Mrs. Holloway’s Christmas Pudding by Jennifer Ashley


Mrs. Holloway’s Christmas Pudding by Jennifer Ashley
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Historical, Holiday, Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

December 1882

When Cook Kat Holloway is blamed when a dinner guest mysteriously takes ill after eating one of her meals, she sets out to prove she had nothing to do with the gentleman’s sickness. She discovers a whole host of people who might wish to do away with the man, and she and her friends—Daniel McAdam, Lady Cynthia, Mr. Thanos, and various members of the household staff—begin to hunt for the would-be killer.

Simultaneously tasked with crafting the perfect Christmas feast, including the pièce de résistance, the Christmas plum pudding, Kat frantically works to finish all, fearing she’ll have to choose between stopping a murderer and cherishing her few precious Christmas moments with her daughter.

When a guess of her employer falls mysteriously ill, Mrs Holloway is irritated when her food is instantly blamed – despite the gentlemen being the only member of the dinner party having an adverse effect. Determined to not let any whispers grow and cause trouble, Mrs Holloway is determined to investigate what is really occurring. Can she and her friends work out what’s going on while Kat simultaneously plans and cooks the perfect Christmas feast and also attempts to spend a few precious moments with her young daughter.

This is the third short story I have enjoyed set in this historical world by the author. I have enjoyed them all and equally enjoy the fact that other than the same time setting they can easily be read and thoroughly enjoyed on their own merits, and they aren’t really linked other than the characters connections. While a little suspension of belief is required – I simply can’t imagine a cook interacting so freely and warmly with any of the above-stairs people, nor having the freedom of movement to investigate a crime nor make speeches about who the dastardly villain really is etc – I nevertheless found this a well-paced and thoroughly refreshing read. Kat and her love interest, Daniel were vibrant and very well written characters and with a strong cast of equally engaging secondary characters there was plenty to hook any reader.

I also feel readers who usually don’t enjoy historical stories should feel comfortable giving this book a try. The mystery is fairly simple, but there were enough layers and twists to keep me engaged and while the historical setting was lovely, I didn’t feel like our noses were pushed too hard into it. I really feel the author has done a commendable job balancing the characters, the plot and the pacing of this Christmassy story. The blossoming romance between Mrs Holloway and Daniel is quite chaste – merely a few kisses – so readers more used to reading mystery shouldn’t find the romance aspect to the plot too overpowering.

Readers who are unsure whether to dip their feet into the connected full-length series should absolutely give this novella a try – for the cheaper price and shorter length I think it’s a lovely gateway into the world and series by this author and is in and of itself a thoroughly enjoyable short story. Recommended.

Changeling by Shelby Morgen


Changeling by Shelby Morgen
Publisher: Changeling Press
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, Holiday, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

“I don’t believe in Magic.”

Did he actually say those words — out loud — in an Irish pub, on St. Patrick’s Day? Divorced and alone, Michael Matthews doesn’t believe in much of anything anymore. So when he downs several mugs of Irish Stout while listening to the barkeep weave a tale of magic and intrigue centuries old, Mich’s judgment might be slightly impaired.

Mich wakes up bound and naked in a Fairy’s webs. He isn’t really sure he wants to escape the gorgeous little creature… but what’s he to do with a lover who’s only five inches tall?

She’s the Changeling Fairy, and she has a bag of Fairy toys — including magical restraints and Fairy Oil — she’s just itching to try out on her captive. She’s caught Mich for just one purpose — she has every intention of spending St. Patrick’s Day having wild Fairy sex with this hot hunk of an American. Just as soon as he learns to cooperate!

Michael Matthews is a procurement agent for a microbrewery distribution group and usually he knows exactly how to handle his beer. But this is St, Patrick’s Day and he downs more than a few mugs while listening to a very talented barkeeper. Mich then finds himself waking up entangled in more than he bargained for, and Arien is gorgeous enough neither of them are sure they want to undo what might have been started here.

I found this to be a funny and very unique sort of short story. With whip quick dialogue and plenty of quirkiness I definitely feel this is the sort of story you need to enjoy with a hefty drink and a lot of light-heartedness. Disengage your brain, relax back and just enjoy where this talented author takes you.

