A Barb the Zany Old Lady Advent Calendar Review: Too Hot for Santa by Helena Stone

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Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Jonah Walsh, as Irish as the day he was born, lands in Sydney to take an acting job offer that came in the nick of time. He was caught on camera getting a blowjob and the clip went viral so fast his agent dropped him and he lost his acting job.  Fortunately, this offer to spend the summer months in Sydney came in just as he was despairing over his life choices.  Now all he has to do is get used to the unbearably hot summer temps in Australia and to ignore the equally hot Nick Claseman. 

Nick is technically Jonah’s boss, though his sister is the one who hired him for the play they are both producing.  And Nick’s not too happy that she offered Jonah the granny flat at his house.  But when he meets Jonah and the two get to know one another, he’s more than happy to spend time with him—in and out of bed. 

This is a pretty lighthearted tale of a grumpy Aussie who is positively affected by a happy-go-lucky Irishman. By the time they get to opening night, the two have become inseparable and the possibility of Jonah staying in Australia is something they both want.

I liked the characters and the tour of Australia readers get to see along with Jonah, but what bothered me is that Nick never seemed to work.  Though stated early on that he and his sister were producing the play, any mention of production and scheduling always revolved around her.  Though it may be a minor point, it took away plot substance for me. Nick’s role in the book was more of a roommate lover and less of a boss or authority figure. Others may not be bugged by this detail and it is, overall, a sweet holiday story.

The cover by Paul Richmond features a redheaded young man in dark T-shirt and jacket superimposed over what may be the Sydney Opera House.  There’s nothing remarkable about the cover, other than the star that indicates this is one of the Advent Anthology stories. 

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 59 pages
Published November 30th 2018 by Dreamspinner Press
ASINB07L21Q433

An Alisa Advent Calendar Review: Death to Christmas Sweaters by LE Franks

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Rating:  4 stars out of 5

Chess and Benjamin are casual lovers, each hiding his devotion to the other and his wish for more. But Chess is a wealthy playboy who—Benjamin believes—will never settle down. And Chess is sure, with the way Benjamin keeps him at arm’s length, that he can’t be interested in getting serious.

They’re destined for a head-on collision as Chess plans for a holiday escape designed to send Benjamin’s ardor spiking like the temperatures in Los Angeles, while Benjamin desperately drags his feet, wanting to cool things down to protect his vulnerable heart. But when the ghosts of Chess’s Christmas past and Benjamin’s unwelcome present converge at LAX, it’s obvious other forces are about to take over.

Drawn into their respective family dramas at a joint gathering, will Chess and Benjamin finally take a stand for each other and the relationship they both want, or will the holiday finally take its toll?

I really enjoyed this story.  Chess and Benjamin are both vulnerable in different ways but really want the other more than what they feel they have.  Chess may not act as though he has any insecurities but he really hides himself from the world and shows himself as carefree.  Benjamin is scared of losing Chess but also his parents but when push comes to shove he stands his ground.  I really liked these two together and though they had some trouble communicating it all works out in the end.

Cover Artist: Brooke Albrecht.  Wonderful cover, pertinent to the story and character.

Sales Links: Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 56 pages

Published: December 12, 2018 by Dreamspinner Press

Edition Language: English

A Lila Advent Calendar Review: Guess Who’s Coming to Karamu by Cy Blanca

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Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Grant Cary, a twenty-eight-year-old grad student, has let his Kwanzaa shopping go to the very last minute. In his rush to get home, he quite literally bumps into Will Sheritan, a fortysomething software developer, in the elevator. But luck favors (or curses) the adventurous, because their elevator shuts down due to a blackout. Grant and Will learn about each other’s pasts and find more than just a casual interest.

Will has never celebrated Kwanzaa, and he’s reluctant to enter into a relationship, but exploring a new tradition—with a new friend—might brighten his lonely holiday. And if Will accepts Grant’s invitation to join his family for the Karamu feast, Grant might get his Imani gift early.

Guess Who’s Coming to Karamu is an interesting story about a holiday I have never heard about before. I’m glad the author took the time to explain it but I would have loved to see the actual celebration scene between the two MCs.

