Strawberries and cream might be a popular dessert but save some topping for this decadent collection of stories by Jerry Wheeler, a writer who enjoys his blend of the sweet and the sticky. From the titular tale of a farmer in low-slung jeans growing a peculiar crop to gypsy magic that brings out the "bear" in a bottom to the tale of a grand hunt by an immortal who feeds off the talent, as well as flesh, of musicians, Strawberries and Other Erotic Fruits promises listeners words that will conjure desire like a mythical aphrodisiac. But there's a price to pay for such magic, as several of the men in these stories learn. Listen, unbutton, relax, and sink your teeth into this audiobook. The taste will linger for days.
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50 Shades of Poe / Oh, Poe NO0oo0-o- -0---o- - -o!
The author maybe. The narrator, I don't know.
The lack of a consistent horror theme in all 14 stories.
Narrator’s voice has a natural boyish tone that he forces down into an unnatural baser register. He has passion in his voice when he does the spicy scene voices of the characters. However, for much of the reading it comes off as a droning sound. The editing is uneven. It has odd shifts in volume for no apparent reason.
It is not the character(s) that are the problem. It is the fact that so many of them are unappealing and one can not identify with them. There is no hook to make you care about the character(s) in many of the stories of this anthology.
I named the review “50 Shades of Poe” because the author claims Edger Alan Poe as mentor and the yardstick model against which he seeks to measure himself against. The “Other Exotic Fruit” part of the real title telegraphs that this collection of 14 separate stories of M/M relations will be on the wild side composed of every flavor but vanilla. The author has set himself a high bar; it sounds like it has too much cognitive and emotional dissidence in it, to wrap one’s head and feelings around. It is hard to think of classic gothic horror combined with M/M intimate pleasurable activity that will rest happily on the palate of the minds, without risking the adverse reaction of repulse. I call it, a mental gag reflex. The author did pull off this triple swan dive summersault with a three quarters twist only in the last of the 14 stories. The other offerings are a mixed bag with one rotten fruit unfit for consumption. I would not buy this book again and am uncertain I would trust my literary palate to this literary fast food cook again. Still he has talent and may mature into a good writer; if the talent vampires don’t get to him first.
Following is a review of each story of the collection:
Story 1 “Strawberries and Other Exotic Fruit” This story beguiles with fresh clean imagery but ultimately fails. The storyteller who wants the farmers land is a corporate tool. One does not like him therefore we do not care what happens to him. The horror fails because of this. Zero on the Poe horror meter.
Story 2 “He wanted a spider tattoo.” This one worked on the Poe horror scale. You care about the naïve young snowboarder trying to find his way in the big bad out world. The tattoo artist, with his enchanted inks, is a sadistic control freak. He does not want surrender & submission but a victim with no negotiated limits or safe words. This bit of aged cheese is a bit moldy and sharp for my tastes. However, it from that sharpness as one feels the terror, frustration, and futility of being totally possessed. The innocent pays a high price for his freedom to be out. I give it 8 on the Poe horror meter.
Story 3 “Be careful what you wish for.” This tale is pure whimsy and no horror. It features a nice guy with a wonderful Hispanic BF. The accent of the narrator is great. The only problem is the BF is sensitive and in the throes of passion he calls a word that makes his papi’s passion wilt. He also wants his BF to have a little more chest hair as he likes bears. He gets his wish when a fortuneteller sells him a magic word. Yup he gets himself a real live bear alight. I know! LOL! The results are both amusing and perplexing until it is happily resolved. The premise is treated in a superficial camp fashion and is thus imposable as horror. Zero on the Poe horror meter; but a fun listen.
Story 4 “The neighbor dad next door.” The only thing I will say about this one is skip it. The characters do not fall within mainstream demographic of acceptability or taste. It is a rotten tomato. 13 & 36 is just plain wrong. Retch! It is revulsion not classic horror. Poe would puke on it. There is not enough lipstick to pretty up this pig. Avoid it! Zero on the Poe meter.
