A Holiday Book Spotlight for ‘A Christmas Kindness’ by Anna Lee (excerpt and giveaway)

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A Christmas Kindness by Anna Lee
Release Date: December 4, 2015

Goodreads Link
Publisher: MLR Press
Cover Artist: Lex Valentine

Blurb

David Winters fell for a man at a Christmas masquerade party last year. The only problem? His sister and his niece needed him so instead of pursuing anything, David ran away and didn’t find out who he was. Now, his niece, Jenna wants to organize a toy charity drive at a children’s hospital which leads David to reunite with Officer Stephen Lauer. The sparks fly again and with a little Christmas kindness maybe the two of them can make a few wishes come true… including their own.

 

Pages or Words: 9,800 words/33 pages
Categories: Contemporary, Fiction, Gay Fiction, M/M Romance, Romance, Holiday

 

Excerpt

Chapter One

Debating whether or not he would go to the Christmas masquerade party again this year, David stared at the message on his phone from his friend, Chad. Last year’s party had been amazing, for one reason. A gorgeous man who’d gone by the name of Steve. They’d hooked up, spent the night together, and then parted ways. A regret that surfaced once again. There’d been something about the other man, though it’d only been sex and a brief conversation, it was a lingering feeling that he should’ve taken a chance and found out who the other man really was. If only he hadn’t been a coward, if his life hadn’t been so complicated, maybe he’d actually have someone to share Christmas with this year. He texted Chad back that he’d go, maybe he’d find Steve again. He wouldn’t make the same mistake and run away this time.

“Uncle David,” Jenna said, sitting next to him on the sofa squeezed into the tiny living room of his sister’s apartment, “can you help me?”

David turned toward his eleven-year-old niece. Her hazel eyes were expectant and she gave him that look which pretty much guaranteed he’d do whatever she planned on asking. He saw that she had a journal in her hands with the Harry Potter Gryffindor crest on it. Ah, he remembered getting that for her. Money was tight for his sister—she was barely making ends meet—so David had been indulging Jenna as of late so she wouldn’t know. “Of course, with what?”

“It’s almost Christmas. And I want to do something to help. I heard about Toys for Tots on TV and I wanted to do something like that. You remember how my friend, Meredith, got sick, right?”

“Of course I do.” Meredith had spent the last few Christmases in the hospital fighting leukemia. After two years, she was finally in remission, thank God. She and Jenna were good friends and inseparable. Jenna had even cut all her long locks and donated them so Meredith could have a wig made. She hadn’t wanted her friend to feel bad about herself and she’d said that way they could be like twins. His niece truly had a heart of gold and David loved her more than anything.

“Well, at school today she said it’s really hard for parents to get gifts because they’re so busy taking care of their sick kids in the hospital. And sometimes they can’t afford new toys. I thought we could organize a toy drive this year. Meredith wants to help too. We could take all the toys to the hospital and give them out on Christmas Eve next week. I know Mom can arrange stuff. I want to tell her as soon as she gets home.” She showed him the plans she had written. Then gave him a bright smile. “What do you think?”

David hugged her tightly and kissed the top of her head, smoothing down her curly brown hair. “I think we’d better get started.”

She let out a cry of excitement and hugged him back. “Thank you, Uncle David!”

  • § §

David took Jenna to Target and they bought all the supplies they’d need to make flyers for the toy drive. Jenna picked out Christmas stickers, green and red markers, and a few other odds and ends. They went back home and while David started dinner, Jenna set up their workstation at the old oak kitchen table. While the chicken was cooking, he helped Jenna design the flyers.

Awhile later a key clicked in the lock and Jenna jumped up as soon as Caitlyn walked through the door. She hugged her mom. “Hi, Mom!”

“How was work, Caty?” David asked her as she seemed tired.

Caitlyn ran a hand through her messy ponytail. “Long. I swear I ran back and forth at least twenty times for a new patient.”

