Dreamspinner Advent Story Roundup – Part II and List of Story Recommendations

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This post will finish up our Dreamspinner Advent Story Roundup started on Saturday, January 4, 2013.Aunt Dee Dee's Holiday Check

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

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.

 

The Week Ahead in Reviews and Welcome 2013

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Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve and the official end to 2012.  There have been plenty of highs and lows, especially lows that I am ready to let 2012 go and not mourn the loss.  But 2012 also brought me some lovely new friends, especially in our DC Metro Area M/M Romance group, my blog turned one year old and of course, Kirby found his way to our household to liven things up even further.

Today is the Redskins versus the Cowboys game (tonight actually) so this will be short and  sweet.  Yes, I know I said I was going to give them up, but then RGIII arrived, my  backbone noodled out, so I am once more a  rabid followers, sigh.

This is what our week ahead looks like:

Monday, Dec. 31st:                           Frostwick by Megan Derr

Tuesday, Jan. 1st:                             Scattered Thoughts New Year Wishes

Wed., Jan 2nd:                                  Cover Up by KC Burn

Thursday, Jan 3rd:                           Final Look at Dreamspinner Press Advent Stories

Friday, Jan 4th:                                 Bayou Loop by Lynn Lorenz

Saturday, Jan 5th:                             All I Want Is You by Marguerite Labbe

Thank you all for reading and commenting.  I hope you will stay with me in 2013.  Happy New Year from Kirby and myself and the rest of the terriers!

Review: A Gentleman’s Agreement by J. Roman

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Rating: 3.75 stars

A Gentleman's AgreementThomas Derrik is about to have the worst Christmas of his life. Three days before the holiday, he finds out the father he doesn’t get along with is arriving on Christmas Eve, his ex-lover and new brother-in-law will be staying at his estate until the New Year, and his beloved brother, Edmund, has died.

Luckily, Edmund’s last holiday scheme may well save Thomas’s Christmas: Henry Appleby, a young lord fresh from the Continent, has arranged to court Thomas. But the family tragedy and jealous exes may put an end to the romance before it begins.

I really liked the tone and characters of this book from the beginning. J. Roman gives us a credible character in the grieving Thomas Derrick. Thomas is facing so many major losses only 3 days from Christmas.  His beloved younger brother has been killed in battle, the  man he has loved since childhood has married his sister, supposedly to remain close to him but a more bitter betrayal Thomas has never felt.  And finally, his father who disapproves of his heir, is returning to the family home, just in time to pressure Thomas to marry and make his life even more miserable than it already is.

I have not read anything by J. Roman before, but the author has a wonderful way with characters.  Thomas’ grief is palpable. The author manages to make the reader feel both Thomas’ stress and pain as well as the fact that losing his brother has left Thomas unable to deal with Darrow, the man he has been having an affair with since they were young.  Darrow has married Thomas’ sister but continues his pursuit of Thomas.  There are so many complications in Thomas’ life that it almost renders him unable to react. J. Roman captures the  time and period beautifully and kept me engaged right up to the time this story ran completely off the rails and into fantasyland.

A Gentleman’s Agreement had me enthralled and all the historic elements were detailed and precise, then Roman asks the reader to suspend their belief to accept the fact that Edmund, Thomas’ brother, had planned to send a male suitor to his brother as well as the man’s sister with the intent that Thomas marries the sister but in turn really takes on the brother as his mate.  And do you know?  I could accept that.  Edmund is supposedly a master planner and manipulator, so I could see that happening.  But then, it turns out His Lordship, Thomas’ father accepts that as well.  Part of the agreement is that the sister may take whomever as a lover and that Thomas would raise the children as his own.  Acceptable except that it would mean the title would be passed down to someone not of their linage and I could never see that ever being acceptable to Thomas’ father.  And from there it gets increasingly strange and unbelievable.  True, all the events that pass are unbelievable in a lovely Christmas  miracle kind of way but still not plausible outside of a fairy tale.

So you have a wonderful historic Christmas tale that quickly devolves into a fantasy that takes place in the past.  It is still kind of lovely, but only in that novelty sort of way.  But there is so much promise in this tale that I am off to discover what else J. Roman has written.  So if you want your history and fantasy too, you will enjoy this.

