His for the Holidays, an anthology
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.