Danika reviews Color Outside the Lines edited by Sangu Mandanna

Color Outside the Lines edited by Sangu Mandanna

Color Outside the Lines is a YA romance anthology of interracial love stories. (I’m not sure if the LGBTQ+ stories are also all interracial.) Perhaps it was unfair of me to pick this one up: I’m not a huge romance reader, especially when it comes to straight romance stories. I’m definitely not the teen romance reader this is aimed at. As with all anthologies, some stories stuck with me more than others, but for the most part, I didn’t find this collection particularly memorable. Some stories stood out, but I often felt like stories dropped off suddenly without a satisfying conclusion, or that I didn’t get a good sense of the characters before it was over.

Most of these stories are M/F, but there are three sapphic stories included. (The ARC I received was missing at least 2 stories including Anna-Marie McLemore and Adam Silvera’s, so the final collection will likely include more queer stories.)

“Your Life Matters” by L.L. McKinney: I wasn’t sure how to feel about this one. It is about two teenage girls in a relationship. It begins with a fight: Candace, who is Black, wore a Black Lives Matter shirt to dinner at Ari’s house. Ari is white, and Ari’s dad is an “all lives matter” cop. Ari is angry that Candace “started a fight” by wearing the shirt to dinner. Mild spoilers: it turns out that Candace is also a superhero, and she ends up at the same Black Lives Matter protest as Ari’s dad. [Spoilers, highlight to read:] Despite Ari’s father almost shooting her unprovoked, Candace rescues him from what would have been a fatal situation, and from his hospital bed he reluctantly admits she might have a point. The story doesn’t let him off the hook by completely redeeming him, but Ari’s defense of him at the beginning of the story and this ending had me feeling on edge–which may have been the point.  [End of spoilers]

“Death and the Maiden” by Tara Sim: This was probably my favourite story in the collection. This is a Hades and Persephone f/f retelling–perfect for fans of Sarah Diemer’s The Dark Wife. This time it’s Parvani who goes into the underworld, though, making this not only a queer retelling but also a switch of cultural context. This is a rich, encompassing fantasy world that made me wish that it was a full novel. The relationship between Parvani and Hades is much more consensual than most depictions of this myth, and I liked how it built. Parvani also goes through a lot of growth and change. This was an exceptional story.

“Gilman Street” by Michelle Ruiz Keil: This story follows a Latinx girl who spontaneously decides that instead of taking the bus to school that day, she’s going to head down to Gilman Street, following in her mother’s hippie past. She is sick of her best friend’s obsession with her new (racist) boyfriend. She is instantly swept up in a stranger’s world: she bumps into a girl and gets invited to her concert, complete with a mini-makeover, where they celebrate their shared Latinx culture. Tam is immediately attracted to this girl, and they flirt and bond over the course of the night. [Spoilers] She soon loses track of the girl, though, and ends up flirting with a boy by the end of the story as well–with the recognition that her school may have more possibilities than she originally thought. [End spoilers]

Honestly, I think this collection is worth picking up just for “Death and the Maiden” if that story interests you, and I’m sure McLemore and Silvera’s contributions are great. But for all the stories averaged out, this was not a favourite of mine.

Mallory Lass reviews Falling Into Her by Erin Zak

Falling Into Her by Erin Zak

Note: This review contains spoilers. I don’t think they are major spoilers, but integral to discussing the identity politics (or lack there of) in the book.

If you liked Just Jorie by Robin Alexander, you will probably also like this book. In my opinion, Just Jorie is a romantic comedy and this is a contemporary romance, so while they have similar themes and threads (age gap, first time wlw relationship), it is not an apples to apples comparison.

Kathryn Hawthorne has a penchant for older women, particularly unavailable “straight” ones. She works as Chicago’s hottest movie critic and is a minor celebrity. She comes from a wealthy family, but has a strained relationship with her mother and

Pam Phillips is newly a widow and is trying to find herself again after being under her husband’s thumb. She works at a high end boutique, Skin, and has a dog named Dorothy. Her best friend, Judy has been there through thick and thin for the last 12 years. When Kathryn comes into Skin looking for a present, everything in Pam’s life seems to change, especially the relationships she holds dear.

