The Colors of Pastor Saul by SA Garcia
Rating: 4 stars
Pastor Saul Thompson operates a food kitchen for the lost souls and people fleeing from the wars his country is engaged in. But thee is more to Saul then meets the eye as Saul can see Death or the Black Mantle coming for the people he serves. Sometimes, Saul can make the Black Mantle retreat by his actions and sometimes even his intervention is not enough to save those who congregate under his roof from despair and death. And each time, his “sight” or actions bring down a blackness upon himself that is becoming ever more frequent. Then a man called Pink Cap comes into his sanctuary and everything changes for Pastor Saul, including the belief that miracles can still happen.
This is an unusual little story for the Holiday season and Advent calendar. It takes place in an alternative universe in a wartorn country whose citizens are diseased, dying or just healthy enough to be conscripted into the army. Pastor Saul is the last line of survival for people living on the edges, so very close to death and despair, something his government for whatever reason does not appreciate. Pastor Saul would include himself among those classified as marginal but a true oddity, he sees colors around all the individuals, and as death and sickness close in, those colors turn dark just before the Black Mantle arrives to feed off the person before they die. This gift or curse is something he has kept to himself. The author’s vivid descriptions of Saul’s universe and chilling portraits of its inhabitants paint a picture of a dismal world populated by defeated and dying citizens with Saul acting like the boy with his finger in the dyke holding back the waters of destruction. Then an amazing thing happens when a man called Pink Cap enters Saul’s life and their relationship allows both men to start to thrive once more. True to Garcia’s world building, there is no HEA but even the slight glow of hope for these men are like the embers of a fire sparking back to life. I would recommend this story, just not as a holiday read.
Safe Harbor by Laylah Hunter
Rating: 3.5 stars
When Blake’s father died seven years ago, Blake was reeling in grief compounded by confusion over his sexuality. His solution was to run away to the sea. Now his ship has returned to port, and waiting on the dock for him is his best friend, Tom. Tom is the person who caused Blake to question his sexuality and make him realize that he was gay. Now Tom makes it clear that Tom forgives Blake for running away as long as Blake agrees to stay with Tom and his grandmother for Christmas. And from all indications, Tom has realized other things about Blake as well. Can it be that Blake has finally found a safe harbor for good and get the happy ending he has wanted with Tom? At Christmas time everything is possible.
At 30 pages, this is a short, sweet story of young love and coming out of the closet. Hunter has a nice feel for her characters and settings although more of a back story would have been nice. We just have three people here, Blake, Tom and his grandmother, a most tolerant and exceptional woman. it seems that during those seven years of missing Blake, Tom realized that he is gay and that Blake was gay too. This is a gentle tale of young love with appealing characters. A very nice, quick holiday read.
Mending Noel by Charlie Cochet
Rating: 2.75 stars
Elf Tim works for the Abominable Administrative Department at North Pole City and is majorly unhappy. His Elf Boss, Noel, is harassing him and making his life miserable. Other elves have transferred out of the department, but Tim seems stuck. Stuck in a bad job, and with a bad boss out to get him. Other elves, those hardbitten and mean work as the Frost King’s toy soldiers, those brave and smart end up as Rein Dears, flying the planes to deliver the toys. But Tim was’t even considered good enough to cut it as a Ribbon Curler in the Gift Packaging Plant, even after graduating from Claus College.
But when Tim stumbles into a plot by the Rat King to destroy the Christmas spirit, he will have to work with Noel and Jack Frost with his helper Rudy to safe the day and even find some Christmas spirit of his own.
As you can tell, Charlie Cochet has turned a collection of traditional Christmas legends upside down and inside out, creating a North Pole City where Rein Dears are the glamourous flyboys with slutty sugarplum fairies to attend to their every need instead of reindeer pulling a sleigh. The North Pole is no longer a charming snowcovered gingerbread town but a Christmas City full of bureaucrats, homophobes, and thugs to go with the elves who have positions that range from Kringle’s Construction Firm worker to an elf who delivers coal for the furnaces (and dumps it on top of Tim). I think this story contains some very clever tweaks on Santa Claus and the North Pole, and it is equally clear that Cochet enjoyed herself writing this story. I just wish I had had as much fun reading it as she did developing her concept.
I didn’t. Perhaps I love my traditional Christmas too much to enjoy such hard hearted concepts as Christmas sugar plum fairies as whores, or a place where the work is such drudgery that the workers are as bogged down in Bah Humbug and despair as anyone found in the blighted areas of any big city. Yes, there is a happy ending but it is the stuff I had to wade through to get there that almost made me put this down before I finished. Really? There has to be homophobia even at the North Pole? There are certainly enough sluts, and thugs and jerks of all types everywhere else in the world. For me, they don’t need to be at the North Pole at Christmas, and I don’t want them in my holiday reading. Sorry, but I would skip this one.