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Tag Archives: 2012 MLR Holiday Stories

20130130-060342.jpgTitle: Saving Skylar Hand
Author: George Seaton
Publisher: MLR
Length: 42,000 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Western Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Christmas, Friends to Lovers, Closeted, Coming of Age, Cowboys, Cheating, Abuse/Neglect, HEA
Rating: Really Like It

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Lifelong love of two boys growing up on the west-central Texas scrub, their lives entangled by the dynamic of families so starkly different.

Skylar Hand and Cody Pinnt share their lives upon the west-central Texas scrub. Both born to a cattle rancher’s life, their view of the world and their place in it, takes one down a path toward heady dreams of a future away from the land. The other sees worth only in trudging his days, as his daddy has, upon the land; his dreams confined to what he has known his entire life. Their love is sorely tested by the choices they make.

Good thing it’s the season for miracles.

REVIEW

First, I should confess that I am a fan of this author which is I why I told Cole I wanted to review this story. His short stories have really moved me and I just really like the way he tells stories so I was interested in reading this longer work. Then I read a couple of fairly depressing and difficult books where the MCs suffered quite a bit before they got to anything even close to a HFN. I started reading this book and I was very worried about the direction it was headed so I took a break to gear myself up for what I feared would be something just awful. Happily I can say that I should not have been worried and that the author takes care of his characters without resorting to outlandish and improbable “coincidences” or tricks to torture them or to resolve their issues. Thank you George!

This story takes place over a number of years in the life of Skylar Hand and Cody Pinnt. Each chapter covers of an important event/milestone in the lives of the characters of this book – from the main characters Skylar and Cody, their parents, Pete Semple (the hired hand at the Iron Hand ranch) and even Zane Black, Cody’s college roommate. While the timeline is not linear, each chapter is vital to our understanding of the lives and character of each player in this novel and provides background and context to the lives of Cody and Skylar.

Skylar and Cody have been friends since they were small children. Cody’s family is fairly well off and his parents love each other and him and only want what’s best for him. Skylar is not so lucky. His parents are not well-suited and “had to get married” because Skylar was on the way. His father is a lazy drunken mess and Pete Semple, the partially disabled retired bull rider and hired hand is most likely the only reason they haven’t already lost the Iron Hand ranch. Cody is the one bright spot in Sklyar’s world along with his dog. Surprisingly, his mother does not resent him even though she has been thoroughly disillusioned by her husband and her marriage.

As Skylar and Cody grown up, their relationship because more than just friendship. Cody knows that he is gay, but Skylar cannot admit this to himself. His life at the ranch continues to deteriorate and he is most unhappy after Cody leaves for college. Luckily for Skylar, Pete Semple and his mother want to save him from what they know will be an unhappy life. They surprised the heck out of me. When Cody and Skylar reunited, they have some work to do on their communication but they are honest with each other and themselves.

I really liked this story very much. Skylar and Cody are characters that change realistically over the course of the novel but never lose sight of the most important thing – their relationship. They truly start as the best of friends and while there are difficulties to overcome in the change to sexual and romantic feelings, they are able to persevere. The strong secondary characters, particularly Pete and Skylar’s mother add a lot to the story as well. The voices in this story felt very authentic and believable. I am now an even bigger fan of this author. Highly recommended.


CC_Angel_in_the_WindowTitle: The Angel in the Window
Author: Charlie Cochrane
Publisher: MLR Press
Length: 18,000 words
Genre: m/m, Historical, Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Story to Sex
Keywords/Tags: Holidays, Co-Workers, Existing Relationship, Military, Mystery, Sailors, Closeted, Short Story
Rating: Pretty Good

Reviewed by Nikyta

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When a traitor walks your deck, who’ll be the one to clear him off it? or What happens when your comrades are more dangerous than your enemies?

