Frost & Claus by Matilda Janes


Frost & Claus by Matilda Janes
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (49 pages)
Other: M/F
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

She loves to frost cookies. Now he’s going to frost hers.

Santa’s eldest daughter Chrystal Claus is curvy, cute, and loves to bake. Opening her bakery has been a dream come true, she loves to watch her customers smile after they’ve eaten one of her treats. It’s her gift and she’s never been happier. That is until Jack Frost comes back into town, seemingly intent on disrupting her life with his scowling eyes, grumpy growls, and all his bulging muscles, she can’t help but notice! After he embarrasses and hurts her feelings she decides she can’t stand the handsome jerk. But when she’s kidnapped, Chrystal discovers not all is as it seems.

Jack Frost has been waiting for Chrystal Claus for an eternity, and when she comes of age Jack wants to claim his mate. But it isn’t to be; bound by a promise, Jack reluctantly leaves Christmas Town. When he returns years later he can barely contain himself. He wants nothing more than to claim his mate and no one will stand in his way. Or so he thinks.

Can Chrystal accept being Mrs. Frost? Will Jack convince Chrystal that being naughty can be nice?

Chrystal and her sisters have all been good this year. Only time will tell how they’re rewarded for that.

Ms. Janes had a descriptive and playful writing style that worked well for her subject matter. From the opening scene in Chrystal’s bakery to the steamy experiences she shared with Jack in private later on, I was always able to easily picture what was going on. The author did a good job at showing the audience what was happening in her story at every step along the way.

I would have liked to see way more time spent developing the chemistry between the Claus sisters and the men who wanted to be with them. This was something I noticed especially between Jack Frost and Chrystal Claus. He had a strong desire for her from the very first scene, but at the same time he barely knew anything about her at all. Due to this, the chemistry between them never felt right to me.

The dialogue often made me smile. I liked discovering how many Christmas and folklore references the characters made throughout the plot. Not only did the mixture of all of these references give the storyline a creative spin, it made Christmas town come alive in my imagination. It felt like a real place to me, and that’s not something that’s easy to accomplish in a story of this length.

Frost & Claus should be read by anyone who is in the mood for a sultry version of life at the North Pole.

Roger by SJD Peterson


Roger by SJD Peterson
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday (Christmas)
Length: Short Story (51 pgs)
Other: M/M
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Fern

exas native Colt Burrow isn’t happy about his third cold, lonely Christmas in frozen Michigan. But when fate sends him a gift in the form of an abandoned puppy, he can’t keep his heart from melting. With the puppy’s companionship, he doesn’t feel so isolated anymore, and the holidays don’t seem as bleak. He even finds enough Christmas spirit to take Roger tree shopping. But just when Colt’s starting to hope Roger’s owner doesn’t show up… he does, and Colt doesn’t want to say goodbye.

Will Roger end up being Colt’s Christmas heartbreak… or his Christmas miracle?

Colt had grown up in Texas, so the bitterly cold, snowy Michigan winters had come as an unpleasant surprise to him. Whether it was the insane cold, or perhaps residual feelings left over from a particularly nasty break up a few years ago, Colt found himself far more Grinch-like than he was comfortable with. Braving the bitter snow for a cigarette, Colt finds a small dog, Roger, lost and shivering. Can Roger help return Colt’s Christmas spirit?

I found this to be a sweet and interesting Christmassy sort of story. While I completely sympathize with Colt and his distaste of the cold, snowy winter he’s enduring I was pleased how finding Roger managed to snap him out of his funk. Readers looking for a strong, erotic romance might not find this story quite to their tastes. The bulk of the story is actually between Roger (the lost dog) and Colt, though towards the end of the story Roger’s rightful owner, Killian, does show up. I, personally, was quite enthralled by Colt and his emotional attachment to Roger. I could understand readers being somewhat disappointed if they pick this story up wanting a sensual, erotic romance story, but readers looking for a sweeter, man-and-his-dog sort of story should be satisfied, as I found the emotion and connection in the story was vibrant and quite realistic. Aside from a sweet, chaste kiss there’s no sex or “on screen” spice – while an intimate relationship is alluded to in the epilogue there is no spice within the story itself.

