Why We Need Queer Holiday Stories

Photo of a book and holiday mug with a Christmas tree in the background

I have a little collection of sapphic Christmas books that I save up to read in December. It isn’t a long list, but I try to make room for at least one every year. At first, I wasn’t sure why I was doing it. I don’t feel a strong pull towards Christmas books in general—although I celebrate, I’m not exactly a deck-the-halls-er. Usually my celebrations are a little more quiet, and the highlight is our family stocking exchange. The few times that I have attempted a straight/cis/allo M/F Christmas romance, I was left wanting. So why do I save up queer holiday stories, especially F/F romances, when I’m not usually much of a romance reader?

I’ve noticed that I’m not the only one. I run a bi and lesbian books tumblr, and every year, I see requests for queer holiday books, especially YA ones. Unfortunately, although there is a modest collection of queer Christmas romances and a handful of other holidays, queer holiday YA is very difficult to find, and any genre other than romance is thin on the ground. It’s frustrating to see so much demand for this and not see publishing houses prioritizing these titles—it’s not that no one is writing these stories, it’s that they’re not being picked up and promoted.

Which brings me back to my original question: what is the appeal? Why is there such demand for queer holidays books, especially for teens? In one respect, it’s simple: lots of people like themed reading, and queer people are no exception. It’s not unusual to want to prioritize horror books at Halloween or Christmas books in December, if that’s what you celebrate. I don’t think that’s the whole story, though.

Holidays are complicated for many queer people. It’s a time of family, togetherness, and tradition—and for many queer people, those have been difficult to come by. Biological families aren’t always accepting of their queer relatives, and whether that means ties are severed completely, or those relationships are made complicated, it affects how we think of holidays. Many people have to be closeted around their family or change their gender expression. They may be misgendered or face microaggressions when they get together over the holidays. Others have made their own chosen families, or are still seeking where they belong.

Tradition is also a sticking point for many queer people. Tradition can mean familiarity and happy memories, like exchanging stockings is for my family, but it can also be suffocating. It can be a reason to stifle someone’s gender expression, or an excuse to keep another family member unwillingly in the closet. Tradition can be used to reinforce repressive gender roles, or even to turn away from financial realities—it’s tradition for everyone to give everyone else a gift, regardless of who lost their job this year!

That tension between traditional depictions of holidays—as a mostly harmonious gathering of biological family—and the reality of many queer people’s lives doesn’t negate the appeal, however. In fact, I think that the fact that it doesn’t always match that vision of the holidays can make us long to have our own version. We want to see our own possible futures, and that’s even more important for teenagers. A queer holiday book, especially a sappy romance, can make us imagine that we can keep all of the good parts of the holidays without having to put up with the bad parts.

Queer holiday stories matter because they reconcile past and possibility. They imagine a family and traditions that are welcoming, that don’t require us to sacrifice parts of ourselves to fit in. I’m lucky enough to have a biological family who is accepting, but many other queer and trans people don’t have that privilege. Queer holiday stories let us immerse ourselves in a world that is gentler and kinder, that never asks us to choose between being our authentic selves and maintaining our familial relationships.

Even for queer people who have accepting biological families, it can still be alienating to see the same cis/het/allo Christmas stories over and over. Queer holiday books fill in those gaps as well as letting us imagine our own future traditions. I hope that soon we see a lot more queer holiday stories hit the market, especially teen ones and stories that depict many different belief system, races, genders, and other intersectionalities. The demand is there, so now we’re just waiting for publishing to pick up the slack!

Looking for sapphic Christmas books? Check out the Christmas tag!

This post originally ran on Book Riot.

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.

SPONSORED REVIEW: Comet’s First Christmas: The North Pole Chronicles by Delilah Night

Comet's First Christmas by Delilah Night

As we enter into the end of 2020, if you’re someone who celebrates Christmas, you’re probably having some strong emotions about it right now. Maybe you want to forget the whole holiday, because we probably can’t celebrate it the way we usually do. Or maybe you, like me, are filling your Netflix queue with holiday romances and stocking up on eggnog, because we deserve a tiny sliver of hope and happiness this year! If you are looking to dive headfirst into Christmas, Comet’s First Christmas is a great way to kick it off.

