Sunday, December 20, 2015

ARC Review: Sleigh Ride - 2015 Dreamspinner Press Advent Calendar Part 1

Sleigh Ride (Sleigh Ride - 2015 Advent Calendar)

The course of true love can be a bumpy, up-and-down, and sideways ride, but the end-of-the-year holidays are perfect for happy endings! Whether they’re finding a new romance or rekindling an old one, the men in these stories get some help from the magic of the season. Some of them might need a miracle to muddle through the conflicts and confusion that arise, but luckily for them, ‘tis the season. From naughty fun, to heartfelt and heart-wrenching reunions, to out-of-this-world adventures, these guys are in for quite a ride.


Todd's reviews:

Elf on the Beach by TJ Nichols

This short 39 page story was completely magical, full of cynicism, longing and a healthy dose of hope.

It was also by far my favorite of the 5 anthology stories that I read for our group blog post.

From a very early age, Australian surfing instructor Kyle's life was less than ideal, growing up in foster care, hoping that one day his mother would get clean and reclaim him, giving him a real family.

Now at 25, Kyle doesn't believe much, especially something as crazy as magic. Or even more unlikely, the thought of someone being able to have actual feelings for him.

But when Kyle meets 20 y.o. Roone, a young elf traveling the human world for a year to decide if he will return to the North Pole or live in our world, Kyle begins to see the world through different eyes.

Well, the same eyes, if you're being literal, but he begins to see other possibilities. One of which being magic. And another being, possibly, love. A love both given and returned.

If this story were any cuter, it would have probably put me in a permanent sugar coma, with a perma-grin on my face that no amount of "bah humbug" could ever wipe away.

The slow-burn read was a little angsty and a little sexy, with tons of tingles and feels. And if this short story ever gets expanded to full novel length, I will most definitely be reading, and savoring, every single one of those pages.

This, people, *this* is what a Christmas story of magic and elves and possibilities is all about, so I'm giving this one a very full, heart-felt 5 stars for this adorable and entertaining read.

Unto Us the Time Has Come by Sean Michael

Sweet, merciful Christ.

Men. Are. Such. Idiots.

That's really the moral of this ' second bite at the apple ' story, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

I've read some Sean Michael stories that really didn't work for me, side-eyeing you "The Bohemians," but thankfully this was not one of them.

This short 56 page read is the story of how artist Kenn gave his workaholic husband of 14 years, Chris, an ultimatum, which effectively ended their relationship. Spend more time with us and less at the office or we’re leaving.

He’d never expected Chris to say, “Then leave.”
So almost a year later, Kenn, their 8 y.o. son and 6 y.o. daughter are living on their own, with Kenn working 2 jobs to afford a crappy apartment.

Kenn and Chris' relationship, other than seeing one another when swapping off the kids for visitations, is non-existent and neither man is happy. They both desperately miss their best friend and other half of their soul.

However, Kenn's pride is still firmly intact, despite the long, tiring hours to provide a roof for his kids, but fortunately Chris' resolve in that he needed to work so much to be the sole breadwinner has crumbled.

Like the old saying goes, "You can be right or you can be happy. Pick one."

Well, this time around Chris is determined to make the necessary changes and the right choice. The right choice from them all.
The story was well-paced, without any hysterical theatrics, which I genuinely appreciated.

The two kids, Micah and Sarah, were present, but not omni-present, thank God. They were actually written realistically and weren't 'too cute for words' in your face 24/7, allowing the focus to remain firmly on their dads.

There were also tons of feels, so you might find yourself tearing up a few times, especially when both me are at the end of their ropes and their defensive walls are lowered, finally allowing the other inside for the first time in a year. The sexiness was there as well, but didn't overwhelm or feel unnecessary.

Overall, this short Christmas story just really worked for me, so I'd rate it around 4.25 stars and definitely recommend this one.

Somewhere to Be by Amy Yip

I found this short 39-page Christmas tale utterly charming.

Jamie is a UK-born half-Chinese man, who's been burned by a controlling cheater and has been reluctant to date since his last relationship ended, nearly a year ago.

Then his roommate sets him up on a blind date, pronounced "ambush", without telling Jamie what he's done.

Nick is a strawberry blond rugby player, with no family to speak of, who's been missing the recently-departed grandmother who raised him. He's also a hulluva nice guy.

As the evening at the pub ends, Jamie and Nick go for a walk, which ends up with the two spending the night together and tentatively agreeing to date.

But asshole ex's are called assholes for a reason and with one short call to Jamie, as he's stuck in traffic driving to pick up his Auntie and grandmother at the airport, major seeds of doubt about Nick are firmly planted, so Jamie calls things off, hoping to avoid the heartache.

However, while snowed in for the night at the airport, Jamie receives a call from the very persistent Nick that changes everything.

To only be a short story, this one was very heart-felt and a bit steamy. It made me smile and I see many more family Christmas's together for Jamie and Nick.

So a solid 4 stars for this anthology story.

Menorahs and Mistletoe by Jess Roth

Coming in around 50 pages, this short holiday story was extremely cute and flowed well.