David’s sister, Caitlyn, was a nurse at the hospital. She worked the day shift and David watched Jenna after school until she got home. He walked over and gave his sister a kiss on the forehead. For a second, the happy mask she always wore in front of Jenna slipped. Right then, David really hated her ex-husband, Bruce. Even after a year, his sister was still suffering, still lost. Her bastard of an ex had cheated and then left Caitlyn and Jenna just before Christmas last year. No matter how much he helped Jenna with her homework, made her dinner, took her to dance class, and softball, Caitlyn still seemed depressed and was struggling. He knew she appreciated everything he did. He just wished he could do more. He was so worried about her. They only lived about ten minutes from his apartment but he didn’t see much of it, between work and spending time here, keeping an eye on his family and making sure they got through this.

Before he could say anything, Jenna told Caitlyn, “Mom, I’ve got a great idea.”

“What’s that, honey?” Caitlyn asked as Jenna went with her to the kitchen. She toed off her shoes with a heavy sigh and smiled at David as he popped her dinner in the microwave. “Thanks, Davy.” David shook his head. He disliked his nickname as much as Caitlyn did hers, yet they both fondly used them. No one else was allowed to though.

Jenna excitedly told her mom about the toy drive. “And look!” She dashed to the table and grabbed a flyer that they had made to hand out. David figured he could leave some at work, maybe drop by the police and fire stations, and a little social media wouldn’t hurt either. He could probably even run something in the paper if he got the okay from his executive editor. He was certain she would be willing. It would be a feel-good piece; those always did well. Plus, it was nice to have stories that showed the goodness still in the world, despite how depressing it sometimes seemed.

“Me and Uncle David made these.”

Caitlyn took the flyer. “Wow, this is incredible, Jen.” She seemed as proud of her daughter for thinking of it as David was. “I’ll talk with some of the doctors and the head of pediatrics tomorrow, see what we need to do to make this happen, okay?”

“You’re the best, Mom!” Jenna hugged her again.

Caitlyn gave David a fond look, her hazel eyes so much like his own, except faded, making her appear older than she was. Only three years older than him at thirty-five, she really was too young to be so worn out. “I think that goes to Uncle David for helping you with this.”

“Nah.” David shook his head. “Jenna did all the planning. I’m just the assistant.”

Caitlyn laughed. “Well now you have two of us, Jen. What’s the next step?”

“Gathering up the toys. We’re gonna pass out flyers tomorrow.”

“Right after school,” David added.

“Mom, do you want to watch a movie?” Jenna asked.

“Yeah, let’s continue our Harry Potter marathon,” Caitlyn told her, grabbing a fork and her plate.

“Uncle David?”

“I’ve got work to do, sweetie.” He hugged her. “I’m going to head home and let you and Mom have some fun together, okay?”

“Okay. I love you, Uncle David.”

“Love you too.” David smiled as Jenna ran off to start the movie then he embraced his sister. “And you. Have a good night. Call if you need anything, Caty.”

“I will, Davy.” Caitlyn gently pushed him away then said quietly, “Go on, we’ll be fine. I know you worry but it’s okay. Jenna just reminded me of something.”

“What’s that?”

Caitlyn’s face lit up. “That I may still be hurting, but I’ve got a good life. I’ve got a beautiful little girl and you. And it’s almost Christmas. I’m done being sad. You want to help me decorate and have some fun this weekend? We could go out, maybe drinks.”

“Count me in.” David found his keys and left the apartment after more good-byes. It was chilly outside, a light snow falling. He was glad he’d brought his car. Sometimes he stayed late and while the neighborhood was decent, David had seen one too many crime shows to walk alone in the dark. No, he’d much rather crank up the heat in his car and listen to loud classic rock as he made the short trip home.

He realized that the party Chad had invited him to was this weekend and cursed. Caitlyn hadn’t asked him to do anything in a long time—he couldn’t cancel on her now. Then he had an idea. Maybe she’d go with him. She wanted to do something fun and it would be a good time. A way to forget everything for a while. And Jenna could sleepover at Meredith’s. It could all be worked out if he just got his sister to agree to it. He went into his apartment, showered, slipped on sleep pants, and then tumbled into bed with a hopeful smile. Maybe he’d get a second chance with Steve, that’s all he really wanted this Christmas.

