People leading politically progressive lives under the administration of President Crosby (read: a not at all veiled Donald Trump) are the “rogues” of this lackluster anthology. Unfortunately, the tails wag the dogs of these stories, as the political agendas, themselves oversimplified, overwhelm superficial characters and snoozer plots. The writing is uneven as well. On the whole, give this a miss.
Make You Mine by Molly O’Keefe
Grade: B- Sensuality: Warm
Jay Schulman, campaign manager for gubernatorial candidate Maggie Perkins, has long pined after his recently widowed boss. He can’t hide it anymore when a conservative pundit pushes him too far, leading Jay to deck the guy on national TV. Now forced off the campaign, can he open up to Maggie? And will he have ruined her prospects? This story was fine – it’s at least nice to see sexually active and attractive older heroines – but by the time I slogged my way through the whole anthology, I’d forgotten it entirely.
Cover Me by Olivia Dade
Grade: B Sensuality: Warm
Uninsured Elizabeth Stone goes for a mammogram on a clinic’s free day and is told to return for a biopsy she can’t afford. Old friend James Magnusson hatches a plan – Elizabeth can marry him for his health insurance. In a book that opens with pundit punching, this story was more complex. Elizabeth, for instance, tells a congressman at a town hall, “I hear you saying that innocent babies born with health conditions shouldn’t die… I’m a flawed human being, and I’ve made some bad decisions… Does being fat and a former smoker mean I deserve to die?” The warmth that grows into attraction and love between two old friends here is believable and made me smile.
The Long Run by Ruby Lang
Grade: C- Sensuality: Warm
Annie Wu is accepted to move into Monroe Webb’s New York co-op, but he considers her a gentrifying threat to the historically black neighborhood whose history he works to curate. They fall in love while jogging, because he’s turned on when she flips the bird to a store window TV broadcasting Trump – I mean, Crosby – and then he comes by when she has pneumonia, like in You’ve Got Mail, or The Hating Game, or fifteen other stories. That’s really it. They don’t have much personality, the chemistry is told, not shown, and the gentrification issue is oversimplified.
Never Again by Stacey Agdern
Grade: D+ Sensuality: Warm
This story, y’all, was the most FTF (Forced to Finish) thing I’ve read in a long time. Sam Moskowitz, action movie star (he plays Mr. Shadow, a Jewish superhero ), falls in love with Deb Taubman, the preschool teacher sister of a documentarian whose work caught his eye. This story just draaaaggggeedd. The author meticulously narrates the most insignificant acts, simultaneously conveying way too much detail and no character information whatsoever:
Sam had subscribed to a tiny mailing list called the BlueChorus. Clicking on this week’s email brought him to a paragraph talking about a small movie the editor had recently seen. There was even a link to the video of the movie. Further reading informed the movie, ‘Rogue Acts’, was looking to gain distribution. For the moment, the email said, the movie had been made available on a tiny platform; which he also subscribed to under his mother’s maiden name.
I don’t know about you, but I’m on the edge of my seat. Will Sam click on the link to the video? Will he watch it all the way through?
Later, Sam goes to a meeting.
Sam wondered what he’d be walking into. What kind of people would he be meeting with? What would they have to say? Would he be able to work with them?
I CAN’T HANDLE THE TENSION! Overall, my reading experience felt like Sad Deb, whose “tears fell like a waterfall, never ending, barely stopping.”
His Neighbor’s Education by Jane Lee Blair
Grade: D+ Sensuality: Warm
If the last story bored me, this one pissed me off. Sarah Miller is a public school teacher, and Mark Jones is a veteran turned-USATeach (think Teach for America) charter educator – as Sarah puts it, her “worst enemy.”
I could go on a very long rant about this story, and yes, I have the experience to justify my judgment, but it probably won’t matter to most readers. I’ll try to say this concisely: the American educational context is complicated, and this book presents it as simple. USATeach candidates are unprepared and inept, both with a savior complex and the plan to skedaddle out of schools once they’ve stamped ‘do-gooder’ on their resumé (not clear how those two are compatible). Charters are villainous predators – Mark’s school is literally called Wolf School. Teacher training programs are not only effective, but the only way to be true teachers. Sarah’s anger at the charter teachers shows an un-teacherlike obliviousness to systemic issues, and to compound things, despite her smug superiority, Sarah’s own educational practices are dated. Sarah’s great passion is her garden and references to it were some of my favorite passages; I wish the author had written about someone working in urban parks or educational food outreach instead.
So, if American education isn’t a hot-button issue for you, how will this story read to you? Probably a C. It’s over-narrated. I did enjoy the religious aspect, that swearing, angry people can still be churchgoers, but I’m often concerned when characters saving themselves for marriage get married quickly because I feel like love may not be their only motivation.
Brand New Bike by Andie J. Christopher
Grade: B- Sensuality: Hot
Tech exec Michael Garcia agrees to serve on President Tr- CROSBY’s, darn it! – advisory committee to try to save net neutrality, but most people, including podcast host Jake Lieberman, see him as a sell-out. Choosing net neutrality for a short story was wise – although it’s a bit technical, Americans support it widely, so the author could divert word count from politics to relationship. Michael and Jake have strong chemistry, with Michael’s interviews on Jake’s show reading as hot foreplay (note that this story is more sex-driven than the others in this anthology; the opening sentence is “Instead of staring down his two closest advisors… Michael Garcia very much wished he was getting his dick sucked.”) While I completely believed in this hot hookup, I was less confident that they’d have a long-term relationship, and both seemed like unpleasantly arrogant people in their private lives.
There’s a story by Ainsley Booth listed on the cover, but for some reason, my copy omitted this. I have no idea what it’s about, but apparently she has also written a Canadian erotic romance series called Frisky Beavers, so with no input here at all she has rocketed to the top of my to-read list.
The best I can say for this anthology is that in this divisive age, it’s nice to find something we can all agree on: pass on the lackluster Rogue Acts.