While the story is set around Christmas-time, I found the theme of Christmas to absolutely take a back seat to the connection between Colt and Roger. While not romantic as such, the relationship between dog and man certainly seemed front-and-centre to me, and deservedly so. I found it interesting and extremely well written and I could happily enjoy it for what it was. I was happily satisfied with the ending – a lovely happy ever after for Colt and Killian and wonderful to me as a reader.

Readers looking for a happy and friendly short story – one that can be safely shared with both younger and older readers – with the main relationship surrounding a lonely man who finds his happiness with the joy from a lost pet dog should find this short story heart-warming and sweetly satisfying. A great story with no sex and a lovely happy ending.

The Storm’s Gift by A.D Ellis


The Storm’s Gift by A.D Ellis
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday (Christmas)
Length: Short story (34)
Other: M/M, Anal Sex
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Snowed in together in their college dorm, two men share a quick connection that creates enough heat to spar with the blizzard outside.

Rory Blackwell plans to rejuvenate his mind and repair his battered heart after his world is shaken by an unexpected breakup. James Austin’s freshman-year plans of improving his social life crashed and burned, leaving him feeling as alone and outcast as he did back home.

One man is hurting while the other is eager to provide comfort. One is a virgin, the other experienced with other men. Both are looking forward to Winter Break, but can they take full advantage of their situation—or will the passion ignited between them fizzle out with the storm?

Rory is looking forward to two quiet weeks over the Christmas holidays in the dorms at his University campus where he’s the RA. Still hurting from the break-up of his long-term boyfriend, Rory is eager for two weeks of solitude, junk food and binge-watching tv shows. He hadn’t planned on being snowed in, and particularly not stranded with James, who had stayed back late to complete his final exam.

This is an interesting short story written in the first person and jumping between Rory’s perspective and James’. I’m not often a fan of the first-person story-telling, but I have to admit the author did a good job here. Switching perspectives chapter by chapter also doesn’t always work for me, but being able to see inside both Rory’s head and James’ let me feel like I had a good grasp on both characters. And for me, once I’m interested and invested in the characters it’s never a hard sell for the rest of the story.

I sympathized with Rory – after his break up and wanting some down time from the craziness of University life – and I was intrigued by James, determined to finish his exams and do his best. I had one short moment of disbelief when the professor supervising James in his last exam left due to the breaking snowstorm (none of my own professors would have ever, under any circumstances, done so) but I could easily let that small slip of reality pass and enjoy the story of two men being snowbound together and I was happy that much of the rest of the story was solidly bound in realistic terms.

I greatly enjoyed how Rory and James didn’t simply realize they were alone and instantly jump into bed (nor instantly fall in love with each other). This helped sell the realism of the story to me. I found the pacing to be really good, too. For a short story I find it’s often too easy to rush ahead and lose me as a reader, or go too slow and feel slightly short-changed in the romance department. I loved the sex scenes between the two men and found it emotionally satisfying and explicitly written.

For a short, happy and easily read quick Christmas story this ticked a lot of happy boxes for me. A “happy for now” style of ending and some deliciously hot sex sealed off a great “snowed in” style of story. A solid and fun read I really enjoyed it.

The Puzzle Box by CC Bridges


The Puzzle Box by CC Bridges
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday
Length: Short story (31 pgs)
Other: M/M, Anal Play
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Elementary school art teacher Cole Peters is expecting a lonely Christmas this year while his longtime boyfriend, James Carducci, is on deployment with the Army. However, a box from James contains puzzles that lead Cole on a scavenger hunt through the greatest moments of their relationship. Together with his best friend Liz, Cole works his way through each clue.

The final puzzle could lead Cole to a gift beyond his wildest expectations.

