Warning: This post is LONG! At the bottom are my thoughts about each individual story.
This is not my usual book. I'm not into strictly romances but when I saw this both on here and in the BookPage magazine at my library, I simply had to try it out. I'm so glad I did because these were almost all lovely reads and made me a liar that I don't like short stories. Apparently I simply hadn't found the right ones yet.
Each one is very different; there's is basically something for everyone here. The stories cover Christmas, Yule, Hanukkah, and New Year's Eve and contain Christmas magic, real life, things that can't be explained, and many different people.
For the most part, I found these well written, containing great characters, and very concise stories. It has certainly given me names of writers to look into. Below are my thoughts, reactions, quotes and ratings for each story individually. These were stories I reacted very emotionally to, something I wasn't expecting, so the rating, etc are very subjective.
If you like YA, holiday stories, romance, and just a hint of Christmas magic, I highly recommend this book.
Midnights - Rainbow Rowell -4
If this is an example of Rowell's normal writing, I need to finally sit down and read her books. We follow Mags (Margarete) and Noel as well as several of their friends through four New Years, from their Sophomore year to Freshmen of college. Mags and Noel are best friends and every New Years it's up to her to keep the food from killing him because of his allergies. After all:
"Tree nuts specifially have it out for me, for me personally. They're more like assassins than, like, possible dangers."
"Damn, Mags said, "what'd you'd ever do to tree nuts?"
The boy laughed. "Ate them, I guess."
We see each year add to their friendship and them grow closer. And by the end, we're ready to shove them both on the coffee table so they would dance together.
One of the best short stories I've read in quite awhile, well set up - particularly as it covers a number of years - and did not leave you wanting.(Note: Since writing that several of these stories can now carry the same. I'll only be noting the ones that didn't work for me.)
The Lady and the Fox - Kelly Link - 5
I LOVE this story! If any of the other stories top this one I'm not sure my heart could take it.
Miranda is spending Christmas at her godmother's, Elspeth, estate with all the Honeywells, a theatrical family that like to talk, "When Honeywells have no lines to speak, they improvise. All the word's a stage." and bring their own brand of insanity to the holiday.
Rare to see a Honeywell in isolation. They come bunched like bananas. Not single spies, but in battalions.
With her mother locked up in a Thai prison, the eleven year old spends the holiday with Elspeth's son, who's the same age, hating the pity she feels brought her here. A chance meeting with Fenny in the snow, a Honeywell she's never seen before, starts a chain reaction that lasts years. After a year in "real life", she returns to the estate at Christmas, hopefully to snow and Fenny.
An embroidered patch on his justacorps serves as a symbol for the deeper plot: can the fox free its foot from the trap? Clothes are symbols in this story. Her dress one year is armor, spikes and painful - holding everyone off. Fenny doesn't care and holds her close.
Favorite quote: Elspeth - "We all lose," says an acerbic voice. "We all love and we all lose and we go on loving just the same."
Angels in the Snow - Matt de la Peña - 3
A very nice story. Shy, part Mexican-American from California, is a college student who finds himself a year after his mother's death stuck on the opposite side of the country cat sitting, with almost no food and all but snowed in at an empty apartment building. Homesick, heart sick, and struggling with questions of even why he's here in New York, he meets a fellow shut in college student alone for Christmas. When her shower pipes freeze, she ends up using the one in the apartment he's staying in. To decrease their uncomfortableness Haley suggests telling each other one personal thing about themselves each time she uses the shower. Through this, two people from different backgrounds, different economic backgrounds, and even separate coasts find they have things in common - things coming from their very core. Past and present blend together to make one very special Christmas.
Polaris Is Where You'll Find Me - Jenny Han - 3.5
What a wonderful and yet heart-wrenching story. A baby was left in Santa's sleigh while he was working in Korea and he couldn't just leave her there. So Natalie has grown up around Elves, helped them build toys, and lived around Christmas magic. But she's an outsider, no matter how much the others care about her. Her friend, and she wishes more, Flynn goes to the Snow Ball with another Elf, leaving "Natty" to think about her place here as well as Lars. Lars is a boy she met the year before when she went with her father on his rounds and he surprised them in his house in Sweden..."Maybe it was Norway. Or Finland. It could have been Finland!"