After a year and a half of being single, 32 y.o. single, Jewish dad Martin is lonely, but hesitant to date again after his last boyfriend yelled at his now 6 y.o. daughter.

Sara knows that her dad is lonely, so while shopping at the mall, she befriends one of Santa's elves, then proceeds to ask Santa for a little help.
Sara went silent for a moment, perfectly still on the man’s lap.

“Can you bring a friend for Daddy?”

Oh, no.

“He used to have a friend,” Sara continued, blissfully unaware of her father’s growing mortification. “They were gross and kissed a lot. But then one time he was mean to me and so Daddy told him to go away, but I could tell he was sad.”

Martin winced. Next to him, the elf was turning crimson to match his hat.

“Well,” Santa said. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to find a friend for your daddy, but I’ll do my best.” But Mr. Elf has designs of his own for her dad, so he quickly hatches a plan with Sara for Martin. One disguised as a 'gift' for each day of Hanukkah.

As the days pass and Martin receives his pieces of the gift, he meets Tim, the receptionist at work, and thinks about him more and more, which leads to a few short lunch dates.

Then when Martin's gift is complete, he tells "Mr. Elf" that he isn't interested in dating, which is a major cosmic screw-up.

Dumb guys are dumb, I'm telling you.

But the misunderstanding is handled well, with no unnecessary melodrama, so Sara gets her holiday wish to Santa in the end and we get our HFN.

This story was cute and fun, coming in at around 3.75 stars for me.

Home Is Where the Christmas Trees Are by CJane Elliott

This short 53 page read didn't work quite as well for me as the others that I read from the anthology.

When Dex's sister dies suddenly from cancer, he moves from Portland to Eugene, OR to act as guardian for his now 12 y.o. niece, Rowan.

Neither has truly moved past the death of their beloved sister and mother, so they're more existing than actually living.

But when Rowan's clarinet is stolen and Dex finally meets his niece's beloved music teacher, Ed (aka "Mr. A",) sparks slowly fly, then the two men begin dating.

This one drug on a bit for me; however, the major part of which I wasn't a fan was the instalove. It felt very premature and a bit desperate, truth be told.

They quite literally hang out once, share two kisses, then have one date and bring one another off, "unnh" *splat*, then Dex is dreaming of forever. Out loud to Ed.
“Your mother! I get to have Mrs. Alcott as a mom-in-law! Or are we getting ahead of ourselves here?”

“I don’t think so. But one step at a time. Christmas Eve at the Alcott home is next. Once you survive that, it’s all smooth sailing.”
Woah. Slow down there, Crazy Train, or I'm going to be forced to reach for my tranquilizer gun!

Sadly, this one would've worked out better for me without the somewhat out-of-place bedroom scene and the cheesy Elf endearments.

Anyway, the story just ended oddly for me, so this one comes in at around 2.75 stars for overall enjoyment.

Sandra's reviews:

The Beary Best Holiday Party Ever by B.G. Thomas

This was nice, written in Ben's usual style, though I didn't like it as much as I usually like his books. The story overall, including the romance, was good, but Ron rubbed me the wrong way for the most part, and Paddy was almost too perfect to be true. Still a solid 3 stars for bears, cubs, and jolly good holiday fun.

Teddy Bear Christmas by CC Bridges

Super cute short about a guy getting stuck at the airport flying home for Christmas (Tyler), and the concierge at the Lost And Found desk (Aaron), and a magical connection made via a left-behind Teddy bear. Adorable. 4 stars for Teddy bear adventures, new found friends, and Christmas love beginnings.

Hearth and Home by E.T. Malinowski

Well, this was just adorable and super sexy too. Clumsy Elf Thistle doesn't think he's well-liked at the production shop where he mostly tries to stay out of the way, but he's really good at cooking, baking, and making a home - that's his magic.

Bayberry, the supervisor at the production shop, has a bit of a soft spot for Thistle, and then things magically arrange themselves so the two get to spend some time together. The ILYs may come sooner than I would normally like in a romance, but whatever, it's magical. Adorable. 4 twinkling stars for elvish sexy times, baked goods, and a happy home to share.

Leap Through Eternity by Sara Stark

This was cute, but a little too short for what it tried to do. There was little build-up to the end result, and while I liked Mason, I didn't care much for Cole. Didn't feel to me that he was into Mason as much as he proclaimed he was. Still, 3 stars for burned cookies, a freezing man in underwear, and a shy guy who won't be denied his prize.

An Assassin's Holiday by Dirk Greyson

A paid assassin, Brick, is shadowing his latest intended victim, Robin, but is confronted with Robin's goodness, which prompts him to dig a little deeper before applying his particular skills. What he finds out puts Robin, and the "kill this guy" contract, in a whole new light, and Brick has some soul-deep realizations.

