Book Reviews

7&7 (An Anthology of Virtue and Vice) at DSP Publications

Genre Gay / Trans* / Mixed Time Periods/Genres / Romance / Erotic Romance / Mystery/Suspense/Thriller / Action/Adventure / Horror
Reviewed by The RBR Team on 29-May-2016

Book Blurb

Humankind possesses a dual nature, the ability to rise to the brightest heights—or sink to the darkest and most perverse depths.

What inspires some to reach the pinnacles of virtue while others cannot resist the temptations of vice? Is it something innate, or a result of destiny and circumstance?

Delve into the minds and spirits of saints and sinners alike with a collection of stories that explore the call toward good or evil—and the consequences of answering it. For while rewards certainly await the righteous, there are also pleasures to be found in the darkness. Venture off the expected path with some of the most innovative voices in LGBT speculative fiction as they present their unique takes on the classic vices and virtues.

Book Review

As the blurb says, "Humankind possesses a dual nature, the ability to rise to the brightest heights—or sink to the darkest and most perverse depths." That is exactly what this anthology showcases in a collection of fourteen stories that go across genres, time periods, and heat levels. Each individual piece explores one of the seven virtues and the seven vices, and all we can say is that you should expect the unexpected.

The Dark of the Sun by Amy Rae Durreson, reviewed by Serena Yates
If you ask people to define faith, you’re probably going to get quite a few very different answers that will mostly depend on what, if any, religion the person belongs to. As a virtue, it can therefore take many different forms, and Amy Rae Durreson chose a made-up one for this short fantasy tale set in a world both very similar and very different from ours. There are pale northeners, most of whom are well educated and live in Aurea, dark southern people who lead simple lives, and the east is mountainous,. Slavery existed, at least in the past, and not everyone believes in a higher power any longer. For those who do believe, the sun is their god, and it is this faith that gets tested every time an eclipse occurs.

Tomal, the narrator of the story, is a priest in his fifties and lives in a simple village in the south, but he spent five years at a northern university when he was younger and speaks Aurean. He feels like a fraud because he lost his faith when his husband of thirty years died a year earlier. So when a group of Aureans appears in his village to observe the eclipse, accompanied by a high priest, Tomal fears the game is up and he will be fired. But what follows is not at all what he expects, and what happens as he leads the strangers up the mountain so they can see the eclipse from the shrine, is entirely unexpected and nothing short of miraculous.

I found myself pulled right into this world of faithful sun worshippers, skeptic astronomers, and, of course, Tomal with all his doubts, anger, and issues. While the setting feels historical, the issues the small group of people deals with are very “modern”, and their world is very engaging. The occasional allusions to Christian faith made me smile, and yet the story has a feel all of its own, thanks to great world building. If you’re looking for an interesting interpretation of faith, death, and resurrection in a somewhat different format than the one you may be used to, then you will probably like this inspiring short story.

The Bank Job by Andrea Speed, reviewed by Christy Duke
What a treat to get a short story by one of my favorite authors revolving around the theme of Greed and involving superheroes! I was in a very happy place while reading. The Destroyer is one of Harbor City's most prevalent villains and it is up to Crimson Arrow and his boyfriend, Razor, to prevent the bank heist this nefarious villain is up to.

"The people in this town were either sheep, delusional wannabe heroes, or minions. The minions were his personal favorite, but only because you could never have too many."

I could totally see the Destroyer thinking this with a smug, supercilious smirk on his face. I loved how his minions were numbered, and the way he thought of them was priceless. It's all so very tongue-in-cheek, something this author writes particularly well. I literally had this picture in my head of the Destroyer throwing his head back and laughing with maniacal glee - exactly what every supervillain needs to do!

A fabulous ending with the tights brigade saving the day, and showing the Destroyer that he's really not as smart as he thinks he is. Wonderful job, Andrea, and thank you!

Prudence for Fools by Sean Michael, reviewed by Christy Duke
Magic. Fantasy. Mystery. Truly what more could I ask for in a short story, particularly one by Sean Michael? I was hooked right from the beginning, with the older Del, a seer, his husband, Brawn, and his apprentice, Wu. Del has been banished from the castle of King Horvan for seeing a tragedy that didn't come true. Good riddance to them all, in Del's opinion. If he could have, he would have cursed the king with boils on his balls.

I wanted to be a part of Brawn's tribe. Such happy people with no fear, no manipulation, no political machinations, and a huge love for family, ancestry, and tradition. No wonder the weight Del has been carrying around begins to ease once he is away from court and back in his adopted home. Unfortunately, when more and more visions begin to torment Del - visions of the castle being destroyed and falling into a hole in the ground - his unease returns.

A wonderful story about the foolishness of men who don't listen to the one who sees.