While there is some plot, I found that I enjoyed the fact the story didn’t really take itself too seriously. While funny, the sex was steamy and very explicit. Readers who don’t enjoy insta-lust stories might find the pace of this aspect to the plot was a little fast – but with such a short page count I don’t really see how any could expect a long, detailed, slow drop into the romance.

Steamy, funny and fast-paced, I found this to be an enjoyable and quick read. Best enjoyed with a drink and a light sense of humour, I feel plenty of readers should find this equally addictive.

Fillion by Sean Michael


Fillion by Sean Michael
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, LGBTQ, Holiday
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Could the gift of a massage be exactly what Fillion needs to make this holiday his merriest ever?

Fillion Berry is a profitable bookshop owner, but his personal life is less successful. His Daddy left him on New Year’s last year and he’s been floundering. When his friend Chrissy discovers how bad things are getting, he enlists the help of his Daddy, Jerusalem, and together they cook up a plan to bring some holiday joy into Fillion’s life.

Spa owner Rome Aparny holds an auction every year to raise money for charity. When the highest bidder of a full-body massage gifts the item to Fillion with the note “for a lonely boy in need’, Rome thinks he knows exactly what that means and he arrives at Fillion’s store with his massage table, his oils, and the willingness to get to know Fillion better.

Could a little holiday magic turn Christian and Jerusalem’s matchmaking into a success? Find out in this Daddy Boys story.

Fillion owns a successful and prosperous bookshop, but his private life is quite the mess. After his Daddy and long-term partner left him on New Years the previous year, Fillion has struggled to recover from the loss. Fillion’s good friend, Christian, is blissfully happy with his own Daddy and relationship and when Fillion confides that he’s seriously unhappy and lonely, Christian is determined he and his Daddy should help. They purchase a private massage as a Christmas present for Fillion and quietly let the masseuse – Rome – know that he’s a boy looking for a Daddy, something that piques Rome’s interest immediately. Can this be a Christmas neither man will forget?

I found this to be a lovely and sweet short story. It’s part of a much larger series by multiple authors called “A Daddy for Christmas” but I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and I haven’t read any of the others in the series. I found it still stood by itself very well. I really felt a connection to Fillion’s character. Owning a prosperous bookshop means for the most part he’s really got his head screwed on straight and I really liked that. I also was pleased that Rome had noticed Fillion at previous gatherings, but just assumed he was in a relationship with someone. That previous connection helped the situation feel a little less like insta-love and while in a story this short they obviously moved very quickly I did find it still worked well for me.

Readers should be aware that this short story doesn’t have a complicated plot or a long, slow drop into the relationship. The two men recognize what they want from each other and while they do ease into the intimacy it’s exceedingly fast and there isn’t a whole lot of other plot revolving around them. For such a short story I can understand and even enjoy this – but I can certainly understand some readers might want a bit more complexity and plot to their stories.

Fun and sexy, this would be a good introduction to some readers on the Daddy/boy lifestyle and also a good quick taste for this particular author and their style/tone of writing.

A Christmas to Remember by Beverly Jenkins


A Christmas to Remember by Beverly Jenkins
Publisher: Avon
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Ginger

Ever since Bernadine Brown bought the town of Henry Adams, her relationship with diner owner Malachi “Mal” July has had its share of ups and downs. But now they’re finally ready to say “I do.”

Or are they? As wedding preparations go into full swing, and families both local and extended begin to gather for the festivities, that long awaited walk down the aisle hits a speed bump that may derail everything.

But Mal and Bernadine’s relationship isn’t the only one being tested.

Preston Mays aka Brain, loves his girlfriend as much as he does physics but when she decides being a couple is no longer a good thing, his heart is broken. Will connecting with his bio dad’s family ease his pain?

Reverend Paula Grant has been patiently waiting for God to send her someone to share her life. When the town’s charming new chef arrives in town, she wonders if he could be the one.

And then there’s former mayor Riley Curry who throws a parade with his hog Cletus! There’s always a lot going on in Henry Adams, and this will be a Christmas to remember.

The small historical town of Henry Adams has a long history and is still being developed and improving. While reading I could picture the town’s people moving about this well-developed close-knit village. Henry Adams is a respectful place of love, new beginnings, acceptance, and healing. It truly shows the power of community as the town’s people get together for holiday events and festive gatherings.