Buy the book:

Amazon | All Romance (ARe)

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Meet the Author

Anna Lee graduated from the University of California Riverside with a Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing. Living with a disability, she has overcome many challenges and puts her passion for life and love into her writing. She lives with her family and dogs and enjoys writing late into the night. When she isn’t writing, Anna enjoys spending time with her nieces and nephew or chatting with her friends about her favorite books and TV shows.

You can contact Anna at her website: http://www.storiesbyannalee.com. Or you can tweet her.@Annalee59

 

Where to find the author:

 


Tour Dates & Stops:

Parker Williams, Divine Magazine, MM Good Book Reviews, Fangirl Moments and My Two Cents, BFD Book Blog, Jessie G. Books, TTC Books and More, Cheekypee Reads and Reviews, Inked Rainbow Reads, Happily Ever Chapter, 3 Chicks After Dark, The Hat Party, Bayou Book Junkie, Velvet Panic, Scattered Thoughts & Rogue Words, Elin Gregory, Wicked Faerie’s Tales and Reviews, Alpha Book Club, Book Lovers 4Ever

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Giveaway

Enter to win a Rafflecopter Prize: E-copy of ‘A Christmas Kindness’ by Anna Lee.  Must be 18 years of age or older to enter.  Link and prize provided by the author and Pride Promotions.

 

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A MelanieM Advent Story Review: Fireworks and Resolutions by Leandra Dohman

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Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Sleigh Ride Advent StorySomething big happened at the office Christmas party between Joseph and Carter, his coworker and ultimate crush. Too bad Joseph doesn’t remember it. Now, it’s New Years Eve, and Joseph finds himself locked in the bathroom with Carter. Joseph doesn’t understand why his natural confidence fizzles out whenever Carter is around, but the man reduces him to an awkward mess. If he can just find the courage to be himself, there might be more fireworks in his future than the ones they watch from the balcony.

Fireworks and Resolutions by Leandra Dohman is short, cute and very like a Christmas sugar cookie. Its very much like you would expect and yet you are so happy to see it and it tastes so good.

Leandra Dohman  takes the holiday office party and gives it a sweet happy ending instead of the smarmy, regretful one it normally gets.  Cute and awkward meets tall and handsome but it works, you find it sweet and adorable and yes, the ending is full of fireworks.

I liked the characters, the scenes really do move very quickly and the story is over in a snap or should that be in a blink of an eye.  If you like holiday stories, you will like this little romance.

Cover notes are not included unless the cover is different from the generic one done by Paul Richmond.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | Amazon | Buy It Here

Book Details:

ebook
Published December 1st 2015 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN139781634769648
edition languageEnglish
series Sleigh Ride – 2015 Advent Calendar

 

Review: Christmas Kitsch by Amy Lane

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Christmas Kitsch coverOn the outside Rusty Baker might look like just another stereotypical football player, just one of many in his high school that looked as though they were popped out of a mold for tall, big, blond rich boys.  But on the inside Rusty is different, a difference that remains hidden until Oliver Campbell, small, dark and out Oliver Campbell, enrolls in his high school and sits next to Rusty in class. When one of the more brutish football players starts in on Oliver in class, Rusty is there to cut him off, making his protection of Oliver clear to all.  A close friendship is started, one Rusty doesn’t understand.  Because Rusty suffers from poor self esteem and thinks he is stupid. Rusty can’t understand why the cute and highly intelligent Oliver would want to be his friend.  Then the day before Rusty is to leave for Berkeley, Oliver kisses him and everything changes for them both.

The hardest thing Rusty ever had to do was leave Oliver behind going to a community college while Rusty left town for a school he knew he wasn’t ready for and couldn’t survive in.  Rusty is under a mountain of stress over everything, from grades to his sexuality and the pressure almost does him in. When Rusty returns home for Thanksgiving, it all explodes when his parents catch him kissing Oliver in the driveway and they kick him out, homeless at the holidays.

