Stella Matutina
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Red Hot Holiday by K.A. Mitchell, Leah Braemel, and Anne Calhoun 
24th-Dec-2012 03:59 pm
cover art for Red Hot Holiday, featuring a red-lit woman in a black bra titled backwards with a hand on her ribs. She's poise above a cluster of red holiday ornaments, including a lit candle, three glass balls, and a spiraled ribbonTitle: RED HOT HOLIDAY, which contains WISH LIST, I NEED YOU FOR CHRISTMAS, and BREATH ON EMBERS
Authors: K.A. Mitchell, Leah Braemel, and Anne Calhoun
Publisher: Carina Press
Publication Date: 5 December 2012
Pages:
Status: electronic (ARC)

Red Hot Holiday for purchase at Kobo
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Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

How d’you fancy a little last minute holiday erotica?

RED HOT HOLIDAY collects three erotic romance novellas, each of which tells what I think of as a next-level story. The characters are all in a holding pattern with their relationships, until the holidays give them the push they need to take things further.

cover art for Wish List featuring two green-tinged, shirtless men, one of whom has his arm slung around the others' shoulders. The tops of their heads extend beyond the picture's limits. They're positioned above an evergreen bow adorned with golden glass ballsThe collection opens with WISH LIST by K.A. Mitchell. Jonah is halfway horrified when he finds a ring in his boyfriend’s desk. Yeah, he loves Evan, but there’s still so much he wants to try before he gets hitched. He drafts a list of kinky scenarios, never dreaming that straight-laced Evan might be just the man to fulfill all his fantasies.

WISH LIST is very much a figuring-it-out narrative. Jonah is at a crossroads. Even though he’s happy with his life, he’s not sure he’s ready to fully commit to it. Evan, in contrast, is comfortable with the way things are, with perhaps one exception: he misses certain parts of the BDSM scene, which he left because he wanted more of an emotional connection alongside the physicality. The narrative gives them the space they need to figure out where they stand in relation to one another and how they’re going to use their mutual, if unexpressed, desires to strengthen their relationship. Mitchell immediately takes us inside the lovers’ connection and lets us get a firm grip on what they feel for each other, even as we watch them engage in some steamy experimentation. Miscommunication and misinterpretation add to the tension, ensuring both characters remain in real danger of a broken heart. It's not until they learn to trust each other, and themselves, that they can move forward.

I had a great time with the novella and give it 3.5 stars (my "I really liked this" rating). As an added bonus, the story stretches through to New Year’s Eve, making this the perfect way to your holiday reading down once Christmas has passed.

cover art for I Need You For Christmas, featuring the torso of a blue-tinged woman with her arms bound before her and drawn tight up against her chest. She's positioned above an assortment of three blue-tinged glass ballsI NEED YOU FOR CHRISTMAS by Leah Braemel continues things with an m/f story. Megan loves being a Mountie, but she hates how her northern posting keeps her away from her boyfriend, Ryan, for most of the year. This Christmas, she’s determined to give him the best present of all: her new commission with the Ontario Provincial Police, which will let her stay close to the man who’s sacrificed so much for his loved ones. Ryan has plans of his own, though, and holiday secrets soon conspire to put the lovers at odds.

This story is hot, y’all. The sex sizzles, if you’ll allow me a clichéd turn of phrase, and they’re both plentiful and varied. The reader has the pleasure of experiencing Megan and Ryan’s lust in a multitude of locales and positions. Such a large number of sex scenes might feel gratuitous in other hands, but Braemel never loses control of the situation. Her red hot story works beautifully because the sex, great as it is, is never just about sex. Each encounter is intimately tied into Megan and Ryan’s larger relationship. These scenes are a means of establishing how the lovers feel about one another and what effect the long-distance thing has had on them. It’s highly emotional as well as physical.

This emotional look at Megan and Ryan’s connection also makes it easy for the reader to believe in the compromises each character makes so they can stay together. I sometimes find these sorts of stories questionable because the woman always seems to give up more than the man, but Braemel avoids that hiccup. She shows us that Megan isn’t giving up her dream so much as discovering a new one--one that lets her serve the people of Canada while staying close to the man she loves. Ryan, too, makes compromises--he’s determined to move up north to be with Megan, even though it means leaving his family behind and applying the brakes to his career as a sculptor. They've made these choices as much for themselves as for each other, and they feel earned on all counnts--especially since both characters, particularly Ryan, have a history of self-sacrifice.

This was my favourite of the three novellas. I give it 4 stars (my "I loved this" rating) and highly recommend it to you. You can bet I'll be reading more of Braemel's work in the near future.

cover art for Breath On Embers, featuring a yellow-tinged woman pressed up against a barely visible man, her arms drawn up to her bared chest. The figure are positioned above three lit yellow candles and an assortment of golden glass balls, with a curl of golden ribbon to the rightBREATH ON EMBERS by Anne Calhoun closes the collection. Ronan, an NYC firefighter, figures Christmas is the perfect time to deepen things with his adventurous regular hookup. Thea, however, is still reeling from the death of her husband two years ago. She cares about Ronan, but she’s not sure she can commit to anything more than sex with him, least of all around the holiday that meant so much to her throughout her marriage. Certain he can help her accept that their connection is more than just physical, Ronan proposes a challenge Thea can’t possibly refuse: a threesome with one of his buddies from the station.

This final novella works beautifully on a number of levels. Calhoun tackles Thea’s grief with sensitivity and care. We delve deep into the way her husband's death has changed Thea’s life, with particular emphasis on how she feels pressured to forget and to move on. Thea is well paired with Ronan, who’s also grieving to the best friend he lost in the course of his duties. Together, they come to realize that continuing to live doesn’t mean forgetting about their loved ones.

The sex is nice and hot, as is par for the course with this collection; and, as one might expect, it’s more than simply physical. As was the case with the previous two novellas, sex serves as a means of helping the characters come to a better understanding of their relationship. It show us what they’re going through emotionally, and it gives them a way to heal.

I found this very affecting, and give it 3.5 stars (my "I really liked this" rating).

Other Reviews:

Dear Author
Fiction Vixen Book Reviews (covers BREATH ON EMBERS)
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