I’ve been reading a ton of holiday novellas for the JingleBooks bingo, and while I don’t feel like doing full reviews for each of them, I figured a few small reviews would be helpful for anyone looking for some post-Christmas reading – or for me next year! So here’s seven quick reviews! As a sidenote, all of the authors are Black, and the majority of the main characters (excepting Talia Hibbert’s book) are also Black.
Underneath the Mistletoe
by J. Greene
Series: The Holidays #1
Fake dating your best friend is never a good idea, especially if you're in love with them.
Brianna Marie Smith has been best friends with Carson Jerome Adams for twenty years, but she's been in love with him for twice as long. She made the mistake of agreeing to pretend to date him to save face in front of his matchmaking mother, every year, at their annual Christmas Eve party.
This year, however, proves to be harder than ever before. What happens when the proximity forces Carson and Brianna to confront very real-feelings underneath the mistletoe?
For three years, best friends Brianna and Carson have pretended to be in a relationship every Christmas in order to get his matchmaking mama off his back. Only problem? Briana actually has feelings for him. When he walks in on her trying to – ahem – relieve those feelings, well, maybe this Christmas is finally the time to shake things – and the Christmas tree – up.
This is a quick and steamy short story posted on Wattpad. For such a short story (under 10k), I felt like I got a really good feel for the characters and their relationship. Plus! There’s sex under a Christmas tree (including getting tinsel in the face mid-doing-the-deed, which had me howling).
I loved this and desperately want more – there’s apparently a New Year’s Eve story coming out on the 29th.
Full disclosure: I follow the author on twitter.
A Cowboy to Remember
by Rebekah Weatherspoon
Series: Cowboys of California #1
Publication Date: February 25, 2020
Source: Kindle Unlimited
In this brand-new series from award-winning author Rebekah Weatherspoon, a charming cowboy and his sleeping beauty find their modern-day happily ever after . . .
With a headline spot on a hit morning show and truly mouth-watering culinary skills, chef Evie Buchanan is perched on the edge of stardom. But at an industry party, a fall lands Evie in the hospital—with no memory of who she is. Scrambling to help, Evie’s assistant contacts the only “family” Evie has left, close friends who run the luxury dude ranch in California where Evie grew up. Evie has no recollection of them—until former rodeo champion Zach Pleasant walks into her hospital room, and she realizes his handsome face has been haunting her dreams . . .
Zach hasn’t seen Evie in years—not since their families conducted a campaign to make sure their childhood friendship never turned into anything more. When the young cowboy refused to admit the feelings between them were real, Evie left California, making it clear she never wanted to see Zach again. Now he refuses to make the same mistake twice. Starting fresh is a risk when they have a history she can’t recall, but Zach can’t bear to let go of her now. Can he awaken the sleeping beauty inside her who might still love him?
Content warnings: View Spoiler »MC pushed down stairs (leading to head injury and memory loss), death of secondary character (before the book starts, but retold), toxic family relationship (secondary character) « Hide Spoiler
One of the squares on the JingleBooks bingo I’m doing was for a cowboy holiday romance. I’m not a big fan of cowboy romances, so with some trepidation, I picked up this one which, while it occurs over the holidays, isn’t exactly a holiday romance in its truest sense. I’m also not a fan of amnesia romances, but I’d read and loved Rebekah Weatherspoon’s indie books before, and if anyone could pull off something with two of my least favorite romance tropes, it’s her. And my fears were completely unjustified!
“You cried when I called you Buck. You’ve had more than one dream about me, but you didn’t recognize anyone else in the pictures I showed you. I think that only means one thing.”
“I am a vital part of your recovery.”
Evie was amazing, even as an amnesiac person, and I loved all the characters at the ranch. Besides the aforementioned tropes, it’s also a second chance romance. Zach and Evie were childhood friends, but Zach rebuffed her- quite cruelly – when Evie confessed her feelings to him after she returned to California for her grandmother’s funeral (ouch, dude, ouch). Because of that, it took me a while to warm up to him, and I’m not sure he really had enough time to fully make up for his past actions and ten years of silence. The fact that their relationship is hampered by the fact that Evie’s memory loss is so complete that she can’t remember anything or anyone, and it’s almost like he’s falling in love with a completely different person. Even with the amnesia, I liked Evie much better than Zach, honestly.
