It's officially after Thanksgiving, which means holiday related merchandise is ready to flood everywhere. This year there's the newly pepperminted collection edited by Stephanie Perkins, "My True Love Gave to Me"
"Midnights" by Rainbow Rowell (★★★★)
Rainbow Rowell can write romantic build up like nobody's business and this one hit all the contemporary romance sweet spots. Mags and Noel meet at a Christmas party over pesto and become fast friends with a complicated relationship of wanting what they have but both of them having subtle desires to change it. She managed to convey the passages of time in her characters' interactions with grace, where some of the small details crystallized the whole thing as a story of longing and the upheaval teens have in their "go into the real world" crises. Mags and Noel have such an easy chemistry that it's easy to see where it might go if they just wanted it to. And I was rooting for them.
"The Lady and the Fox" (★★★)
The atmospheric details of the Hallewell family keep this version of "Snow Queen" from getting too off the rails, even if the ending lost the initial charm.
"Angels in the Snow" (★★)
This one had a good meet-cute setup and the protagonist, Shy is broke and on the other end of the country, dealing with a snowed in Brooklyn while cat sitting and happens to meet the cute neighbor when her pipes don't work. It had all the elements of a compelling backstory, I really wanted to delve into the complications of Shy's family life and his conflicting feelings about being here and the subtle cues of racial and background differences between him and Haley but. unfortunately the pacing ruined it. It's brushed aside for a conventional will they/won't they which felt like a hastily made snowman that blots out the scenery of a gorgeous background.
"Krampusklaus" by Holly Black (★★★)
An interesting idea on the Krampus, the vengeful demon who was often paired with Santa Claus' benevolent present giving. Cute story but more for the antics than the holiday romance, which felt tacked on when all this fun vengeance was being wreaked.
"Polaris is Where You Find Me" by Jenny Han (★)
Weakest story out of the collection, hence the rating, but not without a few merits. A girl is adopted by the Santa Claus and deals with isolation of living in the North Pole with only elves and her father for company. Mostly it seems incoherent for world building and the romance between her and this one elf seemed very awkward and unsatisfying. There are some nice ideas, such as the merit of giving elves presents something they would be adverse to with their background as toy makers, but largely forgettable.
"It's a Yuletie Miracle, Charlie Brown" by Stephanie Perkins (★★★★★)
Glad to see the editor contributing one of the strongest stories. I can't say much about why this story works other than it combines charm, kinship, background and all the right elements that made it a joy to read.
"Your Temporary Santa" by David Levithan (★★)
Probably the best Levithan story I've read, but even then he still manages to put in an unnecessarily hostile character for drama. A boy dresses up as Santa as a favor for his new boyfriend, trying to preserve said boyfriend's little sister with a sense of wonder. The romance part and the Santa playacting were disjointed parts of the story, even though they directly influenced each other. It wasn't bad it just wasn't as good as that setup could be.
"What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth?" by Gayle Foreman (★★★★★)
Manages to imbue a great dynamic between Sophie and Russel, who questioned her Ned Flanders mutterings. The dialogue carried them together but also gave a realistic twinge of misunderstandings and the sometimes second guessing of outsiders. The story is distilled romance and Sophie Roth learning to reevaulate herself from meeting him. Nicely done.
"Welcome to Christmas, CA" by Kiersten White (★★★★)
For anyone who wants a Hispanic POV Christmas story, this one is the superior offering than "Angels in the Snow." It's tone is lighter rather than romantic, and the setting becomes its own character. Maria hates living in podunk Christmas, California. She works in a dead-end diner and her one co-worker friend has retreated into herself from an abusive boyfriend. Then, one day, the new cook shows up with a dash of magical realism in being able to cook exactly the right meal for the person who comes in to eat. The story permeates family, friends and the whole community. Plus, I found myself rooting for Maria and Ben because he has magical cooking powers. Best boyfriend!
"Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus" by Myra McEntire (★★★)
A rascally troublemaker finds himself wanting to do good for the preacher's daughter when he accidentally ruins their Christmas pageant plans. I liked the love interest, and the calamities that went on in the story.
"Star of Bethlehem" by Ally Carter (★★)
Lydia impulsively trades places with an Icelandic girl when there's a problem with her airline tickets. She then is dropped in the middle of Oklahoma with said Icelandic girl's sort-of boyfriend and his family, forced to continue a ruse to escape her life. Mostly nice,and I appreciated the attempts at making the family part of Ethan's character, but a lot of the story strained credibility in a "While You Were Sleeping" escalation of lying. Even the out-there ending could have been salvaged more by a real connection between Lydia and Ethan but it didn't feel very deep.
"The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer" by Laini Taylor (★★★★)
Laini Taylor writes gorgeous, gorgeous prose, there is no arguments here. Her story is the furthest afield, set in a strange fantasy isle of poor farmers who have a courtship ritual during the advent. Neve, having recently lost the only people she loved, has a choice between starving to death on a plot of nothing or accepting a heinous man's marriage offer, when she decides to plead to an ancient god. It's a beautiful story but it's the least holiday feeling of the bunch.