I like to make notes of characters’ names and minor details about them when I am reading a book. This book had so many characters that I gave up writing the names down once I got half-way on a second sheet in my notebook. The story and the lives of those in the small town of Henry Adams are simple and there is no drama whatsoever, so this was a quick and easy read. From my understanding the book is part of a series, however this is the only book that I have read from the series.

I enjoyed each of the charming characters. It was inspiring to see examples of strong and capable women within the town. I like the variety of the age range of the characters, from high school age to the town’s matriarch Tamar July and patriarch Bing Shepard. The various storylines readers will follow Bernadine Brown and her relationship with diner owner Malachi “Mal” July as they prepare for their upcoming nuptials. Young Preston Mays Payne is one of the town’s adopted youths, trying to understand why his girlfriend Leah Clark made the decision to end their relationship before they departed for college. And then there is Reverend Paula Grant, readers get to see the courtship and new love develop with new resident Chef Thornton Webb.

This book is unbelievably too good to be true and, though not particularly realistic, it is a comforting, sweet read that offers nearly no drama. There were humorous conversations from the nosey meddling town’s folk. I liked that the town’s people were loving and caring, and the author brought to light so many adoptions and caring couples opening their homes and lives. I noted examples of the characters working on their relationships being respectfully vocal, and I liked that the characters were not afraid to communicate their fears. I also like that the author made efforts to include how counseling can be used to work through individual and relationship problems.

This is a delightful read for readers seeking a happy conclusion for all.

Top Ten Tuesday: Quotes About Love


Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

For today’s Love Freebie theme, I’ve decided to share ten bookish quotes about love.

Some of them are about romantic love, but others are about the many other types of love that exist: platonic, familial, universal, practical, and more.

I believe this holiday can be used to celebrate all of them if you wish.

 

 

1. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Martin Luther King Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches

 

2. “Love is like the wind, you can’t see it but you can feel it.”
Nicholas Sparks, A Walk to Remember

 

3. “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.”
Mahatma Gandhi 

 

4. “Be the reason someone smiles. Be the reason someone feels loved and believes in the goodness in people.”
Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

 

5. “Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.”
Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven

 

6. “Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.”
Maya Angelou

 

7. “How do you spell ‘love’?” – Piglet
“You don’t spell it…you feel it.” – Pooh”
A.A. Milne

 

8. “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”
Oscar Wilde, An Ideal Husband

 

9. “Romance is the glamour which turns the dust of everyday life into a golden haze. ”
Elinor Glyn

 

10. “There is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.”
Vincent Van Gogh

 

 

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! Thank you for visiting our post today.

 

Embracing Amelia by Elaine Violette


Embracing Amelia by Elaine Violette
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Historical, Romance, Holiday
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Chamomile

Lady Amelia Pierce has a forbidden dream: riding in equestrian competitions. When she loses a family ring in the stable, her brother finds her foraging for it in the hay with Lucas Grey, a duke’s bastard son. Amelia’s outraged father sends her to London to salvage her reputation and find a suitable match.

Despite his ignoble birth and rakish reputation, Lucas is much admired for his management of Winston Equestrian Stables. He and Amelia are fascinated by each other. But the missing emerald ring and a viscount’s greed lead to disaster and imprisonment for Lucas. Will scandal and secrets keep him from Amelia forever?

The blurb on this one intrigued me, but it wasn’t until I started reading that I realized how much I was going to enjoy this one! Embracing Amelia by Elaine Violette is a lovely British regency tale that had all the swoon of a regency read, with some added twists that made this one fun and unique! Amelia isn’t your typical heroine, sure she is excited to fulfill her role in planning for the upcoming winter holiday parties, but she also has a secret. She aspires to compete at the horse jumping arena she’s so fond of!

Lucas has a reputation, one he’s quite proud of. At least, in part, but is there more to this broody bachelor than a notorious reputation that follows his every step? When he ends up in the middle of yet another scandal, and this one quite by accident he finds his life and the Lady Pierce’s suddenly become both intriguingly complicated.

Will Amelia be able to salvage her reputation and earn her father’s forgiveness in time to finish the holiday planning? And how will she ever explain the away the fact the Lucan Grey seems to find a way into her already messy life at every turn?

