Warmest Wishes Advent 2018: Week 4

It's Week 4 of the Warmest Wishes Advent Stories! This week we're featuring stories from Elliot Joyce, Chrissy Munder, Cassie Decker, August Li and Ward Maia!

ICYMI: Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3

Make a Circle by Elliot Joyce

Pagan punk musician Lucas is fully prepared to spend this Yule with the rest of the band and his beautiful bass guitar when Oliver, his boyfriend of almost a year, asks if he wants to join the rest of the Han family for their annual winter celebration. It comes as a shock since Ollie has gone to great lengths to keep the two apart, and Lucas always assumed he was the reason. Since they’re planning to be together long-term, Lucas can't say no to meeting Ollie’s parents, but he better brush up on his manners and his Mandarin because this is going to be a holiday season like no other—and it has some surprises in store for both of them.

Ann - 4 Hearts

I liked this short story quite a lot. There was much to learn about a culture different from my own and about transgender identity. The author managed to convey a lot organically by showing rather than telling and I was hooked on Lucas and Oliver before I even knew which direction the story was headed. The Han family dynamics were . . . pretty standard actually. Overall they were loving and open with a few assholes mixed in for normality and generational differences that are to be expected.

Lucas’ stress about meeting Oliver’s family was what I thought the story was going to be focused on, but when the shift happened and Oliver’s relationship with his own family moved to center stage, the story took on a depth I really appreciated reading. An immediate family may be accepting, but getting together over the holidays with the extended family adds stress that made me understand why Oliver was apprehensive. Not that anyone in the family was cruel by any means, but every little act of misgendering is a disrespectful dig that attempts to erode Oliver’s confidence. Oliver had wanted to protect Lucas, but Lucas ended up being the strength and comfort that Oliver deserved. The two of them are perfect together and I loved the little family that they were together.

A Holiday Tradition by Chrissy Munder

Paul Carpenter has his life all planned out. Or at least his father does. The right school, the right degree, the right job. Paul is on track, until a bus accident has him sitting out a coveted internship, babysitting, or being babysat, by a grandfather he barely remembers during his holiday stay in a Florida RV park. His father’s reasoning? How much temptation can Paul find around a bunch of senior citizens playing bingo? There’ll be nothing to distract him from his studies.

It’s hard to muster his holiday spirit when Paul is used to snow and cold, not sun, surf, and plastic flamingos in Santa hats. But then Paul meets Kevin Lombardo, who offers to show him some new holiday traditions. Suddenly Paul’s fast track hits a curve.

Ann - 4 Hearts


Every year I look forward to Chrissy Munder’s holiday stories and A Holiday Tradition was yet another annual treat. I felt for Paul and the pressure he was under to make his father proud and the broken leg he suffered on a return trip from an art showing ends up being a blessing in disguise. It gets him off the fast track to unhappiness and while he doesn’t see it for awhile, or I should say, he doesn’t see it until he sees Kevin, it’s still a blessing.

The road trip to Florida with Paul’s maternal grandfather is actually adorable and the QV park with all the snowbirds is the perfect place for Paul to convalesce and write the paper he hates writing. He becomes friends with the park owner, dreamy Kevin, and Kevin is a welcome distraction. The flirting, banter and friendship the two share is my absolute favorite thing in this story and something the author excels at. It’s why I look forward to her stories every year. The relationship they built up made me believe in an HEA for them with every fiber of my holiday loving heart.

His father sends him on a roadtrip to Florida with his maternal grandfather and since Paul’s mother passed years ago, his father has done his best in the way he knows how to do it. It’s not what makes Paul happy, but he loves his dad and so he does the college path his father has laid out for him. Paul’s passion isn’t finance, but he’s practical enough to know that his art isn’t going to

Cupcake - 4 Hearts

My kind of Christmas fluff!

