Sunday Funday Christmas: 2017 Advent Calendar | Stocking Stuffers - Week 5

For New Year's Eve we have Amy Rae Durreson, Tami Veldura, Elizabeth Coldwell, Bru Baker & Ava Hayden!

ICYMI: Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4

The Holly Groweth Green by Amy Rae Durreson

When wounded doctor Laurence Payne is stranded in the snowy English countryside on Christmas Eve, 1946, he is surprised to stumble upon Mistle Cottage and its mysterious inhabitant. Avery claims to be an Elizabethan wizard, and Laurence struggles to explain away the atmosphere of the cottage as mere coincidence and trickery. He spends a magical twelve days of Christmas celebrating with Avery, but then wakes to find his lover has vanished and the cottage has fallen to ruin overnight.

Laurence’s investigations lead him to the story of an ancient fairy curse—Avery is doomed to spend only Christmas Eve to Twelfth Night in human form until he finds true love. Laurence sets out to give Avery the greatest gift of all—his heart and with it the chance to live for more than the fleeting winter weeks he’s been sentenced to.

R *A Reader Obsessed* - 4 Hearts

This really for me, captured the holiday winter spirit.

As per the blurb, Laurence is on his way home, released from military service after suffering a head injury during the war. When his train is delayed due to bad weather, his little trek to the village gets him lost in the woods, and there he finds a friendly Avery ready and willing to play the gracious host. Does it matter that Avery seems a bit mad, proclaiming he can do magic?

One day turns into two, turns into three, until 12 days have gone by. When Laurence is asked to stay, he resists such a temptation because that’s just not practical despite the best holiday he’s had ever. When Avery and evidence of their time spent together disappears, Laurence realizes he had something truly special and has made a terrible mistake. With the cold hard truth slapping him in the face, Laurence is determined to right some wrongs and win back Avery so he can keep him forever.

Usually, fairy tales aren’t typically my thing, but this was the exception. Very sweet and sexy, with strong hurt comfort tones, this nicely shows how love conquers a curse and sets both Laurence and Avery free.

Ann - 4.5 Hearts

This story was absolutely lovely. The language, the setting, the characters, it was all just a complete pleasure to read. Laurence becomes lost in a snowstorm and stumbles upon an enchanting cottage inhabited by a charming man, Avery who claims to be a wizard. Laurence has seen, and suffered, through a lot in the war and he is the last person to judge anyone else at this point in his life. The two spend many days and nights getting to know one another and the whole story reads quietly magical and I was jealous of the world they had made for one another tucked away in the cottage. Laurence is still a pretty pragmatic guy though and knows he has to head to London soon to begin his civilian life. He doesn’t really believe that he and Avery could have a relationship outside their cozy walls. The curse that was put upon Avery years ago comes to fruition on twelfth night and Laurence knows he can’t leave the man he has grown to love cursed until next Christmas and beyond. I really liked how the author gave the characters their HEA, it fit perfectly with the story that had been created to that point and I was left feeling warm and hopeful for the holidays.

Chelsea - 4.5 Hearts

Magical. Quite literally but also the lyrical descriptions in this story
Avery was brighter than gold above him. Laurence couldn’t tell if it was pleasure or something more, but it looked like all the light in the room had gathered to pool in Avery’s eyes and outline him in shimmering webs of golden fire.
The year is 1946 and Avery is a wizard who was cursed around Christmas time hundreds of
years earlier, I won't go into it in any detail and give it all away. Laurence is a veteran who
suffered a brain injury in WW2 and is now struggling to find a purpose in life. On Christmas Eve
he stumbles upon Avery and everything changes for both of them.

This did not play out how I pictured it, but it was so much better than what I was expecting.
These two have an instant connection but take the time to get to know each other. It was really
well paced, nothing dragged but didn't feel rushed either. There was also a super tender sex
scene, so extra rating for that!!!

Another win in this advent calendar series!

Sara - 5 Hearts

I am always at a loss of words when it comes to this authors work. One of my favorite Christmas stories is Gaudete and this now comes in as a tie for owning my holly colored heart strings.

I won’t even try to review this. I am going to tell you it’s a beautiful tale wrapped up in a world full of enchanting magic in a world all its own.

I am lost in the 12 days Laurence and Avery spent. I am entranced by the tale woven by the author that had angst and yet lined it with hope in only the way Amy Rae Durreson can.

I am going to go cuddle into bed and read it again until I fall asleep and dream...

A Gift of Family by Tami Veldura

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…

Annika - 2 Hearts

This was not a book for me. I hate to say it, but this will probably go down as my least favourite Stocking story of the year. It just didn't work for me - at all. It was just so much insta-love that it had a note (or giant orchestra) of desperation in it. There wasn't even the tiniest amount of connection between Scott and Brennan and all of a sudden they are proclaiming their undying love?

I know that it is difficult to create truly deep and emotional books with such few pages, but there needs to be something that draws you in as a reader. The characters, the story, some emotion or even the atmosphere and setting of the book, but A Gift of Family had none of that. It was all just superficial, and I can't say that I believed in anything this book tried to sell me.

