The Home for the Holidays anthology brings five tales of coming home again. Or finding a new one. I really enjoyed the book and read all the stories almost back to back. If you’re looking for a sweet, wonderful anthology, with a holiday theme and enough angst to give it some weight, then I highly suggest you pick this one up. And as an even better bonus, the proceeds from the sale of this anthology are going to the Ali Forney Center, and that right there is reason alone to buy it. Of course, you can’t go wrong with the stories within either. So it’s a win all around.
The Eighth Night by Jenna Kendrick—4.5 stars
Kai has worked hard to build up his business and launch a new game. But when his parents guilt him into coming home for Chanukah, he cancels his vacation because he thinks they are sincere about family bonding time. They aren’t, and he’s left in the apartment by himself with the dog. Riding the elevator loaded down with the dog and groceries, Kai doesn’t even pay attention to who else is in there with him. When the elevator breaks down, Kai freaks out a little, but when he realizes that the other man in the elevator is Ari, he’s relieved. Ari was his best friend growing up and was his first boyfriend. Now they have a chance to reconnect, and their spark is still strong. But Ari is hiding secrets, and he knows if he tells Kai, everything will be over. Ari asks that he wait until the end of Chanukah to reveal his secrets, and Kai agrees. But Ari knows he loves Kai, and that waiting will only prolong the time until he gets hurt. When he tells Kai the truth, Ari just might get his own Chanukah miracle.
This story was sweet and wonderful, with acceptance and longtime love at the base. The moments where Kai and Ari were together were really lovely. I especially liked the short scene where Ari lit the menorah, as it really highlighted the struggle Ari was going through and also gave a really wonderful holiday tradition and scene. I also liked the dichotomy between the guys’ families. How Kai’s family was cold and distant, but had no problem accepting his sexuality…as long as he dated a Jewish boy. And how Ari’s family was loving and wonderful, until he told them he was gay, and it turned out their love was conditional. There were a couple of moments where I wished things were expanded a bit more. They felt a little rushed and I was looking for a bit more from them. But overall, a really lovely story about two men finding each other again.
24 Hour Hold by Heather C. Leigh—3.5 stars
Detective Damon Porter works alone and he gets the job done that way. When detective Anderson Molloy is temporarily assigned to the major crimes unit, he is partnered with Damon. Seven years ago, while at the police academy, the two men were lovers. But it ended badly, Damon leaving Ace when he wouldn’t come out, and they haven’t seen each other in seven years. Now Ace is back, and he’s doing his damnedest to win Damon back. Only Damon is still uptight and rigid, and he can’t stand Ace’s more laid back attitude. More to the point, it seems like Ace hasn’t changed, and Damon isn’t willing to risk his heart again. Especially when he nearly didn’t survive the first time. But as the two men work together to try to solve a string of burglaries, they begin to remember all the reasons they were drawn together in the first place. Being snowbound together on Christmas Eve leads to a round of sex that almost has them back together. But if Ace can’t come out of the closet, he’s going to lose Damon for good.
Reunited lovers is one of my favorite tropes, and I especially love it when they work through something bad that tore them apart the first time. Damon and Ace were endearing in their own ways, but I had a little trouble feeling that they were kind of two dimensional. I wasn’t loving the alternating first person present tense narrative, but it worked well enough and I knew in whose head we were most of the time. There were a few points where it got very close to head hopping, where a scene would stop and we’d jump to the other MCs POV for the rest of the scene. There were also times when the story lagged a bit, and became just a tad repetitive. These things kept me from connecting to the MCs as I would have liked to. However, I honestly liked these guys and their story. It wasn’t my favorite, but it was good.
Learning to Love by Felice Stevens—4.75 stars
Gideon Marks has returned home to Brooklyn, and bought a catering business to prove to everyone that he’s actually made something of himself. He’s worked hard to get to where he is, and getting a catering job at his old temple is just the thing to prove it. What he never expects is to come face to face with his high school nemesis, Jonah Fine, who is now Rabbi at temple. Jonah doesn’t exactly seem like Gideon remembers, and his comments confuse Gideon. Jonah always lectured and berated Gideon in high school, so he can’t exactly understand where the caring man is coming from. But as the truth to Jonah’s motivations come out, as well as the secret Gideon has been hiding, both men come to understand the perceptions they had of each other were skewed. But one thing is certain, the attraction they had is still going strong and when they finally act on it, they might find what they’ve been looking for in each other.
I want more Gideon and Jonah. I would love to see a longer story featuring these two men. What Stevens manages to convey in a short story, all the layers and emotions, really made me care about them deeply over a short span. The story was complete as it was, and it was satisfying as well. But I still wanted more, because I didn’t want to say goodbye to them. I had a few moments early on where I was confused as to what was going on, only to later understand. There were also a few very short moments I would have liked fleshed out. But really, I loved this story, these characters, and all the little details and layers.
Saving Silas by SJ Himes—4.5 stars
Paramedic and veteran Gael Dominic is living a content but jaded life. He’s closed himself of and he’s fine with the way he’s living. When he takes a shift on Thanksgiving night so that another paramedic can be with this family, Gael expects the usual chaos and calls that accompany the holiday. What he never imagines is that there will be a mass shooting in the shopping district. When the mayhem clears, Gael notices something everyone else has missed: a body in the alley. The teenager is barely clinging to live, and Gael treats him and then waits at the hospital for news.
Silas has been suffering at his father’s hands for years, and when he awakes in the hospital the one thing he knows for sure is that he feels safe. But it’s not the place that makes him feel that way, rather it’s the man at his bedside. Gael and Silas are drawn together, and when Silas escapes from the hospital and tells Gael why, Gael saves him once again. Keeping his angel safe is Gael’s mission, and he’s not going to stop until Silas is out of his father’s clutches. And the love they found with each other is what is going to get them through.
There was a lot packed into this short story, and though there were a couple of small moments where it felt a little over the top, it really worked very well. I loved Gael’s jaded and cynical nature, and his reasoning for being that way makes sense. I liked watching him open up, watching him grow as his walls broke down. Silas was a sweetheart, and I liked watching him come into his own. There was a little instalove going on here, but it was fitting with the story. Really nicely done, with two pretty great characters. I enjoyed it.
Christmas in LaLa Land by Liv Rancourt—4.5 stars
Aron is a Danaan Sidhe and a rent boy. He craves human touch like a drug, and conversely, humans who touch him become addicted to him. Every Wednesday Damian Jones delivers the AmazonFresh delivery and Aron flirts. He wants more, but he can’t have it. When Aron is able to make an escape from the house and the life he lives as a prostitute, he goes on a road trip with Damian. Damian tells Aron the truth about himself, but Aron can’t do the same. And when he does, Damian can’t believe it. It takes some working through, but these two men just might be able to figure it out together.
I enjoyed this story, and I really adored Aron. I liked the way he viewed his life. He was somewhere in the middle of content, and I liked that when he reached his limit, he got out. Damian was pretty great too. I liked his honesty and his affection for Aron. I liked that he had faults, and that he recognized them. These two guys worked really well together. The holiday element was a little less in this story, but I liked that it brought up both Solstice and Christmas. It was a nice touch and nicely done.