Not So Silent Night by H.L. Day

not so silent night

This title may be purchased from Amazon

One grumpy patient. One unconventional nurse. Twenty-two reindeer later.

Things aren’t great for Xander Cole. It’s Christmas, he’s fractured his pelvis on a skiing trip he never wanted to go on, and his on/off boyfriend is most definitely off. No wonder he’s not exactly full of festive cheer.

Ferris Night isn’t having much luck either. His plan to take a break from work before starting a new job has been wrecked by a flooded flat. With nowhere to stay, he grabs the opportunity for a job as a live-in nurse with both hands. After all, how hard can it be?

Xander doesn’t need a nurse. Especially one who’s far too flirty, far too attractive, far too into Christmas, and far too good at getting his own way. But Ferris has never faced a challenge that couldn’t be overcome with a bit of charm and perseverance. It doesn’t matter how attractive Xander might be. He’s immune. Maybe.

As banter and sparring between the two men turn into more, a nurse might not be needed, but both men could be in for a fresh start to the new year.

Rating: B

Looking for a cute, frothy and fun Christmassy love story with a grumpy/sunshine pairing, lots of humour, a gazillion pink and purple reindeer and an Avengers/Star Wars Nativity set?  You are?  Good!  Look no further than H.L Day’s Not So Silent Night, a delightfully witty and charming  romance that is just the thing for whiling away a few hours on a dark, winter evening.

Model Xander Cole never wanted to go on a ski-ing trip to the Swiss Alps – he’d rather have been on a beach in Acapulco working on his tan and drinking cocktails – and only agreed to go because he couldn’t face the amount of sulking his on/off boyfriend Harvey would have subjected him to otherwise. It turns out Xander should have stuck to his guns; an accident on the slopes sees him land in hospital with a fractured pelvis.  His brother Miles escorts Xander back to England, and offers to spend Christmas with him; but Xander refuses, knowing how much Miles wants to see his kids, who live with their mother in Spain.  He hasn’t seen Harvey since he made a whirlwind visit to his hospital room on the way to his next booking, so Xander is looking forward to a pretty lonely Christmas.

Ferris Night, a nurse at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London, gets back to his flat after finishing his last ever shift at St. Thomas’  (he’s moving to a new job in January) to find the place flooded as the result of a leak upstairs.  His new place won’t be ready for him to move into for a few weeks, and he’s reluctant to stay with his mum, whose sleazy boyfriend has made it clear on numerous occasions that he wouldn’t mind shagging both mother AND son.  Ferris resigns himself to a few nights couch-surfing with friends, not a particularly enticing prospect so close to Christmas.  But then a phone call from a friend of a friend of a friend (etc.) offers a solution to his problem – this friend urgently needs a live-in nurse for his brother, who has fractured his pelvis.  Ferris is surprised when he meets Miles – he’d expected someone a lot older – and more surprised when he learns Xander is something of a celebrity.  Not that it bothers him.  It’s a job and, more importantly, a roof over his head.

That’s the set up for this thoroughly entertaining and sometimes laugh-out-loud romance – and while it’s certainly nothing I haven’t read before, the author has a wonderfully deft touch with the characters and the humour, and it was exactly what I needed at the end of a hectic day.  Ferris is almost relentlessly cheerful as he ‘bullies’ Xander into doing his physical therapy exercises, and quickly realises that winding him up is the best way to pull Xander out the funk of grumpiness he’s fallen into.  I loved watching him catching Xander off-guard and plotting ways to startle and cajole him into laughter or enjoyment; the author keeps him just the right side of irritating, because it’s so obvious that Xander really needs someone to remind him that he’s allowed to be himself, that he doesn’t have to be perfect all the time – and that ‘himself’ is worthy of being loved.

The scenes where Xander realises Ferris is decorating-by-stealth for Christmas are a hoot, and while the teasing and snarky banter between the couple is terrific, the quieter moment of tenderness, affection and insight are really well-done, too.  Even though the story takes place over just a couple of weeks, the fact that the two men spend pretty much every waking moment together throughout that time helps make their falling in love so quickly that much more believable.  There’s very little conflict – and what there is, is visible a mile off – but it doesn’t drag on too long and gives both characters the chance to realise just how strong their feelings for one another have become.

Not So Silent Night is cute, light-hearted and fun from start to finish, one of those books that will make you giggle and leave you with a smile on your face.  The characters are likeable, the dialogue is clever and genuinely funny, and there’s plenty of festive spirit to warm the cockles!  If you’re a fan of Lily Morton’s books, I think you’ll enjoy this – as will anyone looking for a sweet but sexy story full of Christmas cheer.

Note: This is an expanded/extended version of the novella of the same name that was originally published as part of the Winter Wonderland giveaway at the beginning of 2021.

Stuck With You by Jay Northcote (audiobook) – Narrated by Hamish Long

stuck with you

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Two clashing colleagues stuck together for Christmas — will opposites eventually attract?

Patrick has been single since he broke up with his cheating ex almost a year ago. With Christmas looming, he’s resigned to spending it alone with only memories of happier times for company. When a business trip with a coworker leaves them stranded in the Lake District due to heavy snow, it seems Patrick will have company for Christmas after all. It’s a shame his companion is Kyle, who’s undeniably attractive, but annoying as hell.

