RATED XXXMAS coverRating: 4 stars
Buy Links: 
 Amazon | All Romance | Amazon UK
Length: Anthology

Rated: XXXmas is a holiday duology with stories by Lisa Henry and J.A. Rock, and by E.F. Mulder.  I was super excited to read this one as it features two menage, holiday-themed stories that looked to be sexy and fun.  It also seemed like a great chance to read a story from two of my favorite authors, Henry and Rock, as well as to try a new-to-me author, Mulder.

When taken together, this book was enjoyable, but unfortunately I found a big disparity in my feelings toward the stories.  While I totally loved Henry and Rock’s story, I didn’t like Mulder’s as much, for reasons I’ll note below.  I was also somewhat surprised at the big difference in tone between the two stories. For a two-story set, I was expecting them to mesh a little better. While they share the theme of holiday menage, the tone of the two stories is quite different, which was a little bit jarring.  All that said, I more than loved Henry and Rock’s story, and I think Rated: XXXmas is worth reading on the strength of that story alone.

Fall on Your Knees by Lisa Henry and J.A. Rock
Rating: 4.5 stars

When Asa realizes his coworker Drew has nowhere to go for the holidays, he invites him to come to dinner with Asa and his partner, Javier.  Although he definitely doesn’t want Drew to be alone over Christmas, Asa’s motives aren’t totally pure.  Javier and Asa have been together eight years and have a wonderful relationship.  The only tricky part is that they are both Doms, so occasionally they bring home a third for some play. Asa hopes that the sub vibes he is getting from Drew are not just wishful thinking and maybe he will interested in more than dinner.

As it turns out, Drew is definitely attracted to Asa and very interested in exploring his submissive side with the two men.  Drew is very kinky, but he has been too nervous and shy to actually try out any BDSM play beyond experimenting solo.  He is thrilled to have a chance to let out his submissive, slutty side and try out all his fantasies with Asa and Javier.  The only hard part is knowing that when the holiday is over, Asa and Javier will still have each other and Drew will be left alone again.  But as it turns out, Asa and Javier may be more interested in Drew than he expected, and maybe there is a chance the three of them can find happiness with each other after all.

Ok folks, hold on tight here because this story is definitely deliciously dirty.  From candy cane dildos, to spunky Christmas cookies, to torturous trains, these guys make use of all kinds of holiday toys as they play together.   It is hot and sexy and dirty and so much fun.  What I really liked here is that for all the (very large amounts of) sex, there is substance to this story as well.  Poor Drew is just so nervous and shy and desperately wanting to explore his submissive side, but not brave enough to seek it out.  So although part of him is freaking out when Asa and Javier approach him, he is also thrilled to have someone finally see what he needs and give it to him.  We can feel his excitement as he finally gets to live out his fantasies, and we see him growing in confidence as the story goes on.  I also like the way we get to a potential happy ending for these guys in a way that doesn’t feel forced. It would have been crazy for a couple together eight years to suddenly be ready for a long term commitment with someone they have been with for a couple of days. So I appreciated it wasn’t this miraculous declaration of love and forever after, at the same time that we can really see how these guys can ultimately end up in a happy threesome.

I did find myself questioning the appropriateness of Asa basically propositioning a subordinate from work. That seems like kind of an HR nightmare.  But other than that, I really thought this story was great.  The three men are all nicely distinct (sometimes tricky with a menage, especially with two Doms) and I felt like we really get to know them throughout the story.  We get a nice blend of sexy kink, combined with a sweet connection between these three men. So great story and I really enjoyed it.

Shepherd, Wise Man, and the Little Drummer Boy by E.F. Mulder
Rating: 3.5 stars

Shepherd Lucas is thrilled to see his friend Zeke Wise, who has surprised him by coming home from active duty in Afghanistan for good. The two have always been close, ever since they were teens and Zeke was best friends with Shep’s quasi-brother, Dave.  Zeke makes it clear that he is interested in more than just friendship with Shep, but Shep is dating Harry and even though things are a bit rocky now, he wants to make it work.  Not to mention, Shep didn’t even know that Zeke was gay, though it turns out Zeke had a relationship with a man while in the service.  When things fall apart with Harry, however, the guys have a chance to take their relationship further and both clearly want one another.  But before anything can happen between them, Zeke needs to get past his nightmares from the war, and Shep needs to get back some self confidence after the rough relationship with Harry.

When the guys visit Shep’s family for Thanksgiving, they meet CJ, another veteran who is staying with Shep’s father and his girlfriend.  CJ makes it clear he is interested in both Shep and Zeke, and the guys have some fun all playing together.  No one expects feelings to develop between the three of them, and when CJ and Zeke seem to really connect, Shep is wary.  But it turns out that there may be a place for all three men together.  Still, there are issues they must get past first. Shep needs to regain his confidence in himself, Zeke needs to work through the PTSD and the pain of the loss of his lover in the military, and CJ is waiting for news on the remission of his cancer.  The three men are falling for one another, but they must hope for good news for the holiday and the ability to put the past behind them and look toward the future.

So, I think the bones of the story are interesting and there are lots of elements I typically like — menage, lover’s reunited, and the military themes, among others. And I think some of this was done well.  I liked Shep’s large, loving family and enjoyed the interactions with them (though these people have no filters about their sex lives in front of their family at all). I thought CJ’s past was interesting as a young man who had lost two limbs in the military, then is facing cancer.  He remains upbeat and full of life, zipping through his bucket list and not holding back on reaching for what he wants.

Unfortunately, there were a lot of other areas that didn’t work for me as well.  First off, I felt like this story was just kind of flitting all over the place. Even doing the summary for this review, I could barely figure out how to explain what goes on, and I left a ton of things out.  It just seemed like we would go one direction, then change to something else, and then change focus again. Lots of things are introduced and they aren’t all fully developed and I just kept feeling like we were all over the place in the story.  One of the side effects is that I don’t feel like I really got to know any of these guys, and as a result, had little investment in their relationship.  Even after reading the story, I have little sense of what these men are like, other than horny.  So I just couldn’t bring myself to care enough about them to have it matter to me if they ended up happily together or not.

The pacing is also strange here. We spend almost two chapters with Shep and Harry.  Harry is clearly a douche, we can tell from basically the first few pages, but Shep sticks with him (though we never learn why he has no self confidence and why he stays in this bad relationship).  I’m not sure there is any reason we even need to meet Harry (versus starting the book after they have broken up). Instead, we have multiple scenes with this character who ends up irrelevant to the rest of the story. For comparison, the major conflict of the book essentially begins and is resolved in a page and a half.

Aside from things with Harry, everything else happens fast.  Throughout the book we see these guys seem to move through their issues with little growth or self examination and it all happens quickly.  Zeke is dealing with the stress of post military life, and then he is over it.  Shep gets out of this bad relationship, and then just is fine.  They basically all fall for one another in a day and are practically in love immediately (despite Shep ending his relationship THE DAY BEFORE).  This is all part of this kind of jerky story line where we are sort of all over the place. It even made it hard to follow at times, as we have about four different settings and 10 different people we meet early on and I had trouble tracking who was who and where these guys physically were a lot of the time.

There were other issues, but there is no sense in piling on here.  It is not like there is terrible writing or an awful plot or anything. In fact, as I said, I think the bones of the story are good and there are some interesting elements.  I just found it hard to get into the story, to relate the characters, and the follow the path of the plot at times.  I think there needed to be some fine tuning here and this could have worked really well. As it was, this one was just ok for me.

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