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Archive for December, 2011

Many thanks to all our readers who took part in our Boxing Day giveaway.  The winners, who were all picked by random.org, are listed below.

  • Winterlude by Tam Ames – Stevie Carroll
  • Naughty: The Santa Problem by Tam Ames – Jen
  • The Winter Warmers Anthology – Juliana
  • Secret Santa by Clare London – Melanie Marshall
  • Twinkle Twinkle by Josephine Myles – Sammy2006
  • Dating the Delaneys by Anne Brooke – Tracy

Well done to the winners. I have emailed the authors and they should be contacting you soon with your books.

Many thanks again to the authors who contributed to the giveaway. It went so well we may even do another extravaganza giveaway in the future :).

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Farewell 2011, and Welcome 2012

Another year has come and gone, every year seeming to go faster and faster. We here at Brief Encounters wish all of our readers, lurkers, commenters, authors and anyone else who stumbles by, a plethora of wonderful things to come your way in 2012. May your New Year’s Eve be filled with fun, festive times with friends and family. And of course, stay safe on a night of celebrations.

As a little New Year’s gift to you all, and with the urging of Dane at Goodreads, here is another, (R-rated) installment of Steven and Cory’s story, which started at Halloween. You can download both stories at Goodreads. Just click on the cover below to take you to the site.

I Dare You … Again

Things have been going great for Steven and Cory since they finally got together at Halloween, but New Year’s is about to be a dud. Cory is in Europe visiting his family, and there’ll be no New Year’s kiss for either of them this year. However a surprise early return, and yet another dare from Steven’s best friend and roommate, Derek, mean this could be the best New Year’s ever, or the worst. Can Steven resist the dare, or will he take a chance with his heart as 2012 arrives?

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Title: The Gift of the Maggie
Author: Belinda McBride
Length: 49 pages
Publisher: MLR Press
Genre: m/m  Contemporary
Rating: B+

Blurb:
How does a respectable, middle-aged rancher tell his kids that he’s gay?

Gil Strickland is not only telling his teenagers that they’ll be moving in with him full-time, but also that his best friend Morgan is also his lover. Too frightened to get right to the point, Gil and Morgan agree to sleep in separate rooms till the deed is done. On the night of Gil’s official coming out, Morgan vanishes into the darkness of a snowy night, looking for a mare that’s about to foal. When things go terribly wrong, it’s up to Gil and his children to rescue an injured man, a laboring mare and to discover the true meaning of love, family and Christmas.

Review:
This story was a rather delightful tale of two older men who have been lovers for a while. Gil has been married previously and has two teenage children. When his ex-wife asks for the children to live with him, Gil realises that he has to tell them that he is gay and that Morgan is his lover. In the midst of all this drama, Morgan discovers that a horse in foal is missing and has to set off through the cold and oncoming snow to find Maggie before her foal is born.

There were two parts to this story. The first is that of the rather taciturn Gil, who is a typical close mouthed rancher, and his coming out to his children. Gil is worried about their reaction but isn’t one to shy away from his responsibilities. The scene where his tells his kids was handled sympathetically as well as realistically. I liked the calm and patient relationship he has with his children, and the fact that they feel comfortable enough with Gil to open up to him.

The second part is that of Morgan coming to the rescue of Maggie the horse. This part is used to show both the tenacity of Morgan – and also to show that he’s just as much the tough cowboy as Gil – and to give us an insight into his relationship with Gil. They work as a couple, and I liked that through Morgan’s memories we are given a little background on their relationship and how they came to the point they are in the story.

My only niggle with the story is that the opening scene where we are thrown into the middle of a blow-job between the men didn’t work so well for me. I can understand why it might grab the attention of some readers, but I prefer my sex attached with some meaning and that scene left me a little confused who these men were. It was only a minor niggle though because once the short sex scene is over I was quickly caught up in the story of Gil and Morgan.

Overall, this is a story for those readers who like their heroes a bit older. These are not rash, impetuous men but calm and thoughtful characters who have been around a bit and value what they have. The story is a good mix of action and drama as well as some quieter scenes.  If that idea appeals to you, then I’d recommend this seasonal short.

