Thursday, November 20, 2014

Timmy's Review of Boughs of Evergreen, a Holiday anthology from Beaten Track Press!


This is the first anthology I've ever read and, after reading and reviewing twenty-three stories, I can't imagine the effort it took to put it together. My respect to the editor for all her hard work.

I think writing a short story is harder than writing a novel because the writer doesn't have the same amount of length, but still has to write fleshed out characters and story without the benefit of that space. I give a lot of respect to the authors of these stories. I would also like to thank each and every one of them for taking the time to do this for such a great cause.

Finally, I am told that some of these authors are first-time authors. It takes a lot of courage to write and even more to put yourself out there with experienced authors and risk criticism. I know this because I write, and because I know some experienced authors and have a chance to see what they go through behind the scenes. Writing is a tough business. I commend you on your bravery.

Thank you to all of you for the opportunity to read and review your stories. I had a great time. I give the combined rating for the two volume anthology 4 marbles.~Timmy


A note from Cody: As Timmy points out, this is the first anthology he's ever reviewed and I'd like to take a moment to extend a special thanks and my appreciation to him. This was a huge endeavor for a burgeoning teen who is in school, was suffering the flu from hell, and is adjusting to a new home. Your resiliency amazes me at every turn, Timmy. Congratulations on a job well done!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

ABOUT BOUGHS OF EVERGREEN

Boughs of Evergreen is a two-volume collection of short stories celebrating the holiday season in all its diversity. Penned by authors from the UK, the USA, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, these are tales of the young and the not-so-young from many different walks of life.

Themes of family, friendship and romance take readers on a journey through some of the major holidays, both past and present, including Thanksgiving, Advent, St. Lucia Day, Hanukkah, Eid, Saturnalia, Winter Solstice, Yule, Christmas and New Year. In each we find at the very least hope, and often love, peace and happiness.

Proceeds from sales of this anthology will be donated to The Trevor Project. The Trevor Project is the leading national organization [USA] providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24. For more information, visit: www.thetrevorproject.org.

Each story will also be published individually as an ebook throughout the month of December, 2014.

Boughs of Evergreen Anthology is NOW available from 

Like Beaten Track Publishing on Facebook
Like Boughs of Evergreen on Facebook
Follow Beaten Track Publishing on Twitter @B10Track

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Volume One

"A Friend for Christmas" - JP Walker
Eve was always an outsider. So different from everyone else, she never made friends easily - until the day she met Anna, a totally mysterious girl who seemed almost too good to be true. 

A few times over the years they had found each other, and then Anna would disappear, leading Eve to conclude that she is an imaginary friend - a perfect girl she had created in her own mind to help ride the wave of difficult teens and other troubles in life. 

But what if Anna is real? Could they still be friends? 

On Christmas Eve they might just discover that the magic and love they've found can be held onto all year round.
~*~
This is one of the few lesbian stories I have read. I really enjoyed the story. I loved the characters and the mysterious friend. I felt that it was a full story told at an even pace. I never felt rushed and, at the end, I was not left feeling there was more to tell.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"A Midnight Clear" Debbie McGowan
It's a cold, desperate December when a young girl flees home, in search of food, shelter and the real Santa Claus. Stranded in George and Josh's hometown, she discovers that the spirit of Christmas can be found in the most unexpected of places. Includes the story of The Little Match Girl, by Hans Christian Andersen.
~*~
This was my favorite story in both volumes of the Anthology. Not only was it well written and easy to read, it had the message of hope that I love to see in stories. Though the story was not about an LGBT character, there was an awesome gay couple in it. I wonder if there was a book about them already? If not, I would love to see the author write one. Maybe write a story about what happens with these characters after Christmas. Hope and survival are the important messages that come across loud and clear in this story.
Find Debbie on her website, Goodreads, and Amazon