I enjoyed this romance because both Kathryn and Pam are likable, and I was rooting for both of them the whole way. They navigate their relationships with family and best friends, dealing with how their new romantic entanglement fits into their existing lives, which was very relatable to me. They deal with their conflicts primarily by having actual discussions about them with each other which is a big plus (artificially created drama which would normally be resolved by having a conversation with each other is one of my biggest romance genre pet peeves).

I want to take a moment to talk about the age gap and then the sex, especially as it relates to the age gap. The debate over “how many years does there have to be between the two love interests to count as an age gap?” rages on, and there is no bright line rule. This one is only eight years. As a lover of big age gaps, I prefer 10+ years. However, the two characters are in very different life stages, so I think the book still falls solidly into the age gap trope.

The sex is really hot. Zak is great with nuanced, sensual moments, and the interactions between the two love interests were a joy to read. Pam is older, but has zero experience making love to a woman. Frankly, Pam hasn’t enjoyed her sex life to this point. My favorite flavor of age gap trope is when the younger one is able to teach the older one something important. In this case, Zak delivers a really hot night where Kathryn gets to teach Pam some of the things she knows about pleasing women, and Pam gets to show off what a good student she is. Zak did a great job of conveying Pam’s nerves and allowing her to express those nerves and be supported. Kathryn met her where she was and the most intimate parts of their relationship are really beautifully done.

There were a few things that I found problematic and those took me out of the book. There are a few women in Kathryn’s romantic past that are described as straight women. According to Kathryn’s best friend Stephanie, she can’t help herself around straight women. Pam, having lost her husband, the only person she has ever had a relationship with, also initially identifies herself as straight. The problem I have is there doesn’t seem to be anything in between. Pam says bisexual one time, but it doesn’t stick. Further Pam doesn’t really deal with her changing identity, which is okay, it’s not the story Zak wanted to tell, but it felt breezed over. Her sister accuses her of being a lesbian, as do other characters in the book, and this piece of the story just feels like it was written in the 80s and not in 2017. It doesn’t do anyone any favors to make it seem like lesbians are trolling the world to try and convert women to being into other women. And, it is unfair to women who are struggling to find their identity (in this case late in life) to be boxed into being either straight or a lesbian. It erases their past experience and is cliche.

The main conflict is primarily an external situational conflict, and I would have liked more internal conflict from both Kathryn and Pam. Neither seemed bothered by or really addressed their age difference at all, they gloss over the fact that Kathryn has had many lovers in her life, and Pam only her ex-husband. Pam isn’t poor, but Kathryn is ultra rich, and that isn’t an issue either. Ultimately, Falling Into Her was an enjoyable read, but Zak set the characters up for more layers and complexity and then failed to deliver on those deeper emotional beats.

Looking for the perfect queer book for a gift? Check out the Lesbrary storefront!

Looking for some bi and lesbian books to fill someone’s stocking with? Or just feel like treating yourself? The Lesbrary has an Amazon storefront that has all my (Danika’s) favourite bi and lesbian books by genre, including a list of all of my 5 bi and lesbian 5 star reads!

Check out the Lesbrary Amazon store!

If you buy anything through that link, I will get a small percentage. If there aren’t any sales, Amazon will delete the storefront. 🙁 As always, if you can support a local bookstore instead, that is the best case scenario! But if you’re planning on buying through Amazon anyways, I’d sure appreciate the click.

A gif of the Lesbrary Amazon storefront

Marthese reviews All Eyes On Us by Kit Frick

All Eyes On Us by Kit Frick

“I don’t want her to grow up with only the voices of the Fellowship and our parents in her ears… most of all, I don’t want her to grow up to be afraid of me”

All Eyes On Us by Kit Frick promised to be a mix between Pretty Little Liars and People Like Us. I don’t usually like books that compare themselves to something else because surely they are not original and they are piggybacking on something else. However, from time to time, I am in the mood to revisit plots similar to other ones.

The TV show Pretty Little Liars–never read the books–was a hit, but it was also messy. All Eyes On Us has a clear plot with some surprises.