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Title: Mr Popsalos
Author: Lisa Worrall
Length: 50 pages
Publisher: Silver Publishing
Genre: m/m  contemporary
Rating: B-

Blurb:
Two weeks before Christmas, Luke meets Jamie, the hottest man he’s ever seen. Painfully aware that having a son makes him less dateable, Luke throws Jamie’s number away after their one amazing, passion-filled night together, thinking he will never see him again…

Review:
There could be spoilers in this review

This was a light and cute seasonal story which tells of single dad, Luke, who at a work’s Christmas drinks party at a local bar meets gorgeous guy Jamie. They end up back at Jamie’s place and the sex is incredible, but Luke has had bad experiences with men who discover that he’s a dad and so writes Jamie off as a one night stand.

I’m not always fond of stories which contain children because they often come across as unrealistically well behaved and ultra-cute. In this story Luke’s relationship with his son was well shown with Luke’s obvious love and affection shining through their interactions without it ever becoming too cloying. Reggie was a sweet kid but I liked that the story also showed the realities of having a relationship if you’re a single parent.

I felt sorry for Luke who finds the whole dating scene limiting and dispiriting because he’s scared off so many potential boyfriends, and it was realistic for him to want to hide that from Jamie. Their sex scene together was hot, but also nicely written in that it showed that there was potential for more between them. There was desire, but also even in their short time together I got the impression they gelled well as a couple. That made me hopeful for a happy ending.

I could see the twist at the end coming but that still made it enjoyable and amusing. The writing has a light touch to it which I found appealing and I would recommend this story to those who want to read about two nice guys who start what could be something good together.

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Title: Every Time a Bell Rings
Author: Missy Welsh
Length: 14,000 words (48 pages)
Publisher: MLR Press
Genre: Contemporary
Rating: A-

Blurb:

Brian dropped everything last year when his mother became ill so he could take care of her until the day she died. People he thought were friends didn’t stick with him and he’s somehow become kind of a recluse without meaning to be. Only Mike, his best friend since they were kids, has stuck by him and is now saving him from homelessness after a fire destroys Brian’s apartment building days before Christmas. Though Mike has to go down South for the holiday, Brian stays in Mike’s apartment with his slightly singed kitten Oreo. Brian’s only goal is to set his affairs back in order before everything shuts down for the holidays and then make it through those holidays in one piece. He’s lost so much—his only real possession is a photo album of his mom that he risked death to save from the fire— and he’s feeling lost and very alone…until Mike, his hot neighbor Trent, and even little Oreo conspire to give Brian the best Christmas possible and a future that looks a lot brighter.

Review:

This short story starts on a bit of a depressing note. Brian’s apartment has burned, and he’s managed to escape with only his kitten Oreo and a singed photo album, all he has left of his mother who recently passed. However, his best friend Mike jumps in to help and offers his apartment, although he’ll be gone to visit family. Trent, Mike’s oh-so-perfect neighbour, in Brian’s opinion, offers to help any way he can.

While this could have been a rather depressing story, it wasn’t despite moments of sadness as Brian remembers the loss of his mother, and to top it off, the loss of everything he owns, and he doesn’t even have a job as he quit to care for his ailing mother. But despite it all, he’s got a sense of humour about life. He can tease Mike about kissing cousins in his home in Oklahoma, he can even laugh at himself a bit for his fumbling attempts at small-talk with Mr. Hotness, Trent and those moments of lightness manage to keep the story from being maudlin. Trent may come across as a bit too perfect, but the story is only Brian’s vision of a guy who not only meets every physical requirement he has in a man, but is kind to him as well, so it’s understandable he sees him as a bit perfect. As well, the story only takes place over about 48 hours, so he doesn’t have much time to find any imperfections.

I will be honest, I started to get concerned as the story was growing to a close on Christmas eve and they’d only known each other two days. Would there be the awkward declaration of undying love in order to fit the HEA for Christmas theme that seems to crop up all too often? Whew. No there wasn’t. There were thoughts of “maybe I could love this man” but basically it ended as I thought it should. Two guys, insanely attracted to each other, who think they even like each other, so let’s see what happens.  It was a perfect ending for the story.

I would love to see more about Mike, Brian’s flaming best friend who claims he “butches it up” when he goes to visit his family who choose, I think, to remain clueless as to his sexuality. The innuendo and bad pun laden conversation between Brian and Mike was very funny and I think Mike finding his Mr. Right would also be a good story. So I highly recommend this one when you want light, but with a bit of an underlying seriousness that doesn’t overwhelm the spirit of the season.

