Title: In Sunshine or in Shadow: Collected Short Stories, Volume I
Author: Josh Lanyon
Cover Artist: Kevin Burton Smith
Publisher: Just Joshin’
Amazon Buy Link: In Sunshine or in Shadow:: Short Stories: Volume I
Rating: Individual ratings per story
A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
Review Summary: Love shorts? Love Josh Lanyon’s writing? Love the feel of paper between your fingers? No brainer, then.
A print reader’s delight. Thirteen short stories, five never before collected in print, written between 2007 and 2013. Sexy, sweet, and occasionally strange, these brief but emotionally powerful stories encapsulate everything readers of Male Male romance have come to love most about Josh Lanyon’s work.
The collection includes the five Petit Mort stories written for JCP Books: “Slings and Arrows,” “Other People’s Weddings,” “Sort of Stranger Than Fiction,” “Critic’s Choice” and “Just Desserts.”
Arranged to flow thematically and stylistically are “Perfect Day,” “A Limited Engagement,” “In Sunshine or In Shadow,” a lightly rewritten version of “The French Have a Word for It,” “In a Dark Wood,” “Until We Meet Once More,” “Heart Trouble” and the new and exclusive “In Plain Sight.”
Josh Lanyon has released a print collection of shorts from the last six years, including a new story just for this publication. It is a short story-lover’s delight, with all of the tales rated 4 stars or above (well “above” for the vast majority of them). I’m not an author, but I imagine that it is tougher to write a short than it is to pen a novella or novel, so I am impressed that these stories are without exception uniformly tightly and cleanly written — almost a given considering who we’re talking about here — providing for us in most cases an entire volume in a very small space (not that I didn’t want more, mind you…).
One of the reasons I enjoy these collections of his is the little intros he gives previous to the stories, a little glimpse into the process or what he was thinking or why the tale came about. I also like that in most of the stories under 20 pages, he avoided the trap of pushing smexxin on us when the space is so sparse; I haven’t read all of the books here (the Petit Morts are not my thing) but the ones I did read where the sex was absent, they were better off without. Lastly, so many of the stories have elements of hope — just wonderful.
Please note that between Wave and me, we have already reviewed 10 of the 13 stories in this collection, so I will be linking to those reviews where applicable. Also, many of the stories were either bundled in other works, such as the Collected Novellas volumes or anthologies for other publishers, or released as standalones, and I have noted those as well.
Perfect Day: 5 stars
Standalone release from May 2012; reviewed July 2012
(approx. 8k words, 18 pages)
Blurb: Wyatt loves Graham. But Graham is still in love with Jase. Still, things could be worse. They could be camping.
Josh Lanyon is supposed to be on sabbatical, but apparently someone forgot to tell him because he’s slipped this little gem out when I didn’t expect him to. Now I realize that Perfect Day is a short – not my favorite format, I’ll admit upfront (usually not enough space to do a story justice, in my opinion) – but as he did with one of my favorite reads by him, In Sunshine and In Shadow (reviewed as part of his Collected Novellas Volume 1), he crammed in a novel’s-worth of story into just a few pages and it works beautifully. No guns, no dead peeps, no mystery, just a simple – yet complex – little romantic tale. I liked it the first time through, I loved it the second.
A Limited Engagement: 4 stars
Originally published in the Collected Novellas, Volume 2, May 2009; reviewed September 2009
(approx. 6200 words, 14 pages)
Blurb: Ross has done everything Adam has asked him to do, including giving the man a part in his new play. All he wants is for Adam to keep his mouth shut about Ross’ real life, which contradicts his image as a straight playwright. Adam knows that Ross has to face his true self, though, and he’s ready to do whatever it takes to make Ross see the truth. Will all of Adam’s effort backfire, or will Ross take what he needs?
A Limited Engagement, a story of desperation and forgiveness, was originally released by Torquere Books as one of their Wedding Sips, the proceeds of which were (are) donated to gay and lesbian legal defense funds supporting the rights of gay marriage.
In Sunshine or In Shadow: 5 stars
Originally published in the Collected Novellas, Volume 1, April 2009; reviewed September 2009
(approx. 6100 words, 14 pages)
Blurb: Keir and Rick are cops. Partners, best friends, and — for a brief time — lovers. But Rick thinks its too risky allowing yourself to fall in love with your partner, and Keir has had to accept that. Accept it and move on. In fact, he’s traveling all the way to Ireland on his first solo vacation in years. Rick may just find out that green is the loneliest number.
I. Loved. This. Story. What a little gem at 21 pages! It is very intimate as opposed to sexual, and for the length, it packs tons of character development into a bit of plot. It’s an example of how two people so close can feel differently about the same situation. I loved how our heroes are with each other, even when things are so very tense and there are unresolved issues between them.
The French Have a Word for It: 4.5 stars
Standalone release from November 2009
(approx. 9200 words, 21 pages)
Blurb: It’s been ten years since Colin Lambert last saw Thomas Sullivan, his former bodyguard. Now Colin’s all grown up and Thomas is in Paris for one evening. A sweet short story about second chances.
