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REVIEW: “Special Effect” by Russell J Sanders



Graduating senior, theater lighting wunderkind, and closeted gay, Nick Fortunati volunteers with The Streetwise Players in the dark corners of The Laughton, a creepy old movie palace decorated in Grand Guignol style. But his father wishes Nick would use his intellect and his scholarship to become a biotech engineer and earn a prosperous living for his future family. Nick loves his dad and wants to please him, but he dreams of a career in theater. And he wants a male lover. Unfortunately, his homophobic father won’t approve of either.

When Nick’s at his loneliest, out of the corners of the theater and into his life comes trouble-laden Steve Stripling, a man with little memory of his past other than his name. Meanwhile, Nick’s introduced to the dashing Wash Vitek and is torn between the two men. His situation is further complicated because he doesn’t know if Wash is gay.

Nick resolves to solve the mystery surrounding Steve and help the young man recover his memories, even though by doing so, he risks losing the first love he’s ever found.


Well, I have just realized something- breaking the fourth wall does not work for me. At least this attempt failed as far as my enjoyment of the narration. Quite possibly it was due to the fact that I didn’t enjoy Nick, but I don’t think the plan was executed the way it was intended. I believe too much of the author’s voice came through and it wasn’t truly Nick that we heard. Or if that’s not the case, then Nick didn’t suit with the character he was meant to portray. Regardless, the MC speaking directly to me smothered any pleasure I may have had.

What we have here is a novel twist on a conventional theme. A ghost lingers, trapped in the in-between, specifically in a theater. A few decades later a young man, Nick, encounters this being unaware of his ethereal state. For the first time since his death someone can see, talk, and touch Steve. A relationship bursts from nowhere and Nick has his first bona fide boyfriend. Kinda.

Nick is a young teen coming to terms with his sexual identity and yet he often came across as a middle aged sullen man. One of my biggest peeves was…..he lectured. I did not enjoy his lessons. Maybe I just didn’t get his humor. I tend to have a soft spot for the self-proclaimed nerds and always melt as we experience their ‘firsts’. Any potential power during these moments completely missed the mark for me. They were stilted in their romantic moments and the overuse of ‘man’ as a term of endearment drove me bonkers.

To be totally honest, I found Nick to be aggravating, frustrating and extreme. The insta-love was a crash and burn. Nick asked me if he was telling him he loved him and I wanted to scream at him that he wasn’t. Where did he pluck that from? I never saw it. The murder-mystery was thin. The prospective leads were silly and most of the secondary characters felt very superficial.

The inside jokes and vintage lingo were excessive and just plain off. Frequently I wondered if it was twenty or forty years ago that jargon was pulled from. Again, this is where I feel like it was the author rather than the character that came through.

All in all it wasn’t my cup of tea, but if you happen to love Ferris Buller’s Day Off and like a YA mystery, this just might be a winner in your book.



SE coverTitle: Special Effect
Author: Russell J Sanders
Publisher: Harmony Ink
Pages: 180
Release Date:  May 8, 2014
Purchase Links: Dreamspinner, Amazon, ARe

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This entry was posted on June 6, 2014 by in Reviewer: Sheri, YA / NA and tagged , , .

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