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Title: Christmas Homecoming
Author: Sean Michael
Length: 10,200 words (41 pdf pages)
Publisher: Torquere Press
Genre: m/m contemporary BDSM
Rating: C

Blurb:

Grady’s been waiting for over two years to see his lover, Joey, who’s been deployed in Afghanistan. It looks like it’s going to be Valentine’s Day at the earliest before they’re reunited, though. Oliver’s been keeping Grady busy during the holiday season, and he just might have a Christmas surprise for Grady at the Hammer’s annual Charity Auction that the man will never forget.
Review:
I went searching to see if Grady and Joey were featured in another Hammer story, but I couldn’t find it, unless they are in an anthology somewhere. I felt I was missing how they got together and the parameters of their D/s relationship. However, the story starts at Thanksgiving when Grady is at Oliver and Jack’s for dinner. Joey is in Afghanistan and hopes to be home for Valentine’s Day, but you never know with military service.

Christmas arrives and Grady is not feeling the mood. He’s been unable to connect with Joey in Afghanistan, and now Oliver is pressing him to help out at the Christmas auction at the Hammer Club. The last thing he wants to see is all the Doms and their subs being all cute and romantic, however he agrees. As the auction winds down, one last sub is up for bids, Grady is stunned to see that it’s Joey. It seems Oliver helped get Joey home without telling Grady, and now he’s out of the military and a civilian. They quickly head home to reconnect.

The next part of the story deals with Joey’s readjustment to civilian life and that of someone’s sub. This portion of the story takes place over about 18 hours, as Joey pushes Grady, doing things he knows will get him punished, in order to feel that his life is back the way it should be. It deals slightly with the reactions of a veteran who has been living on high alert, and just the change from being the man in charge in a war-zone, to being completely not in charge in his personal relationship.

The story is fine, the BDSM is quite light and consists of some spanking and light bondage, but I never really connected to them as a couple because I didn’t know anything about them. Joey noted being in the service for eight years, but how did they meet, and how did he become a sub? As I said, perhaps I missed their original story in the mix but it doesn’t mention that it’s a continuation of a story.  Joey is definitely not the flighty fluttery sub of some Hammer stories. He’s a soldier, he’s big, he’s strong and while definitely submissive, not type you usually see in these stories so that was a nice switch. Fans of the Hammer series will enjoy it, but it didn’t catch my attention as some stories have.

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Title: What You Will
Author: Charlie Cochrane
Length: 38 pages
Publisher: MLR Press
Genre: m/m  steampunk fantasy
Rating: B

Blurb:
They say there’s no fool like an old fool. Antonio didn’t count himself as old but he was more fool than any man ought to be who’d flown around the world and back again so often he might as well have just been going from Deptford to Dartford. There was a lad involved. There’s always a lad in the tale, for men like him.

And was there a happy ending? Now that depends on whether you believe what a certain playwright wrote, or whether you want the real story.

Review:
This story takes the play Twelfth Night by Shakespeare, places it in a steampunk setting (why hasn’t the National Shakespeare Company done this yet?) and shows us the play from the point of view of Antonio, the sea captain who rescues Sebastian from the shipwreck and brings him to Illyria where Sebastian is eventually reunited with his sister, Viola. Antonio only appears six times in the play and these form the chapters for the story as he and Sebastian become lovers and get involved in the mix up between Viola and Sebastian.

This story really engaged me, mainly because Twelfth Night is one of my favourite of Shakespeare’s comedies and a play I know very, very well. This meant that the twist on the relationship between Antonio and Sebastian worked for me. In the play they are close friends despite not knowing each other too well, and yet it is little speeches such as:

This youth that you see here
I snatch’d one half out of the jaws of death,
Relieved him with such sanctity of love,
And to his image, which methought did promise
Most venerable worth, did I devotion.

that Antonio makes in the play which made it so that I could entirely believe that instead of the love of Lady Olivia (which all happens far too quickly at the end of the play for my liking) Sebastian and Antonio are lovers. This meant that I read this story, rather interested to know whether Sebastian abandons Antonio for Olivia, or whether there were further twists to the story. I won’t spoil it for you, but I finished the story with a smile on my face.

So, the amusing thing for me was seeing the play from this slightly skewered point of view and I chortled a few times at the turning upside down of the play, and the references to some of the characters such as “The streak of water and his fat friend”. I liked seeing a relatively minor Shakespeare character being given an opportunity for his own story, and the parts that stepped outside the play for a while fitted well with the theme, and fleshed out the character of Antonio more.

Of course, this means that if you don’t know the play Twelfth Night, then you’re not going to have a clue about what’s happening in the story, or get the references to other characters or the overall story arc of Twelfth Night. For those who don’t know the play then I suggest watching this rather marvellous Trevor Nunn film version and then you can read this story and chortle at it, like I did.

