Saturday, December 13, 2014

ARC Reviews: DSP Celebrate! 2014 Advent Calendar - 2

Dreamspinner's CELEBRATE - 2014 Advent Calendar

Second Bite Of The Cherry:

Second Bite of the Cherry
When Daniel Berrisford reluctantly agrees to accompany his best friend Kate to the New Year’s Eve celebrations in London, he doesn't expect to enjoy himself. Daniel is pleasantly surprised to see his first boyfriend, James Allison, among the merrymakers. The pair haven't seen each other for four years, but as they talk and midnight approaches, it becomes clear the spark between them is still there. The New Year is a time for new beginnings, and for Daniel and James, it might be the time to give love another chance.

Todd’s rating:

This short read begins as once-bitten-twice-shy Daniel and his BFF, Kate, venture into London on New Year’s Eve to watch the fireworks.

When they arrive, Daniel bumps into his first boyfriend, James, which is when the real fireworks actually begin.

As they reconnect and eventually kiss at midnight, it's apparent that their chemistry is still there, so Daniel comes home with James for some additional 'reconnecting'. : )

As they fall into bed and everything else falls into place as easily as breathing, they both continue to question why they mutually decided to stop seeing one another 4 years ago (both too young, not ready to fully settle down quite yet).

As the story ends, they decide to give their relationship another go and the credits roll at what appears to be the beginning of a happily ever after.

It was a pleasant short read, with no drama, no angst, no real surprises. Only the rekindling of a fire that had been previously put behind them.

Three Wise Men:

Three Wise Men
College friends Joon, Tae, and Sangsun parted ways after an aborted attempt at a threesome. Ten years later, life has carried them down very different paths, but Joon misses his friends and decides to invite them to his home in South Korea for Christmas. He believes they belong together, but convincing the others to defy tradition and try again will take faith, hope, and a lot of talking—especially since all three of them are still in the closet.
A story from the Dreamspinner Press 2014 Advent Calendar package "Celebrate!".

Todd’s rating:

Three Wise Men, or as I like to call this one "ménage à sticky rice." (If you don't know what sticky rice is, look it up.)  : )

This short story is about Joon (a teacher), Tae (a soldier) and Sangsun (a business executive) who are all closeted gay men that used to be best friends 10 years ago.

The day before Tae was leaving to join the military, their first 'first time' happened, freaking Sangsun out and effectively dissolving their friendship.

But after 10 years of pining for the other two parts of his whole (sorry, no pun intended), he contacts Tae and Sangsun and talks them into spending Christmas with him.

The story is fairly slow burn, to be only 29 pages long, as the friends open up and bare their souls regarding their incomplete, but successful, lives.

It's glaringly obvious, very quickly, that their past connection is still alive and well, so things progress from there.

One of the funniest parts of the book for me was once 'things' began, Sangsun blurts out to Tae:

     “Are you going to hog all the Joon?”

All of their angst and drama occurred off-page in the past 10 years since their separation, so the book only really dealt with their coming together again (sorry, slight pun intended that time) and deciding to move forward as one.

It was a well thought out story and the single ménage scene was pretty hot, in an innocent second 'first time' way, so I'd recommend giving it a read.


Stardust (Celebrate! - 2014 Advent Calendar)
From the blurb:

Duncan is an ocean from home over the holidays and expects to spend them alone. To his pleasant surprise, one of his European co-workers, Georg, befriends him and includes Duncan in the holiday traditions of his homeland: cutting a Christmas tree under starry skies at Georg’s country estate, decorating it at the family’s city home, and shopping at the Christmas market in Munich. Both men are lonely and realize they have much in common. But Georg’s life is in Germany and Duncan’s is in Boston. With the project they’re working on nearing completion, any chance for more than a holiday fling seems as elusive as stardust.

Todd's rating:

This is the short story of Duncan and Georg.

Duncan is an astronautical Engineer at MIT visiting Germany on business and Georg is a senior project manager who works for a company where Duncan is doing business and also happens to be a Count.

Yes, a Count, like 'Chocula', 'Dracula' and that other dude from Sesame Street, but without the pointy teeth.

So Georg fancies Duncan and begins to casually flirt with him as they work together, a lunch leads to a Saturday showing Duncan around, which leads to them dating for the 6 weeks that Duncan has left in Germany for work.

So over the hills and through the woods to Grandfather's house they go, with day to day life happening around them and feelings growing along the way.

As time always does, it runs short and they have to decide if they can find a way to stay in one another's lives, which was about the most stressful/dramatic part of the story.

Our two MC's get a last minute reprieve, which allows them 'some' more time together, but the story doesn't set a definite HEA in stone by the end.

I was a bit surprised that Georg didn't flex his Count-ly muscles (is that a word?) to the German government and work out a way for Duncan to stay, but oh well. I don't see much point in the title if it's as useful as tits on a bull, but that's just me.

Anyway, the story mostly felt like meandering along a path and seeing the world float by. It was a nice path. Maybe not the most exciting, but nice. So if you feel like taking a stroll, this one might be for you.

