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Men Under the Mistletoe by Josh Lanyon, Harper Fox, Ava March, K.A. Mitchell

Genre: LGBT - M/M Romance; Anthology
Series: N/A
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 116,000 Words
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Carina Press via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.

With These Guys, Who Needs a Fireplace?

The fourth of the four holiday novellas I picked out was another fully satisfying read, and looking back - both over this holiday season and the sequence of anthologies - I can't help but wonder anew at the power of this time of year. Regardless of personal faith, beliefs, religion, race, gender, sexuality, or any of the other myriad divisive elements in the world that separate and segregate people from one another, there's something special about this time of year. And judging by the fifteen novellas I've read in these four anthologies, not the least of that something special is the inspiration it inspires; the hope, the love, the forgiveness, and the sense of family.

In this holiday anthology, four powerhouse authors of M/M romance spin their tales in four different sub-genres. Ava March gives us a delightful M/M historical romance. For a touch of the supernatural, Harper Fox tackles a mystical M/M paranormal romance. One of my favorite authors in M/M fiction, Josh Lanyon, offers up a contemporary M/M romance that warms the heart, and K.A. Mitchell, another author I've spent plenty of time enjoying, turns up the thermostat from warm to smoking hot in her roasty toasty M/M erotic romance.

Four authors, four wildly different stories, united by a holiday season and the love and joy it inspires. As this year draws to a close and a new year begins, we try to carry over some of the warmth and kindness that stirs in our hearts around whichever holiday each of us celebrates. These holiday anthologies do their part, because unlike the lights, ornaments, and decorations, they don't have to be boxed up and stored for another eleven or so months. They can be enjoyed all year long.

Happy holidays, Happy New Year, and most of all...happy reading to you throughout 2012.

My True Love Gave To Me
by Ava March
M/M Historical Romance
~* 4 Stars *~
28,000 Words
Buy Title: Kindle

At nineteen, Alexander Norton is in love. While the social obligations of the ton during the holidays are draining, he's excited by the plans he has with his best friend and love, Thomas Bennett. While at school together they had to settle for hidden touches, stolen kisses, and fleeting sexual encounters that did little to really expand either young man's horizons. Now, though, Alexander has convinced Thomas to spend the holiday alone with him at his father's house in the country. For the first time they will be alone together, away from society and all its expectations, regulations, and limitations. They will be free to love each other fully.

The plan was solid. More so, it turns out, than Thomas's spine. Before he even steps foot over the threshold, his fears, insecurities, and issues with his sexuality overwhelm him. He turns tail and leaves Alexander, leaves England. He flees from his desires. He flees from his heart. He flees from himself.

It takes him four years to accept himself, to realize that Alexander is the only person he'll ever truly love...to return home and beg Alexander for forgiveness. But four years may be four years too late.

~*~

This sweet historical romance made me smile. March struck a nice balance between the emotional and the physical aspects of the romance arc, and both Alexander and Thomas were sympathetic, likable characters. I don't have a lot of experience with M/M historical romance. I tend avoid them because I find them a little depressing, regardless of the story. For all the difficulties facing modern gay men and women, an historically accurate view of the regency era offers a far less tolerant landscape.

Still, I couldn't help but feel Alexander's pain and confusion when Thomas walked away from him, any more than I could help feeling his cynicism and derision when he returned. And poor, confused Thomas... The lengths he went to to convince Alexander of his regret and to apologize were impressive. I liked both men, completely understood both men, and thought their story was emotionally intense and very realistic.

I was a little put off by how much of the novella was set in the past before Thomas left, and at first Alexander struck me as a little too exuberant and immature for a man of his years in that era. By the time the story jumped forward, though, it was clear that both main characters were men, not boys. I also thought some of the shifts in the POV later in the novella were a little off-putting. Beyond that, this was a lovely tale, with a lot to recommend it on an emotional level.