My final niggle is that there is only the slightest nod to the steampunk setting, and that mostly occurs towards the beginning of the story. However, I was having so much fun with the rest of it that I didn’t mind that so much.

Overall, I enjoyed this short story. The humour of the situation shines through, and the character of Antonio is given a sympathetic new lease of life in this re-imagining of the Twelfth Night story. Despite the limitations of its audience this story is clever and amusing and I would recommend it.

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Title: The Long Way Home
Author: G.R. Richards
Length: 7,000 words (35 pdf pages)
Publisher: Amber Allure
Genre: m/m contemporary
Rating: B-

Blurb:

Nothing grabs a guy’s attention like the words, “We need to talk.”

For months now, Jordan and Faro have been at each other’s throats. Their long-term committed relationship is mired by petty arguments about anything and everything, but Jordan’s convinced they can make it past the holidays. After all, how heartless would a man have to be to throw his partner out in the street three days before Christmas?

About as heartless as Faro, apparently, who packs Jordan’s bags and puts him on the train to his mother’s house.

But there’s more love, more passion, and more compassion in their relationship than even Jordan had realized. What treasure awaits him when he arrives in his hometown for the holidays.

Review:

This is an interesting emotion laden story, that starts with long-established couple Faro and Jordan.  Things are not going well for them as a couple, there are arguments, anger, frustration and Jordan is pretty sure that it’s only a matter or time before they decide to call it quits. When Faro drops the “we have to talk” bomb over breakfast, it leads to yet another argument and may just be the straw that broke the camel’s relationship back

Jordan knows his job is on the line because he’s distracted by their relationship issues, and he figures he may not only be single soon, but unemployed, however he’s not quite prepared to find his luggage sitting on the step and being told his mother is expecting him and he better hustle to the train station. Bye-bye. Jordan spends his time on the journey reassessing his relationship and a conversation with his mom reveals some surprises. He always assumed his parents had a perfect relationship and he wanted that, only to find out they’d been in couples therapy for years and very nearly divorced.When he finally arrives at her home, he’s shocked to find a naked Faro waiting for him.

Jordan’s emotions just rolled off the page. He hated their relationship, he didn’t hate Faro, but he was miserable. He knew it was going down the toilet but he seemed incapable of stopping it and Faro didn’t seem to be helping in my opinion. It became a spiraling nightmare, although they both loved each other, there seemed to be no escape and even Jordan’s soul-searching on his journey didn’t offer him much hope. I did have a bit of a problem with Faro and Jordan’s mother conspiring to get him to her home where they could work it out. To make the person you supposedly love believe that you just tossed them out on Christmas with nary a second thought, seems to be a damn hard lesson. I’ll make you believe I kicked out and then, oh surprise, I was just kidding, let’s have sex.

It does say they will talk after and deal with the hard issues but I would have been absolutely furious if someone pulled that on me. It just seemed like pulling a stunt like that, only to prove a point, seemed immature and mean. So while I didn’t enjoy that aspect of the story, and you really don’t know anything about Faro or how they originally got together, my heart broke for poor Jordan who was sitting in a train station by himself on Christmas crying. *sniff* Probably anyone whose been in a relationship, especially one that has broken, knows that feeling.

So if you’re in the mood for some emotional turmoil that ends on a positive note, but not necessarily a guarantee of HEA, it was a really well written story that drew me in.

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Title: Christmas Future
Author: Ally Blue
Length: 36 pdf pages, 9000+ words.
Publisher: MLR Press
Genre: m/m futuristic romantic comedy
Rating: C+

Blurb:

Dr. William McGregor never intended his homemade time machine to strand him and his lifelong crush in the distant future. But building a life there with Tony is everything Will ever wanted. When rescue comes, they must decide if it’s a Christmas miracle, or the end of their private paradise.

Review:

Less of a Christmas story and more of a solstice story, Christmas Future encompasses both time-travel and a friends-to-lovers romance, although with the limited word count neither element is given enough page space to be totally satisfying.

Dr William McGregor is the archetypal nerd, crushing on his long-time friend Tony in secret for years. When Tony calls round one year in the run up to Christmas and demands to know what the strangely modified lawn mower in Will’s garage is for, he can’t accept Will’s answer. Determined to prove he really has built a time-machine, Will takes them both ten thousand years into the future, to an idyllic wilderness. Unfortunately, when they both head out to explore, the time-machine decides to make a return journey all by itself, leaving them stranded.

