Tinsel – Kris Bryant (Bold Strokes Books)

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I’m a slowly recovering, though still unapologetic, Grinch when it comes to the holidays. The relentlessness of “Family is Everything!” isn’t always the most realistic message for queer people, and after multiple decades working retail and withstanding both holiday customers and holiday music, my joy for the season is, at best, muted.

Also, there’s that magic trick that happens as a queer person when you put on pretty much any holiday movie and see people like yourself magically vanish (unless in a more recent movie, where the heroine might have an queer-coded friend there to toss a finger-snap or two when she needs, I don’t know, a makeover or a shoulder to cry on about the chisel-chinned Christmas tree farmer who’ll be out of work if she follows her boss-slash-fiancé’s plans to level the town for a mall or whatever).

So, when I seek out some queerness for the holidays, I almost always head right on over to queer holiday romances, where the happy-ever-afters (or -for-nows) are all about us.

This was how I found myself with Tinsel, Kris Bryant’s most recent holiday romance novella, and found myself almost immediately smitten with the main character, Jessica, because Jessica, to put it mildly, is not in the spirit.

She’s recently dumped, albeit out of a relationship she knew had no real foundation to speak of, but worse, she’s been dumped because her former girlfriend has found someone else—and that someone else is one of Jessica’s co-workers, which is just awkward and awful on so many levels.

Added to that, someone she’d normally find attractive just spilled coffee all over her because they weren’t paying attention to where they were going.

So Jessica is already understandably grumpy, and that’s before she catches someone swatting a stray kitten out of his way on the street, and ends up with said silver kitten tucked in her coat, and heading to the closet vet to find out if the kitty is chipped or not.

Whereupon the beautiful woman who dumped coffee on her turns out to be the vet.

As meet-cutes (meet-spills?) go, this is not an auspicious start for Jessica and Taylor, and I was wholeheartedly buckled in for the ride. Because Jessica in a foul mood is self-aware enough to know she’s in a foul mood, but doesn’t quite have the impulse control to stop herself from snapping at, well, everyone, she never quite pushes the line into completely unredeemable jerk. But I did mention I’m a Grinch myself, so I personally was raising my metaphorical glass to Jessica at nearly every grumpy turn.

The good news, for those of a less Grinchy persuasion, is that Jessica does manage to gather her frayed reserves of patience and kindness, and it’s mostly to do with the aforementioned kitten and the beautiful veterinarian. With a little tiny fluffball of purring, huggy love in her life, Jessica’s course is nudged onto a more pleasant holiday path, and the end result is a worthwhile journey.

For a novella-length work, Bryant does a nice job of showing us Jessica’s life as it interacts with her family, her best friend, and her work in such a way as to paint a wider picture of Jessica (and also help to explain her foibles and general grumpiness in her current situation). More, the kitten’s antics walk the line between cute and saccharine well, including a small crisis and some great moments as Jessica relies on the caregiving advice of her best friend, given she has zero experience in the realm herself.

Tinsel is a zippy, well-paced narrative, and by the time Tinsel draws to a close, even the Grinchiest of readers should be drawn in, happy with the journey, and rewarded with some sizzle. And for those who maybe don’t like a Grinch as much as I do, not to worry: the kitten makes it perfectly clear that Jessica’s heart is already the right size, despite her denials that she couldn’t possibly keep a cat. Jessica just needs a bit of time to get there, and to recognize what might be with Taylor.

Reviewed by ‘Nathan Burgoine

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