Working Stiffs : An m/m vampire charity romance anthology
Working Stiffs : An m/m vampire charity romance anthology is a collection of thirteen short stories and novellas, and proceeds from sales will go to the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. I generally find anthologies to be a mixed bag and that’s true of Working Stiffs; given there are thirteen stories, I’m going to limit myself to talking in detail about the ones I liked best (or we’d be here all day!)
All the stories are based around a similar premise. As the synopsis says:
In a world struggling to come to grips with the existence of vampires, where reactions range from excitement to fear to determined disbelief, these vampires are just trying to make ends meet. Some of them do mundane work—like waiting tables or driving a cab… Because even the undead have to earn a living.
The world-building – in terms of what these vampires can and can’t do and how they live (or not!) – is fairly consistent across the board, and the vampire characters range from being centuries old to the recently turned, and work in jobs from chef to cabbie, telemarketer to trauma specialist.
My favourite story is Lyra Evans’ Bad Blood, which features two ER doctors who have been at each other’s throats (figuratively!) since they met. Dr. Alek Matsouka is dedicated, driven and highly skilled, but when he started his training, he never intended to end up in Emergency medicine. That all changed when he was turned just two months before he qualified, and being an ER doc is now the only way he can practice, seeing as any other branch of medicine would need him to work in the daytime. He and the other resident, James Crawford, can’t stand each other; Crawford resents Alek for always interfering with his cases and telling him he’s wrong; Alek resents Crawford for having the choices no longer available to him and takes out his frustration by being snippy and condescending. The ER setting is very well done (a warning here – there’s a scene involving a miscarriage that is quite detailed), and there’s another in which Alek is confronted by some serious bigotry that is, quite rightly, uncomfortable to read. The two leads are fleshed out fairly well for a short story and their simmering chemistry is evident right from the first, which of course leads to an ending of their feud and a definite HFN.
Fangs for the Memories by Sadie Jay is a second chance romance between a vamp and the ex who staked him fifteen years earlier! You’d think a stake through the heart might be a tough one to forgive, but the couple in this story manage to get past it. Back when he was young, stupid and easily influenced, Rollie Brown was brainwashed into believing that vampires were an abomination, and that he should kill his lover. So seeing him alive – or rather, undead – and well, and working as a bartender comes as something as a shock. Not surprisingly, Aja isn’t all that pleased to see Rollie, but when he explains that he’s looking for an ex he thinks might have got mixed up in something nasty at a vampire bar, Aja agrees to help. The author creates a believable connection between Rollie and Aja, the storyline is suspenseful and there’s plenty of humour, too. My one niggle is that the set-up – Rollie’s reasons for the whole stake-through-the-heart thing – were pretty unconvincing.
I also enjoyed Overexposed by K. Evan Coles and Mel Gough’s Fire and Ice Cold Skin, although both felt as though they were introductions to longer stories. In Overexposed, a crime scene photographer with the NYPD becomes involved with the only witness to a murder, a human he’s felt drawn to since the moment he first saw him, and in Fire and Ice and Cold Skin a firefighter is moved to look after the young man whose home has just burned to the ground and who has nowhere else to go. Even though the leads are together by the end of this one, it doesn’t feel quite like an HFN and there’s definitely more to be said. Both authors indicate that there may be more to come, and I’d certainly be up for reading that ‘more’ if they end up writing it!
H.L. Day’s Bad Decision is set in London and features a vampire cab driver who gets a lot more than he bargained for when he picks up a fare who wants to go to a vampire bar to act out his sexual fantasy of being bitten during sex. The relationship evolves quickly, but the author creates a real atmosphere of peril in this story, showing the vampires as much more menacing than those in most of the other stories.
The biggest issue I have with romances in novella and short story form in general is that they almost ways feel rushed; and given that today, even the shortest of romances is expected to contain a sex scene, the plot, character and relationship development suffer as they’re squeezed into fewer pages to leave room for the shagging. The stories I enjoyed most in Working Stiffs are probably the longest ones, and they have a bit more depth to the plot and characterisation than the others. While the sex scenes in every story happen fast, there is at least a build-up and a sense of connection between the characters.
My least favourite tales? Roberta Blablanski’s Dial-a-Vamp , about a vampire phone sex operator whose latest caller wants to act out his vampire sex fantasies, is basically all sex and little plot. That’s fine – the threesome is pretty hot – but I’d have liked a bit more substance to it. And Call My Number by Megs Pritchard has a great premise; two guys who talk on the phone everyday agree to meet up, but things aren’t quite what they seem. I really liked the idea there, but it was let down by the execution and uninspired writing. Edie Montreux’s Quality Assured – about a vampire who works at a call-centre and seems basically to be some sort of superhero – is simply weird(!), and again is tripped up by poor execution.
Working Stiffs is available in Kindle Unlimited or costs $3.99 to buy (I would imagine more money will go to the charity if the book is purchased outright), and given there are half-a-dozen decent stories in there, I’d say it’s worth the price if you’re looking for some quick, sexy reads and a collection you can dip in and out of. My favourites were by authors I haven’t read before, so I’m definitely going to check out more of their work.
Buy it at: Amazon
Visit our Amazon Storefront
|Review Date:||May 1, 2020|
|Book Type:||Vampire Romance|
|Review Tags:||Anthology | AoC | Contemporary romance | doctor | law enforcement | Male/Male romance | Paranormal romance | PoC | Queer romance | second chance romance | Vampires|