I don’t know about you, but once December rolls around I read all the holiday and Christmas stories I can find.
Each year so many of my favorite authors either release a new Christmas or Hanukkah story of their own, or gift us with Christmas Codas – little holiday vignettes featuring some of our favorite couples from books past. It’s a chance to catch up with their HEAs and epilogue lives for a few minutes. They’re never enough, but oh, so delicious and we covet them like a six chocolate truffle box in a family of five.
But unlike a truffle, these holiday selections will still be here next year and they’re just as satisfying the second, third, or even fourth time around. Each year starting in November, I pull them back to the top of my kindle app and savor them anew.(I did some guerrilla marketing for them, pulling book covers and adding links on their behalf…hope they’ll forgive me. Click on a link and check these titles out for yourselves. Oh, and I have a new Christmas release myself. You can check out Snow Globe here.)
Here are some of my favorite holiday authors and their stories:
At the top of my list is Astrid Amara who is a fantastic writer, and who gets a whole category to herself: the Hanukkah story. No one does them better.
There is something about Amara’s stories that always pull me right into the heart of the season so completely that I inevitably look to her first. They are funny and wry and the characters have foibles that could be considered clichéd in less deft hands.
Carol of the Bellskis was the first one I read. I was absolutely hooked by the story of a heartbroken nephew stumbling into the role of cook and innkeeper for a Kosher Bed & Breakfast during a fully-booked Hanukkah week after his Aunt & Uncle’s disappearance. (Seth & Lars are revisited in the equally delightful Miracle of the Bellskis.) Holiday Outing, the story of a man reluctantly returning home to come out to his family, has such a depth of heart that I’m tempted to say it’s my favorite, except when I think about Love Ahead. And then I’m torn because it’s one of the best road trip-with-beleaguered-boyfriend stories around. I love them all. I even read them in July.
When I finally met Ms. Amara last September at the Gay Romance Northwest Meet-up in Seattle I guachely demanded a new Hanukkah story as soon as possible. She looked pained as I babbled, but was very kind, I don’t know if it helped, but in the end she didn’t hold it against me–her latest story Sweet and Sour hits the spot once more. Thank you Astrid and Happy Hanukkah!
Next up, Josh Lanyon. He’s my favorite storyteller in this genre–writing mysteries, crime, and well…moods. Beautifully, hauntingly, heartbreakingly.
His Christmas stories contain all that, yet still embrace the spirit of the season with themes of redemption, forgiveness, reconciliation. They are lovely jewels. They are the Christmases of dark snowy nights, where the only illumination is the glow from a single candle.
My first offering is Lone Star the tale of a man returning to his home in Texas after twelve years and the death of his father, coming face to face with the best friend he left behind. The themes should resonate in anyone who is human, who’s been young, who’s had to live with the consequences of hasty decisions. It’s a beautiful story.
A more established relationship is tested in I Spy Something Christmas. The holidays are hard enough to handle without being shot, and it’s made more difficult when Mark’s partner, Stephen, doesn’t trust that a man who once made lying his profession can ever really be retired. And in Icecapade another kind of relationship is taken to the next level when FBI agent Robert Cuffe appears on the doorstep of retired jewel thief Noel on Christmas Eve.
Christmas also features in some of his longer works–The Ghost Wore Yellow Socks and The Hell You Say are mysteries that use the season to great effect. But it’s The Dickens With Love that makes my heart skip a beat when we’re talking holiday reads. Lanyon crafts this work brilliantly–playing with the Dickensian Christmas memes we’ve all grown up with, without losing any of the tension and drama of the story.
And for the Fanyon, nothing’s better than the Christmas Codas he writes–short snippets that refresh our affection for some of his most memorable couples. Can we just say Adrien and Jake? This Christmas, our present from Josh is a compilation edition of these Codas entitled Merry Christmas, Darling due out mid-December. So from all of us, thank you Josh for another great year of storytelling! Happy Holidays!
Author l.b. gregg has some choice offerings for under our tree…
I loved Mistletoe at Midnight – The hot ex, the interfering family, a Vermont Inn buried in snow…Owen MacKenzie never stood a chance against Caleb Black. Yum. She does it again in Simple Gifts – painting a slow exquisite dance between two damaged but beautiful souls. Gregg can write quiet introspective men like nobody’s business, (her Men of Smithfield books are filled with them). And this year she’s adding her considerable talents to the Home for the Holidays anthology with How I met Your Father, sending us to the Caribbean for a Christmas Wedding where once-teen boy-bander Justin Hayes finally meets the father of his dreams.
Z.A. Maxfield has her own way of making the season bright.
From two men finding each other despite religious bigotry and homophobia in 1955’s Los Angeles in Secret Light, to a high school photographer trying to woo the boy of his dreams using only his camera in A Picture Perfect Holiday, to the random stranger who’s a dead ringer for Santa Claus, pulling off the save of the century when he rescues brokenhearted traveler Chandler Tracey and Chandler’s orphaned niece Poppy from the side of the road in I Heard Him Exclaim, to the the search for missing teens who have a secret they’re afraid to share, in What Child is This, (the heartfelt sequel to Crossing Borders,)…in each of these stories, ZAM captures our attention and has us rooting for the happily ever after that her characters so richly deserve.
And if they’re patient–they’ll get it, too.
Especially in the case of Ringo, the love lorn security guard with PTSD, whose object of affection is afraid to trust anything, or anyone except his dog, Bird, this year’s holiday selection Lost and Found—part of the Home for the Holidays anthology. This is a great story filled with the scenery and interesting characters that all her books are known for. As I read this story I kept pulling for Gavin to get his act together just for Ringo’s sake. I keep telling ZAM that she needs to write a sequel for Ringo–he has such heart. I should start a letter writing campaign. Ringo in 2014! Merry Christmas ZAM!