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"From All of Us to All of You" - Ofelia Gränd
Simon hates the Holidays. It's the same every year - awaiting the dreaded Christmas Eve, when his father gets drunk, while the family fake Christmas spirit and strain to hear the TV over Dad's snoring. This year, Simon's sister is celebrating Christmas elsewhere, leaving him to deal with their parents on his own. But there's a glimmer of hope. A work colleague introduces Simon to her son, Hannes, at the Lucia Day celebrations, the trouble being that Simon mistakenly believes it's a blind date, and as if that isn't embarrassing enough, Hannes wants them to be friends, and Simon's starting to see signals that aren't there. He's beginning to wonder if he'll make it through Christmas with his sanity intact.
~*~
A good story made up of imperfect and funny characters. I dislike reading a book where everyone is perfect and never says or does anything embarrassing. That’s not real. In real life we all have different families, hardships, and our own quirky personalities. This short story has that for each character. A very well written story.
Find Ofelia on her website, Instagram (@ofelia.grand), Facebook, Facebook Author Page, Goodreads, Google+, and sign up for her mailing list

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Homme for the Holidays" Jonathan Penn
Cade Bishop is finally on the mend from a traumatic event that happened almost five years ago. That healing didn't really start until last April, when he met Alan Troxler. 

Alan has problems of his own, but he's noticed over the last eight months that the more time he shares with Cade, the more easily he's able to put his troubles to rest. 

They're traveling together to Asheville, North Carolina to renew a Christmas tradition that was an important part of Alan's past, and to introduce him to Cade's parents - one of the few worries he hasn't been able to let go.
~*~
This is a nice Christmas story. I loved the characters, but this is one of those stories that I felt like I was missing something. There may or may not be another story out there about this couple, and I am happy I got to read this one. Though I feel I missed something, this was a good story and I didn’t feel lost. 
Find Jonathan on his blogAmazonTwitterFacebook, and Google+

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Kiss Me At Kwanzaa" LL Bucknor
Coworkers and cubicle mates, Ishmael "Ish" Cutter and Adan Flores might come from different backgrounds but they have a good number of things in common. The biggest one? They each have a secret crush on the other. This holiday season they are both single for the first time in thirteen months. No boyfriends or clingy ex issues - maybe it's time for Adan to make his move? He formulates the perfect plan and invites Ish over for his family's Kwanzaa feast... but will he have the courage to make the first move or will this holiday season be one to forget?
~*~
This was a good story with well written characters. I enjoyed learning a little of a holiday I knew nothing about. I even did a bit of research on it. I love stories that get me so interested in something that I want to learn more. Also, though this is no reflection on the story, I think this story had the best cover. Loved the look of it.
Find LL on Twitter

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Lion's Hero" Alexis Woods
Eight nights to fall in love. Ari has a mission: meet and fall in love with a man chosen for him by God. The catch: he only has eight nights to do complete it - the eight nights of Chanukah. Gabriel has a test of faith. Reaching out to a young man, he finds himself confronted with the unbelievable. Believe, and the Festival of Lights may herald a miracle.
~*~
I loved this story and the theme behind it. I got to learn a bit about Hanukkah. I love a story that teaches and encourages me to learn about new things. I also loved the angel theme. The shirts were great! They got me to giggle each time he got a new one. I would be curious to know if this is part of a series. If so, I would love to read the others, and if not I would strongly encourage the author to make it one.
Find Alexis on FacebookGoodreads, and Google+

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"One Nightstand" Rick Bettencourt
Doug's not good with one-night stands, yet in the early hours of Christmas Eve, he returns home with Kirk - a good-looking guy he met at the club. Nestled together in the kitchen of his New England cottage, sipping hot chocolate and watching the snow fall, Doug wishes there could be more to this casual encounter. It's a feeling that stays with him as he heads off to a frantic day of work at the mall, swamped with last-minute holiday shoppers... the last place he expects to find something magical.
~*~
This is a short and sweet story. I think it is a true skill to be able to tell a whole story in just few short chapters. I would have loved this to be longer, but the author did a great job writing it short as well.
Find Rick on his website,  Twitter,  Facebook,  Mailing List, and Media Kit