Catt Ford was the artist for this amazing cover.

Review of A Great Miracle Happened by Kim Fielding

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Rating: 4.75 stars

A Great Miracle HappenedJude Bloch is sitting at his usual table at the  coffee shop in Chicago, far away from his family in LA.  He has done his shopping for Hannukah, mailed his presents and is now free to work on his dissertation but is having little progress.  Until the door opens up and the wind blows in handsome chef Mac Appel to share his table in the crowded shop.  A casual conversation slides into a one-night stand that turns into a series of meetings each man starts to anticipate and treasure.  At the end of eight days, a miraculous change has occurred in Jude’s holiday outlook and love has found it’s way into his heart.

I am still thinking about this story days later, amazed at how the story affected me by the end of Jude and Mac’s tale.  When Kim Fielding’s story opens upon a grouchy Jude sitting by his lonesome at a table, I was not prepared for what a charming gem of a story this turned out to be.  I loved Jude Bloch, and it’s from his POV that the story is told, so we get a very clear vision or so we think of Jude and his feelings of the holidays and relationships.  Mac Appel is so full of life and joy that he pulls the reader in at the same time he is having the same effect on Jude.  He quickly endeared himself to me as well.

But Fielding is such a gifted writer that she crafts a story that slowly peals back the layers Jude has built around himself by allowing  Mac to do the skillful filleting of Jude’s barriers, the perfect occupation for a chef.    And little by little, we start to see Jude as Mac does, a person who needs people but has been so disappointed by them, especially his family.  As Mac surreptitiously starts courting Jude, we see the lonely doctoral student start to reconnect with all around him.  By the time the story has come to its conclusion, it is humming with joy and the promise of a wonderful future for them both.

I can’t recommend this story enough.  Heartwarming, gentle, a true gem of this season and every  year after.

Twas the Week Before Christmas Poem And My Reviews!

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Twas The Night Before Christmas (with my apologies to Clement Clarke Moore)

Twas the week before Christmas and all through the house,santa-paws-dog-christmas-outfit-urbanpup

all the creatures were bonkers, even the house mouse.

All the stockings were ready to hang with great care

but then Kirby found them, ate some and gave us a great scare.

Then a present was trampled (don’t ask) so off to the store we ran,

to see lots of  people frazzled and scrambling, grabbing whatever they can

So home we trudged to  our brightly lit house,

where penguins and snowmen blinked and waved all about.

Inside there awaited dog bones and treats galore, some cookies,

And carrot cake, eggnog and much more.

The yarn was stocked up, backup projects at hand, all was ready, all was right!

So we got out the wine and said to all Merry Christmas and a most jolly good night!

Review Schedule:

So here we are at Christmas week and still cooking to do.  Here is my schedule for the week, barring problems with elves and reindeer mishaps:

Monday, 12/24:              A Great Miracle Happens There by Kim Fielding

Tuesday, 12/25:              Thoughts on Books Covers, Books or is Fabio Obsolete?

Wednesday, 12/26:        A Gentleman’s Agreement by J. Roman

Thursday, 12/27:            Sullivan (Leopard’s Spots #7) by Bailey Bradford

Friday, 12/28:                 Beau and the Beast by Rick R. Reed

Saturday, 12/29              Scattered Thoughts Best Covers of 2012

That’s the plan, and you know what they say about plans…… anyhow, Merry Christmas, Happy Winter Solstice at day late!

Reviews of Last Tree Standing by Julia Talbot and Yes, Darling by Dawn Kimberly Johnson

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Continuing my reviews of the Dreamspinner 2012 Advent Stories, here are two sweet stories for your Holiday Reading:

Last Tree STanding

Last Tree Standing by Julia Talbot

Rating: 3.75 stars

When Foster needs a Christmas tree at the last minute for his roommate’s little girl, he went to the only Christmas tree lot in town that still had a tree for sale.  But someone else got there and needed a tree too.  Dr. Levi McBride is in desperate need of a tree for the children in his cancer ward at the hospital when their supplier failed to show up.  Both men need the tree and work out a deal that will not only get each man the Christmas tree he needs, but just perhaps that romantic love both have been searching for.