While Oliver and his dad may not have material wealth, they are rich in acceptance and love.  And with their support and Oliver’s love, Rusty just might make it through not only the holidays but the rest of his life.

In Rusty Baker Amy Lane has created one of the most luminous, heartbreaking characters I have ever read.  Ten pages into the story I started weeping over this glorious man child who has been made to feel stupid and inadequate for all his years, promptly forgetting that Rusty exists only in the pages of Christmas Kitsch and the fertile imagination of Amy Lane.  Told from Rusty’s point of view, his thoughts and feelings (as well as the manner in which Rusty voices his views that shows just how deep his lack of self esteem is) engage the reader so throughly that you forget about everything around you except for Rusty and his halting path through life.

Trust me when I say that just when you think that Rusty can’t break your heart anymore, then he says something  that seems innocuous on the surface but is so shattering in the truth that it reveals that you find yourself breaking down yet again, grabbing for that second box of tissues while realizing that you are only on page 60 or so of a 256 page story.  Rusty Baker is so incandescent in his innocence and beauty that I almost expected the pages to glow.  He is textured, and glorious and unforgettable in every way.

But Rusty can’t make it alone, either in life or in the story.  So the author has created a group of characters every bit as remarkable and amazing as Rusty himself, starting with Oliver Campbell.  Oliver really is Rusty’s polar opposite from quick intelligence to his physical exterior.  Oliver’s mixed race parentage is evident not only in his name but in his small stature, dark eyes and skin. Equally rich is the latin culture which overlays everything at home from his family’s food to their family rituals.  Oliver is highly intelligent, generous of spirit and out about his sexuality.  This is our and Rusty’s first introduction to Oliver:

Oliver showed up in early September of my senior year, slender, brown on brown on brown. Dark brown hair cut with long bangs around his narrow face, dark brown eyes with thick, thick lashes, and light brown skin. He slouched quietly in the back of Mr. Rochester’s English Literature class and eyed the rest of us with sort of a gentle amusement.

It’s that “gentle amusement” that draws Rusty in as well as Oliver’s acceptance of him no matter what  Rusty might say or the way he struggles with everything in his life.  Oliver is there to quietly shore Rusty up, giving him a look at families who love and support each other with a generosity Rusty has never had in his life.  There is a quiet glow to Oliver that is never outshown by Rusty, they complement each other perfectly. I love Oliver and Oliver’s amazing dad, Arturo, both so alive that I absolutely believed in them as a family.  And that goes for Estrella, Rusty’s housekeeper and surrogate mom, as well as Nicole, Rusty’s young sister just as starved for love and family as Rusty is.  Nicole’s fragility is slowly revealed to Rusty and the reader as she becomes more of a presence in Rusty’s life.  I know that sounds odd but when you read the story you realize just how compartmentalized Rusty’s family is and the impact of that structure upon the children.

OK, I realize I am doing it again, treating these characters as real people.   Amy Lane is a superb storyteller.  She creates worlds, situations and yes, characters that seem as real as any you might meet outside your door.  They are flawed, they bleed as well as breathe.  And when they hurt, you will hurt and bleed along with them.  And that’s because somewhere those characters crossed the line from paper personas to people we love and care for as though they are family.  I have the empty tissues boxes to prove it.

What characters seemed removed, incomplete and insubstantial?  Well, that would be Rusty’s mother and father.  And with  good reason, because they feel that way to Rusty.  His parents are cold, detached from family warmth and familial love, driven by their own ambition and control.  By the author creating characters so coldly ephemeral and disengaged from their children, it helps to establish Rusty’s viewpoint as ours and it helps to understand his upbringing as well as Nicole’s.

