Nell Iris' Christmas

Holidays at Nell’s: Day 28

Today’s rec is not a holiday story. Oh no, I’m breaking my own rules, I’m hopeless! 🙂 It is however winter-themed, snowed in to be precise, and I thought you might be a bit tired of the holidays by now anyway….so consider this a palate cleanser.

Day 28 of Holidays at Nell’s: Coming Out on Top by Nora Phoenix
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He’s twice his size and a lot older, but will Mac let Quentin come out on top?

Quentin is searching for…something.
His identity.

Most of all, he’s searching for a man who will let him be in charge, despite the fact that he looks like an elf.
But all that will have to wait because right now, he’s searching for shelter after getting stranded in the middle of nowhere, New York with a massive snow storm about to hit. He finds an unexpected host in Mac, a man the whole town seems to hate. Mac has secrets…but so does Quentin.

Sparks fly between them, but can it lead to more when Mac is twice his size, a lot older, and practically a virgin… and when Mac can’t leave and there’s no way Quentin will stay?

Dear Coming Out on Top*, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

  • age gap
  • size difference
  • gentle giant (Augustus (Mac’s real name) is a teddy bear cinnamon roll marshmallow with piercings and tattoos. OMG, I love him so much)
  • hurt/comfort
  • disability (Augustus suffers from severe stuttering)
  • subverted trope
  • insta-connection (all right, all right, I hear you. Insta-love)
  • the MCs meet early in the book and want to be together
  • all drama is external of the MCs (this is my favorite!!)
  • Quentin and Augustus communicate, and we all know that the only thing sexier than communication is consent!
  • super-romantic BDSM story (although the BDSM elements are very light)
  • small town setting
  • lone wolf

If you’ve followed me a while and know me by now, you know after reading above list that this book was written just for me. It ticks all my boxes and it was like finding a treasure. I adored this book and I read it slowly because I wanted to savor it. It made me angry (the people in Augustus’ town are vicious!), it made me laugh, it made me cry and go awww.

Had anyone ever shown him this level of kindness and understanding, aside from his mom? Not that Mac could remember, and that realization only added to his inability to speak. So he did the only thin he could manage right now, and he laid his fingers on Quentin’s soft lips, then on his own.

“You want me to kiss you, Mac?” Quentin whispered.

He nodded.

Quote from Coming Out on Top

This book was everything. Ten stars.

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*This book was previously called Snow Way Out

Nell Iris' Christmas

Holidays at Nell’s: Day 27

Today’s book recommendation is maybe the most un-Christmassy of all the Christmas books I’ve read this year, which is why I’m sticking it here on the 27th. Maybe you’re getting tired of Christmas and need to phase it out of your life. If that’s the case, this is the perfect book for you. It has a gift exchange in the end, but even that part is really low on the holiday vibes.

Holidays at Nell’s day 27: Nobody’s Butterfly by Claire Davis & Al Stewart
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Cobweb ghosts are so inconvenient—especially grumpy ones with bad breath. Don’t they know silence is golden?

Johnny Strong is the expert; he hasn’t spoken in two years. Not one word to anyone except the ghost. The main purpose of life is to avoid people and not get noticed. Friends? He doesn’t need them; and certainly nobody wants him despite what the ghost says.

Until a new boy appears at Windybank—Finn Lyons, teenage wizard. He eats frogs, concocts potions, and is always hungry. Not only does Finn stand up for Johnny; he actively seeks his company and soon becomes part of life.
First love; family and words; a heady mix to go in the potion but how will it all turn out?

Hubble bubble; Johnny Strong’s in trouble! Silence is not always golden in this sweet, zany story of the purest magic at Christmas.

Above disclaimer about the un-Christmasness (it’s a word!) of this book aside, it’s an absolutely fantastic story. If you’ve hung around my blog for a while, you know by now that I absolutely love everything I’ve read written by these two authors (for example, I’ve raved about Dear Mona Lisa… and Shut Your Face Anthony Pace and Up! made it to my favorite books of 2018), and Nobody’s Butterfly was no exception.

Johnny Strong and Finn Lyons are two fabulous characters; I love the quirkiness these authors always gives their characters and what makes me re-read their books over and over again. The two boys (it’s a YA story) are staying at home for children between foster homes; Johnny has been there for a long time and doesn’t speak to anyone except the ghost in his room, but Finn is new. Finn sweeps into Johnny’s life like a tornado and at first Johnny isn’t too happy, but that soon changes and they grow really close.

Despite Johnny talking to a ghost and Finn claiming he’s Johnny’s wizard, there isn’t magic in this story. Unless you count finding someone after you’ve lost everyone and everything. Unless you count finding your voice when you thought it was lost forever. Unless you count finding someone you didn’t know you absolutely needed.

