Crack the Darkest Sky Wide Open – Anthology ~ Review by Lirtle Grafton

This is an anthology filled with intense emotion, violence, honesty, and characters that grab a hold and make you hang on for each breath with them. As if we’d receive less than that with these particular writers. Let’s go…


crack the sky cover (200x300)Crack the Darkest Sky Wide Open

An Anthology that includes stories by Eric Arvin, Abigail Roux, SJD Peterson, Jason Huffman-Black, S.A. McAuley and TJ Klune

Publisher:  Self-Published by The Crack Crew

Published May 17th, 2013

This is M/M Romance surrounded by horror/fantasy, war, violence and control, humor and love.

ISBN: 1489535012

As a whole, this anthology gets 4 our of 5 stars from me. I’ve reviewed each story separately.

From the Publisher:

Of humanity there are darker tales. Stories that take some squinting to see through. Unconventional stories. Tales that threaten to break the heart by cruel twists of fate, the dogs of war, or demons that are all too real; whether they be of unrequited love or a karmic slap in the face. Happy endings take a time in coming, and some never arrive. But through all the darkness there is light, a glimmer of hope and wonder…if one has the will to see it.

Here we go…

The Demon of Jericho by Eric Arvin – 5 stars
This opening salvo is impressive in its demand for our emotions and how easily it does just that. No surprise from this author.

When one character imprisons another, simply because they are different from them or others they see as worthy of freedom, it doesn’t make them powerful. Instead, it does the very opposite, imprisoning them, and worse. This is the set up for this story. Soon, he would have to learn that having no false prisoners under his guard means there is no longer a ‘need’ for his very existence. Chaos ensues as those in the right make their stand for that very thing. Here, that takes the forms of love and acceptance.

Enter Jeb and his Angel. You’ll just have to read to get more than that, you won’t get it from me. 😉

Mr. Arvin packs so much into a story but it never feels overstuffed. Every character has their bitty universe that collides with others, creating those soulful, joyous, heartbreaking explosions of love, disgust and eventual redemption. As a reader, a consumer, of his way of placing words on a platter, they make me drool and lick my lips. All at once, I’m edgy from wanting more, needing more, and yet completely sated, so still and satisfied. And when this deft mix of emotion is chained together with horror, oh my goodness, my friends, I’m both starving for just one more and sleepy from a heart pretending it’s a full belly, ready for a well-deserved nap. Yeah, that nap may allow the dreams of bloodied limbs to mingle with a hot hick and his ethereal man, but I’ll gladly take that risk.

A Cruel Thing by Abigail Roux – 4.5 stars
Believe it or not, this is the first thing by Ms. Roux that I’ve ever read and I was taken on a ride I was not expecting. So well structured, the characters and story feel very real and take place during a time when the world felt like it was splitting at the seams.

There’s a crotchety and very intelligent old dude recounting time spent on a very small island just three days before Pearl Harbor is attacked. Yep, she had me right there, too. Most of the story is told as it was happening back in December of 1941, with a few jumps back to the present day and this gentleman sharing his recollections. I won’t say any more than that on the structure and series of reveals. I will simply say it all worked and I could see and hear it all as I was reading.

Contained within, we get very well-drawn men in the most dangerous and adrenaline-inducing kind of situation: battle. Roux ups that ante with men who care about each other, even beyond the blood brother type relationship that often dawns when serving in theater. There are multiple pairings and a lot going on from the get-go, so there is a lot to keep track of. I enjoy feeling the speed of story like this when I’m reading. The only time it became a bit much was towards the end but I took care of that minor glitch by simply retreating back a few pages and re-reading. I didn’t want to miss a thing as I got to the very end.

Everything is intense, the emotions are amplified – no less real, no less meaningful, it just means no time is wasted by any of these men in allowing themselves to tell each other what they want, knowing full well it may be over in the next few hours, the next few minutes, let alone days or years. Roux is very good and weaving that intensity into each conversation and round of action, a constant layer coats every word. Heartbreakingly real.

