Title: Sleigh Ride (2015 Advent Calendar)
Genre: Male/male romance
Book info: Publisher | Goodreads
Format: Compilation of 31 short stories and novellas
Publisher: Dreamspinner (Dec. 2015)
ISBN: 9781634769648 | 9781634769655
Series: Dreamspinner’s “Advent Calendar”
Overall rating: 4 stars (out of five)
Tagline: holiday collection of short, escapist and soothing HEA/HFN male/male romance stories
Dreamspinner compiled 31 holiday-themed short stories and novellas to celebrate the 2015 Chirstmas/holiday season. I purchased the “pre-order” package and thereby received one story each day during the month of December. Overall, I found them to be soothing, albeit sometimes very short escapes, providing brief relief from the craziness of a very busy time of year. I enjoyed all but a couple of them as quick and soothing diversions (rather than the more fully engaging and fleshed out stories I would expect in full-length novels).
Overall, 29 of the 31 stories nicely delivered to me anywhere between 15 and 90 minutes a day of m/m romantic escapism. For most of the stories, the heat level usually runs from low to just an off-book promise, but “meet-cutes” abound. While the bulk of the stories were contemporary, Christmas romances, the collection includes a nice range of characters, backgrounds and themes, including Chanukah and New Year’s celebrations, a few “alternate” (fantasy/science fiction/paranormal) settings, raising kids as a single Dad, and a Christmas Elf fantasy or two. Gay aliens, a bisexual or two (someone acknowledges we exist!), and super-heroes help round out diverse characteristics that really appeal to me.
Surprisingly, I postponed reading what turned out to be my favorite story as its theme (a divorced couple missing each other and their kids at Christmas) seemed to be too much of a downer, while one of the set-ups that intrigued me the most (courting Santa’s son) was my least favorite.
Because of their brevity, I generally wouldn’t spend the list price for each individual story, but as part of a discounted, pre-holiday collection purchase, I enjoyed reading a different, usually engaging and escapist short every day. Here is the order I received them over the course of the month:
Day 31: Kismet by Cassie Decker
3 stars – crushed phone crushes crush until Kismet strikes on New Year’s Eve (review)
A “missed-connections” setting was sweet, if a little over-the-top and straining credulity just a bit. Overall, however, it was a quick story of frustration over the hot guy met during a serendipitous airport coffee, but the connection was lost until New Year’s Eve kismet led to a happily together reunion.
A sweet story ending with a nice little bit of sizzle (although the characters seemed a little over-the-top regarding their missed connection).
Day 30: The Beary Best Holiday Ever by B.G Thomas
3.5 stars – Grumpy bear and the cub – with a little Death by Chocolate tastiness (review)
A sweet exploration of mis-communication, personal baggage, and an ever-bubbly cub whose appreciation is larger than life. Rounded up because of the cool caves, interesting plot device of party-planning over several months, and bear pride! (I performed at a national Bear Pride event once – it was a blast!)
Day 29: Holiday Hotel Hookup by Jeff Adams
4 stars – holiday hotel smut (review)
Well-written, nicely set-up holiday hotel smut, with some studly, hairily hot (and also somewhat geeky) sizzle.
Day 28: Talk Turkey by Bru Baker
3.5 stars – the new Windy City transplant and the helpline guy who is definitely not a turkey (review)
A sweet short story that reads quickly, it centers on a recent transplant from NorCal (Sacramento) to Chicago. Carson is a likable character and readers who appreciate watching a totally clueless guy flail around in the kitchen might find him extra-endearing.
Day 27: Elf on the Beach by TJ Nichols
3.5 stars – the wintry Christmas elf and the Australian summer surfer, or the magic of belief (review)
A gentle story of a lonely, orphaned, traumatized man coupled with the power of faith (and hot elf love) that could bring the magic to make him whole. The drama wrapped up quickly, yielding a fine little holiday story with a swift, pat happy-for-now ending.
Day 26: Hearth and Home by E.T. Malinowski
4 stars – Santa and Mrs. C help nudge a grouchy tinker Elf to soothe a klutzy hearth Elf into a heated connection (review)
Five stars for the setting and initial, cute banter, a solid 3.5 stars for the Elf on Elf sizzle, rounding out to four stars overall.
