3.5 Stars, Andi Van, Dreamspinner Press, Holiday Romance, Reviewed by Jules

Review: A Certain Kind of Holiday by Andi Van

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Title: A Certain Kind of Holiday (Sleigh Ride: Advent Calendar 2015)

Author: Andi Van

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 28 Pages

At a Glance: This one was cute, guys!

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: When Elliot Knapp took a business trip over the holidays last year, he didn’t expect to run into the professor his first serious boyfriend cheated on him with. The man was handsome, certainly, but Elliot has better things to do than deal with drama from a decade ago.

Luckily for him, Howard Wise wasn’t going to let him get away without an explanation. A year after meeting again, the couple is making their first holiday trip to celebrate Christmas. Everything is fantastic, but Howard is obviously keeping secrets, and Elliot can’t help but wonder what his silver fox has up his sleeve.

Christmas Dividers

Review: Elliot and Howard, who haven’t been in contact in ten years, run into each other unexpectedly on a train ride from Seattle. Their reunion is, of course, soured by the fact that Elliot’s last memory of Howard is him kissing Elliot’s college boyfriend. Howard manages to talk Elliot into letting him explain, however, which turns out to be a very good thing, as things are not always what they seem. I really liked Howard – sexy professor, twinkly eyes, playful demeanor – and I loved that he remembered Elliot right away. Obviously their connection all those years ago wasn’t just one-sided.

A Certain Kind of Holiday is short and sweet. Via three consecutive Christmas vignettes, Andi Van takes us on Howard and Elliot’s journey, allowing us to get to know them and showing us how good they are together.  Again, Howard’s character was the main part of the appeal for me, but I definitely liked Elliot as well. It’s hard to cover much ground in just twenty-eight pages, but Van did a good job of engaging me. This one was cute, guys!

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4 Stars, B.G. Thomas, Dreamspinner Press, Holiday Romance, Reviewed by Kim

Review: The Beary Best Holiday Party Ever by B.G. Thomas

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Title: The Beary Best Holiday Party Ever (Sleigh Ride: Advent Calendar 2015)

Author: B.G. Thomas

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 76 Pages

At a Glance: I think The Beary Best Holiday Party Ever is a cute and sexy holiday read.

Reviewed By: Kim

Blurb: Before he discovered the Heartland Bear Clan, Ron Corbin figured no one could ever love a “fatass” like him. But the big group of big men accepts him, and likes him just the way he is. Having finally found a place he belongs, he works hard to get elected president of the club—and wins. He’s the happiest he’s ever been.

But Paddy Brennan, a sexy bear cub who blew into town and became Mr. Popular overnight, is elected vice-president. Ron doesn’t think Paddy has earned the honor, and now he’ll have to work shoulder to shoulder (and belly to belly) with the guy for a year.

Ron will do what’s best for the club even if that means setting his personal feeling—that Paddy is a jerk—aside. But then as the two men get to know each other, Ron reluctantly finds he not only likes the guy, but is growing more and more attracted to him.

Deep down, Ron still worries he isn’t good enough, but maybe Paddy can show him there’s a beary happy ending waiting for them after all.

Christmas Dividers

Review: I don’t care what a person looks like, it’s what inside that shows who you are, and it takes Ron a while to see that he is one sexy man. Oh la la! I really liked Ron. Even with all of his insecurities about his weight, he comes off as someone I’d like to know in real life. I liked how, when he joined Heartland Bear Clan, he grew to be more comfortable with himself. And it was just too bad that Ron let a comment made by Paddy bring back all those insecurities his parents instilled in him as he was growing up. I really dislike people who fat shame! And I more than empathize with Ron about being picked on for being overweight.

As for Paddy, he’s a really nice guy, so when you hear the comment that he made when he first met Ron…well, it’s just hard to believe that he would say something that vindictive. Despite everything, though, Ron is willing to put his negative feelings and conflicting attraction towards Paddy aside as they work together to make the very best holiday party ever for the Heartland Bear Clan.

There is one thing I really enjoy about B.G. Thomas’s writing, and what makes him an auto-buy author for me, and it’s that I know I’m always going to finish his stories with an “aaaaaah” feeling.

