RELEASE DAY- REVIEW: Step Right Up- Carnival of Mysteries Anthology – L.A. Witt

Step Right Up Book Cover Step Right Up
Carnival of Mysteries Anthology
L.A. Witt
Multicultural, Interracial, Gay Romance
July 19, 2023

Jason Richards is ridiculously in love with his friend and coworker, Ahmed Kazimi. Unfortunately, Ahmed is a package deal—he has a boyfriend who, as far as Jason is concerned, needs to be launched into the sun.

Then a mysterious carnival rolls into town, and Jason and Ahmed can’t resist going. Not even if Ahmed’s boyfriend can be depended on to make everybody miserable.

When Ahmed wins a strange prize from an even stranger carnival game, weird things start happening. First, a mishap with a friend’s newly purchased love potion. Then a cascade of steadily worsening bad luck starts to rain down on every corner of Ahmed’s life. Though he doesn’t believe in the paranormal, he can’t help but wonder if his prize is cursed. Just to be safe, he throws it away.

But it comes back. And it keeps coming back.

Upon learning about the prize that won’t go away, Jason suggests the only solution he can think of: return it to the place it came from.

Now Ahmed and Jason are on a mission to get rid of the cursed prize… assuming they can find that game again.

Step Right Up 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 some long overdue friends to lovers, a strangely insightful caricaturist, and a little magical realism.

Review by Ulysses Dietz

Member of The Paranormal Romance Guild Review Team

This series by different authors is really fun and interesting. LA Witt offers her classic m/m style with lots of emotional back and forth, while also making great use of the alluring-yet-eerie presence of the Carnival of Mysteries. Seems to me that the carnival has a bigger presence in this book than in the previous two. The main characters, Ahmed and Jason, make repeat visits, and there’s a great “finale” scene that I especially liked.

The set-up here is also classic LA Witt: Jason and Ahmed are devoted and beloved nurses in a clinic. They’ve been close friends for years—but Jason has been harboring a secret crush on his good friend for a long time. The problem is Ahmed’s partner, Mark, whom nobody apparently likes.

The Carnival and its denizens do their stuff, and in distinctly different ways from what we’ve seen in the previous books. The effect is creative and eerie, without making the Carnival seem threatening or unpleasant in any way. I particularly enjoyed all the talk about the quality of the carnival food—something that would make any place magical for me.

A nice angle on this story is that bigger issues of relationship dynamics are raised and discussed—why people remain in unhappy situations, how abuse needn’t be physical, how people suppress their own need for happiness. The overarching issue is how people somehow avoid dealing with truths in front of their faces, because “being good” overrides their clear vision of what is right. Of course, the Carnival helps with that, in an unexpected way.

Each author has, so far, used the Carnival in her distinctive way, without diluting its essence as a “character” in the story. My sense of the Carnival gets stronger and bigger each time I read about it. It is a surprisingly consistent vision. Magic isn’t necessarily simple and the results can be messy. I wonder what prompt the authors were all given, because it seems to be working!

Can’t wait to read the next installment.

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