Shana reviews Comet’s First Christmas by Delilah Night

Comet’s First Christmas by Delilah Night

I love sappy holiday movies, and Comet’s First Christmas nailed the sweet and silly tone of some of my favorites, glossing over any plot holes with Christmas magic.  It’s a sweet, earnest, PG-rated novella about a reindeer shifter who falls for an elf. The worldbuilding is excellent, but the storyline is unlikely to appeal to readers who aren’t die-hard fans of North American Christmas culture.

Claudia has never left the North Pole. She spends her days training to join the elite squad of flying reindeers who help Santa deliver gifts around the world. Did you know Santa’s reindeer are all queer women who can magically shift their form?  When a spot on the team unexpectedly opens up at the last minute, Claudia takes the title of Comet, and is assigned to the New York City office, where she’ll work with East Coast elves in the final few weeks before Christmas. Claudia has anxiety and is worried she won’t perform well. Luckily her Personal Assistant elf, Jillian, is smoking hot and supremely competent.

Jillian grew up in New York and prefers it to the formality of life in the North Pole, where the roles of reindeers, elves, and snowmen are tightly prescribed. Jillian’s willingness to think creatively comes in handy when secret Christmas haters hack the reindeers’ communication tech. Will solving this Christmas mystery together give Jillian and Claudia a chance to fall in love?

I found this to be a comforting read, the book equivalent to a mug of peppermint hot cocoa. Comet’s First Christmas is a smorgasbord of classic Christmas cultural references—gingerbread, ice skating, the Nutcracker ballet, decorated store windows, and Santa at Macy’s. Claudia’s anxiety and imposter syndrome made her very sympathetic, and I was cheering for her to see herself the way others clearly did.

I appreciated that unlike most Christmas romances, the worldbuilding wasn’t US-centric. Comet’s route stretches from Brazil to Canada, and Claudia spends a few memorable scenes eating her way through the Singapore office. There’s even a brief mention of the ethics of Western museums with stolen artifacts.

I didn’t enjoy the romance as much as the other story elements. Claudia falls for Jillian instantly, and basks in her beauty and nurturing spirit. But the book didn’t describe why Jillian would quickly fall for Claudia. The two are tongue-tied and awkward around one another, and their professional dynamic sometimes made it feel like Jillian was mothering Claudia. The two of them felt young, and the simplistic style of the book made the romance seem immature.

Part of the plot focuses on humans who have “lost their belief” in Christmas, with Claudia and Jillian trying to convince “nonbelievers.” I prefer secular Christmas romances, and while Comet’s First Christmas is never overtly religious, I could have done without this proselytizing. Most of the book focused on the collective action of many people working together to spread Christmas magic, so emphasizing the exclusivity of Christianity felt out of step. The mystery behind the plot to ruin Christmas is only partially resolved, so the ending wasn’t as satisfying as I’d hoped.

Shifter romances have a reputation for wild sex scenes, but I didn’t mind that this low-heat romance is sweet, rather than sexy. The camaraderie of Claudia’s fellow reindeers working to make the world a happier place, puts friendship and chosen family at the center of this fluffy queer novella.  Comet’s First Christmas is unapologetically and intensely Christmassy, which will either make readers devour it as quickly as I did, or want to run away.

Kayla Bell reviews Mistletoe by Lyn Gardner

Mistletoe by Lyn Gardner

After this dumpster fire of a year, I am very much looking forward to the holiday season. Christmas music, holiday movies, and baking are the distractions I need this year. So when I saw Mistletoe on sale on the iBooks store, I jumped at the chance to read what seemed like a sapphic Hallmark movie. The novella I read wasn’t entirely the wholesome love story I was expecting, but it was very festive and fun.

This romantic comedy starts with Santa Claus. Yes, you heard that right, Santa is a real person and so are all his elves in this novella about two grown women. Calamity strikes when one of Santa’s elves realizes that, many years ago, he missed one child’s Christmas wish. It was from a little girl named Diana who recently lost her parents and wants to find her soulmate. Diana’s an adult now, and Santa isn’t about to let anyone’s wish go unanswered. Together with an elf named Percy, the two set out to set Diana up with her soulmate Jamie. Hijinks ensue as the two women meet and fall in love.

One thing I really enjoyed about this book was the characters. Remember that this is basically a Christmas movie in novella form, so neither of them were super fleshed out, and that’s okay. Both of the two love interests were very distinct from one another. Diana was sweet and kind, while Jamie was bolder. Their dynamic was very interesting and they complemented each other well. It kept me reading to see how each of them would react to different situations. I also love that they actually ended up together long term. It’s always cool to see that in a queer romance. Jamie and Diana’s friends, the side characters, were also interesting in and of themselves. My personal favorite was Diana’s Aunt Brenda, who took her in after her parents passed away. For me, the characters were the strongest part of the novella, although it is worth mentioning that they were not a very diverse ensemble.