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Shiny Things" Amy Spector
At sixteen, Nathaniel Avery was shipped off to live with an aunt in hopes of quelling a budding relationship between him and another boy. Ten years later, a frantic call from his younger brother and his father's failing health, brings him back home. Just weeks before Thanksgiving and the most important day in Vincent Cooke's career, he nearly collides with the grown version of the boy he never really forgot. Will a gallery renovation, the holiday season and the art of a mad genius help them to rebuild a friendship and rekindle a romance?
~*~
This is one of my favorite stories out of the collection. I loved Vincent. It seems in most stories, it is the small guy who comes from a rough background. It was nice to see the roles reversed in this story. The author did a great job giving me a full story in this short story. It didn’t feel rushed and I enjoyed the ending a lot.
 
Find Amy on her website and blog and Twitter

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Seth is a member of an ancient clan of druids that have existed for over 5,000 years. The rituals they perform at the changing of the seasons keep the very fabric of reality from unraveling. But as he goes home for the Winter Solstice, all Seth can think about is the huge fight he had with his boyfriend before he left school for the holiday break. Much to Seth's surprise, Alejandro decides to follow him home to apologize. When Seth decides to tell him the truth about his heritage, Alejandro has to make a decision. Seth and Alejandro must work together to make sure that wherever they are spending the holidays - they are home with each other.
~*~
This was a sweet story. I loved the characters in it. It had me giggling and crying a few times. I would love to read a story on Maddie when she is just a bit older and I look forward to reading more from this author.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"The Christmas Present" Larry Benjamin
At Christmastime, a mother, unhappy her son is gay, turns to an Obeah practitioner to change him with surprising results.
~*~
Though this story had a great moral, and could have been one of my favorites in the anthology, it was a bit hard to read with all the head hopping. The beginning of each chapter said who it was about, but that was not who was speaking in that chapter. It bounced from one character to another through the whole story with no indication that it was about to switch. This made it hard to follow and hard for me to read. I think with better indication of change of character this can be an awesome read.
Find Larry on his website, blog, Twitter, and Facebook

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"The Invasion of Tork" Al Stewart and Claire Davis
To make a perfect Christmas pudding you need Adam, a super-cool juicy sultana of a volunteer at the local homeless shelter. Add Tork, a green-haired, homeless, exotic spice. What happens when they are mixed together? You get a delicious, fiery dessert, and snow on Christmas day.
~*~
This was what I would call an interesting read. It was a good story and the characters were well written. My only problem with this story was Tork was a bit crazy, and he was hard to understand because of that. I think his character was meant to be this way, but it made the story kind of confusing for me. I think if the authors were to expand this story to better explain Tork, it would make it an easier read.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"X-Mas Cake: A Modern Fairytale" Raine O'Tierney
Once upon a snowy Christmas season, in the glowing metropolis of Midday... 

If this were a fairy tale Kyle would be the handsome prince and Riley would be the poor baker in distress. Oh wait, but that's exactly what it is! 

When Kyle Prince sees Riley collapse in the snow-covered parking lot, he swoops in to the rescue, whisking the feverish young man off to his high-rise apartment without a second thought.

As Riley mends under Kyle's care, a feeling of closeness grows between the two men. But every fairy tale has its complications. Will the two find their happily ever after this Christmas?
~*~
This story is like a fairytale. The romance part of the story was a little too much to believe. However, I expected that by the name. It wasn’t exactly what I expected which was nice, and I liked it. The story was well written, and the romance was sweet.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Volume Two

"A Christmas Tale" Hans M Hirschi
Imagine meeting Santa Claus for real and being granted a wish on Christmas Eve... This sweet little story will take you back to a time, not all that long ago, when life for gays was quite different from how it is today—a time when it seemed easier to believe in Santa Claus than believing it would ever be possible to build a family of one's own.
~*~
Because this story is so short, if I say anything else, I would give spoilers. But, I can say was it was a heartwarming Christmas tale and a worthy read.
Find Hans on his websiteblogFacebook, and Twitter                         

