Boughs of Evergreen Volumes 1 and 2 by Beaten Track Publishing ~ Book Review by The Team

We have for you today another team review.  Beaten Track Publishing has recently released their winter holiday bundle.  We split the the stories among the team.  Ameliah, Brandilyn, Beverley, Caroline, Christine, Leisa, and Lirtle all have contributed their opinions on 2-4 of the stories.

The collection is available as a combined edition (Volumes 1 and 2 together), as Volumes 1 and 2 separate, or as individual stories.  It features stories of various length, genres, and subject matter from S.H. Allan, Larry Benjamin, Rick Bettencourt, L.L. Bucknor, K.C. Faelan, Hunter Frost, Ofelia Gränd, Kathleen Hayes, Hans M Hirschi, Laura Susan Johnson, Terry Kerr, Amelia Mann, Debbie McGowan, Shayla Mist, Raine O’Tierney, Ava Penn, Jonathan Penn, Amy Spector, L.M. Steel, Al Stewart and Claire Davis, J P Walker, Matthias Williamson, and Alexis Woods.

There are 5 star reads.  There are not-5 star reads.  Overall, I am giving this a 4 star rating, but I think there is something here for almost anyone.

 

boe_cover_vol01 Title: Boughs of Evergreen Volumes 1 and 2

Author: Beaten Track Publishing

Publisher: Beaten Track Publishing

Cover Artist: unknown

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

Blurb:

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.

Each story will also be published individually as ebooks on 1st December, 2014.

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.

THE STORIES:

Volume One

“A Friend for Christmas” – JP Walker
“A Midnight Clear” – Debbie McGowan
“From All of Us to All of You” – Ofelia Gränd
“Homme for the Holidays” – Jonathan Penn
“Kiss Me At Kwanzaa” – LL Bucknor
“Lion’s Hero” – Alexis Woods
“One Nightstand” – Rick Bettencourt
“Shiny Things” – Amy Spector
“The Bard and his Boyfriend” – Kathleen Hayes
“The Christmas Present” – Larry Benjamin
“The Invasion of Tork” – Al Stewart and Claire Davis
“X-Mas Cake: A Modern Fairytale” – Raine O’Tierney

Volume Two

“A Christmas Tale” – Hans M Hirschi
“A Family Christmas” – Terry Kerr
“A Good Word” – L.M. Steel
“A Little Christmas Magic” – K.C. Faelan
“Always Have, Always Will” – Amelia Mann
“An Angel in Eyeliner” – Hunter Frost
“Boyfriend Goes Home” – Laura Susan Johnson
“Christmas Commitment” – Shayla Mist
“Coming in from the Cold” – Ava Penn
“Holidays with Drum and Bell!” – Matthias Williamson
“Te Amo, You Mushrooms” – S.H. Allan

Our Views:

Volume One

“A Friend for Christmas” – JP Walker (Ameliah)
Rating: 5 stars

Awwww, this wonderful story is too sweet and darn it all to heck, the ending made me cry, really cry with contented happiness….. It is truly the best Christmas story I have ever read. It is so sweet and romantic and just so good.

The story takes us on a lazy stroll throughout Eve’s childhood, the happiness, and the struggles as she grows into adulthood. We see the moments that define her and can relate to many of them. That special first day of school, the best friend, the pretend stories and games… Happy days filled with our fathers, the insecurity of first love, kisses and coming out.

Eve’s interactions with Anna are a blessing and a curse until the end when Anna shows Eve true joy and presents her with what will be a very, very special and precious gift.

“A Midnight Clear” – Debbie McGowan (Beverley)
Rating: 5 stars

This is what I call a Christmas story. Firstly, it has a story, which is not just set at Christmas. There is no sex there is love; for partners; for parents; for friends and for strangers in need. Based very loosely on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Matchgirl (which is included at the end) we meet a very young girl, living the best she can on the streets. It is a cold winter in England and it really doesn’t look like she will survive much longer.

Two miracles come into her life…a stray cat she names ‘Jinja’ and ‘George’. Along with some other minor miracles that rekindle her faith in people she meets George’s husband ‘Josh’, their family and friends. It is a really heart warming tale without the religious, Christian sentiments of the yuletide which, considering how the girl came to be on the streets, would be unwelcome.

I actually cried over the following lines…

“Mow,” came the little cry from behind, but she could not look back. She must not look back. “Mow.”
“No! Go Home!” She walked faster, staring straight ahead, training her ears to the sound of carol singing floating from a nearby window: “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear.”

“From All of Us to All of You” – Ofelia Gränd (Lirtle)
Rating: 3

This is set in Sweden and I enjoyed reading about some of the traditions that take place there at holiday time. It’s a sweet story that remained mostly at the surface, telling me what was happening and how the characters were feeling as opposed to letting them show me. That makes it a bit difficult to connect, even in light holiday fare like this.