Last Tree Standing is a sweet, endearing short story about two men finding each other at Christmas time.  Foster and Levi are both such lovely men and the mission they re on is a wonderful one, they each need a tree so as not to disappoint children at Christmas,  One for his roommate’s daughter whose dad didn’t pick her up for Christmas as planned and the other for sick children in a hospital.  As they compromise and find a solution to both their problems, the attraction between them grows until by the end of the night, they realize that they are also perfect for each other.  A short story with its heart in the right place.

 

 

Yes, DarlingYes, Darling by Dawn Kimberly Johnson

Rating: 3 stars

Coby Darling is back in town and his former lover, Baker Brockton is surprised to see him.  It has been a year since Coby left town after breaking up with Baker over his closeted status.  Coby wanted Baker to acknowledge that Coby was his boyfriend and Baker wanted to keep their relationship hidden as well as the fact that Baker was gay.  Now Coby is back to see if Baker has changed his mind and ready to renew their relationship if he has.

Baker is still firmly in the closet but Coby gives him one last chance at love.  Will Baker take it or will  Coby leave, this time for good?

I really wanted to like this story more than I did.  Johnson gives us two characters, only one of whom I liked.  The other, Baker, was just too much a cardboard character for me to make that job into believing his reasons to be closeted and for cutting off Coby to begin with.  Just the fact that Baker says he still loves Coby but is furious that the demands to be to be out are the same just didn’t make any sense.  And the device Johnson used to bring Baker to his senses was not radical enough for me to believe his change of heart.  Still, if you want to look no further than a simple love story between two young men who love each other above all odds, this just might be the one for you.

Three Evergreen 2012 Dreamspinner Holiday Short Stories by SA Garcia, Laylah Hunter and Charlie Cochet

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The Colors of Pastor Saul by SA Garcia

Rating: 4 stars

Pastor Saul Thompson operates a food kitchen for the lost souls and people fleeing from the wars his country is engaged in.  But thee is more to Saul then meets the eye as Saul can see Death or the Black Mantle coming for the people he serves.  Sometimes, Saul can make the Black Mantle retreat by his actions and sometimes even his intervention is not enough to save those who congregate under his roof from despair and death.  And each time, his “sight” or actions bring down a blackness upon himself that is becoming ever more frequent.  Then a man called Pink Cap comes into his sanctuary and everything changes for Pastor Saul, including the belief that miracles can still happen.

This is an unusual little story for the Holiday season and Advent calendar.  It takes place in an alternative universe in a wartorn country whose citizens are diseased, dying or just healthy enough to be conscripted into the army.  Pastor Saul is the last line of survival for people living on the edges, so very close to death and despair, something his government for whatever reason does not appreciate.  Pastor Saul would include himself among those classified as marginal but a true oddity, he sees colors around all the individuals, and as death and sickness close in, those colors turn dark just before the Black Mantle arrives to feed off the person before they die. This gift or curse is something he has kept to himself. The author’s vivid descriptions of Saul’s universe and chilling portraits of its inhabitants paint a picture of a dismal world populated by defeated and dying citizens with Saul acting like the boy with his finger in the dyke holding back the waters of destruction.  Then an amazing thing happens when a man called Pink Cap enters Saul’s life and their relationship allows both men to start to thrive once more.   True to Garcia’s world building, there is no HEA but even the slight glow of hope for these men are like the embers of a fire sparking back to life.   I would recommend this story, just not as a holiday read.

Safe Harbor by Laylah Hunter

Rating: 3.5 stars

When Blake’s father died  seven years ago, Blake was reeling in grief compounded by confusion over his sexuality.  His solution was to run away to the sea.  Now his ship has returned to port, and waiting on the dock for him is his best friend,  Tom.  Tom is the person who caused Blake to question his sexuality and make him realize that he was gay.  Now  Tom makes it clear that Tom forgives Blake for running away as long as Blake agrees to stay with Tom and his grandmother for Christmas.  And from all indications, Tom has realized other things about Blake as well. Can it be that Blake has finally found a safe harbor for good and get the happy ending he has wanted with Tom?  At Christmas time everything is possible.