This short was released as a standalone back in August 2011. As he mentions in the blurb, Lanyon has apparently “lightly rewritten” it for this collection. I didn’t read the original, so I cannot comment on how it differs.
Overall I liked this one very much, a sweet and emotional tale with themes of trust, independence and maturity. It felt complete to me; there was a beginning, middle, end, possibility for the future. I felt like I knew both characters fairly well and the plot was believable. There was just enough backstory to help explain what is going on here without bogging us down with infodumps. There was just enough angst and conflict to make it interesting, but it wasn’t dragged out to be frustrating. I guessed the reveal very early on, and that made it somewhat predictable, but that didn’t ruin it for me. I was eager to see how it would play out.
Lanyon has an amazing talent for visual world-building, and for me, I think this is the thing I liked most about this story. There are several books of his that still stay with me around the environmental details, and this story counts in that group. The description of the colors, textures, smells had me there with Colin in Paris. It was a sensory feast and it felt that the city was a character itself.
In a Dark Wood: 5 stars
originally published in the Collected Novellas, Volume 2, May 2009; reviewed September 2009
(approx.13k words, 29 pages)
Blurb: In a dark, dark wood there was a dark, dark house…
Camping in the Jersey Pine Barrens may literally turn out to be a first date from hell for travel writer Tim and the cute cop who persuades him to revisit a past that Tim has done his best to forget.
Fairly short at 38 pages, IADW is told first-person POV by Tim, our wonderfully-penned flawed and fragile hero. This is really Tim’s journey, a story of facing your past and of self-discovery and -realization that will affect the future. Tim is a mid-twenties travel writer and columnist…and alcoholic. How much of that illness is caused by the traumatic experience and the associated guilt he is now re-facing is something he’ll need to explore in recovery, but chances are it is major. No wonder he drinks. I found Tim to very sympathetic and I have hope for his future at the end of the story.
Until We Meet Once More: 5 stars
originally published in the MLR Press Because of the Brave anthology, 2009; reviewed August 2009
(approx. 9100 words, 21 pages)
Blurb: Nothing cracks Army Ranger “Stone Man” Vic Black’s granite front. A mission to retrieve an injured Navy SEAL from the treacherous mountains of Afghanistan is all in a day’s work — until he learns the missing SEAL is his former lover. This time it’s personal.
… I loved the excitement and edge of your seat action which seemed quite realistic and gave this story an immediacy that was different from the others. The writing was crisp and I could feel the excitement and danger in the air and all around the protagonists and their team. This is another excellent story from the pen of Josh Lanyon.
Heart Trouble: 4 stars
Standalone release from October 2012
(approx. 5300 words, 13 pages)
Blurb: Stress kills. So does loneliness.
A very short, very sweet story by Josh Lanyon.
Lanyon mentions in the intro to this one that a) this is an old story that he found and dusted off, and b) even after 20+ years, he sees similar “themes and motifs” that he still uses today. I agree to the latter; not a bad thing, just noticeable.
Heart Trouble is a cute, very quick read with the ending a hopeful beginning to a romance between an ER doctor and his temporary patient, and maybe some changes for said patient, Ford. Lanyon packs in emotion, a flawed narrator, enough information for us to understand some of what is going on, and a touch of humor in the very small space.
My only problem (besides wanting a sequel)? There is obvious attraction and interest between the two, but I wanted to know more, specifically about Jacob. I know there isn’t a lot of room in a 13-page story, but even a sentence or two about why he went to the lengths he did for Ford would have made it better for me.
In Plain Sight: 5 stars
(approx. 10k words, 25 pages)
Blurb: Nash didn’t believe in love until it was too late. Now he’s looking for reasons, for answers, for meaning.
Sometimes the truth is right in front of you the whole time.
With a theme of not realizing what you had or even want until it’s gone, or maybe as the title implies, it’s there, but you can’t see it in front of you before it’s too late, or even not taking the time to do something about the important things in life – or maybe all three? – I loved this quiet, plot- and character-driven, emotional short with a mystery at its center, my favorite of this round of reading the new-to-me stories (though I admit that the title story, In Sunshine or In Shadow, is my favorite of Lanyon’s shorts, period).
I liked the voice of our third-person narrator, somewhat jaded and cynical, yet professional FBI agent Nash West. I liked that he didn’t know it all and could be surprised at times, and even how his own emotions were a revelation to him at times. I liked that now that he’s had an unfortunate glimpse of the other side of his job, maybe he’ll be better at his job. We’re shown the brief, week-long relationship between our heroes in flashbacks, and though Glen is seldom physically on the page, we get a good understanding of and look into his life via the investigation.
Despite the plot and the regret and pain in Nash’s head during this tale, I liked that it wasn’t terribly angsty. I was hope-hope-hoping that it wouldn’t turn out as it could have, how some expected it to (including Nash) and was rooting for these two to get a second chance at getting it right. I am very curious as to where it goes from here. I’ll let you read and find out what it’s all about…
THE PETIT MORTS (all reviewed by Wave)
Slings and Arrows (Petit Morts #2): 4.5 stars
Standalone release from and reviewed February 2010
(approx. 14K words, 36 pages)
Blurb: Carey Gardner receives an enormous box of chocolates from a secret admirer for Valentine’s Day. Being a pretty straightforward kind of guy, Carey’s not really comfortable with expensive presents from persons unknown, and he’s less comfortable when his friends Ben and Heath tell him the story about a serial killer who once stalked the Hartsburg College campus.