I think The Beary Best Holiday Party Ever is a cute and sexy holiday read.

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4 Stars, Comedy, Dreamspinner Press, Holiday Romance, Lex Chase, Paranormal, Paranormal Romance, Reviewed by Sammy

Review: Loving and Loathing Vegas by Lex Chase

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Title: Loving And Loathing Vegas (Sleigh Ride: Advent Calendar 2015)

Author: Lex Chase

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 62 Pages

At a Glance: This little snippet is sure to delight and amuse you this holiday season.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: Jackson has loved Vegas since God created Man—literally. As a demonic incubi hailing from the Seventh Circle of Hell, Jackson and Vegas have never been anything more than roommates. Now living among humans, they run Eaven, a TripAdvisor-recommended detour-worthy diner famous for its devilishly decadent pies. Business is dead on the holidays, and Jackson will gleefully stab himself with a spatula if he has to clean spotless pots and pans one more time.

For fun—or torture—Vegas makes him a bet that should Jackson win, they take a much-needed vacation. Should he lose, he’s doomed to clean out grease traps for all eternity. When the challenge is to fall in love with other people by Christmas, it proves Vegas isn’t the least bit interested. But when they find an abandoned baby in the trash, she could be the Christmas miracle to warm Jackson’s cynical heart.

Dividers

Review:   Author Lex Chase offers up a devilishly sweet story for the Sleigh Ride 2015 Dreamspinner Advent Calendar. Even demons, in this case incubi who feed off sex, deserve a holiday, and are determined to have it when they make a bet with each other to see who can fall in love by Christmas. The only hitch is Jackson is already in love—with his long time roommate and fellow demon, Vegas. The two have settled down and run a diner that is best known for its devilishly decadent pies, but Jackson is tired of cleaning the diner’s grease traps, and more than fed up with trying to hide his feelings for Vegas. To top off the whole crazy wager, a baby is left on their doorstep, and it is up to Jackson to make sure she is taken care of, especially since she can’t seem to stand the sight of poor Vegas.

Only Lex Chase could create such a crazy-hot and adorable Christmas story with a decidedly unique twist. The relationship and interchanges between Jackson and Vegas were sharp and humorous while also bordering on the frustrating—-all they had to do was admit how they felt, and yet the constant dance around those emotions made for a fun romp of a story. With more than a fair share of snark and sarcasm, the story flew along, fraught with sexual tension that you could cut with a knife. The resolution of that tension made for a very hot sex scene that left me breathless!

Loving and Loathing Vegas is an unusual and clever contribution to this year’s Advent calendar. While it would have been great to know a bit more about the baby’s origins and the backstory of the two incubi themselves, this little snippet is sure to delight and amuse you this holiday season.

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4 Stars, Comedy, Dreamspinner Press, Holiday Romance, Reviewed by Sammy, Rob Rosen, Short Story

Review: Best Laid Trap by Rob Rosen

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Title: Best Laid Trap (Sleigh Ride: Advent Calendar 2015)

Author: Rob Rosen

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 24 Pages

At a Glance: Fans of Rob Rosen will immediately latch on to his wickedly humorous writing style and slightly crazed characters.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: Roy has a crush on Steve, so when a work-related ski weekend is offered, Roy jumps at the chance to finally lay a trap for his hunky coworker. An abandoned cabin nearby is perfect for his scheme, and Roy stocks it with champagne, rubbers, and lube. But fate intervenes, and it’s not Steve, but Ranger Josh, who ends up trapped in the cabin with Roy during an avalanche. Roy’s plan might be ruined, but there’s still a chance for a very happy New Year indeed.

Dividers

Review: It’s holiday time and Rob Rosen offers up Best Laid Trap, another offering form the Dreamspinner Advent Calendar: Sleigh Ride. I must admit I am a huge fan of Rosen’s acerbic wit and snarky repartee, and this little short starts out in typical Rosen style, replete with a near stream of consciousness from the narrator and star of the story, Roy.

