m so tired I can barely climb these stairs. I don’t think I can cook another thing today. Maybe we should just make a frozen pizza.”
Hank spun around and grabbed Marcus by both wrists. Excitement danced in his eyes, and he shook his shoulders. “I’ve got a surprise for you! I made us a whole Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey and everything!” He pulled Marcus into the apartment and gestured toward the folding table beside the kitchenette along the wall of the large, open loft. “You don’t have to cook any more today!”
The table was covered with a russet tablecloth and had orange tapers burning in the center of a spray of autumn leaves and berries. Two plates sat on brown placemats embroidered with yellow leaves that Marcus recognized from Helen’s kitchen table. He was sure the tablecloth, napkins, and centerpiece belonged to the Do-Nothings as well.
“Oh, Hank. It’s beautiful. You shouldn’t have.” Marcus turned and kissed Hank on the cheek. His stomach interrupted the kiss with a loud grumble. “But, clearly, I’m so glad you did.”
“I wanted to make our first Thanksgiving together a special night.” Hank beamed as he stepped over to the counter and pointed out bowls of food arrayed there. “And I made all your favorites. Cathead biscuits. Creamed corn. And look!” Hank picked one bowl and thrust it toward Marcus. “Real mashed potatoes. Not from a box!”
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