Aware of Patrick’s reluctant admiration, Kyle basks in the attention, even though Patrick isn’t the type of man he normally goes for. Averse to relationships after being hurt in the past, Kyle enjoys the occasional hookup, but has given up on seeking anything more meaningful.

Stuck together, their antagonism escalates along with a heavy dose of sexual tension until it finally ignites. What starts as a Christmas fling soon feels like something special, but will their tentative connection melt away as the snow thaws? If they’re going to take a chance on finding happiness together, they’ll have to put their differences aside and learn to trust one another.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B

A snowed-in, forced proximity, enemies-to-lovers romance with snarky flirting, a small dollop of angst and Only One Bed? *rubs hands with glee* Count me in! Jay Northcote’s Stuck With You is a sexy, heart-warming tale about finding love and connection when – and with whom – you least expect it.

Patrick and Kyle work at the same medical supplies firm in the north of England, and Patrick, as a senior member of staff, has been Kyle’s mentor while he learns the ropes. The two men are polar opposites; Patrick is quiet and serious (Kyle thinks he’s boring) while Kyle is more outgoing and flamboyant (Patrick thinks he’s an immature party boy) , and they’ve rubbed each other the wrong way since day one. Both of them are thankful that Kyle’s time as Patrick’s mentee is coming to an end; in January, he’ll be flying solo.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Geek Who Saved Christmas by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Tim Paige

the geek who saved christmas

His grumpy neighbor needs some holiday sunshine….

Gideon Holiday is the perfect neighbor. Need a cup of sugar? Spare folding chair? Extra batteries? He’s always ready to help. And he’s waited years for his hot, grumpy, silver-fox neighbor, Paul, to need him. For anything. But right now, Gideon would be happy if he could just get the Scrooge-like Paul on board with the neighborhood holiday lights fundraiser.

Paul Frost has no intention of decking his halls or blazing any Yule logs. Even if his spunky bowtie-clad neighbor does look perfect for unwrapping, Paul would prefer to hide away until December is done. But when his beloved younger brother announces an unexpected visit, Paul needs all the trimmings for a festive homecoming – and fast.

Luckily, Gideon is there with a color-coded plan to save Christmas. Soon Paul’s hanging lights, trimming trees, and rolling out cookies. And steaming up his new flannel sheets with Gideon. How did that happen?

It’ll take some winter magic to preserve their happiness and keep these rival neighbors together longer than one holiday season.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B

Annabeth Albert’s The Geek Who Saved Christmas is just the ticket if you’re looking for a sexy grumpy/sunshine romance with lots of festive spirit and Christmas cheer. I read it when it came out in November and enjoyed it – and when I saw Tim Paige was narrating the audiobook version, I decided to revisit the story and enjoy it all over again!

Gideon Holiday and Paul Frost have been next-door neighbours for a few years but have never really progressed beyond the ‘nodding acquaintances’ stage. Gideon certainly wouldn’t say no to getting to know the hot silver fox better, but Paul keeps himself to himself and Gideon is resigned to the fact that getting better acquainted isn’t likely to happen. Knowing Paul hasn’t put up so much as a single Christmas decoration in all the time he’s lived there means Gideon is surprised to see him in attendance at the neighbourhood community meeting about this year’s holiday decoration theme – Gideon loves co-ordinating their lights fundraiser every year, selecting the theme, organising the donations and planning various holiday-themed activities – and his presence means that Gideon will at last have the chance to suggest the plan that’s been forming in his mind for a while now, that Paul can contribute to the fundraising efforts by ‘loaning’ Gideon his house. He’ll set up lights on Paul’s house and put them all on timers, so Paul won’t have to do a thing.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

TBR Challenge: The Winter Spirit by Indra Vaughn

the winter spirit

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Nathaniel O’Donnelly likes his life quiet, his guests happy, and his ghosts well-behaved.

Although a boyfriend wouldn’t go amiss. Someone to share his beautiful B&B with, even if it is in the middle of nowhere and he’s long past the wrong side of thirty. Problem is, Nathaniel’s living with a ghost who thinks he’s cupid, and whose arrows fly a little too straight.

Gabriel Wickfield had the unfortunate luck of dying before his time, and now he’s stuck trying to make romance happen to earn his right to move along. Not that he’s bored in the meantime—Nathaniel is just too easy to tease. And also a little bit scrumptious…

With the curse reaching its expiration date, Gabriel needs to make a final match this Christmas. Without it, nothing but darkness awaits.

Love can conquer all, but can it beat death?

Rating: B+

I’m not the Bah!Humbug! type, but I’m also not one to seek out Christmassy romances just because they’re set in and around the festive season, although  if I like the sound of a story and it happens to be set around Christmas then I might give it a go.  And if I do pick up a Christmas story, then I don’t want one that could be set at any time of the year, I want one that makes good use of the wintry setting and that maybe has just a little bit of Christmas magic – and Indra Vaughn’s The Winter Spirit does just that.  This little gem clocks in at under 100 pages, but it hit me right in the feels in the best possible way.