One thing I appreciated seeing was how it touched on Black women being shortchanged on healthcare. One of the home health aides gets quite snippy with Miss Leona, Zach’s grandma and the person Evie is staying with, over her traditionally Black food being too “heavy” for a recovering patient. As for cons, I found the plot line with figuring out who pushed Evie down the stairs to be distracting from the central romance. I’m not a fan of romances where there’s POVs from characters who aren’t in the relationship, and I groaned every time I got to one of those chapters in this book.
Overall, though, I did enjoy the book, and I’ll definitely be picking up the second in the series!
Wrapped Up in You
by Talia Hibbert
Publisher: Kobo Originals
Publication Date: November 16, 2020
William Reid is nothing special, except for his billion-dollar acting career and his, you know, face. (Apparently, it’s a good one.) Winning ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ was nice, but this Christmas, he has more important goals in mind... like finally winning over his best friend’s little sister, the super-smart and kinda-scary Abbie Farrell.
When a blizzard leaves Will and Abbie alone at Grandma Farrell’s house (if bunking with 27 pets counts as ‘alone’), it’s the perfect opportunity to pull off a Christmas miracle. Convincing clever, frosty Abbie to give Will a chance will take more than mistletoe, but hiding his lifelong crush on her is no longer an option.
Content warnings: View Spoiler »anxiety, domestic violence (verbally abusive ex-husband, off-page and before book starts) « Hide Spoiler
Will, a Hollywood actor famous for his good looks, has plans for this Christmas. He’s finally going to tell his childhood best friend, Abbie, that he’s in love with her. Will – to put it indelicately – is a complete himbo. He’s an absolute sweetheart, though, and he knows that his plans tend to, well, not work out how he intended, so he’s going to run it by his other best friend (and Abbie’s brother) first. But a blizzard means that he and Abbie end up at her grandma’s house before everyone else, and, well, suddenly he’s blurting out his feelings surrounded by 20+ pets, including a pregnant cat named Gravy. Good thing for him that Abbie’s secretly been in love with him forever, too, but she’s been burned before. Plus, she’s your usual prickly Talia Hibbert heroine (pizza and sarcasm are her favorite things), so of course things aren’t easy. And also in traditional Talia Hibbert-fashion, the banter was excellent. My only wish is that it was a bit longer, as I felt like it ended a bit too soon.
“I don’t want to fail you,” she said.
God, he was too drunk for this. But he understood, or at least, he thought he understood—and he didn’t like what he was hearing. “Fail me? You—you can’t. You couldn’t. Ever. You’d never be too much for me.” The idea was so ridiculous, the words felt alien in his mouth. “And I’d never leave you alone.”
Also, this might make me a cranky old lady (or Bob Barker), but for goodness’ sake, spay or neuter your dang pets.
A Gingerbread Romance
by Lacey Baker
Publisher: Hallmark Publishing
Publication Date: September 17, 2019
As an architect, she designs beautiful buildings…But will her heart ever find a place to call home?
Taylor’s architectural firm enters her in a contest to build life-sized gingerbread houses. After the contest, she’s likely to get a promotion to a position in another city. But it’s a team competition, and Taylor’s temperamental partner soon backs out. Taylor needs a replacement—fast.
Content warning: View Spoiler »MC’s wife died in a car accident (off-page, before book started), grief « Hide Spoiler
This was cute and sweet, which is pretty much exactly what you expect from a Hallmark book!
“Well, you heard my boss. It needs to be sophisticated. Cutting-edge.” Those words seemed to cheer her up as she said them with a toss of her head.
“Christmas isn’t about cutting-edge. Christmas is about warmth and tradition.”
I liked the glimpse of Philadelphia and all of its Christmas traditions. It seems like most of these holiday novellas are set in either small towns or NYC – it’s like literally no other cities exist! I also liked how, though Taylor had to make some changes to her job prospects, she still got a major promotion. She didn’t have to turn it down in order to get the family she wanted. Of course, there’s also the usual “warmth and tradition” of Christmas, just like the quote says, and the joys of friends and family overcoming workaholism.
I think I could’ve used a bit more baking content, but what was there was fun, and I liked how their relationship encouraged Adam to explore his dreams, too. Brooke – Adam’s daughter-in-law – was a bit of a plot moppet, though.