The story follows Amanda and Rosalie in alternate chapters. Amanda is the popular girl at school, who acts more mature than her age and has her life paved in front of her. What people don’t know though, is that her family is just keeping appearances of being wealthy. Amanda also knows that her boyfriend, Carter, is cheating on her. Rosalie comes from a religious family who are deeply rooted in the Fellowship of Christ denomination. She is also casually seeing Carter for her own agenda: she had previously been sent to a conversion camp and is traumatised by it. Rosalie wants to protect herself and her (cute) relationship with Paulina; she doesn’t want to lose her parents or her little sister but it feels inevitable. She never wanted to hurt anyone, but inevitable, people end up being hurt.

Both Amanda and Rosalie start receiving anonymous text–and sometimes paper–messages from Private, who wants them to humiliate Carter before his birthday, or else things will turn sour. Things do in fact turn sour. The two girls, especially Amanda, are reluctant to work together, but that too, feels inevitable.

As I mentioned, this book has a clear plot and sub-plots. It keeps you at the edge of your seat trying to see who did it because sometimes it felt too obvious and you just want to solve the mystery and see the motivation behind it.

I liked the characters in this book. They are all flawed, and the parents are all bad at parenting. It’s heart-breaking how the protagonists cannot rely on them, because their words or actions will be turned against them. There is more than one type of violence represented in the book. There’s a lot of toxic adulthood thoughts too, but in a way, both Amanda and Rosalie are growing in their own skin: one by figuring out what her identity is and one standing up for it and living her truth.

Let me say that Pau is the most supporting girlfriend ever. They are super cute together and from what I read, I like Paulina’s aesthetic too. Rosalie has several flashbacks and the trauma is deep. What she had and has to go through is horrific, and knowing that this is reality for some people, it’s just sad.

Amanda is both too much of a grown up in her actions and not a grown up at all, because she is set to live her life according to other people’s needs and expectations. At times, she is really mean, but she does eventually realise this. While Rosalie acts out because she’s scared, Amanda acts out because she’s hurting.

One thing that really surprised me was that I rarely blamed Carter. He’s not just the cheating boyfriend or the white over-privileged poor-him wealthy career-already-held-for-him star. He had a lot of expectations placed on him, ones that are toxic and are destroying his own happiness. Yes, he does act like an asshole sometimes, but so do the other characters. He acts compassionate, understanding, confused…and so many other emotions.

Of course, there is a plot twist. Thinking who was Private was too easy. The conclusion to the mystery of who did it and why was done well. Paulina and Rosalie are still the best couple.

I’d recommend this book if you like stalker mysteries, unlikely alliances between 1 gay and 1 straight character and characters growing to be more courageous.

Mallory Lass reviews Floodtide by Heather Rose Jones

Floodtide by Heather Rose Jones

When I heard another book in Jones’ Alpennia Series was to come out this year, I was both excited and sad because I knew I would read it in a day or two and then the window into Alpennia would be closed again until the next in her series was released. I never dreamed I might love Floodtide more than the books that came before it. It can absolutely be read as a standalone, but some of my favorite players from the first three books make appearances and I think the experience is richer having read the others in the series as well. The timeline of Floodtide straddles part of the second and third books in the series, but from a whole new perspective. I can’t wait to go back and catch new details in those stories.

Floodtide is told in first person from Rozild “Roz” Pairmen’s point of view. A laundry maid when we first meet her, over the course of the story her role changes and evolves like water moving underfoot. I thought this was a story about Roz, but it’s actually about the city of Rotenek in the way The Wire is more about Baltimore than any of the named characters in that show. This is a testament of Jones’ storytelling abilities, to be able to weave such rich worldbuilding seamlessly around a gripping tale of a young woman bearing many secrets (some her own, some of others); having left the countryside for work, she is trying to find her place in a complex new city.

I often tell people Jones’ Alpennia Series isn’t really about romance but it is about love. She writes “found family” better than anyone I’ve read. I’m fascinated by our queer foremothers and these books have fleshed out one universe where people who love other people of the same gender not only survive but they thrive. More than that they look out for each other, and in Floodtide we find out the affinity for people like themselves, people different in notable ways, transcends race and class.