When Nathaniel O’Donnelly inherited his uncle’s worse-for-wear hotel in rural Michigan twelve years earlier, he also inherited its resident ghost, Gabriel Wickfield, who can only be seen in mirrors or highly polished surfaces, and who takes delight in needling Nate and causing mischief.  After making extensive renovations to the place, Nate re-opened it as a B&B which he now runs with the help of his long-time friend and employee Elisa Brown. With Christmas approaching, things are fairly quiet; there are only two guests staying currently, but Nate is expecting a third, who happens to be an old school friend – and Nate’s first crush – Owen Ashurst.  He and Nate haven’t kept in touch so Nate has no idea of how Owen’s life has turned out, but he can’t deny he’s just a little bit excited at the idea of seeing Owen again. He’s not looking to start something (well, not really) although he can’t deny he’s just a teeny bit interested in seeing if there might be the potential for something between them.

When Owen arrives, he’s as good-looking and charming he ever was, and he’s pleased to see Nate, too.  They talk, they share a meal and Owen makes clear his interest in Nate, but Nate isn’t feeling it – although he’s not best pleased later that night when Gabriel appears and tells him he doesn’t like Owen and doesn’t think he’s being completely honest.

The next night when Nate returns to his room, it’s to find Gabriel actually sitting in one of the rocking chairs by the window.  Gabriel has never manifested like this before – as a solid, living (and gorgeous) man – and he quietly explains to Nate that he’s able to appear outside the mirrors for short periods of time around this time of year – but doesn’t tell him any more.  Nate finds himself looking for Gabriel and wanting to spend time with him at every opportunity, and with only a couple of days left until Christmas and with what lies beyond it uncertain, Nate realises that, unlikely though it may be, he’s fallen in love with a ghost – and that he’s loved in return.  Will a once-a-year thing be enough for them, if it’s even possible?  Or is Gabriel running out of time?

The author packs quite an emotional punch into the short page-count – I freely admit to several sniffles when all seemed lost – and even though there were a few things I wish had been more detailed, I was completely captivated by the characters, the gentle humour and the intense longing that permeates the romance.  (I’m a sucker for well-done pining!)  Nate is a lovely guy who had a crappy childhood, but who has risen above that to make a good life and run a successful business. He’s a decent, kind, hard-working man possessed of an attractive quiet strength, but he’s lonely, and worries that perhaps he’s destined to remain that way.  He’s over thirty, a bit overweight (and self-conscious about it), and hasn’t had many – if any – opportunities for love and romance come his way.  He’s so very real and relatable, and it’s easy to root for him to find the love and happiness he richly deserves.  As Nate is the sole narrator we only see Gabriel through his eyes, but I enjoyed his humour and the author does a great job of showing us his obvious love for Nate.  His backstory is truly heart-breaking.

It’s hard to talk about the things I wanted more of without giving away spoilers, so instead, I’ll just say that there’s a fair bit of hand-waving at the end and no real explanation for how it works out – BUT I was so invested in the characters and their relationship that I was able to go with ‘eh, magic’ and ignore that little bit of frustration at not having all the pieces to put together.  I also didn’t quite see the need for the Owen plotline – it didn’t really serve to galvanise Nate or Gabriel into realising how they felt about each other, and I wish the page-count devoted to it had been spent developing the ending and epilogue a bit more.

But I loved the story despite its flaws – any author who can make me run the gamut of emotions in a matter of eighty-one pages deserves all the kudos.  The Winter Spirit is charming and tender and poignant and magical… and just lovely.

The Geek Who Saved Christmas by Annabeth Albert

the geek who saved christmas

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Gideon Holiday is the perfect neighbor. Need a cup of sugar? Spare folding chair? Extra batteries? He’s always ready to help. And he’s waited years for his hot, grumpy, silver fox neighbor, Paul, to need him. For anything. But this December, Gideon would be happy if he could just get the Scrooge-like Paul on board with the neighborhood holiday lights fundraiser.

Paul Frost has no intention of decking his halls or blazing any Yule logs. Even if his spunky bowtie-clad neighbor does look perfect for unwrapping, Paul would prefer to hide away until December is done. But when his beloved younger brother announces an unexpected visit, Paul needs all the trimmings for a festive homecoming—and fast.

Luckily, Gideon is there with a color-coded plan to save Christmas. Soon Paul’s hanging lights, trimming trees, and rolling out cookies. And steaming up his new flannel sheets with Gideon. How did that happen?

It’ll take some winter magic to preserve their happiness and keep these rival neighbors together longer than one holiday season.

Rating: B

Annabeth Albert’s The Geek Who Saved Christmas is a charming confection of seasonal goodness featuring a sweet and steamy grumpy/sunshine romance and lots of warm and fuzzy Christmas feels.  It’s a light-hearted, undemanding read, but the low-angst nature of the story don’t mean it lacks depth or a bit of bite;  even when she dials down the drama, Ms. Albert creates engaging characters with relatable problems and insecurities that arise naturally from their circumstances, so conflict feels organic rather than manufactured.  And with both leads in their forties, there’s plenty of baggage to be unpacked and learned behaviours to be unlearned before this Christmas Elf and his Grinch can arrive at a well-deserved HEA.

