Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Fix Me Up by H.Q. Kingsley
Nettles Small and Ian Montgomery were best friends once upon a time…
Nettles Small has retreated to his old family cabin, isolated in the woods for the peace and quiet he needs to write his dissertation. He expects a full two weeks of absolutely no disruptions as he buries himself in research and lab experiments. But when an outdoor experiment goes haywire and his equipment explodes across the mountain, knocking an unsanctioned snowboarder off his board, his plans quickly change.
Ian Montgomery is on his way to the winter olympics. he’s trained his ass off for years and finally made it. But on his way to shred down one of his secret slopes, Ian is unexpectedly knocked off his board by an unknown object and the person who rushes to nurse him back to his feet is someone he had never expected to see again.
This is the story of former friends, Nettles and Ian, who meet up accidentally on a snowy mountain. Nettles, a scientist, is at his family’s cabin to perform experiments in order to write his dissertation. When one experiment goes awry it ends up knocking Ian, out on the mountain training for the Olympic snowboarding even, out for the count. “In my panic, I forgot one of the most fundamental things about chemicals under pressure. They tended to explore.” Nettles feels guilty, even though it was an accident, and he not only drags an unconscious Ian back to the cabin but gives him first add and takes care of him. For his trouble, Ian is rude and obnoxious, even accusing Nettles of doing it on purpose. They don’t ever really say why the two former best friends hate each other now. It is mentioned they just grew apart but at one point “I hadn’t seen the guy in like seven or eight years, not since high school graduation when he’d bored us all to tears with his valedictorian speech.
I had a little trouble with this one because Ian just did not grow on me. They end up falling into bed but I couldn’t think why Nettles would want to.
Just a heads up on this story – it isn’t as long as you’d think because there are at least four excerpts at the end for other stories in this series. I was a bit disappointed because I felt more needed to be written to explain the jump to love.
Jingle My Bells by Meredith Spies
Less than two weeks till the winter solstice and somehow it’s my fault the witches have misplaced their damned bells. If they weren’t such jerks about demon-borns being part of the Grand Council and their plans, maybe they wouldn’t need to use the stupid things anyway. But until they’re ready to admit that without us, there’d be no them, I guess they’re out of luck. It’s just dirty pool to send Whitaker Frost, scion of the Frost witch clan and sexiest man alive ohmygods to my shop when I’ve been accused of hiding those damned bells and endangering the witches’ annual winter solstice ritual to maintain their powers.
No matter what Rowan thinks, I haven’t forgotten our encounter at the summer solstice, and I know for a fact he hasn’t. The way he looks at me when he sees me in his shop just before the winter solstice is enough to set me on fire without the help of any of his demon magic. I don’t blame him for being hesitant with me—I am a witch, after all, and witches have been doing their damnedest for centuries to keep demon-born out of magical communities and gatherings. I wish he’d understand that I not only want him in the council, but in my bed, my life…
This paranormal story of witches vs demon-born was not my favorite. The prejudice against the demon born (Rowan) was so blatant that I wanted him to lose control and blast them all. There is a mystery of missing bells that the witch clans desperately need to keep their powers and Rowan and Whitaker act on their attraction while figuring it all out. I also wondered by Whitaker just let Rowan be so abused at the meetings. I mean, these people were Nasty, with a capital N. The story of how witches came about was creative and clever.
Jake’s Heart for Christmas by Angelo Diaz
Two online friends meeting up for an unforgettable Christmas vacation.
After facing some trouble back home, Declan was more than eager to spend Christmas with his online best friend, Jake, in his hometown of Winterwood. It was everything he’d hoped it would be. The town was friendly, Jake was a ray of sunshine, and the spirit of Christmas was in every corner. What he didn’t expect was the growing connection between him and Jake. The more time Declan spent with Jake, the more the line between friendship and something more started to blur. Maybe the trip to Winterwood was exactly what Declan needed to find himself again.
Now, all he wanted for Christmas was to win over Jake’s heart.