Cole and James had been together a long time, but with James deployed for Christmas Cole just doesn’t see the point in celebrating or getting excited about the holidays. When the first package from James arrived, Cole enjoyed the memories it brought back, but was confused. When the next package arrived, Cole realized James had organized something very special for them both to help celebrate this Christmas.

I found this to be a fun and sweet, sentimental Christmas story. I loved how Cole remembering all the special memories with James helped me as the reader to get to know James’ character as well as Coles – even though James wasn’t “on screen” too much, being deployed. This was a freshly unique manner of telling me about a character so important to Cole and showed me loads about their relationship without the need of having James be physically present – and I loved it. Even with James away for most of the book there’s a bunch of chemistry and one short but steamy sexy scene – enough, I feel, to satisfy readers wanting a bit more spice in their Christmas story, but at the same time not too much. The sensuality level was just right for me. Best of all, the romance and love between Cole and James was clear and just lovely to read, making this a deeply satisfying book on many levels.

Readers looking for a super short, quick and sentimental Christmassy read should enjoy this story. I found it to be sweet and heartwarming, the puzzle pieces giving Cole a bunch of happy and loving memories from times past with himself and James. The happy ending was lovely and satisfying. This is a great, quick read that I really enjoyed.

An Open Window by Rick R. Reed


An Open Window by Rick R. Reed
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday
Length: Short Story (21 pgs)
Other: M/M
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Two men. One Christmas Eve that changes the courses of both their lives.

Henry’s homeless and only wants a warm place to sleep on the coldest night of the year. A forgotten open window in a darkened house entices Henry inside with the promise of warmth and comfort. He knows it’s bad, but he promises himself he’ll be out before the owner wakes on Christmas morning. Except he oversleeps and the homeowner, Jim, discovers a bearded stranger sawing logs under his dining room table. When the shock and the drama that ensues dies down, Henry and Jim discover that they might have found, quite unexpectedly, the Christmas miracle they’d both been longing for—love and home.

Henry needed to get out of the freezing cold, snowy night that Christmas Eve. Finding an open window into what he thought was an empty home, he climbed through – not wanting to die from exposure. Jim got an awful scare when Henry climbed in, and from that moment on both their lives changed forever.

Henry and Jim meet under what might be the most unusual circumstances that I’ve ever read before. I have to admit I kept fluctuating between disbelief – why didn’t Jim run screaming from the stranger that broke into his house? – and warmth from the compassion Jim showed Henry. Eventually I decided to stop thinking about the plot and circumstances and just roll with the story and enjoy it. I genuinely think it’s one of those situation that while completely realistic (homelessness and the seriousness of the elements connected to this) it also is virtually impossible to make it both real and romantic. So I ended up acknowledging that it was a different and interesting plot device – Henry and Jim meeting this way and Henry’s problems – but not questioning it too closely.

Taking the story in this different light made it a lot easier for me to enjoy. Henry and Jim both take time to warm up to each other, and reading about their fumbling as they learn about one another was really quite sweet. Readers looking for a very short, somewhat old fashioned Christmas story, one with heart-warming feelings and sharing of gifts and a real “Christmas spirit” type of feel will probably really enjoy this. There is no sex in this story, which I personally didn’t mind, though readers looking for a spicy romance might not be as happy with. I really liked Henry and Jim and was pleased with their happy ending. While I would have loved a little more detail on how they went from that initial meeting to their fully-fledged relationship, the very short word count definitely limited the author in what he was able to achieve so I feel this needed to be taken into consideration.

A heart-warming, old-style Christmas story about embracing what you have, making the best of your situation and always being open to receiving gifts, this is a good short story that I liked.

A Gift Of Family by Tami Veldura


A Gift Of Family by Tami Veldura
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday
Length: Short Story (32 pgs)
Other: M/M, Anal Play
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Scott Burke has always desired a big family, but as a divorced single dad, all he has is his young daughter, Lexi. He pours himself into raising her, half-convinced he’ll never find what he’s looking for. When Brennan Price strolls into Scott’s life, he’d better have enough patience for both Lexi and Scott if he intends to stick around.

