From the author of Foreword Indies Finalist Summer of Hush and BookLife Prize Quarterfinalist Brains and Brawn comes a new installment in the series, a contemporary gay romance with a side of time travel and magic.
Musical prodigy Kallos Alexandrou has played his calliope for countless visitors at Errante Ame’s Carnival of Mysteries, but his one-year residency has come to an end. Scars from a terrible tragedy in his past are the only explanation he has for his loss of speech and memory, but it’s time to move on, so when a music festival sets up next to the carnival, Mr. Ame sends him off with identification, a bottomless billfold, and a set of new clothes. Outside the carnival’s perimeter, Kal finds himself in an unfamiliar world surrounded by strange instruments and vibrant people like nothing he’s ever seen.
Ryan Wells is the troubled and celebrated lead singer of the metal band Backdrop Silhouette. He’s brought more than his share of baggage on the last cross-country Warped Tour, including harsh restrictions placed on him by his parole officer and the band’s label, but it’s the treatment from his bandmates that have him feeling unsettled. After a tough morning, he spots a strange young man playing carnival music on a keyboard backstage, and the sound takes him back to a particularly vulnerable time in his youth. Intrigued, Ryan asks the young man’s name, but he flees only to appear later as a replacement stagehand for the tour.
An invitation from the band Hush to ride on their bus gives Ryan and Kal a welcome distraction. They find the camaraderie and support they’ve both been craving…as well as a little magic and a fresh new romance. But personal secrets and the music business make relationships difficult to maintain, and when the tour ends, Ryan and Kal will have to make a choice: move forward together on an uncertain path, or let fear keep them from trusting that sometimes you really can have everything you desire.
You Can Do Magic is part of the multi-author Carnival of Mysteries Series. Each book stands alone, but each one includes at least one visit to Errante Ame’s Carnival of Mysteries, a magical, multiverse traveling show full of unusual acts, games, and rides. The Carnival changes to suit the world it’s on, so each visit is unique and special. This book contains a Depression-era calliaphone, a Ouija board with a purpose, and tour bus hijinks that will warm your heart and make you gigglesnort. Reading Summer of Hush and Brains and Brawn before this book will give you the full Warped Tour experience, but You Can Do Magic can be read as a standalone as well as the other books in the shared universe. Recommended 18+
Despite Krish and Silas insisting I go with them to the carnival tonight, I’d convinced myself I would stay in, maybe write, maybe lay in my bunk and stare at the ceiling for many hours. I had this hollow feeling that, in the past, I would have filled with alcohol until I either passed out or found someone to fuck. Now that I’d made a promise, a commitment, that I wouldn’t partake of mind-altering substances, music was the only thing that kept me from drowning.
I’d had it out with Parker before the rest of the guys left to go to a bar in Nashville and hear some local music.
“I know the guys are annoying, but Ryan, you gotta get your priorities straight, man. If you can’t get along with them in the long run? Maybe we need to think about making some changes.”
What he meant was, changes that involved my future. Oscar and TJ had been embraced by the fans and were favorites at our signings, and they might accept me being out of the band by now. There had been a vocal minority who’d said I shouldn’t be allowed back after my prison stint. But the majority had welcomed me. I’d received letters from other ex-cons and even folks still locked up that thanked me for showing them there was life after prison. That meant more to me than being worried about Parker’s veiled threats.
“It’s carnival time, dude.” Silas hopped up the steps of the bus toward me and stuck out his hand. I grabbed it and pulled him into a bro hug, holding on a little longer than normal. He didn’t know it, but he’d just saved me from yet another downward spiral. He’d done it once before, the night he’d sang “Angel’s Son” with me. I’d been ready to say fuck it that night and go out looking for booze, but he’d agreed to my plan, agreed to help me finish the album I’d written with Gavin. Silas’s friendship was one of the only positive things keeping me going right now. I should tell him, but he probably wouldn’t believe me anyway.
“Shit. We’re doing this. Okay. Let me grab my wallet.”
I took a minute inside the bus to brush my too-long hair out of my face. It was scraggly at the ends. I barely looked presentable anymore. I grabbed a ball cap someone had given us from a canned water company called Liquid Death. “Murder Your Thirst” it said. So cheeky. I shoved it on backward and put on some lip balm, then turned back to Silas. He was bouncing his knees and looking up at the white board we had hung up on the wall for notes to each other. At this time, we had our schedule for the next five days, and then there were a couple of vulgar drawings.
“I can see you want to add something.”
Silas grinned at me and picked up the marker. He hummed as he drew pictures of TJ and Oscar, and then drew a giant dick ejaculating on them. He popped the pen cap back on and turned to face me. His shit-eating smile made me laugh for probably the first time since…well, since I’d met Kal.