There is a line in the film Ocean’s Eight about women going unnoticed, and in Floodtide that adage is applicable to the serving class going unnoticed. I say this book is about Rotenek because Roz, being in service, can go places the high society protagonists of the earlier books in the series could never go. Roz and her merry band of friends – an unlikely bunch that includes: the daughter of the town’s dressmaker, her best friend Celeste; younger cousins of book one protagonists Barbara and Margerit, Brandal and Iulien respectively; the youngest palace prince and possible heir to the throne, Aukustin; and a riverboat woman, Liz – take the reader into the underbelly of Rotenek and flesh out the inner workings of the town. Oftentimes Roz is too young and/or too inexperienced at life to understand the trouble or danger she could be in, but that kept me on the edge of my seat and turning the page.

Even more than in the other books in the series, the fantastical elements of Alpennian society, always filling the cracks of Rotenek, are at the core of the story. There is a constant sense of adventure and hope, even when the characters are facing the bleakest of circumstances.

I can’t remember the last time I was moved to tears by a book, but Jones managed to make me full on sob with happiness, not once but twice!

This is simultaneously both a fantastic entry point to Jones’ Alpennia Series, and a wonderful compliment to the stories that came before it. As one of my favorite books of the year, I hope you’ll give it a try and fall in love with the goings on in Rotenek as much as I have.

Susan reviews Heathen Volumes 1 & 2 by Natasha Alterici and Rachel Deering

Heathen Volume 1 by Natasha Alterici

Natasha Alterici and Rachel Deering’s Heathen follows Aydis, a lesbian Viking maiden trying to smash the patriarchy through the medium of rescuing a Valkyrie from a curse. In theory this is exactly my thing! In practice, I’m conflicted.

The art style feels rough and scribbly, which works perfectly for the narrative and gives it a real sense of motion and urgency. And I am absolutely here for queer warriors and women supporting other women and threatening bigots. But I do think that the story could have been set in a second-world fantasy (perhaps a magical apocalypse!) and it would have made more sense. HEAR ME OUT, it’s not for the reason you think! I don’t find the lesbian Vikings unrealistic, I find the homophobia unrealistic. The way that characters react to queerness feels anachronistic, because it sounds more like modern-day conservative Christian bigotry than anything else, which is weird enough for a historical setting, and doubly so for a setting where Christianity is explicitly only just making inroads, and thus shouldn’t have the infrastructure and laws to enforce that bigotry. I know the rule is that claiming things aren’t historically accurate when there are talking horses and mermaids is silly, I’m just confused as to how Odin became the mouthpiece of Christian values.

… Also for a comic that specifically called out Vikings wearing horned helmets as an inaccuracy, putting most of the female characters into bikinis was an odd choice! There is an in-universe explanation for it, but as written it sounds like the character designs came first and the reason came later. The fact that the crew of the ship that Aydis ends up on do manage to have real clothes, although again, they’re a mix of styles and influences that I would have accepted without question in a second-world fantasy, but was slightly surprised by when side-by-side with someone in fur and a bikini. (By the way, there is a crew of POC sailors and I am very invested in their story.)

All of that said, I do like stories about queer women banding together to punch misogyny in the face, and the way it specifically adapted the mythology of Odin’s missing eye and Brynhild works very well! When it’s being funny or sincere, it commits completely, and the panelling and art style evoke mood perfectly! It’s just that the story’s roots feel disconnected from what it actually is.

Caution warning: homophobia, misogyny, forced marriage, fridging, abusive marriages, mind control, mentions of slavery

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found as a contributing editor for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business, or a reviewing for SFF Reviews and Smart Bitches Trashy Books. She brings the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Alice Pate reviews Choices by Tessa Vidal

Choices by Tessa Vidal

Choices is fairly true to the stereotypes of its genre. As an erotic romance, its sex scenes are plentiful, overdramatic, and unrealistic. Unfortunately, it seems that these criticisms can be extended to the entire story.

Choices is a love story between the movie star, Caro Ballad and the celebrity dog trainer, Shell Tate. Both women had their start in a trailer park in Mississippi and managed to find their way to glamorous Los Angeles where they reconnected over Caro’s new adopted dog, Dickens.