Alexander Porterfield may be one of the rising stars of Nelson’s navy, but his relationship with his first lieutenant, Tom Anderson, makes him vulnerable. To blackmail, to the exposure of their relationship—and to losing Tom, either in battle or to another ship. When sudden danger strikes—from the English rather than the French—where should a man turn?

REVIEW

The story takes place over a period of weeks, mostly while Captain Alexander Porterfield and first lieutenant Tom Anderson are out at sea. When they are on land, they embrace their alone time together but while at sea, they don’t tempt fate with being caught so they show amazing restraint by acting like they are just friends. I really liked how they were able to separate their lives like that even though it was obvious it almost killed them not to be able to visibly worry about the other without causing suspicions.

While this story isn’t exactly sweet, there were moments that were absolutely precious and had me smiling ridiculously. While Alexander might be a big, strapping macho man, he’s also sentimental and very much in love with Tom. I found his moments of thinking of Tom very endearing. Tom, however, is a bit different. He’s brash and shows his feelings for Alexander when he can. Their relationship is quite solid even though it must be hidden from everyone else.

The plot gives two distinct conflicts: dealing with a traitor and fighting other ships. Deciphering the information the traitor knew and figuring out how to deal with him lent the story a bit of mysteriousness. I really liked the way that was handled because Tom wasn’t going to lie down and take it while being blackmailed. He dished it right back and that was very entertaining.

The suspense of fighting other ships was a bit mellow so I was saddened it wasn’t given much detail because I’d have really enjoyed the action it provided. Aside from that, my only other problem was that some of the language completely stumped me. Whether it was because of the language used back then or the lingo for the ship, I was thoroughly confused quite often with what Alexander and Tom were speaking of.

Overall, I really enjoyed Tom and Alexander’s adoration for each other and how they coped with their situation. While the ending was left open-ended (it’s up to the reader to decide whether it’s a HFN or HEA), I would have liked a bit more concrete answers on how Alexander and Tom will handle Tom’s promotion after their next assignment but it was a fitting end to a nice story.


AL_ChristmasHopesTitle: Christmas Hopes
Author: Anna Lee
Publisher: MLR Press
Length: 12,000 words
Genre: m/m, Contemporary, Romance
Heat: 1 – Sweet/None
Sex Frequency: 1 – None
Keywords/Tags: Adorable, Christmas, Co-Workers, Doctors, HEA, Short Story
Rating: Pretty Good

Reviewed by Nikyta

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Christmas is a time of hope and love, but with a guarded heart Ethan Reed refuses to let anyone get close. Until he meets Trevor Hayes…

Doctor Ethan Reed’s life revolves around the hospital and his patients. Nothing will deter his commitment to his job; not even his new fellow, Trevor Hayes. Ethan is instantly attracted to the handsome doctor and the desire he feels isn’t one-sided. Sparks fly, but a guarded Ethan shoves Trevor away, not realizing that what he really wants for Christmas is to be loved and regain the hope he’s lost. Can Trevor get through to him or will Ethan spend another Christmas alone?

REVIEW

This was a sweet story of two doctors who must work together even though a deeper connection is being formed. I enjoyed the way Ethan and Trevor started off badly. It created some tension between them because Ethan used that to his advantage to push Trevor away so he wouldn’t get hurt by another colleague.

I found this story extremely sweet. Although short, there is still enough characterization and development between their relationship to get to know Ethan and Trevor. I enjoyed seeing them as doctors and the way they handled the kids they worked with.

While I really enjoyed the story, I felt like it needed to be longer. The tension between Ethan and Trevor causes conflict that ultimately changes Ethan very quickly, which I found unexpected and slightly out of character. I would have liked to see a gradual approach to how Ethan changes. As it was, there’s gaps within the story that are glossed over that make it hard to come to terms with his sudden mood change.

In the end, I really enjoyed the book. It’s sweet and left me with a smile on my face. I would have liked to have seen more of Trevor but I still really liked the relationship they created. The ending, however, was absolutely precious, I thought.