I gotta be honest, this story was virtually assured raining hearts on it, over it and above it from me when I read that ole Grandpa Louie has a Mt. Dew addiction, obsession let's just call it a hearty appreciation for the neon green nectar of the gods and call it a day, shall we? Cuz I can relate.

Nothing says 🎶 Christmas Time is Herrrreeee 🎶 like unapologetically horny grandpa Doing The Dew with the promise of pinochle and shuffleboard on the horizon which is bearing down on you at a whopping 45 mph in an RV that doesn't quite fit your full leg cast, now, does it?

See, I really couldn't have asked for much more out of my Christmas fluff onaccounta it being heartwarming without being schmaltzy and all but also because it was funny and didn't take itself too seriously.

Paul and Kevin slow burn into their romance and it was angst free and unfussy with good relationship development that had me rooting for them early on. They are good together and, I believe, good for each other which is always a win in my romance book.

Another win is "A Holiday Tradition" isn't overly reliant on the miracle of Christmas thing and the geriatrics are a hoot. They're enjoying their golden years to the fullest. Walkers be damned!

Munder made the ending realistic rather than going all hearts and flowers which I appreciated. In so doing, I was even more convinced of their longevity, though I wouldn't mind catching up with them were the author so inclined to write more about them in the future.

Great holiday fun is in store for you in this uplifting little story!

Once in a Lifetime by Cassie Decker

All his life, astrophysicist Peter has dreamed of seeing the comet that last appeared on his birthday—and won’t be seen for another thirty-eight years. Since it could be his only chance, he travels to New Zealand. But his dream might be quashed after all when his rental car breaks down on the way to the observatory. He doesn’t even have a place to stay.

Fortunately a New Zealand native with a heart of gold offers assistance. But is kindness the only thing drawing the two men together?

Ann - 3.5 Hearts

Once in a Lifetime is short, sweet and hopeful. The romance didn’t really have enough page time to develop, but what I did get I enjoyed. The reason Peter travels to New Zealand is sentimental and said a lot about who he is as a person. I could see why Rangi was enamored of him so quickly. After the two spend some time together with Rangi’s family it was easy to see why Peter felt the same way towards Rangi. Being a fly on the wall with Rangi and his family’s holiday preparations was some lovely insight into Maori culture and tradition. It was a treat for me and something Peter needed as well. The declarations happened rather abruptly, yet still sweetly and there wasn’t quite enough there for me to picture an HEA, but there was definitely material there for an HFN.
Rangi can’t leave Peter stranded so close to Christmas, and his family has plenty of room—and love—to share. While Rangi is attracted to Peter, he’s seen too many of his friends get their hearts broken by tourists. Will they manage to see the comet on its decades-long journey across the sky… and take advantage of a rare opportunity that might never come again?

R *A Reader Obsessed* - 3 Hearts

A holiday trip is actually a long journey for Peter to fulfill a promise he made to his dad and himself. He’s traveled across the globe to New Zealand to witness a comet he’s prepared his whole life for. It seems however, that fate has several obstacles in store for Peter, but luckily they also have thrown in Rangi, a friendly Maori local, to help him out and to possibly lend perspective to Peter’s life.

Way too short, this could’ve been great had there been more to it, as this story barely scratches the surface. The sweet and hopeful HFN left me wanting which I suppose is a testament to the setup and the disappointment of not having more.

Colina de Lavanda by August Li

Lord protector of whores, thieves, sorcerers, and deviants.

Owning a parcel of land the railroad needs to cross means Edward gets to run the border town around the station as he sees fit. What starts as a place to indulge his varied appetites becomes a haven to society’s castoffs, and if Edward encourages legends about its founder to flourish, well, he’s not so much a liar as a man who wants to protect all the cultures living in peace. Being mayor means folks might ignore his vices, but they also expect him to fix what goes wrong.

When a crushing heat wave and drought threaten not only the town’s diverse holiday celebrations but its very existence, Edward must turn to the one man he’d rather french kiss a timber rattler than face—the icily elegant Cantonese mage Edward walked out on but never stopped loving.

