Rating: 4.75 (rounded up to 5) stars out of 5
Christmas means different things to everyone, but most often it’s all about pulling loved ones close and brightening the gloom. The fire’s crackling. The snow is piling up outside, even if it’s only in your dreams. Time to snuggle up with some cocoa and some stories carefully crafted by the Mischief Corner Crew to warm hearts and cockles.
Mischief Corner Books is comprised of four authors, Toni Griffin, Angel Martinez, Freddy MacKay and Silvia Violet who met on a Tennessee Mountain top and (in their own words) “…and decided since we probably were too easily distracted to rule the world that we’d settle for causing a bit of mayhem instead. ” That’s how Mischief Corner Books was born.
In this holiday anthologies, their four different perspectives has never had a better showcase for their talents. It’s a heartwarming collection that veers from bear shape shifters to contemporary romance then on to the supernatural and back again. Chestnuts Roasting gets the flow and placing of the selections just right, an issue I find most anthologies have a hard time perfecting. This is such a strong collection that while I had my absolute favorites, I loved them all. So will you.
The first story from Toni Griffin, Wreath of Fire: Smokey Mountains Bears 2, concerns a young bear shifter still trying to recover from years of family abuse, a forlorn young man, one in need of hope and love. The second story is A Christmas Cactus for the General By Angel Martinez. Talk about totally unexpected and wonderfully quirky. It’s told from an alien’s pov, and yes, its a wonderful holiday story. Next up? Holly Jolly By Silvia Violet, that’s the “bah humbug” tale of the bunch. You know you need one and Silvia Violet delivers her Scrooge into the holiday spirit via romance and coffee! Oh, but its that last story that will bring out the tears, the hankies, and the scores of music you want to listen to at this time of year. Chestnuts Roasting ends as it should, on reflections of love and family, of life and death, and perhaps something more. The last and utterly memorable tale is Snow on Spirit Bridge By Freddy MacKay. Never has blowing my nose and weeping away made me so happy.
Here are the stories in the order they appear in the book with a few comments by me.
1. Wreath of Fire: Smokey Mountains Bears 2 – Toni Griffin
Michael’s trying to start a new life away from his abusive father, but he’s drifting and not sure what he wants. When he accidentally starts a kitchen fire, the hot new fireman who comes to the rescue is not only another bear shifter. He’s Michael’s mate. Michael desperately needs to get his act together and figure out what he wants if he has any hope of claiming the bear fated to be his.
A heartwarming story that captures the pain of a young man feeling like an outsider at the holidays. Everything he attempts goes off course until Michael is almost ready to give up. Then another outsider arrives to how him the way home. I loved Griffin’s group or sleuth of bear shifters, such a welcoming family. It makes Michael’s background and family history even more poignant. A lovely introduction to this marvelous anthology.
You can read this story as a stand alone, or if you would like, you can read about the first Smokey Mountains Bears in A Bear in the Woods
2. A Christmas Cactus for the General – Angel Martinez
Exiled to Earth for perhaps the worst failure in Irasolan history, General Teer must assimilate or die. Earth is too warm, too wet, too foreign, but he does the best he can even though human males are loud, childish louts whom he can’t imitate successfully. When a grieving seaplane pilot strikes up a strange and uneasy friendship with him, he finds he may have been too quick to judge human males. They are strange to look at, but perhaps not as unbearable as he thought.
Angel Martinez is a favorite author of mine. Her ability to weave mythology and folklore into her contemporary stories is beyond amazing. Here Angel Martinez explores the idea of humans and American culture as seen through the eyes of an exiled alien. The character of Teer is a wonder. He never thinks or reacts like a human being at any point in the story, his alien persective is kept intact as he tries to understand and adapt to his strange new world that is his home. But if Teer is a true alien, than the man that falls into a friendship with Teer and then love, Bruce, is almost as much or more of an outsider from the people in the town they both live in. Snarly, rude, perpetually brusk and alone, Bruce also stays on the outskirts of community. His alienation is by choice while Teer’s was forced. This story is full of humor, pathos, and romance of an unlikely yet wondrous sort. And yes, this is one of my favorites although I loved them all.
3. Holly Jolly – Silvia Violet
I’m not gay. I just notice men sometimes. Everybody does, right? I notice Dane a lot, like every time I’m near him, but just because I think he’s an attractive man that doesn’t mean I like him, does it?
Holly Jolly is a cute, contemporary holiday romp with a heart. Every holiday collection needs a “Scrooge” type character and Tom the narrator fills the bill nicely. Only later do we find out the source of Tom’s harsh outlook and then everything about Tom snaps into place and he becomes more than just a formulaic persona. In fact, Tom’s past and actions make him not only admirable but courageous. Totally worthy of a hunky Dane who works at The Coffee Bean. I really enjoyed the layers the author added to Tom, Dane, and even Tom’s best friend Shelley.
And the idea of putting Holly Jolly in between the alien Teer of A Christmas Cactus for the General and the wildly enchanting and mystical characters of Snow on Spirit Bridge By Freddy MacKay gives the reader a little break from the angst and pain that both stories contain. Great job of placement all the way through this collection.
4. Snow on Spirit Bridge By Freddy MacKay
Alone in Japan, Finni is struggling against the constant distrust, avoidance, and xenophobia he experiences every day. He misses home. He misses his family. Nightmares come all too frequently because of the stress, and well, Christmas is just not Christmas in Japan. Not how he understands it.
Distressed by how miserable Finni is, his roommate, Mamoru, offers to be Finni’s family for Christmas. Little does he know how much one agreement would change everything between them, because both of them kept secrets neither ever dreamed were true.
Oh, this story. I can’t even begin to describe all the astonishing facets and elements that appear in Snow On Spirit Bridge. On first glance what appears to be a contemporary holiday story of a lonely, homesick exchange student, Finni, one who happens to be huge, blond haired and blue-eyed, traipsing through the streets of Japan on the eve of Christmas. Again we have an outsider’s perspective on a different culture. This time the setting is Japan with the Japanese peoples wariness and sometimes dislike of outsiders playing a huge part in Finni’s sense of isolation. But as the snow swirls around him and his sadness deepens something magical and unbelievable happens. MacKay combines several mythologies into her story and it works perfectly. Snow on Spirit Bridge addresses great pain and loss for several characters. And the last chapter will leave you smiling even as you weep your way through a box of tissues. A marvel of love, holiday cheer and the vastness of possibilities that just might exist make this my favorite story of the collection just as I expect it will end up as yours. This should have been the last story in any collection. And as the last story here, it works to make this one of the more memorable anthologies of this or any other season of the year.
I adored Chestnuts Roasting and absolutely recommend it for your Holiday reading pleasure. But the authors and their stories are so good, it makes wonderful reading at any time of the year. Pick it up today!
Cover artist Catherine Dair cover is lovely and brings the warmth of the holidays in its design.
Expected publication: November 27th 2014 by Smashwords Edition