Bright and chirpy, Gideon Holiday (yes, really!) is the sort of guy who’s always ready to lend a hand. He enjoys helping people and making them happy – and he’s especially in his element when the holidays come around.  Every year, he co-ordinates the neighbourhood holiday lights fundraiser, selecting the theme, organising the donations and planning various holiday-themed activities – he loves doing it and when the book begins, it’s the night of the big reveal of this year’s scheme.  On his way into the community centre, Gideon bumps into his next-door neighbour, Paul Frost (yes, really!) and is rather surprised to see him as Paul is a bit of a grouch and community meetings aren’t really his thing.  The man may be a seriously hot silver fox, but Gideon doesn’t think he’s ever seen him smile, attend a single neighbourhood party or put up a single Christmas decoration.  But, ever the optimist, Gideon hopes that maybe Paul’s attendance at the meeting is a sign that might be about to change.

It isn’t – Paul is at the meeting for another reason entirely, but he can’t deny Gideon is fun to look at, with his impish grin and sparkling eyes as he gushes about lighting schemes and donation collection duties.  Paul doesn’t do Christmas and doesn’t see anything inherently magical about December – it’s just another month on the calendar and not worth all the fuss.  But then Gideon approaches him after the meeting and suggests that Paul can still contribute to the fundraising effort, but won’t have to do a single thing; Gideon can set up all the lights on Paul’s house and put them on timers.  Paul’s instinct is ‘hell, no’ – and he knows he’ll have to convince Gideon to leave him to have his seasonal funk in peace.

But fate, of course, has other plans.  A few days later, Paul’s younger brother Brandon – a genius scientist who lives on the West Coast – calls to tell Paul that he’s going to propose to his fiancée Elaine, and that he wants to bring her home for Christmas and then pop the question in front of the tree on Christmas morning.  As he listens to Brandon enthusing about a “real Christmas” with snow on the ground and a big tree in the living room, Paul’s heart sinks.  His house isn’t exactly ready for the perfect Christmas proposal, but there’s no way he’s going to tell Brandon not to come.

Luckily for Paul, a helping hand isn’t very far away – just next door in fact.  He’s far from thrilled at the idea that he needs help, but Brandon’s plans have stunned him into inaction and he doesn’t know what to do; he doesn’t intend to dump all his worries on Gideon, but somehow, they just come pouring out.  Gideon is only too pleased to come to the rescue – and of course, he Has A Plan.

Over the next few weeks, Gideon – with the aid of his many lists and spreadsheets (!) – slowly helps Paul to transform his somewhat spartan house into a warm and welcoming home.  The time they spend together shopping and decorating gives rise to a number of heartfelt conversations and insightful observations as they come to know each other better and begin to fall deeply in love.  Paul sees what nobody else does, that Gideon is lonely and works hard to keep himself busy, especially during the holidays; that he doesn’t really have anyone to spend them with but longs for closeness and connection.  And Gideon learns why Paul dislikes the season so much and tries to hibernate through it – but he’s  determined to make this a memorable Christmas for Paul and his brother.

Gideon and Paul both have things in their pasts that have affected them profoundly and continue to inform their choices, choices which probably aren’t right for them but which at least mean they can get on with their lives as best they can.  I think we can all relate to that.  They’re both decent, kind men who’ve lost their way somewhat, and who need a bit of help to get back onto the right path.  Gideon’s sense of self-worth has become tied up in how much use he can be to others, and he has to learn that he deserves to be loved for himself and not what he can provide, while Paul needs to realise that it’s past time he reclaimed the life he put on hold in order to take care of Brandon.  They have terrific chemistry and their journey from wariness to affection to love is really well done, with some nicely steamy moments along the way, and I enjoyed watching them offer each other the sort of care and understanding they’re both so badly in need of.  The secondary characters – Brandon and Elaine – are really well-written, and I loved the way they so easily and warmly accept Gideon into their family unit.

Warm, funny, sexy and poignant, The Geek Who Saved Christmas is sweet without being cloying, a delightful, low-angst romance full of festive cheer and genuine emotion.  It should definitely be on your radar if you’re looking for a feel-good, Christmassy love story to curl up with on a cold winter’s evening.

The Lights on Knockbridge Lane (Garnet Run #3) by Roan Parrish

the lights on knockbridge laneThis title may be purchased from Amazon

Raising a family was always Adam Mills’ dream, although solo parenting and moving back to tiny Garnet Run certainly were not. After a messy breakup, Adam is doing his best to give his young daughter the life she deserves—including accepting help from their new, reclusive neighbor to fulfill her Christmas wish.

Though the little house may not have “the most lights ever,” the Mills home begins to brighten as handsome Wes Mobray spends more time there and slowly sheds his protective layers. But when the eye-catching house ends up in the news, Wes has to make a choice: hide from the darkness of his unusual past or embrace the light of a future—and a family—with Adam.

