Sometimes it’s the little things that mean the most….
The holidays are a time when bigger often means better, and meals are huge, decorations are over-the-top, and elaborate gifts and grand gestures are one way to show affection. But beneath all the pomp and ceremony, after the grandiose presents have been unwrapped, the stocking stuffers are still waiting to add that final sparkle to the perfect celebration. Even the tiniest trinkets can be gems when they’re chosen with love, and like a good love story, they are held close to the heart and treasured for years to come. The festivities don’t have to end after the feasts and gift exchanges. Dig a little deeper for romantic stocking stuffers both naughty and nice.
Enjoy a tale of men in love with men every day throughout December.
Red Popcorn Strings and Gumball Rings by Nell Iris
I really wanted to like this short story more than I did, but it really wasn't quite my own personal taste, even for a holiday story.
I did enjoy their back story, knowing one another as kids, Ellis defending Casey from bullies and such. And the picture that Casey drew way back then was the highlight of the story for me.
But the writing wasn't quite what I'm used to and the never-ending fascination with Casey's waist-length red hair was really a turn off for me.
Then during the steamy bit, there was this whole thing with a 3-fingered, *DRY* prostate pegging, which... OUCH. Sorry, but if you've ever had even one unlubed digit up there, without even the joy that is spit, you'll know what I'm getting at. All the nope.
I did like seeing what was left on their porch and that their destitute status was soon to improve, but the ending was a bit too perfect and sappy sweet to be believed, especially when coupled with the "boo" endearments.
I'm sure that this story will hit the spot with a lot of other readers, but it didn't work very well for me, so I'd rate have to it at around 2.75 stars.
Salvaging Claus Day by J. Alan Veerkamp
This short holiday read started off fairly dry, with lots of talk about space station maintenance and various blah, blah, blah, yawn, leading you to believe that Filo, the station's maintenance engineer, had been the only person aboard the ship for the past three years.
Then suddenly, there was also this flirty, naked man, Luz, flitting around without a care in the world, seeming to taunt Filo with his naughty bits at every opportunity, after he had been rescued from an escape pod a few months prior.
Much of the dialogue was in Filo's head, leading you to wonder if the man, who'd stopped taking his "happy pills" only days before Luz's arrival, was seriously beginning to go a wee bit bonkers.
I really began to fully engage with the story when Filo and Luz began to interact more on-page, helping me to understand some of Filo's background, past experiences, and fears.
Then everything comes to a glorious head on Claus Day, when Luz revealed all of the preparation he'd done, for the sole purpose of giving Filo an amazing holiday (his first ever) that he'd not soon forget.
Spoiler alert: He succeeded. Sexily so. ;- )
I kind of loved how the story ended, with a very important question not even remotely resolved with any certainty, but me not giving a good goddamn as to the answer.
Sometimes, being happy is truly enough, even in the face of your own possible ignorant bliss.
I'd rate this one at around 3.75 stars and recommend it to any M/M sci-fi nerds looking for a bit of titillation.
The Storm's Gift by A.D. Ellis
In this short story, James was an antisocial freshman who mistakenly decided to postpone his last exam until the eve of a massive snow storm, only to find himself half-frozen and stranded in his college dorm, without any power or heat, instead of spending the holiday as he'd hoped, with his family.
The dorm was closing up for winter break, leaving only depressed, recently-dumped, senior Rory, the head RA, to hold down the fort. His vacation plans included moping and getting over his shitty ex, but not babysitting a marooned introvert, albeit a pretty cute one.
I'm a bit conflicted as to my feelings toward this story, to be honest.
While I liked both MC's, their progression from having never really spoken before to insta-attraction to insta-fucking to insta-meeting-the-parents-soon was way too fast to be even remotely believable for me -- even in a short, 34-page read.
Then toward the end, James began to throw himself a pity party about never being popular, in high school or college, while doing nothing about the situation, other than holing away in his dorm room and refusing to participate in *any* social activities with potential friends.
Like the old saying goes, "The Lord helps those who help themselves," so I honestly took *zero* pity for his self-inflicted plight.
Also, the dialogue, at times, felt much too mature to have been coming from college guys, so that felt a bit stilted to me.
