Know When to Hold ‘em by Madeleine Urban, Dar Mavison, Catt Ford, Connie Bailey, John Simpson, and D.G. Parker

Dreamspinner Press

Gay Anthology

ISBN: 978-0-9815084-6-7

Reviewed by Cassie



“Serengeti” by Madeleine Urban

When Ric “Chopper” Baxter arrives at Kambi Alfajiri (Dawn Camp), Nathan “Captain” Foster thinks he’ll be a good man to have around.  He doesn’t anticipate how his boss will react to the man.  Boss and Chopper fight constantly.  Is there more to their relationship?

“Serengeti” was an interesting story that had the potential to be really great.  Madeleine Urban made the unusual decision to tell the story with a first-person narrator who watches much of the action.  Unfortunately, this left me feeling distanced from what could have been a fascinating and heart-wrenching love story between Chopper and Boss.  I still enjoyed the story, but not as much as I wanted to.


“Poker Face” by Dar Mavison

Frank Jackson meets Joe when he helps Joe out in a fight after a poker game.  Afterward they ride to Carson City together, trading stories and maybe more…

“Poker Face” was an almost lyrically written tale about the stories men tell each other, the nature of truth, and atoning for past mistakes.  Dar Mavison penned a deep and thoughtful story, but be warned—it doesn’t end happily.  The bittersweet ending lingered with me after I read “Poker Face,” somewhat dampening my enjoyment of the story.


“Rendezvous” by Catt Ford

Jack has been living a lonely life in the mountains, visited only by his new friends, the trapper Wolf and his wife, Nizhoni.  After nine months there, it’s time to go down to town to buy supplies for the coming winter.  Jack goes with his friends, certain he’s in for a miserable few days hiding his nature from everyone.  He just might get a surprise, however…

I really liked “Rendezvous.”  It was easy to sympathize with poor Jack, who’d been reviled and even beaten because of his desire for other men.  His shyness and fear were understandable, and made his actions reasonable.  Although everything in the story happened quickly, Catt Ford did a good job making events seem real rather than contrived.  Seeing Jack get the happy-ever-after he deserved was very satisfying. 


“Fancy Pants” by Connie Bailey

As a gambler, Bayr Fortier has become an expert at reading people.  When he meets cowboy Dash Langtry, his interest is sparked.  Will Dash prove to be what he’s been looking for?

“Fancy Pants” portrayed the banter and interaction between a clever but uneducated cowboy and an intelligent, educated gambler in a way that was sometimes humorous and sometimes hot.  The double entendres and tricky wagers Bayr and Dash employed were a form of cerebral foreplay, and were a lot of fun to read.  If you’re in the mood for something quick and hot, with a happy ending, “Fancy Pants” is a good choice.


“The River Flows South” by John Simpson

Businessman Gerard Dupont is on the way to New Orleans aboard the steamboat Cotton Queen.  He expects to be lonely on the voyage.  To his surprise, he encounters more than one possibility for love on the river.  Who will he choose?

“The River Flows South” contained several hot scenes.  I wasn’t sure at first who Gerard would end up with, which made the story more interesting.  Unfortunately, a couple of issues marred “The River Flows South” for me.  For one thing, there were several turns of phrase that struck me as anachronisms, which pulled me out of the story.  The bigger issue here, however, is the lack of romance.  While there were several sex scenes, they seemed rather mechanical and non-romantic.  


“Back in the Saddle” by D. G. Parker

Obie Watson, a gambler and general ne’er-do-well, is annoyed when his horse goes lame outside of town.  He makes his way to the Bar J Ranch, where the taciturn Ben agrees to take care of the horse.  In order to pay for the horse’s care and board, however, he’ll have to work at the ranch for two months… 

“Back in the Saddle” was one of my favorite stories in this anthology.  D.G. Parker manages to pack a lot of character development into the story as Obie slowly goes from lazy and selfish to hard-working and caring.  Damaged, lonely Ben made a perfect match for Obie.  The conflict is believable.  “Back in the Saddle” is an emotional and satisfying tale and well worth a read.

Know When to Hold ‘em contains stories with a wide variety of historical times and places.  While not all the stories were “keepers” in my mind, several of them were excellent.  Know When to Hold ‘em is a good way to try new authors and get several quick fixes of gay romance.


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