It’s a little scattered with a number of characters going here and there, most of the time without the main characters not sharing page time. It was difficult for me to follow in some parts but I liked Simon. I didn’t get much of Hannes. I liked Hannes’ mother, she was the most fully formed character for me. Overall, a sweet story that needed some tightening up in flow and focus.

“Homme for the Holidays” – Jonathan Penn (Christine)
Rating: 3.75 stars

This is a sweet story of two men who try to reclaim the nostalgia of past traditions while creating new ones as a couple. Although the story is a bit too short to truly address the issues that both men have looming in their lives, it is nevertheless a touching tribute to the love of family. A bit heavy-handed in descriptions and light on the development and resolutions, Homme for the Holidays is glossy little read that touches on the point that love can heal past hurts and that new traditions can mean just as much as those of childhood.
Tags: Anthology, Homme for the Holidays, Jonathan Penn, m/m romance, healing, family, Christmas, holidays

“Kiss Me At Kwanzaa” – LL Bucknor (Lirtle)
Rating: 3

This is a sweetly written contemporary and reads like most of us probably think. It’s casual, nothing too deeply examined.
The setting is a family dinner, this one celebrating Kwanzaa, where one crush spends some time with another. The cool thing about Adan’s family is that they celebrate and honor all of the major holidays at this time of year. It set a lovely tone for the story.

There is much more tell than show so it felt a bit closed off sometimes but I still enjoyed the story. Both Adan and Ish are nice guys trying to make their way in life, including work, which is where they first met and still spend their days. This is a cute crush crushes on crush story set against that large family gathering, with some humor and some kissing. 😉

“Lion’s Hero” – Alexis Woods (Christine)
Rating: 4 stars

This is a sweet, heavenly little story about Ari, who is given a mission by the Father to find his other half before the end of the eighth night of Chanukah. Gabriel, his chosen, is attracted to the little lion of a man but has a difficult time believing his far-fetched story. The importance of faith in man and God blend together in this charming tale of strength, courage, and love as the vulnerable and insecure Ari tries to convince Gabriel that they are destined to be together. Both characters are adorable in their dance towards each other, and Ari is especially endearing in his innocence and persistence. I enjoyed this story’s romance and the well-balanced blend of humor and spiritual message.
Tags: Anthology, Lion’s Hero, Alexis Woods, m/m romance, spiritual, paranormal, Chanukah, holidays

“One Nightstand” – Rick Bettencourt (Brandilyn)
Rating: 4 stars

We start this little holiday tale as the post orgasm glow with his bar hookup from the early hours of Christmas Eve begins to wain. Doug, a retail grunt, is beginning to tire of his solitary existence, as denoted the his single nightstand by his bed. He asks Kyle, the bar hookup to stay. When Kyle seeks out a frazzled Doug at his job later that day, coming to his rescue, a love affair begins.

It is sweet. It is quick. It is romantic. It is a wonderful Christmas story.

“Shiny Things” – Amy Spector (Brandilyn)
Rating: 4 stars

You know me and second chance romances. I just can’t pass them up. After Nathaniel was caught kissing his male best friend, he was unceremoniously shipped off to live with distant relative. When a family emergency brings him back to his home town, of course he runs into that former best friend… who he hasn’t seen or spoken to since that interrupted moment.

Of course all it takes it working closely together and a few holidays for Vincent and Nathaniel to once again be head over heals for each other. Yes, it is quick, but it is sweet and nice tale set around the holiday season.

“The Bard and his Boyfriend” – Kathleen Hayes (Leisa)
3.5 stars

Seth is returns home to his ancient clan of druids for Winter Solstice, but his thoughts remain with his Alé, his boyfriend with whom he argued before leaving their university. Alé unexpected shows up at Seth’s clan, and is immediately recognized by the clan and his family as Seth’s chosen one.

This is a sweet story devoid of conflict that tells the tale of Seth and Alé’s reunion and acceptance by the clan and Seth’s family as a couple chosen by mystic forces to be joined. Acceptance is this story’s greatest theme – Seth and Alé are easily accepted as a fated gay couple. Also, Seth’s younger sister, Maddie, is revealed to be a transgender child his mother is adopting after being abused by her birth family for being a girl born inside a boy’s body. Maddie’s family and the clan easily accept her as a girl, and treat her with dignity. This message of acceptance is truly a wonderful holiday gift.

“The Christmas Present” – Larry Benjamin (Lirtle)
Rate: 4 stars

The writing the writing the writing! Larry Benjamin knows how to manipulate those word type things, creating a dreamlike tone for a story filled with all too real pain, uncertainty and hope. Fantasy mixed with family issues, love destined to survive and thrive mixed with ignorance and regrets.He knows how to strip away the layers we all use to hide within ourselves and get to the meaty, messy beating heart of it all.