Quite The Spectacle:

Quite A SpectacleFrom the blurb:

Max moved away from his family to be with Michael, and his family never got over it. Now, for the first time in almost a decade, he’s going to return to London for the Christmas celebrations. He’s confident his family will welcome Michael with open, loving arms. At least that's what he tells himself.

Michael doesn't have his head buried in the sand. He knows he has a lot to prove this Christmas, and he’s not sure if he’s up to the task. All these years and he’d never considered having to spend a holiday with Max’s family. Now that it’s happening he’s not scared to admit it—he’s terrified.

Todd's rating:

This short read turned out better than I'd expected.

Michael and Max have been happily living in Toronto since shortly after meeting in London 8 years prior. Although Michael's family in Toronto love Max as one of their own, the converse for Max's family in London? Not so much.

However, in their defense, Michael has always been uncomfortable in their presence, at best. Plus events like denting his father-in-law's BMW, then throwing up in his new Jaguar don't exactly inspire the warm fuzzies.

After years of distance, Max longs to spend more time with both his London family and the man he loves. Together. And that scares the bejesus out of Michael, but he wants to see Max happy, so he put on his big boy pants and spends Christmas with the in-laws.

The story is about loosening up and letting people see the real you, plus sticking up for yourself when faced with passive-aggressive barbs and, in Max's words, "getting over yourself."

In the end, everyone finally gets over themselves and Michael and Max's happily ever after includes family on both sides of the Atlantic. Hugs and cuddles all 'round.

My You:

My You
From the blurb:

Adrian Delgado's time in the Peace Corps has been rewarding, but with Christmas around the corner, he is starting to get homesick. Life in Mongolia is very different from Texas, from the holiday celebrations to… dating. Take his coworker Batbayar, for instance—they've slept together several times and spend most time outside of work in each other's houses. But are they “together,” or friends with benefits? Maybe a Mongolian Christmas and a sheep's head in the bathtub can lead to the answer.

Todd's rating:

Adrian, a 5th grade English teacher in Mongolia, is missing home back in Texas as Christmas approaches.

He and Batbayar, a fellow English teacher, have been playing slap and tickle (more tickle than slap, *sigh*) and he isn't sure if they're just fuck buddies or something more.

Batbayar knows that Adrian is homesick during the holidays, so he and two other friends decide to to put together a small Christmas party for Adrian.

So this is the part that really grossed me out. They made a sheep's *head* for the meal, which was all fine and good until Batbayar grabs the thing and his HATCHET, taking it to the bath tub and starts hacking at it to open it up. *CRACK*. I'm done. Yep, over and out.

I didn't really connect with this one, which just sort of wandered all over the place. Granted, it was shorter story, but I can't say that any of those pages were for me.

Snow And Moose And Finnish Secrets:

Snow and Moose and Finnish Secrets
From the blurb:

When Jake takes his boyfriend Ian home to celebrate Christmas with his parents in the Finnish woods, Ian, a skeptic by nature who has to deny his preference for guys in front of his own family, is not only worried about the reaction of Jake’s family, but also about the feast itself—and the cold. However, within minutes, Jake’s parents make Ian feel warm, welcome, and at home, and begin to introduce him to their Christmas traditions.

The visit goes smoothly until Jake’s ex-girlfriend barges in and drops a bomb that shatters their peace and harmony—a tiny detail Jake failed to mention to his boyfriend. Angry and hurt, Ian struggles to let go of the past and focus on the blessings surrounding him.

Todd's rating:

This story was really entertaining, which to be honest is a bit of a change from most of the other stories that I've read in this anthology.

While the other stories just felt fluffy, but not much else, Ian's NYC snark and humor was a welcomed relief. And Jake was obviously over the moon for Ian, which I didn't really feel in the other stories.

Although initially fearful, Ian almost immediately felt comfortable and at home with Jake's hippie parents, which was new for him, as he had never felt the same around his own uptight, pretentious, fake parents.

Other than a wayward moose and some barnyard critters, "stupid furry things" to quote Ian, the drama in this tale came in the form of Ian's ex-fiancé. Which would have been fine, if Ian had known she ever actually *existed*.

Jake explains how he left her for Ian, then professed how he felt about him, which helped Ian realize the depth of his own feelings for Jake.

The one difficulty that I found with the story was that Ian and Jake had been together for two years, but had never professed their (very obvious) love for one another. Jake was very expressive, so I found that a bit of a stretch.

Aside from that one bit of 'odd' (and Santa himself showing up at the end), the rest of the story was pretty much a joy.

A Snowman Made Of Sand:

A Snowman Made of Sand
From the blurb:

Last year in England, Australian Ethan Harvey not only met his “perfect” man in Tristan Lewin-Jones, Ethan shared a wonderful Christmas with Tristan’s “perfect” family—an ideal British holiday full of genteel good cheer and all the traditional trimmings.

Now Tris and Ethan are living in Sydney, and Tris wants the quintessential Australian beach Christmas, with sun, sand, surf, seafood… and the Harveys. But Ethan didn’t mention the Harveys are politically incorrect, rude, crude, and loud. He worries his family will drive Tris away. Giving Tris the perfect beach Christmas with the imperfect Harveys is going to take a holiday miracle.