The plot is a simple one: Roy has been crushing on a coworker and accidentally finds an abandoned cabin right off the bunny trail at the ski resort they are both staying. With seduction on his mind, Roy sets the trap for his amour and sits back to wait. Little did he know that Mother Nature, a randy forest ranger, and some karma would change his whole night–and perhaps his future as well.

Be forewarned, this short story is about as insta-lust as you can get, but with lots of humor and a fairly hot, lengthy sex scene to boot. This is a mere snippet, so if you are looking for a great deal of character development, or much past a short rendezvous with a hint of a happy-ever-after, then this might not be the selection for you. However, fans of Rob Rosen will immediately latch on to his wickedly humorous writing style and slightly crazed characters.

Roy is sweet and funny as he lays out his night of seduction for a coworker. When he finds that he is going to be left high and dry, he barely has time to be disappointed before the ranger of his dreams appears and he grabs opportunity with both hands! Barely a short story, Rosen still manages to pack this gem with soppy moments filled with inner dialogue from Roy’s head that will have you laughing. All in all, this was a fun romp that will leave you wanting just a little more!

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4.5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Holiday Romance, Pat Henshaw, Reviewed by Sammy

Review: Blame It on the Fruitcake by Pat Henshaw

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Title: Blame It On The Fruitcake (Sleigh Ride: Advent Calendar 2015

Author: Pat Henshaw

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 36 Pages

At a Glance: Blame It on the Fruitcake is a sweet and funny love story. A perfect morsel of yummy goodness for this holiday season!

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: Fruitcake is the laughingstock of the holiday season. But can it be an aphrodisiac instead? Motorcycle mechanic Sam McGuire is surprised to find a gaily wrapped box on his doorstep with a piece of fruitcake accompanying an invitation to a holiday party.

Wondering if he’ll fit in, Sam attends the party—mostly to get more of the fruitcake he falls in love with—and meets Jay Merriweather, his new neighbor. The lure of Jay’s big family and its holiday tradition of enjoying Grandma’s fruitcake hook Sam, as does the sexy man himself.

But Sam can’t imagine why handsome, college-educated Jay would want someone like him, who was raised in a children’s home and barely graduated high school. Maybe the magic of the holiday season can help two men who seem so different come together like the ingredients in a well-made fruitcake.

Dividers

Review: Blame It on the Fruitcake by Pat Henshaw is another delightful story from the Dreamspinner Advent Calendar Package entitled Sleigh Ride, a swiftly moving short story that brings together what seems like polar opposites and solidifies the idea that the heart knows what it wants despite what seems like insurmountable differences.

Sam McGuire has lived most of his life knowing that he is not the kind of guy anyone would choose to love. For years, as an orphan, he watched others be snatched up into middle class happiness by beautiful people who barely gave him a second glance. Now, as a successful mechanic and shop owner, he still believes that he is hardly a catch for some well-educated college boy who cleans up way better than he ever would.

Very much a loner, he is shocked when a small package appears on his doorstep containing an amazing piece of fruitcake and an invite to his neighbor’s party. After suspiciously and grudgingly tasting the cake–after all, everyone knows fruitcake is literally scraping the bottom of the holiday treat barrel–Sam decides to attend the party…in order to get more cake! Little does he know he is about to meet a guy who will challenge all his tightly held low opinions of himself, and of his certainty that he will never be worthy of being loved.

Author Pat Henshaw is a new author for me and I can honestly say, based on this little gem of a story, I will be looking up her backlist ASAP. Sam is such a sweet guy under his gruff exterior. Everything about him, from the way in which he dresses to his rough dialogue, was just so right and realistic. I honestly felt both these main characters were the perfect example of guys I’d be likely to meet in real life. There was such a genuine air about this author’s writing that made this instant attraction between Sam and Jay so understandable and believable.

Sam’s past created such a deep well of loneliness within him that it lent credibility to his automatic decisions that he would never be good enough for Jay. Jay’s admissions of feeling like he was pretending to be something he’s not allowed Sam to understand that appearance really is not all it’s cracked up to be, and it’s what lies beneath the exterior that really counts.