There are some time jumps but they happen in logical places and at the same time as setting and character changes. There is some unnecessary repetition of words and phrases within sentences and paragraphs. The words and the emotions behind them are already powerful. Less is more. This right here kind of blew me away:

“Humans can only live in peace with what they cannot see so we remain hidden just beyond sight.”

This kind of blending of fantasy paranormal and earthy reality is addictive. I want more. I want more of Benjamin’s words and more of Aidan and Dylan.

“The Invasion of Tork” – Al Stewart and Claire Davis (Caroline)
Rating: 4.5 stars

This was superb! The path the author takes you down as Tork’s circumstances are explained are devastating. Twenty Two years old, homeless and clinging to life and sanity by the smallest thread. He lives his life by rules that have become distorted in his head and allow for no happiness or warmth.
Adam is the complete opposite. Rich, spoiled and bratty he is working in a homeless shelter for college credits but the dregs that walk through the door are so far below him he finds it difficult to even speak to them.
A strange thing happens between these two boys. Adam learns humility whilst Tork begins to see delight in the smallest gestures and realises the world is not all bad. An odd sort of friendship is formed and a little hope in Tork’s desperate life, a taste of reality in Adam’s and the ending is just beautiful!

“X-Mas Cake: A Modern Fairytale” – Raine O’Tierney (Leisa)
5 stars

This story is truly a lovely Fairy Tale. Riley is a poor, recent college graduate working three jobs to try to pay his enormous student debt. He’s too proud to admit his current circumstance to his parents, and he’s living out of his old car. Subsisting on old Christmas cakes from the bakery where he works nights, he innocently attracts the attention of wealthy Kyle, who is often at the bakery’s neighboring theatre where Kyle’s brother is performing. Kyle begins to long for their nightly smiles at each other across the alley, and he is shocked to one night see a seriously ill Riley collapse. Kyle rescues Riley, and helps him to realize that his pride is not worth his health, while Riley’s poverty and homelessness makes Kyle realize that he can and should do more to help those less fortunate.

This is such a delightfully sweet story. Replete with a beautiful man in distress, a handsome prince of a fellow who helps rescue him, they both grow as individuals and together find happiness and hope for a future filled will love. This precious holiday story will surely leave you with a warm heart and smile on your face!

Volume Two

“A Christmas Tale” – Hans M Hirschi (Brandilyn)
Rating: 4.5 stars

A Christmas Tale is a super short story about one man who can’t return home to his family for the first time. We aren’t given any information about the man, just that he is missing his family on Christmas Eve. As he walks in the park and old man gives him a way to be part of his family’s special day. It is a story about the miracle of Christmas. It is also one that makes you think about all those who can’t go home for Christmas, whether by choice or not.

“A Family Christmas” – Terry Kerr (Ameliah)
Rating: 5 stars

This is a lovely tale of a special Christmas ghost. There are ten chapters that just fly by. The writing is fine, no mistakes that this reader could see. The story flowed well, and the passing of time was perfect as well.

I don’t usually care for Christmas stories, but this was another like no other. The basic “Christmas” thoughts were there, peace and good will and the like, but the delivery is so different and unique. I think even the most hardened heart could find a bit to enjoy here. A very enjoyable read.

“A Good Word” – L.M. Steel (Leisa)
Rating: 4.5 stars

This story is not a romance, but it is a love story of sorts. Nasir is a young man who desperately wants to be a good Muslim, and who is increasingly falling under the influence of extremists. He is listening to their preaching hate and intolerance, and he feels justified being unkind to a young homeless woman. He is later surprised to discover this same woman is Mary, a Catholic girl with whom he went to primary school, saved his life when he was attacked by anti-Islamists. He discovers that Mary is a Lesbian who has been thrown out onto the streets by her family. Through his renewed acquaintance with Mary, Nasir slowly rediscovers his humanity.

This story offers an unexpectedly poignant and timely story. Without any romance, A Good Word tells of the power of friendship and decency. Not your traditional holiday story, this is one of the most thought provoking stories I have read recently. It’s a reminder that we are all far more alike than different, and that acceptance is perhaps the greatest gift we can give others.

“A Little Christmas Magic” – K.C. Faelan (Beverley)
Rating: 2.5 stars

To me, this is NOT a Christmas story. It is a coming out, and getting together with best friend story, set around Christmas. Obvious ‘misunderstandings’, friends who suddenly hate you, and every other trope I dislike in an m/m romantic story.