There’s so much I enjoyed about this one, the delightful twists and swoony romance were spot-on! This is a sweet romance that was overall clean. As for language, there were a few minor curse words and a instance or two with innuendos, mostly about past events. There is also one place where Amelia has to run away from an unwelcome advance from another character, but it is vague and dealt with quickly. This is a quick read, and once I started I couldn’t stop reading! I was pulled into their story immediately, and am so glad I got to read their story!

I loved meeting Amelia and Lucas, but also really liked her banter with her Aunt Libby, and meeting Georgette as well! The characters were wonderful and fit so well into this wintery tale! Amelia’s love for horses and Lucas’s devotion to Mr. Winston gave the story a deeper tone that also played beautifully into their story. Such a good read, I definitely recommend this one!

Candy Magic by M. C. Roth


Candy Magic by M. C. Roth
Publisher: Pride Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, Holiday, LGBTQ, Paranormal
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

Sweeter than candy—hotter than magic.

Crean is trying to leave it all behind—the closet, his overbearing family and, of course, his magic. In a world where vampires and shifters are hidden among humans, Crean is the odd one out. Born as a human to a family of shifters, he’s been hiding his orientation and his magic for his entire life.

In search of a new start, he sets out on a journey to a different province. The only condition is he has to live with his brother and his three roommates.

Living with a vampire, a werewolf and a faerie is bound to be a disaster, and Crean does his best to avoid the strangers. But everything he’s been told about others is wrong, and his life is about to change forever.

What would you do in order to be free? To stop having to hide all that you are? For Crean, that means leaving home and moving in with his younger brother, Rian, and his roommates. What starts out as a risky and possibly disastrous situation turns into more than any of them could have ever imagined.

Crean is a fun character. I enjoyed watching him grow into his sexuality and really own it. His interactions with his brother are fun and very realistic. He also has very different relationships with the other roommates, too, which I appreciated.

Rian’s roommates were a crazy bunch. A vampire, a wolf shifter, and a faery. Even more amusing is that Rian’s a panther shifter himself, so a dog, a cat, a biter, and a fae all in the same house. This diversity of paranormals makes for an enjoyable bit of banter throughout the story, as well as different experiences for Crean as he bonds with each man. It’s hard to choose a favorite, too, because each had a fun or quirky personality trait that endeared them to me.

One small thing that bothered me with the story is that Crean’s magic wasn’t really addressed. He hid it from everyone, but even his lovers don’t know about it. While reading, I assumed that the reason why Nate could feed off him and be sated for a long period of time was due to the magic. The same goes for what transpired with Tristan as well. But it’s a small thing and didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the story overall.

Candy Magic is a super steamy, funny, and magical romance. Mixing an awkward, inexperienced ‘human’ in with a house full of more experienced paranormal beings is indeed a recipe for disaster, but it can also be a recipe for love, passion, and joy. I’d love to know more about their lives after this story ends, I just couldn’t get enough of Crean and his boys.

Steel Tree by Sarena Ulibarri


Steel Tree by Sarena Ulibarri
Publisher: Android Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The voyage from Earth to Petipa isn’t cheap, but those who can’t afford it can pay off the trip by working the farms of Eta, the fertile moon that feeds humanity’s new colony. Klara Silber’s parents paid their debt, but left her behind, in charge of the orchards and the android nutcrackers. She’s sure if she follows their example, she’ll earn her invitation to ascend the space elevator and join Petipa Colony in no time. Only, the android nutcrackers have been malfunctioning all season, and some of the other farmers have suddenly gone missing.

They were told Eta didn’t have any native animal life, but the annual winter party is abuzz with rumors of large creatures lurking in the shadows. When one of the party guests inexplicably transforms into a giant rat and goes on the attack, Klara is sure the night can’t get any stranger. That is, until a fairy-like creature who communicates through dance appears, and a whole hidden history unspools about how the humans conquered these alien lands. To prevent the nuts that caused the giant rat mutation from being sent to Petipa, Klara needs to get two very different communities to work in harmony, even if it means she may never earn her way to the colony.

Christmas makes everything a little more magical.

The world building was perfect. I loved seeing how the characters related to each other, especially if they weren’t from the same social class, clan, or species. There was exactly enough information included about the complexities of both human and fairy societies to keep my interest levels high while also leaving room for a sequel if the author ever decides to write one. In the meantime, I had a good time comparing the many different personalities in this piece and wondering what they might do next given how rapidly relations between certain groups shifted from one day to the next.

