Warmest Wishes Advent 2018: Week 1

Week 1 of Dreamspinner Press's annual Advent calendar has officially hit the clubhouse! This week we have stories by E.J. Russell, C.S. Poe, Asta Idonea, Ren Holly and Mere Rain! Join us in the weeks to follow as we review all 31 stories, The Unicorn Way. We Unicorns take the holiday spirit seriously and we're here to help you get into it!

An Everyday Hero by E.J. Russell

When Adam Tyler’s sister announced she was pregnant, Adam decided to move from Portland, Oregon, to Phoenix, Arizona, to fully embrace the uncle experience. However, he didn’t count on the move being delayed until three days before Christmas—and three days before his sister’s due date. And he definitely didn’t count on finding a scorpion in his bedroom. Cue the panicked calls to exterminators.

Garrett Strong doesn’t consider himself at all remarkable—his ex certainly didn’t think so—and Garrett’s pest-control business is circling the drain. Although Adam is his first new client in months, that isn’t the only reason Garrett goes above and beyond for him. He feels a real connection to the younger man and intends to do everything in his power to make sure Adam feels safe and welcome in Phoenix—venomous intruders notwithstanding.

Sara - 5 Hearts

Laugh out loud funny. Opposites attract. Crazy UST with amazing chemistry. Age gap. What’s not to love?

This was the perfect story to start off my journey through the 2018 Advent Event. When Adam moves from Oregon to Arizona to be close his sister, the only family he has left and to be there for the birth of his niece, he has no idea what he is getting himself into. Adam doesn’t realize that living in the desert includes more than a lack of green grass on every front lawn. The desert is home to creatures that find their way into your home whether you like it or not. When one of those creatures, a scorpion, finds its way into his home before his furniture even arrives, Adam starts searching online for anyone to come to his rescue and finds someone not only strong, but an everyday hero that saves the day.

I mean, scorpions? They’re only one step up from velociraptors.

I love that we get both Adam and Garrett's POV in this and it was great to get both first impressions as they happened. Both men are attracted but both men are respectful until Adam continues to flirt with Garrett and Garrett gives one hell of an eye fuck to a soaked Adam. Yup, these two don’t let the “I shouldn’t” line drawn in the desert landscape keep them from moving forward quickly.

What I love about these short stories is how much they can make you feel in a short time. I adored how Garrett took care of Adam’s needs immediately and not his carnal ones. Garrett is natural when it comes to taking care of others and Adam is as well, just in his own way. There are many comedic moments as well as ones that make your hand fly to your heart with a sigh. The play on the title is sugary sweet but appropriate and that ending left me giddy while wanting more.

Ann - 4.5 Hearts

Sweet and adorkable perfection! This has everything I want in my contemporary Christmas stories. The banter between Adam and Garrett was organically funny and being inside both their heads let me get to know both of these likable guys well for a short story. I appreciated them both separately and together and that’s how well fleshed out characters should read. An Everyday Hero had one of my favorite aspects of a romance, when both characters see themselves as just regular dudes but see each other as the most perfect beings on the planet. I just loved reading the appreciation they had for each other and how flattered they were at the attention they received in turn. It’s one of the most swoon worthy things to me and makes the MC’s very relatable and I’ll root for those kind of guys pretty hard. The only thing I could ask for is more, and I’m going to scout out more E.J. Russell books posty hasty.

That Turtle Story by C.S. Poe

Nor O’Brien spends his days in sunny Key West caring for and rehabilitating sea turtles. He doesn’t need anything else in life, expect maybe a significant other to cuddle with after a long day. But recent heartbreak has left Nor salty, and he’s not in the mood for anything, Christmas included.

Then Eugene Montgomery walks into Turtle R&R, claiming to have found a clutch of eggs in distress. Nor is smitten with the tourist at first sight, and at the suggestion of his screwball colleagues, indulges in some no-strings-attached fun. Nor and Eugene are quick to get along, happily enjoy each other’s company, and take in the island’s unique holiday pleasures together.

But Nor would never leave his turtles, not for any man. So when his rebound fling turns into strong romantic feelings for Eugene, it’ll take a Christmas miracle to keep the two together forever in Key West.

A story from the Dreamspinner Press 2018 Advent Calendar "Warmest Wishes."

R *A Reader Obsessed* - 4 Hearts

It’s not surprising Nor is a bit grumpy this Christmas, as he’s newly single after a particularly bad breakup. He’s so not in the mood for any holiday cheer, but when handsome Eugene walks into the turtle rescue center where he works, Nor just might have to reconsider his resolutions.

Poe for sure delivered last year with New Game, Start, and I was not disappointed this time around either! Both Nor and Eugene each had their own endearing special charm, and I was tickled by their sweet, funny, and sexy interactions!!

My first advent read of the year is a total win, and I hope it predicts many more to come!!

