Upstaged! An Anthology Review

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We had everything from actual plays to space operas to period pieces to contemporary romance. These talented storytellers captured womanhood, and women on stage and screen, in all their beautiful, wonderful glory. In the end, I was only able to take ten stories. These are the ones that made me laugh and cry and want to sing. There are erotic and sensual tales, gender non-conformity, trans women, lesbians and bisexuals, politics, falling in love, parenting, youthful crushes, opera, toe-tapping musical numbers, death-defying stunts, humor, and more. This anthology is a celebration.

A.M. Leibowitz, editor
July, 2018

Full disclaimer.  I was given a copy of this anthology by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  I am going to break it down into reviews of individual stories, then round up with a review of the finished anthology.

1.Presenting the Revival of Jan by Aila Alvina Boyd

I really wanted to like this story.  In fact, I was really excited about the whole anthology, and when this one first started, I was pleased that there was immediately trans* representation.  However, the writing style felt naive (whenever someone’s hair is described as “locks” it makes me want to hurl my Kindle across the room) and there is a lot of show and very little tell.  Because of this, and I imagine because of the word limit, there is very little character development, and the relationship, such as it is, seems to spring from nowhere.  As such, I felt no connection with the characters, or their emotions.  I think perhaps it would have benefited from focusing on one point of the story, and fully developing it, rather than trying to cram so much into a small word limit.  I would also like to add that kissing someone cannot save them from a mental breakdown, or any other mental health issue.  This stretched the boundaries of imagination too far for me.  Mental health issues aren’t cute, and true love cannot save you from them.  That said, I liked the concept and the hopeful nature of the story and the fact that we get a happy ending, which is very much my main reason for reading.

So, for this one it’s 5/10.

2. The Helsinki Incident by Renee Young

 

I really liked this story.  A rock band touring space, what’s not to like, right? I love the fact that we are thrown into the lives of the characters without being spoon fed.  It feels gritty and real, and every part of it, including the sex scenes are well done.  Usually these would be a cringe moment for me, so the author gets an extra star! The characters felt real, and there was no back story (it wasn’t needed) so the story did not feel rushed, it felt the perfect length.

Over all very enjoyable, so 9/10

3. I, Stage Manager by Marolyn Krasner

 

I didn’t think I was going to like this when I first started reading.  It felt a bit like it was trying too hard to be lesbian… But trust me when I say it gets better, so persevere.  I liked the light sketches of the characters, which were just enough to paint a scene, but not overwhelming in a short story, and I liked Robbie’s internal monologue.  I was surprised to find out she was only 26, the impression given was that she was at least in her 40s!  I liked the fact that the story covered a very short space of time, and so worked within a reasonably short word limit.  However, I felt the ending was too rushed, as though totally avoiding any emotional connection in favour of boom, we’re done, there’s your happy ever after.

Overall, I enjoyed it, though, so it’s a solid 6/10.

4. End of an Era, By Athena Blue

 

I really loved this little short. It was historical fiction, which I always enjoy, and was totally understated.  It left me with more questions than answers, and a feeling of “was that it??” but, equally, I feel it was just the right length and achieved exactly what it set out to.  I would love to know what happens next to the characters.  Maybe in the next anthology, eh?

For a sweet, understated story, this gets 9/10.

5. Knife’s Edge by Geonn Cannon

 

A brilliant glimpse into behind the scenes at a circus.  I loved how all the characters were fully realised in such a short story, with flaws and emotions.  The relationship was expressed clearly in few words, and human flaws revealed.  It explored the very real fear of otherness, and being the other and how different people behave given the same situation.  It is also hopeful and I really liked that there was a happy ending without compromising character integrity  (by which I mean we didn’t have anyone have a complete personality switch in order to have  happy ending!).

This gets 8/10

6. I Think I’m Gunna Like it Queer by Allison Fradkin

 

I’m gunna start off by saying that if you like YA, you’ll probably like this.  I found the constant musical references and quotes really irritating, and the referrals to the characters by their hair colour “the blonde” or “the red head” is a pet peeve of mine anyway.  Also, teenagers.  Eurgh. If I wasn’t reading to review I’d have probably skipped this one altogether.

That said, in terms of content etc, I can’t really fault it.  It delivered what it said it was going to, it was a well written, sweet story, which I imagine a YA audience would really enjoy, so my score reflects that, and it gets 9/10.

 

7. London Lark by JL Merrow

 

Hurrah for steampunk!  I certainly was not expecting that, and it was a brilliant change of pace.  I adored the story for being a mixture of Tipping the Velvet and the wonders of steampunk.  I don’t know how to better describe it than that, and would say that the anthology is worth buying for this story alone!  I loved the fresh voice, which was a completely individual character, the nods to the Victorian working class combined with clockwork.  Everything about it!  Just go and read it already!

10/10

8. Prima Donna by Kathleen Jowitt

 

I’m afraid I’m starting to sound like a broken record, when I say this is another great story!  This time set in the world of opera, and all the diva-like behaviour and jealousy that comes with it.  Again, it was just a snapshot, and the author doesn’t fall into the trap of trying to cram too much into a short story, and as such it works perfectly.  I want to know much more about the characters and their lives, but good stories do that to you, no matter their length.

This is 9/10

9. Oh No She Didn’t! By Debbie McGowan

 

You may or may not have noticed from previous reviews that I enjoy Debbie McGowan’s writing.  Her slice of life style stories told with the humorous tone of someone who is clearly very fond of their characters makes you feel like you’re a very welcome guest at a family dinner.  This foray into the world of panto did not disappoint.  I thoroughly enjoyed the intercharacter dynamics, the way a tragic back story was interwoven with humour and the diverse cast of characters. I really want to know what happens next with all of them.  Bring on another anthology call!

10/10

10. Rise or Shine by Sonni De Soto

 

I quite liked this.  The initial er, code(?) was about as subtle as a brick, read it, you’ll get it, honestly, you’d have had to have been living in a box.  Because I’m reading to review I didn’t bother with the blurbs on any of this, so didn’t realise this one would have elements of erotica! Eeek! It was a bit too much for my taste, but I could see it was done well; no self propelled body parts or getting lost in eyes!  I liked the story.  The narrator was frustrating to me as a character, but also real, and whilst I struggled to relate, she was real enough for me to feel sorry for her, and want to help, which I think is the sign of a good writer.  There is also enough of a story element to keep you compelled if, like me you prefer your naughty bits at a minimum.

So, over all, well done. 9/10

Conclusion

 

Overall, I very much enjoyed this anthology.  I thought it was well balanced with something for everyone.  I’ve tried to come at the reviews objectively, and review on merit, rather than whether a story was to my taste.  That said, all reviews are personal, so you should probably go and try the stories for yourself, rather than take my word for it! I did maths (fortunately this anthology has 10 stories, so I wasn’t too challenged) and it gets 8/10.

You can purchase the book by clicking here.

 

 

 

 

 

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