Dreamspinner Press has published an anthology of holiday stories and here we have review a handful of the shorter ones.  Each story can be purchased individually, or as a full anthology.  In addition to these short stories we have reviewed/will be reviewing several of the longer ones individually, including Eight Days, Bianca’s Plan, Turkey in the Snow, and Snowbound to Nowhere

A Great Miracle Happened There by Kim Fielding
Rating: 4 stars

Reviewed by Jay

Jude Bloch is sitting in his favorite coffee shop, annoyed by all the holiday shoppers and revelers, when he is interrupted by the gorgeous Mac Appel who asks to share his table.  The two have an instant attraction and go back to Mac’s house for what Jude assumes is a quick one off.  But they run into each other the next day and the pattern is repeated. Soon the guys are hanging out every day, going to dinner, painting Mac’s new house, having sex, and enjoying each other’s company. But Jude knows it isn’t meant to last.  He doesn’t do much beyond one night stands, and Jude is sure once Mac meets some more folks in town, he will be on to someone better.  But much to Jude’s surprise, it turns out that he and Mac might just be perfect together.

This was a sweet story of two guys who fall for each other almost unexpectedly. Or at least unexpectedly to one of them.  Jude doesn’t have much self confidence and can’t really imagine what Mac sees in him. He is used to the periodic one night stand and even as he finds himself in a relationship, doesn’t quite seem to believe it is actually happening.  Jude is a bit grumpy and out of sorts, and I love how the sweet and lively Mac totally draws him out.  Mac is just so warm and fun that he is a perfect match for the more reserved Jude.  The story is more sweet than sexy as even though they hop into bed within minutes of meeting, there isn’t much sexual tension and all the sex is pretty much off page.

I liked how Fielding incorporates the holiday of Chanukah here, especially the play on the title.  The Chanukah dreidal has four Hebrew letters, each the first letter in the Hebrew phrase “A Great Miracle Happened There,” referring to the miracle in the Chanukah story.  When Jude finds himself happily with Mac he considers it his own Chanukah miracle, with the men falling for each other over eight days.  I did find it hard to totally understand where all of Jude’s self doubt comes from. I get the history with his family has left him feeling unwanted, but he seemed so oblivious to Mac’s feelings, even after they were together daily. But overall I found this one sweet with likable characters and a nice holiday feel.

Aunt Dee Dee’s Holiday Check by Joel Skelton
Rating: 3.75 Stars
Reviewed by Amy

Ethan, who works at a coffee shop in Minneapolis, usually heads home to Arizona to be with his family for the holidays. When his parents announce their decision to divorce, he decides that is the last place he wants to be. He’s resigned himself to a lonely holiday at home, tormented by his roommate and his girlfriend’s very loud sexual antics. He is surprised and delighted to receive a $5000 check from his Aunts Dee Dee and Agnes, who show their support for him by telling him to have a good time with the money. He decides on a last-minute ski trip to Colorado. In the meantime, Henry, who lives across the street from the coffee shop, is being abandoned by his roommate for the same ski trip due to illness. Henry and Ethan meet on the bus ride to the resort, and their attraction is sparked. It turns out to be a ski trip neither of them planned, but better than they could’ve hoped for.

This was a cute, short holiday story. I enjoyed Ethan and Henry and the comfortable chemistry they had with one another. This maybe wasn’t a story about insta-love, but the attraction was there from the very start and their relationship developed quickly — perhaps a bit too quickly. One of the difficulties with shorter stories is being able to convincingly portray the development of a relationship in a short amount of time, and this story fell short in that regard. They dance around each other a little bit in the beginning, but I had a hard time seeing how this could be more to the two of them than just a vacation hook-up. This could be due, in part, to the unnaturally scripted dialogue and predictable plot. For instance, Ethan’s reservation is lost when he arrives, and Henry just happens to have an open room! The true stars of this story were Ethan’s aunts. I found them unapologetically brash and delightful and could’ve read an entire story about them. While this isn’t a literary masterpiece, it makes for a quick, fun holiday read.

