A MelanieM Review: Knitting a Broken Heart Back Together by Ari McKay

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Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

 

When a Christmas shopping expedition brings Tomy Peralta into Jason Winters’ yarn store, both men feel an immediate and intense spark of attraction, but dance instructor Tomy intends to propose to his boyfriend Sean at Christmas. Unfortunately for Tomy, marriage isn’t on career-minded Sean’s agenda. Heartbroken, Tomy throws himself into his work until his mother convinces him that learning to knit might help take his mind off his failed romance.

Jason falls hard for Tomy, but he knows Tomy needs time to heal and to trust in love again. As Jason teaches Tomy how to knit, Tomy teaches him how to dance in return to prepare for his sister’s wedding. Just when it seems Tomy is ready for a new romance, Sean shows up, wanting Tomy back. Has Jason helped Tomy knit his heart together again, only for Tomy to give it to Sean once more, or will Tomy finally see Sean for what he truly is?

It’s rare that the authors known as Ari McKay make a misstep, let alone two (or more) in my opinion.  Normally, they can do no wrong.  In fact, that’s one of the major reasons I was so excited to read this story.  Ok, I’m always happy to pick up any McKay tale but I’m a knitter so I was intrigued to see how they would fold such a tactile and favored element into this story.

Honestly?  Disappointed in how underused the craft of knitting is here, from Tomy learning to knit (which is supposedly a huge deal), to Jason who dyes his own yarn, detail after sensuous, vivid yarn/knit related detail is left out of the romance and therefore out of the story.  We are told Jason teaches Tomy to knit, we hear briefly about the yard shop and that he dyes yarn?  But the particulars that actually bring all that alive?  Totally missing in action.  And I have read several stories from other authors that use knitting as a framework that make you want to jump into the nearest bags filled with skeins and make you want to start madly knit away at your own projects. Or go off and start fondling some yarn.  Not here, which  is a problem with a story that has a titled called  Knitting a Broken Heart Back Together.   Someone’s heart was not into the knitting part at allAnd that sort of includes the character of Jason He’s nice but something is  missing…

Then there’s the element of dance. Tomy and his family have always  owned a dance studio and competed professionally. Truly this book should have been called Waltzing your Broken Heart Back Together. Because its in the descriptions of dance, dancing together, the feeling of “floating” and being a partner in a sensual  embrace on the studio floor where this story comes soars. In short, the descriptions of dancing have everything that knitting lack. You can tell, that one of the author’s interest was vested here in dance, not knitting.  The part’s of the story in the dance studio?  They sang!  The main characters exhibited a connectivity that didn’t happen earlier in the story (certainly not when talking about knitting) and it’s dancing that brings them together.

Anyway, it takes them a while to start dancing cheek to cheek, to its a slow burn sort of romance as Tomy gets over his disastrous love affair and finds himself ready to love again…with his partner on the dance floor.  It is a sweet romance with cute relatives (Tomy’s) and relatively angst free story.

As I said, the only thing that just feels a let down is the total fail with the knitting from the cover, title and the blurb.  Change it over to dancing and you have a winner.  Honestly.  did someone not read this story?  It’s all about the dancing.That’s where it dances away with the story.

 

Cover art: Bree Archer.  Lovely cover.  Would work great for a book actually more about knitting.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 2nd edition, 125 pages
Expected publication: July 6th 2018 by Dreamspinner Press (first published December 16th 2014)
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Scattered Thoughts Book Review Summary for June 2013

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june

June 2013 has come and gone but some of the books I read that month continue to linger in my heart and mind, just some outstanding stories. As always, there is something for everyone here, from contemporary to paranormal books, terrific additions to wonderful series.  If you missed them the first time, here is your chance to check them out again:

5 Star Rating:

Hobbled by John Inman

Infected: Undertow by Andrea Speed

Mighty Casey by Willa Okati

One Breath, One Bullet by S.A.McAuley

Prelude by Shira Anthony and Venona Keyes

4 to 4.75 Star Rating:

A Casual Weekend Thing by A.J. Thomas (4.75 stars) (contemporary)

A Silence Kept by Theo Fenraven (4.25 stars)(contemporary)

Aria of the Eclipse by Vivien Dean (4.75 stars)(science fiction)

Flawless by Cat Grant (4.25 stars)(contemporary)

Stonewall by Martin Duberman (4.25 stars) (non fiction)

The Hanged Man’s Ghost by Missouri Dalton (4.75 stars)(paranormal)

The Night Shift by Missouri Dalton (4.25 stars)(paranormal)(series)

3 to 3.75 Star Rating:

Fennel and Forgiveness by Ari McKay (3.5 stars) (contemporary)

