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.

 

Thanksgiving is Over, a Leftover Turkey Recipe and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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Thanksgiving is over, the leftovers have been divvied out to family and friends, and the thought of cooking at the moment leaves me a little numb. On top of everything, I ended up the next day in an emergency care after hours clinic for a fever, sore throat and massive ear aches. So yeah, there’s that too that seems to go with the holidays.

Still the memories of family and good times are warm even if the leftover turkey isn’t and it leaves me plenty of time to read, review and knit a scarf or two as presents for the nieces.  The cold weather here in Maryland is bitter, the bird feeders stocked to the brim, and the terriers are snug in their (meaning my) bed.  If you need some books to fill your eStockings, here are some I definitely recommend:

Monday 11/26:                                Mourning Heaven by Amy Lane

Tuesday 11/27:                                A Slice of Love (Taste of Love #4) by Andrew Grey

Wednesday 1128:                           Cherish (Faith, Love, & Devotion, #4) by Tere Michaels

Thursday 11/29:                              Spice ‘n’ Solice by KC Burn

Friday 11/30:                                   Black Magic by Megan Derr

Saturday 12/1                                   Holiday Stories

Dad’s Leftover Turkey Pot Pie (from allrecipes.com)

Prep Time: 30 Minutes
Cook Time: 50 Minutes
Ready In: 1 Hour 30 Minutes
Servings: 12

INGREDIENTS:
2 cups frozen peas and carrots
2 cups frozen green beans
1 cup sliced celery
2/3 cup butter
2/3 cup chopped onion
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
1 1/3 cups milk
4 cups cubed cooked turkey meat – light
and dark meat mixed
4 (9 inch) unbaked pie crusts
DIRECTIONS:
1. Preheat an oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).
2. Place the peas and carrots, green beans, and celery into a saucepan; cover with water, bring to a boil, and simmer over medium-low heat until the celery is tender, about 8 minutes. Drain the vegetables in a colander set in the sink, and set aside.
3. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, and cook the onion until translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in 2/3 cup of flour, salt, black pepper, celery seed, onion powder, and Italian seasoning; slowly whisk in the chicken broth and milk until the mixture comes to a simmer and thickens. Remove from heat; stir the cooked vegetables and turkey meat into the filling until well combined.
4. Fit 2 pie crusts into the bottom of 2 9-inch pie dishes. Spoon half the filling into each pie crust, then top each pie with another crust. Pinch and roll the top and bottom crusts together at the edge of each pie to seal, and cut several small slits into the top of the pies with a sharp knife to release steam.
5. Bake in the preheated oven until the crusts are golden brown and the filling is bubbly, 30 to 35 minutes. If the crusts are browning too quickly, cover the pies with aluminum foil after about 15 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.