The Lord of Misrule by Alix Bekins
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Amy

As the story begins, we are introduced to Edric Bearsbane and Keegan Arey. Keegan has just defeated his opponent in a fencing battle and is awarded the title of Lord of Misrule as a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism. As they leave this world behind, we see the men in their true identities, as Dan And Taj. Dan, the more dominant partner, works hard as a graduate student. Taj, the social butterfly, is busy as well, and they struggle to find time to connect during the holiday season. Dan, who’s always had a warm, traditional Christmas wants to share this time with Taj and make it extra special for him. The story follows them throughout the holidays, ending on January 6th, Twelfth Night. As part of his role as Lord of Misrule, Taj is given the responsibility of organizing it. Dan is able to leave his dominant side behind for a bit and support Taj as he steps up to his role. Twelfth Night ends with a very special holiday surprise for both of them.

Alix Bekins always does a good job of creating likable characters and sharing their stories in interesting ways. In this case, the concept of the two main characters switching between their roles as busy graduate students and their more romantic lives as knights allowed us to see different sides of their personalities as they were able to break out of their regular roles and support one another in other ways. It was easy to see the love and commitment that they had for each other. They had sexual chemistry as well, as Bekins’ sex scenes have not only heat but true affection. The world that she created was fun, and I saw this story as a great introduction to a full-length novel. Not much happens, but there is a good solid base for something bigger. Taj and Dan are begging to have their story told.

A Charming Idea by Alex Mar
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Crissy

When Evan is forced to keep his charms shop open on Christmas Eve, he finds himself facing Christmas alone. Evan sent gifts to his family for Christmas, promised snow to his niece, and his neighbor, Mrs. Halfpenny, prepared a Christmas meal for him. When he arrives home, Evan finds his other neighbor and wizard Guardian, Kian, injured and unable to make it upstairs. Kian has always been standoffish and a little rude towards him, but Evan was raised to have manners and invites Kian to rest in his apartment before trying to make it to his own. Evan has a plan: patch Kian up, feed him, let him rest, and send him on his way. But plans don’t always work out. With a little help from a meddling neighbor, Evan may not end up alone for Christmas after all.

A Charming Idea by Alex Mar is…charming. It’s a cute holiday tale of unexpected attraction that leads to an even more unexpected night of passion. I adore Evan. He’s sweet and likable. I’m not too sure about Kian since I was only able to view him from Evan’s perspective. Kian seems more of the strong silent type, gruffer than he actually intends to be.

I have two quibbles with this story. One, the first half of the book is description – description of Evan’s shop, his family, the path to his home, the outside of his home, and the inside of his home, but not enough magical world building. I would have liked more story and less unnecessary description. Which leads me to my second quibble. I would have liked the story to be longer – maybe see how Evan and Kian actually spend Christmas, or even some of the tale in Kian’s POV so readers could get to know him better. As it is, the story felt very one-sided and linear.

All in all, this is a cute story with a sweet, very quick, romance that could have been longer, but was still a charming tale.

The Roommate by Teegan Loy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Crissy

It’s Christmas Eve and Ryan hasn’t seen his boyfriend, Jordan, in a week. When Jordan told his family that he was moving in with Ryan they insisted on helping. The only problem is that Jordan hasn’t told his family that he’s gay. Now that the family is headed to the airport, Ryan has returned to his apartment with plans of Christmas Eve romance – Jordan’s favorite homemade meal (even though Ryan isn’t the best of cooks), a candlelit dinner, and a heartfelt Christmas gift. But Ryan’s plan starts unraveling when he burns the meal, then is surprised when Jordan shows back up at the apartment with his family who missed their flight because of the blizzard. And then Jordan introduces Ryan to his family as his roommate, Ryan’s heart is broken. He is in love with Jordan but not sure that he can live with a man who is ashamed of him. With Christmas on the horizon, Ryan and Jordan are forced to evaluate what is most important to them.

The Roommate is surprisingly angsty and emotional. In such a short amount of time, this author found a way to project Ryan’s turmoil and heartbreak onto readers, a very promising talent. I really liked Ryan and empathized with him, although there were times that I thought he was too forgiving. Jordan, it took me a little longer to like. At first, I thought he was selfish, weak, and ashamed, but he turned out to be an okay guy, although I would have liked to see him actually man up a little more. This story is full of secondary characters that made it such a fun read – seemingly clueless parents, the odd aunt, an all-too-knowing teenager, and a intuitive baby sister.

The story could have used a little more background into Ryan and Jordan’s relationship. What about their first date at the concert made it so amazing? Why were the words Be Still memorable enough to be engraved on the bracelet? I also would have liked a little of Jordan’s perspective. Maybe he would have been a little more likable.

In the end, The Roommate is a sweet Christmas story about the difficulties of coming out complete with angst, a bratty sister, and a happy ending. It’s a nice holiday read.