Story 5 “Abuse & Revenge Recycled” Unlikeable victims become abusers of their equally unlikeable tormenters. The cycle goes on and on. Their actions are hidden by a mask of civility that lots of money can buy. I did not care about these people, so I could not feel a sense of horror the author wished me to feel. The character must be sympathetic for the audience to feel horror. Zero on the Poe horror meter.
Story 6 “Changing Plains” The horror here is all in the past with the brutal murder of a lover. The protagonist, older now, wants to escape the past and the constant public grieving, the image his job demands; so he does so. This one gets a 9 on the charm scale and a 1 on the Poe horror scale. No more exotic then a common apple.
Story 7 “Drive Time” Too tightly wound sociopath meets red-neck road worrier. A far too tightly wound sociopath begins to fantasize about another driver on an early morning commune. When the driver stops to help the storyteller when he is out of gas he is not having what the storyteller is pushing with predictable violence, self-loathing, and stalker like behavior following. The story too is out of gas, at this point, as I could predict the fatal end. It is very hard for me to empathize with a sociopath and equally hard to feel for a violent homophobe. That is why this story fails. Utterly! Zero on the Poe horror meter.
Story 8 “Typical cable man fantasy”. The story is pleasant as the M/M genre goes. However, there is not a trace of horror and does not belong in this Poe themed anthology. Zero on the Poe horror meter.
Story 9 “Fair Well Performance” This is a tale of nostalgia, lost love, and second chances. It is not in the Poe tradition but it is a brilliant little gem that moves ones heart. The story is a keeper but belongs in a different anthology. The writer needs to stop trying to be Poe and be himself; if this story represents what he is. Zero on the Poe horror meter.
Story 10 “Little Dannie’s Donuts” Small time con-artist lives out delivery boy fantasy. Then there is a bad transition to Danny makes donuts, with an awesome sauce personal ingredient, for cops who operate a local speed trap. Danny wants them to cut him some slack and takes perverse pleasure in his awesome sauce privet joke. This evolves into a cop fantasy action that leads to love. The story loses its charm, for me, when the love interest reveals he is ethically flawed. There is no Poe element to this story. As a general M/M genre work it fails, when the playful donut conversion therapy theme, is replaced by an ethically flawed “true love” ending. Zero on the Poe meter.
Story 11 “(G)um Smoke.” The storyteller is positive and engaging in anonymous assignations with the same stranger over and over again. The behavior is abhorrent, disrespectful, not to mention illegal. The storyteller gets his just punishment as sure as if he were in Dante’s “Infernal” second circle of Hell. Like the first story’s the lead character, he is a self-indulgent sociopathic that one thinks good riddance too. The empathy level is zero. Thus there is no horror. Poe scale, a mercy 1 of 10.
Story 12 “You know you want to.” A recently passed spirit tries to protect his lover from a bad influence replacement. An evil stronger spirit in the body of the bad influence causes havoc. It nearly seduces and corrupts the protecting spirit. However, in a last desperate effort good and love triumph over evil. This is the closest you have gotten to Poe so far. The protagonist is empathetic. The horror of helplessness is; the self-sacrifice is Nobel. The outcome is satisfying. Well done 9 on the Poe horror meter.
Story 13 “I’ll call him Yuri” The joy of liberation viewed through the knowing cynic’s veil of familiarity. This is a sweet story; not horrifying at all. The story is good but incongruous with the Poe theme. Poe horror scale zero.
Story 14 “A Thirst for Talent” Talent vampires? Modern days twist on our blood drinking friends. Now we’re talking Poe. The story is longer. The characters are better developed. The targeted talented victim is empathetic and charming. The screams and plots against the uber-villain vampire, coming for the talent morsel, by the secondary level vampires, who want the morsel for themselves, is suspenseful. The surprise twist ending completely caught me off guard. It was the black cherry topping to this deliciously evil Sunday of horror slathered with Mr. Poe’s best awesome sauce. Yume! Poe scale horror meter says 10. By George, I think he finally got it.
RECOMMENDATION: I have rated each of 14 stories against the Poe horror meter. Of the possible 140 points the book scores 27. One or two flashes of brilliance do not make a good theme book. For this reason I can only give the book one star and suggest you keep your money or credit for a better choice.