Sunday Funday Christmas: 2017 Advent Calendar | Stocking Stuffers - Week 2

This week we've got Chris Scully, Rick R. Reed, Nell Iris, CC Bridges, Ki Brightly & A.D. Ellis on tap.

ICYMI: Check out our reviews from the jingling Week 1


The Mature Man's Guide To Surviving Change by Chris Scully


In the sunny playground of Palm Springs, growing up was something confirmed bachelor and bad-boy chef Joel avoided at all costs—until a close friend’s death made him reevaluate his priorities. Ever since, he’s been dedicated to helping his widowed friend Perry get back on his feet by teaching him to cook and providing a shoulder to cry on. But when Perry announces that he’s ready to start dating again and then begins receiving gifts from an anonymous secret Santa, Joel is forced to confront the feelings he’s suppressed for so long.

As Joel struggles with jealousy and guilt amid the holiday season, he must decide if he’s ready to grow up and reach for what he’s always wanted but never thought he could have.

R *A Reader Obsessed* - 3.5 Hearts

A very well paced story that shows how two friends become lovers after a huge loss.

Joel has always liked Perry and he pushed his attraction and jealousy down for years when he was married to his best friend Dale. When Dale dies, he takes to heart his promise to take care of Perry, and he’s been a steady presence in his life as he’s healed over the last few years. Joel doesn't feel adequate enough to even be considered for Perry’s affection, and the guilt doesn't help matters either. However, Joel can barely stand the thought of Perry entering the dating world again. Though he denies his feelings and hesitates to make a move, little does Joel know that Perry has had some evolving thoughts about him in turn.

Second chance love is always a delicate situation, but this was still heartwarming and hopeful. I liked that these two imperfect mature men weren’t trying to replace an important person in both their lives but ultimately finding room for the other, to take the next step towards happiness again or for the first time.

Another great short that didn’t feel rushed, though I would’ve liked more. Fully fleshed out in the progression and feels, this brought a contented smile to my face as it gave me that requisite happy ending.

NeRdyWYRM - 4 Hearts

Awwww!

This is a December/December romance short where two friends are navigating desiring each other after one loses his partner and the other (an eternal bachelor) makes some life-changes. Finding their way to each other in the midst of all that seems an insurmountable task for the self-esteem challenged star of the story, Joel.

Thankfully Perry knows what he wants and goes after it in a very circumspect and Joel-appropriate way. A little misdirection, some explosive holiday kisses, a meddling old queen, a ride on a big hog, leather chaps and a psychedelic light show later, and these two are well on their way to a twilight years HEA.

This was a sweet little short that was a little light on the bedroom action, but ... the "Awwww!" moments made this a perfect Christmas short story. The characters were well-developed, the pacing made sense and even though it wasn't setting any five-alarm fires, I enjoyed it a great deal. I'd love to read more about this couple and that makes it a successful short story in my book.

Ann - 4 Hearts

Oh Joel. You charming, frustrating, lovable, (did I mention frustrating?), man you. Joel is a bear of a manchild who has never been one to commit to, well, much of anything really. And that’s worked for him up until recently because he may actually have the chance to be with the one man he could commit himself to, if he could get out of his own way long enough to figure it out. Joel’s best friend passed away a few years back and Joel has been a true comfort to his widower Perry. Now Joel has always been attracted to Perry but of course never acted on it. It’s been a few years and Perry confesses he is ready to try dating again. Joel realizes he may have to actually DO something before Perry moves on with someone else. He just doesn’t know how to make that be a thing. Thank Cheezus he has his sights set on Perry who is much more in tune than Joel is and is SUPER obvious about his attraction because Joel apparently doesn’t do subtle. When Joel does start to pull it together though, it is incredibly sweet reading about Joel’s attempts at wooing. His methods are definitely his own and he worries he won’t be up to snuff for Perry (especially when he compares himself to Perry’s deceased hubs). But Perry doesn’t want a replacement, he wants Joel and while it does take Joel some time to get it, he finally does and I could believe in a second chance at love type HEA for them.

Sara - 4 Hearts

I adored this. I am a sucker for the friends to lovers trope and this had a twist do it. Joel has been attracted to Perry for years but Perry has been the husband to Joel's friend Dale. Upon Dale’s death, Joel has been there for Perry, being his friend and helping him through this rough time and never coming out of the friend zone. When Perry declares he is ready to start dating again and a Secret Santa starts sending Perry all the things he adores, Joel knows he has to make a move or lose his chance with Perry.