But there's more to this story then all this and I'm not sure I agree with it. Flynn says she's going to the outside world.
"You don't really belong here...Sometimes I wonder how different things would be if you weren't here. Sometimes I think maybe I'd be different."
..."You're going to go away someday...You'll stop believing."
Tears sprang to my eyes. "Not me. I'll never stop. Never ever ever."
Stubbornly, he shakes his head. "One day you will, and you'll forget all about us."
This goes completely against what her father has told her:
There are two kinds of children. The kind who believe and the kind who don't Every year, it seems there are fewer in the world who do. Papa says it's not an easy thing to ask a child to beleive in what they can't see; he says it's its own magic. He says that if you have that magic inside you, you should protect it all your life and never let it go, because once it's gone, it's gone forever.
So even though his gift to her was wonderful, I ended up feeling not the joy of possibilities but the ache of losing Christmas magic. As someone who firmly believes in the ability to mature and yet keep the magic, I'm not happy with this ending.
It's a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown - Stephanie Perkins - 5
Another wonderful story though I don't know that I could rank any of these as few would be before one! Marigold wants out of Ashville; she wants to go to Atlanta and work in an animation studio and get away from a place that has bad memories. Her mother and her are in a tiny apartment after losing their house when she lost her father.
"You know those stories about women who didn't know their husbands had secet, second familles?"
There was a beat. "Are you serious? You can't be serious."
"In Charolotte. A wife and two daughters."
...North shook his head. "I didn't know things like that happened in real life."
Marigold hadn't known either.
So there will be no Yuletide (her mom doesn't celebrate Christmas) this year. Yet in her...stalking of the young man with the Christmas tree sellers close by who had the perfect voice for her latest YouTube video, she sets up the chance to not only bring a tree (and present) to her mother but maybe something for herself as well.
Marigold and North are wonderful, snarky, and yet they understand each other amazingly well. This was a warm and lovely story.
Your Temporary Santa - David Levithan - 2
First one I didn't really love. Mostly I think it was the writing style; I'm picky about first person narrative style and the unnamed narrator and I just didn't click. It was also on the shorter side of the stories I've read so far and it really needed even one more page. It felt incomplete.(show spoiler)
Add into the mix the family situation and the boyfriend's Jewish culture and there was too much going on with not enough text.
Krampuslauf - Holly Black - 3
I'm hit or miss when it comes to Holly Black (and so far the Spiderwick series is the only one I've liked), so I was glad when I found this an enjoyable read.
Hanna, Wren, and Penny all go to Krampuslauf to learn for certain that Penny's boyfriend is cheating on her. He is and in a fit of brilliant madness, Wren invites his "rich kid" crowd to their New Years eve party. They also invite a boy who caught Hanna's interest, one with an amazingly realistic Krampus costume. Hanna is a girl who wishes to know there's more to the world, that magic is there.
Be careful what you wish and what you bargin for...
What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth? - Gayle Forman - 4
I really loved this one; the characters came alive and I felt and sympathized with Sophie. For most people, college can make you feel like a fish out of water. For her, college is in the country - "pastoral" - and foreign to the large city she's always known. No one gets her humor or gets her and she can't lave for winter break till after Hanukkah. But a spur of the moment decision leads to meeting perhaps the one person on campus who might understand her. I simply loved both Sophie and Russell.
"I'm doing anthropological research...I'm particularly interested in the sweaters. They symbolism of the light-up ones."
Sophie paused a beat, waiting for the blank expression and the really? she would've gotten off a Kyle or a Connor. To which Sophie would've had to say, no not really, just kidding and the conversation would've fizzled.
But Russell was nodding along, stroking his chin in exaggerated professorial motions. "I believe those represent a mating ritual."
"A matting ritual?"