Thanks to the author/publisher for a copy in exchange for an honest review

Fantasy Living - 4 Hearts

Nor is adorable, but insecure and still upset about his ex not loving turtles as much as he does… and other stuff.

Eugene is really laid back and seems to be rolling with whatever Nor wants. He doesn’t seem to care, as long as he gets to hang out. Oh, and he appears to enjoy learning about turtles. Not a bad catch for Nor. But Nor doesn’t have a great track record with casual flings, so feelings start to get in the way of their relaxing time together and Nor ultimately has a moment.

This was squishy sweet with some jokes and a touch of angst.

Nor’s work colleague was a lot of fun with her outrageous remarks to embarrass him in front of dreamy Eugene. I enjoyed everything about this story from the setting to the characters, and the easy writing style.

Key West sounds like a great place to spend Christmas, and I’m totally sold on Nor and Eugene together.

Also, who doesn’t love turtles? I mean look at her!!!

Source: The Turtle Hospital

Sara - 5 Hearts

This was perfection! I can’t even ramble my redheaded butt off to tell you how adorable, funny, sexy and absolutely perfect this story was. Seriously. Poe can do romantic comedy like no other and she proves it here.

I loved Nor and his love for turles and his Veganism even if he took Cowboy Willy’s advice about the cheese. I love characters who have no filter and the dudes that find that endearing. Eugene, I mean come on! The physical was one thing, I’d be on that ice cream scenario with Nor, but when you find out what he does? Shut the front door and OMG! He’s everything a romantic lead should be and he finds everything Nor to be everything he wants. This was everything! You know? You KNOW?

Ack. I won’t get into the details of the story because I want you to read this and marinate in its perfection until your fingers are pruny. Got it.

Okay. I am going to go read this again because it’s worth it just to read Eugene’s compliments and Nor blurt out anything at all.

Ann- 4.5 Hearts

Who doesn’t love a man who loves animals? Another gem of a story in Week 1 of DSP’s 2018 Advent Calendar. I expect it with C.S. Poe and I always look forward to her contributions to these collections. The banter between Nor and Eugene, well, Nor and anyone really, was tops. He’s such a funny faux curmudgeon, which is the best kind of curmudgeon to be. I appreciated how the author took the miscommunication trope and used it for good in The Turtle Story. Nor owned his misguided idiocy brilliantly and I loved Eugene’s gentle patience with Nor’s nonsense. I really could feel his appreciation of Nor throughout the story and Nor needed that. The whole story is very sweet and funny, definitely an annual holiday reread.

Barbies and Beaches by Asta Idonea

For the first time ever, Shane is not looking forward to the annual Boxing Day barbecue at Matty’s house. He recently divorced, none of his friends know what to say to him now, and Shane is tired of the pity and awkwardness. Things take a turn, however, when he meets Matty’s English cousin. Neil is struggling with the Australian heat, having left the UK after a bad breakup. When Shane suggests the two of them head to a secluded beach to cool off, the growing intimacy between them might make both reassess their current situation.

Sara - 4 Hearts

When mending hearts leads to extreme heat and deserted beaches, the story can’t be bad!

I liked this one. Super sweet and short with Shane our resident Aussie on a stick who is fresh out of a divorce and sick of talking about it. He doesn’t want to attend the annual Boxing Day Bash at his friend Matty’s but he knows he will never hear the end of it so he plans to make an appearance and then leave. When Shane sees a stranger passed out on Matty’s couch he’s intrigued but doesn’t think much of it until later when he sees the bloke upright.

Neil is Matty’s cousin and aso fresh from a break up who needed time away from his home in England so he hits up his cousin but didn’t think he could literally melt from the summer heat in Australia. As Neil is trying to come to terms with where his life is headed and how hot the holiday is, he’s interrupted by Shane and invited for a swim to cool off.

These two were sweet. Of course both men think the other is straight so Shane’s first move was a bit WTF DUDE but it played out well. I liked how they went about this new attraction and how the story ended too. Neil and Shane will always have their anniversary of Barbies and Beaches.

Ann - 3 Hearts

The writing is smooth and top notch in Barbies and Beaches and I do love short stories, but this one had too much story packed in to too few pages. I felt like I was missing integral pieces that connected Shane and Neil in a forever way. 21 pages need to engage me in a focused moment, not a life changing event. I need those little nuggets of connection between two MC’s for me to be able to gel with them and that was the one piece that was missing for me. I still very much liked the MC’s and believed what I was told about their future, I just needed to see it a bit more organically to make the story more memorable.

Mosquitoes and Mistletoe by Ren Holly

After Andrew’s boyfriend dumps him just before Christmas, he decides to take a job far, far away from city life. It’s a dishwashing job on a remote island off the coast of Georgia. Expecting sunshine, palm trees, and some quality alone time, Andrew is surprised to find alligators, mosquitoes, rattlesnakes, and Garrett—a devilishly handsome naturalist. Andrew desperately tries to resist Garrett’s charm, because a twice-broken heart before Christmas is just not an option. Besides, Andrew’s new friend Anna might already have a thing for Garrett.