Brennan has a huge family and a successful career, but no one to call his own. Wooing Scott and his daughter is right up his alley, though, and he steps up to the challenge to prove he’s enough for both of them. His attraction to Scott is immediate, but he recognizes a family man when he sees one and hatches a plan to win Lexi over. Her handsome father is sure to follow….

Scott had full custody of his beautiful toddler daughter, but he still longs for a large family, a solid, loving family unlike what he grew up with. When Scott met Brennan and his dog in the park one day, it finally looked like maybe he could build that family he’d always desired.

I found this to be a fun and happy short story. I thought the pacing was almost perfect – Brennan and Scott take their time to get to know each other and considering the short length of the story I felt there was an excellent balance between the chemistry and foundations being laid, then a very satisfying consummation scene. The characters – including Lexie and Jazz – were well drawn and I was quite invested in the four of them coming together as a solid family very quickly.

The sex scene was spicy and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It really felt like Scott and Brennan were committing to each other and to the small family unit they were building together. While the story was set in Christmas, I wouldn’t personally classify it as a “Christmas” story since most of the focus was on the characters and the relationship they built. This didn’t bother me at all – I personally was reading for the story, so the setting wasn’t as important for me.

A well written, happy and sexy short story, I feel this was a great and satisfying read. I thoroughly enjoyed Scott and Brennan’s characters and can happily recommend this. I’ll be keeping an interested eye out for more books by this author and would definitely try them again.

New Game, Start by C.S. Poe


New Game, Start by C.S. Poe
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday
Length: Short Story (38 pages)
Other: M/M, Anal play
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Reclusive medieval scholar, Edgar Royal, has a crush. On a guy. Not a big deal, except that said guy, Walter Chase, is a famous online gamer who has no idea Edgar even exists. Edgar has harbored these feelings for nearly a year, and when Walter announces on Twitter that he’ll be visiting New York City as a guest at the GamerOn convention, Edgar decides he’ll be one of the thousands of fans who responds to the message.

He definitely doesn’t expect to be singled out by the humble, gorgeous, out-and-proud heartthrob. And when it comes to dealing with people, Edgar’s skills are pretty nonexistent. Even with Walter giving all the right signals, Edgar lacks the courage do anything about the mutual attraction growing through their online courtship. He’s always been better with the written word, so maybe the perfect Christmas gift will say what he cannot. But if Edgar can’t get the present to Walter before the convention ends, he may miss out on the boyfriend of a lifetime.

Edgar is entranced by online gamer, Walter. Even though Edgar knows it is crazy, he can’t help himself and when he finds out Walter will be at the GamerOn convention – in Edgar’s own New York City – Edgar knows he has to go and at least look at his crush. One simple tweet turns into something so much more.

I absolutely loved this short story. Told in the first person, I found it funny, realistic and extremely modern (#JingleYourBells!) and laughed aloud in numerous places. I adored Edgar’s character – I found him humble, normal and extremely sweet. I could heartily sympathize with his anonymous crush on Walter and cheered the two of them on for every page as they met up and got to know each other. I was really excited that the story gave itself time to develop, it wasn’t just Edgar met Walter and they jumped into bed, the two men played games online and got to know each other a fair bit first, which really helped sell me on their romance.

This is a fantastic short story and I loved every moment – from Edgar’s shy awkwardness to Walter’s happy joy in life and enjoyment of simple things, to them sharing the same drink and helping each other to be better versions of themselves. This is a happy and sexy story that I absolutely loved. I thought the sex scene was meaningful and hot, the misunderstanding well-handled and not too clichéd, and the happy ending made me sigh and finish the story ready to immediately go back and re-read it all over again. While there are only really Walter and Edgar as characters, they fill each page and I didn’t feel any lack from there really only being the two of them. Indeed, I didn’t really find anything negative at all throughout the story.

This will be a keeper story for me and I strongly recommend it.