Rating: B-

The Lights on Knockbridge Lane is a cute, fluffy (well, mostly) Christmas-themed story that is the very first male/male romance to appear in one of Harlequin’s main category lines.  It’s the third in Roan Parrish’s Garnet Run series, and although characters from the earlier books do appear, they’re cameos and it’s not essential to have read those titles in order to enjoy this one.

Recently divorced Adam Mills moved back to Garnet Run with his eight-year-old daughter, Gus, after his husband decided he didn’t want to be a dad any more.  Life as a single father has meant big changes for Adam; from a career as a photographer he’s gone to working in the local hardware store (owned by Best Laid Plans‘ Charlie Matheson) in order to provide for Gus and he’s determined to do whatever it takes to provide stability and make her happy.  She’s adjusting to life without her “Papa” quite well, and is a bright, inquisitive child… albeit sometimes too inquisitive for her own good.

In the four months since he returned to Garnet Run, Adam has only seen his reclusive neighbour Westley Mobray out after sunset.  Everyone who lives on Knockbridge Lane has an opinion about him;  he’s variously a vampire, a witch, a devil-worshipper, a mesmerist, a gorgon or just a plain old freak, and even though he lives just opposite, Adam has never spoken to him, never waved hello or otherwise interacted.  Which is why he’s surprised to see the man standing on his doorstep with Gus at his side – and even moreso when Mobray – Wes – tells Adam that Gus broke into his house through the basement window.

Embarrassed, Adam apologises, Wes leaves and Gus proceeds to explain that Wes has the best basement with four lizards and a huge hairy spider which he showed her and put right in her face!  Adam is horrified (he’s terrified of spiders) while Gus’ face is lit with joy and enthusiasm as she tells Adam how interesting it all was – but Adam is stuck on the ‘shoved a tarantula in his daughter’s face’ thing and marches across the street to confront Wes, shoving aside his realisation that his reclusive neighbour is rather attractive.

After this less than promising beginning, the two men – and Gus – start spending time together regularly and get to know each other.  Adam and Wes have strong chemistry and the attraction between them sparks early on, but Adam is understandably cautious about bringing someone else into his and Gus’ lives who might not stick around, and Wes struggles with an anxiety disorder that stems back to his teenaged years and has caused him to eschew social interaction.  There’s a real sense of how hard it is for him to push himself beyond his comfort zone, but he does it for Adam and Gus and it’s lovely to see his growing ease with them.

The story takes place in the run up to Christmas, which is where the “Lights” come in. Adam asks an upset Gus what one thing would make this the most fun Christmas for her – and she says she wants “our house to have the most Christmas lights of any house in the world.”

No biggie, then.

The Lights on Knockbridge Lane does exactly what it’s supposed to do, provide lots of warm fuzzies and a good helping of holiday cheer.  That’s not to say it’s superficial, because it isn’t. The characters are satisfyingly complex and are struggling to deal with emotional baggage, which, for Adam, is trying to process the breakdown of his marriage and his feelings of guilt over what may have led to it as well as his guilt over the way the divorce has affected Gus, while Wes seems to be hiding from his issues rather than attempting to deal with them in any sustainable way.  Both men have to learn to face their fears and overcome them if they’re to move forward with their lives and with each other – but of course, there are a few hiccups along the way.

Adam and Wes are both likeable, memorable characters.  Adam is sweet and optimistic and I liked that he’s so openly emotional; he feels things deeply and is often moved to tears by his emotions, which is something he’s struggled with over the years, especially when he was  bullied and belittled for it when he was younger. Wes is more outwardly stoic, but that hides a very dry sense of humour and an innate kindness; he’s harder to read and shows his affection for Adam in unusual ways, such as reorganising his pantry alphabetically. Gus is a cute mix of eight-year-old confidence and insecurity, but there’s no getting away from the fact that she’s a plot-moppet – albeit a well-written and loveable one – who often comes across as older than her years, and needs some firmer boundaries set by her dad!

I couldn’t quite work out how a guy who kept a tarantula as a pet and let it roam around the house (*shudder*!!) and a guy who was terrified of them were ever going to be able to share a home.  I’m with Adam on that one; spiders freak me out, so No Spiders would an absolute house rule!  And I’m not sure I bought into all the science; Wes is working to create a viable sustainable alternative to electric light – an admirable ambition – but I couldn’t help but wonder how feasible it all was.

Those quibbles aside however, The Lights on Knockbridge Lane is a charming, low-angst Christmas-themed read about love, family and fresh-starts.  It’s definitely one to curl up with – with a cup of cocoa – on a cold winter’s evening.

His Holiday Crush by Cari Z.

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Workaholic attorney Max Robertson is one meeting away from making partner at a big NYC firm when his best friend calls and guilts him into coming back home for Christmas. But there’s a reason he hasn’t been back to Edgewood for a decade—too many bad memories. The plan was to go for just one night, until a wild deer and a snow bank wrecked everything.

Former Army Sergeant Dominic “Nicky” Bell is the new guy on the Edgewood police force, so of course he drew the short straw and is stuck working the night shift. But his evening gets turned upside-down when he gets called out to a wreck in the snow—and it’s his one and only high school crush, looking even sexier than he did back then.

When they both end up stranded together at Dominc’s house, sparks start to fly and Max isn’t sure what to do. But everyone deserves a present this holiday season, right?