Todd's rating:

Tristan is perfect. Christmas last year with Tristan's family in London was perfect. Christmas with Ethan's family in Australia, not so much. At least that's how Ethan sees it.

This story is a tale of once bitten, twice shy for Ethan. The one and only time he'd brought a boyfriend to Christmas at the beach with the Harveys, said boyfriend ran from the house crying, never to be heard from again. Eek, I know, right???

Anyway, Tristan is insistent about meeting Ethan's family, much to Ethan's horror. Even Ethan's sister, Karin, believes that the results will be disastrous. But, again, Tristan won't take no for an answer.

So Christmas with the Harveys happens, but not before Karin threatens the entire clan with nothing shy of death if they aren't on their best behavior. Which lasts, oooooh, about 30 minutes, give or take 8 or 9 seconds. : ) Impressive, considering past behavior.

However, as Ethan is mentally watching Tristan pack up all of his belongings and high-tailing it back to the UK, Tristan himself is shocked, appalled and laughing his ass off during the entire train wreck that is a holiday with the Harveys.

The best part of the book for me was the 'walk and talk' along the beach after the fire department had packed up and everyone was back from two trips to the ER.

Tristan's come to Jesus talk with Ethan went something like this: Yes, your family is awful, but they would never ask you to be anything but what you are. And they love you dearly.

What scared and made Tristan more than a little mad was how desperately Ethan wanted everything to be 'perfect'. Tristan knew that he'd never be able to live up to that and felt that one day Ethan would wake up to that fact. And leave.

Ethan's speech to Tristan about how Tristan is perfect for him... So sweet and touching. I'd quote the whole thing here, but honestly, it's a bit long and should be read in context with the rest of the story.

So... hugs, kisses, professing of undying love and two snowmen made out of sand holding hands on the beach. *sigh* Color me all the hell over that scene.

The hot sun and sand gave the American in me more of a feeling of the 4th of July than Christmas, but this was a really great short story and I recommend it.

What Father Christmas Left:

What Father Christmas Left
From the blurb:

Ex-Pat American Jacob Moore is looking forward to hosting his traditional Christmas Eve party with his partner, Errol. They love the quiet night of friends and food at their house in London, and the break before dealing with family, presents, and Boxing Day. The quiet is shattered when Jacob’s younger half sister, Pru, shows up on his doorstep, running away from home for a very good reason. Jacob has stayed in touch with her over the years, even though he’s estranged from their father. But nothing prepared him for this.

Now he has to decide what to do with this unexpected package from Father Christmas.

Todd's rating:

This short story was a nice, sweet sibling reunion story, but I wouldn't classify it as a romance. Yes, two of the three main characters were in a 7 year relationship, but that plotline wasn't really explored in that manner.

Errol is out of town for a couple of days when Jacob's 15 year old sister, Pru, from Boston shows up on his doorstep. At his home in London. "Oops, I hopped an international flight and hope you don't mind" style.

Pru and Jacob's asshole father played his game of "Who will she run to?" with Pru's neglectful mother (number 3 in his long line of 6 wives) once too often, and Pru gave them both the double middle finger by flying across the ocean to her long-lost brother, Jacob, instead. You go, girl!

Pru learns that her 15 year older half-brother does not want to use her as his own pawn against their father when agents from the American Embassy show up to their annual Christmas party and Jacob protects her. Then Pru pulls her own "kitty's got claws" stunt to keep the agents at bay. Again, you go, girl!

It's a cute, feel good story with no definitive answer as to where Pru will ultimately end up, but she knows that she's loved and welcome to remain with her brother in London.

Tidings of Comfort and Joey Down Under
From the blurb:

Seth Anderson thought he was a finalist in the Hot Jack cologne modeling contest for King's Department Store, but Sandy King, upon reviewing Seth's photo and resume, just wanted to jump him like a horny kangaroo. Seth quickly learns there is pain behind Sandy’s bravado and a sweet, lonely man behind the act. A holiday romance blossoms like the flowers on an Australian Christmas Bell. When Seth, used to a family dynamic without boundaries, oversteps by outing Sandy to his estranged grandmother, however, everything changes. Sandy is furious. He breaks things off with Seth and threatens to return to the US. As Christmas approaches, any chance at happily ever after seems as likely as a snowstorm in Sydney. It would take a miracle from above to set things right. Good thing ‘tis the season.

Todd's rating:

Not a huge fan of this read. I guess the most descriptive word I have would be... awkward.

Sandy and Jack felt a bit too insta-love and the strange sex scenes were off kilter, in my opinion. It definitely didn't inspire me to lick anyone's "no-no". (Nod to Nick Pagent for that most *awesome* phrase, thanks again, Nick!)

I got the thing about the drag and Sandy's persona of Southern Comfort, but it just felt really weird to me.

But the one thing that kept making my eyes roll (nearly out of my head) was that awful, awful, AWFUL Magic Jack song.

--> "She'll be surprised when I release my hot and steamy Jack."

Eww. No. No. A thousand times, no. I may never look at a kangaroo the same way again.

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ARCs of all stories reviewed were kindly provided by the publisher, Dreamspinner Press. 

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