Hero for the Holidays by Charles Payseur

Rating: 3 stars
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Length: Short Story

Cody’s latest boyfriend had his family charmed, so much so that they keep asking when he’s coming back, even though the jerk cheated on Cody over and over. A friend, Sanjay — who just happens to be the boyfriend of the infamous Dr. Devious — thinks a change in scenery would be perfect for Cody. It’s a chance to spend Christmas without having his family constantly pestering him, and a chance for Sanjay and Devious to get away for a little romantic vacation.

Lair Sitting, however, comes with all sorts of problems. There’s a monster in the basement, the AI that’s supposed to be helping Cody take care of the island hideaway is AWOL, and a drunken superhero has crash landed on the beach intent on murdering Cody … once he stops listing and drunkenly vomitting all over the place. And, of course, there are shark men intent on breaking into the lair in search of one of Doctor Devious’s captured items.

Could it get any worse? Wait, please don’t answer that!

This is a silly superhero romp that just so happens to take place during the Christmas holiday. I wouldn’t so much call this a holiday romance as a romance that happens to occur in December. It’s full of all the froth and foolishness and did earn a snort of amusment, once or twice.

Cody is not quite middle aged, but no longer a twenty-something twink (not that he was ever a twink) and is feeling the sting of being dumped by a cheating reprobate. His time on the island is pleasant, if a bit lonely, so when a handsome superhero falls out of the sky, he’s delighted. Sonny — AKA Wayward Sun, half of a superhero duo — is young, handsome, and locked in a small room with only Cody for company. With nothing else to do and no one else to talk to but each other, the two soon become friends. If it weren’t for the forcefield keeping them apart, they’d eagerly leap at being more than friends.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really care for this story. While it’s fun as a superhero story, as a romance it’s a little lackluster. The two men never really develop a relationship beyond boredom and mutual attraction, and both of them have just been dumped. Sonny lost not only his superhero partner, but his lover and his band and even his house all in one swoop only days ago; jumping into a relationship with Cody seems like desperation, as Sonny’s always had other people to rely on. Even so, there are good moments, and funny ones. I just don’t buy Cody and Sonny as anything more than friends.

Purrfect Holiday by Jana Denardo

Rating: 3.75 stars
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Length: Short Story

Tony Gatti is going blind. He’s not completely blind, but it’s only a matter of time. He has his guide dog, Raven, and his doting grandmother to help him through the holidays as he adjusts to a new state and a new life. Tony had to give up being a vet due to his blindness, but Nonna has a perfect idea. Tony can apply at a nearby vet’s office as a cat cuddler where he can help socialize feral cats and comfort pets recovering at the vet’s while they wait for their owners.

Speaking of owners, Javier is instantly struck by Tony; first his looks, and then his smile. As the two men get to know each other, it’s clear they’re perfect for one another. While Tony and Nonna are planning a busy, bountiful Christmas of trees, fish, and fun, Javier is left alone. His parents have had to choose between supporting their son, or visiitng their homophobic, dying father. Will this turn out to be Javier’s worst Christmas, or his best?

Jana Denardo packs a great deal of charm and character in such a short story. She also made me so very hungry with her descriptions of food. Both Javier and Tony come from large families — Tony’s heritage is Italian while Javier’s is Puerto Rican — and they bond over food and drink and make me jealous I’m not there eating it, too.

Tony’s has no peripheral vision and what sight he has left is miniscule. Even so, Javier doesn’t try to coddle him or treat him like he’s fragile. He asks “is this okay,” and “do you need help,” before he tries to either do something for Tony, or help Tony do something for himself. This was a perfect Christmas read that incorporated not only the traditions I was familiar with — the tree, the carols, the presents — but those from other cultures. It’s a sweet, light, and charming little holiday story.

Twenty-Nine Hours to Eternity by Elizabeth Noble

Rating: 2.75 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Short Story

Ian is a flight attendant who enjoys the holidays. He is stuck at the airport and regrets not being able to celebrate his holiday. People are more familiar with the traditional holiday of Christmas than his own pagan religion’s Saturnalia. This year, though, while catching a cup of coffee in a small shop, he meets Race, who also happens to be a pagan. The two men hit it off instantly and spend the next twenty-nine hours celebrating as any pagan should, with lots of good food, a little gambling, and very good company.

But time is passing, and soon Ian has to get back onto a plane. Will their brief romance last once he leaves? Will these hours be the only ones he and Race spend together?

This story starts and ends with a bang as bombs are placed at the LAX airport. The explosion shatters the glass and leaves Ian barely hanging on to life. But the story isn’t about the bombs or the violence, it’s about the time of delightful debauchery Ian and Race enjoy together. Unfortunately, we see so little of it, and what we do see is just a fleeting glimpse, that I was unable to feel anything either for the characters or their supposed romance. There just wasn’t much there, and what there was had a great deal of telling and very little showing.

On a personal note, not every pagan religion is the same. That would be like saying someone had an Asian religion — which could apply to so many different beliefs. Even saying someone is Christian doesn’t take into account the numerous churches, theologies, and ideologies of various religions. It’s more than a little offensive and, while I do understand what the author was trying to get across, it was sloppy. A five-minute bout of research could have had her pick something other than the generic “pagan.”

A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.