This was super sweet. I loved colorful Joel and what a good friend he was to Perry and Dale even after his death. His moment of realizing he's in love with Perry was emotional and I just wanted him to get his man. I liked Perry and found him to be a wonderful counterpoint as a friend to Joel as well as his future. His intent to get Joel to finally see he was ready was witty and his reaction to his first ride on Joel’s Harley was sexy. The end leaves this nice and open with a HFN but getting to know Perry and Joel the way I did, I am sure they will have many more Christmases to celebrate together.




An Open Window by Rick R. Reed

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 wrong, 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.

Ann - 4 Hearts

I was really curious how the author was going to pull this one off. Reading the blurb, I didn’t think there was any way the author could pull this off in real time. There was such an extreme difference in lives to reconcile and then be able to fall in love believably to cover in a short story I was curious to see how this would play out. I should really have more faith though, as this was written by Rick R. Reed and the angle he came from to tell the story of Jim and Henry was perfect. It’s this kind of storytelling that makes all the difference between a short story that works and one that doesn’t. Henry is seriously down on his luck and a serendipitous open window leads him to Jim. Jim has had his heart broken yet again and really just wants someone to love and be loved in return. At this point in Henry’s life, he just needs to keep from freezing to death in the elements. Not a very likely meeting, but based on the beginning and ending of the tale that bookends their meeting, it worked for them and a believable HEA was had.

Sara - 3.5 Hearts

A lovely story about the true meaning of Christmas.
Sometimes the very best gift life gives us show up in clever disguise.
A short - way too short for me - story about Henry and Jim some 20 years into their relationship reminiscing about the night they met. Henry was homeless and Jim just had a terrible night with a man he thought could become his boyfriend. When Henry crawls through an open window one snow stormy night to get some sleep out of the elements, promising himself he’d leave before the owner woke, fate stepped in and gave Henry more than a good night’s sleep.
“All I wanted that Christmas was someone to love.”
“And all I wanted was a home.”
I like that we got both POV’s in the past with this one. Knowing how quickly Henry’s life went through a downward spiral leaving him homeless and how Jim reacts to his emotions when he wakes up finding Henry in his home. This was a sweet story about second chances and following your heart and not your head. I just wish there was a bit more to the story as it felt really rushed and they have such a wonderful “how we met” story that has lasted 20 years. I would have like just a wee bit more but that’s me being greedy.

Chelsea - 3 Hearts

Another very sweet story, but it was much less than I was expecting. I knew this story was short and that's fine, but I still wanted a connection between the main characters, some holiday feels and of course, romance. An Open Window had the first two easily, but not so much the third.

We hear this story from both Henry and Jim’s POV and it's the story of how they met one wintery Christmas morning. It was sweet and had a touch of the feels as we saw how scared and helpless Henry felt. The Christmas spirit was also in abundance with Jim’s generosity and thoughtfulness.

The problem was... this is the story of how they met, so there is no romance. These two form a tentative connection and maybe I can stretch that to the beginnings of a friendship, but definitely not a romance. There was a nice 'present day’ epilogue, but because I didn't see any of their romantic development it didn't really strike me with a case of the feels.

Sweet and short, but overall it missed the most important aspect to these Jizzmas stories for me, no not jizz…. although that was missing too, but romance.






Red Popcorn Strings and Gumball Rings by Nell Iris

Christmas is coming, and young couple Casey and Ellis are very much in love. Unfortunately, they’re also the definition of dirt poor, and they don’t have the money for nonessentials like decorations. Or a turkey. Or gifts. Between the recent death of Casey’s beloved momma and Ellis’s estrangement from his family, all they have is each other.

When Ellis finds the saddest-looking Christmas tree south of the Mason-Dixon Line thrown away outside his workplace and brings it home to Casey, things look up. Life is still a struggle, but wealth isn’t always measured in money, and what seems worthless to others is often invaluable to the people who love it.

R *A Reader Obsessed* - 5 Hearts

I’ve never read Nell Iris before but this gem will definitely not be my last. Short stories are often hard to pull off because it takes time to establish background, conflict and resolution. This??? Have no worries.

