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REVIEW: Petit Morts 6-10 by Jordan Castillo Price, Josh Lanyon, and...

Dear Authors,

I heard with regret that your Petit Morts series is drawing to a close; although I was late to the party, I have enjoyed these stories very much, and I’m sad to see them end.  Short stories are difficult to write and although short fiction is plentiful in the m/m romance genre, I frequently find it unsatisfying and I tend to avoid it. This series was a marked exception to that rule. In anticipation of the final installments of Petit Morts, I thought I’d review the previous set, which are written by three of the four authors in the upcoming volume.

Petit Morts 10 RecommendedThe inaugural five installments of Petit Morts featured stories by Jordan Castillo Price and Josh Lanyon, and the second set contains two stories each by these authors and adds a fifth by Sean Kennedy. The stories are largely independent of each other, but they are linked through a recurring character, Chance. Chance is a chocolatier and facilitator of romance. In each story he opens a chocolate shop and helps the main character find his romantic partner. The stories are all set in the present, and Chance is the only supernatural element in them (at least I think he’s supernatural, and at this point in the series everyone and everything other than the chocolates are mortal and normal). The stories share a common tone, balancing serious issues with lightheartedness, but they also reflect the individual authorial sensibilities of their writers.

Pretty Ugly (PM #6) by Jordan Castillo Price. Dominic is a professional photographer who is very good at his job but rarely has personal relationships that last more than an evening or two. He attributes this to his ugly face, and now, in his early forties, he has come to terms with it. While photographing a society event he makes the acquaintance of a young and handsome country singer who seems to return his interest, but they are unable to get together that night. They make plans for the following evening, but in the meantime Dominic eats a delicious chocolate, photographs another event, gets his car stolen, and encounters an even more unexpected romantic possibility. The writing is smooth and Dominic’s character is well drawn. The shift in romantic focus threw me a bit, but the ending was unexpected and satisfying. Grade: B.

Sort of Stranger Than Fiction (PM #7) by Josh Lanyon. A stranger comes to a tiny western town, this time in the guise of a war veteran named Michael. Ethan, who runs a bookstore/coffee shop with his twin sister, has been crushing on the gorgeous but scarred Michael since he arrived, but figures he has no chance. But when Ethan says something unforgivably rude and Michael overhears him, it shatters their previous impersonal relationship and allows them to be honest. Lanyon’s skill at conveying depth and complexity in a small package is evident in this story. He takes gentle digs at writers’ groups and small-town life, but he also reminds us that there are people everywhere who dream of having something different, something that takes them out of their everyday lives. Michael remains enigmatic, and his attraction to Ethan was not fully apparent to me, but the twists and turns kept me turning the pages. Grade: B

One Less Stiff At the Funeral (PM#8) by Sean Kennedy. Jason Harvey is trying to arrange his first service as a director at the Newlin Funeral Parlor, and Adele Conway is doing nothing to make it easy. Rivaling her late mother in rudeness and general misanthropy, she insists that there be chocolates at the funeral, claiming it was one of her mother’s last wishes. When Adele throws up her hands and turns over the funeral planning to her nephew, Frederick, Jason first heaves a sigh of relief and then perks up considerably when he comes face-to-face with Fred. Few authors can fuse sweet, funny, and charming in a story as well as Kennedy, and this short really shows off his voice. Chance and his magical chocolates play a more central and overt role, and his other-wordliness is at the forefront, as is his wit and snark. Grade: B+

Critic’s Choice (PM #9) by Josh Lanyon. This story returns to one of Lanyon’s familiar contexts: the Los Angeles of the cinema industry. Cris, a film critic and historian, is unwillingly reunted with his ex, Rey, when they meet to tape a voiceover commentary for a newly remastered edition of a horror film classic. They convene at the home of its star, the 70-something Angelo Faust. His sprawling Italianate estate is located above Sunset Boulevard (Gloria Swanson fans, take note) and guarded by a cadaverous major domo named Neat who is given to malapropisms. When car trouble, weather, and other occurrences right out of a horror film trap Cris and Rey together in Faust’s mansion, they find themselves finally talking about the individual and shared problems that drove them apart. The juxtaposition of light and clever with poignant and serious is ever-present and expertly handled. Grade: B+