Wrong by SJD Peterson – 3 stars
This started out brutal and intriguing to me. I don’t really shy away from violence, whether in a war setting or between two individuals, so I prepared myself once I read the opening paragraphs. Those opening paragraphs, however, almost presented a different story than what was to come for the rest of this short.

I kept waiting for the connection, for some reason or explanation or purpose for this story and I couldn’t find it. To me, these two men were just behaving like assholes to each other, one seemingly with the power and one not. The one with the power demonstrated it in ways that actually made him look very weak and the other, well, it felt like he just wanted to get through it and get back to his life. This was definitely meant to be a quick view, a slice into someone’s life, and this can work and has in many stories. For me, this one didn’t quite make it.

The writing is definitely there, it’s very good. I’ve enjoyed other things I’ve read from this author. That, coupled with the opening, had me ready to read more of those good words that added up to a story I would enjoy. Unfortunately, this one falls into the middle of the road for me. One note about the sort of bdsm bent in this one: I don’t know a lot about it but enough to know that this was more about simple brutality and control than any sort of true exchange in which both people gain something worthy from the experience. However, for those who are much more knowledgeable than I in this arena, maybe this will add instead of subtract from your read of this story. 🙂

Anguish by Jason Huffman-Black
I’m still feeling as if I’m unable to really rate this story, even after thinking on it for awhile now. The title is very apt and this is what you’ll feel when you read this short. I still can’t decide if it was overdone or not at all enough. The language is repetitive but fervent. I could see what this story wanted to do, what it wanted to tell me, but… Given the subject matter, if this had been longer, wow, what an impact it may have had. It almost feels like a stream of consciousness and is very personal on top of that. I still can’t put my finger on it but I don’t feel I can really judge or review it given those feelings. So, not good or bad but just is, and I’m still not sure exactly what the “is” is.

The Hotel Luz by S.A. McAuley – 4 stars
Leo and Elia – yeah, this is good, y’all. Humorous, honest, a story about that maturity we’re all saddled with. That same maturity that can also be easily prodded to disappear when a first love shows up again after a dozen years.

If you want missed opportunities, coulda-shoulda, with two worthy men – worthy of each other and love – then this is a story for you. It’s a bit messy in structure here and there, but I completely forgive that because the clever way the story is presented is worthy of the clarity with which these two characters are drawn. I could hear their voices and completely understand their points of view and the decisions they made.

This a slice of brilliance, folks, with a layer of fun added for yumminess. Read it. And as for the ending, it’s truthful. Those first loves, y’all, they’re inescapable, including the love they force us to joyfully enjoy: inevitably bittersweet.

John & Jackie by TJ Klune – 5 stars
Well crap, you had me at “Feel Your Bones”, the title for the intro chapter of this story. Yerple, from the start… and all the way until the end.

I don’t know why, it really shouldn’t be given that I’ve read several other stories by Mr. Klune, but it still happens: the unexpected emotional gut-punches and that I’ll gluttonly (yeah, new word, deal with it) endure for writing like this.

John and Jackie met as barely teenagers and were together ever since that day, well into their eighties. An entire lifetime of love and the things we’ll do to keep that loved protected, to keep it as our own.

I understand and have known the rage, the helplessness, the endless pit of desperation when someone I love has been treated like they deserve to have bruises and broken bones just for bothering to breathe. The place this story makes me go simply warrants one reaction: fuck you. I debated about whether to include that, but it’s the simple truth of the emotion that comes with the situation. The way this writer handles this real life quagmire from hell is breathtaking.

My breath was stolen from me. I love that and almost can’t take it at the same time. These words invaded me with that same vengeance and I’ll happily allow them to maraud for the rest of my days. I’m so fortunate to have them as a part of me now. John and Jackie are known to me and should be to everyone.

The structure, the emotion, the words, John and Jackie: I dare you to forget once you’ve read this. I won’t even dare you to read, I know that you will. 😉


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