Not that Carey really believes his secret admirer is up to anything very sinister—besides, he’s already got enough problems falling for Walter Sterne, a brilliant but socially awkward grad student. Carey’s friends are warning him against Walter, and even Walter isn’t very encouraging.
Sometimes life really is like a box of chocolates.
I really liked Slings and Arrows because it was character driven like all of Josh Lanyon’s stories and it had a good mystery as well as a potential love story.
Other People’s Weddings (Petit Morts #4): 4.5 stars
Standalone release from and reviewed February 2010
(approx 12,600 words, 29 pages)
Blurb: Planning wealthy socialite Mallory Dalrymple’s wedding is the coup of the year—maybe of Griffin Skerry’s entire career. If only Mallory wasn’t marrying Griffin’s ex. And if only Joe wasn’t messing with Griffin’s mind by sending all these mixed signals.
Of course, it could always be worse—and before long, it is.
If you’re looking for an unusual story I would definitely recommend Other People’s Weddings. As always, Josh Lanyon’s stories are more about the characters and the romance is usually incidental, so readers should not expect a lot of action between the sheets. I enjoyed this story because I thought the characters were a wonderful and varied collection of people, from Mallory the bridezilla and her ugly family, to Griff a nice man who was just trying to make a living in a tough profession…
Sort of Stranger Than Fiction (Petit Morts #7): 4.75 stars
Standalone release from and reviewed October 2010
(approx 17,500 words, 41 pages)
Blurb: When Michael Milner opens a dojo across the street from Ethan’s bookstore, Red Bird Books, he makes ripples not only because he’s a newcomer in the small desert town of Peabody, but because half his face has been horribly scarred. How? Ethan isn’t sure. Michael’s not exactly the chatty type, which only adds to his allure.
Michael may not be the most sociable person in Peabody, but he’s quick to defuse a tense situation when Ethan finds himself cornered by Karl Hagar, fellow writing group member, and creepy author of even creepier serial killer tales. Ethan’s sister Erin is convinced that Karl himself is responsible for the bodies turning up lately in the desert—after all, don’t all the advice books say, “Write what you know?”
While Erin’s idea seems pretty far-fetched, Ethan does have to wonder why Karl’s eerie focus has landed squarely on him.
As usual whenever I read a mystery by Josh Lanyon I’m entertained by all the clues and I put on my detecting hat to see if I could solve the crime before the killer is revealed. In Sort of Stranger Than Fiction there’s the added dimension of Ethan’s attraction to someone who could be a serial killer because he didn’t really know anything about Michael other than he fought in Afghanistan….
Critic’s Choice (Petit Morts #9): 4.75 stars
Standalone release from October 2011; reviewed November 2010
(approx. 15,600 words, 36 pages)
Blurb: If there’s one thing film critic Crispin Colley can say about his ex-boyfriend Rey, it’s that Rey likes to remain friends with all his former lovers. Rey’s a friendly guy. Maybe too friendly, judging by the incident that drove the first and last nail in the coffin of their relationship.
But now Rey’s been hired for a DVD commentary on a classic horror flick. In typical Rey-fashion, he’s used his clout as a lauded director to win Cris a spot on the commentary right beside the star of the film, his idol, Angelo Faust.
The recording of the commentary goes about as smoothly as a half-decayed film through a stuttering projector…but that’s nothing compared to the strange scene that unfolds once the tape’s done rolling.
Another gem in this series, Critic’s Choice should be your choice for a fantastic read.
Just Desserts (Petit Morts #14): 4.5 stars
Standalone release from October 2011; reviewed November 2011
(approx. 15,900 words, 35 pages)
Blurb: Broken in body and crippled in spirit, Ridge Baneberry sees death as the only way out. Not his death, of course—the death of his obnoxious cousin, Raleigh, the one who was responsible for the accident. It’s not easy plotting the perfect murder from his wheelchair, but when Raleigh’s body is eventually found, who’s going to suspect a cripple? Ridge might not be able to get around so easily, but if there’s one thing he has, it’s time.
Then a painfully cheerful physical therapist named Tug shows up at his front door with an appointment book and an agenda. Tug’s personality is equal measures of patience, optimism, and warm Georgia sunshine.
Since this Tug person won’t take no for an answer, Raleigh decides he might as well put him to good use. Almond candy would be the perfect camouflage for a lethal dose of cyanide, and Tug knows just where some gourmet chocolates can be found….
I was surprised at how much I ended up enjoying this book because initially I found the characters unlikeable and the story very dark, but the MCs evolved in ways I didn’t anticipate. I always expect this author’s characters to be flawed and I wasn’t disappointed but if there’s one trait that Josh Lanyon possesses it’s his ability to make his characters change in unexpected ways by introducing different elements…
Unless you hate print, short stories or this author, there is no reason not to get this collection — even if it is just to read the exclusive In Plain Sight.