A Merry Little Filthmas
by Nicole Falls
Publication Date: December 24th, 2019
Source: Kindle Unlimited
On a late night trip to the laundry room, Bryce Harrison ends up with a lot more than he bargained for.
**NOTE** This is a short, if your preference is longer, more involved tales, please refer to other work in my catalog.
“Dickcap, huh?” I asked with a raised brow.
“Mmmhmm,” Yemi nodded with a laugh, “It’s like a nightcap, but instead of liquor it’s your dick.”
Basically what it says on the tin! Lots of steamy fun, where a late night laundry room encounter leads to what both parties expect to be a quick fling – except there’s definitely something else there. The story is told entirely from Bryce’s POV, which was an interesting choice, but probably works out for the best considering the length. There’s not too much conflict, either, besides the constraints placed on them by Bryce’s career. He’s a coach so he spends a chunk of the novella on the road with his team. Yemi was so much fun, though, from her initial propositioning of Bryce to their long-distance antics. I thought the ending was rather abrupt, but not unexpected for the length of the story. But, overall, I really liked the writing style and the humor (dickcap!!!), so I’ve already added some of the author’s longer works to my TBR.
Twelve Dates of Christmas (Love on the Rock #1)
by Rilzy Adams
Series: Love on the Rock #1
Publication Date: November 30, 2019
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Rashad Cole and Zia Ralph weren't just friends. They were friends plus. Friends, plus fondness. Friends, plus undeniable chemistry. Friends, plus passion. Zia cuts off their friendship unexpectedly and six years fly by. After an unexpected meeting, Rashad wants a chance to convince Zia that although they had been good as friends, they would make better lovers. Can these twelve dates throughout Christmas convince Zia to give their love a chance? Or will Rashad spend another Christmas without her by his side?
I love this cover!
“Sex is easy. Relationships are hard. It makes less sense now than it did then.”
“Life doesn’t always make sense.”
“Just give me twelve dates,” he said. “Let me show you how good we could be together.”
Zia and Rashad were childhood best friends – and then, a little bit more – until Zia suddenly ghosted him six years ago. Now Rashad’s back on Antigua for the holidays and Zia can’t resist seeing him one more time. But her reasons for cutting off their relationship haven’t changed, and Rashad decides to try to show her how good they can be together over the course of twelve dates.
“I don’t deserve you,” she’d whispered before bringing her lips to his, hoping he could taste the honesty on her tongue.
“I get to decide who deserves me,” he’d said matter-of-factly.
I loved that this was set in Antigua, and I loved learning little bits and pieces about the island and its culture. I had mixed feelings about Zia, however. Her fear over getting into a relationship was understandable, but the way she continuously treated Rashad, whew. I would’ve liked to have seen more of an apology from her or at least more reflection on how badly she treated him. The dates were lovely, and I loved seeing her meet his family again.
Overall, I’d give this 3.5 stars. I love the author’s writing style, but the heroine didn’t quite work for me.
by Shae Sanders
Publisher: Pink Sands
Publication Date: December 4, 2020
Source: Kindle Unlimited
A chance encounter at the mall sets off sparks between Felina and Julian. He's Santa, and he needs a Mrs. Claus...
Content warnings: View Spoiler »Grief, references to MC’s father’s death, divorce « Hide Spoiler
This was quick, sexy but still surprisingly deep.
Fresh off her first Christmas as a divorced mom, Felina’s brought her kids to the far away mall so they can get a picture with a Black Santa. But the usual older gentleman isn’t there, and instead it’s his son, Julian, who Felina briefly dated in high school. Julian always viewed Felina as the one who got away, so he seizes the opportunity to reconnect with her. Felina’s kids are spending the holiday with her ex, so when Julian needs a replacement Mrs. Claus, she decides to help out – and spend more time with him as well.
Both characters are older and are certain of what they want in a romantic partner, and their relationship moves pretty quickly. Julian thinks he has to cheer Felina up because she’s missing her kids, but Felina finally admits that it’s actually guilt that she doesn’t miss them. I liked how they addressed that, and also how they talked about Julian’s grief over his dad’s death and carrying on his legacy as Black Santa. I didn’t like some of the toxic masculinity stuff (Julian doesn’t want to show certain emotions in front of her because it’s not “manly”), but overall I enjoyed the story.