Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Reviews: 2013 Advent Calender "Heartwarming" Part 2

Reviewed by SinChan
The Trouble with Elves by Therese Woodson
Dreamspinner Press
Short Story: 78pgs
3 Pants Off

Cal Martin loathes Christmas music, especially the clich├ęd carols pumped through the mall speakers on endless loop. Even worse is the holiday-themed hell of Santa's Village that looms right in front of the sports store he manages. It's yet another hurdle for Cal as he tries to survive the world of retail during the soul-sucking holiday season… until he catches a glimpse of one of Santa's elves and becomes infatuated with the cheery, gorgeous guy dressed in candy-cane tights.

Of course, just walking up to the guy and asking him out isn't easy, and a botched attempt at matchmaking ends up turning a simple courtship into a mess for the gossip page. What can Cal do to overcome his social ineptitude, correct erroneous assumptions, and maybe have a merry little Christmas of his own?

Elves are the real troublemakers in this story, especially one of Santa's helpers. Two newly hired mall employees work as elves and help Santa at a display during the holiday season. These two are also twins with similar names, Alexandra and Alexander. Cal likes the male elf but due to the confusion with their names, everybody thinks that he likes the girl elf. Things really go downhill when the girl elf's jealous boyfriend injures Cal.

I love the cheesiness of the story and the romance between the MCs is cute. I love Xander's passion for chessy Christmas songs and music but doesn't want to be a star, instead he wants to teach. Cal is a little bitter over his short career as a baseball star and missing direction in life. However, Xander totally brings out the adorably awkward side of him. I also love Cal's brother's personality. He's very accepting of Cal's sexuality and is very intuitive on how to help Cal get close to Xander, the male elf. The only character I dislike is the female elf, Alex, who is incredibly vain, dumb, and self-centered.

The story has a strong and interesting beginning but a weak ending ruins the holiday, cheerful feel that the book is supposed to have. The wrap up is very abrupt and the conclusion is...well...not conclusive in regards to Alex, Cal's career, Cal and Xander's relationship, and some confusing people whose names were mentioned but never appeared in the story.

Overall, this is a very cute story set in the mall during the holidays about a sports manager and a Santa's helper. The initial awkwardness and cute romance between Cal and Xander are the best moments of the book.

3 Pants Off

Prairie Dog's Love Song by Eli Easton
Dreamspinner Press
Short Story: 95pgs
5 Pants off

Ben Rivers always was a showman. He won awards in 4-H and rodeo competitions from the time he could walk, and he’s happiest in the spotlight. So when he got the chance to be a star—in porn—he took it. He still loves Montana and everything about being a cowboy, but when news of his alternate identity leaks out, he figures he’s lost the town’s goodwill forever. Clyde’s Corner would never accept an openly gay cowboy, even a hometown boy born and bred. 

Joshua Braintree always had the notion that he and his best friend’s kid brother, Ben, would end up together. Ben’s always been a diehard cowboy, just like him: they need the land and its freedom as much as they need air. So when Joshua learns Ben moved away from their small Montana town to be a porn star in Vegas, he can hardly believe it. He’s determined to finally declare himself and bring Ben home. 

Despite his longtime crush on Joshua, Ben won’t be as easy to tame as Joshua’s “lost cause” horses. It will take a lot of heart and holiday spirit for Joshua to convince Ben that even old prairie dogs can learn new tricks in the name of love. 

Joshua thought he and Ben will eventually become a couple so he hasn't made a move yet. But Joshua waited too long and Ben leaves town to become a porn star in Vegas. When the town’s people found out, Ben is afraid of the town's opinion of him so he refuses to return, even when Joshua goes to Vegas to personally get him back. Joshua finally realizes from a little girl that needs to know she's accepted and liked at the ranch, why Joshua won't come home to him. He arranged a holiday getup to win Ben's heart.

Joshua's always sure of himself and quiet; only saying what needs to be said. He truly cares for Ben and struggles to decide if he can completely uproot himself to live in Vegas with Ben and give up his cowboy lifestyle. Later, he confronts the townspeople at the town meeting and speaks up for Ben. That is a very heartwarming moment in the book. I love the analogy with the prairie dogs and how that represents Joshua's character in the story.

Ben loves being a cowboy, but when he's not accepted in his hometown, he chooses to be a porn star full time. He is actually more insecure and afraid of other's opinions than Joshua. He doesn't have the courage to come back to town and be confident about whom he is. Most of the townspeople actually missed him and do not care about his sexuality.

The book describes the cowboy attitude and small town feel perfectly. I can totally imagine being there and watching the events unfold. Overall, the story is beautifully written and very romantic. The underlying message I get is be proud of who you are and confront your challenges.

5 Pants Off

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