A Christmas Party to Remember by Nicky Spencer
Wes takes one for the team when he accompanies his friend Georgia to her company Christmas party, saving her from appearing all alone in front of her ex. Little did Wes know he’d be making a love connection with an attractive blonde Australian who just happens to be catering. The night ends with a bang, in more ways than one! But when Wes wakes up alone, it’s a struggle not to feel down. On his way out the door and on to the rest of his life, though, he catches a note bearing the number of the hot caterer and asking to meet a local eatery. Wes wastes no time hauling it to the right place at the right time to meet the right guy…who never shows. Texts and calls go unanswered. It doesn’t take a genius to know he’s been stood up, and in a terrifically cruel way. Wes cuts his losses and all hope of seeing the sexy man again.
Cory could not believe his luck when the most attractive man he’s ever seen spills a drink all over him. His name is Wes and he’s available. Cory feels a pull towards Wes and isn’t afraid to act on it. After a magical night, he leaves his contact info and an invitation to meet up. Little did Cory know, he’d be kept from making that date and ultimately loose track of Wes, despite his best efforts to find him.
One year later and it’s time for Georgia’s company’s Christmas party. Cory’s been hired to cater once again and he pins all his hopes for a second chance with Wes on that night…assuming Cory can track Wes or his friend down.
This was a fun get together. I liked the “spilled a drink” device to get Wes and Cory on to one another’s radar. While this has the timeline of a hook-up or one night stand, it was fun to see the two chunks of the books separated by a year. The first part is told from Wes’s perspective and leaves the reader all hopeful for a fun, low key get together, but ends in almost bitter disappointment. The second part is from Cory’s perspective, one year later, and had me hoping the caterer could redeem himself.
Spencer builds some suspense by not outright explaining why there is a year between these two chunks. She also provides a sense of mystery with Cory not responding to any of Wes’s texts/calls. This is the kind of set-up I would expect from those endless holiday romance movies on TV—sweet and a bit schmaltzy for the “fall in love at first sight.” Except this one is punched up a bit with a racy love scene.
Let’s Not Go Crazy by Stephen Hoppa
Nathan and Ethan have found a happy equilibrium as a couple. With Nate’s school, Ethan’s career, and an insatiable lust for one another, things are shaping up to be just fine for the holidays. That is, until Nate finds a lost kid at the mall and tasks himself with finding the boy’s mother. It gets him thinking about what it might be like for him and Ethan to be parents. When he broaches the subject, even prefacing it with a “hypothetically speaking,” however, Ethan nearly shuts down. Ethan knows he’s not a family man, but he wonders if that’s what it would take to keep Nate…because Nate is the one thing he is not willing to give up.
So I just walked into this one, not knowing thing one about either of these characters. Apparently, they’re an established couple and if the way they interact with one another is any indication, their regular series (entitled Figuring Out Everything Between Us) would be right up my angsty ally! I’ll be adding it to my TBR list, that’s for sure!
What this means for this short story is that the two characters are complex and compelling. There is just enough in the prose to sort of fill in the gaps…for example, when Ethan thinks he really is about to lose Nate, he realizes he will never love anyone as much as he loves Nate because Nate is the person who taught Ethan how to love. There are also idiosyncrasies that help make them pop. Nate is a some kind of student, but has trouble focusing because he loves people watching—to the point of following random people around. Ethan, by contrast, is something of a workaholic. He apparently works for Nathan’s father, too, which adds to the mystery of these characters…is there a big age difference between them? Before they got together, were they competitive with each other, vying for the same recognition at Nate’s father’s business?
Even with all the questions, the bulk of the drama centers squarely on the strength of Ethan and Nate’s relationship. It’s clear that they are in love with one another, but they are also depicted in very realistic ways. They don’t agree with everything (not just the big issues like kids or no kids) and get exasperated with one another. This tension leaps off the page and really helped build towards the climax where Ethan offers Nate an easy out.
Overall, I thought it was a great read even without knowing the series. I can only imagine how much better it would be for those who have read the whole of Nate and Ethan’s story (and this is one series I’m willing to put on my TBR list!).
Captain Jack and the Snack Attack by Addison Albright
At a charity auction, Gordie spies the perfect gift for his twin sister: an autographed poster from the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Despite his careful attempts to keep other bidders at bay, there is one other patron who seems at least as dedicated to owning the poster as Gordie. His best friend and date for the event, Claire, tries to cheer him up by suggesting the other bidder is actually flirting with Gordie. Gordie, however, doesn’t want a date with the attractive man, he wants the poster—and isn’t afraid to give the other guy dirty looks to encourage him to back off the bidding.
Ultimately, though, Gordie just cannot compete with the other man. He cuts his losses and forgets all about the handsome stranger who stole his poster…until the man walks into the veterinary clinic where Gordie works with a new kitten named Jack. Gordie tries to keep it professional, especially after he learns this man, Kenton, is just as much of a Jack Sparrow fan as Gordie and his twin are. Soon, Gordie finds himself with a holiday date and the chance for something more.
The set up for Kenton and Gordie meeting feels like classic Albright to me—well within the realm of possibilities, but with a unique twist. I liked the way Gordie first views the handsomely dressed Kenton warily and even gives him epic stink eye—only to bump into Kenton at the animal clinic where he works.
After the characters are introduced at the charity auction and have a brief scene where they meet, the rest of the story focuses on their first date. The gimmick here is that Kenton’s new kitten is missing and Kenton’s too worried about the missing kitten to actually go on the date with Gordie. They’re both animal lovers, though, so they spend the evening looking for the missing cat and getting to know one another. It was sweet in a slice-of-life sort of way.
