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.

Karelia Stetz-Waters reviews Ice by Lyn Gardner


Remember high school English class? Your teacher said there were three kinds of conflicts in literature: man vs. man, man vs. nature, and man vs. self. Recently, though, I’ve noticed a dearth of man vs. nature.

Okay, there is the surprise hit Sharknado, but I’m talking about good literature, not pulp movies. With global warming, pollution, and overpopulation, nature has become that fat kid who gets beat up every time they step out onto the playground. It’s just no fun to pick on nature anymore.

Except that it is.

There is nothing like a good man vs. nature (or better yet lesbian vs. nature) plot to call up our primeval fight or flight response and keep us reading.

Ice by Lyn Gardner delivers that visceral excitement that can only come from noble heroines battling the elements and then having hot lesbian sex. Like the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercial used to say: it’s two great tastes that taste great together.

Ice tells the story of Alex Blake and Maggie Campbell, two talented detectives who supposedly hate each other after butting heads on a child abduction case three years earlier. At the start of the novel, they have once again been assigned to a case together. It is only supposed to take two days, but when a plane crash lands them in the middle of a blizzard they end up spending a lot more time together than they expected.  Completely isolated in the wilderness, they risk death from injury, exposure, and illness and in the process come to terms with the feelings they have always had for each other.

I was hooked. Gardner is at her best when she is building tension— either fear-of-imminent-death tension or sexual tension—and Ice is full of both, often at the same time.  But the story isn’t all lust and bravado. Gardner uses Blake and Campbell’s physical predicament to reveal their characters and to show how selfless the two women are in their growing affection for each other. When they finally get together, the sex is fun to read because the emotions are palpable.

The only part of the novel that I did not absolutely love was the epilogue. The epilogue shows Blake and Campbell in a version of domestic bliss that didn’t, to my taste, fit with the characters’ personalities. It’s a little too domestic for these tough, stubborn officers of the law.  But that’s a minor point though. I read romance novels for the build-up, not the exact details of the happily-ever-after. Plus there are plenty of women out there who would think Blake and Campbell’s happy ending was, indeed, perfect.

I would definitely recommend this to romance fans. If your summer reading list is already too long, save it for a cold winter day when you can sit by the fire and feel glad you’re not stranded in the blizzard of lesbian vs. nature.

By Karelia Stetz-Waters