Jake and Declan have been messaging, phoning and video chatting for over a year but they are just now meeting face to face for the first time. Jake has invited Declan to spend Christmas at his cabin when it becomes apparent Declan’sfor the holiday were to spend it “…curled up in his bedroom.” Declan has just been dumped by his cheating girlfriend and betrayed by his friends. Since the two have been planning to meet, this seemed like a good time so Declan makes the trip to Winterwood, Alaska. This is a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business (like Jake’s crush on the mountain of a bartender, Bruce) and they go out of their way to make Declan feel welcome and to make sure he knows they think he’s handsome. It’s just what Declan needs.
Jake’s best friend, Cassidy, is awesome and perfect. Jake has thoughts of setting Cassidy up with Declan but this isn’t the way it’s going to go. Declan is loving Winterwood and I have to admit, I want a cinnamon roll wrapped apple pie because that sounds amazing.
I didn’t see this as a gay for you but as a finally realizing who you are. And I loved that, as much as I loved Cassidy watching out for Jake.
I want to know how Declan’s friends stole the business from him. It is mentioned but never really explained.
This is a really cute, sweet friends to lovers story and probably my favorite of the anthology. I loved Jake’s attitude towards Declan being a virgin and that Declan knows absolutely that he can trust Jake. Also that Declan has never seen snow before!
One thing that irked me, and it’s just a me thing. “I beamed with my signature charming smile.” Jake, it’s annoying when you yourself decide it’s a charming smile!
Rebel Without A Clause by Denise Wells
I’m the guy who never brings a date to a holiday party. But meeting someone at one is a different story, apparently. The bartender I undressed with my eyes? Whose touch ignited a fire in my soul when his fingers brushed against mine? He’s the one I’m prepared to break all my own rules for.
Let’s call out Jeanette. She is so ridiculous. “Once you’re with a real woman, such as myself, you won’t feel the need to experiment any longer.” What? Kris is at a Coleman party, his family-owned company, and he has to be saved from the oblivious or obnoxious Jeanette by his sister, Kelly. I was happy to see how wonderful Kelly and Nick’s BFF Sarah areas I don’t like when all the women in a story are portrayed as witches. But I digress.
Kris meets the man of his dreams (or maybe fantasies), Nick, working as a bartender at the party. Unfortunately, he has to do his duty handing out employee bonuses and by the time he returns the bartender is gone. Kris is then again accosted by the disgusting Jeanette. “Kissing me. With tongue and saliva. Bile rises in my throat. It would serve her right if I threw up in her throat.” She is awful.
As fate would have it, when Nick finally sees Kris again, He is dressed in a sort of porny elf costume, helping out at the Coleman Santa Village. Nick is an actor but so far hasn’t found much in the way of work, hence the elf. When Kris ends up standing in as Santa, the two get a chance to know each other.
The story is sweet with a lovely epilogue. I had questions, such as what work does Nick end up doing since the whole “he has money and I don’t” was such an issue, but it’s complete as it is.
All Wrapped Up by Megs Pritchard
Crispin Jones had known Roan virtually his whole life, but when his disastrous marriage ended, he began to see Roan in a new light. He wasn’t simply his friend anymore. His feelings had changed to something more.
Christmas was approaching and Crispin had decided that it was the time to tell Roan the truth. The office party seemed the perfect opportunity. Would Roan accept his declarations of love, or would Crispin’s admission ruin years of friendship between them?
How terrifying is it to suddenly realize how important someone is to you but live with the fear it will destroy the best friendship you’ve ever had? That is where Crispin is now. He and Roan have been friends since kindergarten. Both are now divorced from their wives, Roan amicably, Crispin not. Crispin has come to realize that no matter how it ends, he has to be come clean and let Roan know how he feels. “He couldn’t continue hiding the truth, watching Roan move on to another woman. Having to smile and be friendly when he saw them together. IT would break something inside him.”
Roan is a little oblivious but he is a good person. He loves his two-year-old daughter, Veronica, dearly and wants only the best for his ex-wife. “We broke up because it wasn’t working. That doesn’t mean I don’t want her to be happy because I do. She’s a great person and a fantastic mom.” That is who Crispin has fallen for.