I enjoy established couples as much as I love witnessing two people get together. Here, making it extra sweet is the fact that Casey and Ellis have known each other since they were kids, and through little reveals one gets a glimpse of that early bond and how much it has changed into so much more.

Casey and Ellis may be poor in material things but they are not lacking in how much they love each other. Whew! This was all sorts of hot and emotional and sentimental. It brought tears to my eyes multiple times from all the sweetness and feels. Really, just a beautifully heartfelt and very sexy story about these two trying to make the most of what little they have, appreciating the small wins and so thankful for the other! All the points for getting such a strong reaction from me! Read!

Ann - 4 Hearts

This is one of those “true meaning of Christmas” stories and I loved the sweet loving tone of the MCs. Poor Ellis and Casey are literally dirt poor, living in an old trailer from paycheck to paycheck. They don’t have the coin for a tree or gifts but they have each other and it’s obvious that’s the most important thing to both of them. Casey recently lost his mom, the one person who supported and loved both he and Ellis unconditionally and Ellis’s family is completely unaccepting of Ellis’s love for Casey. They obviously suck and don’t deserve to be in Ellis and Casey’s presence, but it doesn’t make the shunning any less painful to Ellis. The most touching parts of the story were the flashbacks and references to their childhood. This is a couple that was meant to be together since childhood and it’s such a rare thing in a story for that to really work and it did here. No matter how dismal the circumstances for these two I never doubted an HEA for them. Things start looking up and it wasn’t overdone, so it was believable and damn if these two didn’t have some hot chemistry as well. And the heat didn’t kill the sweet, the balance worked really well especially for a short story. It gave the characters and their relationship depth that kept the story from being saccharine and kept it real.

Sara - 4 Hearts

Let me stop hugging my Nook for a moment so I can write this review.

Goodness but this was so sweet and heartwarming to read. I adored Casey and Ellis so much. The love, loyalty and lush they have for one another is beautiful. That these two young men have known one another since they were children and how they have been in each other’s lives no matter what since then is stunning. Seeing them as kids, with Casey and his bright red hair and Ellis with his unruly mass of curls was adorable. Who says you can’t find the love of your life at 6yrs old? Pfft. Casey knew what Ellis meant to him at that age and never lost the hero worship of his now boyfriend Ellis.

The feeling of having no money at Christmas of struggling to pay rent, bills etc. and forego the girls is not something foreign to me. I think the year my husband and I decided that we wouldn’t give each other gifts was the year I truly felt Christmas. We had no extra money that year but my husband went to my sister and asked her to print out my two favorite pictures of my late father and I which he then put in two frames he bought from the dollar store and wrapped them in newspaper. That year I was pregnant with our now 14yr old son and it wasn’t just pregnancy hormones that made me sob and hug the frames. It was the thought and care he put into the gift that made it the best one ever.

For Casey and Ellis they are doing what they can. Casey is mourning the loss of his mother and Ellis is mourning the loss of his family as they don't accept Casey nor their relationship. As the last few days before Christmas approach, both men are fretting with not being able to buy the other a gift and the need for more money. They are two young men with nothing but each other. When Ellis is approached at work by his estranged sister, a glimmer of hope enters their life briefly but it’s when he gets called into his boss’ office for a chat that their world becomes brighter.

Ellis and Casey are so in love and perfect for one another. I loved that Casey is pretty reserved in his everyday life but comes alive when he and Ellis are in bed. I mean, Casey has a pretty dirty mouth and I do think Santa would consider him a good boy for what he does.

This end made me sigh and yeah, hug the heck out of my Nook. I know that whatever comes the way of these two young men they will handle it together and always be stronger for it



Pining for Perfect by Ki Brightly

Stokely leads a solitary life, trying to do all the right things. He has a solid, respectable job, a properly decorated, respectable apartment, and goes to work every single day, no matter what. But it’s Christmas, and he hates Christmas, especially since his one guilty pleasure, listening to Asher Banks on the radio, is ruined with upbeat, holiday garbage.

Asher is the polar opposite—he loves Christmas to a fault and schedules himself into the ground with fundraisers to help the local community. When Asher and Stokely meet during one of the holiday spectacles Asher has thrown together, sparks fly, but neither one of them has ever had a real Christmas—or a real home. Will they be able to make one with each other?