But where do Garrett’s interests lie, and will Andrew find out before he’s surprised by a visit from his ex?

Sara - 3 Hearts

This was a cute story with a lot of potential but it fell short for me. Despite there being Christmas Day in the story, it never felt like a holiday read.

I liked the idea of Andrew taking an escape plan to a remote eco island in Georgia after his butthead of an ex dumped him because he was a creep. Knowing from the blurb that Garrett would be the other MC I expected more from their first meeting and Andrews small flirting but tossing Anna in the mix crushing n Garrett made it awkward and not in a good way.

Garrett never once seems curious about Andrew in any way other than a friend and coworker so the whole thing with him Andrew felt really disconnected. I never had a chance to get to know either man and the moments of head hopping got confusing including the whole random appearance of a full POV from Garrett. There was a lot going on in the story that didn’t mesh with the page length and the

The story does get points for Andrew being a ginger and the visual of an eco friendly hotel without wifi or televisions.

Ann - 2 Hearts

I liked how Mosquitoes and Mistletoe started and I was on board with Andrew’s new gig and with Garrett’s friendliness. I was looking forward to reading about how these two would get together and all the shenanigans that would come with an island retreat. Events, characters and dialog started flying around randomly and I found myself disconnected from where the story started and I ended up losing interest in where it was going. I think it tried to be too much with too many people to flow well within a short story. Garrett went through absolutely zero angst for never having been with a man before so that felt rushed and the emotions weren’t explored nearly as much as they should have been. Andrew is coming off a bad breakup, so it would have been completely cool to focus on the two of them and skip the villainous ex, the baking, the lifesaving, the ping pong and all the other “stuff”. The “stuff” drowned out the possibility of any depth in their romance.

The Last Birthday Party by Mere Rain

Their favorite holiday is going away. Will it take their friendship with it?

Since 1989, the birthday of the Emperor of Japan has been celebrated on December 23rd. But this is the last year; the Emperor is abdicating, and next year there will be no holiday.

For twenty-year-old Akihito, the holiday has always been special. It’s his birthday, too, and a perfect excuse for spending the entire day celebrating across Tokyo with his life-long best friend, Kenji. But now that they will no longer get the day off and will soon face adult responsibilities, will they drift apart? Or if Akihito confesses the secret love he’s held in his heart for years, will their closeness be ruined? One thing is certain: nothing will be same by the end of the day.

Sara - 5 Hearts

Wow! Where did this author come from?

It’s rare these days that I get stunned by a story on the first page but with this one, I did. With one line: “He put one in his mouth and held it on his tongue, imagining he could taste the salt of Kenji’s palm lingering on the bean.” I can't explain the feeling but it made me pause, read it again and be sure to highlight it so I could share it.

This trope is one of my most favorites, the boy who has been in love with is BFF for years but is afraid to tell him until that time he can’t keep it inside any longer. With this, we have childhood friends Akihito and Kenji who are ready to celebrate Emperor of Japan’s birthday which happens to be Akihito’s birthday as well. The young men have always celebrated the day together, being off as a full holiday, but today is a bit melancholy as the Emperor is abdicating and the new Emperor's birthday won’t be celebrated the same day as Akihito’s, December 23rd. The loss of calendared coincidence makes Akihito feel that this special day spent with his best friend will be lost.

“[...] I wanted to get you something really special for twenty, but I couldn’t think of anything that seemed right. Nothing seemed like… enough. We’ll get something today, okay? I’ll give you anything you want.”

The friends start off the day to honor the Emperor and then decide to toast Akihito and their impending adulthood and Coming of Age day with a walkabout bar hop that leads to emotional speeches, chaste meaningful touches, confessions and firsts for the friends. I found myself holding my breath from the first time Akihito pretends the caring touch of his friend is more, to their reminiscent stories of their youth driven shenanigans, to Akihito finally listening to what Kenji is saying. These two pulled hard at my heart strings and though I finished the story, they haven’t let go.

This truly was a wonderful story that made me look up images as I read so I could see what Akihito and Kenji were seeing. I love where this left off and of course, being greedy, I wouldn’t mind more.

Ann - 4 Hearts

The Last Birthday Party is a total treat. I do love me some Christmas story overload, but even I have to admit it was refreshing to read a holiday story not about Christmas for a change. The author does a great job with setting a scene and I found myself stopping to Google locations, festivals, food and cocktails. I love reading a book and accidentally learning things, especially about other cultures. I finished this book both happy and hungry. I loved being in Akihito’s head and his love for his BFF, Kenji, read so real. It’s pretty obvious to the reader how Kenji feels, but the dawning realization to Akihito is the real star here. The ending felt a little rushed considering the beautiful buildup, but the outcome is still perfect and I would love to read what happens next for these two.

Review copies were provided by the publisher in exchange for honest reviews.

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