By now it’s probably clear how much I love romance novellas with a dash of magic mixed in, and by now it’s probably beyond clear how much I love finding #ownvoice queer romance. When a discussion online about the different ways queer and nonqueer people react to popular media about queerfolk not written by queerfolk led to a wonderful conversation, I ended up learning about Daryl Banner (I know, I know, late to the party, the guy has a large following for both his romances and his dystopias). Seeing a holiday novella meant I could jump right in.
A sugar-cookie sweet and tied-up-in-a-ribbon HEA novella, “Making the Naughty List” has so many of my favourite checkboxes: we meet Daniel, a guy who is trying so hard to do right by his family but they don’t realize (or don’t care to realize) they’re squashing him down. He’s having the worst day on his way to his family holiday, but then a series of chance encounters with a really, really attractive man who seems to pop up just when Daniel needs him sets him on a slightly different path. He even offers Daniel three wishes, which Daniel laughs off—but he does speak them aloud. And that’s where the magic kicks in. (My only (tiny) complaint was wanting the third wish “freedom” allusion to play out in a different way, but I promise it’s a tiny, tiny quibble and I don’t imagine most people would feel the same, I’m just Mr. Magic sometimes.)
Daniel coming into his own was such a lovely little arc, with him being honest with his family alongside his family realizing they’d short of shunted him to the side. I also really appreciated the cookies as a nice thematic element paralleling Daniel’s optimism and faith, and the inclusion of some realities—this is the thing I always appreciate most in #ownvoice writing—like grandparents who “forget” his queerness every year. There’s definitely enough sizzle for those who like their romances on the erotica side, but that’s alongside a truly cute “fake boyfriend” (with magic) plot, and the ending and epilogue draw this further into a fully fledged out HEA for those who want more than a HFN (I’m good either way). Definitely a super-cute, uplifting, and peppy little holiday cookie of a story.