Mary Calmes is another author I go back to again and again for her novels…and this time when I poked around her backlist for Christmas stories I was rewarded with a new-to-me Holiday treat.
Ice Around The Edges was published as part of Dreamspinner Press’ 2010 Advent Calendar (currently set to retire – so scurry over there soon if you’re a fan of their annual holiday releases). It’s the story of lost love recovered, and if you’re a fan of Calmes’ voice, you’ll enjoy this lesser known short. Fans of her Warder series will be happy to revisit Malic and Dylan as they struggle to survive Christmas with the family in Cherish Your Name, but it’s Mary’s next offering that showcases the power of her writing and the size of her heart.
What Can Be is probably one of my favorite stories of any length, by any author. And it’s tough. Calmes walks us through a mine field of loss, where good people with the best of intentions sometimes fall down, and children are left to pick up the pieces and grow up too fast. It’s about reunion, and recovery, and love that won’t die. It’s mostly about hope. If you read anything this holiday season, you should read this story. Then go hug your kids.
Mary Calmes has a new story coming out Christmas Day: Where You Lead. It looks promising and I’m excited to read it, but then again, I’d follow her anywhere. Merry Christmas Mary!
Amy Lane, the self proclaimed purveyor of angst and agony, lets us see her sweeter side come the chill air of December, with a wealth of holiday reading options.
Now, in fairness and full disclosure–I knit with Amy, and I’m happy I can call her my friend. She’s one of a handful of gay romance authors that lives in the area and I adore her. But I adored her books first–long before I met her at my first gay romance literary retreat in Albuquerque. She too is a phenomenal storyteller and she understands the deep pain that so many of the LGBTQ community have suffered due solely to their sexual orientation. I think her work has the power to heal and educate and I admire her so much.
One of the first stories I ever read (and honestly I forgot this one was one of Amy’s when I was first compiling this list) is Christmas With Danny Fit. Talk about relatable. Who hasn’t thought they needed to change themselves before they were worth (insert hangup here). It’s a fun story that makes me happy. Go. Read.
The inside baseball of Amy is that she loves, loves, loves, the cute and furry. She has a dog permanently attached to her, and after getting my own kitten over Thanksgiving, I’m wondering how she manages to write. But she does, and so it’s no wonder that they play important roles in her stories. In If I Must, it’s a half-feral cat named Manky Bastard that’s the catalyst for love, and in Puppy, Car, and Snow it’s a dog named Blitzkrieg that gets into the act rescuing a snowed-in Christmas with the relatives.
But it’s The Winter Courtship Rituals of Fur Bearing Critters that really shines with Christmas Magic. The tale of alpaca farmer and fiber mill owner Rance Crawford’s slow courtship of newcomer Ben McCutcheon through the language of yarn. This is such a tender, lovely story that it’s no wonder that it’s spun out sequels Knitter in his Natural Habitat, and How to Raise an Honest Rabbit.
I don‘t know how I missed reading Turkey in the Snow, part of Dreamspinners 2012 Advent Calendar, but you can be sure that as soon as I’m done posting this monster of a blog, I’m heading over to Dreamspinner to buy a copy. It will look great next to Amy’s Christmas day release Going Up! (details to come…check out her website).
Also releasing in a few days is Amy’s contribution to the Home for the Holidays anthology benefiting the Ali Forney Center in New York. Her story Christmas Kitsch is profiled below, along with links to ways you can participate during this season of giving with your own gift of support.
Thank you Amy for your wonderful story. Merry Christmas!
Not only do these holiday treats delight and entertain, but they can also make you think, and in some cases act as a catalyst for positive change. Here are some works that fall into this category:
The story of a teen thrown out of his home for being gay, and the cop who finds him one Christmas Eve night huddled on a park bench. RJ Scott is a terrific writer and her story is at once both heartbreaking and uplifting.
Sadly, this isn’t just a work of fiction for many teens in the LGBTQ community. And for that reason, authors, publishers, and readers alike are stepping up to help these teens get the support they so desperately need. Two of these projects are happening now. The first is a collection of stories by some great authors called Home for the Holidays. Riptide Publishing is donating 20% of all proceeds from this collection to the Ali Forney Center in New York. In their own words:
“Our mission is to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ) youth from the harm of homelessness, and to support them in becoming safe and independent as they move from adolescence to adulthood.”
These stories all touch on themes of isolation, homelessness, rejection, loss and but most importantly–acceptance and love. Buying this collection is a great way to celebrate the season and support a wonderful organization. Here they are in detail:
I’ve read all but Amy Lane’s story here, which releases on December 9, and they’re great. Ally Blue, L.B. Gregg, Z.A. Maxfield, and Amy Lane are masters of their craft. These are stories about transitions. About survival. About redemption. Amy’s story is right on point–Christmas Kitsch is about a young man rejected by his family after coming out to them. In all these stories, these men find love when they need it, though not without struggle and a lot of introspection.
The second program that’s getting a helping hand from our community right now is Lost n Found, a LGBTQ Youth shelter in Atlanta, GA.
Due to the efforts of author J.P. Barnaby and Editor Elizabeth North, Dreamspinner Press and Harmony Ink imprints are helping to build Lost n Found a library. This is an exciting project and an easy one to support. Every $5 in donations buys another book for the center. Follow this link to Elizabeth North’s blog post: lost-n-found-spirit-of-christmas for more information, and proper credit for everyone involved.
I hope you’ve found a story or two (or many) to try this holiday season. I’d love to hear about your favorite Christmas Reads. Please leave me a comment along with your email address and I’ll enter you into a give away for an e-book copy of my Christmas short story Snow Globe. In the mean time I wish you Peace, Love, and Happiness for you and yours. -LE Franks