Ann - 3 Hearts

Pining for Perfect was a very sweet, opposites attract holiday love story. Asher loves Christmas, to an almost manic extent and Stokely would rather just skip all the nonsense and move on to January. Their attitudes about the holiday are a just a representative version of their attitudes towards life. Asher is colorful, vibrant and an eternal optimist. Stokely is conservative, stoic and a bit of a pragmatist. They are so very attracted to one another though and Stokely is willing to disrupt his routine in order to get more of Asher’s smiles directed his way. As they get to know one another they discover they have common histories neither of them expected. And while they each deal in their own (and opposite) ways, they do start to understand where the other is coming from. There are some understandably angsty moments but they had to happen to make the progression of the relationship believable. Poor Stokely gets cock blocked by Asher’s good intentions and there are some distractions on the way to the two getting their HEA which weren’t necessary to the plot. They did solidify the fact that they are both good guys, which I already knew, so I would have preferred to just read about the two of them progressing because they still had a ways to go. Asher seems to go uber manic towards the end which seemed to intensify Stokely’s steadfast nature. At this point their opposing natures started to complement each other and Stokely calmed Asher and Asher brought Stokely happiness. It was very sweet to read if a little all over the place and I could believe they’d be settling into a groove together in the future.

Sara - 4.5 Hearts

This was Christmas personified. Two men with similar backgrounds of being in the foster care system who meet, bond over their past but realize how very different their experience was

Asher is like a puppy. He’s full of energy, hope and light. He knows that he didn’t have the best childhood but that it could have been worse and it is for some kids. His job at the radio station lets him organize a slew of activities, charity drives and fund raising events and Asher is always looking to make the world a better place.

Stokely is on the opposite side of a kid in the system; he was bounced around from foster home to foster home only around as a paycheck and he has made his life to be what his childhood was not, perfect. He has his routines and while he has a crush on the radio personality that is Asher and has a few trips by the station window to not stalk him, a chance event with the station finally gets these to face to face.
“Will I see you around?”
“Do you want to?”
“Yes. Please?”

I like the Stokely had a crush on Asher and that Asher would notice him walk by the window. I like how they met and Asher is Mr. Christmas while Stokely is a bit of a Grinch. When Asher asks Stokely to go on a few errands with him that have Asher reliving not so fond memories of his youth, he has to take a step back but it’s a good thing Asher has enough positive energy for the two of them to not let Stokely go.

These two were really sweet and the hurt comfort in this story was fitting for the Christmas season. I loved Stokely’s gift to Asher and how Asher reacted to Stokely “by the booked him” The end was sticky sweet and yet incredibly satisfying for these two and I really hope the next Christmas Asher gets his glitter bomb card from Stokely .








The Puzzle Box by CC Bridges

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.




Annika - 3.5 Hearts

This book was everything I expected it to be. We are there when Cole and James first meet. We watch them fumble and find themselves and each other. We pine with them when they are apart. And through all the memories we feel that deep all-encompassing love these two men have for each other.
A truly beautiful read.


R *A Reader Obsessed* - 3.5 Hearts

This is exactly what the blurb says. Cole is missing James something fierce and James’s surprise scavenger hunt is just the thing to lessen the pain of not having him there for the holidays. The journey and surprise awaiting Cole at the end is oh so gratifying.

Another sweet, with a dash of sexy, established couples story that gave me some great Christmas feels!!

Ann - 4.5 Hearts

Oh story, I love you.
The tale of Cole and James and basically, their future, gave me all the warm fuzzies. James has been deployed for the majority of their adult relationship and Cole misses him terribly but supports him unconditionally. James has a Christmas surprise for Cole and starts sending him puzzles to solve and sends him on a scavenger hunt through the history of their relationship. The flashbacks Cole had at each spot gave insight to their history and I’d forget that James hadn’t even technically made an appearance yet. I still felt like I knew him through Cole’s nostalgic memories. First meeting, first kiss, so many truly adorable firsts. James dragged Cole into the Christmas spirit remotely even though Cole wasn’t feeling it at all. Cole had his friend Liz there, who I dug on immensely, encouraging and sharing the adventure which gave a good outlet for everything Cole was feeling. Sharing it seemed to make it even more special. The culmination of the hunt and the prize for solving the puzzle was pretty obvious, but it didn’t make it any less sweet and Cole’s gift to James was swoon worthy at the end. I’m a sucker for homecoming stories and this one was perfect for me.

