Susan reviews The Raven and the Reindeer by T. Kingfisher

The Raven and the Reindeer is T. Kingfisher’s retelling of The Snow Queen. For those who aren’t familiar with the basic story of the Snow Queen: Greta and Kay are childhood friends, and when the Snow Queen carries Kay off in the middle of the winter, Greta sets off to find him and bring him home.

It’s really good. Gerta feels young and believable as a character, and her confused relationships sound about right for a girl of sixteen – Kay is a jerk and I’m so glad that it’s established up front that her crush is unreciprocated, because the way she tries to convince herself about their relationship is familiar but also very much oh honey, no, you can do better. In this case, better is Janna, a bandit princess who is delightful; Gerta is aggressively sensible, as are many of T. Kingfisher’s protagonists, but appears to understand that she’s in a fairytale world where ravens talk and witches are a hazard, so seeing Janna’s reactions to all of the strange things that happen is excellent. I truly enjoy how much strength they draw from each other; the Snow Queen has the ability to make you only see the worst in yourself and everything around you, and the difference in Gerta’s reactions when it is turned on her and when it is turned on Janna is beautiful. (Especially in contrast to Gerta’s relationship with Kay, who manages to be a worse person than the literal bandit.)

Also the animal characters in this are excellent, especially because they have such great personalities and recognisably not-human perspectives! And they’re fun! Mousebones, the titular raven, is funny and an excellent force for moving the plot forward when it might otherwise slow. The flying otters (DID I MENTION THE FLYING OTTERS) are adorable, and I love the way that the author manages to weave in the differences even between species! (I’m just saying, a raven arguing with otters about names is quite good.) The worldbuilding is woven in in all sorts of ways as well – there are stories woven in, and the secondary characters fit into the story so well. Plus, the details of the landscape are really well drawn, including the practicalities and dangers of it, and the descriptions are great. The road Janna, Gerta and Mousebones take to the Snow Queen’s palace, and what happens once they get there, is brilliantly done.

In conclusion: I really loved this, so if you like fairy tale retellings and/or flying otters (!!!), I absolutely recommend it.

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 writing for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Julie Thompson reviews Mistletoe Mishap by Siri Caldwell

For science professors Kendra and Viv, winter vacation means catching up on paperwork and maybe squeezing in research, too. They’re a long-term couple with a wonderful rhythm, but romance gets buried beneath the layers of routine. Long hours dedicated to the geology and immunology departments at the university plus professional obligations equals short evenings at home. En route to the university one morning, a radio personality fields comments from callers offering advice to a woman interested in pausing her sex life in the months leading up to her wedding. Inspired, Kendra proposes a twelve days of Christmas-style contest as a way of turning around their stagnant sex life. Whoever can make the other orgasm the most by the end of the contest is the winner. Siri Caldwell weaves a satisfying mixture of sugar and spice, wonderful character chemistry, and relatable intimacy fluctuations. I appreciate that neither woman is portrayed as being the “ideal”, as far as sexual expression. It’s an oft written formula that one partner needs to be “fixed” or “brought up to speed” in order for Happy Ever After. Viv isn’t publicly demonstrative with affection, while Kendra, though not Ms. Octopus hands, is a bit more so. When they’re at home, well, it’s not for lack of passion that they’ve been in a dry spell.

Each chapter starts with the current score (i.e. Kendra 0, Viv 0). Chapter beginnings feel like opening Advent squares, the anticipation of what treat awaits adds to the festive atmosphere, though neither woman is particularly religious. Mathematical calculations, strategizing, and other shenanigans add humor as Kendra and Viv establish parameters, and scope out tryst locations. Sex is a large part of the story’s focus, but it’s not the only component of their partnership that the two women explore. For anyone who is or has been in a long-term relationship, physical and emotional aspects ebb and flow over time. The story stays outside of first person point-of-view territory, opting instead for third-person limited on Kendra’s side. As a result, the reader is privy to some of what Kendra is feeling, but much of the couple’s thoughts and feelings become clearer as they get to know each other again.

If you’re in the mood for a heartwarming, sexy holiday story, heat up some peppermint hot chocolate and curl up with Mistletoe Mishap.