I felt so badly for Crispin after he tells Roan how he feels but I also felt for Roan because this is coming out of nowhere at a party where he’s been after a woman, Erica, forever and Crispin knows it. I questioned Crispin’s thinking on having the conversation at the party but also understood he just couldn’t wait any longer. Later, he himself knows it wasn’t the ideal place. “He should have approached him somewhere else, not dumped it on him and at a party where Roan was hoping to chat up Erica.”
I liked this one a lot. Friends to lovers is a favorite of mine, and the fact that Roan doesn’t immediately “yes, I love your guts” made it seem more real. It takes a mind shift, sometimes a big one, to go from a friend to a lover, not to mention never realizing you might be bi. Both of these guys deserve happiness and I am positive they will continue to have it with each other. And Crispin’s inner voice is the best. “Great. My life is falling apart and there’s a spider in my room.”
A Christmas Wish by JP Sayle
Can Christmas wishes come true?
Roman Austin is shy, more than a little geeky, and thinks he’s overweight. Past experience has taught him that he’s better off with his nose buried in a book. Until the boy who left town years ago returns.
Donavan’s return makes Roman face what he’s avoided for years, himself. With each new revelation, can Roman see what is right in front of him? Will past secrets and a meddling brother stop Roman from finding love with the one man he never knew wanted him?
A Christmas Wish is a standalone sweet gay romance, a small-town friendship, and a guaranteed HFN
First off, Roman made me sad in how he sees himself. His brother, Gabriel, is cute. As for Roman? “Me, I resembled one of the farmers’ cows.” He believes his hair is plain, his eyes washed out and his body too heavy. “Having a gay brother who was outgoing and pretty meany any chance I had with the gay population dwindled to zero.”
Even odder is the fact that Donovan, a teenager when he moved away, had crushed on Roman before he and his family moved away. Now he’s returned, having not seen Roman in eleven years, and wants Roman. Umm, you don’t even know him! “Did my Roman have a boyfriend?” He’s not yours, you haven’t seen him in eleven years! Donovan moved to Hollywood with his family and ended up being a successful stuntman. You’d think he came back for Roman but in reality, he was done doing stunts after an accident claimed the life of his friend, so he quit. I would have liked it better if all the “pining for Roman” had caused him to reach out or at least come back because of Roman, not just because he’s done in Hollywood.
This really is insta-love, which in holiday stories I am okay with. And it is HFN, not HEA, so that made a bit more sense. The one thing I questioned was Roman’s whole idea that he’s overweight when he isn’t. Gabriel is a supportive, awesome brother and that was lovely to read.
One Room at the Inn by Colette Davison
Travel photographer, Ellis, is driving home for Christmas, but a freak snowstorm forces him to seek refuge in the Holiday Inn. He doesn’t expect to meet his two best friends from high school there, or to end up having to share a room with them.
Although eight years apart has changed them all, Ellis realizes he still has strong feelings for fit footballer, Zev, and loveable geek, PK. A game of Never Have I Ever and a bottle of Applejack bourbon leads to revelations about their feelings for one another.
Can anything be the same for these three men after an unexpected night of passion?
I skipped this one, as I am not a fan of MMM.
Until After Christmas by Alie Nolan
Henry isn’t a fan of Christmas and usually spends the holiday alone, wallowing in self-pity. Until he gets drunk with his adorable, awkward co-worker at the office Christmas party and somehow finds himself with Christmas plans for the first time in years.
Callum is tired of his family setting him up with random strangers at Christmas, so when Henry offers to pretend to be his boyfriend for the holiday, it seems like he’s found the perfect solution… until real feelings get mixed up into their fake relationship.
Pretend boyfriends – a favorite trope! Callum’s family is just the best and the way they support each other, and then Henry, made me happy. We won’t even discuss Henry’s family, who rejected him. But as happens, fake boyfriends turn into real and in this case it was wonderful.
We do have to address the cover art. A pretty colored cover with two men dressed for winter, snow falling. The problem? There is a Photoshop nightmare happening with a giant arm stretching around the man in front, supposedly of the man in back but it’s really not well done and is so bizarre!
Apple Books: http://bit.ly/AppleStockingStuffers
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/BNStockingStuffers
Kindle Edition, 728 pages
Published December 1st 2019