His for the Holidays, anthology

His for the Holidays, an anthology
Stars: 5/5

Most anthologies are, at best, hit or miss. As a compilation of multiple authors there is the complexity of different styles that not all readers may enjoy, a theme (normally) that may require authors to write outside their comfort zone, and shorter works which limits what can be done. Many of the authors are novelists and have difficulties cutting down from their normally large word counts.

However, Carina Press has done a superb job of bringing together these four authors. I read each story waiting to be let down and never was. It was exemplary. As they are all holiday tales, it is fitting that they have happy endings, no matter how dark the previous pages may have been. If you're having trouble getting into the holiday spirit, be sure to pick this book up!

Mistletoe at Midnight by LB Gregg
The anthology starts off with a trip down memory lane as Owen happens upon his high school sweet heart, Caleb, who vanished one day with his family. As Owen and Caleb awkwardly interact, each moment is complicated by the presence of Owen's ex-boyfriend. As Owen and Caleb struggle to understand each other and what happened in the past, Owen's father is looking ill and it could be his cancer returning. Can the family make this a holiday to remember?

The reader is led through the holidays with Owen's open nerves, making each interaction a rush of emotion and disappointment, struggle and need. Gregg does an excellent job of making Owen hurt and sore (emotionally) without being whiny and angsty. My eyes burned with the threat of tears at one point, even knowing that this holiday tale probably wouldn't leave me feeling down. I look forward to reading more by this author.

Nine Lights Over Edinburgh by Harper Fox
This is the darkest of the set, although it doesn't fail to deliver its happy ending. Nine Lights Over Edinburgh has us following a character that lacks good qualities, although not completely. He's an alcoholic cop who makes his own rules and throughout the story makes bad choice after bad choice, while adamantly thinking he doesn't need anyone's help, risking his life and that of his family's.

Even after he meets his match (so to speak) he continues to do what he wants, which results in the rising action. Eventually he leans on Toby, and then the rest of the officers, to fix everything that is wrong. A gritty story of life walking the beat while struggling with personal issues and the need to prove he can stand on his own, this story takes us from the dark days of solitude to brighter days of hope.

Special recognition for the title, which isn't extremely obvious but is a small delight when you make the connection, or at least for me it was.

I Heard Him Exclaim by Z.A. Maxfield
This is probably the most consistently happy of the four stories as our leads immediately recognize their interest in one another and work toward that end, even with the struggles that take place between them. While I would label this story as the weakest of the bunch, it still stands strong and is a good read. Some of the sexual antics were a little surprising and dropped me out of the moment a little, but they weren't revolting or disrupting enough for me to not continue. A touching tale of being strong and being willing to lean on others, this story will have you wondering if you're really ever too old to believe in Santa.

Icecapade by Josh Lanyon
For Noel Snow, cat burglar extraordinaire, falling for FBI agent Robert Cuffe is probably a bad idea. But ten years--and nine drunken phone calls--later, Robert Cuffe is standing on his front stoop accusing him of a recent set of crimes. But Noel is living the clean life and has nothing to hide as Cuffe follows him around while he helps his neighbors, sets up his Christmas tree, and tries to understand why Cuffe is there. But if they can let down their guards, Noel may just find that Cuffe is there to catch him when he falls and Cuffe may learn Noel only has one thing left he wants to steal. (His heart, obviously!)

A charming dynamic of tough FBI agent who refuses to let Noel see any of his emotions and a reformed thief who just wants his happy life to be perfect with the man he obsessed over for the last decade. The pair is furthered along by incidental neighbor visits as Noel slowly reveals more about himself--more than he'd like, but certainly exactly what Cuffe needs. Be prepared for 95% of this story to be a struggle of the heart, and the last 5% to be a joyous celebration. Merry Christmas indeed.


Should We Drown in Feathered Sleep by Michael Merriam

Should We Drown in Feathered Sleep by Michael Merriam
Stars: 3.5/5

A clever commentary on the state of our world mixed with an enjoyable story. Should We Drown in Feathered Sleep touches upon environmental, political and religious topics without delving too deeply or offending too completely. It works to make the reader think while we are carried on the wings of the story...and the loons.