Heart of the Race by Mary Calmes (3.75 stars) (contemporary)

In Search of a Story by Andrew Grey (3.25 stars) (contemporary)

When Dachshunds Ruled the Serengeti by Michael Murphy (3.75 stars) (contemporary)

2 to 2.75 Star Rating:

The Caveman and the Devil by Chris T. Kat (2.75 stars)(contemporary)

The Jouster’s Lance by A.J. Marcus (2.75 stars) (contemporary)

Review: Fennel and Forgiveness by Ari McKay

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Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Fennel And Forgiveness coverMaitre’d Darius Cooper of the renown Montgomery House has his work cut out for him this week.  Rhys Montgomery, owner of Montgomery House,  has decided to allow the Gourmet Network to use the restaurant for an episode of a reality show, while still keeping it open for business.  That means  Darius has to keep things running smooth and ensure that their famous and famously volatile chef, Executive Chef Stephen Pierce, is kept happy, no small feat.  But things start to go wrong from the beginning.  The bride picked out by the Gourmet Network turns into bridezilla, and the man in charge of the reality show shoot?  None other than Max Boyd, the only man Dare ever loved and the man who broke his heart seven years past.

Max Boyd has had seven years to grow up.  He left Darius Cooper to pursue his career, not ready to settle down to one man and a long term relationship.  But those years apart have seen Max mature and realize that he had left the only man for him behind in his pursuit of life as a producer.  Now Max wants Dare back but as Dare has made clear, Dare doesn’t trust him and wants nothing to do with Max.

With Chef Stephen Pierce threatening the bride, the owner threatening to toss them out , and Dare asking him to leave, how will Max pull off the production shoot  of Southern Wedding Belles and get his (and Dare’s) second chance at love?  Sometimes all it takes is a little fennel and forgiveness.

I love a plot where former lovers reunite for a second chance at love, that always gets to me.  So no surprise that the book description was really the thing that drew me to this story in the first place. I found this to be a sweet story but somehow just short of satisfying and it is hard to put my finger on exactly what component is the problem.

McKay has given us a wonderful location and setting for the story.  Montgomery House is a famous, historic restaurant in Charleston, SC.  and in it McKay has placed a renown chef with a huge ego and volatile attitude to match his reputation, an owner immensely proud of his restaurant and his restoration work and a Maitre’d equipped to handle both men and all other challenges except the one closest to his own  heart.  So far, great.  I loved them, the restaurant, and even the silly reality show brought into the mixture.  Southern Wedding Belles.  Someone has been watching a lot of TLC to get that one so right.

I think my problem is with the character of Max Boyd, the tv producer and the man who devastated Darius Cooper when he left him all those years ago.  I think the back story created for Max is a pretty realistic one.  Max was someone too young to handle a long term relationship with an older man who wanted to settle down.  Instead Max wanted to concentrate on his career, again understandable.  But the older Max still seems a little immature in my opinion.  Here is Max, after he has seen Darius again for the first time in seven years:

Looking back, he had to place the blame for their break-up squarely on his own shoulders. He’d panicked when Darius had asked him to move in, because at the time, he’d been more interested in climbing his career ladder than in settling down with one man yet. Ten years his senior, Darius was as solid as he was intense, and he’d wanted a commitment with a capital “C”, no holds barred and no going back. Unfortunately, Max was too immature and self-absorbed at the time to deal with the tougher aspects of sustaining a relationship and to compromise as much as he needed to. Max hadn’t been able to love Dare the way he deserved back then, but age and experience had helped Max understand that relationships required more than romance and sex; respect and a mutual commitment to making it last were vital.

The damnable thing was that he hadn’t been able to find anyone he wanted to commit to since then. He kept comparing his prospective partners to Dare, and they all fell far short of the mark.

So Max hasn’t found anyone as good as Dare so far?  And all this time, Max never looked up his former partner? Uh, no.  While McKay made me believe in Darius’ pain and the devastation Max inflicted upon his self image and ability to trust, I never really believed that Max loved Darius all that time they were apart.  I think it is that lack of belief in Max and Darius’s love that leaves this story foundering a bit.  It is sweet but not particularly memorable (or believable).

Also, while there is some discussion about them not getting back together immediately because of the pain inflicted, of course it happens almost immediately within the duration of the production shoot (after saying it would take time). Sigh.  I could see that a longer version might have made for a more realistic, better imagined reconciliation than the one that occurred within this story.  But as it is, it is too saccharine and far too unrealistic to be believed.