There is laughter to be found among the pages to go with the river of tears you will shed for this amazing boy crying out for love and understanding.  And the reader will celebrate the happiness that Rusty (and Oliver) find together after all the obstacles have been surmounted.  I found myself, exhausted, red faced and snotty, surrounded happily by empty boxes of tissues at 3am and promptly wanted to do it all over again.

If I had a minuscule quibble with this story, it would be with the title.  I would have loved it if the title would have been free of holiday references.  Why?  Because I am afraid that at any other time of the year readers unfamiliar with either Amy Lane or this story might relegate it to the Christmas story genre instead of “the must read at any time of year’ category it so deserves.  But that is a wispy sort of quibble, lacking any substance and disappearing as we speak.

I loved, loved Christmas Kitsch.  It is heartwarming as well as heartrending. It is as joyous as it is poignant! And I will read it again and again because that’s what I  do with comfort reads with characters who are real to me and dear to my heart.  I am sure you will feel the same, so grab it up and start reading.  Have that tissue box handy, you will need it.  And as a extra bonus you will be helping LGBT youth in need as well.  This is a Highly Recommended, Best of 2013 or any year.  Don’t pass it by!

Cover art by LC Chase is soft and lovely.

Special Note:

20% of all proceeds from this title are donated to the Ali Forney Center in New York, whose mission “is to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ) youth from the harm of homelessness, and to support them in becoming safe and independent as they move from adolescence to adulthood.” To learn more about this charity or to donate directly, please visithttp://www.aliforneycenter.org

Book Details:

256 pages
Expected publication: December 9th 2013 by Riptide Publishing (first published December 7th 2013)
ISBN13 9781626490864
edition language English
Riptide Publishing’s Home for the Holiday Series

Amy Lane’s “Christmas Kitsch” Blog Tour and Spotlight Stop!

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ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords welcomes Amy Lane, stopping by on her Christmas Kitsch Book Tour.  Here are a few words  from Amy and her phrase for this stop on the tour.  My review is up tomorrow but I will tell you all right now this story is one of Scattered Thoughts Best of 2013!
The Scavenger Hunt– 
 
In addition to the Riptide giveaway, I’m having a scavenger hunt on my own blog.  At the beginning of the blog tour, I’ll publish the tour dates on Yarning to Write.   For every stop on the tour I’ll have a “phrase” for the scavenger hunt.  At the end of the tour, I’ll put up a post for the people who have found the phrases.  If you comment — and then send me an e-mail with six of the twelve phrases and your address!– I’ll send you some Christmas Kitsch swag.  The post collecting the winners will go up on the 13th (the day of the last stop on the tour) and you will have a week to go read all of the tour stops and collect your phrases.  The hunt closes on December 21st, at the end of the day and I’ll get your swag into the mail between Christmas and New Years!  (Hopefully after I get my own Christmas cards out in the mail. I’m not known for my punctuality, I’m afraid;-)  Look below for today’s phrase!

Today’s phrase:

And don’t forget to collect “The Millionth Kiss Rocks” for the scavenger hunt on Amy’s blog on December 14th!

Riptide contest details:

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Enter your details in the Rafflecopter below to gain entry in the *Home for the Holidays* giveaway! This week of the tour closes at midnight, EST, on December 13th. Then, one grand prize winner will be contacted at the end of the Home for the Holidays tour on December 16th. Contest is valid worldwide.

Enter here at Riptide Publishing Rafflecopter Link

 Christmas Kitsch Blurb:

Christmas Kitsch coverSometimes the best thing you can get for Christmas is knowing what you really want.

Rusty Baker is a blond, rich, entitled football player in a high school full of them—just the type of oblivious jock all the bullied kids hate. And he might have stayed that way, except he develops a friendship with out-and-proud Oliver Campbell from the wrong side of the tracks. Rusty thinks the friendship is just pity—Oliver is very bright, and Rusty is very not—but then Oliver kisses him goodbye when Rusty leaves for college, and Rusty is forced to rethink everything he knows about himself.

But even Rusty’s newfound awareness can’t help him survive a semester at Berkeley. He returns home for Thanksgiving break clinging to the one thing he knows to be true: Oliver Campbell is the best thing that’s ever happened to him.

