Before I begin, I want to give a huge shout-out to NineStar Press for the beautiful cover they had designed for their holiday shorts this year. For me, the beauty of winter is about the blue and white of the sky and snow on a winter’s day or at night lit by street lamps, so I think this is just lovely!
Now to the story. I’ve only read ‘Nathan’s paranormal stories (which is a bit of a departure for me) so I was eager to read a good old-fashioned contemporary short by my friend and fellow-author. Knowing a bit about ‘Nathan’s past and his strong belief in the power/importance of chosen families, I wanted to see how he managed to convey this in his story.
Well, he did it beautifully and, presented in such an original way, the chapters become a yearly check-in to see what has developed in the lives of his characters. And so many things do develop but well within the range of realism for such a spread of time. ‘Nathan is big on inclusion so, refreshingly, we have several rarely-represented perspectives.
The protagonist, Nick, calls his collection of friends “The Misfit Toys” with reference to the stop-motion Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer holiday movie but, even if they do things a bit differently, his characters are hardly misfits when it comes to each other. They fit together and they stay together, supporting one another in love and friendship from year-to-year, even as their lives change and evolve.
I loved the evolution of romance in this story as some of the characters get together, break apart or remain committed, have their own children, and realize that, sometimes, the good friend that’s always been there can be, and always has been, The One.
The symbolism of the yearly ornament exchange, particularly between Nick and Haruto, was a nice touch and I loved the inclusion of young eyes looking upon these sometimes adult themed Christmas decorations in a later chapter. Nick’s slightly embarrassed but simple explanations to this small child recalled many of my conversations with my young children over some of my racier book covers, and any reference to Tom of Finland gets votes from me.
Melody’s frown made it perfectly clear what she thought of that assessment, but she went back to the ornament box and pulled out one of the hunky gay mermen. She frowned.
“This mermaid is a boy.”
“Yep,” Nick said.
“And he has a gross moustache.”
“His name is Tom,” Haruto said helpfully from the couch. “He’s from Finland.”
“He’s wearing a jacket without a shirt,” Melody said. “Isn’t he cold?”
“He has friends to keep him warm,” Haruto said.
Nick shook his head.
“Is this one his friend?” Melody asked, picking up another one of the mermen. This one was a lifeguard. Also shirtless. It hadn’t really struck Nick before how homoerotic many of the earlier ornaments had been. At least the year the giant smiling penis in the Santa hat was in the mix, he hadn’t won it. He wondered if Johnny put it on their tree.
“They’re all friends,” Nick said. “Where should they go on the tree?” He spared a glance to Haruto, who winked at him.
Melody gave the tree another intense look, and finally agreed that the two mermen should hang near each other, down to the one side, where they’d get more sun and be warmer during the day. Nick had to admit, her kid logic was sound, though he himself wondered how any respectable merman would need a lifeguard. Didn’t they breathe water?
~ Excerpt from Handmade Holidays by ‘Nathan Burgoine
The final chapter featuring the fifteenth in a string of Christmases was my favourite and, as a good holiday story should, really kicked me in the feels.
Handmade Holidays conveys everything good about the Christmas season – togetherness with friends and family (chosen or biological), the resilience of the human spirit in times of distress or less-than-ideal situations, a little bit of romance, and the beauty of holding onto the people who matter most.
5 out of 5 sparkly Christmas stars!