Fame has always been a difficult writing subject, because so few people have actually experienced it. Tessa Vidal has fallen victim to writing about a subject she has little experience with and the result is a celebrity character who is just… boring. The movie star life is an attractive subject, but it takes a special touch to pull it off.

In general, I had a hard time getting invested in the romance. Perhaps my own personal bias against celebrity lifestyles and the world of dog breeding and dog shows, but I’m a little more likely to blame the uninspiring romance scenes. There was no tension or build-up to the relationship, and the tiny conflict the author tried to insert was too easy to overcome.

To risk a pun, this entire story was anticlimactic. Tessa Vidal included a side-story to run parallel the main couple. It follows Ryder, Shell’s twin brother, who is on the run from the FBI, and it’s hinted that he’s involved in something incredibly dangerous. This side plot was a nice rush of action for when the romantic plot fell flat, but in the end there was no big exciting peak to Ryder’s story.

Likewise, there’s a scene where Caro is being blackmailed by a private detective about her not-so-glamorous past, and this is never revisited. Caro claims she won’t pay him the money he demands to buy his silence. But he still has a hold of this information on her that she tries to keep covered up. Loose ends like this tend to point to rushed drafts and a lack of editing, and it could have potentially livened up the story where it dragged.

Overall, I was fairly unimpressed with Choices. The author has since released a few more erotica titles that appear to be set in the same creative universe, but I doubt I’ll ever pick them up.

Emily Joy reviews Women in the Shadows by Ann Bannon

Women in the Shadows by Ann Bannon

I’ve steadily been making way through the Beebo Brinker Chronicles, a classic lesbian pulp series by Ann Bannon, for quite some time. Women in the Shadows is the third book in that series and by far the most difficult to read so far.

This review, by nature of being for the third book in a series, contains some spoilers for the first two books. That said, let’s get into it.

Women in the Shadows picks up after the second book, I Am a Woman, and quite some time has passed. Laura and Beebo are living together in Greenwich Village, and both are very unhappy. Laura feels that she is falling out of love with Beebo, and Beebo is only holding on more tightly, which only pushes Laura further away. When Laura finds herself attracted to Tris, another woman, things start spiraling out of control.

Trigger warnings for this book include domestic abuse (physical and emotional), animal abuse, self-harm, and rape. These are also mentioned and briefly discussed in my review.

When I read lesbian pulp, I always come across parts that are uncomfortable to read. Some of the language used to talk about LGBTQ identities and people of color is jarring. Ideas about sex and consent are very different, too. By nature, pulp fiction is supposed to be sensational and shocking, and I think the effectiveness of the sensation and shock only grows larger as the years pass. Some of the uncomfortable themes are also due to outdated social norms and ideas. I definitely don’t read lesbian pulp with any expectations for it to meet my contemporary ideas, and I think that’s okay.

I expect a certain amount of discomfort when I read lesbian pulp. I think the discomfort is often worth the satisfaction of reading and developing a greater understanding of this fascinating part of lesbian literary history. Even with all of this in mind, I had a very difficult time reading Women in the Shadows.

I think the most difficult part of this book is domestic abuse, both emotional and physical. Primarily, Laura is the abuse victim, as Beebo constantly gaslights her, physically overpowers her, and emotionally manipulates her. If readers are meant to root for Laura and Beebo as a couple, I was definitely doing the opposite and rooting for her to get out of that situation as soon as possible. The abuse is truly hard to read, and anyone who can potentially be triggered by it should be cautioned.

Highlight for spoilers. A particularly uncomfortable scene is when Beebo fakes being assaulted and raped by multiple men, who also graphically killed her dog. Now, I say faked, but when this scene first occurs we read it from Laura’s perspective, and she believes it to be true, so it can be very triggering under the assumption that this truly happened to Beebo. We later find out that Beebo faked it to gain Laura’s sympathy in a play to keep their relationship and keep her from leaving. This means that Beebo beat herself, and also gruesomely kills her dog. Later, when a friend gives her a new dog, she kills that dog too. It’s not fun to read. It’s not entertaining. It’s just difficult.

