Review by Xanthe
Member of the Paranormal Romance Guild Review Team
My Christmas Nemesis by Sue Brown
Lawrence is forced into working another late Christmas Eve shift with none other than his arch nemesis, Aaron. A couple of years ago, Aaron was not kind to Lawrence and so he’s avoided the other man ever since. Now there’s nowhere to go and it seems like Aaron has an ulterior motive.
We start this anthology with a short, co-workers, enemies to lovers romance. It’svery low heat level, with just enough to know where this couple will be heading in their future. I felt for Lawrence as he seems like quite a lonely guy and it’s sweet, the effort that Aaron goes to for him, making their Christmas Eve much more than Lawrence was ever expecting.
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year by Joanna Chambers
I really felt for Jordan as he has one of the worst starts to his workday, the day when he has his first ever client meeting, and a bus drives past him through a huge puddle… His saviour comes in the fine form of Harrison, who he may or may not fancy. Jordan is his own enemy though, as he hasn’t socially engaged with his new colleagues and assumes a lot rather than knowing them. I really connected with Jordan, preferring to work alone and totally not the social butterfly but he hasn’t helped himself either when it comes to a dilemma he’s faced with later on. Harrison seems to be the sweetest guy who would do anything for anyone, and I’d love to hear more from his POV and more of the couple in the future.It’s a short and emotional ride for Jordan that definitely ends up bringing some Christmas cheer.
A Spaceman Came Travelling by Barbara Elsborg
This short story starts off as quite an emotional tale with Seven being picked on by co-workers and alone in a cold room for Christmas. Overhearing a conversation between a young boy and his uncle puts Seven on a mission to make his wish come true. Seven is a kindhearted soul, just perfect for this series. He’d do anything for anyone whilst living with very little himself. We’re given very little information on him to start with, but things become interesting when he takes the chance with Cooper. Cooper has been sweet on Seven for ages, not just going to the cafe for the marshmallow snowmen. His and Ben’s story is so sad but what Seven does for them is a little bit of a miracle that makes a young boy’s wish to Santa come true. I liked how we get a glimpse of their future too, seeing just how they grow as a family.Cursed and headless ex-knight Devlin didn’t think his un-life could get any worse. With his honour in tatters, all he wants is a chance to break his curse… except the demon who can break said curse has better things to do with her time – like running from the Demon Hunters who followed him to town, destroying the life she’d eked out for herself. Forced to work together to survive, Devlin gets another chance to change her mind; all he must do is turn up the charm, appeal to the sense of honour his sinfully delicious demonic companion doesn’t have and hope she doesn’t mount his head on her wall as a trophy – or worse, his heart.
Ethan Gold Feels Like Home by Suki Fleet
This one missed the mark a little for me. It took quite a while for me to get into the story or feel anything between the MC’s. My heart did break for Ethan as within a couple of days he loses his job and home and that leads him to sleeping in his car in the middle of Black Rock Forest. Win’s story is hard to nail down as there’s little given in detail but the way he feels physically is scary to them both, wanting to make him better but at what cost? There are hints given about his past before his curse, which sounds like a horrible life for him. From the moment they meet it seems fraught with danger with constant cold getting worse and wolves chasing after them. They did make a connection once able to relax and warm up, though brief, and that’s when I started to get into their story. A sense of dread and peril soon follows. There’s also a good twist that comes at the end and a general life lesson from the man in the forest.
Kissing the Winter Wizard by Amber Kell
This is a lovely winter romance with a dash of magic and soulmates. Sam’s nibbling, Maddie, dares him to kiss the statue that he’s been visiting in the Winter Wizard Park, never guessing what will result from that. He’s too busy stressing on saving Maddie from their abusive father. I found it easy to fall into and enjoy those stories, despite the slightly darker tone regarding Maddie. There is fun and heated moments when Sam meets Allard, who is quite the smooth operator. An outlandish story is believed very quickly but it’s also hard to deny when a certain person can carry out moments of magic in front of you. A sweet story with a HEA for all involved.
Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot? by Liam Livings
I really enjoyed this one. There’s a great balance between the lighter moments, heated encounters and the angst for both Drew and William. Drew’s trip back to Southampton means taking a step back in time to his school days that he does not look back fondly on. William was one of his bullies, but he has changed a great deal since then, showing remorse and guilt for what happened. Drew is quite magnanimous about it, leading them to get on quite well. Who doesn’t love the trope of ‘only one bed’ when there is a snowstorm? Things develop between the two, but it leads to a lot of questioning and withdrawal on William’s side. I felt for him with how his personal life had been recently and people showing their true colours. I love how a conversation with a stranger can make you really think about things and lead to our MC’s having their Christmas HEA. Both men have great friends who are really supportive throughout, one would even say pushy when it comes to Williams only friend Bel. One of my favourites so far, I think.
Santa No. 5 by Clare London
This is quite a sweet story with Jacob adapting to life in a small town after policing in London for years and Nick is the black sheep of his family of criminals. What’s good is that most everyone in Kingsmere has such nice things to say about him. They don’t start on the best foot as Jacob is in full policing mode when Nick is in a witness line up to identify a thief, but he’s soon brought around by Nick’s obvious caring ways in what he does for the community and the great chemistry the two share. It seems that it’s only when Jacob connects with Nick that he starts to relax into his role and the town rather than being judgemental about how things are done differently in a village police unit than the Met. I also enjoyed the small mystery plot that has Jacob all in a tis in the first place, causing him quite the headache as he still gets used to his new team and a village’s way of life. A romance with a low heat level that goes quite nicely with the story.
A Night to Remember by Susan Mac Nicol
This is the shortest book in the anthology but that doesn’t detract from how good it is. Whilst our two MC’s, Milas and Teddy, finally admit they like each other in a fun/minor case of stalking, the main draw is the night of music they put on to benefit local homeless street performers.It really adds a magical feel as people come together and enjoy what they so often walk past without paying attention. It also shows that you never know someone’s story or reasons for living on the streets. Alfie is the main guy that Milas and Teddy get to know, and I love how the story ends for him. The romantic element of the story is adorable as the young men are clearly into each other and have some entertaining interactions. Short, sweet and gives all of the feels for helping those around us.
Tainted Love by Louisa Mae
Tainted Love is a little different as our main character is Lucien, an angel who exists for our dark emotions. He’s always happy to push things along to have some fun but there’s a certain angel who exists for the light and positive in people and is more than willing to thwart Lucien’s plans. The connection between the angels came through strongly, you can tell there is a past between them, but it also feels a bit secretive as not loads of details are given. Lucien has to deal with the memories of the two of them together whilst not having Sage. The trouble he attempts to stir up causes a dose of drama, entertaining him for a minute in the moment but also seems a bit conflicted as he wanders through town. Sage is a positive influence on him but, with his natural instincts, he also can’t help riling him up. When they have their moment, it gets mildly heated, and you can feel the need they have for each other but that’s not always enough.
The Christmas Pony by Jackie North
A Christmas story to warm your heart. Not a romance in the traditional sense but Ty gives a glimpse into Christmas time at Farthingale Ranch with Clay, Austin and their daughter Bea, eagerly awaiting what Ty is supposed to be delivering, even in a blizzard. Farthingale Ranch is one of Jackie’s big series and it’s always wonderful to revisit the family there. My heart went out to Ty as well with the troubles he’s going through over Christmas time, but you can feel the festive magic in the air and there is a happy end to everyone’s story.
Holly and the Heathen by Jack L. Pyke
You ever read a book, then look back on it and feel confused about what you just read? That’s what this was for me. I don’t know if Gray, Jan and Jack have been written about previously but they’re an established couple that it feels like we should know with the history between them all. Then there is Kiyen and Fal who the triad meet on the side of the road in snowy North Wales. I spent a good deal of time trying to figure them out. It’s a story with darkness, in the characters and the plot, a mystery that feels unfinished, but we have a lovely scene to end with for the three men who have clearly been through a lot together and have strong bonds.
The Christmas Cafe by Ali Ryecart
A Christmas story with a lovely message taught to Seb, who wakes to find himself robbed and left in the seedier part of South London. Ed’s Eatz is the first/only place he stumbles across and there he meets Tom. Tom is working the cafe Christmas Day, giving somewhere for the locals to go who have nowhere or no one else. Through a series of misspoken or unthought out words, Seb is taught the worth of those around him and the value of kindness and compassion. Ali’s writing is generally set on the darker/harder side of life about always manages to bring life and love to the characters and story being told.