The Gate by J.S. Cook, reviewed by Serena Yates
Set in Newfoundland during World War Two, ‘The Gate’ is a dark story of anger, aggression, and two men fighting for no rational reason that I could see. Then again, the vice covered here is anger, and that is most often not rational, so I think that is a good fit.

Jack, the narrator of the story told in first person and present tense, owns a café in an Army town and does quite well for himself. He and his bartender have things well in hand, until a dry cleaning business opens up next door and all kinds of problems pop up. The nasty chemical smell is bad enough, but when the owner erects a gate closing off the alley (and Jack’s access to garbage disposal), things get out of hand.

While this is definitely a story that belongs in the “noir” category, and I was more than shocked by the ending, I can’t say there weren’t enough hints that should have made me realize what was going on long before the big reveal at the end. Very nicely done!

Heirs to Grace and Infinity by Carole Cummings, reviewed by Serena Yates
I have often wondered what would happen if magic were real in our world. Carole Cook explores this situation where theurgists (wonder-workers, magicians) are licensed, everyone is tested for magic ability, and the Orthodox Party is running the country. They have been illegally and relentlessly eliminating unlicensed magic users for a long time, using an organization called the Bureau. Even children are not safe from them, and the methods they use to suppress magic are utterly cruel.

In come two characters who tell the story in alternating sections. One man is only known as “the Sorcerer”, and his command of magic is pretty awesome. He has been secretly freeing prisoners, children and adults alike, and I loved the descriptions of his activities. The second main character is Jackson, a captain working for the Bureau, who is reputedly one of the most loyal men in their employ. He is tasked with finally capturing the Sorcerer, but as it turns out, he has his own agenda.

This is a fascinating story of loyalty and betrayal, higher-ups who are hungry for power losing sight of basic human rights, and the men who end up fighting for justice and a better world for everyone. If you’re looking for an entertaining mix of action/adventure, political thriller, with superhero-like characters fighting injustice, corruption, and an authoritarian regime, then you will probably like this short story.

The Rendering by John Inman, reviewed by Christy Duke
I couldn't help but have two images in my head, both from movies, when I began this story. The first was from the movie Seven and the man who ate himself to death, and the second was the film adaptation of Stephen King's Thinner where the man was cursed. Both are excellent examples of what John Inman chose to focus on. Gluttony.

He had been on every diet imaginable and resoundingly failed them all. Weight Watchers, Atkins, Mediterranean, Flexitarian, Volumetrics, Jenny Craig (the bitch), vegetarian, the Abs Diet (like Otis had abs), Nutrisystem, and South Beach. The problem with every one of those diets was that none of them let you eat candy. ’Nuff said.

I liked Otis immediately. How could I not? When he described his attempted dates, with people he'd been very honest with about his weight, and they'd rejected him by running off... well, my heart went out to him. Unlike Otis, however, I didn't trust Lester right from the start, and all kinds of horrible things started running through my mind.

Unfortunately for me, I was right about Lester's intentions, but it was way too late for Otis then.

Beyond the Temperance Effect by Serena Yates, reviewed by Christy Duke
Merriam Webster defines temperance as:
1: moderation in action, thought, or feeling : restraint
2: a: habitual moderation in the indulgence of the appetites or passions
   b: moderation in or abstinence from the use of alcoholic beverages

I dearly love science-fiction, but pretty much only when the author makes it believable and as scientifically accurate as it can be in a world of fiction. That is only one of the reasons I adore reading sci-fi by Serena Yates. This woman does her research, and she's not stingy in her world building. With that said, I was excited to read what her idea of the virtue of temperance would be.

I found the concept of zeta waves, something all humans have been trained to subconsciously activate in the case of extreme emotions, thoughts, and feelings, simply fascinating. The fact that this practice came about because of humanity’s widespread violence in the beginning of the 21st century, did not surprise me in the least. They named it the Temperance Effect and it probably saved mankind and Earth from destruction. Of course, if you remove strong emotions such as passion, joy, and anger, then what is left of our humanity?

I shuddered at the idea of spending forty-five years in cryosleep, although the concept of using two teams in order to make an over ten light-year from Earth trip seemed like the smartest way to ensure the successful arrival of the Explorer on Eridani 2. The whole purpose of the trip is to establish a new colony on the only human-habitable planet within the Eridani system. The six core members that make up Captain Jago's team are the first humans to explore a system outside their own, and I couldn't begin to imagine the excitement.