I liked this quite a bit, and the author did a good job to flesh out his characters in this short story. Both of them come from orphan group homes, though there's nothing about their real parents in this book, but while Robin has the good fortune of being adopted, Brick only experienced pain, loss, and loneliness, until the Army turned him into a proficient killing machine. He has long ago turned off his emotions, and it's only because Robin's persistence shakes him into a new awareness that Brick realizes he doesn't have to live this way.

Of course, it's a bit unrealistic, because I suspect that killers for hire don't get to just walk away from their jobs, and the solution to this particular contract is a bit simplistic but whatever, it's Christmas, and we'll chalk the non-realism off to that. 4 stars for hot boysecksing, a killer with a conscience, and a victim who won't go quietly into the night.

Heather's reviews:

Christmas Miracles of a Recently Fallen Spruce 

- 4 stars

When I saw that this story was only 25 pages, I was sure that not even Brandon Witt could write a romantic, well-done short at that length. Combined with the fact that these long anthologies of stories tend to be notoriously uneven, I was ready for something underwhelming. Boy, was I surprised when Brandon Witt really delivered. This one was funny, interesting, and smart with characters that were fully fleshed-out. That is no easy task for a short story.

Paxton is uptight and type A, with a skinny-fat body and a penchant for being over-prepared. When he gets hit by Logan's snowmobile while walking in the woods, Paxton discovers that even though Logan appears reckless and impossibly handsome, they might have some things in common after all.

Paxton was by far my favorite character. He was slightly neurotic and really endearing, and I was rooting for him to land his level-11 hotness man. For such a short story, we really got a sense of Paxton's personality, and I loved how Brandon Witt imagined him.

Son of Santa 

- 2 stars

I hate to give a low rating to a newbie author, like Kate Sands, but this story was hard for me to get through. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't at all to my taste.

First of all, the plot was sort of a mess. It felt unfocused and rambling, and I didn't love the cupid side character. The storylines with the missing Santa, and Noel and Fannar dancing around each other, didn't work for me. I found it to be really slow, and I almost DNFed, though it was only 50-something pages.

There is zero heat in this book, which is fine for a novella, but it felt like everything was leading up to something and then it just fizzled out. I also wasn't feeling the chemistry between Noel and Fannar. It was all very blah.

Not the holiday story for me.

Whispers of Old Winds 

- 3.5 stars

Woah, this is a hard story to describe. Mystical, interesting, well written. However, it was also sort of... odd, and it wasn't the most romance-y romance.

I honestly don't think I could describe the plot without retelling the entire story, and even then I don't think I could explain it well! It revolves around Native American mythology and some magic elements, and it also has some police/military themes. The author manage to combine these aspects into a cohesive story, which was extremely impressive.

This was my first story by George Seaton, and I would definitely read more from him in the future. He has a very poetic, lyrical way of writing that is unlike most authors. Each word feels very deliberate, and I get the sense that he is very connected to his stories.

However, I also had trouble with a few aspects. There was a weird time jump/tense change in the beginning of the story that I didn't quite understand, and I think the author tried to do too much with too short of a story. It also didn't read as a romance to me, more of a magical realism story with romantic elements.

Despite some niggles, I was pretty impressed with this short. For sure check it out if you are looking for an off-beat holiday romance.

Loving and Loathing Vegas 

- 3 stars

A cute story about two sex demons falling in love...while working at a diner...

This was not your typical holiday story (in fact, it barely felt holiday enough for the Advent Calendar collection), but I think that Lex Chase did a nice job with it.

Basically, the plot is about two incubi who both have had other boyfriends off and on for centuries but haven't made the moves on each other. It takes an abandoned baby, lots of sexual tension, and some healthy competition to make these demons see what's right in front of their faces.

While the story was well-written and easy to read, I had some niggles that detracted a bit from my experience. The novella uses miscommunications as a main element of the plot, which is one of my least favorite plot devices. If these guys just talked frankly to each other, it would have all been SOOO easy! I also didn't get the whole side story with Cillian and his ex. What was the deal there?

Lastly, the guys find a newborn baby (so they say, but they then describe her as cooing and babbling, so obviously the baby is closer to 1), and they start off feeding her pears mashed up?? Milk, boys, milk! Or formula! For a baby described as a newborn, to give her solids... I was like wha??? I know that seems minor but the inconsistencies with the baby just bugged me.

Overall, this was a cute paranormal story with a hot sex scene at the end of it. Despite my small issues, I was pretty pleased with this one.

Holiday Hotel Hookup 

- 2 stars

Was this really only 38 pages?? It felt like 500+ pages the way it dragged on. Can you believe something this short took me days to finish?

This was my first time reading Jeff Adams, and I don't think that this was a good story to start with. I found the romance between Martin and Jose to be totally flat and lacking any connection. I just never felt anything between them.

Also, the story had too high of a ratio of sex to plot for my taste. Now, I can get into a dirrrty novella that is mostly sex, but the sex has to be HOT, like really hot, or else I need more substance to keep my interest. I needed more substance with this story.

This was not the holiday story for me. Not a stellar way to end my reading of the Sleigh Ride anthology.

Our copies of these stories were provided by the publisher in exchange for a fair, unbiased review.

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