This is about Claudia, a reindeer who has just been brought in to act as Comet this Christmas season. Yes, this is about reindeer shifters. And yes, all nine of Santa’s reindeer are lesbians. As you might expect, this is a book overflowing with Christmas cheer. Everything is themed: Claudia drinks candy cane coffee, her assistant is an elf, and her phone comes equipped with a Naughty-Or-Nice app.

This overwhelming festivity reminded me more of a classic kids’ holiday movie, initially: it is an unapologetic celebration of Christmas that can verge on the tooth-achingly sweet, but is perfect for if you want to be completely immersed in the holiday. I’d love to see this series get cartoon covers in the style of Shira Glassman’s Mangoverse series, Clare Lydon’s holiday books, or even Talia Hibbert’s Brown Sisters series, because I think that would better match the mood of the this story.

The conflict is that someone is going around convincing people to not believe anymore. Claudia has to try to stop this nefarious villain before they lose any more Christmas magic! Although it sounds like a kids’ movie, this is a romance novel, which means we see 25-year-old Claudia earnestly asking other adults why they’ve stopped believing in Santa. It was a little jarring, but in this world, adults who believe do get gifts from Santa every year, so it makes sense in this context.

Did I mention that this is a romance? Of course, you’re coming to the Lesbrary not just for generic holiday cheer, so you’ll be happy to know that this includes a very sweet romance. It definitely falls into the instalove category, but it works for this very cute book. Claudia crushes on Jillian hard when they meet. Jillian is technically her assistant, but because the role of Comet changes and Jillian’s job stays the same, it didn’t feel like a power difference to me: they both seemed like equals. They made for an adorable romance, starting with clueless lesbian flirting (she’s obviously hitting on you, Claudia!) and including lots of healthy communication.

Although this is a sweet book with a pretty straightforward plot, there are a lot of details to enjoy as well. I loved seeing Once & Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy get a shout-out (I’ve got the sequel on my bedside table right now!), and there’s a Star Trek-loving reindeer who swears in Klingon. Claudia is visiting New York for the first time, and she revels in getting the classic Christmas in New York experience, including going to Macy’s, Times Square, seeing The Nutcracker, and more. Claudia also has anxiety, which is own voices representation. She manages it with breathing exercises and other techniques, which it was nice to see included.

This is the first book in the series, so it’s not surprising that everything isn’t tied up completely, but it did feel a bit anticlimactic in terms of the overarching plot, though Claudia’s story concludes nicely. I feel like I guessed the mystery really early in the book, but I’m not sure yet if I’m right. I look forward to the next book in the series, which seems to be about Prancer–will every reindeer get their own story?

In the afterword, Delilah Night says she wrote this because “after how bruising 2020 has been, can anyone blame us for wanting something a little sweet?” This definitely fits the criteria for sweet, but be prepared: only pick this up if you’re ready for a heavy dose of Christmas cheer!

Sinclair reviews The Solstice Gift by Avery Cassell 

The Solstice Gift by Avery Cassell

The Solstice Gift by Avery Cassell is a queer love story in the best sense of the words. It doesn’t follow the traditional, heterosexual tropes of how the two characters meet and following them through their courtship, but comes in with the love story well under way, and continues with new and radical sexcapades that bring the couple closer together, exploring identity, gender, sex, kink, and love in the process.

The couple, Behruz and Lucky (who you might already know from Cassell’s full-length novel Behruz Gets Lucky, reviewed on the Lesbrary by Anna), are older, both butch, very much in to all kinds of kinky fuckery, and come up with a new way to celebrate winter solstice: with a threesome. What starts as a one-off lark becomes an annual tradition, and becomes elaborate in its ritual and execution.

As a queer, kinky person myself, I loved Cassell’s descriptions of the negotiations, both from a non monogamous and a kink perspective. Cassell clearly knows about the genders, sexualities, open relationship philosophies, and kinks in this book. I love the elaborate references to queer and literary culture — many of which I didn’t understand, but I still like how that adds richness to the prose and feels like a conversational with queer and literary history. 