Sara - 4 Hearts

Super sweet story about absence making the heart grow fonder even when it makes you slightly miserable being alone.

James and Cole have been together since high school when James saved Cole from a group of bullies. As the boys became friends, they both realized they wanted to be more. They’ve stuck together through college and beyond but James is now in the Army and currently deployed. It’s taken its toll on Cole and he misses the love of his life something fierce.

“I feel like I’m on a tour of the greatest hits of Cole and James’s relationship.”

When a mysterious package arrives for Cole from James with a Christmas mystery attached to the items inside, Cole is set upon finding out what James has planned for him. They adventure of James’ puzzle allows Cole to reminiscence about them, about all their firsts and about their love. It was a pleasure to see how much these two loved one another. Sure, this ended how I hoped it would but even though I hoped, I still had that bit of anxiety it wouldn’t go there.

This was so sweet and made my heart full, just as a Christmas story should.

Cupcake - 3 Hearts

This story started off strong. I liked the sentiment of even though a loved one is far away they're never far from the other's thoughts and I loved the set up of James and Cole having been together since high school. There's something about sustaining a first love that makes me mawkish. The puzzle box was clever and ingenious and thoughtful and I loved how it made Cole reminisce about the beginnings of their relationship. It seemed to genuinely bring them closer together.

Very sweet and a nice introduction to this author for me.



The Storm's Gift by A.D. Ellis

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?

Ann - 3 Hearts

Perceived college stereotypes take a turn for the sexy when popular senior Rory takes freshman ‘nobody’ James under his wing when both are snowed in at their dorm during winter break. Rory was looking forward to the solitude to nurse his broken heart after being dumped, but James is devastated that he won’t be able to be home with his family. College isn’t the new beginning James thought he’d have and he’s still relatively friendless and definitely still a virgin with nary a potential boyfriend in sight. All of Rory’s protective instincts come out and the two get a little love connection going. Believable? Not so much. But, it’s a short Christmas story and I want my happy ending and James and I both got one. The deflowering happens pretty quickly and both of them enjoyed it immensely and are game to spend the next two weeks getting ALL up in each other’s parts. Rory doesn’t do casual so he wants to see where this chemistry leads them after the break and James is down even the if he is still a little stunned. Keep in mind this is all within like, 24-36 hours, so the declarations were a little quick for me to buy into wholeheartedly, but again; Christmas . . . . Happy ending . . . . Gimme.

Sara - 3.5 Hearts

Stuck in a snow storm stories are always fun and when you add Christmas to the mix it kicks it up a notch.

James is a freshman in college who was hoping all the negative things about high school would magically disappear once he walked onto the University of Indiana campus and he would be reborn. But life doesn’t work that way and the hopes introverted James had that he’d be popular and have a boyfriend has crashed and burned.

Rory is on the mend after a breakup with his boyfriend that apparently the whole university knows about. As the RA for the Cromwell Hall Dormitory, Rory is prepared to spend the two-week Christmas holiday on a sort of vacation being the only student left in the dorms. He’s got his non-healthy snacks, movies on his watchlist ready and he just needs the rest of the students to turn in their dorm keys and get the heck out.

When a massive storm rolls into town, James is hustling to finish his last exam to start his journey home to his much missed family when the power goes out no his elevator ride to his dorm. Thankfully, Rory is around to rescue James and to make sure he is okay.


How in the world had everything changed so quickly? Don’t question it. Just accept it as a fucking awesome early Christmas present.

I liked that both boys mention they have noticed the other so this connection they have isn’t so out of the blue. James has crushed a bit on sexy Rory and Rory has noticed the shy, quiet, smart and dedicated James and not just as a function of being his RA. With the boys being stuck together because of the storm, it gives them the opportunity to take fate up on its offer and well, get it on.

This did move a bit fast for me and didn’t quite give me enough time to connect to either young man fully. I liked them both and the making out was great between them but the whole prepping for sex and the act itself felt flippant. The whole “come home with me and meet my family” felt more organic than the sex but that’s just my opinion.

The story was still sweet and while I would have liked a bit more to really connect with each boy, I hope they take the time to explore and get to know one another better come the next semester.







ARCs were provided by the publisher in exchange for honest reviews.

We'll be back again next week but until then have another Christmas dragon.




2 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for three lovely reviews!! You made my day, guys! ❤️

    ReplyDelete