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New Release: Never Too Late #anthology #lgbtqia
Created: 7th December, 2017
Author: Caraway Carter, Ofelia Gränd, Hans M Hirschi, Laura Susan Johnson, A.M. Leibowitz, Debbie McGowan, Phetra H. Novak, J P Walker, Alexis WoodsCover Artist: Roe Horvat
Language: English
Published:7th December, 2017
Length: 131,000 words (approx.)
ISBN: Paperback: 978-1-78645-192-7
ePub: 978-1-78645-193-4
ASIN: B077QDWTL5Category: Fiction
Genre: LGBT, History, Romance and Relationships, Political, Women's Fiction, Short Stories, Contemporary Fiction, Family and Friendship

Blurb:
Never Too Late is a collection of nine stories featuring characters over the age of fifty - stories of travel, finding your purpose, of friendships past and present, and of love. Never Too Late brings you to a world where gender sees no borders, where the only way you're identified is by the goodness of your heart.

STORIES:
Trapped by Ofelia Gränd
Ashes and Alms by A.M. Leibowitz
The Palette - A Lifetime by Caraway Carter
Clara by Hans M Hirschi
To Be Sure by Debbie McGowan
Nectar by Laura Susan Johnson
Moving by J P Walker
Cue The Music by Alexis Woods
Ocean of Tears by Phetra H. Novak


Editor's Review:
Before I review each of the stories, I need to say something that I've said many times before. I love my job. I get to work with incredibly talented people who write the kinds of stories I love to read. On this occasion, it's an entire set of stories, all about people aged 50 and over. At 48, I'm nearly there, and I'll be honest; I had some reservations, wondering if we were going to deliver a set of stories bemoaning old age. Needless worry.

This is an exceptional collection of stories, if I do say so myself. They are diverse - in style and in the colours of the LGBTQIA rainbow they each choose to explore. There are poignant moments of sadness and/or horror; there are moments of humour - plenty more of those, I think; there are the tender/passionate moments that readers of romance appreciate; there are moments of reflection - for both us and the characters. Above all, there is much hope and happiness, and every story here ends not necessarily a 'happily ever after' but on a positive note.

It's never too late to make amends, fall in love, rekindle lost friendship, reunite with lovers, family or friends. I'll hand over to fabulous authors at Beaten Track to show you how.

Trapped by Ofelia Gränd
Blurb:
Charlie Wilkins had everything he wanted - a husband, a daughter, a house that was his home. He still has his husband, but William has forgotten who he is. He still has his daughter, but the roles have  switched, and she is now the one taking care of them.

There is only one thing Charlie wants, and that is to spend the rest of his days with William by his side. But William is living in a nursing home, and Charlie is living...somewhere. Ann says she will fix it; she'll make sure they'll get to live together again. Charlie hopes she will before William either escapes or figures out Charlie has left him in someone else's care.


* * * * *

Before I became a teacher (which was before I became a publisher), I worked as a carer - for fifteen years - caring for older people. My first job (well, second - the first one I got sacked from after only a couple of weeks for being late because Queen over-ran on Live Aid) was probably the most challenging of all, because I worked with quite a few old guys like William - one of the three main characters in Trapped.

There was one chap in particular whose wife came to visit every day even though most days he didn't know who she was. Nor did he recognise his carers, but then he'd have these moments of clarity, within which he shared what his life had been like before his dementia. He changed my attitude forever, which was why I stayed in healthcare for such a long time. I loved it; it was hard but so worthwhile. Older people have so much to teach us.

But, alas, when you reach the top of the career ladder and you're still earning minimum wage...I could earn more teaching, and that's the only reason I changed career.

Anyway, that's not really a review of Ofelia Gränd's story, or it is in a round-about way. Trapped is one of those sad-happy/happy-sad stories - I can't quite figure out whether it's tragic or glorious, but in the end I let (completely within my control, honest) a happy tear or two escape for this beautiful, respectful depiction of a very different and incredibly real relationship between two (fairly grouchy) older men.

Ashes & Alms by A.M. Leibowitz
Blurb:
In her teens, Jo spent a summer as a missionary in Chicago. After forty years, two divorces, and a daughter who won't speak to her, a postcard arrives in the mail. Now Jo must decide if she wants to attend a reunion. Going means seeing the woman she once loved and finding out if all they had was one summer or if there's a chance to start over. It also means facing the other women on her team. Maybe it's time for Jo to reconcile all her broken relationships.