Blame It on the Fruitcake is a sweet and funny love story. A perfect morsel of yummy goodness for this holiday season!

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5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Holiday Romance, Reviewed by Angel, Sean Michael

Review: Unto Us the Time Has Come by Sean Michael

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Title: Unto Us the Time Has Come (Sleigh Ride: Advent Calendar 2015)

Author: Sean Michael

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 59 Pages

At a GlanceA wonderfully rounded, second chances story.

Reviewed By: Angel

Blurb: Last Christmas, Kenn Greyson gave husband Chris Martenson an ultimatum—spend more time with the family or we’re leaving. He never expected Chris’s reply would be “then leave,” but that’s exactly what happened, and Boxing Day took on a whole new meaning.

Separated for nearly a year now, both men are miserable apart and coping the best they can for the kids’ sake. With Christmas just around the corner, a new conflict arises: neither man is willing to forego Christmas morning with their children. Chris finally suggests they spend the holiday together at the house and, to his shock, Kenn agrees.

Armed with the knowledge that he’s been a stubborn idiot, but that perhaps he can change and begin to repair their relationship, Chris takes steps to win his husband back. He just hopes he can get Kenn on the same page before Santa comes down the chimney on Christmas Eve.

Dividers

Review:  I enjoy Sean Michael’s work, and this book was no exception. Michael didn’t skimp here on this story—despite the shortness, it packs a big punch. Both men are at fault as to the cause of their break-up, and both are doing what they can to remain friendly in spite of it, for their kids. It comes down to them both realizing that what they had could be saved if they would only communicate. Michael also shows the impact of adult decisions on children in a relationship, and once again, he doesn’t shy away from the hard emotions. I cried several times over the course of this short story, but I loved it all the more for the realness.

The ending was sweet and heartwarming. While the make-up was quickly resolved, it felt real to me and not tacked on to get a happy ending. Kenn and Chris had to work hard and learned their lessons, and I think both grew up a bit while they were apart. I would love to read about this couple again, in, say, a year later, just to see how they and the children are doing.

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5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Holiday Romance, Reviewed By Carrie, Therese Woodson

Review: Hapless by Therese Woodson

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Title: Hapless (Sleigh Ride: Advent Calendar 2015)

Author: Therese Woodson

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 49 Pages

At a Glance: I thoroughly enjoyed this short story from start to finish. I don’t think I stopped smiling the entire time I was reading it.

Reviewed By: Carrie

Blurb: All Ty wants is to propose to his boyfriend, Micah, before Christmas Eve. He has the perfect ring, the perfect setting, and the perfect plan, but the universe has other ideas. A sprained ankle, a choking woman, and a crying sister are just the tip of the iceberg as Ty stumbles toward his happy ever after. Now, as Christmas Eve looms before him, he has to figure out how to ask the biggest question of his life without his perfectionism getting in the way or he might lose the person he wants to spend the holiday, and every day after, with.

Dividers

Review: Ty wants to propose to Micah – before Christmas Eve – he does NOT want to be cliché.  He has plans. Why does everything have to be so hard?

Hapless is the delightful story of two guys who just know that the other one is “it” for him.  Micah and Ty have been together for three years. They graduated together, each got good jobs, settled into an apartment they love in a city that works for both of them. Ty can be a little uptight about things, though, and planning his proposal to Micah is the hardest thing he has ever done.

“Micah was always a whirlwind, chaotic and beautiful. Ty had fallen in love instantly. Micah possessed a wild spirit Ty found liberating… Micah was everything Ty didn’t know he wanted until he saw him…”

As try after try goes awry in this story, you just can’t help but really root for Ty to finally get it right.  The writing is witty and superb, with anecdotes like “Attempt number two was officially like swimmers in Jaws – dead in the water.” The running timeline down to Christmas keeps you in suspense; you can’t quit reading because you have to know what Ty is going to come up with next, and what the universe is going to come up with to counteract him.

I thoroughly enjoyed this short story from start to finish. I don’t think I stopped smiling the entire time I was reading it. Sometimes we have to be reminded of the Who and Why of doing things, not just the How. I really enjoyed Therese Woodson’s writing – I will definitely be looking for more by this author.