NJN_ChristmastimeAtPapaLeesTitle: Christmastime at Papa Lee’s
Author: N.J. Nielsen
Publisher: MLR Press
Length: 28,000 words
Genre: m/m, Contemporary, Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Story to Sex
Keywords/Tags: Angst, Christmas, Co-Workers, HEA, Homeless, Injured Character, Unrequited
Rating: So So

Reviewed by Nikyta

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RSVP by December 20th: You are cordially invited to attend a Christmas celebration at Papa Lee’s.

Casey Chambers isn’t used to kindness; being tossed out onto the street does that to a person. His life takes a turn for the better when he lands a job at Papa Lee’s. Not only does the Lee family give Casey a place to work, they give him a place to call home… And the opportunity to find love with one of their own. But Casey’s burgeoning relationship with Marty Lee is threatened when Marty withdraws after a vicious attack. It’ll take a miracle for Casey to convince Marty they’re meant to be.

Good thing it’s the season for miracles.

REVIEW

Marty Lee lives a rather lonely life. At twenty-eight, he’s still essentially living with his parents, working at the family diner and carries more than a few extra pounds around his waist. According to him, he’s not a catch so who would want him? Casey apparently does, though. At nineteen, Casey’s had a rough life. Thrown out of his home at almost sixteen for being gay, he’s been lucky enough to survive until now. For a year, he’s come into Papa Lee’s to admire Marty until one day when Marty finally gathers the courage to ask Casey out. From there, things become both easier and more complicated for everyone involved.

I really liked that Marty sported some extra dough around his middle. While he thought he wasn’t attractive, he tended to attract a few good looking guys. I liked him as a character because he was nice, sweet and oblivious to certain things. At times I found his actions a bit dramatic and unbelievable, though. Casey was an interesting character. While homeless, he was still able to maintain his goth looks even though he didn’t have a job and only received a small amount of money from his dad. I found this a bit peculiar because knowing how much the goth apparel costs, I didn’t really understand how Casey could maintain it on so little money.

Aside from that, the relationship Casey and Marty have starts off nice but after Casey takes a job at Papa Lee’s, it’s all based off a misunderstanding. I found that slightly annoying only because I firmly believe people should consult all parties before making assumptions on what’s best for someone else. Still, it was entertaining the moment Marty realized how much he’s messed up with trying to keep distance between him and Casey.

The resolution to the conflict felt a bit flat, though. So many different theories were pushed together but the actual reveal of why Marty was beaten up wasn’t as climatic as I was expecting. I felt like there were also multiple little conflicts within the story that made it chaotic and almost too much for this type of story. I struggled at times with this because these additional conflicts didn’t flow smoothly from one problem to the next. I enjoyed the ending but I also felt like it was too convenient and Casey was too forgiving.

Overall, it was an okay read. I wasn’t as invested in it as I was hoping to be. I liked certain parts of it but there were times when the story dragged because of repetitive words or because Marty was over analyzing everything.


NP_Third_NightTitle: Third Night
Author: Neil Plakcy
Publisher: MLR Press
Length: 7k words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 2 – Romantic & Tame
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few & Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Short Story, Religion, Hanukkah, Closeted
Rating: So So

Reviewed by Sadonna

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Will Joe’s Hanukkah wish come true—a way to reconcile his belief in the tenets of Orthodox Judaism with his attraction to his friend Yehuda?

Can Joe reconcile his belief in the tenets of Orthodox Judaism with the religion’s disapproval of his sexual orientation? Or will his crush on his friend Yehuda ruin their friendship and leave him ostracized by his community? What will happen on the third night of Hanukkah?

REVIEW

The opening of this story is a Hanukkah party for some young people that are part of an Orthodox congregation in Miami. Yosef (or Joe in the rest of his life) has joined this congregation after moving away from his family and conservative upbringing. He has made a friend, Yehuda, in this congregation that he is very attracted to. He has never told anyone in the congregation about his orientation but he does not lead on the young women of the congregation either. After the party, he becomes Joe again, going home to change and then out to a gay bar. He likes the anonymity of the bar where he can be whoever he wants to be for a night. But he has to be at temple early the next morning, so he ends up going home alone.