The misunderstandings between Grant and Will were a little too many for my taste but they didn’t last more than a couple of silent minutes. I enjoyed how they explain things to each other and their willingness to learn.

Overall, it’s a nice holiday story with unique characters but an abrupt ending. I wanted a bit more of the start of their relationship

The cover by Brooke Albrecht follows the 2018 Advent Calendar | Warmest Wishes template. The picture within matches Grant.

Sale Link: Amazon | Nook | Dreamspinner

Book Details:
ebook, 25 pages
ISBN: 9781644050491
Published: December 1, 2018, by Dreamspinner Press
Edition Language: English

A Free Dreamer Advent Calendar Review: Tulsi Vivah by Anna Kaling

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

A Story from the Warmest Wishes: Dreamspinner Press 2018 Advent Calendar

The festival of Tulsi Vivah ushers in the Hindu wedding season and tears away the love of Kristopher’s life. Three years of passion and tenderness are reduced to a shameful skeleton in the closet as Arjuna submits to the marriage his parents have arranged for him. His family has never even heard Kristopher’s name.

The festival, a ritualistic wedding between the holy basil plant, Tulsi, and her eternal lover, Vishnu, is as much of a play-act as Arjuna’s upcoming nuptials, but he believes the wedding will honor his parents and please Vishnu. So why is his Tulsi plant—whose leaves heal and bless the devout, who is Vishnu’s representative on earth—dying? Arjuna tends to her with all the care of a concerned parent, but it might take more than his devotion to save her. She might need Kris, with his clever green-fingers—and maybe a revived Tulsi can heal two hearts.

I usually like neither short stories (they tend to feel unfinished to me) nor holiday stories (too fluffy), so Tulsi Vivah was a very pleasant surprise.

This isn’t really a Christmas story, it’s more about the Hindu holiday Tulsi Vivah. I’m an not an expert on Hinduism, but I do think I’m not completely clueless. Still, I’ve never heard of this holiday or the Goddess Tulasi. The author did a great job of explaining the holiday and I found it all very fascinating.

The romance was lovely, if a bit sad. It was obvious how hard the separation was on both Arjuna and Kris. It was heartbreaking, even if I could understand Arjuna’s decision. The two MCs showed a surprising amount of depth and growth, considering how short this book is. The ending felt perfect and quite realistic.

I really, really enjoyed this story. I haven’t seen all that many M/M books with a Hindu MC out there, so bonus points for an original idea. I hope there’ll be more stories like this to come from this very promising debut author.

If you’re looking for the usual Christmas fluff, however, then this story probably won’t make you happy.

Cover Artist: Adrian Nicholas. Love this cover, just perfection. It’s just right for the character and story.

Sales Links:   Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

Book details:

ebook, 56 pages

Published December 1st 2018 by Dreamspinner Press

A Lila Advent Calendar Review: Boca Dreams by Scudder James Jr

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Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

You can’t correct the past.

Or can you?

Stephen’s not proud of who he was back in boarding school—spoiled and a player. Now, at the holiday reunion ten years later, he has a chance to show his former classmates who he really is: out and proud, devoted to helping others, and partnered with Victor.

Stephen understands why Victor, who grew up in a poor and abusive household, hates the rich kids at the reunion, but his attitude is ruining everything. Luckily Stephen bumps into Aaron, a former grunge rocker who has also changed. Stephen never forgot their one steamy night together.

With the help of three very unusual personifications of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, can Stephen revisit his mistakes and find the happiness that’s eluded him?

Boca Dreams is a non-traditional second chance story. More of a hope for a once missed opportunity; a what if with the one that got away.

I liked that Stephen was ready to show his classmates who he was but I’m not sure he went into it with the right mindset. It seems he had not changed much from that teen looking for acceptance. Victor read as a stereotype of a bitter man. It felt unnecessary to the story.

As someone that enjoyed high school. I love class reunion stories and I can see Stephen & Aaron as an item many years later. Unfortunately, their coming together didn’t feel feasible. The Scrooges part didn’t work for me. I  wanted a little less drama and a bit more reminiscence. The story does have a nice ending, though.

The cover by L.C. Chase follows the 2018 Advent Calendar | Warmest Wishes template. The picture within is pretty standard and I’m not sure if it is Stephen or Aaron.