“I mean, it’s not going to win me any awards, but you can tell it’s those two, can’t you?”
I sighed and gestured for him to exit the bus. “Yes, you can tell. I’ll probably hear about it later.”
He stopped and pushed past me. “Then let me leave my name. I don’t want them thinking it’s anyone other than me.”
He signed the drawing Love, Silas, July 2018.
“There! Perfect. I always take credit for my shenanigans.”
“Fucking Franklin. All right. Let’s go. You get Los to agree to come? He seemed leery about hanging out with some colorful folks tonight.”
“Nah, he’s staying behind, but we brought someone else.”
I followed him down the steps, watching as I went because I’d already stumbled twice getting off the damn bus. The steps were really funky. When I finally looked up, there was Kal.
He held up a hand and waved hesitantly.
I wanted to hug him even tighter than I’d hugged Silas. I couldn’t believe how happy I was to see him. After I’d walked away from him earlier, I’d known it was the right thing to do, and yet it took all of my strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I wanted him near me. I wanted something good in my life.
Knowing full well I was an asshole for being happy, I grinned at him. “You survived your first day, huh?”
Silas put his arm around Kal and beamed. “He sure did, and if he survives the rest of the tour, I think we might poach him. Theo is going back to school and wants to be close to Merch Girl Mischa, so we’ve got an opening for a tech, and since we’re headed to Europe, we could really use someone good.”
Silas patted him once more and let go. Kal watched him with a shocked expression. I wondered what he thought about all that.
“I suppose it also matters whether Kal wants to remain with you heathens.”
Silas looked at me like I’d just suggested someone might actually be immune to his charms. “What do you mean? What could be better than touring with us?” His confusion quickly morphed into laughter. “You’re right. Kal, I won’t be offended if you think me and my band of messy men are too much of a mess for you. So, do you have other plans? Headed home after Warped? What do you think?”
Kal opened his mouth and then shut it, his cheeks flushing. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his shorts—
Lord, whoever’d dressed him deserved my gratitude. His legs were paler than his arms, but they were sculpted like a statue I’d once admired in a museum, I forget which one. Long and lightly dusted with golden hairs that caught the fading light of the sunset.
My silence must have been noted by Krish. He cleared his throat. “We gave him some of the sample clothes from Roxanne’s brand. It’s so hot out—”
“Hot. Yes. Looks good.”
It was clear I was ogling him, and though these guys were used to my quirks, it was an awkward moment. I’d drawn Silas once. He wasn’t a good model, as he fidgeted and talked the whole time. I knew there were rumors about what happened at my drawing sessions. Nothing had happened with Silas. Couldn’t say that for all of my models.
“Right, well. Shall we?” Silas gave me a look like down, boy. “I keep smelling that damned cotton candy and my sweet tooth is begging me for some.”
I stood next to Kal and looked up at him. I liked the way he met my gaze, unafraid, unashamed, as if he were accepting my challenge, or challenging me. This back and forth had me fired up.
This book sounded interesting to me. And it’s a stand alone that is set in the same world as 12 other books. But I think I missed the point by not reading at least the first of the others.
After a year in a magical carnival, Kal rejoins the world. He was in the magical world because something bad happened to him. And although we find out WHAT happened, it still doesn’t explain why he was in the carnival.
He meets Ryan, a musician in a band on the Warped tour. Ryan is also a mess- for several reasons. We get an explanation of them all but it didn’t feel complete.
I just felt like there was no real cohesion to the story. Kal is seemingly unsurprised at everything in the world even though a lot has changed since he was last in it. I know he saw things while working in the carnival but definitely not everything.
And everyone seems to crap on Ryan even though he is trying to make amends. He even goes out of his comfort zone so the band doesn’t lose money and they STILL treat him like crap.
I think I would understand Ryan and all of the different things going on with the bands if I had read those books by the author.
If you are a fan of this author and had read previous books with a lot of these characters, I think you will like this book more than I did. But there were too many loose ends that didn’t get tied for me.
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Whether she’s writing swoon-worthy contemporary romance featuring quirky, queer, and relatable characters or diving deep into the supernatural to give readers a shiver, R.L. Merrill loves creating compelling stories that will stay with readers long after closing the book. Ro writes inclusive romance for the Happily Ever After collective, contributes paranormal hilarity to Robyn Peterman’s Magic and Mayhem Universe, and pens horror-inspired tales and music reviews for HorrorAddicts.net. A mom, wife, daughter, and former educator, you can find her rocking out in her Bronco with Great Dane pup Velma, being terrorized by feline twins Dracula and Frankenstein, or headbanging at a rock show near her home in the San Francisco Bay Area! Stay Tuned for more…
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