Joe has been invited to play basketball with Yehuda and some other guys on Sunday afternoon. After the game, they go back to his apartment to shower and change and have something to eat. There Yehuda does something completely unexpected that both surprises and pleases Joe. Afterwards Joe and Yehuda get into a fairly philosophical discussion about being gay, being orthodox and what behavior is acceptable in a sexual relationship.

I really wanted to like this story more than I did. The premise is so interesting but I felt like the length of the story did not allow for the full development of the characters or the conflict. I liked both of these characters and I would definitely read a longer story about them and their acceptance and expression of their sexuality and lives within the context of their religious beliefs. I really enjoy this writer’s style and I hope that maybe he’ll give us a longer story about these two men.


SP_Something_To_Believe_InTitle: Something to Believe In
Author: Sloan Parker
Publisher: MLR Press
Length: 18k words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 3 – Mild & Sexy
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Short Story, Rentboy, Homeless, Throwaways, Christmas, Acceptance, Family
Rating: Really Liked It!

Reviewed by Sadonna

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Two young, homeless men fall in love and search for a way to stay off the streets and build a life together.

After running away from the hatred and abuse of their teen years, Sean and Gavin have been hustling to survive for too long now. When some extra cash lands them alone in a hotel room until Christmas, they can no longer deny their feelings for each other. Now neither one can imagine watching the other walk off with one more trick. Even with no money and no job prospects, Sean is determined to not just show Gavin what a real home and holiday is like, but to keep them off the streets for good and build a life together.

REVIEW

The opening of this story is unfortunately something that far too many young LGBT youth have to deal with – the rejection of their parents and being on their own. Sean has been on his own for three years at the beginning of this book and he has recently lost his job and become homeless. He’s had to resort to what he never wanted to do – sell himself for money just to be able to eat. It’s Christmas Eve and he ends up at shelter that has no beds for the night, but he at least gets a dinner and eats for the first time in a few days. While there he sees another young guy about his age and while they don’t speak, they definitely have a conversation.

As Sean is about to succumb to numbing himself to both the physical and emotional pain he is in, he is warned off by the guy from the homeless shelter. This young man warns him off another possible disaster and takes him to an abandoned warehouse for the night. The warehouse is full of other homeless and is not by an stretch a safe place, but it’s out of the snow and the other guy, Gavin, suggests that they take turns sleeping and keeping watch. For some reason, Sean trusts him and gets some sleep in a relatively warm place.

The next year at Christmas time, Gavin and Sean are still together protecting each other. Sean realizes that his feelings for Gavin are more than friendship, but he’s very afraid of doing something that will push him away. Gavin has been gone on a trick for a week and Sean is petrified that he won’t come back. He’s also just gotten some very good news and he’s been working with a social worker who is helping him prepare to get off the streets. When Gavin does return with a pocketful of money, they decide to get a hotel room for a few days and just enjoy themselves for a bit. Sean gives in even though he thinks they should save the money so they have something to build on. But he also wants to give Gavin a nice Christmas and Gavin tells Sean he just wants to make a good memory.

Sloan Parker is an amazing writer. Her work is beautiful and touching and emotional. If you haven’t read any of her books, I suggest you run out and do so! This is not an easy story to read. My heart just breaks for the many young people who are rejected by their families and have no safe place to land. The statistics are all too cruel. But while some of this story is harsh and scary, it is ultimately a beautiful story of a couple of these kids who find love. Sean and Gavin risk much to stay together and try to make a real life. They are not willing to give each other up and they just hope that they will be able to make it out of the life they are in someday. I fervently hope that everyone who reads this story will consider making a donation to a worthwhile organization that provides help to these kids in need.