However, there is a lot to like here as well.  Mostly I loved Chef Stephen Pierce and Stephen’s PA Robert Logan.  Arrogant, snarky, and so much fun, they were the most interesting and absorbing characters in the story.  It was their story I wanted to read about, not Dare’s (disliked that nickname) and Max’s.  Ari McKay (a pen name for two people coauthoring as Ari McKay) has written the owner Rhys Montgomery’s story in Bay Leaves and Bachelors.  So I can only hope that Stephen’s story will be written as well.  That one I can’t wait for.

This is a sweet story, enjoyable and short at 102 pages.  It is just not very deep and multi dimensional but that fine, not every romance has to be.  I think most people will enjoy Max and Darius’ relationship.  I know they will love Montgomery House and the rest of the characters involved there.  I certainly did and look forward to more in this series.

Cover illustration by BS Clay.  Models are cute but Darius is 40, where is the older man in this picture?

ebook, 102 pages
Published May 8th 2013 by Torquere Press
ISBN
161040470X (ISBN13: 9781610404709)
edition language

From Mourning To Joy Once More, Animal Adoptions and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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You always hear that things have a way of changing overnight, but few experience it.  It didn’t quite happen like that here but it was close.  In my instance, things changed exactly one week to the day that I felt my heart shatter.  On June 4, 2013, my companion of 18 years, Winston died.  Exactly one week to the day, on June 11, another Winston came into my life, through circumstances so unusual, so connected, that I knew it was meant to be.   I have written that story, The Tale of Two Winstons – A Terrier Comes Home, to chart the beginning of our journey together.  Before that I had written of my first, indomitable Winston, my love of 18 years in My Winston.  But there was one fact I had left out.  You see, exactly one week before I found Winston, I had another dog, Snowflake, a rescue American Eskimo.

Snowflake was with me for two years, gorgeous and unfortunately so emotionally scarred by her previous family that only I could handle her.  I never got the entire  story but from her hatred of children and families in general, apparently she had been used as a target and punching bag by the people who owned her before me (and was rescued from).   One day we were out in the pasture, running and checking around for a loose horseshoe, when bikers sped by and Snowflake gave chase down the fence line.  Normally, that would have been fine as she couldn’t get through the wire and post fence, but sometime during the night a car had sideswiped the fence and taken down just enough to leave a Snowflake sized hole.  I am sure you all can imagine what happened next as Snowflake darted out onto that winding country  road.  Even as we raced to the vet, I knew my Snowflake was gone.

One week to the day, on that same spot, a shivering, heavily matted, rail thin Winston was found and went home with me carrying him in my arms, the same way Snowflake left that same spot.  Now 18 years later, exactly one week apart, my beloved Winston was gone and another Winston had arrived.  And each time, I knew it was meant to be.  How could it not?  I am not sure I believe in Fate but all these connections?  All these events strung together in order for one magical moment to happen?  How do I not believe in that?  Many people have said that Winston sent the other Winston to me, and I think I can agree there.  During that week of almost overwhelming grief and loss, I swear I could hear the thunk Winston made as he jumped down off the bed to investigate something in the house during the night.  Several times that occurred during that week, but since Winston arrived, not a sound.  This Winston likes to bury his food bowl (on tile no less) just like my old Winston did.  Perhaps one has taught the other his tricks without me knowing.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

My family now includes two rescued dogs, Winston and Kirby whose face adorns the banner of this blog.  They aren’t my first rescues and most certainly won’t be my last.  There are so many dogs (and cats) that need homes in shelters around the country.  And there are so many shelters in need of support, both monetary and in donations of supplies.  I know it is Father’s Day today but perhaps if your Dad is someone who has everything possible and you don’t know what to give him, maybe make a donation to your local animal rescue organization or humane society in his name as a gift.  I know it would be welcome.  I found my Winston by donating food to the shelter.  Who knows if a four pawed love awaits you there as well?  The larger groups, ASPCA, and the Humane Society of the United States, rescue animals from devastating events such as hurricanes and earthquakes and more.  They need your help too.

So here are some links to get you thinking about rescues and the organizations who need your help to continue their mission to save animals in need:

ASPCA

Humane Society of the United States

Montgomery County Humane Society

Days End Farm Horse Rescue – located locally in MD but travel all over the US to rescue large animals. Truly an amazing organization.

I am sure there are so many local rescue organizations around you that need your assistance.  They are only a tapped computer key away. Check them out as well.  Here are a few pictures of Winston and Kirby playing, they have turned into the best of friends.  Look below the pictures for the week ahead in reviews.  Happy Father’s Day!