* * * * *

Well, I may as well continue with the 'been there, done that' theme. I used to be 'churchified', but for various reasons, I was pushed out of the church. A year or so ago, there was a reunion of sorts, which I didn't attend because...it's complicated. Short, simple version: many church people are judgemental hypocrites, and while I'm no saint, I don't need their judgy fingers wagging at me.

But then there are the friendships I lost, and I miss being a part of something. I miss going to church (except on damp, miserable Sunday mornings), but like Jo in Ashes & Alms, I'm torn between facing the friends that became adversaries and knowing I'm just fine - maybe better - leaving all of that far behind me.

There were a lot of parallels between my life and Jo's, and I sense other readers with very different life experiences will also find this - not just with Ashes & Alms, but with any of A.M. Leibowitz's stories. The characters are very real and face the same challenges - the little niggles and the epic traumas - we all face.

What I especially enjoyed were the tense moments later in the story, all the show and facade and the waiting. It could've gone either way, and I read tight-lipped with a tense, slightly hysterical giggle in the back of my throat. And...that's all I'm saying or I'll spoil the story.

The Palette by Caraway Carter
Blurb:
As celebrated artist James Brash finally ties the knot, he looks back on his and husband Roy's fifty-year relationship, as told through The Palette - a rainbow-themed collection of James's art.

OK, I can't do the 'once upon a time, I was an artist' because I suck, epically, at painting, drawing, sketching, pottery...any and all of those things involving hand-to-eye creative coordination. I ain't got it.

* * * * *

I've realised now, having read quite a few of Caraway Carter's stories, that he writes in a kind of tableau form, so 'the palette' is the perfect medium for his storytelling. Each scene in the story is intense with deep, rich tones - a vivid retelling of a significant event that fades and blends before it gives way to the next.

James - the artist at the centre of this story - is honest and emotionally open (I imagine the wine played its part), emotionally indulgent at times (potentially also the wine, but he's an artist, so...goes with the territory, perhaps), and the author does well in keeping the balance between the retrospective inspiration for James's work and the present moment in the story. This all leads to a lovely conclusion that more than makes up for the tragedy James and Roy endured in the past.

Clara by Hans M Hirschi
Blurb:
This is a short story about Clara - best be described as "a Clara" - who one day discovers a tall, elegantly dressed, and thus completely misplaced mystery woman in the local cemetery, standing over a grave that is never visited by anyone. Clara knows because the son of the couple buried there was Clara's best and only friend in childhood.

Will curiosity get the better of Clara that day?


* * * * *

The blurb is spot on - Clara is best be described as 'a Clara' - I have no idea which pronoun to use because Clara is truly non-binary in all respects. I've never found gender categories much use, so that's fine by me, although it's tough to break free of the he/she programming, even for an enby like me.

Hans Hirschi has written a story that is entertaining and touching, yes, but it's also an excellent education in what being genderqueer/non-binary is like for Clara and others. It's a story I'll be recommending to anyone who tells me they don't understand gender beyond male/female. Well, I'll be recommending it to everyone; it goes without saying.

What I also love is that this story - as with others in Never Too Late - illustrates beautifully the different kinds of 'happy ending' that happen later in life, when happiness and success are measured purely by their quality in the moments we're given.

To Be Sure by Debbie McGowan
Blurb:
Saorla Tierney's sons are conspiring against her, and at their age, they should know better. After all, she's nearly seventy-one herself, and, quite frankly, whether she still 'has needs' is none of their business.

OK, so, maybe she was a bit harsh with Sean when all he did was ask if she and Aileen wanted a double hotel room. And of course she feels bad for biting Finn's head off when he was only having a wee joke.

Between her grandson's unconventional baptism and the decades-long feud between her sons, even with Aileen at her side it's not as easy a decision as they seem to think. Or maybe it is. Saorla doesn't know anymore, and until she's sure...

To Be Sure is a stand-alone novella-length character special in the Hiding Behind The Couch series. 


* * * * *

I can't review this one, because it's mine. :) I had fun writing it, though.

Nectar by Laura Susan Johnson
Blurb:
Nectar tells of the atrocities of the Armenian genocide through the story of one young woman's lifetime - the family she lost, the love she found, and her determination to survive.

* * * * *

There is so much I admire about Laura Susan Johnson's writing. She is what I think of as a 'real writer' who doesn't shy away from the hard stuff, and she really works at her craft. I know, from being her editor, that every word is carefully considered, every sentence worked and reworked until it is just right. I love her stories for that, even if at times they cut me to the core.

Nectar is a story of survival and resilience. The narrator - Nedgar - is so brave and strong. The depiction of what she endured and witnessed isn't graphic, but it's enough to understand the horrors of the Armenian genocide - something I knew nothing about prior to reading this story. Many of us won't, because history forgets, moves on, gets subsumed under further atrocities.