Day 25: Blame It on the Fruitcake by Pat Henshaw
4 stars – lovely, sweet holiday hook-up between the orphaned, home-raised biker and the consummate professional with the big family (and tasty fruitcake) (review)
Another short, escapist read, this sweet story centers on the hesitations of the big bike mechanic regarding his attraction to his smartly dressed neighbor (who is also the supplier of his newly discovered love, fruitcake). It wraps up quickly and neatly as these holiday shorts do, as much as I would have liked a novella- or novel-length treatment of these characters.
Day 24: Hapless by Therese Woodson
4 stars – a sweet perfectionist attempts to give his hockey-playing beau a romantic, holiday proposal to remember (review)
From the description, I thought this story might not be the type I would like, but I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. The repeated attempts to propose came across as sweet, earnest, and realistically disastrous. Despite the overwhelming presence of this plot device dominating the short story, the ending still seemed real and the characters’ chemistry real (if a bit schmatzly).
Day 23: Son of Santa by Kate Sands
2 stars – alienated prodigal son tracked down by the elf he can’t help but crush on (review)
Alternate tag line: alienated prodigal son stalked by an obnoxious elf sent by meddling parents
The set-up for this story, Santa’s son Noel taking a sabbatical from the North Pole, is original and intriguing, and some of the characterizations and dialog were rather interesting. However, the repeated, deep frustrations voiced by Noel became rather strong, and for some readers (myself included) the strength of Noel’s reactions ruined whatever potential chemistry there might have been between Santa’s son and the elf sent to track him down. (Some readers found Noel to be much too whiny and simply wanted him to “get over” himself. Reading between the lines, I took Noel’s attitude and tone to mean his home in general and Fannar in particular treated Noel very badly, so the elf came across as a stalking, intruding, obnoxious a-hat to me.) In any case, in the end I wanted the two of them to be as far away from each other as possible.
1 star for the (lack of) enjoyment level, and 3 stars for the ideas and writing
Day 22: Somewhere To Be by Amy Yip
3 stars – jilted Chinese delivery guy is delivered to his family by the sweet but lonely fair-haired British bloke
Sweet and short, it covers a nice range of blind date, past relationship and family traumas, and semi-closeted to the traditional Chinese family all in a quick and easy read. A nice HFN highlighting the fact that nice guys don’t always finish last.
Day 21: A Trip to Remember by Meg Harding
3.5 stars – snowed-in together, two men share a holiday (and movies and games and a bed…)
The characters were not my type, but their banter and competitive teasing quickly built rapport and attraction between the two in their “forced-together” holiday.
Day 20: Fireworks and Resolutions by Leandra Dohman
3 stars – office Christmas kiss leads to an initially awkward but eventually fire-work filled New Year’s
The two big story ideas were very interesting, but were difficult to flush out fully in a short piece. The main foucus, hiding at a New Year’s Eve part due to embarrassment at past klutzy and/or drunken behavior, was carried out well. The second device – New Year’s resolutions to help shape a new relationship (preventing miscommunication and adding heat) – was nifty but seemed a little quickly tacked on to the very beginnings of a hit-or-miss relationship. On a positive note, while the leap together seemed a little rushed, the author was able to stitch together a nice “awkward beginning to a relationship” arc in a very short story.
Day 19: Northern Lights by Asta Idonea
2.5 stars – dumped in Iceland and rescued by a Viking (review)
For a story about being dumped on one’s birthday in a foreign country and knocked unconscious, it slips its way into being semi-sweet. Of course being rescued by a pagan Viking stud is about as nice a way as possible to resolve that dilemma, and the story ends with a hint of a hopeful HFN.
Day 18: Unto Us the Time Has Come by Sean Michael
4.5 stars – utterly sappy story of two separated husbands getting back together at Christmas (review)
Apparently, this is my kind of snappiness, as it made me cry (and that does not happen very often).
Day 17: Home Is Where the Christmas Trees Are by CJane Elliott
3 stars – lonely gay bachelor uncle has a traumatic break but gets some (definitely physical and maybe emotional) relief (review)
Dex was very sympathetic as a single gay man trying to care for his recently orphaned niece, although a couple of twists and turns in the story were appropriately unsettling for him. His meeting with a potential love interest (and his mother) was also nice and sweet, and became hotter with an eventual hook-up.