Wishink Well (PM #10) by Jordan Castillo Price. This story opens from Chance’s perspective, but he isn’t opening a gourmet chocolate shop in a new town. Instead, Sweets to the Sweet is now a vending machine restocking service, and his client is Hospice House. Chance is wondering how he is supposed to facilitate true love in this environment when Eddie and his wheeled IV stand show up to buy a Pepsi. Eddie has terminal COPD, and he isn’t expecting much at Hospice House besides morphine, but he can still appreciate a gorgeous specimen like Chance. After their brief meeting, he finds that he is in possession of Chance’s fountain pen, which has properties even more magical than chocolate. Unlike the four previous stories, in which the heat level can be characterized as moderate, this features a long, explicit, and wholly essential sex scene. To describe it would be to spoil it. Under no circumstances should readers start with this installment, because part of its power derives from the way it plays on earlier portraits of Chance. The story is by turns funny, painful, and extremely moving. The writing is first-rate, and when I reached the end I turned right back to to the first page. A lovely, unusual story. Grade: A.

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Sunita has been reading romances since she ran out of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse and Chalet School books and graduated to Mary Stewart and Georgette Heyer. Other old favorites include Mary Burchell, Betty Neels, Elsie Lee, and Edith Layton. Among current writers, she reads and rereads Anne Stuart, Tamara Allen, Jordan Castillo Price, Sarah Morgan, Marion Lennox, Josh Lanyon, and Susanna Kearsley.

21 Comments

  1. Sirius
    Oct 18, 2011 @ 14:43:43

    Oh I love these series Sunita and these three authors, so getting all of those, thank you.

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  2. Sirius
    Oct 18, 2011 @ 14:44:53

    Oh wait, these are not new additions, so confused. I was waiting for the last stories to be out :)

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  3. Sunita
    Oct 18, 2011 @ 14:47:38

    @Sirius: Yes, sorry, these are the previous installments. The new ones release this week, I believe, and I will be reviewing them soon. But I wanted to review these for readers who may not be familiar with the series, or didn’t buy and read them when they came out. I thought a series of shorts as good as this one has been deserved a (re)visit.

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  4. Brie
    Oct 18, 2011 @ 15:11:12

    I haven’t read anything by Jordan Castillo Price but this looks like a good place to start. They are sold separately, right? How short are they? I’m kind of afraid to read them because I’ll probably end up buying them all and at 2.99 each it’s a lot of money…

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  5. Sunita
    Oct 18, 2011 @ 15:39:12

    @Brie: They are sold separately at all the sites and as a bundle at her publisher site. There is a small discount at her site for buying the bundle.

    The stories range from nearly 13k to nearly 18k words (between 45 and 60 pdf pages).

    And yes, I find that they are addictive, much like the chocolate. :-)

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  6. Joanna Chambers (Tumperkin)
    Oct 18, 2011 @ 16:39:07

    I’ve been reading these too and I adored both Critic’s Choice and Wishink Well. Critic’s Choice is a near-perfect short story IMO – I can’t say enough good things about it. As for Wishink Well – well, it just eviscerated me. I almost regretted reading it because it was such an emotional read but really it was beautiful and it’s stayed with me for weeks for now. My chest is aching now, just thinking about it.

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  7. Merrian
    Oct 18, 2011 @ 18:36:07

    How wonderful to read this review when I have just finished the first five bundle and loved the richness of the stories with seem to me to have themes of hope and redemption in them.

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  8. Christine M.
    Oct 18, 2011 @ 20:30:03

    All I can think of is Petit Morts = Little Dead People, with a grammatical mistake. And I’m sure it’s not a Halloween-themed anthology. Gaaaaaaaaaaah. I know what they mean but a quick wiki (!) search would have told them they had it wrong. If they wanted plural, it should have been Les petites morts. /rant.

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  9. Sirius
    Oct 18, 2011 @ 21:22:51

    @Sunita: Oh, ok thanks for clarifying :). I am so eagerly waiting for last installment, these are such gems and as you said, short stories are so often unsatisfying but all of these are excellent imo.

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  10. Sunita
    Oct 18, 2011 @ 22:21:19

    @Christine M.: I thought of that too, of course. It could be a grammatical error, given the obvious reason for it to be la petite mort. But I wondered if it was an intentional ambiguity, since Chance is not entirely alive.