"Yes. You see the male lights up in order to attract the attention of the female so that procreation may ensue."
..."Here's a question: are the sweaters mating, or the people in them?" Sophie asked.
When Russell grinned, he no longer looked professorial. "Couldn't' tell you, Sophie," he said. "But both prospects scare the shit out of me."
It just gets better from there; I may never be able to listen to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer again.
Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus - Myra McEntire - 5
This felt like old home week. Tennessee, Nativity play, Methodists, and pastor's girl - yeah, those sound vaguely familiar. I'll admit, the title made me a bit apprehensive but the story was lovely. Gracie and Vaughn felt real and I enjoyed getting to know both of them. The story started me out with a laugh and just got better.
The whole mess started when I lit the church on fire.
To be precise, I didn't strike a match, and it wasn't the church proper, but the barn beside it. The one the Main Street Methodist used to store all the equipment for the annual Christmas pageant. Well, the barn they used to use.
...On the day of the incident, I drove by the church and noticed that Shelby happened to park his Mini Cooper - seriously, a dude named Shelby who drives a Mini Cooper - underneath a tree. Said tree had a large flock of pigeons roosting on its branches, and there I was with a glove compartment filled with fireworks. I saw an opportunity, I predicted an outcome, and I had to see how it would all go down.
A lot of bird shit went down.
And, thanks to a wayward spark, I set the church on fire.
Welcome to Christmas, CA - Kiersten White - 5
Seriously, this one made me cry. In my defense, it was late but it tugged at my heartstrings. In this one, first person really worked as everything was seen through Maria's eyes and you felt what she felt. In all honesty, a kitschy diner with a Christmas theme would be...almost adorable or at least humorous to me but through Maria's eyes, it took on a different meaning.
The door opens with a rusted jingle, and an animatronic Santa insults my moral virtue three times. Ho, ho, ho. A train track overhead circles the entire room, a dusty Polar Express forever stalled on the verge of reaching the North Pole. Every surface not reserved for eating is covered in holiday kitsch. Glittery Styrofoam snowflakes, empty boxes covered in sun-bleached wrapping, twinkle lights with one strand always blinking out of sync, stockings with hot-glue stains revealing where pom-poms used to be, and a stuffed deer head, red-bulb nose long dead and antlers strung with limp tinsel. As if that weren't freak show enough, from the ledge above the kitchen door, a sinister elf gazes malevolently down, its head cocked at a horror-movie angle.
A year ago, I stuck a tiny knife in its hand. No one has noticed.
Maria wants to get far away and find a home but with the help of the new cook Ben, who makes food that seems magical, she might just discover it's closer then she thought. Sometimes, we have blinders on without knowing it.
Star of Bethlehem - Ally Carter - 3.5
I'm of two minds about this one. In the moment, I loved it. I could see the stars, feel the cold, and smell the gravy. I could also feel not Hulda's fear. I loved the family, particularly Aunt Mary...maybe even more then Ethan, and I loved not Hulda/Lydia's interactions with them. Even in the short time, you can feel her healing...until the text comes: "Tell Liddy they're coming!" The ending was touching and everything you could wish.
And that's the problem.
The ending almost felt like a Hallmark/Lifetime movie, too good to be true. Oh, I wanted it to happen but when dealing with(show spoiler)
, there's no way the events would have been allowed to stand.(show spoiler)
So while I enjoyed it, I couldn't completely suspend my belief.
The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer - Laini Taylor - 2
On a visceral level, this works. You feel Neve's despair, one moment of hope, fear, etc. There are great descriptions and a very interesting plot.
And way too many people!
It seemed like every page another person was introduced. There was another world building fact or new tidbit. At first this was great but it never really stopped and by the end I felt overwhelmed and held too many lose ends. Also, I think to save time, our focus suddenly shifts from Neve during the gifts she receives and I felt gypped. The gifts were so magical and we're told later, not shown, how these amazing and thought gifts changed her outlook and her feelings.
It was an interesting idea, though I didn't really warm up to it, but in the end the story simply felt rushed.