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Dear Author

Bring on the holiday romances

I’m not a huge fan of a lot of aspects of the Halloween-to-New-Year’s marketing and consumption extravaganza. I think Halloween costumes should be left to the under-12 crowd, I prefer to leave the country for Thanksgiving, I haven’t put up a Christmas tree in nearly two decades, and I’m usually asleep before midnight on New Year’s Eve. But I’m not a total Grinch: I love Christmas (and Hanukkah) stories, despite not being either Christian or Jewish. I can’t remember when I developed this affection for them; it might have been the Christmas stories in the Little House series. But Christmas was always a special time of the year for me, even as a child in India. Needless to say, live trees were not easily come by (actually they weren’t possible to come by at all), but my formerly-Catholic mother acquired not one but two over the years. First we had a fake green one, and then the one I remember best: it was silver, and the branches screwed in at almost perfect 90-degree angles. In retrospect it was ridiculous-looking, but I loved it.

Because we lived with my father’s extended family, all of whom were Hindu, and we didn’t celebrate with other families (aside from the endless series of parties my parents went to during the holiday season), Christmas always felt like our private, intimate celebration. My mother took me to Christmas services at the local Catholic church, just to offset the all-Hindu-all-the-time environment I lived in, I think. And so Christmas Mass and caroling were part of the celebration as well. For me they were just part of Christmas culture, not a requirement to be religious. That probably sounds a bit blasphemous, but I didn’t know any differently.

After we came to the US I was exposed to the full glory of the Christmas commercial-I-mean-holiday season. I still remember during our first Christmas season in the US, my father and I went to a local discount store to get tree ornaments. We were stunned at how much variety there was. Even more shocking was the fact that we could buy as much as we wanted, because in India in those days you just bought what they had or what they let you buy; choice wasn’t part of the transaction.

Eventually I got used to Christmas and as it became even more commercial, and as I got older, I retreated from most of the rituals. But there are a lot of non-commercial things about Christmas I still love. Christmas dinner. Christmas cookies. Snow. Little kids opening presents. Good Christmas music. And Christmas romances.

When the holiday-themed books start appearing in October, I groan, because it’s just too early! But by late November I’m totally ready for them. This year on the plane home after Thanksgiving I read three category-romance Christmas stories back to back to back. They were all different and all enjoyable, and one, by Marion Lennox, was a totally OTT yet wonderful fairy tale (there’s a review coming). Sarah Morgan writes lovely holiday stories, full of snow and reunions and holiday emotions. This year’s winner for me was Sleigh Bells in the Snow, but I have keepers from previous years too, especially the Medical duet set in wintry, snowy Cumbria. Harlequin’s Kimani line usually releases a Christmas anthology (I reviewed this one in 2012), and Farrah Rochon released a self-published novella last year called A Perfect Holiday Fling that hit my trifecta: a well-matched couple, a scene-stealing dog, and a Louisiana setting,

The stories I have been reading the longest are the Regency Christmas anthologies that Signet used to publish. Every year I looked forward to seeing which authors were contributing. Carla Kelly was a welcome mainstay, but Mary Balogh, Barbara Metzger, Elisabeth Fairchild, Mary Jo Putney, and Edith Layton wrote some classics as well. Janga has a post over at Heroes & Heartbreakers that talks about her favorites, some of which are my favorites too.

It’s not just Christmas stories, either. Astrid Amara has written some wonderful m/m Hanukkah novellas that I read and reread, starting with Carol of the Bellskis; Jayne reviewed her new one, Sweet and Sour, earlier this month. And Smart Bitch Sarah has a great list of Hanukkah themed romances here.

I think I gravitate toward holiday stories because they tend to emphasize the aspects of the holidays I enjoy. They are pretty secular but not always entirely so, and I’m a sucker for the Christmas miracle story. And I like the Hannukah stories because they make me feel less singular being a non-Christian at the Christian-est time of the year.

I know that not everyone likes holiday stories, though, and some people actively avoid them. I’ve noticed that at least some in this group are readers that are Christian, or care quite a bit about Christmas but for whatever reason the stories don’t work for them.

What about you, DA commentariat? Do you like holiday stories? If so, which ones, and if not, why not?

And happy holidays to everyone; may your holiday travel be smooth and your destinations welcoming!

REVIEW:  Unrestrained by Joey W. Hill

REVIEW: Unrestrained by Joey W. Hill

UnrestrainedDear Ms. Hill:

Generally speaking, I think that you write some of the most consistent and interesting D/s erotic romance in the genre today. I find your books equitably balance discipline and emotional connection while going deeper than a little Friday night spanking to get “wild”. Unrestrained is perfect example of that balance.

Athena Summers is a businesswoman, a wife and a Domme. She spent years acting as Mistress to her husband, Ray, who recently died. While he was alive, she and Ray spent quite a bit of time at Club Release, a private club where Athena became quite renowned for her creative and artful sessions. But after Ray’s death, Athena rarely goes to Club Release and has little desire to re-engage in the Life. Despite that, she decides to go to the club to see if she can reawaken her desire. She decides she’ll just watch while she’s there. It is there that she encounters MC, the Master Craftsman. A Dom so creative, so talented that Submissives are desperate for even one session with him. She watches, intrigued as he takes a sub through a session. She’s amazed at how easily she’s able to picture herself experiencing what the sub is, and how excited that actually makes her. But of course, she’s a Domme herself, so it would be ridiculous to even entertain the idea. She leaves the club, which is in a seedier side of town, and stops for gas. While there, she is jumped by two muggers. She’s enraged when they try to steal her wedding rings, and won’t give them up. She’s quite certain they are going to kill her, but she refuses to give up this tangible connection to Ray. Suddenly the attackers are pulled from her. Her savior is of course, MC. He introduces himself as Dale Rousseau, and tells her that he was aware that she was watching his session very closely. He wonders if she might want something from him. She denies it, but still agrees to meet him for lunch to discuss further. As Dale comes into her home, she realizes that she might be far more interested in subbing for him than she thought. His direct nature, and pure artistry as a Dom allow her to do nothing but be truthful about her desires. Soon they are embarking on a D/s journey that neither expect.

Oh I loved this book! First, it’s got a ton of angsty goodness. Athena genuinely and completely loved her husband. She misses him terribly and really believes she’ll never find love again. She’s this wonderfully together heroine, a businesswoman, smart, engaging and warmhearted. Dale is a former Navy SEAL with his own demons. He’s tough, no nonsense and matter of fact. He’s also a creative and interesting Dom. He sees that Athena is submissive from the moment he meets her, and is willing to help her change her mindset, which has always been to act as a Domme to that of a submissive. He understands immediately that her Domme mindset was because that is what her husband, Ray, needed. And at her core, Athena is a “giver”, she only wants to please those she loves. And Dale helps her understand that her submission is far more fulfilling for her than being a Domme was. And he does it all the while respecting the deep well of love that Athena had for Ray.

The book is fully about two grown-up people on a grown-up journey of discovery. Athena about her submission, Dale, about opening himself to possibilities and perhaps losing a tiny bit of the tight rein he holds on himself. The sexual scenes are beautifully crafted and grow in intensity as the relationship between the characters deepens. If I had an twinges at all, it’s that the book runs a bit long. I think that the story could have been tightened up a bit towards the inevitable ending of the two going back to Club Release with Athena as Dale’s submissive. Either way, it’s a truly lovely book with so many elements to recommend it. If you’re looking for an angsty D/s romance with plenty of heat and a really satisfying emotional journey, I think that Unrestrained fits the bill perfectly. Final grade: B+

Kind regards,

Kati

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