Day 16: Best Laid Trap by Rob Rosen
2.5 sizzling, snarky stars – snarky New Year’s Eve sex in a snowed-in cabin
A short, eventually steamy “story” focused on a snarky man stumbling into some New Year’s Eve sex in a snowed in cabin, with a possible HFN.
Day 15: Loving and Loathing Vegas by Lex Chase
4 stars – Demonic friends-to-lovers story wrapped in otherworldly, baby-riffic style (review)
The premise of two incubbi (sex demons) having a contest to fall in love over the holidays is enticing as all, well, Hell. Overall, the plot reads much more like a standard friends-to-lovers romance than a paranormal tale.
Day 14: Grateful by Kim Fielding
4.5 stars – klutzy guy dreading another, “typical” Jewish family gathering meets the multi-talented, “to-die-for” foreigner (with a Newfie) (review)
A nicely reassuring, HFN quickie for fans of the awkward, normalish, and sometimes clueless guy catching the eye of the suave, sophisticated stud (with his own interesting needs).
Day 13: Teddy Bear Christmas by CC Bridges
3 stars – a lonely Jewish guy working the holiday, a man missing his family, and the teddy that unites them (review)
If only all stranded/snowing/airport travel were so rewarding, and that every frazzled, overworked, overwrought airport worker could find such a nice break from the ire of over-stressed travelers.
Day 12: Nøtteknekkeren by Felicitas Ivey
4.5 stars – a nicely surreal and just grim/Grimm enough Christmas fairy tale (review)
This struck me as the most original writing of the collection, although in reality it’s a wonderfully “gay” take on a haunting, traditional folk tale. A little darker than the typical story (and I’m usually not a fan of dark), overall I found the reading experience to be the most interesting of the compilation (although not the most soothing or escapist).
Day 11: Leap Through Eternity by Sara Stark
2.5 stars – bumbling, cutely stumbling “idiot” and the mostly naked stud in briefs (review)
Day 10: Worth the Wait by Caitlin Ricci & Cari Z.
3 stars – hot umbrella man to the rescue (and he’s good with the adorable niece, too) (review)
Very short but enjoyable story of a nice, first connection between two likable guys, including an adorable, book-obsessed niece and a nice setting for bibliophiles. 3.5 stars rounded down for its brevity and leaving the reader wanting so much more.
Day 9: An Assassin’s Holiday by Dirk Greyson
4 stars – a 3.5 star dark premise/happy ending read rounded up for some reciprocal tastiness (review)
Day 8: Christmas Miracles of a Recently Fallen Spruce by Brandon Witt
– Quick holiday, “meet-cute” with a white Christmas, a two men in a PG one man tent, and, of course, a requisite “Horny Elf.”
A quote from a character sums up my feelings about this story: “I like the different sides of you. All anal retentive and a dirty elf-loving artisan. Good stuff.”
Day 7: Four Alternative Christmas Presents by Tam MacNeil
4 stars – yearning after one’s super-hero (or lusting after the boy wonder) (review)
A clever super-hero story, a fantastical setting explores even more “alternate” settings.
Day 6: Menorahs and Mistletoe by Jess Roth
4 stars – a nice present from one of Santa’s elves for the lonely bisexual Jewish dad
A tender and sweet holiday short, the story includes a nice incorporation of Hanukkah, a single parent worrying about the effect of dating on his child, and a bisexual guy all woven into a brief m/m romance. (Oh – and while office or bathroom encounters aren’t usually that hot to me, but when there’s a cute elf, well…)
Day 5: A Certain Kind of Holiday by Andi Van
3.5 stars – travelling with the older, cheating professor turns out to be just what the holiday ordered (review)
Day 4: Old Acquaintance by Avon Gale
4.5 stars for me (partly for the common little kink missing from most m/m romance) – Oh yes, and a semi-drunken New Year’s Eve first time for a jilted middle-aged guy – with a splash 😉 (review)
Day 3: Mission Mistletoe by Jessica Payseur
3 stars – gay alien Christmas in space (review)
Day 2: Not the Best Day by Brynn Stein
3 stars – the Butthead isn’t exactly Beavis (review)
Day 1: Whispers of Old Winds by George Seaton
3.5 stars – rugged veteran/sheriff in a semi-supernatural Colorado mountain setting (review)