Never Let You Go by K.C. Wells
What a wonderful way to end this anthology! A short story with heartache, warmth and family and Christmas time.This is actually the only story that I’ve shed a tear as Max visits his ex-husband, who is in a coma after an accident. Meeting Tiny is the bright side to those visits, a large man who exudes care and compassion. He supports Max and they get to know each other over the short space of time. I love all of the characters involved, especially Nico who is just a ball of energy and so welcoming to Max. The romance element is slow burn and fits really well with the timeline of what goes on in the story. For such a short story, the author really tugs on the heartstrings, but I know that no less comes from K.C. Wells.
Review by Linda Tonis
Member of the Paranormal Romance Guild Review Team
This anthology is in support of AIDS/HIV Charities. Thirteen stories by thirteen different authors guarantee that you will find something that you like/love.
My Christmas Nemesis: Sue Brown
Laurence Taylor works at a low-cost store and for the third time he finds himself working on Christmas Eve. His supervisor, Jenn does everything in her power to accommodate Laurence, but the higher ups sometimes override her. This year he not only has to give up his plans of wearing his onesie, watching tv and ordering Chinese food but working with him is his nemesis, Aaron Branfield. Eighteen months ago, Laurence had finally worked up the courage to ask Aaron out but when he overheard a conversation where Aaron agreed with another worker that Laurence was a loser Laurence decided to switch any schedule that would put him with Aaron. Another story where talking could eliminate misunderstanding.
The Most wonderful Time of the Year: Joanna Chambers
Jordan Speirs has relocated to a new city with a new job and an apartment that has left him struggling. He works for a software company and feels like he doesn’t fit in, socializing is not his thing. He has been asked to attend a meeting, something he rarely if ever does. He doesn’t own a suit even though his interview was online, and he could have done it naked. Forced to buy a suit with very short notice he settles for what he can find. The day of the meeting things go from bad to worse when he misses his stop and manages to get splashed by a passing bus. He shows up looking like something the cat dragged in and it is Harrison MacKenzie who comes to the rescue. Harrison is a man he is attracted to and who he keeps turning down when invited to go somewhere with him and who he is convinced is straight. Jordan is about to learn a lesson, don’t assume.
A Spaceman Came Travelling by: Barbara Elsborg
This was a beautiful story mixed with joy, sadness and surprises. Seven works at a café and the only thing that brightens his day is when a customer and his young son come in. One day he overhears the young boy ask for a spacesuit so he can see his mom in the stars. His dad tries to explain that it is too late for Santa to get it for him, but this little boy has total faith in Santa and doesn’t doubt him for a minute. Seven is determined to make the boy’s wish come true and manages to fashion a spacesuit and helmet, even space boots and leaves the box in a tree where you would see it looking out the window. In addition, to the suit he draws a book trying to show the boy that the stars are far away, and he would need a spaceship. Cooper is Ben’s uncle and has taken over his care with help from his parents since his sister died. He knows immediately who he must thank for Ben’s special gift, and he discovers Seven’s address and pays him a visit. Seven lives in an abandoned home, with little food and little heat. His dinner consists of three slices of tomato on toast and wearing outdoor clothes indoors is his way to stay as warm as possible. Two men meet both wanting to find love but one of them has a secret which could make a relationship impossible. Loved Seven a man who has known nothing but hardship and Cooper who wants to make Seven’s life better but can he.
Ethan Gold Feels Like Home: Suki Fleet
This story was amazing, surprising, secret and suspenseful. “The man who wasn’t really a man” that appeared in the first few pages and the mystery of what that meant kept me glued. Ethan Gold has been living with his aunt since the death of his father. He did everything in his power to please her, but nothing did. Now an incident at the carwash he worked at caused him to be fired and for his aunt to throw him out. Ethan is living in his car and trying to stay somewhat hidden, he finds himself in the forest, a forest rumored to be haunted. A sudden snowstorm and the sight of a naked boy walking alone would change his life. Ethan takes the boy whose name is Win into the car but can’t seem to get him warm. The heat isn’t enough and when he touches Ethan the cold shifts to him making Win’s touch dangerous. Twenty-four hours until Win’s curse ends, if he survives. Win recognizes Ethan but isn’t allowed to reveal who he really is, not even his real name. One surprise after another, one near death moment after another until the two boys discover the truth and whether they have a chance for a future.