At 30 pages, this is a short, sweet story of young love and coming out of the closet.  Hunter has a nice feel for her characters and settings although more of a back story would have been nice.  We just have three people here,  Blake, Tom and his grandmother, a most tolerant and exceptional woman.  it seems that during those seven years of missing Blake, Tom realized that he is gay and that Blake was gay too. This is a gentle tale of young love with appealing characters.  A very nice, quick holiday read.

Mending Noel by Charlie Cochet

Rating: 2.75 stars

Elf Tim works for the Abominable Administrative Department at North Pole City and is majorly unhappy.  His Elf Boss, Noel, is harassing him and making his life miserable.  Other elves have transferred out of the department, but Tim seems stuck.  Stuck in a bad  job,  and with a bad boss out to get him.  Other elves, those hardbitten and mean work as the Frost King’s toy soldiers, those brave and smart end up as Rein Dears, flying the planes to deliver the toys.  But  Tim was’t even considered good enough to cut it as a Ribbon Curler in the Gift Packaging Plant, even after graduating from Claus College.

But when Tim stumbles into a plot by the Rat King  to destroy the Christmas spirit, he will have to work with Noel and Jack Frost with his helper Rudy to safe the day and even find some Christmas spirit of his own.

As you can tell, Charlie Cochet has turned a collection of traditional Christmas legends upside down and inside out, creating a North Pole City where Rein Dears are the glamourous flyboys with slutty sugarplum fairies to attend to their every need instead of reindeer pulling a sleigh. The North Pole is no longer a charming snowcovered gingerbread town but a Christmas City full of bureaucrats, homophobes, and thugs to go with the elves who have positions that range from Kringle’s Construction Firm worker to an elf who delivers coal for the furnaces (and dumps it on top of Tim).  I think this story contains some very clever tweaks on Santa Claus and the North Pole, and it is equally clear that Cochet enjoyed herself writing this story.  I just wish I had had as much fun reading it as she did developing her concept.

I didn’t.  Perhaps I love my traditional Christmas too much to enjoy such hard hearted concepts as Christmas sugar plum  fairies as whores, or a place where the work is such drudgery that the workers are as bogged down in Bah Humbug and  despair as anyone found in the blighted areas of any big city.   Yes, there is a happy ending but it is the stuff I had to wade through to get there that almost made me put this down before I finished.  Really?  There has to be homophobia even at the North Pole?  There are certainly enough sluts, and thugs and jerks of all types everywhere else in the world.  For me, they don’t need to be at the North Pole at Christmas, and I don’t want them in my holiday reading.  Sorry, but I would skip this one.

Mending Noel cover

Safe Harbor

Review of Wish List by J.J. Cassidy

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Rating: 4.5 stars

Wish List coverBerg Pedersen is newly out of the army and standing on the steps belonging to a man he has been seeing secretly for sometime.  Berg is shocked and disheartened when the man’s wife opens the door, he had no idea that the guy was married and had a child.  Beaten down, Berg has no where to go and its Christmas Eve.  Then a man asks him if he is ok and if he would like to come in out of the cold and get warm.

Officer DJ Delaney is off duty for the next two days.  He has a kitchen full of food and a tree waiting to be decorated.  DJ was supposed to be decorating the house with his boyfriend, but the boyfriend dumped him last week saying he just couldn’t date a cop anymore.  So now DJ is looking to spend the holidays alone.  Until he spies the cold, wet, soldier standing in the snow next to his neighbor’s house. DJ knows his neighbor is a closeted jerk so he can guess the rest and takes the man in to change his clothes and get warmed up.

As Berg gets warm and changes into dry clothes, DJ sees before him the very thing he has always wanted in a man, and the perfect Christmas gift for himself.  His only problem will be getting Berg to believe in a Christmas miracle that landed him in the very place he was always meant to be.

I don’t know what it is about this story and the characters, but I just loved it and them.  It has quite a few elements that  always make me crazy, like instant love and a plot I have read before but somehow with these men it doesn’t matter.  Berg Pedersen and DJ Delaney absolutely fell into my heart from their first appearance.  Former soldier Berg, standing there devastated in the snow, clothes and duffle bag getting soaked by the rain. It was such a compelling image, a man absolutely vulnerable and alone on Christmas Eve.  And then a stranger picks him up and makes him feel welcome and at home.  *sniff*  It will get to me every time.