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The week ahead in Reviews:

Monday, June 17:               Flawless by Cat Grant

Tuesday, June 18:              Fennel and Forgiveness by Ari McKay

Wed., June 19:                    In Search of a Story by Andrew Grey

Thursday, June 20:           Infected: Undertow by Andrea Speed

Friday, June 21:                 The Heir Apparent by Tere Michaels

Saturday, June 22:             Stonewall by Martin Duberman

Review: Closet Capers Anthology

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Rating: 4.25 stars

Closet Capers coverCloset Capers contains a series of stories revolving around mysteries or capers if you will.  From a riverboat gambler trying to find out who is trying to ruin his good name to a thief who continues to steal cans of coke from a office refrigerator and everything in between, this anthology mixes the romance with a little detective work to uncover new and different paths to love.

Closet Capers stories are:

Kitsch Me by Mari Donne
Leveling Up by Jude Dunn
Philip Collyer vs. the Cola Thief by Amy Rae Durreson
A Kiss in the Dark by Eli Easton
Calberg’s House Specialty Blend by Skylar Jaye
Small Change by Danni Keane
Lawrence Frightengale Investigates by Aidee Ladnier & Debussy Ladnier
The Whole Kit and Kaboodle by Ari McKay
Le Beau Soleil by Christopher Hawthorne Moss
Joie de Vivre by Pinkie Rae Parker
Made Good Under Pressure by Maja Rose
Tempest for a Teacup by Andrea Speed

I love the idea of mixing romance and detective work, how better to sleuth out the mysteries of the heart?  The stories contained within this anthology  run the gamut from a 1800’s riverboat gambler to a lovely story about a cable tv horror host and a missing Cadillac.  A number of these authors are unfamiliar to me, like Aidee Ladnier and Debussy Ladnier of the wonderful “Lawrence Frightengale Investigates”.  For me, buying an anthology means getting a quick introduction to authors I might not have found any other way and for that alone, it is always worth buying the book.  And of course, there are authors involved that I love, like Andrea Speed and her “Tempest for a Teacup”.  I loved that story, it was one of my favorites of the group.

Closet Capers gets off to a strong start, wobbles a little in the middle and finishes with the best of the stories included.  Here are my teacup reviews in the order they are placed in the book:

1. A Kiss in the Dark by Eli Easton

4 stars.  An anonymous kiss during a blackout at a office Christmas party disrupts Lester Lane’s life as he tries to figure out just who the great kisser is and why the person won’t come forward to admit it.  A cute story with adorable characters make it easy to overlook the fact that the reader can spot the drive-by kisser from the beginning.  Totally enjoyable and one of the longer stories.

2. Calberg’s House Specialty Blend by Skylar Jaye

3.75 stars. Lawyer Jonathan Mayer needs his coffee in order to function, specifically he needs Calberg’s Houe Specialtiy Blend.  But one morning Jonathan arrives to find that Calberg’s coffee shop is closed and his desperately needed morning cup of the Speciality Blend vanished with the store.  What follows is Jonathan trying to find out what happened to his beloved coffee shop and finding love with its former owner.  This story had great characters but could have used a little extra length to fill out the story resolution.

3. The Whole Kit and Kaboodle by Ari McKay

5 stars.  Dr. Grey Harris, history professor at Hartwell University has a mystery on his hands and it comes in the form of the new librarian, Henry Adams.  Grey knows that Henry is gay and the way the shy librarian gazes at him when Henry doesn’t think Grey is looking tells Grey that the librarian is attracted to him.  So why won’t the man go on a date?   The answer to that question is not only surprising but over the top charming as well.  Ari McKay has combined great characters with a intriguing mystery that ends up being one of the best stories in the anthology.  I am still smiling over the ending that is completely satisfying in every way.

4. Le Beau Soleil by Christopher Hawthorne Moss

4.25 stars.  It is 1855, New Orleans, and riverboat gambler François “Frankie” Deramus is hearing the first of the rumors that not only threaten his livelihood but his great love, the riverboat he owns and operates.  A gambler is only as good as his reputation and up until now, Frankie’s has been flawless.  But recently, some of the top gamblers have been refusing to play with him, referring to whispers of tricks and cheating.  Frankie has to find the culprit and quick before he is ruined.  Enter Michael Murphy, former soldier and now  private investigator.  Its up to Frankie and Michael to find and confront the person intent on ruining Frankie before the riverboat sails from New Orleans.  Time is running out but the attraction between the two men is running high.  Nothing like lust and mystery in New Orleans.  Moss does a terrific job in capturing the flavor of the times with the setting and secondary characters in the story.  I really enjoyed the tone and quality of the writing.  My only quibble would be the ending and the length, otherwise, great job.