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"A Family Christmas" Terry Kerr
Christmas is Brian Carson's favourite time of year - a time to be with his family, to share gifts, eat Christmas dinner and watch the Queen's speech, together. He's determined to be there, and nothing's going to stop him. Not even death.
~*~
If you're into zombies and horror for Christmas, this is your story. Wry humor and quirkiness make this a good story along lines of a Nightmare for Christmas.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"A Good Word" L.M. Steel
In the wake of 9/ 11 a young Muslim man on the brink of radicalisation and a homeless Catholic woman may seem an unlikely pairing, however, the paths of Nasir and Mary cross ten years after they first knew each other as young children. 

Eid and Christmas are falling close together, and as they both prepare to celebrate and honour their religious holidays in very different ways, brought together by circumstance, they find themselves learning about each other's faiths, and understanding the pull each has. 

But can Mary save Nasir from a life of radicalisation, and will Nasir extend Mary any sort of kindness as she tries to pull back her life - if only to offer 'a good word'?
~*~
I’m not sure if everything that happened or was happening in this story comes from facts or if it’s the author’s imagination, but it was very interesting to me. I was worried when I began it because I was a bit confused about what was happening, but the author did a good job explaining it all.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"A Little Christmas Magic" K.C. Faelan
Christmas. Little does he know that the weekend will usher in a profound change to his life, a chance for happiness if he isn't too afraid to reach out and grasp it.

Boone Ainsworth has been friends with Ryan since junior high, ever since their mutual friend Greg Hayes introduced them. Since the day they met, no one has stood a chance at claiming Boone's heart except Ryan, but Ryan is so deep in the closet, he hasn't got a clue. 

Their happily ever after is just a step away, until a panicked decision changes everything. From that point on, things don't go smoothly and Ryan and Boone make mistakes neither may be able to forgive. But it's the holidays, and Ryan is banking on a little Christmas magic to help smooth the way.
~*~
I really enjoyed this story. It was well written and the characters were well defined. I also love that there was an epilogue. On short stories, I feel this helps me get the closure needed to make the story feel finished to me.
Find K.C. on her blogGoodreads, and Twitter

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Always Have, Always Will" Amelia Mann
Jay thinks official commitments aren't necessary in a relationship. For the last fourteen years, he has loved waking up beside Gabriel, watching their two adopted kids grow up - even enjoyed painting the fence once in a while and paying his part of the mortgage on their New Jersey home. To Jay, that's a family. No papers or ceremonies will make their relationship better than it already is... though Gabriel has a different opinion.

Their lives are turned upside-down a month before Christmas, when he collapses in the plumbing aisle of the store. In the aftermath, Gabriel discovers that Jay's only legal next of kin is his long-time absent father, and later Jay has to confront the painful memories of growing up, and the real truth behind his parents' divorce. 

But perhaps now Jay might be ready to give Gabriel a Christmas gift he will never forget.
~*~
I loved this story! It is a sweet romance that really brings home a few points for me. Because I am young, I never really thought that marriage was important other than to show love and commitment, but this story showed me something very important about being married. I loved the characters and the family feel. I really loved that Gabriel accepted Jay’s opinions even if they were unlike his own. 


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"An Angel in Eyeliner" Hunter Frost
All Mitch wants for Christmas is a quiet holiday free from grief. Patching up the face of the target of a mugging in the back alley of his bar seems to throw that wish right out into the cold Chicago night. But the tatted, pierced, and skinny-jean wearing Keller Graham is fearless and proves to be more than a pair of icy blue eyes lined in black. Keller may be a thief, but Mitch never expected him to steal his lonely heart.
~*~
This story contained my favorite character of all the stories. Keller is a great mix of shy and strong. It doesn’t matter that he has had a hard life or that he has no home. He is positive, fun, and sassy. I would really love to hear more about these two, and see where life takes them. 
Find Hunter on her websiteTwitterFacebook, and Goodreads

