Judith’s review of Men Under the Mistletoe by Josh Lanyon, Harper Fox, Ava March, & K.A. Mitchell
Baby it’s Cold Outside
A man receives the gift of pleasure at the hands of two expert lovers. Boyhood sweethearts get a second chance at romance. Two very proper gentlemen indulge their forbidden desires. And a Christmas tree farmer has an epiphany. It may be cold outside but these four holiday novellas will warm you up.
My True Love Gave to Me by Ava March
Winter Knights by Harper Fox
Lone Star by Josh Lanyon
The Christmas Proposition by K.A. Mitchell
I don’t do anthologies, period! I don’t know why the format has never clicked with me but it just hasn’t. Now having said that, I turn right around and decide to read this one, mainly because I don’t read a lot of M/M romance and I am trying to read more of it, and because there are a couple of authors included in this line-up that I like because of stuff I have read in the past. These novellas are definitely holiday related, but they are all perfectly OK to be read any other time of the year. They are just plain good stories about good people and those that love them. As in all good stories they are built around a love relationship that is in crisis in one way or another. But all of us romance lovers know that going in, so it isn’t something that usually bothers us. The mark of a good story is how they resolve the crisis, as I see it.
My True Love Gave To Me by Ava March is a historical novella featuring two men of 19th century England when being openly gay put one’s reputation, one’s social position, and possibly one’s life in danger. Both men were young, had met in university, and while the older of the two was comfortable with his sexual preferences, the other man was not. He gave in to their attraction for one another with hidden groping and short quick encounters in hidden corners of the campus, but when it came down to spending some quality time with his lover, Thomas, the younger of the two, gave in to his fear and not only left his lover but also left the country. Four years later, Thomas returns to England from New York and is mature and accepting of his homosexuality and he knows that “Sasha” is his true love. But the man he encounters upon his return is cold, bitter, unforgiving. It is a very emotional story that will tug at the reader’s heart strings and is written so well that I had no difficulty feeling the stress and hurt between these two lovers.
Winter Knights by Harper Fox is set in Northern England and features two men who are at different stages of their personal journey toward accepting who they are. They had been in a relationship of sorts for three years when one of the men breaks off the relationship and declares that not only won’t he “come out” to his family but he is renewing his engagement to his ex-fiance. Now begins a bit of magical involvement with some well-know mythological characters who are also gay lovers and who bring healing and peace to the man whose lover has left him. This is a more difficult story to get one’s head around– not that it isn’t well-written, but it has the sense of fantasy and myth about it yet appears on the surface to be contemporary and real. The resolution of the crisis was surprising to me, and it is one of the really complicated stories of the four.
Lone Star by Josh Lanyon is set in modern-day Texas and features a man who left his hometown and his dad 12 years earlier after his dad refused to not only reject his choice of occupation but also his homosexuality, telling him to leave and never return. Add to this trauma the fact that the man he loved deeply and dearly not only refused to leave their hometown with him, but also refused to “come out” to his family. Now he has returned to settle his dad’s estate–an old, rundown ranch that has been left vacant for six months. It is Christmas time, the weather is terrible, and he has just lost the chance at a prime role as one of New York’s featured dancers. He has also happened upon his lover being serviced by one of the guest performer. You see, our guy is the principal male lead of the American Ballet Troup, a life and a occupation choice his dad never could accept. He wants to get his dad’s personal effects taken care of and the ranch put up for sale, but while he is considering this as he journey’s from the airport, he has a terrible accident which totals his car. As it so happens, the car that was driving behind him a ways back was a Texas Ranger and, of all things, the man who refused to come with him 12 years earlier. This is a story that starts out tense and stays that way for awhile yet almost from the first the reader perceives that the tension comes from feelings they both have buried and have now leaped to the surface when they are least expected. The resolution of their crisis was another surprise–one that I found inventive and one that had the smack of reality–real people dealing with life’s realities and working to preserve their love honestly.
The Christmas Proposition by K.A.Mitchell features two guys who are from vastly different “walks” of life. One is the unhappy and sort of unwilling proprietor of a Christmas tree ranch–an enterprise that barely broke even to the extent that he had to take a second job to pay the rest of the bills and keep a roof over his and his sister’s heads. After three silent years, Bryce returns–the owner of a major natural gas company and Mel’s lover in the past, and one who has just up and left–or at least that’s the way it felt. Now he has returned and they once again reunite, but the road to true love seldom is smooth, and while Bryce is certainly a part of the activities of the moment, there is every expectation that he will once again disappear. It’s a story of uneasy relationship, deep anxiety over the future, and a sense that life and love just kept passing him by. There is a ton of friendship and family connection here and even a wedding, but it is during that context Bryce did something that set Mel on his ear and he froze. Kudos for Mel’s sister who seems to be the family member with her head on straight (no pun intended) and even though she is in drug and alcohol recovery, she has a sense of what the mature response to the proposition should be.
All in all, each of these novellas are wonderful love stories and a great collection of tales that deal with the issues that all lovers probably face from time to time. These are real guys with big hearts who must deal with the pressures of a world that still feels very uneasy about their orientation, yet they forge onward in the search for authentic relationship as do all human beings. This anthology may be a holiday release, but it is well-worth reading any time of the year.
I give it a rating of 4 out of 5
You can read more from Judith at Dr J’s Book Place.
This book is available from Carina Press. You can buy it here or here in e-format.