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2 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Holiday Romance, Reviewed by Jennifer, Sara Stark

Review: Leap Through Eternity by Sara Stark

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TitleLeap Through Eternity (Sleigh Ride: Advent Calendar 2015)

Author: Sara Stark

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 26 Pages

At a Glance: An Advent Calendar short that missed the mark for me.

Reviewed By: Jennifer

Blurb: Being evacuated from his apartment in the middle of the night because some idiot forgot his cookies in the oven isn’t the ideal way to meet a guy, but Mason’s hot neighbor Cole sure looks great in his underwear. The trouble is, Mason is the idiot who started the fire, and Cole doesn’t appreciate being lied to any more than he appreciates being driven out into the cold. It looks like their romance might end before it gets started, but Christmas is a time for second chances….

Dividers

Review: I wanted to like this story because I love clumsy main characters. Maybe it’s because I’m a clumsy person myself and can connect to the character so much; however, with this story I just couldn’t. There’s not much to it, being only twenty-six pages long, but I just couldn’t care about the characters. The plot is decent enough as a story idea, but a bit of a stretch. I can’t see firemen not allowing someone to grab at least pants when a fire is just contained in one apartment. Especially when the weather is so cold. As for Mason, he tends to ramble, go off on tangents, and seems repetitive. I found it to be tiresome after a few pages.

Another thing I didn’t understand was the title. I love to discover how titles connect to the story, especially when they’re clever. I have gleeful little moments of “found it!” whenever I see it. However with this story, I just don’t get it. Maybe at the end a bit, I suppose, but the ending was overly sweet and romantic for two people who basically just met. Had their romance been dragged out longer, I may have bought it, but as it stands, it was just too much.

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4 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, E.T. Malinowski, Holiday Romance, Reviewed by Jennifer

Review: Hearth and Home by E.T. Malinowski

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TitleHearth and Home (Sleigh Ride: Advent Calendar 2015)

Author: E.T. Malinowski

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 56 Pages

At a Glance: Short but sweet story with an accident prone elf.

Reviewed By: Jennifer

Blurb: Thistle is a sweet elf with a kind heart. He tries his best to help all the other elves in Santa’s workshop. Unfortunately, Thistle tends to leave disaster in his wake despite his good intentions. He dreams of finding an elf who will love him in spite of his clumsiness, an elf he can make a home for. But what elf wants to live in constant peril? Thistle figures he should just stick with his anonymous treat baskets, especially where Bayberry, Santa’s production manager, is concerned.

Bayberry is a bit of a serious elf. A little distant from most of the North Pole crew, Bayberry is lonely. When another Thistle Incident occurs, pushing the production department behind schedule only a few weeks before Christmas, Bayberry gets a “suggestion” from The Big Guy to ask Thistle for help. What could an accident-prone elf do to assist him? But to Bayberry’s surprise, he might gain more than help with his monthly reports.

Dividers

Review: Hearth and Home is a story from the Dreamspinner Press 2015 Advent Calendar, and I loved it. Set in the North Pole at Santa’s workshop, it follows the accident prone elf Thistle, who wants nothing more than to help the others. The problem is he just gets in the way, and his magic is centered on the home. So while he’s great at baking and making a house a home, he’s not so good at making glass ornaments or toys. Thistle has a thing for Bayberry, the production manager, and when he accidentally breaks the glass ornaments, he’s drawn in to help Bayberry set it right by taking over the reports. And since it’s at Santa’s insistence, he can’t say no.

Bayberry has a crush on Thistle. While the other elves dislike how he gets in the way, Bayberry finds it endearing. So when he’s forced to work with Thistle, he takes it as an opportunity to get to know him. And when the two finally connect, sparks fly. Thistle meets the one who makes his magic worth it, and he finally feels useful to someone.

I enjoyed the story very much. It put me in a Christmas mood, and I liked seeing a clumsy elf falling in love. It was really cute and endearing. The only trouble? It made me crave cookies. Thistle always seemed to bake them!

