This was a very interesting holiday themed collection, with stories running the gamut from clean to obscene, and real to surreal.
HO HO HO by Gordon Reece is a great start to the collection. Here we have a spoiled, precocious, imaginative young boy, a pair of overindulgent parents, and one horrible case of mistaken identity. It's one of those stories that you figure cannot possibly be headed where you think, and where you're sure it'll stop shy of what you fear . . . only to be delightfully disappointed on both counts.
LET IT SNOW by Sam Stephens uses the holiday as an interesting backdrop to an otherwise straightforward tale of homicidal horror. As if family vacations weren't unsettling enough, you know things are not going to end well once the kids shatter an entire case of beer - especially not after the weird guy behind the reception counter already offered Dad a few lines of coke.
UNWANTED GIFT by Belinda Dorio changes things up again, offering us a horrific story of stalking and domestic abuse where the holidays hold special significance. There's a real sense of dread to this one, a feeling of plausibility that definitely sets the reader on edge.
Echoing the opening story, NAUGHTY OR NICE by Cameron Trost features a spoiled brat of a child, a pair of parents at their wits end in terms of discipline, and another horrible case of mistaken identity. Part of the horror comes from the way in which Barry tries to deny or rationalize the atrocities he's committed, while another part comes directly from the bathroom scene at the end.
If I had to pick a favourite from the anthology, then SATAN CLAUS by Keith Mushonga would definitely be it. The demonic Santa emerging from a fiery grave sets the tone early, with children and adults alike quickly descending from glee to terror just before he sucks out their souls. There's an interesting family dynamic at play here as well, but what ultimately won me over was the fact that instead of orchestrating some miracle act of redemption, Mushonga allows the difficult, teenage, atheist daughter to save the day.
X-MAS SECRETS by Steven Gepp is another tale where the holidays hold special significance, but this time it's a case of lost love and crushing regret that accompanies the season. The story starts out well, with the narrator engaging our curiosity before going on to demand our sympathy as well. It's a fantastical story, almost akin to a fairy tale, with an ending that holds some power, despite being a foregone conclusion from the opening.
RAINMAKER by Kathryn Hore is another strong tale that uses the holidays as a backdrop, without attributing any special significance to them. It's largely the tale of a conversation between a student and his counsellor, but one that gets stranger as it gets darker. The supernatural element is hinted at, suggested, and alluded to, but we're not really sure until the very end whether it's all just madness.
GLITTERING WERE THE LEAVES by Tony Dews is an unusual choice with which to end the anthology, since it has nothing to do with Christmas at all. Despite that, it's a chilling tale within a tale, and one that really grabs hold of the reader in the final pages.
All-in-all, a great anthology of stories that put a definite twist on the holidays.