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Boyfriend Goes Home" Laura Susan Johnson
As a family scrambles to prepare Thanksgiving dinner, they discover that the greatest blessing of all is just being together and being alive.
~*~
This story was slightly confusing to me because we had so many people to remember and it switched between four characters. Though, I liked the theme of this story and I loved the “boyfriend.” Family-togetherness: It’s a wonderful spirit for the holidays.
Find Laura on her websiteFacebookTwitter, and Google+

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Christmas Commitment" Shayla Mist
Dick hates Christmas. This year more than ever because he's been dumped by his boyfriend. There's only one way to prove to Zack he's serious about their future together: coming out to his family. Dick might be willing to do that, but what if it's already too late?
~*~
I liked the plot and theme of this story. I wish it had been a little longer and a bit more detailed, but the author did a great job writing this story. It was funny, sad, and I felt relief at the ending. The only thing that aggravates me about it is the parents. I can’t explain that because it would give away spoilers. I wish I could. Grr. However, the aggravating parents are no reflection on the author or the story, because it happens in real life.

Find Shayla on BlogspotWordpressGoodreads, and Facebook

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

"Coming in from the Cold" Ava Penn
What's a poor, East coast boy fending for himself in Colorado to do when winter sets in on the Rockies? 

Declan Stoeber finds himself freezing every minute of the day once autumn ends and the snow begins to fall in the Centennial State. With no family to go home to for the holiday season, he plans to put extra time into his studies and maybe look for a part-time job. What he gets is a part-time job with benefits and a few new friends.

Xander Duchesne is a savvy businessman in the harsh world of deals and projects. Estranged from his mother due to her matchmaking tendencies, he is resolved to spending Yule (or Winter Solstice) by himself for the first time in his life. He wasn't expecting his mother's impossible-to-ignore demands, and he certainly wasn't prepared for a college freshman who was just coming in from the cold.
~*~
This story had a good plot and it played out well. I feel this was a spin-off of another story. There are a few characters that weren’t well explained as if we should know them already. If there is another story out there, I would love to read it. Nice love story, but the ending was rushed.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Holidays with Drum and Bell!" Matthias Williamson
When Jeff drops a card in the lap of meditating Jonah, they begin a journey of discovery and find out that anything is possible.
~*~
Holidays with Drum and Bell is story of two high school boys meeting and falling in love. It tells of the struggles they endure to keep their love whole. One knows who he is and is proud to be gay. The other is sure of what he wants, but not sure how to make it work with his life. Along with problems at home problems, it takes him a while to be the person he wants to be. 

Mr. Williamson did a good job in writing this story. I heard it was his first and I think it was an awesome first story. There are a few things I would have liked to have seen. Because the book was in Drum’s point of view, we really learned more about him than we did Bell. I could picture Bell in my head, but Drum really didn’t describe himself enough to get a clear image in my head. I would have liked to have seen the characters a little more developed. Their bosses seemed like awesome people and I think they could have been expanded more also. Because the story spans months, one thing you lose is action. I would have liked to have seen more showing than telling, but sometimes short stories don't allow for this. The storyline is very interesting. I would like to see this book filled out and turned into a novel. This is a great outline to a wonderful novel. 


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Te Amo, You Mushrooms" S.H. Allan
T. Livius Quintillus expected to finish his duty as a soldier triumphant, with enough wealth to buy the freedom of Felix, the man he loves, and secure a life together. Instead, he has returned to Rome permanently disabled, with not nearly the money he needs. To others he is a hero, but Quintillus worries that his love might no longer want a man who isn't whole. With Felix seemingly avoiding him, his hopes are fading. But it's Saturnalia, a time of feasting and revelry and joy, a time when dreams of freedom feel more than just a fantasy. With the blessing of Fortuna and Minerva, Quintillus may still have a chance for a future with Felix. If only he can find him first...

~*~

I really enjoyed this story. In a short story it is very hard for me to become so attached to characters that they make me cry. That is exactly what happened in this story. I felt like I had read a whole novel by the end of this story, and that is a great feat to accomplish in a short story. A bit sad, but it has a perfect ending.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~