If you’re looking for a short, heartwarming story, I highly recommend checking this story out. Well worth it!

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5 Stars, Bru Baker, Dreamspinner Press, Holiday Romance, Reviewed By Carrie

Review: Talk Turkey by Bru Baker

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Title: Talk Turkey (Sleigh Ride: Advent Calendar 2015)

Author: Bru Baker

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 58 Pages

At a Glance: This is an incredibly delightful tale of turkey woe.

Reviewed By: Carrie

Blurb: Carson is a California transplant settling into life in the Windy City. On his first Christmas away from home, he assures his worried family he’ll be having a real Christmas dinner.

Recent culinary school graduate Tom Stockton earns some extra money giving out cooking advice at the Talk Turkey hotline. Tom’s honeyed voice and sharp sense of humor are attractive to the lonely Carson, and Carson finds reasons to call the hotline again and again. But on Christmas Eve, Carson’s call is less playful and more panicked with the big meal looming. Carson is just looking for advice, but Tom has a surprise in store that might lead to much more.

Dividers

Review: Carson has been in Chicago for less than a month, and the loneliness of his existence is starting to overwhelm him. Too new in his job, he doesn’t have the option of vacation time to go home to California for the holiday.

“It said a lot about Carson’s current state of mind that he’d named the turkey currently taking up a good three-quarter of the real estate in his refrigerator. Sure, he’d be eating it. But that didn’t mean he shouldn’t name it. Especially since it was doing such a great service for him, being his sole companion for Christmas dinner. At the rate it was defrosting – which was interminably slow – it would be coming as a guest and not the meal, which was all the more reason to name it.”

Carson is in such a state because of his turkey that he calls the turkey hotline number he found in the grocery store, and meets Tom – a recent culinary school graduate who is working the hotline for extra cash during the holidays. What follows are delightfully well written and witty vignettes of Carson’s turkey troubles, and Tom’s sage advice peppered with a sharp sense of humor. Bru Baker writes a moving story of a young man navigating his first holiday on his own with uplifting humor and amusing secondary characters. The fact that Carson’s mom set up a Pinterest page for him with turkey boards is refreshingly current and relatable. How the author puts the two men together was ingeniously clever and had me laughing out loud.

I am becoming a huge fan of Bru Baker, she is an excellent writer whether the story is long or short, and I can’t wait to read more of her work.

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4 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Holiday Romance, Jess Roth, Reviewed by Angel

Review: Menorahs and Mistletoe by Jess Roth

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Title: Menorahs and Mistletoe (Sleigh Ride: Advent Calendar 2015)

Author:  Jess Roth

PublisherDreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 61 Pages

At a GlanceAn excellent mix of romance, sweetness and a bit of sexiness for a wonderful holiday short story.

Reviewed By: Angel

Blurb: Hanukkah will be interesting. Single dad Martin’s daughter is determined to get him a new “friend.” But is he ready? If nothing else, Hanukkah this year will be interesting. Single dad Martin’s six-year-old daughter, Sara, is determined to get him a new “friend.” Martin isn’t even sure he wants to step back into the pool, much less go out with the mall elf they met while shopping for gifts. But he’s starting to get to know the cute receptionist at work, Tim, and thinking maybe the whole dating thing isn’t such a terrible idea. Too bad things are never that simple.

Dividers

Review:  Jess Roth is a new-to-me author, and I really enjoyed my first go round.

Martin was a bit absentminded and sweet, and little Sara was just darling. I adored Tim from the first meeting, and loved that Martin’s religious beliefs didn’t faze him one bit. Martin and Tim were sweetly awkward with one another. The mis-communication in the story between the two men had me frustrated, and I wanted to shake each of them so they would hurry to straighten themselves out. I was thrilled when they finally managed to work their issues out, and though the ending was wonderful, I wanted more from this author and tale.

I loved that this story didn’t revolve around the Christian celebration of the holiday, and while the celebration of Hanukkah explanations were short, I like the bit of culture we received in the story.

An excellent mix of romance, sweetness and a bit of sexiness for a wonderful holiday short story.

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