Monday, February 22, 2010

Carol of the Bellskis by Astrid Amara

TITLE: Carol of the Bellskis
AUTHOR: Astrid Amara
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 31k)
GENRE: Gay contemporary erotic romance
COST: $4.99

Seth Bellski thinks this Hanukkah is going to be the best ever. After all, he’s about to spend eight days with his lover, an unprecedented amount of time for them. That is, until his lover cancels. Since they work together and he isn’t out at the office, Lars Varga isn’t ready to make their relationship public, even if they’ve been together for a year. It’s the last straw for Seth. He breaks things off and heads off to his aunt and uncle’s B&B on his own, only to discover they are nowhere to be found and guests are arriving who expect an orthodox holiday. He’s almost at his wit’s end when Lars suddenly shows up, too…

This was one of the many holiday stories I bought this year that I didn’t get around to reading during the actual holiday because of time constraints. However, while it’s set during Hanukkah, with the holiday itself playing a primary role, it’s more than strong enough to be enjoyed outside of the season as well. I certainly did.

Seth is a paralegal in the law firm of which Lars is a primary partner, and the two have been secret lovers for a year. Seth loves Lars enough to tolerate it most of that time, even putting up with the fact that Lars pretends to have a girlfriend to support the charade that he’s straight. However, when Lars cancels out on the holiday trip Seth was counting on, Seth realizes he needs more. Fearful of the repercussions of coming out, Lars refuses, and Seth breaks things off, traveling to Whistler on his own. He’s greeted by an empty house, with no indication of where his aunt and uncle might be, and barely has time to take a breath before guests start arriving. He’s quickly over his head, because he can’t cook and knows nothing about their individual needs. When Lars shows up out of the blue, Seth gives him a couch to sleep on for one night, to wake up the next morning to Lars cooking. His culinary skills are too valuable to keeping the guests happy, so Seth reluctantly agrees for him to stay. From there, the two deal with the fallout of the fight that starts off the book.

Seth is the sympathetic core of this story. His hurt feelings and anguish are far too familiar to the average reader, as well as the actor’s nightmare conditions with the B&B. Who among us hasn’t experienced those same time of frazzled emotions? It’s to the author’s credit that she portrays Seth as so closely wound (yet still so functional) without veering into being too annoying. Instead, he becomes highly relatable, even if the specifics of his situation might not be what I would ever have to endure. His nerves propel this story forward, from his fears about his family, to his worry about the B&B guests, to his hurt regarding Lars.

Lars, on the other hand, is the calm in the storm. In many ways, he feels very too much to be true – too handsome, too well-dressed, too talented. His fatal flaw is his terror at being outed, and while he loves Seth more than anything, it’s not enough to overcome his trepidation. I found it harder to care about him – most likely due to his overperfection – but I forgave much of it because this is, after all, a holiday story, and by nature a little too good to be true anyway. Plus, Seth loves him. My investment in Seth directed my reactions to Lars.

All that being said, I wish I loved this story. After all, the atmosphere is fantastic, too. It’s refreshing to find such a strong cultural bias realized in a contemporary setting. However, the length worked against it for me. The entire last third of the story felt very rushed, Lars’ eventual change too sudden, and the blatant – and very coincidental – parallels between Seth/Lars and other aspects of the story too heavy-handed in comparison to the deft touches earlier on. I also found myself lost in regards to many of the personalities of the guests. For such a short space, there were too many of them for me to get a really strong grasp on. Every time a scene would come up, I’d invariably have to flip back to where they first arrived in order to remember who was who. It’s still a story worth picking up, though, for its delightful hero and terrific setting.


8/10 – Warm and personable

Hero #1

8/10 – His frazzled nerves vibrate through the pages, lending him a sympathetic air

Hero #2

7/10 – A little too good to be true, but hey, it’s a holiday story

Entertainment value

7/10 – The rushed ending and the large cast for the story’s size held me back from truly loving this

World building

9/10 – Incredibly immersive, so refreshing to read a story with such a strong contemporary, cultural atmosphere



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