Original story. Although the post-apocalyptic (or post-horrible things) world is nothing new, the author has taken a fresh approach. The environment is dead or suffering, but the atmosphere of the story isn't desperate or depressing as the people have begun to survive in this new world. In addition, the story takes an interesting angle when it looks at religion, faith, and miracles.

Main Character. Our heroine is a good mix of weak and strong. She's has moments of 5-year-old child, throwing tantrums when she feels her independence is being threatened, but it adds to the depth of her character, even if it possibly could grate on a reader's nerves. Although her greatest struggle--keeping independence while being limited to a wheelchair--is not anything new, the parallels the author draws between her and the loons pushes this beyond a story of a handicapped individual and into a story of overcoming fears of our weaknesses.

The ending. While I won't divulge the end, I found it appeasing to the buildup through out the story. We are given a happy ending that many post-apocalyptic stories do not give us, while it isn't completely unrealistic.

Cover. It has a lovely, eye-catching cover that is very fitting for the story.

Ending. While the ending was fitting for the story, it felt slightly rushed and a little too tidy, but nothing awful.

Although there wasn't much that I would mark as a weakness in the story, the reason it scored so low in my star rating was because it never really grabbed me or spoke to me. The romantic interest was lukewarm, which may be appropriate because the focus of the story isn't romance, but I felt like most of the story had the same lukewarm approach. It doesn't mean the story wasn't enjoyable--it was--but neither the story nor the romance nor the characters really grabbed me and held on so I wanted to finish the book this instant. Would I read it again? Sure. Would I recommend this to others? Probably.


Island of Icarus by Christine Danse

Island of Icarus by Christine Danse
Stars: 3.5/5

Our story opens in clutter as Jonathan sorts through the things in his office that he hasn't gotten around to putting away, even a year after being in his position at the university. With it, Danse shows the reader the life Jonathan is living, disorganized mentally as he struggles to overcome the shadows of his past while dealing with his new limitations, mainly that of a mangled arm that has a clockwork replacement. Although this is a first person perspective, we are not overwhelmed with angst or emotion, as our narrator is stoically Victorian British and a scientist, which is a refreshing difference from the emotional rides that some stories focus on.

Instead, Island of Icarus is a study of man, of determination, and of creating one's own fate. Although initiated through someone else's will, Jonathan's growth through the novel gives him a spine to make his own decisions and the confidence to follow through.

Steampunk. Danse did a very nice job of creating a lightly steampunk atmosphere without short-changing the reader. She included steampunk elements (clockwork, mechanics, Victorian era), without making it a true steampunk piece of writing (aka, heavy with mechanics/steam engineering). True enthusiasts of this genre may feel it doesn't fit the style, but it's present enough to pass.

Characters. We have our classic Victorian educated man, Jonathan, who has suffered injury and heart break and has been marooned on an island with Marcus, a dashing American who is ambitious, crafty and a genius. Even though he is a genius, he's not socially inept, and yet he has isolated himself on this island. Of course the reader knows it's about more than wanting time to work on his project.

Writing. It was enjoyable, and led me to discover that "wow" is not a modern term (I initially thought it was an anachronism within the novel), but dates back to the 1500s. The novel seemed fairly well researched, both of the time period and the mechanics of clockwork gears and flight.

Beach Sex. There are at least two places you don't want to be naked and rolling around. The beach and in hay. Thankfully the sex didn't involve penetration, but sex on the beach is just a bad idea generally. But I guess when it's all very instantaneous, you don't want your lover to run off because he's changed his mind.

Title. Icarus is the son of a craftsman who, along with his father, used wax and feather wings to escape the island they were imprisoned on. Ignoring his father's warning, Icarus flies too close to the sun, melting the wax and falling to his death. Perhaps it should have been titled Island of Daedalus, since Marcus is the craftsman. There is also some issues that Marcus doesn't really want to leave the island as Daedalus and Icarus did, although he does show some reckless behaviors like that of a young boy (Icarus) which requires Jon to rescue him. I like the basic concept of the novel being called Island of Icarus since there are wings involved, but I'm not sure it's appropriate.

While I enjoyed the story overall, I was never enthralled with the characters or the plot, never motivated to keep reading to see what happened next. If you're looking for something mellow to read, this would be a good choice. If you're in the mood for something a bit more adventurous or emotional, I wouldn't start here.