5. Leveling Up by Jude Dunn

4.25 stars.   Game designer Adam Chandler is running late for his anniversary with Ben Randal, his partner and love.  Ben has arranged dinner for them at a restaurant and hotel downtown but when Adam arrives, he is mistaken for a man named Chandlis and the mistaken identity pulls Adam into a mystery he never expected, a mystery that also asks where is his lover?  Dunn delivers a sharp little story, full of likable characters and a neat little twist to keep us and Adam guessing.  Throughly entertaining little read.

6.  Kitsch Me by Mari Donne

3.25 stars.  Brian is obsessed with all things Hawaiian, including the hula dancer objects found at a store called Cunning Collectables.  But with his salary and the little money that his lover brings in, Brian and Craig are barely making ends meet at their barren little apartment.  Brian is curious about all the weird things that Cunning Collectables offers for sale, things like Lord Shiva in a tortilla or a tree trunk with a knot that looks like a Star of David.  A little investigating brings a most unexpected answer, and the trip of a lifetime.  Donne has a neat story buried somewhere inside Kitsch Me.  Unfortunately, somewhere towards the end, it just turns so unrealistic that you can run whole semis through the holes in the plot.  Up until then, it is a nice little story with interesting characters.

7. Made Good Under Pressure by Maja Rose

2 stars.  Awkward narrative ruins this story about Billy in New York City, 1926.  Written in a manner certain to bring to mind David Attenborough narrating a nature film, this peculiar style of writing makes this story almost unreadable.  Here is an example:

Billy’s just a glorified errand boy at the moment anyway, so after the day spins to a close.

Everything is pretty much, Billy cocks his head, Billy rolls his eyes, Billy thought that, Billy, Billy, Billy, and before you know it, the reader is so disconnected from Billy and his story that it almost becomes a DNF.  Unfortunately, one of the longer stories (or at least it felt that way), skip quickly over this one and head to the next.

8.  Tempest for a Teacup by Andrea Speed

4.5 stars.  One look at the young man asking for help, and private investigator Jake Falconer wanted to say no before even knowing what the case was.  Sarcastic, morally flexible Jake still ends up taking the case of the missing Morkie, much to his chagrin and his cop boyfriend’s delight.  Tempest for a Teacup is one of the shortest stories in the anthology but it is still long on laughter and full of memorable characters that will leave you laughing in appreciation even after the tale is finished and the doggynapper uncovered.  One of my favorite, I mean really a Morkie called Princess? That’s perfect.

9. Small Change by Danni Keane

4.75 stars.  Dom is the site attendant for Little Lexington, a model village of endless charm and timeless beauty.  Dom makes sure that all the people, houses, streets, everything is kept in perfect order, adding new elements as needed.  The little village and its perfect unchanging order give something to Dom he has never had anywhere else, stability and an unchanging future.  So when someone starts tampering  with the little figures he has so painstakingly created, Dom is determined to find out who is upsetting his village and Dom’s life.  So sweet and a little sad, Small Change brings a different feel to the anthology, giving the collection a touch of pathos and depth that has been lacking up until now.  As the story slowly unfolds you learn more about Dom and his need for the stability of Little Lexington, meet the person who has brought change to Dom and the village and get a delightful ending too.  One of the strongest stories of the collection and a new author for me as well.

10. Lawrence Frightengale Investigates by Aidee & Debussy Ladnier

5 stars. Lawrence Frightengale, aka Larry French, and his lover cabaret singer Myrna Boy (also known as Nicholas Benson when out of drag) are getting ready to ride in the annual Out & About Parade in the classic black Cadillac El Dorado convertible. That car had once been owned by the original host of Channel 11’s Terror Time, Harry Ghoulini, the morbid magician.  Now Lawrence Frightengale is the host of the resurrected show and for the first time, he will be riding, along with his lover and cohost, in the historic Cadillac convertible.  But when the car is stolen, the tv host and his cohorts must find the black convertible before the parade starts or lose their jobs in the process.  Who would want to steal the El Dorado? Who is after Lawrence Frightengale?  The answers must be found quickly as the parade is soon to start.

Wow, this story is such a delight in every aspect.  I grew up with Count Gore DeVol here in the DC area but I am sure that everyone will fondly remember a corny dramatic horror show host somewhere in their past.  The authors Ladnier are careful to treat the horror show host with affection and in loving tribute to their shows.  These are fully realized characters, the setting authentic and the mysteries, yes two, nicely planned and resolved.  The main characters are endearingly quixotic and yet oh so relatable that the reader will be left wanting more of their exploits or at least their cable show.  Love this story and the authors.