Winter Knights
by Harper Fox
M/M Paranormal Romance
~* 3.5 Stars *~
35,000 Words
Buy Title: Kindle

With one of his ever-present migraines pounding in his head, Gavin Lowden struggles to work on his thesis as he waits for his lover to come out to his parents  about being gay, then join him in the Northumberland hotel room he'd rented. He had the holiday planned. This was the weekend he would tell Piers that he loves him. Then the phone rings, and Gavin's Christmas takes a dark and dangerous turn.

After Piers' call and wracked by the misery of his loss, Gavin stumbles from the hotel and heads out to the hills. Disoriented and confused, he ends up lost and banged up at the bottom of a crevasse. Fortunately for him, two rescue workers find him before he dies of exposure or hypothermia. The coincidences are shocking as he's pulled to safety by Art and Lance, so close in spirit to his imaginings of King Arthur and Lancelot.

Reeling from the experience, Gavin is introduced to a whole new world by these two men, and he learns a valuable lesson that he plans to use to convince Piers of his dedication to win him back. He'll have to put his very life on the line to have any hope of convincing Piers that he is completely committed to their future together. Whatever the cost.

~*~

I have to confess, I don't think I did such a hot job on my story summary for this novella. Mostly because there's so much going on in it that it's hard to summarize without giving away too much. Looking back, I'm actually a little stunned at how much was included in the plot. And none of it felt short-changed or glossed over for the expediency, either.

Of the four novellas in this anthology, this one is the most stylistic and artistically written. And I hated the beginning, where the majority of that artistry was in evidence. I can appreciate the skill of the writing, but I got lost in the haze of a nearly hallucinogenic narrative and felt saddled with a fairly unlikable lead character in Gavin. The combination of Gavin's migraine, the drugs he takes to deal with that migraine, his pain over the loss of Piers (which also struck me as a little too similar to the previous novella), and the misty edge of mystical oddities when he goes out to the hill left me feeling like I was trying to read through a bad acid trip. Or at least what I imagine a bad acid trip to be like. It was all a bit too surreal for my tastes.

And the more time I spent with Gavin, the more he seemed like a wanker.

Then something changed, and as if the mists surrounding the fabled Avalon parted, a new clarity warmed the story, pieces came together, the plot dropped a few major surprises on me, Gavin and Piers had a few scenes that made sense, and I was left feeling rather agog at how awesome I thought the second half was. I loved it, in fact. Especially as some rather pertinent aspects of Gavin's character came to light. Nothing was as it seemed at first, that's for sure. Saying more would ruin it.

So I hated the beginning, though I recognized the skill in the writing, and I loved the end. I should also confess that the first two sex scenes didn't sit so well with me. They crossed a couple of my lines relating to casual sex and open relationships. Though in retrospect... And again I can't say more without some major spoilers. Anyway, I ended up going with a little more than an average rating for the whole of it. I can't say the ending rocked my world to such a degree that I didn't mind how much I disliked the beginning, or it assuaged my initial discomfort with the sexuality, but I ended up feeling pretty impressed with how Fox turned it around.

Lone Star
by Josh Lanyon
M/M Contemporary Romance
~* 4 Stars *~
26,000 Words
Buy Title: Kindle

It isn't easy being gay in rural Texas, especially when your dream is to dance ballet. Mitchell Evans knew that intimately. He left his small town at eighteen, after a fight with his boyfriend led straight to an even more physically painful altercation with his father. He hasn't been back since. Not even six months ago when his father was buried. Not until he walked into the dressing room in New York and saw his lover getting serviced by the guest dancer...the female guest dancer...and learned just how oblivious he'd been.

Reeling and feeling lost, needing to reevaluate his life, Mitchell caught the first flight to Texas with the intent of at least dealing with his father's house and possessions. On the road into town, as his mind grows sluggish with exhaustion from the journey, Mitchell is shocked by what looks like a reindeer in the middle of the road. Swerving to avoid impact sends his rental car off the road and into a deadly roll.