Rusty’s parents disagree, and Rusty finds himself homeless for the holidays. Oliver may not have much money, but he’s got something Rusty has never known: true family. With their help and Oliver’s love, Rusty comes to realize that he may have failed college, but he’ll pass real life with flying rainbow colors.


20% of all proceeds from this title are donated to the Ali Forney Center in New York, whose mission “is to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ) youth from the harm of homelessness, and to support them in becoming safe and independent as they move from adolescence to adulthood.” To learn more about this charity or to donate directly, please visit http://www.aliforneycenter.org/.

Bio:

Amy Lane has children, pets, consuming hobbies, an amazing spouse, and a very dirty house.  The only time she does housework is Christmas, so that children, pets, spouse, hobbies, and home may exist in peace on hearth for at least once a year.

Feel free to visit Amy in the following places:

Blog: www.writerslane.blogspot.com

Website: www.greenshill.com

Twitter: @amymaclane

FaceBook: Amy Lane

FaceBook Fan Group: Amy Lane Anonymous

Or to contact her at: amylane@greenshill.com

All I Want Is You (Mountain Boys #1.5) by Marguerite Labbe

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Rating: 4.75 stars

All I Want Is YouAfter the tumultuous events of the past year, Eli Hollister and Ash Gallagher have settled into their lives, taking their relationship one step further by moving in together at the Hermitage.  Ash is still not satisfied, Ash wants a deeper commitment from Eli. Ash realizes that more than anything he wants to marry his strong-minded, independent lover, but Ash is uncertain about Eli’s views on marriage, especially marriage to him.

It’s their second Christmas together and this time Eli and Ash are headed to Tennessee to spend the holidays with Eli’s family, a visit fraught with anticipated family squabbles, too many people and not nearly enough space for Eli to keep his sanity and Ash work up the courage to propose. Either way it looks to be a memorable Christmas for both men deeply in love but will everything be resolved in time for New Year?

All I Want Is You is a wonderful followup to one of my favorite stories, All Bets Are Off (Mountain Boys #1), published last year by Dreamspinner Press.  That novel charted the romance of professor Eli Hollister and former Marine Ash Gallagher from a rocky beginning when Ash turned up in one of Eli’s classes to a couple in love and committed to making their relationship work.

Marguerite Labbe’s characters have always been so realistic that it is so easy to identify with them, become attached to their happiness.  We can relate to them because their emotions,expectations  and problems  mirror those of the people around us.  From lovely settings to authentic relationship issues, the author delivers a remarkable portrait of two men working their way towards a  Happily Ever After that is both realistsic and romantic. We get to watch as Eli and Ash get to know each other.  We listen as they relate their backstories to one another, and exhibit the push/pull on each other that all new relationships exhibit.  And when they full commit to each other as a couple, the reader is right there with them, as fully involved in their story and relationship as they are.  So imagine how happy I was to hear that Marguerite Labbe was writing a Christmas story for Eli and Ash. And what a Christmas present to her readers it turned out to be.

We listen into Ash’s inner discourse ( I love Labbe’s dialog) on his decision to ask Eli to marry him and then slightly panic when he hesitates to go forward.  Eli too has his hurdles to over come this holidays and it is a huge one.  But the issues raised here about family are ones that have to be addressed and dealt with before another relationship can proceed, and this element will ring out as authentic because so many of us have been there too.

This is so much more than your typical Christmas story where the holidays themselves are central to the story but rather another step forward in Eli and Ash’s relationship.  I hope and feel confidant that Marguerite Labbe will be bringing the boys back for further updates, perhaps even a wedding?   What happy speculations stretch out before us, either way I can’t wait.  But the real present here is that this wonderful story is free.  Download your copy here and settle in to enjoy another warmhearted lovely tale about these captivating Mountain Boys.

Length:  71 pages

Lovely cover art by Fae Sutherland.

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!

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.