11. Joie de Vivre by Pinkie Rae Parker

4.25 stars.   Jules, a chef, has inherited his Aunt Mathilde’s country home, a place he remembers fondly as his escape from his battling parents and a person to whom he was always accepted as who he was.  During the years Jules spent training to be a chef and opening his own restaurant, he had not been to visit as often as he wanted and now returns to the only real home he has known to settle her estate.  Aunt Mathilde’s house is in dire need of repair but clearly someone has been there after her death.  Her cat is missing and so is her box of recipes, so important to Jules as Mathilde taught him to appreciate great food and cooking.   Who has been in the house? And where are the cherished recipes?  The answer lies in Jule’s past and a motorcycle he hears in the night.

Again, another lovely story, full of the ambience of the French countryside and the love of great food.  Vivid descriptions bring Aunt Mathilde’s crumbling french country home to life, from the decrepit plumbing to the disaster they call a roof.  Jules is well drawn, the mystery man less so.  I wish that Parker had fleshed out all of her characters, not just Jules and the ending felt a little more realistic than the one that occurred in the story.  Still, the charms and ambience of Joie de Vivre outweigh the few issues I saw and carry the story into the must read realm it deserves.

12. Philip Collyer vs. the Cola Thief by Amy Rae Durreson

Rating 5 stars

The collection ends on a strong note with a story by Amy Rae Durreson.  Philip Collyer vs. the Cola Thief takes a everyday office occurrence, that of an office communal refrigerator and stolen food and elevates it with humor and and a touch of realism in this tale of one man’s obsession to identify the person stealing his cola from the office refrigerator.  The reader gets it when Phil’s frustration mounts when not only does his precious cola, the one thing he anticipates daily, is taken and not only taken once, but taken every single day.  The culprit is unknown but leaves post-it notes to taunt Phil with their absence.   While the culprit is easy to spot, his motives are not and when revealed are very surprising to all.  Phil gets over his frustrations and issues with the thief a little  too easy for me but still the resolution is nicely done and will make everyone very happy.

If you love a sense of mystery, if the detective in you wants romance as well as something to solve, pick up this anthology and sit back and enjoy.  There is something for everyone inside.

Cover by Paul Richmond is quite delectable, or should that be detectible, and perfect for the stories within.

Book details:

ebook, 282 pages
Published April 22nd 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN
162380650X (ISBN13: 9781623806507)
edition language
English
url http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com
If you want to see what some of the authors thought, head over to Joyfully Jay where I am a guest reviewer.  Lucky for everyone, we will be seeing more of Lawrence Frightengale and crew in a full length story.

Dreamspinner Press Advent Story Roundup

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The Ghost of Mistletoe Lock by Amy Rae Durreson

Rating: 4.25 stars

DSP: After lonely divorcé Isaac leaves his job as a banker to work as a conservationist on a country river, he gives up on finding the love he always wanted. Then he meets flirty jeweler Ryan and assumes Ryan’s out of his league, but Ryan’s just as lonely as Isaac. Ryan also has the housemates from hell, and when he storms out of the riotous Christmas party they forgot to warn him about, he soon finds himself lost in the snow.

Ryan passes out in front of the lock cottage where Isaac lives, and once Isaac brings him in from the cold, they finally have a chance to get to know each other. But when their insecurities get in the way, it’s up to the ghost of Mistletoe Lock to ensure they give love a chance

I really enjoyed this unusual tale by a new author for me, Amy Rae Durreson.  It starts off with the haunting (literally) death of a young mother in the lock and then forwards to the present where a young British man is leaving his shoppe for the evening after having helped his last customer, a rough looking man looking for a present for his mother.  It is Christmas eve and the party at his house sends him off on a path down the river and a meeting with a ghost and his destiny.  Durrenson has a lovely way with descriptions and her settings come alive with the cold beauty of the locks and river on a moonlighted  Christmas Eve.  Whether it is the Aga warmed old lock cottage or the vivid descriptions of the men themselves, her vision of her story is so clear that it conveys itself to the reader with the same ease and clarity. I loved both Ryan and Isaac, and found the ghost  Emily haunting in her pain. Christmas ghosts abound through literature, the season always bringing with it the joys of family and friends as well as our losses. Durreson has added so very nicely to that tradition. I look forward to other stories from this talented writier.

Traditions from the Heart by Bru Baker

Rating: 4 stars

DSP: When Aaron finds out Ben is missing out on some important Christmas traditions to be with him, he starts thinking of ways to give Ben new ways to observe the holiday. Can a homemade bear, a friend-made video, and a sock-eating goat become the traditions that keep Ben and Aaron together?

I adored this story.  It has everything I look for as a Holiday story.  It is warmhearted, sappy, contains family, love and Christmas traditions that I can relate to all rolled into one sexy and fun holiday tale.  Baker has a terrific way with the characters and the part about the stuffed cat was fun and kept me smiling.  It was lighthearted but still contained enough of the season’s melancholy memories that it rang true there as well.  Like I said, I loved this one and you shouldn’t pass it by.