Rating: C+

His Holiday Crush is a cute and very readable Christmassy romance about a workaholic lawyer who reluctantly returns to the hometown he’d intended never to go back to one Christmas, and finds love where he least expected it. It’s well written and the characters are likeable; it was a pleasant enough way to pass a few hours, but it’s nothing I haven’t read before.

Lawyer Max Robertson has had little time in his life for anything other than work for years, and is on the verge of closing the deal that will make his career. For the first time in years he’s agreed to go back to Edgewood – just for for Christmas; normally his best friend Hal and his family visit Max in New York, but Hal’s wife walked out on him and their two young daughters a few months back, and as this will the girls’ first Christmas without their mom, Max agreed to visit them instead. But as Christmas approaches, he starts to wish he hadn’t said he’d go, and he tries to wriggle out of it; he can’t and in the end, he decides he’ll go but will stay for only one night, telling himself it’s because he has to get back to the city in order to finish the fine-tuning on the deal.

Fate has other ideas however, as a snow storm hits as he’s on the road on the outskirts of town, and when he swerves to avoid a deer in the road, he spins out of control and ends up in a ditch. He’s not badly hurt and manages to call 911; not long afterwards a local police officer arrives to help him; Max fails to recognise the officer as Hal’s younger brother Dominic, who returned home six months earlier after his stint in the army.

Dominic had a big crush on Max when they were younger, and seeing him again – gorgeous and sexy AF – that crush comes roaring back to life.  Dominic is a bit dismayed that Max doesn’t recognise him straight away, although he supposes it’s not surprising since they’ve not see each other for years – and is even more surprised when Max appears to be… flirting with him?  When Hal arrives and introduces the hot cop who rescued Max as his little brother, Max is stunned.  Pleasantly. Who knew the kid who used to trail around after him and Hal would grow up to be so hot?

With Max’s car out of commission until repairs can be made, he’s going to have to stay in Edgewood over Christmas, which naturally gives him a chance to reconnect with Dominic as well as with Hal and the girls – and causes him to start reassessing his choices.

Although, as I’ve said, this is a story I’ve read lots of times before, it’s nicely done and well written, the leads have great chemistry and there are some engaging secondary characters, notably Hal and his two daughters, who read like actual children rather than plot-moppets.  I appreciated the absence of the ‘don’t mess with my younger sibling’ message that so often crops up with this trope; Hal is fully supportive of Max and Dominic getting together, particularly as he knows Dominic hasn’t had it easy since returning home (he has PTSD, for which he’s receiving treatment) and thinks he deserves to have something good in his life. Hal’s soon-to-be ex-wife is all but demonised for most of the book though, which I found a little uncomfortable.  All we know about her is that she just up and left and abandoned her kids, and it’s not until much later that we get a chance to see that maybe there’s more to it.  I understand that it would have been difficult to explore that further given the story is told from Max and Dominic’s points of view and not Hal’s, but things there could have been a little more nuanced.

For all its predictability, this is an easy and engaging read. The romance is a bit insta-love-y, but I liked that Max and Dominic allow themselves to be vulnerable around each other, and the care Max shows Dominic in bed (teaching him there’s more to sex than a quick pump and dump!).  On the downside, I didn’t really buy the reasons behind Max’s dislike of his home town, and Dominic’s reaction to the conflict near the end is really over the top.

That said, if you’re looking for a low-angst, Hallmark-esque, small-town romance that makes good use of its tropes, and has enough heat to keep you warm on a cold winter’s afternoon, His Holiday Crush might just fit the bill.

Holidays in Blue by Eve Morton

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Sometimes it takes a little ice to discover a whole lot of heat.

Cosmin Tessler is going home for Christmas. Eric Campbell is too.

Neither expected a homecoming quite like this.

When Cosmin Tessler’s radio show is canceled and Eric Campbell’s acting jobs dry up, they find themselves unexpectedly back in their old Toronto neighborhood…and back in each other’s lives years after they’d gone their separate ways. With a series of failed relationships and one ill-advised marriage behind them, both believe their chance for love has come and gone.

Luck, in the form of a massive ice storm, throws the former neighbors together again and they find themselves stranded, alone, for Christmas. Despite their difference in age, long-ago crushes and undeniable attraction prove too much to resist. But when the ice melts, only time will tell if their burgeoning romance will become just another missed chance—or a love story whose time has finally come.

Rating: C

Début author Eve Morton’s Holidays in Blue is billed by Carina Press as a “forced proximity Christmas romance” and the blurb goes on to say how the two principal characters find themselves stranded together for Christmas.  Some of my favourite seasonal romances use that particular trope, so I decided to pick up this book for review, expecting a lot of snow, a bit of awkwardness and flirting, plenty of sexual tension and a Christmassy atmosphere… and this book contains exactly NONE of those things.  Okay, so it’s an ice storm rather than snow that strands the guys together,  but when a book is billed as a “Christmas romance” I think it’s reasonable to expect it to have a) a Christmas feel to it and b) some romance in it – no?