In the edition that I read, there was an author’s note addressing some of her errors in writing this book, and ultimately, I read pulp with a grain of salt anyway, so I wasn’t entirely put off by what could be considered “problematic”. However, others may feel differently and have different reactions than I did. There is certainly triggering material in almost all pulp novels, but Women in the Shadows seems to have an extra dose, so please do read this with caution if any of the triggers listed at the beginning are not okay for you. Otherwise, this book is a part of lesbian history as all lesbian pulp is, and especially Ann Bannon’s works. That alone makes it worth the read to me, no matter how hard it was to get through at times. But… I highly doubt I will ever reread this.

Bee reviews The Tiger Flu by Larissa Lai

The Tiger Flu by Larissa Lai cover

Spoiler Warning

Trigger warnings: character death, violence, body horror, gore

I should say upfront that I don’t read much sci-fi. It’s definitely not my genre of choice, so I am unfamiliar with the conventions and the tropes, and the general methods of worldbuilding. The only reason I picked up The Tiger Flu by Larissa Lai was that it won the Lambda Literary Award for lesbian fiction this year. A hint of gay is enough to get me picking up any sort of book – and I am unbelievably glad that in this case, I did.

The Tiger Flu is set in a future overrun by its eponymous disease, forcing the population into quarantine levels, with the maligned and anarchic Saltwater City at the centre. In the outermost quarantine ring is the Grist Village, a secluded commune of women exiled from Saltwater City due to their genetic mutations: they are a society built around “doublers” – women with the ability to clone – and “starfish” – those who are able to regrow their own body parts, and so donate them to Grist women who need them. This is the home of one of our perspective characters, Kirilow Groundsel, a groom who cares for her starfish lover, Peristrophe. When an invader from Saltwater City brings the tiger flu with them, a weakened Peristrophe succumbs to the disease, sending Kirilow on a revenge quest to both kill the responsible “Salty” and find a new starfish to protect the Grist way of life.

In Saltwater City, Kora Ko helps her uncle grow potatoes for their tiny family, hoping to prolong their lives even though both her brother and uncle show signs of the tiger flu. Although the illness mostly affects men, Kora is still in danger of contracting it – and so the family decides to send her to the Cordova Dancing School for Girls, also a commune of sorts in the depths of the city, where girls are taught to dance and thieve. Kora only wants her family reunited – but perhaps her brother, K2, is more dangerous to her than she thought.

Something which I appreciated greatly about Lai’s writing was that none of the worldbuilding was explanatory. In fact, very little explanation is given, and so it is mostly up to the reader to deduce what is going on and how the characters fit within this dirty, diseased world. The prose is enough for this, with everything being slightly off-kilter, enough that you come to understand what has happened to the world in this year of 2145. It was hard for me initially, it being a bit difficult to get into the sci-fi headspace, but I did find it consuming in the best of ways.

Something which I found it hard to get past was that the plot was put in motion by the death of Peristrophe; is it an example of Dead Lesbian Syndrome? On the one hand, it means that the narrative as a whole is framed by Kirilow’s love for Peristrophe – it is what haunts and drives her, and leads to almost every inciting decision she makes. On the other hand, there is something a little Willow/Tara about it all, where Kirilow’s development as a character is only kicked into gear when her lover is killed. For a lesbian literature award winner, I’ll admit that I was expecting the relationship to feature in a different way. It was startling to have Peristophe’s death hit the page so quickly, and with no real sense of justice eventuating from it.

What I did appreciate was that the women were allowed to be – and I love the opportunity to use this word – feral. In this dystopic world, the women protect themselves from corrupt and diseased men by being violent and ugly, unwashed and aggressive. The Cordova girls are frequently referred to as “stinky”, and Kora’s own scalp crawls with lice. Kirilow isn’t afraid of blood, and readily performs surgery and amputations. It’s always refreshing to read women in this way, especially when beauty and perfection are shown to be corrupt facades. I read this as a sharp assessment of womanhood under patriarchy, in a book full of sharp assessments on a number of topics.

