His For The Holidays by Josh Lanyon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This anthology contains four stories that take place during the holidays, but the only one that fully integrates the season into the plot is the third.
I had a problem deciding how to rate the book as a whole, because I loved one of the stories and disliked another. As usual, I did the math (added all the individual ratings and calculated the average rating) but that resulted in 3 1/2 stars. Should I round it up or down? Well, I decided to round it up because there was only one story I didn't like.
Mistletoe at Midnight by L.B. Gregg (4 stars)
This was my first read by Ms. Gregg and I'm glad to say that I enjoyed it very much. The story is narrated by Owen and I'm not too keen on first-person narratives, but I liked Owen's "voice". He was an overall nice guy with a few shortcomings - like his unwillingness to let himself open up - and I felt myself drawn to him. I didn't connect with Caleb on the same level, though. I liked him - or what I got to see of him, I should say. The "problem" is, Owen's family was as interesting as Caleb and I'd dare to say they had as much screen page time as him. Owen's mother made me laugh and want to bang my head on the table at the same time, his father tugged at my heart and his brother was just crazy enough to be the best brother ever. I even liked Owen's ex-boyfriend Keith, which was refreshing considering how Romancelandia is full of despicable and hateful ex-lovers, LOL.
Besides the first-person narrative, I had a bit of a struggle with the way flashbacks were inserted into the story. I liked seeing how Owen and Caleb met and fell in love when they were in their late teens and coming to terms with their sexuality, but some of the flashbacks came out of nowhere and hit me right in the middle of a scene. All things considered, that was just a minor issue I had because I did like Ms. Gregg's writing and had a fun time reading this story. Oh, and I loved the Christmas gifts Owen and Caleb exchanged. Sweet!
Nine Lights Over Edinburg by Harper Fox (2 stars)
Phew, this was not a light read! The story had a dark tone and none of the characters was particularly nice. I didn't like McBride, I didn't get to know Toby well enough to either like or dislike him, and as a result, I didn't care about their relationship. I liked the action scenes, but I don't read romances for them.
The plot was too complex to fit the constraints of a novella, and that affected the development of McBride and Toby's romance. In fact, I felt that the focus of the story was McBride's downfall and recovery, and his relationship with Toby was just an afterthought. If I had to classify this story following the rules I know, I'd have to create a new genre: women's fiction with a male character as protagonist. As I'm not a fan of women's fiction and having a man as protagonist makes no difference to me, this story failed to grab me.
I Heard Him Exclaim by Z.A. Maxfield (3 stars)
First, let me say that I didn't get the title of this story. What did you hear him exclaim? Who are you? And who is him? Does that have anything to do with the story? (My confusion didn't affect my rating, of course. I'm just curious.)
I thought this was a very sweet Christmasy story, but it was also very unrealistic and I couldn't suspend my disbelief enough to enjoy it without frowning over Chandler's and Steve's foolishly trusting behavior. Chandler was neurotic about Poppy's safety, which was okay considering he was as insecure as only new parents can be, so how come he didn't think twice before accepting Steve's ride offer? Steve was a complete strange and you just don't climb into a strange's car like that, especially when there's a safe alternative available. Steve's safety wasn't in any danger when he offered Chandler and Poppy a ride, but I thought he pushed his luck when he invited them to stay at his house. On his defense, he knew Chandler better by then, but still.
All in all, this was an okay read, with some quirky but likable characters and a good amount of holiday cheer. There wasn't much conflict in the story, but that was fine because I wasn't expecting it. The HEA felt a bit forced at first, but a nice epilogue cemented it and made it okay. After all, all's well that ends well.
Icecapade by Josh Lanyon (5 stars)
I wish all short stories were like this. I adored Noel and Robert, the sexual tension between them was masterfully built and their HEA made me sigh like a ninny. This story was written in third person POV, but we only "see" what's in Noel's mind (and heart) and we never get Robert's POV. I was pleasantly surprised to see how well that worked, considering I'm not a fan of first-person narratives exactly because I feel there's something missing when I can't "read" all the characters' mind. In this story, not being privy to Robert's thoughts and feelings was essential - and that's all I can say without giving too much plot away.
This was my first read by Mr. Lanyon, but it won't be my last! I really enjoyed his writing style and I think he's made a great job depicting Noel and Robert. The only "complaint" I have is the absence of an epilogue. I had no doubts about Noel and Robert's HEA and liked the ending, but it left one loose end that could have been settled in a nice epilogue. All in all, that was only a minor issue and it was nowhere close to ruining this excellent read.
Note: I received this eARC from Carina Press via NetGalley. That had no influence on my review/rating.
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