Cosmin Tessler and Eric Campbell lived across the street from each other maybe twenty years before but never really knew each other that well, because Cosmin is around a decade older and moved away while Eric was still in school.  But the age gap didn’t stop Eric from developing a crush on Cosmin, and it was thanks to watching Cosmin and his boyfriend making out one night (in the front seat of the bf’s car) that kind of cemented his suspicions that he wasn’t completely straight.

Eric became an actor and for a while starred in a (not-very-good) TV show, but seems now to spend most of his time failing auditions and narrating audiobooks, while Cosmin went on to become a teacher, writer, and radio personality.

The pair meet again – very briefly – when Eric is tending bar at the radio station’s Christmas party.  Cosmin has just received the news that his contract is not being renewed so he goes to the bar for a drink.  He’s been thinking all night that Eric looked familiar but wasn’t able to place him;  Eric re-introduces himself, but Cosmin is quite rude to him and leaves.

They don’t see each other again until around a quarter of the way into the book, after Cosmin returns to his family home intending to sort through his recently deceased father’s possessions (and to look for the papers relating to his adoption) and Eric goes home for Christmas a few days early (his family is away visiting his sister, but will be back by Christmas Eve).  Hearing the news of a coming ice storm on the radio, Eric, who doesn’t realise George Tessler has died, decides to go over there to check the old man is okay, and is pleasantly surprised to be greeted by Cosmin instead. The ice storm sets in quickly after that, and strands them together for a couple of nights.

That’s the set up, but what follows is far more the story of one man coming to terms with his father’s death and the other working through his feelings over his failed marriage than it is a romance.  The author has some interesting things to say about grief and loss and moving on, but it’s very… cerebral (which does fit with Cosmin’s character), and while I did enjoy Cosmin’s journey as he comes to learn and understand his father more than he had done in life, it does give the story a more melancholy feel than I expected.

Cosmin’s story is the dominant one and we get a lot more insight into his situation than into Eric’s, but he has a journey to make, too. In his case, it’s learning to forgive himself for some of the things he did which led to the breakdown of his marriage, and to stop seeing himself in terms of failure.

Holidays in Blue does have some things going for it – the writing is generally good  and sometimes lyrical (although some of the sex scenes felt as though the author wasn’t comfortable writing them), but the pacing is off; sometimes things move really slowly, and at others, they go from zero to sixty in the blink of an eye.  An example – Cosmin and Eric don’t really interact until the twenty-three percent mark; at thirty-three, they’re making out and talking about fucking.  If I’d had a print book, I think I’d have been flipping through the pages looking for the missing chapters!

The biggest problem with it, however, is that the romance is a complete non-starter.   There’s no chemistry between Cosmin and Eric, no real connection and very little by way of romantic development.  At a rough estimate, they spend about half the book apart (possibly a bit more) and  I didn’t feel I got to know either of them outside of Cosmin’s grief and Eric’s self-recrimination – and I didn’t feel they got to know each other outside of that either.  Plus, they’re not “stranded, alone, for Christmas”.  They spend two days and nights together (before Christmas) and then go their separate ways until the reunite in the penultimate chapter.

Ultimately, the book tries to be too many things and loses sight of the one thing that should have been front and centre.  There’s a sub-plot concerning a friend of Cosmin’s whose daughter has an eating disorder and who has to be admitted to hospital, and another about Eric and an unexpected windfall (and the way he spends the money he inherited made no sense to me whatsoever).  The book addresses a lot of important issues – grief, adoption, infidelity (there’s no cheating in the story) unemployment, anorexia, to name a few, but it’s too much for a book of just over two hundred pages, and it’s the romance that suffers and is squeezed out.

When it comes down to it, this isn’t a romance novel; it’s a story of self-discovery and learning to move on after loss that happens to have a romantic sub-plot. (And not a very good one at that).  Needless to say, I can’t recommend it.

The Christmas Deal by Keira Andrews (audiobook) – narrated by John Solo

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Will fake boyfriends become the real deal this holiday?

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – except ex-Marine Logan is jobless and getting evicted. Worse, he’s a new single dad with a stepson who hates him. A kid needs stability – not to mention presents under the tree – and Logan’s desperate.

Then he meets lonely Seth and makes a deal.

Can Logan temporarily pretend to be live-in boyfriends to increase Seth’s chances at a promotion? If it provides a roof over their heads for the holidays, hell yeah. Logan considers himself straight – he doesn’t count occasional hookups with guys – but he can fake it. Besides, with his shy little smile, Seth is surprisingly sexy.

Make that damn sexy.

Shocked that Seth has only been with one man, Logan can’t resist sweetening their deal to teach him the joys of casual sex. No strings attached. No feelings. No kissing.

No falling for each other.

Easy, right?

Rating: Narration – B; Content – A-

I read Keira Andrews’ The Christmas Deal when it came out at the end of 2019 and really enjoyed it. I’d hoped maybe it would come to audio in time for the festive season this year and hey – look! Santa came early 😉 It’s a sweet and sexy fake-relationship romance with no overblown angst or drama (well, maybe a teeny bit of drama); a feel-good story featuring engaging characters, a well-deserved HEA and plenty of warm fuzzies.