Kissing the Winter Wizard: Amber Kell
Samuel Cammon looks forward to the time he spends with Madison Hunter, his/her niece/nephew. His brother-in-law is a cop and abuser who forced his sister to suicide leaving Madison an orphan. The one-time Sam called the police to report the child abuse the cops threatened him so now he needs a lawyer to work out custody for him but with his brother-in-law getting to the judges and the police refusing to do anything custody is a long way off. Winter Wizard Park is where Sam took them for a picnic and Sam always asks what gender pronoun he should use. He doesn’t really understand about genderfluid, but he understands about struggling and when they were eight, they confessed to feeling female at times, sometimes male and sometimes neither. Before leaving the park, Sam was dared to kiss the statue of the wizard and went about his day until said statue knocked on his door claiming to be his soulmate. This story was heart breaking and something that happens every day to children whose parents can’t accept them for who they are. Allard, once a statue, is now trying to fit in to an entirely new world and he does it with magic and a determination to make Sam and his/her life good.
Should Old Acquaintance be Forgot?: Liam Livings
Drew is an adult film entertainer, unashamed of what he does and living a good life after struggling when his parents threw him out. Drew has been invited to his school reunion at a time when all he knew was bullying. The worst bully was William who spent seven years making Drew’s life a nightmare but now curiosity is the reason he decided to go, where are his bullies now and how they are doing, hopefully not well. William has decided to go to the reunion to find Drew and apologize and hopes he can be forgiven. William teased Drew about being gay and acted like every other homophobic moron, even though at the time Drew wasn’t even sure if he was gay just that he felt different. Life really gave William a surprise when he discovered that after years of bullying someone, he thought was gay found out he himself is gay. Apology accepted, a drive in the snow, a stop at a motel and the bully and the bully’s victim have amazing sex. That should have led to something more since they both harbored feelings for each other for years, things aren’t always what they seem.
Santa No. 5: Clare London
Jacob Carter is the new sergeant in the village of Kinsmere. He tried climbing the ladder with the Metroplitan Police but instead of going up he wound up going down. He wound up in this small village because he was told that he acted too big for his boots, now he must try to fit in and take things slow. Three unsolved home break-ins are on his list of must solve and he bumps heads with some of his staff.A simple thing like a man trying to lift something out of a woman’s handbag has him making a big deal, a line-up and the victim angry about it. On top of everything else the perp was wearing a Santa suit and now all the men in the line-up need to wear one. It doesn’t go well because the women claims that none of the men are guilty including Santa No.5 who was seen by a security guard but without the victim’s testimony the case it closed. Santa No. 5 is Nick Hollybush, a member of a family in and out of jail but when Jacob sees him all he sees is a man he wants to see again but not in jail. The attraction between Jacob and Nick is off the charts but Nick is hiding a secret. Is it a secret that will make a relationship between the two men impossible.
A Night to Remember: Susan MacNicol
Milas has had a crush on Teddy for the whole study year, but he isn’t sure if Teddy is gay and the last time, he approached a man he assumed was gay he got a broken nose for his effort. He can’t resist following Teddy and his best friend Newton pointed out that he was a stalker, but it didn’t stop him. What he never realized was that Teddy was just as interested in him and was aware of his stalking behavior. As Milo followed Teddy, he was grabbed by the man himself who admitted he was interested, and this was the start of what they both hoped would lead to more. While talking they heard a man playing the violin and his playing was electrifying. He was homeless but when Teddy heard his name, he knew who he was because he was once world renowned. Now Teddy and Milo want to figure out a way to bring his talent and the talent of other homeless people to the public with hopes of having the proceeds go to help the homeless and to AIDS charities.
Tainted Love: Louisa Mae
Lucian is a fallen angel watching as everyone around him is enjoying the Christmas season, gift buying, caroling, laughter and joy while he laughs at them. He is ready to find someone he can share his form of holiday cheer with only while looking around he senses the angel that he has loved for centuries, Sage.Sage is the happy to his sadness, the one that will try to make things right while Lucian wants the opposite. When Lucian finds a bar that draws him, he knows he will find the right person to focus his attention on and it wasn’t hard. As soon as the bartender asked him what he wanted to drink Lucian zeroed in, drawing the attention of the man’s husband and causing a fight filling Lucian with joy. It was Sage who appeared and made everything right. Sage and Lucian have a chance to be together but is it a chance that will happen and will it change Lucian.