He's lucky to survive the accident. When his ex-boyfriend, Texas Ranger Web Eisley, pulls up and steps out of the darkness and back into his life, Mitchell can't help but wonder just what sort of luck it was. Web hadn't been willing to come out of the closet all those years ago. Now he's a Ranger. In Texas. And Mitchell is a celebrated dancer and a rising star. In New York. Mitchell is openly gay. Web...well...Mitchell doesn't know. All Mitchell does know is that coming home for this holiday could either be the best decision he's ever made...or the worst mistake of his life.

~*~

I'm a Lanyon fan and have been for awhile. I love his Adrien English mystery series. When it comes to his writing, I consider him a sure bet. He's never written the sort of stories that reach in and grip my heart, twisting it into a big sloppy pretzel, but he writes solid, dependably entertaining stories that are easy to enjoy. And that pretty much sums up Lone Star. It's a compact and fulfilling contemporary romance with likable characters who are easy to root for. The plot isn't terribly unique or original, but there's enough meat on it to satisfy, and the evolution of the main character, Mitchell, is the driving force of the story.

Mitchell's past is rocky, his feelings for his hometown and the people in it are complex, and not surprisingly, colored by the misconceptions and pain of his angst-filled teen years. His coming to terms with his past, his relationship with Web, his career, his father's death, and his breakup with his live-in boyfriend are more than enough to fill this enjoyable novella to the brim.

I do wish the whole reindeer thing had been a little less subtle and obscure, because I'm still not sure what I was supposed to take from that, but this was a warm journey to a lovely HEA for two great guys who were made for each other. I enjoyed it a lot.

The Christmas Proposition
by K.A. Mitchell
M/M Erotic Romance
~* 4 Stars *~
27,000 Words
Buy Title: Kindle

All Christmas tree farm owner Mel Halner wants this Christmas is to get the hell out of Pennsylvania. He's hours away from getting his wish and already picturing himself on a sunny beach in St. Thomas when his best friend's fiance calls him. The tropical island wedding they had planned, Mel's reason for one fabulous week of vacation away from the farm, is off. The wedding planner was a crook who had taken the money for all the reservations and package deals and disappeared. Including Mel's deposit.

Now not only was Mel not getting out of Epiphany, PA, but he's suddenly hosting the wedding at the farm and putting up some of his best friend's family while watching her turn from a fun, loving young woman into a Bridezilla from hell. And now he'll be coming face to face with millionaire Bryce Campion, the one man Mel hasn't been able to forget, despite the two years that have passed since Bryce left town without a word after an incendiary two-month relationship. Instead of being tanned and relaxed in St. Thomas, he'll be cold and bitter in his own hometown. Not exactly the reunion he was hoping for.

Thankfully, seeing Bryce isn't quite the torment he'd anticipated - quite the opposite, actually, and Mel is surprised to learn a few important truths about the man who makes his body burn and his heart swell. Trusting Bryce with that heart, however, is something that would truly take a Christmas miracle.

~*~

This sizzling erotic romance by Mitchell is a great way to draw this anthology to a close, and it sure did keep me toasty on a cold winter night. It's got plenty of hot sex between two gorgeous men and sometimes that's more than enough. In this case, there's also just enough going on beyond the sex to provide a decent story about the neurotic Mel, the intense Bryce, and Mel's wacky family and friends.

It's fun and flirty, filled with sexy moments, and it has a few serious threads that brush on some of Mel's insecurities, but mostly it's just a light, easy, hot read. Lets just say it stirs up enough open fire to roast more than a few chestnuts and leave it at that.

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Ratings Guide

Here is a rundown of what the star ratings mean to me! It's not a perfect system, so you may see me add in a .5 star here and there if my impression of the book falls somewhere between these:

5 Stars - Loved it
4 Stars - Liked it
3 Stars - It's okay
2 Stars - Didn't like it
1 Star - Hated it

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2014 Reading Challenge
Tracy has read 22 books toward her goal of 175 books.
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Zero at the BoneHead Over HeelsLord of the WolfynIn Total SurrenderA Win-Win PropositionNorth of Need

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