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  11. Sunita
    Oct 18, 2011 @ 22:30:35

    @Joanna Chambers (Tumperkin): @Merrian: Thanks!

    I agree that Critic’s Choice is beautifully crafted. I love the Hollywood LA setting, but in this story I kept thinking about Sunset Boulevard and even Martin Landau in Ed Wood, so it kept me from fulling immersing myself in the characters. But that’s my idiosyncracy.

    Joanna, I’m glad to hear your similar take on Wishink Well. It’s rare for me to have that reaction, but so wonderful when it happens.

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  12. Joanna Chambers (Tumperkin)
    Oct 19, 2011 @ 02:46:20

    I read the Petit Morts title as being a play on Petit Four (with ref to the shortness of the stories and Chance’s profession) as well as being a passing reference to Petite Mort so for that reason I thought the ‘error’ was deliberate?

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  13. Josephine Myles
    Oct 19, 2011 @ 07:30:20

    I love the Petit Morts series, but Wishink Well stood out for being the only story I can think of that I’ve cried almost all the way through. I still get a bit choked up thinking about it. Just astoundingly brave and beautiful writing.

    BTW, like Joanna, I assumed “Petit Morts” was a play on words combining Petit Fours with the French colloquial term for orgasm…

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  14. Christine M.
    Oct 19, 2011 @ 07:47:29

    @Sunita, @Joanna Chambers (Tumperkin), @Josephine Myles :
    A little morbid but it would have worked for me if they’d taken he time to have those two words proofed. Should have been ‘Petits Morts*, not ‘Petit Morts’.

    French being my first language, however, the play on words is lost to me because there’s no logical linking between Petits Fours (bit sized desserts) and Petits Morts (small sized corpse/dead person/deceased, which aren’t even two words you’d think of putting together in French) aside from the ‘size’ of the object. La petite mort is an euphemism, which the other two aren’t.

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  15. Sunita
    Oct 19, 2011 @ 13:22:25

    @Christine M.: The explanation offered by Jo and Jo makes far more sense than mine. And while petit four and petite mort are not both euphemisms, I *think* they are both idioms? Since an appetizer or bite-sized dessert is not a “small oven,” literally speaking.

    But I can see how you would find the title distracting. I have the same problem with Indian names/words used in odd ways or incorrectly in English-language fiction.

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  16. Christine M.
    Oct 19, 2011 @ 13:55:42

    @Sunita: Hmmm. Food for thought. I wouldn’t have considered petit-four an idiom in French. :)

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  17. Sunita’s 2011 TBR Challenge Review: Among the Living (PsyCop #1) by Jordan Castillo Price - Dear Author
    Oct 19, 2011 @ 14:00:23

    [...] REVIEW: Petit Morts 6-10 by Jordan Castillo Price, Josh Lanyon, and Sean Kennedy [...]

  18. Gloria R.
    Oct 20, 2011 @ 08:03:34

    I emailed and asked the author about the title of the series and she told me this: “The name is a combination of “petit four” and “la petite mort.” The first five e-books had a picture of a petit four with a skull on the surface to illustrate the point, and both paperbacks do, too. Playing with words and language is a theme of the whole series, as evidenced by the way Chance puts weird twists on common axioms whenever he can. And even titles, like “Neverafter” and “Wishink” are words/phrases that were twisted to mean something new.”

    Now that I think back, the title “Hemovore” is another example; also the vampire fabric “Vampex”.

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  19. Sunita
    Oct 20, 2011 @ 09:11:34

    @Gloria R.: Thanks for that info. I thought it had to be a deliberate choice, but you never know.

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  20. Christine M.
    Oct 20, 2011 @ 11:01:36

    @Gloria R.: Thanks for the info. I still think it’s a dangerous game to play on words like that in a foreign language, but at least it makes a little more sense. Should have proofed it to catch the grammar mistake though. Adjectives do take the mark of the plural in French. :)

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  21. etv13
    Nov 06, 2011 @ 18:09:25

    I found Wishink Well lovely and moving, but the Petit Morts story that made me cry was Josh Lanyon’s Other People’s Weddings.

    ReplyReply

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