Tony initially reacts with anger and distress, but neither last for long because this is a comedy. Before we know it, the two of them are celebrating the solstice with roast flying iguana and getting it on by the light of the campfire! In some ways, this felt a little rushed as I didn’t yet feel I knew either character particularly well. They both come across more as comic caricatures than fully rounded individuals. Tony in particular I found it hard to get a handle on. He seems happy-go-lucky and charismatic, but I didn’t feel I actually had enough information about him to decide whether I liked him or not. As the story is told from Will’s point of view he is easier to get to know, and his bravery and resourcefulness were appealing.

Neither the scientific basis of time-travel or much about the realities of survival are given page space. The two men are lucky enough to have landed in a future with no predators or other humans, incredibly tasty wildlife, and where even the grass is springy and fragrant. A veritable paradise, theirs for the taking. It’s no wonder they don’t really want to come back when the rescue mission arrives… eleven years later!

I must admit, the time-travel motif in this story is probably the best thing going for it – that and Ally Blue’s quirky humour. I enjoyed the way it breezes along as a light read with plenty of amusing incidents, but I never really felt fully engaged in the story. However, I’m sure it will appeal to Ally Blue fans and anyone who fancies a saucy, silly and extremely alternative take on Christmas romances. In short then, this is an amusing little time-travel story, but it skates over too much ground to be truly satisfying.

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Title: All the Souls on Earth
Author: Barry Brennessel
Length: 56 pages, 14k+ words
Publisher: MLR
Genre: m/m paranormal, holiday
Rating: C+

Blurb: Elijah’s previous holiday season was a disaster. This year, he’s determined to give a surprise gift that he prays will erase the lingering bad memories. But his idea catches the attention of March-an attractive, mysterious man who is bent on stopping Elijah in his tracks. Both men are determined to fight for what they want, but they soon find they are also fighting their growing feelings for one another. Will Elijah be able to deliver his gift, or will March forever alter the spirit of the holidays?

Review: **Contains some spoilers**

It is only one year after his partner’s death from a horrible Christmas fire and Elijah has been unable to properly grieve. Plagued by the visions of having to watch Lukas die, Elijah has contacted the man and group of kids that he and Lukas saw summon the Velu Mate from the afterlife just a few days before Lukas’ death. After one of the kids he watches over tell him that Elijah contacted him asking about what he saw, March is not only upset that apparently someone saw what happened in the park last year, but also afraid that the desperation he sees in Elijah to see his lost love again will transform into the same kind of disaster — one fueled by the inability to let go after such a horrible death. Yet, as they prepare for the ritual, March and Elijah find that they start to care for one another and that calling forth the kinds of powers that the Queen wield (including the powers March has), the situation can get out of hand quickly.

This story was certainly a surprise and a bit of a let down at the same time. I honestly didn’t expect this story to be a paranormal from reading the blurb, and I was very happy with Barry Brennessel’s writing as I started the story. The idea is a great one, taking a ritualistic scene and elements that you might usually find in a Halloween themed story and combining them with Latvian mythology, Yule, and Christmas. Then I felt that what I loved about the story — the writing (the story is a bit of a mystery that is slowly revealed) — got quite a bit out of hand. At one point I could have sworn I was missing a previous installment. And even in the end, where we’re left with a pretty big hint that there’s more to come, I felt like there should have been more about the world given to us this time around. Without knowing really who March is (other than that he’s really, really old) and what is going on with the ever-present group of teenagers he’s “protecting”, the ending just doesn’t seem to stick, or make me very excited about picking up the next one, other than to figure out what exactly was going on.

Still, the first two-thirds of the story are solid, and I liked the characters we get to know. If Mr. Brennessel does intend to further the story, there is a huge pile of history and detail and potential plot to call forth; the world that is just barely hinted at here is really large and could be incredibly detailed and interesting. I liked the tidbits about March’s history — how just maybe March is the man who Ebenezer Scrooge is based on, and I would have loved to know more about his mysterious past love, Guillome.

I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the story, because it was exciting to see the unique kind of world the author could create. I just wish that I could have gotten more than the mystery of it. It felt a little bit like the world and characters weren’t quite as formed as the plot, as there were a few times I felt like the characters weren’t fully fleshed out yet and lacked direction (the semi-public “intimate” scene being one, that left me with a bit of a huh? thought).

I will pick up whatever further stories come out of this, but this one left me full of highs and lows. C+

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