It makes this an important story - an opportunity to learn so that one day we can stop saying 'we must never let this happen again'. Nectar is also a beautifully written story - literary - and should be read for that reason too, with the forewarning that it deals with events some (most) readers will find difficult.

Moving by J P Walker
Blurb:
How would you react if your first great love died? Would you get lost in the past? Or would you embrace your present and future?

When Maggie Fairway finds out Jane - her first great love - has passed away, she quickly becomes caught up in memories of their short yet passionate time together and loses sight of the present - the wonderful life she shares with her wife Jo and their children.

Can Maggie let go of the past before it irrevocably damages their relationship?


* * * * *

Poor Maggie. When faced with the news that someone who was important to us has passed away, particularly when our time with them didn't end well, it's easy to get caught up in reminiscing. For Maggie, it's the loss of her first love, which sparks memories of their incredibly passionate relationship.

I must admit I didn't really like Jane. She was a bit too bolshy for me, but I could see how Maggie fell for her, and how she falls for her again in her grief. First love is profound, perhaps because it happens for most of us when we're relatively young, and we only ever move away from it. It's still always there. To see Maggie trying to recapture the excitement and passion...it's devastating, because she's acting on her loss and in so doing risks losing more - losing everything.

The intimate scenes are perfect explorations of the two different relationships, and I can't really say more than that without giving it all away, but there's enough in here to steam up your varifocals. ;)

Cue The Music by Alexis Woods
Blurb:
Every relationship has had it at some point. The singular argument that escalates, that lingers. More often than not, the couple finds their way back to status quo. But what happens when they don't? What happens when one gives up?

After months of trying to resolve their issues, Ty loses hope. He leaves, with only his music to keep him company. Until one day, he feels someone watching him intently from the bar. Maybe, just maybe, Ty won't end up alone after all.

Cue the Music is a stand-alone short story in the Southern Jersey Shores series.


* * * * *

I've got a real soft spot for series where the main characters from previous stories crop up in passing - I go completely Buddy from Elf - 'I know him!' This happens very naturally in the Southern Jersey Shores series (of which Cue the Music is #5), as if this is a gang of guys I see whenever I drink in a particular bar. It's very welcoming, comforting even.

I also have a soft spot for musicians. :) I love the way the music is woven into this story - I imagine we all have songs that are significant to our relationship, the meaning of which can change drastically when things go awry. Including YouTube links to the songs is an excellent touch, like scratch 'n' sniff except it's read 'n' listen - for that full immersion experience.

There are some intense moments in this story, mixed with some dry humour, and while it's a short story (the shortest in the series, I think), it feels complete - not quite a happy-ever-after, but hopefully on the way to one. Until I meet these guys again in #6 and beyond (...) I'm satisfied they'll do OK.

Ocean of Tears by Phetra H. Novak
Blurb:
Karl Meeke - the talented guitarist of Manchester's own pride and joy, Ocean of Tears - is depressed. It's not a word he would usually use for himself, but lately, he's feeling worse. A lot worse. Over the past few months, the music that has been a constant sound inside of him hasn't just grown quieter; it's fallen silent. The love of his life has abandoned him, and at the prime age of fifty-three, he feels like it's all downhill from here. That is, until he meets the young and vibrant Noa.

Noa is attending the Northern School of Ballet in Manchester; his dream is to become a ballerino for the London Royal Ballet. Noa dances into Karl's life from nowhere, and even when Karl shows no interest, Noa will not let him go. Instead, he finds a way to nestle into that lonely slot in Karl's heart, where music once lived, and makes a home there.

Only when things start to change, for the better, does Karl realise what it all means, and by then, he's so far into the deep end he has no choice but to start swimming.


* * * * *

It's not a spoiler if it's in the blurb, so I can say that I've never laughed so much reading a story about someone dealing with depression. Oh, I'm not heartless. In fact, I empathise with Karl a great deal. The music - his life blood - is silent, and he has an epic case of 'can't be arsed'. Which is, of course, Noa's cue to arrive on the scene.

In short, this is not some bleak tour of misery and dreary middle age. It's not about Karl reliving his youth through a relationship with a younger man. Karl knows who he is and accepts it, even if it takes him a while to work through what I know are real concerns for the older partners in relationships with a significant age difference.

Noa, with his relentless cheeriness, is exactly the person for Karl, I have no doubt, although he'd drive me nuts. And Karl's bandmates are awesome - their banter had me in stitches and also left me with a warm feeling of reassurance that if Karl has another bad do of it, he's got lots of great people around to support him.