Since it's almost Christmas, I'll be nice and give this one 2 stars, but if you are on the fence about reading this book, there are many other advent stories out there more worth your time.

R *A Reader Obsessed* - 3 Hearts

Ok, I admit that this moved pretty darn fast and this also seemed to have a split personality, but I still enjoyed the heck out of it.

Single dad Scott loves and appreciates everything about his young daughter. He only wishes he had more family to share the Christmas season with her. When he meets handsome stranger Brennan, who shows mutual interest, sparks fly immediately. Love progresses in a matter of days and the sexy result was a bit surprising and incongruous to the first half...

However, when single dads are done right, my cold heart melts.

I’m never going to look a gift horse in the mouth when it comes to smexy smex.

These two things didn’t quite go together, but it’s the holidays. Forgiveness comes easy. Enjoy.

Ann - 3 Hearts

At first I thought the blurb was a little misleading when Brennan “is hatching a plan to win Lexi over” to get to her father, which sounded slightly off putting at first, but I quickly learned my first impression was completely wrong and Brennan’s plan is really quite innocent and sweet. He’s very upfront with Scott about using his big sweetheart of a dog to get to know Scott and his toddler daughter. Scott and Brennan had really good banter and the flirting between them was good stuff and fun to read. Especially from Brennan. The story was heavy on the insta-love and while I do believe the characters had chemistry and would have grown closer as they got to know one another, they jumped from flirting in the park, to a stellar date to forever. I don’t need complete solidification of a relationship to enjoy reading about characters meeting, especially in a short story and especially, especially when there are kids involved. I liked the MC’s and it was still a feel good read though, dialling back the intensity would have worked better for me in the long run.

Sara - 3.5 Hearts

I think I feel for this one because there is a kid and a dog and both are properly fitted into the plot. I liked that the story was only told from Scott’s POV and that we get the heartbreaking backstory about how he became a single dad. I loved that Brennan is open and honest about seeing Scott with his daughter and his “evil plan” to win both of them over with the use of his dog Jazz.

The story felt natural with the men and their chemistry and the ice skating was beyond adorable. But my mind went into the gutter when we learn that Brennan played hockey, because of thighs… I can’t lie about that. And yet, while the story felt natural, there is some serious insta-everything going on and sure it was fast, but I still really liked these three and how easy they fit together.

Candy Canes and Cappuccinos by Elizabeth Coldwell

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…

Ann - 2.5 Hearts

I liked the premise for Candy Canes and Cappuccinos, but I just don’t think there was enough page time to make it all work believably. Kyle is overworked at his coffee shop and Steven is a very charming customer who flirts with Kyle on the daily. Steven is the director of the towns homeless shelter and he reaches out to Kyle for help and Kyle kind of blows his chance to impress Steven. Circumstances happen and Kyle gets the chance to redeem himself, which was a lot, but all worked out in the end, the only problem was their was very little focus on the two of them together so I never felt the chemistry. I was told there was, but I didn’t really feel it. The sex scene at the end felt really rushed and too much for where they were in their relationship, if you can even call it that at this point. I would have liked for them just to chill and get to know each other at the end, I knew that that’s what both characters wanted and I wanted it for them, I just wasn’t buying it for them just yet.

Sara - 3 Hearts

A lovely start to a sweet couple.

Kyle is dealing with a lot, running the Cool Beans coffee shop after his ex bailed on him for another man. For the last few months he’s been crushing on a customer Steven who works runs a homeless shelter. When Steven asks Kyle to help out at the shelter on Christmas, Kyle puts his foot in his mouth when he answers quickly but honestly saying he wanted to the day off since he’s been working long and hard hours. But seeing the disappointment on Steven’s face makes him rethink his choice.

I like that Kyle wasn’t a full on grinch, just honest and tired but given the circumstance he turns things around. His offer to Steven was sweet and perfect to make amends though I wish the end didn’t end the way it did. For me, the story was sweet and I would have been fine with a cuddle on the couch with a bit of making out and not what we got. It didn’t fit the story for me but it was still a sweet read.

Homemade from the Heart by Bru Baker

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.

Annika - 3.5 Hearts

Welcome to Make and Take, where Christmas wishes just might come true. Especially with a meddling 7 year old with a heart of gold thrown into the mix.

When Josh and Aubrey lands in Grant’s store begging to attend one of his fully booked classes, he offers private lessons during four weekends instead – giving up his only free day in the process. We follow then through the arts and crafts over the next month, through mischief and flirting, and see the tension between them building.

The ending felt beyond rushed and I would have loved to see just a little bit more of Grant and Josh together and seeing more of them together outside of the crafts making. I wanted to see them build something together, or at the very lease have a solid start. But you can’t always get what you want.
Overall Homemade from the Heart was a fun, heartwarming and super sweet story, guaranteed to give you some Christmas feelings, and remind you that all the best gifts come from the heart.

Ann - 4 Hearts

Awwwwww . . . .