Ann - 4.5 Hearts

The blurb is quite clear about what to expect with Colina de Lavanda, yet I was still surprised about where the story went and the journey it took to get there. It was completely unique take on a holiday story and I loved that about it so much! The author pulled together many cultures, some fantasy and some magic along the way and the different genres played together very nicely and flowed easily.

Edward is a very flawed hero and that’s what I appreciated about him. He was an accidental good guy which tells you he’s a quality dude at his core. He may not get to the goodness on a straight and narrow path, but he’ll get there. His biggest regret was letting the love of his life, Shu go for his own selfish reasons. It takes his beloved town falling apart for them to come back together and Edward has to do some legit groveling and learning in order to earn Shu back. The magic kept me hooked and Edwards redemption in Shu’s eyes was a holiday present in itself.

R *A Reader Obsessed* - 3.5 Hearts

My second Li book and I will say, this author brings to the table intriguing world building and colorful characters!

Edward is the venerable mayor of a small town known to offer peace and acceptance for those who typically don’t belong. However, an unseasonably terribly hot winter that’s only getting worse, can mean doom for the burgeoning community. Something definitely unnatural is afoot, and Edward must ask ex lover Shu for help, bringing to the fore past hurts and lingering regrets. What they ultimately discover is pretty horrific but the situation allows Edward to realize his mistakes and ask for forgiveness and acceptance.

Bridge an old western theme with lots of magic plus some legend and lore and you’ve got quite the entertaining holiday historical. This was unique and sexy with a sweet second chance at love!

Cupcake - 4 Hearts

This is my first experience with this author and they really know how to create an atmosphere. In just a few pages this little desert town of Colina de Lavanda took shape as did the people in it through an interesting mélange of fantasy, historical and romance. The blending of cultures and the spirit of acceptance that pervades this town embodies the spirit of Christmas which is what made this read a rewarding experience.

Summer Santa by Ward Maia

Sam is a journalist struggling with the recent transfer to his magazine’s Brazilian office. He doesn’t speak the language and isn’t all that familiar with the customs. It also isn’t easy to make friends when you’re the new guy. Then there’s James, his friendly and gorgeous coworker, who is so out of Sam’s league, he knows he doesn’t stand any chance with the handsome Brazilian.

Just as Sam is preparing to spend Christmas away from his family, an unexpected surprise spins his lonely holiday plans around. Another unforeseen gift is James’s offer to show Sam some of the city’s holiday traditions. With his significant low self-esteem, Sam doesn’t know what to make of James’s offer and apparent interest. Can some last-minute decorations and an impromptu meal make Sam’s apartment feel more homely?

Ann - 3.5 Hearts

Sam thinks he’s going to be spending Christmas alone in a new city where he doesn’t speak the language and he’s resigned himself to the idea. He’s not thrilled but he’s convinced himself that he’s going to run with this new job opportunity even if the timing was not ideal. One perk of the new job is the ability to ogle his dreamy co-worker James. Sam is convinced James is out of his league, he gets tongue tied when they interact and it’s really pretty charming. You know what was really charming though? When it became obvious that James was truly interested in Sam and James could be just as insecure when it came to putting himself out there with Sam.

The unexpected arrival of Sam’s entire family throws Sam off his routine and it works perfectly since he’s already off kilter from James attention and the new job. It’s good for Sam to be just a bit off center, it keeps him from overthinking and missing out on any James-centered activities. Sam’s family is great and this read like a true holiday story regardless of the weather. I totally bought the HEA for Sam and James, it was hopeful and real and gave me all the warm fuzzies.
Maybe everything could come together in a wonderful way—if Sam can find the courage and confidence to accept all James wants to give.

Review copies were provided by the publisher in exchange for honest opinions.

From the clubhouse to your house, wherever you are, Merry Christmas from The Unicorn Mafia. 

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