The problems, or discomforts, begin when their ship enters the Eridani system. It's a slow process, but by the time they're in orbit around Eridani 2, emotions, feelings, thoughts, and actions are beginning to look a whole lot like they did before the Temperance Effect. It's up to Captain Jago, Alex, the general in charge of military issues, and Pierce, the doctor, to figure this out. It wasn't without a little humor that I kept thinking of them as Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. *grins*

Wow. This was a fascinating story, and no I'm not going to give you any spoilers. Let's just say that even in the year 2143, political machinations can still reach into very deep space. I will say this to the author, though - please tell me you're writing more in this world? I really want to see what happens next.

Covetous by Pearl Love, reviewed by Christy Duke
Envy. A sin I'm sure practically every human being on this planet has experienced at least once, and some many, many times. Jonathan definitely has more than his share of envy, and all the negative feelings and actions that accompany it. He's middle management in a small advertising agency, and in some ways reminded me of the character Keanu Reeves played in 'Sweet November', albeit without the hot looks and body. Jonathan is about to get his comeuppance, however, and I'm not so sure he's going to end up enjoying what he seems to believe he wants.

Not to be repetitive, but what happened next reminded me very much of a movie with Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves, where what you see, i.e. gorgeous people, suddenly transform into visions from your worst nightmare, and then back again, leaving Jonathan to believe he was losing his mind. A beautiful, expensive penthouse, a man too gorgeous to be real, and three nubile twinks lead Jonathan down the path to his own devastation.

I enjoyed the ugly reality of what the author showed me. It was a bit of a slap-in-the-face reality check in terms of being jealous and hoarding your bitterness. It definitely doesn't pay to be envious, and for Jonathan—he lost everything.

Hope by Rick R. Reed, reviewed by Serena Yates
Hope may be a virtue, but it is also a pretty fundamental part of human life, almost a necessity. So much so that I don’t think many people realize it – until it is no longer there. This story, set in 1997, makes this painfully obvious when Todd has to deal with not one but two major blows to his life. The source of new hope is somewhat unexpected, at least parts of it, and I liked that little paranormal twist a lot.

Todd has been living it up in the big city – not really caring abut the long-term, and enjoying as many men as he can. Then he gets hit with a double whammy – his mother dies of cancer before he can make it home, and his own health goes from “perfect” to “how many months do I have left to live”. He moves back to his small hometown and into the house his mother left him, and begins to fall apart. Not just does he have a ghostly woman appear in his hallway at night, his cute neighbor is clearly interested in him. But Todd can’t take things further with him no matter how much he wants to – or can he?

As stupid as Todd may have been in terms of the risks he took without even thinking about it, that is a very human condition. he way he dealt with his mother’s death was touching, and his slow recovery of his balance was a joy to watch. No, everything isn’t perfect at the end, but that isn’t what hope is all about. If you like stories about real men with real problems, yet with an added touch of the mysterious, then you will probably enjoy this short story.   

Horseboy by J Tullos Hennig, reviewed by Serena Yates
Pride is one of the vices, and gets a pretty well-known mention in the 1611 King James version of the bible. According to Proverbs, 16:18: Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. And that is exactly what this fantasy story is about. It is set during the Crusades and features a Muslim trans* horseboy and the Templar knight he encounters when fleeing from the Infidels after they attack and burn his hometown while he is out grazing the horses. The Templar is only just alive, his companion was not so lucky.

Sabiq is used to hiding. His mother was beheaded for witchcraft, and the one thing she taught him as he grew up was to hide his abilities, and hide who he is. So he became a boy and uses his talent with horses to make a living unobtrusively. But all those efforts may be for nothing when he finds two of the enemies who destroyed his home in the desert – one Templar knight is already dead and the other is hanging on by a thread. Sabiq faces a tough choice: should he save the wounded man or should he save himself and let the man die? They are enemies, after all, and Sabiq has much to lose. It is by no means an easy decision.

Even though Sabiq has long ago learned not to be proud, the Templar has only now lost the man he clearly cares about. The level of his devotion has to remain a secret, and he suddenly faces total dependence on Sabiq. If you like stories with a moral as well as a touch of magic, then you will probably enjoy this short trip into a fantastical version of the past.

Train to Sevmash by Jamie Fessenden, reviewed by Lena Grey
The last thing Agent Jax Colby, of 'Train to Sevmash' by Jamie Fessenden, needs is to be attracted to the man he is scheduled to kill.  But the first time Colby sees Veselov, he knows the mission is going to be problematic. For one thing, Veselov is supposed to be traveling by himself, but has three friends with him. Since he's not alone, killing him in his compartment is out of the question. The bathroom won't work either, too noisy. So Colby decides to keep a close eye on him and wait for an opportune moment. The thing is, Veselov is keeping an eye on Colby as well.