From the sanctuary of her Grist Village, Kirilow isn’t even aware of what a man is, except for stories she has heard about how “Salties” reproduce, a relic of how society used to be. There is something a little cisnormative about this, with the Grist process of cloning – or “doubling” – still being dependent on wombs. In a world more sharply divided into men and women, I was a little surprised that there wasn’t more discussion around the multifaceted nature of gender – especially considering this is sci-fi.

All of that said, I am still grateful that I read The Tiger Flu. It is a singular book, which constructs a confronting world filled with complex characters who don’t always behave in the way you’d think. Even in the world that Larissa Lai creates, one which is harsh and at times grotesque, these characters are driven by love, in their own ways. The prose is arresting, and the world is consuming, and it is all a sort of welcome fever dream. As someone who does not read sci-fi, I am glad I read this one – and I think you will be, too.

Mary reviews Gingerbread Hearts by Judy Underwood

Gingerbread Hearts edited by Judy Underwood

Up until recently I’ve avoided short stories. I wanted a nice, full novel to sink my teeth into and take my time with. But now I have a full-time job with a long commute and reading full novels becomes a bit more challenging. So with that, now I love short stories, which brings me to Gingerbread Hearts by a multitude of authors.

“Holiday Outing by” Alison Grey

Susanne plans to come out to her family while they’re all together for the holidays. Her sister has her back, but saying a few simple words turns out to be harder than she thought. Plus, she has to navigate each family member and their quirks throughout the night leading up to the reveal.

This was a fun little snippet. I wish I had gone on longer, it felt like the ending was only the beginning. The family was realistic and each person had their own personality that was fun to get to know.

“It’s in the Pudding” by Emma Weimann

Ida’s family has a Christmas tradition that whoever finds the almond in the pudding gets to make a wish. Ida’s wish was to let go and find love by next Christmas, not to go to the dentist when the almond disagrees with her filling. But when the dentist turns out to be someone from Ida’s past, she thinks maybe the almond wasn’t so wrong.

This was a great meet-cute that I didn’t see coming. Ida and her family, especially her friendship with her sister-in-law, had a nice and fun dynamic that was engaging to read. There were also clear sparks between her and the dentist, Theresa, that leapt off the page.

However, this story had a few fatphobic comments that were not needed or entertaining.

“Devgo” by Corinna Behrens

Rebecca has rejected and isolated herself from her friends and family, broken up with her girlfriend, and surrounded herself in her wealth and power. Now, a being both from heaven and hell, Devgo, visits her on Christmas to give her a last chance.

This was another really short one that I thought could have been expanded more. It felt like an introduction to a longer story I would really like to have read. The introduction of Devgo was interesting and believable. Rebecca was clearly a horrible person, but the author does a good job of still making her engaging as a character despite that
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“A Magical Christmas” RJ Nolan

Erin’s ex-husband broke a promise to their kids right before Christmas, leading her girlfriend Kris to plan a surprise getaway for the family. But both Erin and Kris have things to work through and obstacles to work through together to make this Christmas theirs.

This was my favorite story! Erin and Kris, their relationship, and dynamics with the kids felt real and wonderful. I could really believe they had been together for a while, and that they had some real issues to work through. At the same time, it was still romantic and fun. I wish I could read more about them.

“The Christmas Grump” and “Kissing Ms. Santa Claus” by Jae

These two stories are in the same universe with the same characters, so I put them together.
In “The Christmas Grump”, Rachel is a mall security guard during the worst time of the year to be working at a mall. Last year she has a terrible Christmas, and now she’s anything but in the holly jolly spirit. Then she meets Tyler and his single mother, who has a reason to not be in the Christmas spirit.

In “Kissing Ms. Santa Claus” it’s been a year since their first Christmas together, and Rachel and Lillian are happy. But Rachel doesn’t know what to get Lillian, and she doesn’t know exactly what Lillian wants with her in the long term.

These two were my second favorite in the collection. Jae does a great job of slowly building the characters, the world and the relationships. I feel like I could have read a whole book about these people. Rachel and Lillian have a sweet and romance dynamic. Tyler is also a great child characters, which can be hard to do, especially in the length and time constraints of a short story.

Overall, I really enjoyed this Christmas short story collection and recommend it to anyone looking for a chance to get in the holiday spirit. You can download the e-book for free directly from Ylva’ Publishing’s website.