Bless Us Everyone by Gina A. Rodgers

Rating: 3.5 stars

DSP Blurb: Edan has spent the past five years hiding in his home, living with the ghosts of his Christmases past and unable to allow for the possibility of a future. So when his vibrant and sexy neighbor, Tim, barges into his life with a stepladder and a plate of cookies, Edan finds himself living for the present. But can he let go of his bah humbug ways and accept this second chance as the gift it is?

Cute story about a man whose past has made him isolate himself inside his house for years until a new neighbor draws him out, and into a relationship.  Nice characterizations combined with heart and warmth.  A lovely story for the holidays.

Lucky by Ana Bosch

Rating: 3.25 stars

DSP:  Ever since Martel Heller rolled his first dreadlock, his love life has been blessed. For seven years he’s had the luxury of cherry-picking the hottest men available. But when the dress code at his new job forces him to hack off his lucky locks, his good fortune comes to an end.

To make matters worse, if Martel shows up at the company Christmas party alone, his creepy coworker Phil will know he’s single. As a last resort, Martel enlists his best friend, Felix, a fashion photographer, to hook him up with a model. Then plans fall through, and Martel ends up stuck at the Christmas party with the last person he expects—but as the hours pass, he wonders if he’s finally learned what it means to be lucky.

I actually came close to giving this story 4 stars but in the end the main character was such an unrepentant jerk right up to the last pages that I remained more frustrated than affectionate towards Martel.  I liked the concept that Martel felt his luck resided in his dreads and that once they were cut off due to an employee dress code, his luck was lost.  Now I do wonder about any company being able to enforce a “dread free zone”, especially as dreads can be pulled back and secured or kept “neat: in so many other ways.  Really the AACP or ACLU would have been all over this here in our area. But ok, even given that, there are other things about Martel that just leaves the reader cold.  When you make your main character a jerk and tell the story from his pov, then there should be some redeeming characteristics that allow the reader to understand or make concessions for his, in this case Martel’s, behavior.

I never felt we got that.  Instead we come to love Felix, Martel’s best friend who he treats poorly in so many ways.  Read this for Felix and for the ending, otherwise, I would recommend you skip this altogether.

On The Rocks by Ari McKay

Rating: 3.5  to 3. 25 stars

DSP:

For years, Mal has given Aidan a little piece of the world for special occasions in the form of unique rocks and fossils—until the year he gives Aidan a piece of the moon instead. Aidan has treasured every gift: in a world of impersonal relationships, they’re the one reminder he has that somebody out there cares about him for who he really is. Then through a twist of fate, their relationship goes beyond personal and into intimate, leaving Aidan shocked and set to run the other way. Despite his feelings for Mal, past experiences have convinced Aidan that he’s a failure at relationships, and he’s afraid to trust his heart. It just might take a Christmas miracle for Aidan to find the courage to love.

I actually liked this more than I think it deserved.  I think that perhaps it is due to the fact that when Aidan finally realizes what he has lost, he goes into therapy to try and fix himself first before trying to establish a relationship.  That realistic touch alone elevated this story for me.  I liked Mal and Aiden, although Aiden had to grow on me because of his self centered personality.  But with the concept of rocks as gifts which totally appealed to someone who has always picked up stones everywhere I go, to the idea of someone getting help to solve serious issues.  Well, kudos to  McKay for handling these elements of the story so well.

Bianca’s Plan by B.G. Thomas

Rating: 3 stars

DSP:  Bianca worries that her daddy, Gavin, is lonely and decides he needs a boyfriend for Christmas. So she enlists her father’s best friend, the straight and unattached Curtis. Gavin has a Christmas wish, too, and Curtis setting him up on disastrous dates isn’t part of it! Meanwhile, Curtis finds life becoming complicated as he tries to please Bianca, make Gavin happy, and fend off his own unexpected mixed feelings. Will anyone’s wish come true?

I thought this was a very cute story.  I have to admit that a story plot line that has a daughter or son setting their father up for a romance has always appealed to me.  And Thomas has one wonderful character in the mischievous and plotting little girl, Bianca.  She is absolutely adorable and believable as a 10 year old little girl who sees so clearly what is right before her Dad, that Curtis is perfect for them both.  Bianca wants two dads and a husband for her father and proceeds to get what she wants.  All the characters within the story have some depth to them, although I would wish for a little more realism.  But one sentence tanked this story for me.  When virgin Curtis (virgin to gay sex that is) and Gavin finally realize they love each other, they jump into bed to have sex (no problem here) but then they decide not to use either protectuion, no condoms, or lube. Why?  Because as Gavin tells Curtis, they don’t need that stuff.