I take that back. There is magic in this story, but it’s in the writing. The beautiful, breathtaking writing that always sweeps me off my feet.

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Inside, Johnny shone so brightly that probably astronomers thousands of miles away thought he was a star.

Quote from Nobody’s Butterfly by Claire Davis and Al Stewart

This book is going on my 2020 favorites book, and not just holiday favorites. Read it, you won’t regret it. But here, you’ll need this:

Christmas Kleenex
Nell Iris' Christmas

Holiday’s at Nell’s: Day 26

Today, my recommendation is the first Kwanzaa book I ever read, and on the first day of Kwanzaa, too. You could almost think I’d planned this 😉 (I have. Oh gawd, you have no idea how much planning this thing took!)

Day 26 of Holidays at Nell’s: Kiss me at Kwanzaa by L.L. Bucknor
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Coworkers and cubicle mates, Ishmael “Ish” Cutter and Adan Flores might come from different backgrounds but they have a good number of things in common. The biggest one? They each have a secret crush on the other. This holiday season they are both single for the first time in thirteen months. No boyfriends or clingy ex issues – maybe it’s time for Adan to make his move? He formulates the perfect plan and invites Ish over for his family’s Kwanzaa feast…but will he have the courage to make the first move or will this holiday season be one to forget?

Like the title says, this is a Kwanzaa book, but this eclectic family really celebrate every kind of wintery holiday. And the family is a huge part of why I loved this book: they are wild and crazy and unconventional and loud. The kind of family I absolutely adore reading about but that would give me a headache if I had to hang out with them for longer than five minutes. The characters are quirky and funny and there’s nothing more I love than quirky characters in my books.

The romance is a super cute friends-to-lovers story, the beginnings of a relationship between two men who’ve had a secret crush on each other for the entire time they’ve known each other. It’s a new adult story and pretty short (36 pages) so you can sneak away to an empty corner of the house to read this when you need time away from the post-holiday craziness. Or if you celebrate Kwanzaa like Adan and his family, this little story would be perfect start to the day.

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He tuned out the rest of his mother’s speech while he and Ish played a tame version of footsie underneath the table. They pressed their legs together, neither moving, while stealing shy glances in between his mother’s words.

Quote from Kiss me at Kwanzaa

Nell Iris' Christmas

Holidays at Nell’s: Day 25

We’re here. Christmas Day. Merry Christmas, happy holidays, or happy Friday if you don’t care about any of that stuff and just want to sleep. No matter how you choose to spend today, I hope you’re having a good time and that you’re staying safe. Maybe today looks different than it normally does for you, maybe you can’t see your loved ones like you usually do, but I still hope you’re having a good day despite a difficult situation.

Today’s recommendation is yet again one of my own, Unexpected Christmas, my most popular holiday story to date. It was even nominated in Goodreads’ Members Choice awards 2018. I didn’t win, alas, but just being nominated was an honor. It’s also available in the Kindle Unlimited program, so if you’re a subscriber you can read it for no extra charge, which is perfect for a day like today, don’t you agree? 🙂

Christmas Day at Nell’s: Unexpected Christmas by me.
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All alone, caught in a blizzard—without a coat—on Christmas Day. Would you accept a ride from a huge guy looking like a serial killer?

Daniel Erickson stormed out of his family celebration after choking on his turkey served with a side of bigotry. Utterly miserable, he reluctantly lets himself be charmed by the hulk of a man and gets into his car…hoping he won’t be ax murdered.

Axel Wilson—Ax for short, unfortunately—is a sweetheart. Really. He may be badass-looking but his heart melts into goo at the mere mention of his four-year-old niece. Surely, he’s not dangerous?

Thrown together by family drama, they spend the evening getting to know each other. Axel is nothing like Daniel expected. But it doesn’t matter that he loves poetry, is gentle and patient—and hot!—Daniel is absolutely not falling in love at first sight. There’s no such thing.


This is a book about not judging others by their outward appearances, about difficult families, about an (almost) instant connection. What starts out as a meeting on a cold road on Christmas Day, where Axel startles Daniel because of his “serial-killer looks” quickly turns into something completely different. Something…heart-melting.

If you’re in the mood for open conversations, a gentle giant, and Walt Whitman in front of a fireplace, this is the story for you. It’s also on the steamy side…at least for a Nell Iris book 🙂

Buy links

JMS Books | Universal buy link

Nell Iris' Christmas

Holidays at Nell’s: Day 24

Merry Christmas to you, my friends. I say that today, because Sweden’s main Christmas celebration is on Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day. In my family, we’ve spread it out so we celebrate all three days, in an attempt to not having to stress ourselves out trying to fit everyone into one day, and since my husband’s parents are divorced, we have three families to visit. This year is very different, of course, but we’re still trying to make the best out of this difficult situation.