Homemade From The Heart by Bru Baker


Homemade From The Heart by Bru Baker
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday
Length: Short story (55 pages)
Other: M/M
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Craft store owner Grant has always been a sucker for a pretty face, and that goes double for a pretty face with an adorable sidekick. When seven-year-old Aubrey has her heart set on taking Grant’s already-full holiday craft series, he caves and gives up his one day off a week so she (and her hot guardian, Josh) can take private lessons. Their flirting ramps up week after week, and even though Josh isn’t with Aubrey’s mother, Grant can’t be sure the man isn’t straight. Maybe he’s just being friendly. And Josh, who most definitely is not straight, is afraid of being the creepy guy hitting on the teacher.

Frustrated by their stubbornness and cluelessness, Aubrey takes matters into her own hands. She decides the best gift to give Josh is something homemade and from the heart—a boyfriend they’ll both love.

Grant hadn’t realised just how popular his “Homemade from the Heart” holiday craft series would be. The online booking filled up almost immediately and Grant had irate phone calls from parents wanting to enroll their kids for weeks after the spaces were gone. Grant hadn’t had a clue how a little bit of exposure could have his small co-op arts studio for kids wildly popular. When Josh walks in with his daughter, Aubrey, Grant suddenly has a whole lot less spare time for the lead up to his Christmas holidays.

I enjoyed this fun, short Christmas story. Unlike a lot of M/M’s I was a little unsure whether Josh was gay or bi or straight, and this led me to be incredibly curious not just about him, but also the story as a whole. It was a wonderful (and fairly new – for me – hook) into the story and before I’d finished the first chapter I was completely engrossed. I loved the easy, happy style of writing and commend the author for an excellent story that was Christmassy, fun and lighthearted.

I also really enjoyed the main characters, Grant, Josh and Aubrey were all vivid and unique characters that I had no problems becoming attached to. This really helped me fall even deeper into the story and happily turn the pages promptly. This was absolutely a quick read, but a delightful one that will be easy for me to pick back up in the future, and although it’s strongly Christmas-themed, as the main plot is the craft store, the kids and the growing relationship between Grand and Josh I don’t think it will feel weird to me when I reread it at a non-Christmas time.

The pacing on this story was good – I was pleased there was plenty of time for Grant and Josh to get to know each other first, and for Aubrey to become comfortable and friendly with Grant. I thought the author did a great job of balancing the whole “new relationship” feel along with the three characters coming together to form a little mini-family. While I can understand some readers might not like the “is he/isn’t he” feel of Josh’s attraction to Grant, personally I found it refreshing. There was also never doubt in my mind that Josh liked Grant as the friendly camaraderie was clear. The question of whether there was potential for a romantic relationship might not appeal to all readers, but I liked the second-guessing and tantalizing wondering that the author infused the first half of the story with. And I have to say, once Grant decided to be a little less subtle about his interest, I laughed an awful lot at the antics Josh and Grant got up to!

A fun and light Christmas story with an interesting twist I didn’t see coming at the end, this book covers a lot of great things I think readers will enjoy. I had loads of fun reading this and can happily recommend it.

The Last Gift by Chrissy Munder


The Last Gift by Chrissy Munder
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday
Length: Short Story (48 pages)
Other: M/M
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Fern

College student Nick Reed works late shift at a convenience store and dreams of graduation, a job he can be proud of, and finding the man of his dreams.

But the man of his dreams is about to find him.

A change in his lab hours forces Nick to swap shifts with a coworker. But no one prepared Nick for Mr. 5:25—Aaron Hampton—a beefy blond who’s Nick’s perfect guy, but professionally and socially out of Nick’s reach. Soon Aaron becomes the highlight of Nick’s workday, and when the overly focused lawyer needs Nick’s help with holiday gifts, Nick is eager to spend time with Aaron.

They become friends, share book recommendations, and are surprised to find themselves at the same charity run. But is that all? When Aaron learns Nick is heading back to his old shift, will he find the courage to ask for one last, very special gift?