The Christmas Day Date by Nell Iris
Despite many a polite encounters with his attractive neighbor JJ, Lenny struggles to hint at being open to something more. After all, Lenny knows he’s not a catch and JJ, well, he’s the definition of well put together. Which is why it was so odd for Lenny to overhear rather uncharacteristically coarse language coming from JJ’s apartment one winter night. When Lenny goes to help, he finds JJ doing his best to trash his own beautiful Christmas tree.
All JJ wanted was the chance to have a relationship with his sister. Even though his parents wanted a little as possible to do with him for being gay, they couldn’t keep his own sister away from him if she wanted to see him. Or so JJ thought—until his parents cancelled their plans to let JJ and his sister spend some time together for the holidays. Fed up with his closed-minded parents, JJ takes his frustration out on his Christmas decorations. Only to be stopped short of complete destruction by his cute neighbor, Lenny.
When JJ invites Lenny in for coffee as a thank you for helping JJ deal with the decorations disaster, the two find a warm connection. In Lenny, JJ finds a sympathetic listener and someone who sees all the good in JJ his own parents can’t. At the same time, Lenny finds out JJ is just as interested in finding a special someone as Lenny himself is. As they bond over coffee and cookies, and the promise of a Christmas date, this just might be the year Lenny and JJ get everything they’ve been wishing for.
There were more layers to this story than I was prepared for, but they’re not clearly defined. On the surface, it just seems like this is a story about two neighbors who secretly like each other and there’s some random catalyst that pulls them together. As I read it, I understood the catalyst is JJ’s disapproving family trying to keep his sister from having a relationship with JJ. That was pretty clear and well executed. Lenny’s deal, however, was less clear cut. While we see him on page lamenting how average he is (no rippling muscles and a few “aw shucks, it weren’t nothing” speech patterns seemed like an effort to assign him to a particular class), there were undertones of some sort of dark past. I can’t speculate on what, but Lenny’s got this sense of guilt about how someone he perceives as goodness and light (JJ) could be interested in someone like him (Lenny) for reasons that go beyond the milquetoast exterior.
The on-page interactions between the two are clearly meant to show how they like the idea of being a couple. But I didn’t really feel a strong connection between the two—it felt more like convenience than romance to me. Their bonding over how not to eat christmas cookies with names felt a bit forced, and like the kind of thing you’d use if desperate to find something to keep a conversation going.
Year of the Monkey by Amy Tasukada
When Aoi met his boyfriend’s parents for the first time, things did not go well. Actually, that’s an understatement. Aoi made Sato’s mother dash out of the room in tears and Sato’s father could only suggest they leave. With the new year festivities rapidly approaching, Aoi finds himself desperate to find a way to get out of Sato’s invitation to return to the Sato home, lest he find out how much less Sato’s parents like him now.
When Sato’s sister Michiko invites Aoi to go shopping during the big New Years sales with her, Aoi reluctantly agrees. If nothing else, he can pump her for information about how to handle meeting her and Sato’s parents again. Except this isn’t a shopping trip just for Aoi and Michio…Sato and Michiko’s mother is there, too. For a full day, Aoi runs around all over Tokyo laden with the ladies’ purchases. Just as he hopes that perhaps this means Mrs. Sato is starting to warm up to him, or at least hate him a little less, he is unequivocally proven wrong.
Now, Aoi is even less keen to go with Sato to his family home for New Years. Aoi is sure his offer to make mochi (glutenous rice pounded into a sort of paste, eaten savory or sweet or plain) with them will win him no points and his presence will just make everyone miserable. Yet Sato is adamant and they go. While tensions in the Sato home are definitely high, Michiko, Sato, and their father work together to smooth a bit of the tension…and it just may be enough to help both him and Mrs. Sato come to terms with sharing Sato.
So I did read the first two books in Tasukada’s Would it be Okay to Love You series and I loved them. The books themselves echoed just about everything my life in Japan was (or what I fantasized it would be)…I even had a pet indie band with a super petit, blond vocalist. Naturally, I’m biased in favor of this story…and Tasukada does not disappoint!
This is a great follow up to the conclusion of the second book, Year One, where Aoi meets Sato’s parents for the first time and where Sato came out to his family. Year of the Monkey is apparently the New Year’s immediately following this episode. Aoi feels Sato’s mother’s rejection so keenly. He feels like Sato’s mom blames Aoi for “turning” Sato gay. More specifically, Aoi feels guilty, he blames himself for how Sato’s mom feels, and takes the rejection hard because Aoi’s own parents disowned him for being gay.
The first half of the story focuses on the shopping trip Aoi goes on with Michiko and, surprise surprise, Sato’s mom. At first, he’s hopeful there will be a way to make amends with her…but there is a pivotal scene where Sato’s mom is almost shockingly cruel to him. It’s a testament to how much Aoi loves Sato that he continues with the rest of the New Year’s activities Sato and his family have planned. Aoi contributes the mochi making, but after Sato’s mother’s comment, he begins to despair.
The second half of the story focuses on how the Satos all interact during their celebrations, which include Aoi this year. And before we all start thinking Sato’s some big insensitive dick (he’s just a big, awkward nerd), he’s been very up front with Aoi and his own family that Sato is ready and willing to throw over his family to be with Aoi. Sato doesn’t do this in a malicious way or hold it over anyone’s head…he just reminds Aoi at key moments that he chooses Aoi over family just like he just reminds his family that if he’s going to visit home, he’s going to bring the man he loves with him.
Rather than a big romance, this installation in the series serves to show how deep the connection between Sato and Aoi has grown. I loved seeing the interaction between all the Satos, how Michiko continues to work at smoothing tension between Aoi and her mom, how Sato’s dad is reserved through it all, not condemning anyone and doing his best to at least welcome Aoi like he would any other friend of the family. And the conclusion of the story ends as best as can be expected…it’s no year-end miracle, but it’s a good enough start.