I’d never actually seen The Nutcracker, so I looked it up quickly before I started reading this retelling of it. If you’re in the same boat, I recommend doing the same thing. The plot can work perfectly well for readers who don’t know the source material, but there are multiple scenes that will have a little something extra in them for readers who already know about the Sugar Plum Fairy, dancing lifelike dolls, and other iconic moments from that play. There’s something special about tales that pull such things off successfully, so kudos to the author for making this appeal to multiple audiences simultaneously.

One of the things I liked most about this novella was how relatable the main antagonist was. Did I agree with the methods he used to chase his goals? Of course not! I did understand why he was upset, though, and could see why he was so frustrated by certain choices Klara had made. It isn’t easy to write such a well-rounded bad guy, but it’s certainly worth the effort. Based on how much I’ve enjoyed Ms. Ulibarri’s work in my first few experiences with her, I will be keeping an eye out for what she comes up with next.

Steel Tree was a heartwarming Christmas tale.

Hound for the Holidays by Kim Levin and John O’Neill


Hound for the Holidays by Kim Levin and John O’Neill
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Genre: Photography, Non-Fiction, Holiday
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

“This holiday season, let’s remember the things that really matter.” So begins Kim Levin and John O’Neill’s Hound for the Holidays a warm reminder from man (and woman’s) best friend to hold loved ones dear at this special time of the year.

The holidays (like dogs) are all about sharing, unconditional love, and enjoying the moment, but sometimes, with the hubbub of shopping, open houses, family gatherings, and parties, it’s easy to lose that holiday spirit.

So who better to put the “happy” back in holidays than a cast of dogs celebrating the season? Whether they are two pooches window-shopping, an urbane Jack Russell on a trip to the big city, or a German Shepherd catching snowflakes on his tongue, the dogs in these charming photos all deliver the message “Enjoy!”

Pet portrait artist Kim Levin’s striking and expressive photos pair perfectly with John O’Neill’s warm and upbeat words to make a great holiday treat.

A cute book for the holiday season.

I picked up this book because it was cute and had dogs. I mean, how can you go wrong? The photos are great and make the season bright. The little captions fit the photos perfectly, too. This is a short book, but worth the read. This is a great book as a gift or to share with family over the holidays.

If you want something warm and fuzzy this holiday season, then this is a must read for you!

Dawg-Napped! by Anne Kane


Dawg-Napped! by Anne Kane
(Holiday Howlz 1)
Publisher: Changeling Press
Genre: Erotic Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When one of Santa’s elves stops at the Prairie Dawg Saloon on his vintage motorcycle, Cyndi can’t resist taking a closer look at the classic bike. Then Bruce comes back outside unexpectedly and Cyndi panics, shifting to hide in one of the saddlebags. She doesn’t realize the bike is a matchmaking reindeer in disguise. Comet knows all about the sexy little critters of Dawg Town, and he’s decided the cute little prairie dawg is just what Bruce needs to cuddle up with him in his North Pole cottage.

Even the busiest weeks building up to Christmas should still leave room for a little fun, right? All work and no play will leave any elf feeling dull.

The dialogue was witty and delightful. I enjoyed the way the characters reacted to each other’s quips and thought of new ways to keep their conversations going and the heat building up between Bruce and Cyndi. They all had great senses of humor that worked nicely both together and with this lighthearted and sexy storyline.

Yes, this was a short story, but I still would have liked to see more world building in it. There were plenty of questions I had about how the North Pole worked that weren’t answered. For example, Santa’s opinion of the extra-curricular activities of his elves could have been explored better, and she also could have shown how the reindeer learned how to talk and what they thought of what certain elves get up to on their downtime! While I don’t know when the author is planning to write any sequels, there is a lot of room for expanding the audience’s understanding of such things if she does.

Cyndi and Bruce had fabulous chemistry. Sometimes two people – or, in this case, a person and an elf – click immediately, and that’s exactly what the plot needed to work. Everything happened so quickly that these two had to immediately be interested in each other, and they most definitely were. Bravo for pulling that off so successfully.

Dawg-Napped! was a playfully erotic Christmas tale.