I love reading a queer book with characters who are older, and with a couple who are both butches. Despite more and more representation, graphic sexuality for folks who are over 40 is still rare, and butch/butch desire is not nearly as common as many other gender combinations. I also appreciate how easefully they navigate the openness of their relationship. The book doesn’t go into the envy, jealousy, or insecurities that can come up for open relationships, but I didn’t really miss that content. It just felt like it was more of a queer kinky fairy tale than a real-life depiction of what navigating threesomes is like (I don’t know about you, but in my experience, they are often sexually frustrating, feel incomplete, and end up with someone feeling left out). And sometimes, frankly, I just want the fairy tale version — I want everyone excited to be there, getting off, communicating with exquisite precision, and generally having a gay ol’ time. 

It’s a quick read, just over 100 pages, which makes it light enough to zoom through but still full of content and characters that have stayed with me. When I picked up the book again to make notes for this review, I caught myself just turning the pages, jumping in to yet another year’s solstice gift story, since it was so easy to pick it up again from any point and be hooked into the story. 

The Solstice Gift was the winner of the 2020 Pauline Reage Novel Award from the National Leather Association International.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 8, Leroy King and the Triple Daddies  (2017): 

Picking the Solstice Gift for 2017 turned out to be easy-peasy. That was the year that our ancient Subaru Forester, Ruby Tuesday, finally shuddered to a halt and nearly went into the Subaru graveyard in the sky, but we decided to put in a last-ditch effort to get it repaired. The owners of the shop we’d been going to, Gay’s Gearhead NoHo Car Repair, had retired, so we asked around for a new mechanic. The consensus was that King’s Automobile Services was the cat’s meow. King’s Automobile Services’ slogan was “King’s: Where queens are kings, kings are queens, and service reigns!”, and they were known for a series of peppy commercials that featured the owner, a dapper stud named Leroy King. Leroy looked to be in her mid-50s, had greying dreadlocks, a fondness for wearing a forest green bandanna as a neckerchief, ironed grey mechanic’s overalls with “King’s” embroidered in curly red script across her chest, deep-set dark eyes behind retro black eyeglasses, and a sparkling gold labrys inlaid in one of her front teeth.

Of course, we had other contenders, but Lucky and I were totally crushed out on Leroy and the others faded into the background like distant stars to Leroy, a luminous full moon. Yeah, we had it bad and this is how it went down.

Read the rest of the excerpt over on Avery Cassell’s site here.

Maybe it’s a little early to start thinking about your own solstice gifts, but if you know some queers who like books, kinky sex, ethical non-monogamy, and queer literary references, this will be a great treat. 

Buy it directly from Avery Cassell at their Etsy store (and pick up an embroidered bandana while you’re there, 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.

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!


Danika reviews 18th & Castro by Karin Kallmaker

18th & Castro by Karin Kallmaker is a collection of stories set on Halloween in the Castro. It’s part of the “Bella After Dark” (erotica) collection of Bella Books, which I wasn’t aware of when I picked it up. It’s still not entirely erotica, though. The emphasis is more on the characters and relationships than the sex.

I love that storytelling device of stories weaving together, and this collection does that well.  As the title suggests, almost all of the stories take place in one apartment complex. Characters that are barely mentioned in one story get their own several stories later. Moments witnessed by bystanders get continued somewhere else.

And the stories are interesting! It’s the dynamics that drew me in. Budding relationships, years-long relationships, old and young lovers are all in the mix. Each story has the characters interacting in unique ways, though. They seemed rounded, even if they don’t get a very long story.

There’s also the bonus factor of Halloween, of course! It isn’t overwhelming (there’s only one story with a supernatural element, many characters stay home), but it’s a nice background theme for the season.

I did have a few problems with the stories, though. One is the hint of cissexism (equating lesbianism only and always with vulvas) that crops up more than once. Another was that although the dialogue seemed natural and unique to each character most of the time, the sex talk seemed really awkward to me, and it all seemed awkward in the same way. Almost all of the characters referred to their partner as “baby,” which perhaps is just a personal pet peeve, but still seemed too uniform. The sex talk in general just seemed stilted.

Other than that, though, it was a strong collection, and a good first introduction to Karin Kallmaker.