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Review Part 1 – Celebrate! – 2014 Advent Calendar by Various

Review: Celebrate! 2014 Advent Calendar by Various

Publisher: Dreamspinner
Publish Date: December 1, 2014
Reviewed by: Heller
How I got this book: E-Arc from Publisher

Celebrate“Buone Feste, Felices Fiestas, Frohe Feiertage, Joyeuses Fêtes, Happy Holidays! The end-of-the-year holidays bring celebrations of all kinds, and romance is at an all-time high. Take a trip around the world and enjoy these stories of life, love, and happiness. Your Christmas present to yourself!”

I’ve always loved the Dreamspinner Advent calendar. I enjoy holiday stories a lot so I thought that I’d tackle the complete set this year. The calendar is 31 stories I’ve broken up the review into three parts.

Best Laid Plans by John Amory B

George is an anxious, neurotic mess. The only thing that calms him is his partner of ten years, Scott. So despite how nervous it makes George to travel alone, he decides to go to Europe, where Scott has been working for two months, to visit for Christmas. George plans a day on his own in London before traveling to Paris, where Scott is staying. But on George’s day of sightseeing and shopping, everything goes wrong, from a misunderstanding with the hotel concierge to getting lost in Harrods. All George wants is to be with his partner for Christmas, but he’s not sure he’ll survive long enough for that to happen.

Almost a Train, Planes and Automobiles type story except George was pretty much on his own for the whole of it. It was sad to see his enthusiaism drain after each incident but it made his reunion with Scott that much more sweeter. I liked these men together quite a bit and it had a perfect ending.

Business or Pleasure by Michael Cross & Emma Michaels C

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.

Yes, Alex was definitely an ass. I’m not sure why Ian put up with his attitude for so long. The writing was great but the story didn’t work for me because I didn’t like anything that Alex did.

Coming of Age by Venona Keyes C-

Akiyoshi ‘Aero’ Kurokuma, author of the wildly popular manga, Ecos, lost his assistant when his best friend retired. After Aero collapses from exhaustion four years later, he is forced to run a contest for an assistant. Placing impossible rules on the contest, Aero is sure no one can win. But a winner emerges: a young man from America, Daniel Beck. The first time he lays eyes on Daniel, Aero realizes he’ll have a hard time hiding his attraction. Daniel is a perfect assistant, but it doesn’t help Aero see past the twenty-year age difference between them. It will take all of Daniel’s charm and the prayers offered at the shrine to make Aero take a chance on the romance they both want.

I liked reading about the Japanese customs but the MC didn’t have chemistry for me.

The Eve That Finally Happened by Diane Lennox C

After seven years in Canada, Korean native Jae-ho Kim still hasn’t had the special Christmas Eve date night that he would have enjoyed back home—a fact that has his sister, Soon-kyu, very upset during their yearly phone conversation. This year, Jae’s lack of effort concerning his love life comes back to haunt him in the form of Christmas Eve ghosts, showing him very vividly what will become of him if he refuses to take a chance and find a date for Christmas Eve.

A Christmas Carol riff. The MCs Jae-ho and Peter seemed very naive. A sweet story but maybe too sweet for me. I did like the Korean Christmas Eve date night.

Home for Chirappu by Ariel Tachna A

Nikhilesh (Nik) Sharma hasn’t been home to Alappuzha, India, since he came out to his family ten years ago. Now that his relationship with them is less strained, he’s bringing his boyfriend Trent along to celebrate the winter holidays. As excited as he is to see everyone again, he worries the foreign culture, religious differences, and disapproval might shock Trent. At the same time, Trent worries Nik’s big, close-knit family won’t accept an American—much less a man—as Nik’s partner and that his presence will impede the otherwise happy reunion. Whether the trip leads to misunderstandings that will drive them apart or to a new understanding that will draw them closer than ever, it’s sure to be an experience they’ll never forget.

An interesting clash of cultures. The characters and the story line really worked for me.

Hummingbird House by Kenzie Cade B+

To honor his grandmother’s final request, Trenton Appleton drops everything to visit the family’s ancestral home: Hummingbird House, where he experienced his first kiss and first heartbreak with Callum Eason.

Eight years ago, confused by his attraction to Trent, Callum reacted badly. But with help he never expected, Callum found himself and learned to accept who he was.

Now Trent is back at Hummingbird House, and Callum has his opportunity to salvage their friendship, at least. But Trent is less receptive than he was all those years ago. Still, Callum is determined to show Trent he has changed and keep his promise to Trent’s grandmother. When past mistakes repeat themselves, Callum must break the cycle before his last chance with Trent passes him by.

A nice reunited friends-to-lovers story. Very British British. I liked the family dynamics at play here and the characters had a great history with some sweet chemistry.

Ilya and the Wolf by Rory Ni coileain A

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.

Really intriguing shifter dynamic the author created here. I read a lot of shifter stories and this was wonderfully unique. I could easily read an expanded version of this story. Love the Russian angle as well.

The Journey Back by Kristen Slater A

Having quit his job, Idris is trying to make it home to his partner of twelve years, Dan, in time for Christmas. Stuck on a train during a snowstorm, Idris has nothing to do but think back on how much he has missed by putting his career first. His job has been straining their partnership for years, and now Idris worries he’s damaged it beyond repair. He desperately wants to get back to the UK and salvage their relationship—if there’s even anything waiting for him when he gets home.

This story had me worrying that Idris and Dan weren’t going to make it as a couple. Great usage of flashbacks.

King of Me by R.A. Kaitland B+

Cast out of his clan of shifters and with no family of his own, Anton Cedwell wants nothing more than to be accepted by his partner Sean’s family when the two of them visit over Christmas. But Sean’s powerful father, Flavius, isn’t happy his son chose a shifter as a mate, and Sean is hiding secrets from Anton. When Sean is attacked by rival weres, Anton hopes Sean’s family will finally see the depth of his commitment and how far he’s willing to go to protect the man he loves.

Another author with some unique world-building. The Zodiac conception was really interesting and I could again easily read an expanded version of this story. So interesting.

Krampusz by Lou Harper B

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.

Brian and Zoli were great together but the twist at the end was just too coincidental for me. I would have liked the story better without it.

By Heller

In the United Nations of Book Pushers I represent the Canadian contingent. I've known Has, Lou, E and Minn for a few years now and I've discovered many a new author from them for which I will be forever grateful. New to me often translates to "Where has this book been all my life?" and leads to endless re-reads.

The majority of my childhood was spent with my nose in a book (not that it's any different now) and I always carried at least one with me wherever I went no matter whatever trouble I was up to. My e-reader is something I could never give up now, despite my initial resistance to it. I love my books but carrying around a library in a small electronic device is a thrill that never gets old.

I read anything and everything that strikes my fancy: Regency, Retro-Romance, Sci-fi/Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Urban Fantasy, Post-Apoc...the list is pretty much endless. I tend to cycle through interests so it really just depends on my mood at the time. I would say that right now M/M books have me firmly in their grasp and they've been the majority of my reads for the past couple of years. I think there's nothing better than headjacking into a story and characters created by an author, I'm always up for a ride to a place I've never been before.

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