The Christmas Pony: Jackie North
Ty is making his last delivery in a blizzard. The trucking company he worked for sold out and the new company was cleaning house, from clerical staff to drivers all will be unemployed come the first of the year. With the blizzard making driving difficult Ty had to decide if he should turn around and go back or deliver the pony a little ten-year-old girl named Bea was waiting for. Ty didn’t want the little girl to be disappointed and so he was determined to deliver her Christmas present. A mile from the barn he was supposed to go to the truck went into a ditch leaving Cinder, the pony and one very cold human to walk. When arriving Ty was taken by the love he felt in the barn and the love Bea had for her new pet. Her two dads told Bea that Santa sent the horse and Ty went along with the story so of course Bea couldn’t hug him enough. With the storm in full force the men invited Ty to stay and have dinner with them. They gave him a place to sleep, and he felt welcomed, and it was everything he could have ever dreamed of and knew he would never have. When he got home, he would be unemployed and without a place to live since his lease was up, he was not facing a very good New Year. It is so sad when people have no one to share the holidays with like Ty but is that the end of his story.
Holly and the Heathen: Jack L. Pyke
M15 Director Gray Raoul and his two lovers Jan and Jack are travelling to Gray’s family home for the Holidays. The snow is blinding and on a hairpin turn they are witness to a car coming towards them crashing into a tree. Two young men begin exiting the car as Gray refuses to stop intending to leave the two alone in a snowstorm with no telephone reception if they even have a phone. He is pressured by Jan and Jack to do the right thing and go back and get them. Fal and Kiyen have evidently time jumped and wonder if the tree they hit was a crossover point. They have secrets and gifts, one of which is the ability to black out the internet and phones when they get to Gray’s, so they are not discovered by their enemies. Fal and Kiyen are lovers and can see that Gray and Jack and Jan are into a three-way relationship. Kiyen has a huge tattoo on his neck that has locked his ability to speak and control over body and mind. Mysteries abound around the five men, mysteries that are quite unique. I must add Jack Pyke has done magic with the meshing of her characters from her Don’t Series and her Ink Series for this short story…..
A Christmas Café: Ali Ryecart
Seb decided to go clubbing and picked up two men that were just his type only his type turned out to be thieves. Seb woke up in a dingy room wearing only his jeans, watch, keys, phone and wallet all gone including his custom jacket and boots. The room smelled and he knew he had to get out, but it was snowing, and he was barefoot and half naked. Fortunately, he found a sweatshirt and old shoes which stank as bad as the room, but beggars can’t be choosers. With no idea where he is he begins walking and discovers he is miles from home. A sign Ed’z Eatz Café is open and the only option open to him. He begs to use the phone realizing that he doesn’t know anyone’s number, they are all programed so he just must push a button, I know how that feels. No friends to call, cabs not available, no money and stinking like a garbage can he must depend on Tom the young man doing the cooking. The café is packed with people who can’t pay or pay a small amount, it is a haven for those who have nothing, and it is a place where Seb will learn a valuable lesson.
Never Let You Go: K.C. Wells
Max Balan has been visiting his ex-husband Paul for three weeks ever since his car accident and his coma. Although they had been divorced for three years Max was still listed as his next of kin and since no one else came to see him Max couldn’t let him be alone. He read to Paul, sat with him and was happy he was getting excellent care especially by his nurse Dave “Tiny” Ryan. Doctors don’t expect Paul to come out of his coma and it will fall on Max to make final arrangements including the decision to pull the plug. When Max meets Tiny in a café they both open up about their pasts, Tiny being thrown out of his home because he was gay, being married and trying to be normal, having a child that his wife didn’t want so he is raising him on his own. Nico is 12 and when Max is invited over for dinner he is thrilled. Max and Paul fought over children, Paul didn’t want any and Max did and that is what ended the marriage. Nico has welcomed Max, but Max just buried his ex and although he is attracted to Tiny and loves spending time with Nico is there any chance for these two men.
I have read many anthologies, but this is the first one where I loved every story. These stories are about love, forgiveness and finding happiness, just what everyone needs around Christmas.