Sale Link: Amazon | Nook | Dreamspinner

Book Details:
ebook, 42 pages
ASIN: 9781644050477
Published: December 1, 2018, by Dreamspinner Press
Edition Language: English

 

An Alisa Advent Calendar Review: Holiday Island by A.D. Ellis

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Rating:  3 stars out of 5

 

***No peacocks were harmed in the making of this story.

 

Rafa’s nautical skills are less than stellar. He’d rather be a full-time artist, but he has a duty to the family business and a fear of standing up to his father and brother.

 

Carpenter Lucas is determined to rebuild his business after a lover’s betrayal nearly destroyed it. But he runs into a snag when he misses the last boat to the job site.

 

Rafa offers to take him, but Rafa isn’t much of a sailor.

 

When they end up on the wrong island, fears for survival gradually give way to an appreciation of the beauty around them—and each other. Rafa insists a holiday miracle will save them, and he teases Lucas for being a Scrooge.

 

In the end, Rafa’s miracle might come from the last place he expects: inside himself.

 

This was a nice story.  Rafa and Lucas are stranded together and seem like people that wouldn’t have anything in common but they both need support from someone.  I liked them finding a common ground and affection for each other.  It was nice to see how supportive Lucas is a Rafa in the face of his family’s homophobia and they have a tentative plan to go forward.

 

Book Details:

ebook, 43 pages

Published: December 9, 2018 by Dreamspinner Press

Edition Language: English

A Caryn Advent Calendar Review: The Faller by Daniel de Lorne

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Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A historical set in Australia – why haven’t I read one of these before?  I have to admit that’s what caught me about the blurb on this one, and I loved the term “faller” instead of the North American “lumberjack” that I am used to.  The author did a great job of making me feel like I was right there in the jarrah forests, with men hewing railway sleepers from the mighty trees with only muscle and axe, living in primitive and dangerous conditions to support the booming timber industry.

The story starts with Charlie Young, skinny, short, and, yes, young, in the forest trying valiantly, and mostly failing, to cut railway sleepers with 4 other experienced fallers.  Working the forest was potentially a lucrative job, but the fallers got paid by the piece, so Charlie was in very real danger of running out of money and starving.  The best faller in the group was big, strong Jack Tapper, able to turn out perfect sleepers at a rate 2-3 times faster than the others.  Jack kept to himself, but his size, reputation, and mere presence intimidated all the men in the camp, and especially Charlie.

Even though Jack was exactly the sort of man that Charlie was most attracted to.

When all the men but Charlie and Jack went in to the town for a four day holiday around Christmas, Charlie found that Jack felt the same way he did, and knowing their time together alone was short, they made the best of it.  But the hyper-masculine nature of the timber industry in 1912 Australia was not a safe place at all to be gay, and hiding their connection proved to be a lot harder than Charlie thought it would be…

As is usual with short stories, I wanted more – more time to build the background, more time for the men to learn about each other and fall in love, and more time to develop the conflict that would give interest to the story.  But even in the constraints of a short story, I thought there was too much of Charlie’s inner monologue going on, which made the story move slowly.  The conflict and danger toward the end of the book was certainly very real – I don’t think the word homophobia could come close to adequately describing what could happen to a gay man in this setting – but somehow seemed superficial, and the resolution and ending seemed a bit too easy and abrupt.  Charlie’s immature decisions were consistent with his character, but I think the author made the bad guys a little too villainous, and it felt over the top.  Jack, on the other hand, was beautifully portrayed, with just the right amount of description and dialogue.  The historical details were really well done and clearly well researched though, and for me that made up for a lot of the areas I didn’t like.  Overall, I really enjoyed this, and I will look for more form this author.

Cover art by L.C. Chase doesn’t do justice to the historical aspects of the story, but the lumberjack is spot on.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 1st edition, 46 pages
Published December 1st 2018 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 139781644050453
Edition Language English

A Stella Advent Calendar Review: Trapped in the Valley of the Kings by Blue Jones

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RATING 4 out of 5 stars

A Story from the Warmest Wishes: Dreamspinner Press 2018 Advent Calendar

Rival archaeologists Will and Jude slept together a year ago, on the night of the Summer Solstice at a dig in Stonehenge. But they were both wearing masks, so Jude has no idea it was Will he slept with, and Will’s been harboring a powerful, one-sided crush ever since.

