Fiction, Short Stories

Review: Broken Christmas by David Henderson

Broken Christmas book cover
Image from David Henderson; used by permission

Title: Broken Christmas

Author: David S. Henderson

Genre: Short Story

A collection of three short Christmas-themed stories. In “The Fourth Wish,” a homeless man accidentally ends up playing Santa to three lonely boarding school boys. In “The Best Christmas Ever,” an optimistic eight-year-old sees one holiday in a vastly different light than the rest of his family. And in the title story, “Broken Christmas,” a WWII soldier copes with Christmas in the trenches by dreaming of his family and his girlfriend back home.

I haven’t read a good Christmas book since Cornelia Funke’s When Santa Fell to Earth (which I happened to read in February). So when this offer landed in my inbox just in time, I decided a Christmasy read would hit the spot.

“The Fourth Wish” was my favorite of the three stories. The homeless man was a lot like most of the homeless men I know – really a great guy, just made some bad choices. His journey to make the three boys’ Christmas wishes come true was…well, heartwarming is a cliche, but the whole story is full of hope and redemption and Christmas joy.

I liked “The Best Christmas Ever” mostly because Jimmy (the little boy) was clueless. It was a mix of sad and happy as all the bad parts of Jimmy’s family come to light, but Jimmy only sees the fun in it and has the “best Christmas ever.” It was part holiday magic and part naivety, but I loved Jimmy precisely because he couldn’t see what was going on.

“Broken Christmas” was, I think, the hardest to swallow. Like “The Best Christmas Ever,” it was a mix of sad and happy, but so much more sad. I just felt so, so bad for PFC Perry Reynolds. The whole story seemed morose, with an ending I found to be a complete downer – not unfitting, mind you, but a downer. The title fits very well. This feels like a small taste of how hard Christmas must be for soldiers.

Gumshoe Santa book cover
Image from David Henderson; used by permission

At the end of Broken Christmas is a Secret Santa Cypher Message. If you email the message to info@phcbooks.com, David Henderson will email you a fourth bonus story, “Gumshoe Santa,” about a grizzled old private eye wrapping up a bad case on Christmas Eve.

“Gumshoe Santa” was fun. It got a little bogged down with backstory occasionally, but overall, it was an enjoyable private eye Christmas story. I liked Oscar and how much he loved being a PI. I even liked the super-minor characters like his Indian tech support guy. (Well, I take that back. I didn’t like his client.) I’m even a huge fan of the ending, which turned out completely fabulous with a touch of Christmas spirit.

Overall, I enjoyed these stories. They weren’t as lighthearted as I expected – but with a title like Broken Christmas, I may have been expecting too much. Most were sad, but all were enjoyable, and I loved the Christmas spirit infused through almost every page. Overall, a delightful read.

And if you end up reading Broken Christmas, I highly recommend emailing for “Gumshoe Santa,” as well.

I received free review copies of Broken Christmas and Gumshoe Santa from the author. His generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

Short Stories

Once in a Blue Moon

Once in a Blue Moon book cover
Image from Ken Ping; used by permission

Title: Once in a Blue Moon

Author: Ken Christopher Ping

Genre: Short Stories

A collection of three short stories. In “Of Sand and Castles,”  a lord’s twin sons are complete opposites, the younger always in the shadow of his father’s favorite. In “The Mother’s Day Gift,” Timmy is resisting the temptation to buy bubble gum cards because he’s saving up to give his mother a great Mother’s Day gift – until a careless word makes him wonder if she’s really his mother at all. And in the title story, “Once in a Blue Moon,” the goddess of color loses her will to make things colorful when the god and goddess of love refuse to help a stableboy’s ill-fated romance.

I swear I only picked up Once in a Blue Moon because the request had been sitting in my inbox for a week, and it was easier to say yes than to rationalize a no. Then I thought it through and went, “How the heck do I review a short story collection?”

I’ve never reviewed short stories before. So I’m going to review each story individually and give it my best shot.

The first story, “Of Sand and Castles,” was good. Alex, the older twin, was the bold, adventurous type I would expect from a medieval nobleman’s favorite son. Aaron, the younger, was a gentler, dreamier boy, who wanted his father to love him but couldn’t manage to live up to his brother. It had strong themes of being yourself and living up to expectations, and ended on a bittersweet note that was sad but satisfying.

Out of the three, “The Mother’s Day Gift” was my favorite. Six-year-old Timmy was so sweet, and Ken Ping nailed the innocent kid voice. It was a sweet story of family and a very special Mother’s Day gift. The ending, especially, was brilliant and well-executed.

“Once in a Blue Moon” was okay. I didn’t like it as much as the other two, partly because I was expecting family-related themes like the first two stories and partly because the mythology was a little wacky – a mix of Greek and Roman and Ken Ping’s imagination. But it was a fun, lighthearted, slightly romantic read.

Once in a Blue Moon (the book, not the story), was super short. I think it could have stood to have four or five stories. But the three that it had were good, interesting pieces, and a nice change of pace from novels. I enjoyed the read.

I received a free review copy of Once in a Blue Moon from the author. His generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.