Dreamspinner's CELEBRATE - 2014 Advent Calendar
From the blurb:
Freshly out of college, shy and introverted Brian Preston travels from LA to Budapest to teach English, ready to embrace life and spread his wings.
It's early December, and the air is heavy with the scent of roasting chestnuts.Getting involved with his new roommate, native Hungarian Zoli Park, promises to be the adventure Brian always wanted. But all is not as it seems, and Brian might find himself in the arms of Krampusz, demonic companion to St. Nick, who punishes bad boys.
When I read the blurb for this novella I immediately imagined Brian, our timid bookworm hero, swept up in a Harlequin cover-like clench by a goat-horned, hairy Christmas demon who nonetheless has impressive biceps and a six-pack you just want to suckle. That'd be a fun read, but I was more than happy to find that Brian's love interest is his less hairy, but still horny (HA!), new roommate Zoli. Zoli is also further confirmation that Lou Harper is a fan of the redheads--he's described as chesnut-haired. Ding! Ding! Ding! We've got a ginger, people!
Now, I loved the romance between Brian and Zoli--I especially liked that there's a slight twist to their relationship that makes falling for someone in 72 hours slightly more realistic (there's a Little Miss Cynical living in my head who's a total buzzkill)--but I adored experiencing Budapest with Brian. Seeing it through his eyes reminded me of that feeling of hugeness I get in my chest when I travel--suddenly what seems scary at home turns into a suspicion that anything is possible.
Absolutely recommended for those who want a romantic read and a foreign holiday experience. Definitely recommended for those who want to encourage their itch to travel.The farther [Brian] ventured, the more he became overtaken by the utter foreignness of the place. It was gritty but romantic, full of smells and sounds and unfamiliar sights. Kinda like he'd walked into some moody foreign film. The story could be anything--romance, mystery, suspense. Or a Cold War era spy thriller. He...thought, yes, even he could have an adventure here. In this city he could be someone other than a timid bookworm--a dashing hero perhaps.
Business Or Pleasure:
From the blurb:
When American Ian lands a secretarial job in the United Kingdom, he thinks he’s set for life. Admittedly, he’s still a bachelor living in a small apartment and working for a complete jackass, but other than that, his life is everything he ever hoped for in an enticing city full of beautiful people. When Alistair Security is robbed during the Christmas Fundraiser, the last thing Ian expects is to end up locked in with his boss, Alex Alistair, and to realize he might have mistaken his resentment for something else. The two men find common ground throughout the night, but when morning comes and the news hits the headlines, their connection will be tested. Ian might find himself at the start of a hot office romance—or he’ll spend the holidays browsing the classifieds.
Alex is the fabulously good looking owner of a security firm who should have “I like to shit where I eat” tattooed on his dick. Ian is his sassy yet loyal boy Friday.
Alex is a douchebag. Ian is the moron in love with him.
Why is Ian so in love? Perhaps it’s because when Ian finds Alex fondling some giggling woman in his office Alex ever-so-generously asks, “[w]ant a taste?”
Maybe it’s due to charming statements such as, “I swear, you gay guys are so darn touchy.”
Or it could be because of the first time Alex and Ian meet. Ian arrives for a job interview only to find Alex making out with another applicant. After stating that “her qualifications felt quite ample to me” Alex proceeds to ask a series of questions that ends with Ian sharing that he’s gay.
Alex: "You’re gay? [....] Sorry pal, but it’s a dog eat dog world out there. If my competitors found out about your interests, it could make things complicated for both of us. I’m actually doing you a favor.”You know what happens then? Ian blackmails Alex into giving him the job on a trial basis. You know who’s a witness to this “interview?” The HR representative. ‘Cause sexual harassment, discrimination and blackmail makes their job so much more interesting.
All of this may be offensive if it weren't so utterly ridiculous. Actual sexist, homophobic assholes and the people who love them have more depth than this. Ian has some depth to him as the story is told from his perspective, and we learn he has a sister and niece to support. But we're given no reason as to why he finds Alex so awesome except that he looks good in a suit. We're given no hints that Alex likes Ian as anything more than an employee/frenemy (employnemy?) or that he may actually be gay. Or bi. Or anything other than a jackass who has a fiancée yet still fucks a wide range of beautiful babies on the side. We spend 60% of the book reading about Alex the asshole, lovelorn Ian and some corporate hoo-ha I couldn't bring myself to care about--then suddenly Alex and Ian are sexing it up; suddenly there's the most ludicrous of Big Misunderstandings and Ian is fired; suddenly Alex's fiancée is giving him a big speech about ignoring his daddy issues and societal pressure and to GO AFTER HIS MAN; suddenly everything is happy, happy, happy.
Look, I love reading about the Mr. Asshole-who's-just-conflicted-and-misunderstood character and his love interest the I've-been-here-for-you-for-years-I-know-all-your-faults-just-let-me-love-you character. It's why I chose to review this story. But you have to give me a reason to root for these people--I don't want to read a formulaic outline, I need something that makes me care for and relate to the heroes.
The best thing I can say about this story is that I didn't hate it. I just really, really didn't like it.
Ilya And The Wolf:
From the blurb:
Ilya, the youngest son of a Moscow oligarch, is so deep in the closet he’d find Narnia if that weren’t a decadent Western story. On Christmas Eve, his brothers lure him into the forest, intending to murder him and erase the shame he inflicts on their family by existing. However, the attempt is interrupted by Volyk, a wolf who carries the blood of the ancient oboroten’ —shapeshifters. Ilya never imagined a Christmas gift like the handsome wolf, but accepting what Volyk offers will have consequences that change both of their lives forever.
This is a lovely fairy tale made even more interesting by its' Russian setting. Bringing attention to Russia's LBGT issues adds a poignancy to the story that I might not have felt otherwise.
Why might I not have felt it otherwise? Okay, fairy tales aren't my thing. I like almost anything with a werewolf but turn it into a fairy tale and suddenly I lose interest. Also, I was a bit put-off by the insta-insta love.
However, if you love beautiful language, intense romance and, yes, fairy tales, you'll definitely enjoy Ilya and the Wolf.
Get the full set of stories here:
Check out the rest of our reviews for this Advent Calendar 2014.
Until next time, happy reading!