So as a whole, the story was fine, but nothing I'd be likely to remember, so I'd have to rate it at around 2.75 stars.
A Timely Gift by Kris T. Bethke
This short, holiday story had the exact right amount of fluffy and sweet that I was hoping for, with an air of "second chance", Christmas magic, too.
Thirty-five year old, vet tech Rory loved his job, his close-knit family, and his chatty, African Grey parrot, Apollo, but even his pagan grandfather knows there was something missing from his otherwise-perfect life. So his Grandda gave him an heirloom pocket watch on the Winter solstice, just to help fate along a bit.
Recently-divorced, recently-injured, concert pianist Deacon had just moved back to town after being away for 13 years, when, lo and behold, who should he run into early one morning at a coffee shop other than his ex, Rory.
Although they'd only dated for a brief time, Deacon moving across the country for his dream job in LA had been hard on Rory, but he had since moved on with his life.
However, that didn't mean that Rory was about to willingly pass up a chance at another bite at that same apple, when presented with the chance. That would have taken a special kind of stupid that Rory, fortunately, didn't possess.
I adore a good second chances story and this one was just my speed, with some cuddling, steamy times, Christmas with the family, then a good ole' heart-to-heart about what exactly each MC was feeling after being reunited.
The story was low drama and medium feels, with the only tension arising over the requisite "does he feel the same way, too" anxiety, ending with a pretty solid HFN, hoping for more.
I'd rate this one at around 3.75 stars.
Welcome Home, Soldier by Deanna Wadsworth
Wow, color me impressed.
I'm typically not a fan of stories with older MC's (just not my preferred genre, much like historicals & mysteries), but this one somehow worked for me.
At 18, fun-loving, rule-bending Clay enlisted in the marines and served in Iraq, until his convoy was ambushed and he developed PTSD, choosing not to re-enlist, once his tour of duty was up.
At 20, controlled and stoic Daniel was also serving in operation Desert Shield, enjoying his regimented, planned out days.
And for 3 years, Clay and Daniel were together. In love. But after Clay was injured, he couldn't stand the thought of re-upping again, so he gave Daniel an ultimatum. Come home with me, or I'm leaving.
And since Daniel wasn't ready to come out, Clay left.
This novella took place 25 years later, after Clay took the extremely long road to healing through self-medication, and Daniel had both a wife and a son, followed by a divorce.
Clay worked up the courage to contact Daniel on Facebook, after seeing that his status had been updated to "single", then planned a spur of the moment trip to visit Daniel on Christmas Eve.
This was the story of their holiday reunion.
I think that one reason that I enjoyed this story as much as I did was due to the lack of homophobia and self-hatred. In recent years, Daniel had come to terms with his bisexuality and, thanks to his ex-wife's spitefulness, his small hometown knew as well, and had resigned themselves to his interest in both sexes as something that just was.
There was definitely a good bit of awkwardness, as Clay and Daniel danced around their shared past, but it was nice to see that there was still a very strong connection between them, even after their fight and ensuing breakup so many years ago.
Their situation definitely proved that two people can be right for one another, but terrible timing can make all the difference in the outcome.
I did enjoy how both men admitted their faults in what went wrong when their relationship fell apart the first time. Even to the point of admitting that their parting of ways then was actually for the best.
But they'd both grown up since then and I thought their progression from reconnecting to deciding to give it another shot felt very realistic. There was no magical pill (or pene) that resolved their old differences. They actually talked their issues out. You know, like 2 grown-ass men actually should, checking their egos and pride at the door, because this thing between them *mattered*. That was refreshing.
While there was a bit of steam here and there, this story was much more about the feels and healing their broken bond, which I appreciated. If this story had had fewer feels and an over-abundance of sex, I'm almost positive that I'd be panning it right now.
The only drawback to the story *for me* was the talk about paunch and love handles. Yes, that's real life, for sure, but I read romance as a fantasy escape, so I'd rather leave behind thoughts of calorie counting and body insecurity issues. Again, that's just *my own* personal preference, so pitchforks down, please.
Overall, I'd rate this story at about 4 stars and recommend it to any fans of mature MC's, separation, and the military genre.