The weirdest part of the story were the jarring shifts in tone that happened throughout. It starts with a scene of Santa and his elves, so I settled in for a fantastical, wholesome romance. That’s what it was, for the most part, until the elf gets sauced and Jamie and Diana start picturing each other sexually after their kiss. Then, it’s back to Hallmark territory until a really out of nowhere scene that’s just a graphic description of Jamie masturbating. Back to PG-rated once again until two back to back erotica scenes in the epilogue. I want to make it clear that I have no problem with erotic fiction, I just thought it felt really out of place in what is otherwise a very tame Christmas fantasy romance. With this shortcoming, I also thought that the pacing was pretty off, especially for a story so short. The book goes from being day-by-day to skipping weeks and even decades at a time. I did enjoy where everyone ended up, but wish there was a little more buildup to everything that happened.

Overall, Mistletoe made me very happy because it showed that relationships between two women can be given the holiday movie treatment just like straight relationships can. Some parts did genuinely make me chuckle, and I enjoyed the dynamic between the two main love interests. I would have loved this book a lot more if the erotic scenes were cut out. Still, I would describe this book as escapist, festive, fun.

Kayla Bell reviews Gingerbread Hearts: Six Lesbian Christmas Stories

Gingerbread Hearts edited by Judy Underwood

Just like last month, this month I wanted to read a cozy, sweet holiday themed book because I don’t think there are enough queer ones out there. This short story collection from 2012 was a decent addition to that list, and if you’re looking for a very fast Christmas read, this anthology might be for you.

As you can tell from the title, this anthology from lesbian fiction publisher Ylva Publishing includes six sapphic stories. All of them are pretty sweet, typical romances, and they never venture into erotica. Because there are so few stories in this anthology, I think my review would be best if I went into them individually.

The first story was my favorite; it’s about a woman trying to come out to her family at Christmas. The story was pretty funny, and the main character was very relatable. I know that coming out stories can be difficult, but I thought this one was done well. It was funny and had tension without being traumatizing or angsty. Just some chaotic Christmas fun.

Next was my least favorite of the bunch. This was about a woman who gets to make a wish after winning her family’s Christmas tradition. She wishes to find true love, and you can imagine where the story ends up after that. This story was my least favorite simply because of the amount of diet and body talk there was in this one. Even the opening scene involves body shaming and diet culture. I was happy to move on from this one.

The third story was really weird. It was like an alien spin on A Christmas Carol. In my opinion, this story was way too short to achieve what it was going for. I felt like it ended without any resolution. The science fiction angle of this one also did not fit with the cozy contemporary vibes of the other stories, as well. Overall, this one felt really out of place.

Next was a cute family story, which I enjoyed. I love seeing healthy queer relationships in fiction, especially between women. It didn’t have much of a plot, but was still nice to read. This trend continued in the last two stories, which were by the same author and followed the same two characters. These last two were my other favorites, and really brought me some holiday cheer. I thought it was an interesting and refreshing thing to do to have two stories following the same characters, with the second one taking place after a time jump. These last three stories really redeemed the book for me.

This book is less than a hundred pages, and I was able to read it in less than an hour. For the most part, the anthology is filled with realistic depictions of Christmas. I loved that almost all of these were happy stories that didn’t feature the trauma of LGBT+ characters. If I could change anything, I would definitely diversify the perspectives of these stories, because some of them did start to feel repetitive. But, like I said before, this is a very quick, cute anthology.

Danika reviews Mistletoe Mishap by Siri Caldwell

I went into this fully expecting it to be lesbian Christmas erotica–which would have been fine, as a fun, quick read! Instead, Mistletoe Mishap has a lot more nuance that I expected. Viv and Kendra are married, and their sex life has fizzled out a bit. Kendra is trying to reintroduce sex to the relationship, and they begin to negotiate their physical relationship. I appreciated that this acknowledges that it’s easy to fall into a rut in a relationship, and that it can even be a bit awkward to try to regain it. Although they have been together a long time, Kendra is still insecure about whether Viv has anywhere near the same sexual drive towards her as she has towards Viv.

It’s also nice to have a romance between two women who are not teens or twenty-somethings. They’re middle-aged women, and they’re both mature, as well as being settled into their professions. They’re both scientists! And professors. It’s not discussed a lot, but there’s an undercurrent to the plot about being semi-closeted and how that affects their relationship. Through this little bet for who can make each other have the most orgasms, there are also subtle shifts in their relationship outside their sex life, including how much they hide their relationship while out in public (especially at the university they teach at).

In fact, despite the premise, I would call this more of a romance. There are sex scenes, but they aren’t as much the focus as their relationship in general is. If you’re in the mood for a short, holiday-themed read that has sex scenes, but also some nuance around negotiating an established relationship, I think this is well worth the read!


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.