A Charming Idea by Alex Mar
Rating: 4.5 stars
DSP: Having fallen on hard times, London-based wizard Evan keeps his charms shop open on Christmas Eve. When he finally gets home, he finds his neighbor, Kian, languishing with a wound that hasn’t healed properly. He takes Kian in and they share the Christmas roast from their neighbor, Mrs. Halfpenny—neither suspecting the magic in the marinade that will make their holiday especially merry.
Alex Mar has written a real charmer of a story in A Charming Idea. I loved everything about this tale, from the characters to the enchanting descriptions of Evan’s Charm shop to the pixies in his apartment. I so wished I was able to actually appear in his shop and be able to see for myself the tiny reindeer prancing and peering about the other charms on the old wooden shelves or see the snow butterflies lighting up the firefly glasses. Even the angel on top of his Christmas tree snored lightly in her sleep and fluttered her wings while dreaming. Entrancing doesn’t even begin to cover it.
The characters themselves were as magical and magnetic as their surroundings. Evan with his wild mop of red hair and Kian, the mysterious neighbor with his black cloak and quiet,somewhat menacing demeanor filled me with delight and anticipation. I couldn’t wait to see how Alex Mar was going to bring them together and Mar didn’t disappoint me. In fact, my only quibble with this story is that it is far too short. I wanted to know more about Kian with the phoenix tattooed on the side of his face marking him as a Wizard Guard. And I wanted to know more about those Wizard Guards who patrol the area. And Evan’s father whose stags would have been sent to bring Evan home for Christmas if he hadn’t needed to keep his shop open. There are so many delicious details here that cry out for a larger narrative that I almost couldn’t believe it when the story ended. Alex Mar, if you are listening, please revisit this wonderful universe you created and give us the story it is meant to have. Really, if you love fantasy, you will absolutely adore this story.
Aunt Dee Dee’s Holiday Check by Joel Skelton
Rating: 4.25 stars
DSP: After his Aunt Dee Dee sends him a windfall, Ethan decides to bail on the family holiday drama and go on a college skiing trip instead. Then a reservation snafu lands him in the same room as Henry, another student on the trip, and Ethan stumbles onto a bonus present of another kind: one that could last through Christmas and beyond.
Joel Skelton, where you been? I loved this story and both Ethan and Henry grabbed me from the start. At 65 pages, it is a longer story than most but Skelton uses that length to slowly build up Ethan and Henry’s backstories as well as give us a slower climb into a relationship. Skelton’s characters are marvels, more than just sketches, we get fully fleshed out human beings on every level of the story, not just the main characters. I especially loved Ethan’s Aunt Dee Dee of the title. She is a lesbian who the family disowned and now she is trying to reconnect with them. Aunt Dee Dee, along with her partner Agnes, sent Ethan the check that changes his life.
This is how she describes herself and Agnes: ”
“We’re day traders by profession, lunatics by disposition, and we like to drink.” Agnes spelled it out. “And smoke,” Auntie D added with a snort.”
How do you know love these two and want to seriously party with them? The whole story continues in that vein. It’s funny, heartwarming and is never overly saccharine. Nor does it fall into the trap of instant love for Henry and Ethan, just a lovely romantic weekend with the future of more waiting them. Perfect. This is the reason I loved getting the Dreamspinner Advent stories. New authors to look up and the possibility of new stories to discover. If I hadn’t gotten the entire package, I would have missed out on this author and many others.
The Christmas Snoop by Jean Wolfe
Rating: 3.25 stars
DSP: After going on a present hunt while his boyfriend, Matt, is in the office, James finds several things he didn’t expect, including photos of Matt in a Christmas jumper, an old teddy bear, and several letters to Santa Claus—one of which states that Matt doesn’t need anything for Christmas because he has James. It seems Matt has been a very good boy this year….
This is one very cute story about a snooping boyfriend, looking around for his presents and finding much more than his expected. It was sweet, nicely written and a lovely present to find on my computer that December morning. The characterizations were well developed and the short story about two men who love each other was completely angst free. While I don’t feel any need to reread this story, I certainly enjoyed the time I spent with Matt and James.
Rudolph by Sam C. Leonhard
Rating: 3 stars
DSP: Crotchety and cranky Rudy—aka Santa—is in a foul mood every Christmas season. He talks to lots of children and even more parents but not with guys looking for dates. Only when his best helper makes him a very special gift does he meet someone to his liking. Kind of. Because that someone is made of flour and spices—and to impress him, Rudy seriously has to work on his seduction skills.
This is a story that you are either going to dislike it or love it, depending upon how you feel about your Christmas figures. This will not surprise anyone who has been following my reviews of the holiday stories, but I am coming down on the side of not liking Rudolph. Here is Santa (son of Santa) who is cranky, hates Christmas and all the trappings, rude to children, with the patience of a pouting child. It is not spoiling things to tell you that someone decides to gift this curmudgeonly Santa with his own cookie man for Christmas to teach him a thing or two.
Really, someone has to create a man for Santa? Sigh. The only reason this story has three stars is because despite my dislike for the subject matter, the story is very well written, the characters crystalline in form, and the ending open and full of possibilities. Some people will adore this story. So I will recommend it and let you make up your own mind.
This is the second time I have gotten the entire month of Advent stories from Dreamspinner Press and have exactly the same reaction as I did the first time around, that you end up with a mix grab bag of stories. Most are wonderful, some very nice, some forgettable and a few that resembled lumps of coal.
So I am sure you are wondering, is it worth the price to buy them all or should you wait and purchase them one at a time? Well, after some thought, I think that it is worth the price, even with the uneven quality in the stories. I did love getting a new story every morning, that was fun. And I found some new authors I might not have discovered any other way. I shudder to think that I might have missed out on Cardeno C’s Eight Days or Kim Fielding’s A Great Miracle Happened There. The Colors of Pastor Saul by SA Garcia made me think and The Ghost of Mistletoe Lock by Amy Rae Durreson brought back memories of Christmas ghosts past. Amy Lane’s Turkey in the Snow can make me laugh just thinking about the scene that produced the title and Andrew Grey’s Snowbound to Nowhere was full of holiday delight and wonder. And then there was Alex Mar and Joel Skelton too.
So many gifts were received this Evergreen Advent month that I heartily recommend you try it next season. But don’t wait until then to read these stories, pick them up now and capture the glow of Christmas past!
Here is the list of the stories I loved in no particular order:
Eight Days by Cardeno C
Turkey in the Snow by Amy Lane
Snowbound to Nowhere by Andrew Grey
A Great Miracle Happened There by Kim Fielding
Aunt Dee Dee’s Holiday Check by Joel Skelton
A Charming Idea by Alex Mar
The Ghost of Mistletoe Lock by Amy Rae Durreson
Traditions from the Heart by Bru Baker
The Colors of Pastor Saul by S.A. Garcia
Wish List by J.J. Cassidy
Lessons Learned, Wishes Earned by Cassandra Gold