Former Marine Logan Derwood is really struggling. Finding it hard to get work after a serious accident at work for which he was blamed and hung out to try, he’s facing eviction from his crappy bungalow and can see no option but to move in with his sister Jenna and her family, which he really doesn’t want to do. On top of this, the sudden death of his wife from an aneurysm some months earlier has left him sole guardian to her teenaged son, Connor, who is surly and confrontational, and for whom Logan can seem to do nothing right.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Merry Measure by Lily Morton

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Arlo Wright’s introduction to his sexuality came when he saw his older brother’s best friend, Jack Cooper, in his sweaty football kit. Unfortunately, he didn’t have long to enjoy the revelation because he promptly knocked himself out on a table.

Relations between them have never really moved on from that auspicious beginning. Arlo is still clumsy, and Jack is still as handsome and unobtainable as ever.

However, things look like they’re starting to change when Arlo finds himself sharing a room with Jack while on holiday in Amsterdam at Christmas. Will the festive spirit finally move them towards each other, or is Arlo just banging his head against a wall this time?

Rating: B+

Lily Morton is one of my go-to authors whenever I’m looking for a sexy, funny, low-angst read, and in Merry Measure – a standalone Christmas romance – she delivers all those things and more.  It’s a charming friends-to-lovers story that’s full of warmth, humour and Christmas spirit (the bottled kind as well as the other!), featuring two wonderfully endearing leads and a marvellous supporting cast.  Fans of Ms. Morton’s will need no urging to pounce on this one – and if you haven’t read her yet and are in the mood for some festive sweetness and snark, then here is as good a place to start as any.

Primary school teacher Arlo Wright is flying to Amsterdam for Christmas, where he’s joining his brother Tom and a few other close friends in order to celebrate Tom’s engagement to his boyfriend Bee… as soon as Tom does the actual proposing.  Arlo is terrified of flying, so he’s glad to be travelling with his brother’s best friend Jack Cooper, upon whom he once had a massive teenage crush, and who is now as much Arlo’s friend as he is Tom’s.

Arlo and Jack arrive at the hotel to discover there’s been a mix-up with the rooms – and Arlo discovers that maybe his crush on Jack isn’t quite as dead as he’d thought it was.  Jack had originally intended to travel with his boyfriend, but they’ve recently broken up; Jack contacted the hotel to cancel his double occupancy, but instead, they’ve cancelled his room – and this close to Christmas, it’s going to be nigh on impossible for him to find anywhere else to stay in the city.  He’s about to start looking anyway when Bee suggests that Jack share Arlo’s room – it’s got two beds after all – and after a couple of moments of awkwardness, Arlo agrees.  After all, what could possibly go wrong?

Okay, so it’s all a bit predictable, but Ms. Morton transcends the tropes and puts her own stamp on them.  Arlo and Jack are totally adorable, both individually and as a couple.  Arlo is a complete dork in the best way; he’s scatty and warm and funny, his brain-to-mouth filter doesn’t always work and he’s vibrant and full of life. Jack is equally lovely; quieter and more reserved, he’s the “measure” to Arlo’s “merry”, a bit of a perfectionist whose predilection for tidiness and detail and planning comes out more strongly when he’s anxious. He knows Arlo had a crush on him when they were younger (he thought it was sweet) and knows he’s grown out of it, which is probably for the best.  But the previous Christmas something shifted and Jack experienced a real coup de foudre, suddenly seeing Arlo in a completely different light, the pull of attraction hitting him completely unexpectedly. But not only is Arlo is his best friend’s little brother, the Wrights have been more like family to Jack than his own has ever been, and he doesn’t want to screw that up. He hopes he’ll be able to go back to seeing Arlo the way he did before – but that hasn’t happened, and Jack doesn’t think it’s going to happen any time soon.

Jack and Arlo have chemistry by the bucketload, and their transition from friends to lovers is perfectly believable because of the way their relationship is set up; this is a short-ish novel, but the romance doesn’t feel rushed or forced because they’ve been known each other for so long and have always held a special place in each other’s lives.  They speak and act like adults – which I loved – and although Arlo does jump to a couple of conclusions born of his own insecurities, the author doesn’t allow them to fester or become ridiculously overblown. These guys talk to each other openly and honestly, those small moments of trust and intimacy showing just as strongly as the snarky banter or the love scenes, why they are such a good fit.

One of the hallmarks of Ms. Morton’s books is the way she writes close friendships and familial relationships. Most of her series centre around a particular friendship or family group, and in much the same way, this story features a terrific supporting cast of close-knit friends and family who tease each other mercilessly but who obviously love and care for each other deeply.  And while I’m not generally a fan of the ‘evil ex’ trope, there are times when watching such characters get their just desserts is so thoroughly delicious that I set aside my reservations and just enjoy it – which is exactly what I did here when Jack’s obnoxious ex turns up at a very inauspicious moment.

Merry Measure is a fun, sexy, feel-good read that’s peppered with laugh-out-loud moments and full of festive cheer. The Amsterdam locations are gorgeous and vividly described, the characters are warm and funny, and the romance is delightful.  It’s just the thing to while away a few hours on a chilly winter’s evening.