“Not this time,” Gav told him. “Nothing fake. It has to all be real.”

So condoms and lube make have sex be less real?   Uh, does STD’s and pain make it more memorable?  Hmmm, maybe it does at that but not in the way I think the author intended.  That sound you hear?  The rating falling through the floor.  3 stars because I liked Bianca.

The Roommate by Teegan Loy

Rating: 3 stars

DSP: Ryan’s finally home after a long week of hiding in a hotel while his boyfriend’s parents visited. He isn’t happy that Jordan hasn’t told his parents he’s gay but believes Jordan when he promises to come out. When Jordan’s family ends up on their doorstep after a winter storm shuts down the airport, Jordan introduces Ryan as his roommate, leaving Ryan horrified and hurt. Jordan’s little sister notices and tells Ryan she’s going to ask Santa to make him happy… but does Ryan’s Christmas wish have any hope of coming true?

Teegan Loy has written a love story for the holidays both cute and frustrating.  Loy’s characterizations are so good that you fall in love with Ryan immediately.  And the fact that Ryan endears himself to the reader from the start (really that cooking scene is hilarious) that when his live in boyfriend hurts him by pretending to his family who has helped him move in Ryan’s apartment, then the story looses its joy and momentum.  Hard to root for somone’s love affair when you have a main character not as fully fleshed out as the other who is coming across as a jerk.  The author never gives us enough backstory for Jordan’s fear of exposure to make any sense, especially after meeting his family.  All we see is a man who continues to reject his loving partner who has gone out of his way to make things easy for his love and gets kicked repeatedly for his efforts.

Yes, there is a happy ending but I am not sure I ever believed it.  Loved Ryan though.

Soups and Diners by Alex Whitehall

Rating: 3 stars

DSP: Two days before Christmas, just after his best friend’s wedding, Max is in a diner when he’s joined by Stan, another wedding guest. Getting to know each other ensues with some awkwardness, teasing, and fun conversation. They seem to hit it off, but Stan has reservations, wondering if Max is too good to be true, and Max has a history of bad boyfriend choices. Will meeting each other be a Christmas miracle—or a prettily wrapped present that’s really an empty box.

Nice story.  But to be honest, I forgot about it as soon as I was finished.  Nice people, nice story, nice ending.  Nothing memorable about any part of this tale so I would give this a pass on that rationale alone.

Old Flames by Davi Rodriquez

Rating: 2.5 stars

DSP Blurb:

There’s something to be said for old flames. NYPD Sgt. AJ Cooper seems to think so. His ex, Brad Meyers, dumped him to work on getting a starring role in a Broadway show, leaving AJ confused and betrayed. Five months later, while patrolling Times Square, AJ sees a giant advertisement for Brad’s show and misses what they had… and then he sees Brad.

AJ grouchily agrees to meet Brad in Central Park the next evening, but he doesn’t realize what he’s in for. AJ might regain everything he lost five months before—or he might lose it all over again.

I thought this story had real potential.  I liked NYPD Sft. AJ Cooper as he seemed like a fairly realistic New York Cop right until his ex showed up and the story fell apart.  There is not much to the  character of Brad Meyers, no layering or depth to explain Cooper’s feeling for him.  There is also no real explanation as to why AJ was dumped after a long term relationship.  So why are we expected to believe that a smart cop would take this guy back?  We don’t believe it, and there is no passion, no credible love between the two to overcome such a wildly unlikely turn of events.  No amount of elf dust would let someone suspend their belief for this one.

The Perils and Pleasures of a White Christmas by Emily Moreton

Rating 2.5 stars

DSP:  Despite the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, FBI Agent Drake and his Army officer partner Tim keep their relationship under wraps for the sake of Tim’s career. Though they’d rather be open about their relationship, the sex and friendship make up for having to hide. Then holiday stress kicks in with a triple whammy of bad luck and they’ll have to focus on each other to find the cheer in the holiday furor, even if that means coming out.

Actually, this reads as a snippet from a much longer story and has very little to do with the blurb above.  Basically it is an afternoon/night in the relationship of Drake and Tim where the power goes out and they spend it in bed having sex.  That’s it.  No angst, no questions about their jobs or  closeted status, nothing.  Just two men who love each other staying warm under the blankets when the power goes out in their building.  It as though the author (who I love btw) has said “here is a bit from a book I am writing, what do you think?”.  And the answer is well it’s a lovely part, like the couple.  Where is the rest of it?.  So that’s what you should do, wait for the rest of it.  There is just not enough here to warrant reading it.