Red Hot Holiday: Wish ListI Need You for ChristmasBreath on Embers

Red Hot Holiday: Wish ListI Need You for ChristmasBreath on Embers - Anne Calhoun, K.A. Mitchell, Leah Braemel, Angela James It's really cool that this anthology included both male-female and male-male stories. Way to move m/m out of the ghetto! The common theme of the collection is that all of the stories are about established (if perhaps uncertain) couples on the verge of becoming more serious. As the title suggests, the stories are steamier and kinkier than mainstream romance, but there's definitely an emphasis on love."Wish List" by K.A. Mitchell. An enjoyable, believable look at a couple having a hard time expressing their desires to each other. Jonah and Evan have been together for two years when Jonah discovers a set of hidden wedding rings. The thought of being tied to vanilla sex with one person for the rest of his life sends him into a panic about all the things he's been curious about and never tried, particularly being submissive. But it turns out there's something Evan hasn't been telling him as well. Confusion, doubt, mixed messages -- these are all things we don't see much in romance in regards to sex, and all very realistically portrayed. Jonah even flirts with cheating but doesn't go through with it. This isn't really a Christmas story, but New Years Eve, with its symbolism of new beginnings, is important. The story felt a little scattered to me at times, perhaps reflecting the confusion felt by the characters, but ended on a very positive note as Evan and Jonah discover they can both get their needs met. Jonah's introduction to BDSM felt very loving and real. 3 stars."I Need You for Christmas" by Leah BraemelI liked the atypical gender roles in this "Gift of the Magi" inspired story. Meg is a Mountie; her long-time lover Ryan, an artist, planned to follow her to her job, but was forced to stay home and take care of his orphaned younger siblings. Now that they no longer need him, he's ready to give up everything so Meg can continue to follow her dream -- not realizing that Meg has planned to make some changes herself.The importance of Meg and Ryan's respective callings, and their feelings for each other, came through well here. �I was less impressed with the numerous sex scenes -- other than one dramatic one involving bondage and swings, they didn't seem that necessary. The writing and story overall felt unsubtle and obvious. 2 stars."Breath on Embers: by Anne Calhoun. A lovely, evocative title for a lovely, evocative novella. After losing her husband two years ago, Thea has deadened her feelings by moving to bustling, impersonal New York, blasting music at all times, and having hot sex with hunky Ronan. As a New York firefighter, Ronan has suffered his share of grief; his goal isn't to make Thea forget, but to show her that life is still worth living.Erotica with a Christmas setting often aims for a "naughty" vibe, and this erotic novella certainly contains elements that could be very raunchy: Thea showing up unexpectedly in a Santa'a Helper outfit to deliver a blowjob, sex in a store changing room (I had to seriously suspend belief for that one), a threesome. But during the sex scenes or out of them, the emphasis is always on the sensual: the feel of soft materials against the skin, the synergistic chemistry that makes a bland dough into something delicious on the tongue, the glow of candles driving back the darkness. I have very fond memories of New York, so I particularly enjoyed the setting, and the way it contributed to Thea's journey. Christmas is also very much a part of the story. At Thea's lowest point, she witnesses buskers singing carols, and is given a candle. "'Pass it along, folks,' the skinny kid who sang bass said. 'It's almost the darkest night of the year. Pass the light. We all gotta pass the light, you know?'" It's a message she needs to hear. 4 stars.Overall, I'd recommend this to anyone who enjoys steamy stories that don't skimp on the romance. Note: there were several errors, mainly extra or missing words; I don't know if these were corrected.(reviewed from e-arc provided by netGalley)