This collection of stories from Ofelia Grand features five short stories filled with lumberjacks, fun tropes, and happily ever afters. The first story in the set, Once in a Snowstorm, was previously released and Kris reviewed it here. Because she enjoyed it so much, Kris and Michelle teamed up to review the rest of the anthology. Not every story lived up to the first, but it had its good moments.
Once in a Forest
Jason is good with loving and leaving them. He spends one night with a man and one night only as he wants to be the one who walks away. He usually works holidays at his bartending job and then picks his next conquest. This Easter, however, Jason has a new plan. He’s getting out of the city to visit his friend, Aiden, who now lives with his boyfriend in a remote small town. Except, an unexpected situation has him staying with their friend, Tom, instead.
Tom has lived in the small town his entire life. He always thought he would get out, but when that didn’t happen, he stayed deeply closeted to avoid any gossip. A weekend hookup this close to home isn’t happening, even if Jason is easy on the eyes. A little city and a little country may be the perfect blend to give both these men what they need.
In the opening of this box set, the author notes that, “This series started out as a joke.” And the intention was to include as many tropes into these stories as possible. If I had known that, I would not have chosen this collection as heavy trope use is not for me and I could not connect with these guys at all.
Tom is the grumpy closeted lumberjack and loner. His closest friends are gay, but he doesn’t want to be the center of gossip, so he stays closeted. Except, as always happens, everyone knows or suspects he’s gay anyway after he’s spent his entire life trying to hide it. Tom is grumpy. But not the endearing or charming grumpy. He’s not nice to Jason and besides the fact that Tom is a man, I had no idea what Jason saw in him.
Jason was not much better and was bland. He was a bartender with a small dog and not properly dressed for the winter conditions. His plan is to get Tom underneath him and he won’t take no for an answer, even when Tom says no. Jason just thinks he will wear Tom down because Jason thinks he knows best. There is no character development and no depth to them, most likely due to the length of the story and the way the story relies so heavily on all the tropes to do all the work. But, even accepting that the story is based on all the tropes, there was not much to engage me here. If you like all the tropes packed into a shorter space, then this may work out much better for you.
The Empty Egg
Aiden has thought of the best Easter gift for Tristan. At least he hopes so. Except he’s terrified he’s gotten it all wrong. And if he has, Tristan won’t be happy. They’ve only been together for a couple of months, but Aiden wants nothing more than to make Tristan happy. When Tristan finally gets home, and Aiden shows Tristan what he wearing, everything goes even better than planned.
This vignette gives us a glimpse into Aiden and Tristan’s life, after their fateful meeting at Christmas. It was hot, sweet, and full of emotions. Aiden is worried and nervous, but he perseveres. And it pays off when Tristan sees him wearing the lingerie. There’s not much to this story other than two scenes. But it definitely gives a good idea how the men are progressing in their relationship. And it was really nice seeing them again, as well as seeing them grow closer.
Once In May
The only way John feels safe is to live in the middle of the forest behind multiple locks. He makes himself go out in public, but he limits it, and only does it when there aren’t too many people around. Living in Nortown makes that easy, but that doesn’t keep the panic from surfacing.
Zachary has come back to town, ready to finally settle down. Meeting the obviously skittish John is a surprise. Especially when he finds out John is living in the cabin he thought he’d be living in. Slowly and surely, Zach sees John around town. And he keeps insinuating himself into John’s life—kindly and quietly, but he’s there.
John begins to open up, and he tells Zach exactly what happened to him. Zach’s heart breaks for John, and he knows that he needs to go slowly. Or maybe not at all. But as time stretches on, John realizes that Zach is someone he can trust. Which may be exactly what he needs to finally move forward.
There are some definite mixed feelings with this story for me. On the one hand, I appreciated how kind and thoughtful Zach was with John, who had clearly been through something horrific. But on the other hand, I thought Zach’s behavior wandered into stalking territory and it didn’t always sit right with me.
John had a horrific experience and he’s not yet healed. He has his rules that help him live his life, and he has a milestone he feels he needs to reach before he can move on. The author did a good job portraying such a broken character and showing John’s strength and reliance underneath. But I also thought that there was some quick turnaround for how John felt and acted to where he ended up in the last quarter of the story. Sure, Zach’s kindness and understanding went a lot way to helping John feel comfortable. And John certainly wasn’t cured. But I would have liked to see some more in depth conversation and more time given to John’s recovery.
Zach is an easy character to like. He’s kindhearted and a complete sweetheart. Which made his stalking tendencies even harder to swallow. Every time he showed up where John was, it felt a bit invasive to me. So I definitely had issues with that aspect.
That being said, these guys were good together and I ultimately liked where they ended up. I would have preferred to see some parts play out differently, but it worked for the story.
Aiden knows he can’t tell Tristan just how much pain he’s in. if he does, Tristan will insist he take time off, and if he takes time off, he won’t have money. Tristan already pays for the bulk of everything and Aiden really needs for Tristan to see them as equals. But Tristan knows his man, and he’s determined to find out what Aiden is hiding. Even if that means he has to turn the tables on Aiden and give Aiden the massage instead of laying on Aiden’s table himself. A mishap, some laughter, and Tristan and Aiden get their happy ending.
Aiden and Tristan end the anthology as they began it: happy and in love. This was a fun vignette that caused the men to have not only one, but two serious conversations they needed to have. And some sexy fun along the way. Aiden and Tristan are making their way into happy ever after and end the book with a high.