“Always Have, Always Will” – Amelia Mann (Beverley)
Rating: 4.25 stars

A romantic love story about a couple who have been together for fourteen years and have two adopted children. Again this is a Christmas story because it shows love in all its beautiful diversity. The first chapter is one of the best descriptive pieces of writing, concerning a medical event that I have read for a long time. I can’t go into it too much as I don’t believe in spoilers. Gabriel and Jay are a devoted and believable couple, and with their children, one teenage boy, one seven-year-old girl, they make a beautiful normal family.

Jay didn’t have the best of childhoods and it has made him commitment shy where marriage is concerned, he believes the longevity of their relationship, the fact that they have bought a home together and have two children is commitment enough. The events in chapter one not only terrify the loving family but show the cracks in their security, as a family.

Add to the mix Jay’s absent father who hasn’t contacted Jay since he was seven, and there is a lot of family business to sort out. This story actually spans two Christmases, a wonderful idea in that it made the whole story so much more believable and complete. A thoroughly enjoyable short story.

“An Angel in Eyeliner” – Hunter Frost (Brandilyn)
Rating: 4 stars

Mitch is a lonely old queen. Since the loss of his partner, he has been solitary. When an guyliner wearing thief is attacked out back of his bar, it starts a torrid love affair that takes both Mitch and Kirk by surprised. Another worthy addition to the Boughs of Evergreen collection, proving that the holidays can open even the most hardened of hearts.

“Boyfriend Goes Home” – Laura Susan Johnson (Caroline)
Rating: 3 stars

This is a very short story with a lot of characters and would probably be a little easier to follow if you have read both the books it is connected to; I had only read the first one. It focuses on bringing together family for Thanksgiving. It starts with the panic of tidying the house and all the preparations. The arrival of your guests and all the mayhem that follows. The reminiscing of family members passed or the awful ones you no longer have anything to do with. There is also the random rescue of Tom the Turkey from a neighbours garden that is going to be given a happy life on the coast!

“Christmas Commitment” – Shayla Mist (Christine)
Rating: 4 Stars

Dick has been in an on-and-off relationship with Zack for quite a while, and he simply isn’t learning that in order to keep Zack, he needs to be honest with himself and his family about his sexuality. In this final straw scenario, Dick has to decide if he should grow up and put it all on the line for his boyfriend by coming out to his parents, or if he is going to continue hiding behind the status quo and lose Zach for good. Angst, family chats at the kitchen table, and a blinding snowstorm all play major roles in this intimate look into Dick’s head and heart as he tries to come to terms with the fear he must overcome in order to have a future with Zach. Though sometimes a self-proclaimed dick, he is likable and sympathetic in his desperate attempt to make the right choices and maintain the love of his family and boyfriend.
Tags: Anthology, Christmas Commitment, Shayla Mist, m/m romance, Christmas, holiday, coming out

“Coming in from the Cold” – Ava Penn (Caroline)
Rating: 4 stars

Declan finds himself in a new State at a new College and after overhearing a conversation in local coffee shop a new job. It wasn’t the job he was initially interested in but more the voice of the person speaking about it.

Xander works nearby and is much older than Declan but he has a voice to die for. When they literally bump into each other again Declan virtually blushes and runs. As Xander is a regular at the coffee shop it’s not long before they run into each other again and Xander invites him out to dinner. Xander has an overbearing mother who wants her son home for the holiday so she can fix him up with a ‘nice lady’. Xander asks Declan to accompany him but is less than honest about the reason.

“Holidays with Drum and Bell!” – Matthias Williamson (Lirtle)
Rating 3.5

This has a pretty realistic feel in tone and the emotional state in which most teenagers find themselves living, especially when it comes to hormones and love. It reads a bit younger than the older teens of Jeff and Jonah, but the concept is so cute and I love their first meeting.
Then again, tis been quite some time since I was in high school, so who am I to say. 😉

The story kept my interest. Each time I had to stop reading to do something, I had that familiar eager feeling of wanting to get back to it and find out what happened next. Thinking about it now, I have a smile on my face. I will definitely read more by this author.

“Te Amo, You Mushrooms” – S.H. Allan (Caroline)
Rating: 4 stars

I always panic when faced with historical yet I usually enjoy the ones I read and this one was superb. Set in Rome in the ‘olden days’ it is the love story of a freeman and a slave who fall in love. Quintillus is the freeman, a foster child in a prosperous family, who is being sent off to be a soldier. His best friend and the man he adores is Felix, a slave, and he aims to earn and save enough money to buy his freedom. He hopes it will take him a couple of years, sadly it takes over a decade and when he finally returns home, injured after losing an arm, it appears Felix no longer wants him.

Buy Links

Beaten Track Publishing
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA
All Romance eBooks

I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.

Farewell Giveaway
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.

Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,

Brandilyn
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