Now they’re in Egypt, competing to find the lost tomb of Queen Nefertiti. Jude falls through a crack in the cave floor, and when Will reluctantly climbs down to help him, they find themselves in Nefertiti’s tomb, surrounded by archaeological treasures—where they must spend Christmas stranded by a sandstorm.

Will a few sultry hours stripped almost bare from the heat and sharing a bottle of whiskey sort out who should get credit for the discovery—and the real reason for the tension between them?

This was another short story from this year Dreamspinner Press’ Advent Calendar. I quite enjoyed it. It’s a super quick reading, interesting and cute. It left me with a goofy smile on my face. I’m going to be honest, I was able to know pretty much nothing about Will and Jude, apart from their jobs and the attraction they feel for each other. There is not even one second character, just these two men trapped in the tomb of Nefertiti. Still I found this short well done, very sweet and sexy; I loved seeing the MCs  tease each other and then finally be honest about their feelings.

I would so love to know more about Will and Jude, they totally deserve more words.

The cover art by L.C. Chase is not what I  like a cover to be, eye catching and fitting, this cover doesn’t have these qualities.

SALE LINKS  Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

BOOK DETAILS

ebook, 24 pages

Published December 1st 2018 by Dreamspinner Press

ISBN13 9781644050446

Edition Language English

A MelanieM Advent Calendar Review:Warren’s Peace by Emjay Haze

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Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

 

The holidays are a time for second chances.

Warren Blessing lost his wife (two years ago), and his kids decide he’s been alone too long. They send him on a holiday singles cruise so he can meet someone new.

On the flight from Chicago to Miami, he sits next to an attractive man, but when the flight’s over, he doesn’t think he’ll see him again.

Fletcher Hammond is a professional mystery shopper for vacation destinations and travel. After a split from his unfaithful fiancé, he’s embarking on a singles cruise. He meets a lovely gentleman on the flight, whose conversation and cocktails help Fletcher through his fear of takeoffs, but he doesn’t expect to see him again.

As if by fate, a meeting in the ship’s dining room renews their mutual attraction. But can they build a relationship with distance and baggage working against them? Or will they part ways when they return to port?

Warren’s Peace by Emjay Haze has a number of familiar elements to it, two strangers on a plane are attracted to each other, deplane expecting never to see each other again only to find that very thing happens at the next destination.  Here it’s a single’s cruise at Christmas time. Warren is there because his grown children have booked it for him.  He’s lonely after the long illness and death of his wife and wants to move forward.  Fletcher is there because of his job.

This is really a sweet, no angst story.  Warren was aware he was gay before he got married as did his wife, but he fell in love with her and got married. As his preferences has been only men before her, he’s ready date men again. When he meets Fletcher on the ship again, he  makes it plain he’s ready to mingle with men, not women.  The two develop an onboard relationship which turns into something more once the cruise is over.  Haze works hard to turn an instant love into a believable HEA and for the most part it works.  Both men are at the right stages of their  lives and seem perfect for each other in every way.

If I had one issue here, its Warren is calling himself first gay, then bisexual.  Warren had only dated men, then fell in love with the person that was his  wife but there sex life for him was unsatisfactory. He loved her and their kids without a doubt, but his attraction remained to men.  I think if the author is going to make Warren  bisexual or even pansexual then you should go for a layered portrait.  But 51 pages is not enough to interpret or untangle the sexual sort of mess that is Warren Blessing.  And now with Fletcher Hammond in the picture, he doesn’t have to. Nor does the author.

.If none of that bothers you, then you might adore this.  It’s sweet and has a HEA which is perfect for the holidays.

Cover Artist: Fiona Jayde Media.  Didn’t do anything for me. The guy is gorgeous but where are the other elements?  Tells me nothing about the story and the characters are older.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 2nd Edition, 51 pages
Published December 1st 2018 by Dreamspinner Press (first published June 21st 2016)
ISBN 139781644050439
Edition Language English