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Hanukkah

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:  A Small Miracle Happened by Mari Donne

REVIEW: A Small Miracle Happened by Mari Donne

a-small-miracle-happened

Dan accepts an interesting new job, only to discover after he moves that he’s the only Jewish gay man in a small Midwestern town. On the first night of Hanukkah, he’s a bit homesick and very lonely. Then the mailman delivers a box containing his menorah to the wrong house.

Chris sees that misdirected package as an excuse to knock on his attractive new neighbor’s door. He doesn’t know a thing about Judaism, but he’s willing to learn, especially if it means becoming better acquainted with Dan.

Eager for company, Dan explains the meaning of the menorah and introduces Chris to less traditional amusements like a game of strip dreidel. Soon they are celebrating long into the nights with sweet, sexy fun. As Dan and Chris light a new flame each night, what started as a playful fling deepens into passion that promises to outlast the eight days of the holiday.

Dear Ms. Donne,

Tis the season for holiday novellas and I was happy to discover not just one but two new authors to try all while reading about Hanukkah romances. While I liked parts of “Miracle,” other aspects of the writing style are not ones that work well for my reading enjoyment.

What worked for me are the two main characters Chris and Dan. They’re both just darling people. Nice, easy to get along with, open to new things – and I really don’t mean that in a sleazy, sexual way although it does apply – and willing to take a chance on their feelings. They’re average, everyday, condo renting, day job working, considerate of others young men of whom their families can be proud. I love seeing people like this – people I might actually meet on the street in my neighborhood – get their chance at romance. We’re not all cut out to be SEALs.

The hawt is quick, as is the slight awkwardness afterwards, but these two know what they want and they want each other. The sexual relationship progresses rapidly- but safely. HIV status is mentioned and condoms used – and includes a scene of strip dreidel that I’ll bet Dan’s Bubbe never taught him. The alcohol consumed leads to questions of consent and implied consent which I was glad to see addressed and laid to rest.

Then I started seeing signs of the dreaded “telling and not showing.” And not only telling but retroactive telling. Chris cooks latkes for Dan one evening and then there’s more lubed whoopee. That scene ends and suddenly in the next one we’re reading about how – the day before – Chris had researched Jewish food online and decided what to make. I don’t like telling but I’d prefer it before showing the outcome. There’s also a lot of telling about the details of Hanukkah. I can understand why this is included for people who don’t know much about the holiday but it does drop the action to a crawl.

I do love Dan’s mother. She’s forcefully nice even if she embarrasses Danny in front of Chris. However that is a mother’s prerogative. Perhaps religious Jews should be aware of Dan’s feelings that if he’s not keeping the rules of Leviticus, he might as well go all the way and eat pork sausage.

The epilogue certainly goes on. And on. And on. It’s lovely that Dan’s Jewish family is so embracing of their sexuality but did Chris’s Christian family have to come off as quite so homophobic? And did the epilogue have to hammer this home quite so obviously?

The quick romance was fine. The relationship stuff is fine. The joking and paling around with Chris’s gay friends is fine. But the telling and the seeming dismissal of Chris’s family as uptight – his uncle is a minister, you know – was wearing. C

~Jayne

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