Ellen Holiday

Ellen Holiday’s Vietnam War-Era “Brandon’s Laughter” Is Another Great FREE Summer Read

“Love is a friendship set to music.” – Joseph Campbell

Richie Wilkins and Brandon Burns were friends. And then they weren’t. That happens sometimes when you outgrow a person, or find that suddenly the little things a person does begin to grate on your nerves until you either rip your own ears off or cut that person from your life. Thankfully for Richie’s ears, he chose the latter and pushed Brandon away, severing their friendship. But that doesn’t mean Brandon disappeared from Richie’s life.

Being next door neighbors in a small town, with moms who happen to be friends, makes avoiding each other nearly impossible, but Richie does his best. And he succeeds, mostly, until the day Brandon is lured over the fence that divides them, called by Richie’s music and the allure of Richie himself.

Set in the Vietnam era, Brandon’s Laughter is the tale of two young boys who become men all too quickly. The story takes place during a time in which the fear and denial of being queer outweighed and overwhelmed the love the boys grew to share. As Brandon leaves for Vietnam with Richie’s rejection like a fresh wound on his heart, Richie starts college but soon decides he has to take Brandon’s words to heart, and leaves for Nashville to take a shot at a music career.

Through years of separation, a time during which Richie finally accepts that he’s gay, carries on both relationships and one-night-stands, and ultimately comes to terms with the fact that he’s still deeply and irrevocably in love with Brandon, the tension in this story emerges and grows. Brandon and Richie’s relationship is like a tune that begins in sour notes, all flats and sharps, then slowly unfolds into a gorgeous refrain that I didn’t want to end. But it did, and all too soon.

Exactly three years ago, I read a novella called One More Soldier, a story also set in the 1960s, a story in which one of the characters leaves to fight the war in Vietnam, a story I don’t think I’ll ever forget. Marie Sexton succeeded in pulling my guts out through my tear ducts, and I was afraid that Ellen Holiday was going to do the same with Brandon’s Laughter, but I was spared at the eleventh hour, thank goodness, though that’s not to say I didn’t shed a few tears along the way.

I absolutely loved this story, even if I do think it’s too short. That’s not a slight on the author but a compliment to her. I just didn’t want to let these characters go.

Reviewed by: Lisa

You can download Brandon’s Laughter here as part of the Goodreads M/M Romance Group’s “Love Has No Boundaries” summer anthology:

Dreamspinner Press, Ellen Holiday

Ellen Holiday proves that Small Miracles Can Make Big Differences

A gentle word, a kind look, a good-natured smile can work wonders and accomplish miracles. – William Hazlitt

When life has done its best to kick you, leave you out in the cold with nowhere—or no one—to turn to, sometimes even the smallest of kindnesses can feel like a miracle.

Cal Harrison knows this because he’s learned it the hard way, living on the streets, sleeping under bridges, begging for food and loose change, trying to find day-work that will at least give him enough coin for a meal at McDonalds. To say that Cal is at the lowest ebb of his life doesn’t go far enough to describe where he is at the moment he ducks into a neighborhood bar during a torrential downpour, hoping for nothing more than a few minutes to try and warm up before he’s forced to leave.

Matt Kirkland is a man who is about as far on the opposite spectrum of Cal’s brand of luck as a man can be, having just landed a deal that transformed him from just another unknown member of the masses who’d happened to create a social website into an internet mogul, not to mention a very wealthy man, nearly overnight. Matt is one of those men whose star is rising but whose head and feet are still planted very much on the ground, and when he happens to be in the bar the day that Cal wanders in, it’s a moment that will change both of their lives in significant ways.

Matt sees something in Cal that can only be explained by way of miracles. The man is cold, wet, hungry, grimy, bordering on skeletal, and just about as odorous as a man can be, yet when Matt sees him all he wants is to know Cal better, to buy him a meal and a hot cup of coffee and show Cal that the world can be a little less cruel, if only Cal will accept Matt’s offer of help. The only problem is that in Cal’s experience, charity never comes without a price, and that’s a price he’s not willing to pay. He’s survived this long without having to sell himself for a warm shower and a few bucks. He’s not about to start doing it now, regardless of how attractive the idea might be.