Review of Lessons Learned, Wishes Earned by Cassandra Gold

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Rating: 4 stars

Lessons Learned Wishes EarnedLachlan Douglas is bone aching tired after spending yet another day as Santa’s Elf.  It’s not just that it’s his small size that makes him the perfect man for the job,  it’s his position within the store too.  But when he has to play Elf to the rich store owner’s son’s Santa, well that’s even worse. Lachlan’s last boyfriend was wealthy and took advantage of him so having to work with another spoiled rich boy is just not something Lachlan wants to do.

Haven Wellesley is not a rich man’s spoiled son.  He has worked his way up the ranks, working at every level no matter what the job calls for.  And this Christmas, he is going to play Santa for a very special set of people and needs an Elf’s help to hand out presents.  That’s when Lachlan realizes that maybe Haven isn’t like the other man, and that together they will find the true meaning of Christmas.

This is a perfect Christmas story, all about not judging others and the true meaning of Christmas.  Cassandra Gold gives us two lovely men in need of each other, especially Lachlan who has lost the Christmas spirit along the  way.  His former boyfriend has skewed his self image and made him very judgmental of others like him.  Even while helping out a friend and taking over his Elf duties, Lachlan does it grudgingly.  But his views are shaken when Haven asks him to accompany him on one last stop to hand out toys.  It’s a very special place and gives the men a chance to connect outside of work.  A night of giving to others turns out to be just what each other wanted for Christmas, a chance at love.

Review of Inspiration by Henrietta Clark

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Rating: 5 stars

Inspiration-MEDNolan’s mother is having open heart surgery and it is scheduled to happen over the holidays which means Nolan is going to Chicago for Christmas and leaving his lover, Benji, behind in Scotland working on his novel.  Definitely not an ideal situation for anyone but what is Nolan to do? Benji hates Chicago, swears Scotland is his muse and the next  part of his book is due to the editors. Benji knows he’s being a “wanker” and doesn’t want  Nolan to go but realizes that this year Nolan will spend the holidays in the States and Benji will spend them alone.

But before leaving, Nolan prepares an advent calendar to get Benji through the long 3 months without him, and maybe help Nolan get through it too  in a very unique way.  As Benji starts to find each advent surprise Nolan has left him, he starts to learn more about himself and the man he let leave for the States alone to face his mother’s traumatic surgery by himself.  Benji may just learn that his source of inspiration resides not in a place, but in a person he loves more than he realizes.

Run, run right now and go get this book.  I have no idea who Henrietta Clark is but I now adore her and will be looking for anything else she writes.  Her characters grump and grumble, are selfish, and charming and so totally real that they  scampered off the page and into my heart from the first paragraph of this wonderful story.  Benji is a grumpy, large old (albeit goodlooking) codger who lives in Scotland, the heart of his muse he thinks.  Benji is very much set in his ways, his thought processes following the habits laid down by his body.  It is remarkable that he let  Nolan in past his defenses to begin with but Nolan’s assault on Mount Benji was thorough and well planned.  I only wish that Henrietta Clark had given us a little more of Nolan’s determined courtship of Benji, it must have been a hoot.  But could I imagine it from the small glimpses she gave us?  Why yes I could and I loved what I saw.

Nolan is a shear delight.  Totally American, he is slight where Benji is large, humorous and outgoing where Benji withdraws like a hermit crab into his shell.  Nolan sees the best about everyone and every situation, and he is exactly what Benji needs and wants, even if the man doesn’t realize it at first.  And little by little, as each advent gift shows Benji just how well Nolan knows his irascible lover, Benji also discovers that Nolan has been his real muse all along and spending the holidays without his love is becoming increasingly unbearable.  Yes, I have seen this plot before, but with her rich descriptions and wonderful characterizations, including Nolan’s mother, Clark makes this storyline sing again and just in time to deliver that much needed holiday cheer and joy that I look for in a story at this time of year.  I am sure Santa will be adding Henrietta Clark to his “nice” list for giving us such a wonderful story.