When I set out to clear my shelves of lingering Christmas themed books I didn’t realize how many short stories I’d gathered over the years. This is a little surprising, since I’m not a huge fan of short stories. What I am, however, is a collector. If I’m putting a series together I want ALL of it, including the shorts. As a result, I had lots of little extras lingering about on my kindle cloud.
Today I’m going to review several as the first post of my 2021 Christmas reading challenge (other than that initial set-the-challenge post). This is the list I started with:
Over all, I was more pleased with the bunch than I would have expected. There were very few total flops for me. I admit that I loved equally as few. But most were pleasant enough, which is all I really ask of a holiday short.
I decided to skip Careened (by Bey Deckard), Illicit Activity (by J.R. Gray), The Greatest Gift (by Felice Stevens), and Family (by Brigham Vaughn) since they were later in series that I’ve not caught up with and don’t stand alone. I didn’t have the time or inclination to read several full books before getting to the point where the short fit in, at least not during the time I set aside for this reading challenge. Hopefully I’ll get to them in the future.
That left 14 stories read, which is still a significant haul. Here, I made a little slide show of them as I read them, after which you can find the individual reviews.
Haunted by the Holidays, Kathryn Blanche
Bonus stories for series are always a little chancy. Should they be read first, as an introduction to the series, at some point between books, or after the series to avoid spoilers? The way Haunted by the Holidays is labeled I wasn’t able to do more than guess. I chose to read it, even though I’ve not read the rest of the series. I wouldn’t advice this for others. I still don’t know if it needs to be read at the end of the series, or just after a certain point in the series. But I definitely think you need to know the characters to get the most out of their little holiday interlude.
The writing is pedestrian, but readable and the story is sweet. I especially appreciated that it references Christmas, the Solstice and Hanukah. So, it’s fairly agnostic on which Holiday is being haunted.
A Private Miscellany, by K.J. Charles
Not much to make this Christmasy excerpt one or two references in letters between parties. But oh well. Mostly I was utterly confused. I’d mistakenly thought this was part of the Charm of Magpie series (which I’ve read), but it isn’t. It’s part of the Society of Gentleman series (which I have, but haven’t yet read). So, little of it made sense to me. So, no real review at this time. I’ll just mark it as read and move SoG up my TBR, thank you very much.
Chasing Christmas Past, by Melanie Karsak
Enjoyable enough, though a little hard to connect to as I didn’t know any of the characters. This is a ‘prequel’ but I do wonder if it’s not meant to be read after the series so you know everyone. All the same, I liked the steampunk elements and the peak at what seems like a fun crew.
The Eighth Night, by Jenna Kendrick
I thought this was really sweet and well written. That things moved as quickly as they did stretched credulity a little bit. But it is a short story.
Christmas at the Wellands, by Liz Jacobs
This was pretty marvelous. There’s enough to it to develop a sense of setting, plot and character. And, oh, what characters! I don’t think it would be possible to not love Kev, Andrew, and the kiddos. There was a sense of predictability to it all, but generally enjoyable.
A Wizard for Christmas, by Dorothy McFalls
Meh, ok for a little Christmas short. There was nothing overly objectionably about it, but nothing I loved either. The set up was fun but the villain was defeated with unbelievable ease and the romance was rushed and cheesy. Could do with another round of edits, especially to look for missing words. But all in all, not bad.
I liked this quite a lot. It’s admittedly been 4+ years since I read The Clockwork Monk, so Trevor was almost a new character to me. But I enjoyed him, his sisters (well, sister and sister’s BFF), the world and the romance. Though that last one was a tad rushed. It is a short story after all and quite a lot is squeezed in. As always, I’d have preferred a full length story, but I’ll take what I can get.
I liked this a lot. As always, I wish it was longer. I’d love to see this as a full length novel or maybe a full length novel following after it’s events. But I think one of my favorite Rancourt shorts I’ve read.
The Santa Drag, by Liv Rancourt
I think this might have actually been a reread. When I opened it on my Kindle it was at the end and as I read it it was all vaguely familiar. Oh well. It was sweet, if a little insubstantial and unbelievable, with a cute little twist at the end to bring it all together.
The Ugliest Sweater, by Gillian St. Kevern
Two things you need to know about me. One: I absolutely believe some things can be so ugly that they transcend into glory. Two: I anthropomorphize inanimate objects and then try to rescue them from obscurity or destruction. So, buying and wearing an excessively ugly sweater because no one else would is exactly the kind of thing I would do. So, I could absolutely relate to Dan here. (I also have a Christmas and Christmas decorating obsessed friend who I would say fits Jake almost to a T. But considering all the sex in the story that assertion might be a little awkward.)
I thought the two men and their insecurities were cute together and it was a sweet, easily readable story in general. I’ll be giving St. Kevern another go in the future.
Fred and Ginger, by Isobel Starling
Meh, it was fine I guess (other than some rough editing). And it’s appreciable being about a gay baker/bakery after the American fracas of a gay couple being denied a wedding cake. But I just found I didn’t particularly care for the characters or the plot. Even as short as it was, I eventually started skimming. I think this is a ‘it’s me, not the story’ situation. Not overly christimasy either, which is only relevant since I read it as part of this Christmas themed reading challenge.
The Winter Spirit, by Indra Vaughn
I enjoyed this. I liked Nathaniel and Gabriel a lot and I liked them together. I appreciated the emotional complexity of the returning crush and how Nathaniel dealt with it. The whole thing is nicely written and enjoyable to read. I did wish it was a bit more bulked up so that it had enough pages to explain Gabriel’s situation more. The existence of a redemptive task with objectives and rules also suggests the existence of a judiciary. I wanted to know how that worked. All in all, however, I’m pleased with the read.
Twist of the Magi, by Caren J. Werlinger
This was very sweet. I found it a little predictable and clumsy at time, especially around the Candice character. And the making of Penny’s dream could be argued as the result of nepotism, instead of earned in earnest. Though I imagine that’s not how readers are meant to take it. But generally it was more sweet than anything else. All in all, I enjoyed it.
This took a drastically different tone than the full length novel that precedes it (Wild). But it was still nice to catch up with the guys and Daisy. I mean how could you dislike a short story full of puppies?! I did think the POVs were inconsistent and I had a little trouble knowing who was speaking sometimes, but sweet over all.
Ok, that’s a wrap. I’m thrilled to have gotten some these stories read and off my TBR. The oldest I picked up way back in something like 2013!
Come back tomorrow to catch day two of my reading challenge when I review Holiday Haunts, by Imogen Markwell-Tweed & Wendy Dalrymple. How about you, anyone else reading Christmas books?