Rating: 5 stars out of 5
The holidays are upon and so are the holiday story collections. Comfort and Joy Anthology is brimming over with tales from Josh Lanyon, Joanna Chambers, L.B. Gregg, and Harper Fox. Within the covers these authors bring tidings of joy, sorrow, humor, hope, and of course, comfort in extraordinary measure.
Readers must have been very good this year because never have our stockings been so full of marvelous collections of stories about Christmas and the holidays. In my top 3 anthologies, resting easily is Comfort and Joy from four outstanding authors, each story with its own twist and tone to make it both heart wrenching as well as memorable.
What makes this anthology (as with all top three) so wonderful and heartwarming? Depth for one thing, depth in emotion, characterization and tone. Complexity in the plots and layering. Also poignancy, a little reflection and sadness that comes to all at this time of the year as well as the wish to be a better person, for yourself and for others. These stories remind me more of Judy Garland singing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and less Deck The Halls. Yes, the latter is lovely, lighthearted and whimsical but the truth in the meaning behind these holidays, our expectations and our memories go far deeper and that’s the feeling and dimension these stories bring. They remind us that comfort is needed along with the joy, and that hope can follow on the heels of sadness and despair.
Rest and Be Thankful by Joanna Chambers:
Two stormy hearts find peace when feuding neighbors in the Scottish Highlands are trapped by a blizzard.
Things aren’t going well for Cam McMorrow since he moved to Inverbechie. His business is failing, his cottage is falling apart and following his very public argument with café owner Rob Armstrong, he’s become a social outcast.
Cam needs to get away from his troubles and when his sister buys him a ticket to the biggest Hogmanay party in Glasgow, he can’t leave Inverbechie quick enough. But when events conspire to strand him in the middle of nowhere in a snowstorm, not only is he liable to miss the party, he’ll also have to ask his nemesis, Rob, for help.
The synopsis doesn’t do this beautiful short story justice. At its heart is Cam McMorrow, a man who is his own worst enemy. It’s his wonderful childhood memories and his inherited cottage from his grandparents that moved Cam to return to Inverbechie to start up his tourist based Adventure business. But nothing has gone as expected. The seasonal fluctuations and the accompanying loss of income has put everything he has worked so hard for at risk and the depression and anger he feels has resulted in some poor choices made with the local folk. But even though we (and Cam) recognize his part in the bad situation he finds himself in, we can’t help but sympathize and love him. And it’s not all his fault, there have been some exceedingly poor judgement calls on parts of the local townspeople as well. Cam is in the depths of despair when we meet him. It his journey out to something better, more hopeful that is the wealth of this story. I hope Joanna Chambers will revisit this Cam, Rob, and Inverbechie. All three deserve a bigger story and a true HEA.
Out by Harper Fox
Can a stranger unlock the courage and passion in a young man’s captive heart?
It’s Christmas at Edinburgh’s magnificent Barlinney Hotel, and chief housekeeper Cosmo Grant is in charge of the festivities. He’s already got his hands full when handsome Ren Vaudrey checks in.
It soon turns out that Ren is an undercover cop. Cosmo wants to help him, but unless he can do it within the Barlinney’s walls, Cosmo is stuck. A victim of crippling agoraphobia, he’s been a prisoner in this gilded cage for over a year. Cosmo gathers all his courage to do the right thing by Ren and Sam—and as a glittering Christmas Eve descends on the city, finds himself confronting his very darkest fears.
If anyone had told me that an outstanding Christmas story centered around a traumatized, agoraphobic young man living in an expensive, first class hotel, I might have scoffed…aloud. Except that it’s Harper Fox telling the tale, bringing to life Cosmo Grant, a vulnerable, warm hearted and superbly efficient chief housekeeper at Edinburgh’s Barlinney Hotel. It was Cosmo’s bad luck to be held hostage during a robbery gone bad and the trauma has left Cosmo extremely agoraphobic, unable to leave the Barlinney at any cost. Within its gorgeous confines, Cosmo works, eats, lives…marginally, his fear keeping him inside where he is terrorized by the hotel’s toady of a manager. Then in sweeps police inspector Ren Vaudrey undercover and Cosmo’s life starts to enlarge once more. There is a mystery, crooks galore, and romance.
I love Harper Fox and everything her pen touches turns to gold and in this case, to red and green with a tang of pine and something floral that Cosmo has fixed for the lobby. Could I tell Harper Fox wrote this story? Why, yes I could.
Waiting for Winter by LB Gregg:
Some mistakes are worth repeating.
Luke always thought he and Winter were the perfect couple—until the day Winter announced he was taking a new job and they were uprooting and headed for Germany. No discussion. No debate. For the first time in his life, Winter miscalculated. Badly. Now Luke is trying his best to move on with his life, but Winter is back in town and he’s set on digging their relationship out of the deep freeze.
A wealth of assumptions and misunderstandings can derail even the most loving relationships as Luke and Winter find out. Now its the holidays and a time for reconciliation and second chances. I love how L.B. Gregg writes relationships! They feel so real, that when something goes wrong between the people involved, the reader feels just as unsettled and sad as the couple. In Waiting for Winter, Gregg portrays the relationship that was like an artist uses negative space in a painting, its defined by what Luke and Winter no longer have, whether its the joys of their intertwined families, houses and experiences. That Winter and their “coupleness” is missed is accentuated by the places and people Luke visits, all of whom knew them as a couple. We pine for the loss of Winter and hope that this reunion will take. I loved the ending, that was perfect.
Baby, It’s Cold by Josh Lanyon:
Or maybe it’s the flu. Breaking up is hard to do — especially around the holidays.
Talk about Kitchen Nightmares! TV Chef Rocky and Foodie blogger Jesse have been pals forever, so it should have been the most natural thing in the world to move their relationship to the next level. Instead, it turned out to be a disaster. But Christmas is the season of love, and someone’s cooking up a sweet surprise…
From sadness and comfort to happiness and celebration, it’s fitting that this anthology end with heartfelt humor and joy which it does with Baby, It’s Cold by Josh Lanyon. Two old friends, chef Rocky and food blogger Jesse have tried in the past to have a relationship but it didn’t work out. Now Jesse figures a blizzard and a surprise dinner is just the way to find out if he and Rocky can salvage not only their friendship but perhaps try again for something more. What could go wrong?
Considering it’s Josh Lanyon at the helm, just about everything, from misunderstandings, kitchen disasters, and a unexpected visitor, Rocky and Jesse have many obstacles in their path before they can move forward to a future together they both want. I love the dialog and the past histories Lanyon has detailed for both main characters are as fascinating as they are. There is always a certain tartness about a Josh Lanyon story, a little wryness to go with the sweet, a little savory for balance and that keeps the characters and their situations feeling believable and human without being saccharine. Yes, our history often dictates our present behavior, whether we want it to or not. Lanyon gets that and folds it into his people and their relationships. So that when the pop of the champagne cork sounds the arrival of a happy ending, we and Rocky and Jesse have earned it. Just a wonderful tale, I loved it.
Love holiday stories? Are these authors on your automatic buy list? No matter the reason, pick up this anthology and have yourself a merry little Christmas, or Chanukah, or whatever holiday you may celebrate. These are stories to read no matter the season. Comfort and Joy is on Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Best of 2014 List! And now I will leave you with the incomparable Judy Garland singing Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas!
Cover Art by Johanna Ollila. Cover is nice if a little bland, a little too generic for my tastes.
Published December 6th 2014 by JustJoshin Publishing, Inc.
(first published December 5th 2014)