But I haven’t forgotten about you: here’s today’s book recommendation. And I scheduled it for Christmas Eve because one of the MCs is Swedish. Yay!

A fair warning. Today’s post is a bit long, but it’s because I liked the book so much.

Day 24 of Holiday at Nell’s: 12 Dates of Christmas by Tanya Chris.
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Orion has devised a brilliant strategy for achieving internet fame—an Instagram campaign where he goes on twelve dates over twelve days, culminating in a made-for-TV happy-ever-after with fellow influencer and hot Brazilian model Afonso. Their pre-arranged fake relationship is bound to capture hearts and dollars, skyrocketing Orion from mid-tier to top-tier. His plan couldn’t be more perfect.

And then he meets Gustav. Gustav isn’t famous or devilishly dark and handsome. He’s not even on Insta. And he has an annoying habit of calling Orion out on his dubious ethics.

Now Orion is torn between fake fame and true happiness as he tries to continue his campaign while dating Gustav on the sly. The world thinks it knows a lot about Orion, but none of what it knows is true, and as Christmas comes to a close, Orion is wishing he could start the new year in a whole new way.

This book spoke to me on so many levels, and I really liked the premise for the story: Orion wanting to be a famous Instagram influencer. And the way he goes about it is really creative. The creativity of this story made me smile several times, so let’s start with that.

The 12 dates of Christmas are based on on the song The Twelve Days of Christmas (if you’ve never heard it, lucky you, but you can check it out here if you want to know what I’m talking about). Orion sets up fake dates with fellow Insta influencers, themed after all the verses of the song. So for the first fake date, Orion finds a pear tree in New York city and takes his date there. I gotta hand it to Orion, he takes some interesting liberties adapting the lyrics to modern day dates, and that’s one of the things I enjoyed so much.

A blind double date, set up by friends – imaginary friends – to eat chicken wasn’t exactly poetry, but that stupid Twelve Days of Christmas song had six different bird references in the first seven days, and this was New York City. The only birds they had were pigeons.

Quote from 12 Dates of Christmas.

Orion meets Gustav, our Swedish character who’s a great guy, as he’s about to go to the first date and they hit it off immediately, but Gustav’s not Instagram material so Orion blows him off. Which leads me into my next point: I have massive problems with with the whole influencer thing. I have huge problems with the shallowness of Instagram (and maybe social media in general), how everything is about making things look good, while reality is a whole different story. Orion is very fixated with the looks of things, which is one reason he’s saying he’s bisexual when he’s not. He chose the fake man of his dreams because of his looks and how they look together.

This could have made Orion a supremely unlikable character, but he isn’t. He’s aware of his personality. He knows he’s an attention whore and that what he’s doing is wrong. Yet he does it. And his reasoning for doing it seems…if not reasonable, then understandable. He’s even (mostly) open about it to Gustav, which helps with the likability factor. That’s really masterfully done by Tanya Chris, and I tip my hat to her.

Gustav on the other hand is maybe the most likable character I’ve ever read; he’s genuine where Orion is fake. He doesn’t really understand what Orion’s doing, but he’s very accepting (at least until shit hits the fan, and I can’t blame him!) and tries to see Orion’s point of view even when he doesn’t agree with it.

“We’re all geese, Orion – geese pretending to be swans because it plays better on Instagram. Don’t you ever feel bad about misleading people? Not just about being bi, but all of it. Showing off this perfect life you aren’t really living, making people feel bad about their own imperfect lives, pretending to be a swan.”

Quote from 12 Dates of Christmas.

Gawd, I couldn’t have said that better if I’d tried a hundred years.

And as an added bonus for me, Gustav is a Swede living in New York, so we get a few Swedish holiday traditions thrown into the mix, and that made me supremely happy. Finally, someone celebrating on the right day, weird traditions and all. And no turkey in sight! That warmed my heart more than I thought it would.

“Christmas Eve is a big family night in Sweden, but I don’t have any family here. I skyped with my folks and watched some cartoons, then went to bed.”


“Donald Duck. It’s a Swedish tradition. Never mind, it’s weird.”

Quote from 12 Dates of Christmas

Humor me with one more Swedish holiday tradition, please.

“That’s risgrynsgröt,” Gustav said as he added one last tub to the stack in Orion’s arms. “It’s a traditional Swedish Christmas dish, sort of a rice pudding. If you find an almond in yours, it means you’ll be getting married in the next year.”

Quote from 12 Dates of Christmas

I had no expectations when I downloaded a sample and started reading this story, but it blew me away. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I like it, and this is definitely one of my favorite holiday reads this year.

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Whatever the official twelve days of Christmas were, everyone knew Christmas ended tonight. Jingle Bells and Here Comes Santa Claus were being retired until next November, when he would probably end up crying every time that George Michael song about getting your heart broken last Christmas came on.

Quote from 12 Dates of Christmas.