But it is more than that.  I loved J.J. Cassidy’s characters.  DJ who knows what he wants and sees it in Berg even as he recognizes how illogical and unrealistic that might be.  Berg is especially vulnerable, something unexpected in a man who looks like him and has just left 15  years in the Army behind.  Berg is also a survivor of the foster system as a child and you combine foster child with gay, and I can see the neglect and pain that Cassidy has imbued Berg with spilling out the longer he stays with DJ.  In a short story,69 pages in length,  Cassidy gives us two men to love and root for.  I especially would love to see a followup story as I continue to think about both of them days after I finished their story.  Wish List would be on my wish list for anyone looking for that heartwarming holiday story.

Review of Snowbound to Nowhere by Andrew Grey

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Rating: 4.5 stars

Snowbound to Nowhere coverWhen Martin suggested that Chris Fellows spend the holiday with him up at his cabin on the lake, Chris only hesitated for a moment.  Chris knew his friend had little family and looked to his closest friends to supply the support and comfort a family would have, so yes was the only possible answer, even for the cold allergic Chris.  So Chris packed his bags and left warm Phoenix for the wilds of Wisconsin and tons of snow.  But Chris wasn’t prepared for a death in Martin’s small family and a funeral to keep Martin away and Chris all alone in a unfamiliar cabin.  And then the power goes out, a situation Chris is definitely not prepared for.

Enter Horace Anderson.  Horace lives by himself in a house his father built and was checking on his neighbors when he found Chris panicking about being by himself without power.  Horace is huge, gentle and very shy but soon he has wood stacked for Chris to use in the fireplace, and lanterns lit for the coming night.  Hesitant conversations provide the men with the knowledge that in some ways they are very much alike.  Both are living alone, their parents having died years ago and both are gay.  The last fact was determined when Chris placed a kiss on Horace’s mouth, only to see the big man run away like a frightened deer.  Torn between hurt and exasperation, Chris is delighted when Horace returns the next day.  Then the following day. and the one after that too.  Soon the men are spending all their time together, closed off from the rest of the world by the lack of power and tons of snow.  But as their emotions deepen, Chris worries that his feelings are the result of being snowbound instead of something real. What will happen when the power comes back on and they are no longer snowbound?  Will Chris accept the clear path to love once the snow is gone?

Snowbound to Nowhere is that lovely story of love found that Andrew Grey does so well.  He sets up disparate characters and lets the situation and the setting they find themselves in lure out their hidden feelings and hopes.   And we get to watch the slow, lovely build to a relationship built on love.  Grey always gives us such wonderful characters and that continues here.  I have to admit however that Horace Anderson holds a special place in my heart.  Raised by his father in the “middle of nowhere”, he had little interaction with the people who lived in the town around them, as he and his father kept to themselves.  His father had strict notions about sexuality, including severely chastising a teenage boy caught masterbating.  When his father died, he was left alone, and made a living being a town “fixer”.  A lonely life that has left him a bit of a man child, so vulnerable and appealing that it is easy to see why Chris falls for him.  But for all that Horace is also supremely well qualified to deal with the power outage and shows Chris just how lovely it can be to live life unplugged.

Chris Fellows just cracked me up.  But even as I laughed at how unprepared that Arizona man was for winter emergencies and the cold, Chris made me adore him as Chris has more layers to him personality wise than the coats and blankets piled up around him.  True, he panicked and his calls to Martin were quite funny but he also hunkered down and started to make the best of things.  And Chris’ gentle acceptance of Horace, his appreciation of the skills Horace accumulated and the way Horace has lived made me love Chris even more.  I think Andrew Grey was very smart to make Chris second guess his feelings about Horace and the time they spent together.  That is exactly the reaction anyone would have and being that realistic just adds to the pleasure and joy of the ending.

Snowbound to Nowhere is a sweet, joyful story of love found where you least expect it.  Perfect holiday reading.  It made my day as well as one of my holiday favorites this season.

Cover: Paul Richmond does a terrific job of conveying a snowbound cabin welcoming two lovers home.  Just heartwarming.