The next stop is a small village where Veselov's companions have come to visit family, while Veselov is traveling on alone. As they leave, one friend asks Colby: “watch out for our boy...he's too trusting.” Considering the irony, this admonishment makes Colby sick. Colby's brain starts to frantically look for alternatives. He also tries to rationalize that Veselof is “the enemy”' not just an innocent man he is way too fond of. Colby's resolve to carry out his mission is slipping and he's riddled with indecision. He keeps telling himself that it can wait but the longer he waits, the deeper his feelings for Veselov grow. Colby asks himself how he could be so unprofessional as to let himself care for someone he has to kill, but there is no good answer.
In this story, Jamie took me on a train ride with two men; Colby, just following orders and doing his job, while Veselov is serving his country in the military, also doing his job. During the trip, all of the “excuses” for being enemies are systematically stripped away and are replaced with being able to see each other as merely men, all with the same hopes, fears, and feelings. If you like stories of espionage, danger, intrigue, sprinklings of Russian words, culture, and compassion rather than callousness, then you may enjoy this story. Thanks, Jamie, for the intense but wonderful tale.  

Red Light Special by Rhys Ford, reviewed by Christy Duke
Who better, in my opinion, to write about Lust than Rhys Ford? Because you have to remember that lust isn't always meant in a sexual manner. Lust for power, and for money, are two sins that many people suffer from, and if the story is going to involve murder and sex, then Ms. Ford is always a joy to read.

As I expected, this story started with a bang, with more references to fae creatures than I have seen in quite a while. It also included an insane desire for the ancient woman walking by Fiach's store, getting clipped by an 18-wheeler, and a run-in with another elf. Pretty typical stuff for this author. Oengus, or as Fiach enjoyed calling him, Gus Gus (which is an inside joke if you know the author), is the Knight of Chicago and has come to Detroit to track down the fae who stole Chicago's succubus from its vault. *grins*

“So what’s the plan, Gus Gus?”...“Or are we just going to sit here until I get the urge to hump your leg?”
“Preferably not my leg. My arm would be okay. That way I could shake you off. But yes, we’ll know he’s here once you start feeling something.”

Fantastically funny, very dry sarcastic wit, sexy, and slightly creepy in the best possible way!

Traitor by Clare London, reviewed by Lena Grey
Aiden Hanwell, from 'Traitor' by Clare London, is the best interrogator the MI5 has. His success record for breaking men is legendary. Before going into the questioning, his commanding officer, Bakowski, has an intense conversation with Aiden about the prisoner. He's a traitor, but he is also someone close to Aiden. Knowing this, Bakowski asks Aiden if he really wants to break this man. Aiden tells her his motives are his own. Yet, by the way Bakowski is acting, Aiden knows there is a lot more to the story than what she is telling him.

As Aiden assess the interrogation room, he considers the contrast between its starkness and the complicated, secret surveillance built into the walls. Aiden has the room stripped bare of other furniture, weapons, etc., leaving only one chair. Aiden doesn’t need any of those to succeed; he has his own methods and a burning desire to learn the truth. This man, Cam Fisher, behaves so differently from the man whom Aiden knew and respected, maybe even loved. As Aiden approaches him, Cam starts making wisecracks, but Aiden looks deeper. Aiden tells Cam that there's something more behind his defection and he's not going to stop before he learns what it is. It is personal now.

The intensity and angst of this story had me holding my breath. Against all odds, Aiden wanted the truth because he could not imagine there wasn't a good reason for Cam's defection. With a succession of well-placed clues, such as comments and body language, Clare reveals the truth and it was the one I was hoping for. The interrogation dance between Aiden and Cam was incredibly revealing, passionate, and moving. If you like stories with angst, strong emotions, hidden truths, and the meaning of real loyalty, you may enjoy this story. Thank you, Clare, for the brilliant foray into Aiden and Cam's minds.

Couches of Fabric and Snow by Brandon Witt, reviewed by Christy Duke
Sloth. An interesting vice, in my honest opinion, and one I can probably relate to. It can be represented in so many ways, and yet Brandon Witt has chosen to portray Levitt as a mediocre human being who doesn't believe in doing too much of anything. If he doesn't have to exert himself, then more power to him. Or, that's how Levitt feels. He doesn't like change and his entire attitude is very mediocre.

He managed to walk that tenuous line between not carrying his weight with his teaching duties and being just accommodating enough to keep from having his fellow teachers turn on him. He’d made it where he was easy to overlook and ignore, which suited him perfectly. It hadn’t even been that hard.

Oh, wow. I didn't see this ending coming, although I probably should have, seeing as how I could relate to Levitt's feelings. A sad life, and a sadder subconscious decision for a thirty-seven-year-old man. This story hurt my heart but was beautiful.





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Additional Information

Format ebook
Length Anthology/14 short stories, 360 pages/122763 words
Heat Level
Publication Date 10-May-2016
Price FREE
Buy Link