Nick knows he is in a rut. With a huge study load at college, crazy shifts at the local convenience store he had no time for anything else in his life. Struggling to find his new routine after changing shifts at work, Nick can’t deny that the dead-sexy, cheery Aaron – Mr 5.25am – who comes in each morning for coffee is quickly becoming the highlight of his day. When Aaron arrives frantic one morning and pleads for Nick’s help, the besotted man is helpless to resist.

I found this to be a fun and interesting short story. I really loved the pacing, finding it perfect for the length of the story. Nick and Aaron move seamlessly from that whole casual “see you daily” type routine into a “crisis occurs so change from acquaintances to friends” then deepens into more of a proper relationship. Despite the short length of the story Nick and Aaron’s evolving relationship didn’t feel rushed or forced to me, neither did I need to suspend disbelief too hard – as one of the critical meetings that helped deepen their relationship was a chance meeting at a large fun-run which seemed completely reasonable and not at all like some random plot device to further the story.

I could understand if Nick’s dry self-depreciation might not be every readers cup of tea. Personally I felt the Nick had a very realistic perspective on his own situation (being broke, an overworked student and only at the very beginning of his “adult” life) but at times I did wonder if the dryness of his self-analysis flirted just a little too close to low self esteem and him putting himself down. While this aspect of the story didn’t bother me exactly, it occurred frequently enough – especially in the first half of the story – that it rang a warning bell in my head and made me stop and think, analyze his behavior and really wonder if he put himself down a little too much. I admit that I decided I was being too picky and over-thinking it a little, but this isn’t a “normal” thing for me to wonder in an M/M romance.

I found this to be a delicious and slow-moving romance short story. Readers should be aware that there’s no sex – but there’s a ton of chemistry and a very Happy For Now style of ending that I found satisfying. Readers looking for a hot or explicit story might be disappointed, but I felt the sparkling chemistry and slow-build of the relationship between Nick and Aaron well worth the read. I thought this was a fun and interesting story which I greatly enjoyed.

Candy Canes and Cappuccinos by Elizabeth Coldwell


Candy Canes and Cappuccinos by Elizabeth Coldwell
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday
Length: Short story (24 pages)
Other: M/M
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Kyle is struggling to run his coffee shop on his own after his partner walked out on him. He has his eye on Steven, who comes into the shop each day, but hasn’t worked up the nerve to express his interest. When Steven asks Kyle to help out with Christmas lunch at the homeless shelter where he works, Kyle is too exhausted to agree. He donates his tips but still feels he’s blown his chances with Steven and made himself look like a selfish jerk.

On Christmas Day, Kyle sees a way to make amends—to both Steven and the needy people depending on his kindness. It’s the right thing to do, and Kyle hopes he can clear up the misunderstanding and show Steven the type of man he really is. Maybe then they can consider some dessert when the lunch at the shelter is over….

When Kyle had been betrayed and dumped, he wanted to curl into a ball and close out the world. Instead, he threw all his efforts into proving his ex wrong and make their joint venture – a small coffee shop – a roaring success. Steven has been a regular at the coffee shop for a while now, and Kyle is interested but too shy to make the first move.

I really enjoyed this Christmassy, super short story. Kyle and Steven have plenty of chemistry, but I loved how they didn’t simply jump into bed with each other. The author did an excellent job in my opinion of balancing the start of the two men’s relationship, while still managing to keep the sexual tension and physical awareness between the men front and center of the story. I felt this really made the pacing of the whole short story feel like the relationship moved along at a good, realistic and quick pace without being a “sex for the sake of it” style of erotic story.

This is the sort of short story I feel people can enjoy reading privately on a train trip, or as a quick “before going to sleep” sort of happy story that’s quick and leaves you with a warm and fuzzy feeling. It could also be a great way to introduce reader-friends to M/M as there’s nothing kinky or over the top about the story and even the sex scene is somewhat brief and not explicit enough in my opinion to be a turn-off for more traditional spicy romance readers.

With plenty of Christmas cheer, a lovely romance and a little bit of spicy love this is a great story and one I can happily recommend.