Ellen Holiday’s Small Miracles is a warm and uplifting story about a man who wants to give and a man who is unwilling—and let’s face it, terrified—to grab hold of what’s being offered. Nothing comes without a price in Cal’s vast experience, not even miracles, and he’s a firm believer in the fact that Fate and the kindness that has been done to him isn’t something he can pin his hopes on without it being torn away from him just as he’s learned to depend upon it.

This is a story of a man who will go to any length to prove his sincerity, to prove that what he has to offer isn’t merely a bed for a night but is the gift of warmth and friendship and kindness and hopefully, in the end, something so much more.

Having read and very much liked this author’s Inside the Beltway, I think it’s safe to say I’ve cottoned on to her storytelling style and the brand of romance she offers. I wanted very much for Matt to be able to touch that part of Cal that’d been taught that trust and hope leads to pain and disappointment, that life was nothing but a series of raw deals, and when it finally happened, on Cal’s terms, I found myself wishing that the story had lasted just a few pages more, to see where Cal and Matt went after The End.

You can buy Small Miracles here:

Dreamspinner Press, Ellen Holiday

Inside the Beltway by Ellen Holiday

Evangelism and politics have a lot in common, when you think about it: Whoever speaks loudest and glad-hands best draws the most money to his coffers to further promote his agenda. Whoever puts the best spin on the proselytizing from the media pulpit wins the most souls. Whoever can convince the masses he is the way and the truth and the light draws the most sheep to his flock. The only difference in the two jobs is the final destination. In Washington, D.C., the Promised Land has a specific address—1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

In a city filled with spin doctors and silver-tongued orators who can almost always be counted on to give good oral, Senator Davis Hudson is a man who’s becoming frustrated with the party line. He’s a man who has always been able to trust his tongue to deliver the right message, even if his brain wasn’t entirely engaged in the point on which he was pontificating. In a city where so many languish in relative obscurity, overshadowed by their peers who seemingly thrive upon inviting attention to themselves, Davis has suddenly, and questionably, thrust himself into the spotlight, where scrutiny and speculation throws more than his political aspirations under the microscope.

Kurt Lamb is the man who becomes an unintentional chink in Davis’s political armor. Kurt is a former media analyst who, after a bad break-up, puts his theater training to use and becomes a makeup artist for CNN. He and Davis meet when the senator begins doing the requisite political press junkets that come with taking a strong stand and voicing that stand so vehemently and eloquently that it draws attention to him, like predators are drawn to fresh meat. The spark of attraction between the two men is instantaneous and not altogether comprehensible to Davis, seeing as how he isn’t gay. It doesn’t take long, however, for the man whose career is all about pressing the flesh to put an entirely different spin on the meaning of the phrase.

Does it take immeasurable courage to continue to pursue a dream, even when that dream will mean drawing the media, the American public, as well as every political and religious group with an agenda into your personal life? I’d have to say, yes, it does, especially when there’s a bitter and ambitious ex-wife waiting in the wings to be sure the path you’ve chosen is paved with stop-sticks to let the air out of all your hopes and ambitions.

Washington is a city of alliances and antagonism, a city where you find out who your true friends are only when the tide of public opinion begins to turn against you. Politics is a stage where only the most accomplished actors, those whose images are the best scripted by their handlers, succeed. Davis Hudson, in his pursuit of a personal life that is redeeming, fulfilling, and gives him the strength to pursue a public life that isn’t at all about him or whom he loves, but is about the desire to represent the nation, as a whole, stands out as a man of character in the face of adversity.

Inside the Beltway is a book that you read and can’t help but hope for a day in the not too distant future where the oath to execute the office of the President of the United States, and to protect and defend the Constitution, is based on the content of that person’s character alone.

The message in this story was hopeful and encouraging, and I enjoyed the way Ellen Holiday delivered that message subtly rather than it becoming overwhelming. While I’d have loved to have been given a little more insight into the development of Davis and Kurt’s relationship, the build up from attraction to love, I couldn’t help but become invested in the part these two men played in changing the face of the political nation.

Buy Inside the Beltway HERE.