The premise here is completely and utterly adorable and the author delivered with a story that left me warm and fuzzy, wanting a peppermint mocha and craving some time with my glue gun. Christmas stories are made for meet-cutes and Homemade from the Heart has a meet-cute in spades. I was glad there was no angst to be had here and the minor misunderstandings made sense as Craig and Josh get to know each other in Craig’s craft classes for kids. Josh just happens to have access to a kid and Craig assumes he’s crushing on her hot straight father, what he actually discovers to be true is not that at all, but the hot part still stands. The flirty banter is sweet to read and while the ending is a smidge abrupt I was not left wanting when it came to their happiness.

Sara - 5 Hearts

This was ADORABLE! This is totally my kind of story. I loved the meet cute with Grant and Hot Divorced Dad as he is trying to get his daughter Aubrey into the Holiday Gift Craft Series at Make And Take. Grant was an amazing narrator as he lets us know exactly what he thinks about Hot Divorced Dad and that he knows he is going way overboard with his crush offering private lessons just so he can be around both HDD and his little girl.

This story has all sorts of UST in it and I loved the hell out of it. I loved the flirting with Hot Divorced Dad who does have a name, Josh, and how they both danced around the fact that they were flirting. I loved learning about how Aubrey and Josh were to one another and the total faceplam moment when Grant puts it all together. I adored Aubrey and loved her match making skills and I love that Grant fell hard for both Josh and Aubrey regardless of how they came into his life.

That kiss reminded me of all the great first kisses you wait for in a romance that pays off ten fold and I hope these two make great crafts together and have sexy fun opening Josh’s Christmas gift.

The Billionaire's Boxing Day Bargain by Ava Hayden

Milo is too nice to say no when the desperate call goes out for more staff to work Boxing Day at Eden Consumer Electronics. It’s just until they sell the door-crasher specials, but it means he can’t see his billionaire boyfriend Lance until later that day.

Lance spends December 25 jetting back from a business trip, eager to see Milo. He calls as soon as his flight lands Boxing Day morning, only to find out that seven hundred and thirty televisions are cock-blocking him.

What’s the point of being a billionaire if you can’t spend your way around obstacles? Milo doesn’t want Lance solving his problems with cash, but he’ll never find out because Lance’s efficient personal assistant, William, is on the case. Unfortunately, even billionaires are subject to the law of unintended consequences—and these aren’t the kind Lance can buy his way out of.

Will Lance and Milo have their Boxing Day date? Or have Lance’s pushy billionaire ways finally gone too far?

R *A Reader Obsessed* - 3 Hearts

Ok that was really sweet despite me feeling a bit indignant regarding the fade to black scenes. *sigh* A girl can’t have it all apparently.

Milo wants to make it crystal clear that he’s not with Lance because of his money. Lance just wishes Milo would allow him to do some things for him. What’s the point of being rich if you can’t bring happiness to those you care about? These two are tiptoeing around each other not wanting to make the wrong move, and when Milo’s commitment essentially cock blocks them both, Lance turns to desperate measures.

Another easy enjoyable holiday read with a little conflict thrown in to nudge these two into taking the next step. However, it would’ve been tons better had there been some smexy thrown in. Just saying.

Ann - 3 Hearts

This story has a premise that can sometimes be a pet peeve of mine, but the author did a great job of addressing the exact thing that bothers me and the communication elevated this story for me. Lance is a billionaire and Milo is a working man, Lance just wants to be with Milo and Milo wants the same, but he also wants to be independent of Lance’s billions. He doesn’t want Lance to ever think he’s after him for the money, which is admirable, but I really felt like Lance already knew that and I felt bad for the guy. I usually end up feeling bad for the billionaires in these stories since their success ends up getting held against them. I have to give Milo credit for seeing that in his own behavior and finally cutting Lance some slack for just wanting to be with the man he loves during the holidays. I liked the flashbacks for their “how we met” quite a bit and would have loved some of that chemistry in their current state, but unfortunately, they weren’t really together for the bulk of the story. I did like the ending very much and did believe in an HEA for them as long as they continue the compromising and accepting what the other wants to give.

Sara - 4 Hearts

Usually a Billionaire story isn’t high on my list to read but I like what the author did with this one. Milo and Lance are a newish couple, just trying to find their way with moving forward to more. When Lance is on his way home from a business trip and is super excited to see Milo, his is thwarted by Milo working and not being able to leave until the stocked number of televisions are sold during the Boxing Day special.

Told from both POV’s I like that we got a bit of history with how these two met and how they have balanced the financial discrepancy between them. Lance has billions and Milo likes working and doesn’t want to be a kept man. But Lance doesn’t want that either and doesn’t want a man who will take and expect to be given everything simply because he has money. These two are perfect together and I like the lengths Lance and his assistant William go through to make sure they get to exchange gifts.

Now, while I liked the story I LOVED that the author made Lance a Merchant Ivory Queen and his obsession with the movie, Maurice. I am not going to say what he likes just that it plays well into the story and cricket bats are sexy.

The end was super sweet and the only complaint I have is never experiencing anyone in the damn expensive shower.

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

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