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.

Right…?

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 🙂

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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.”

“Cartoons?”

“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.

Nell Iris' Christmas

Holidays at Nell’s: Day 23

Today, I’m doing things a little differently here on the blog. Instead of recommending a holiday book I’ve read, I’m giving you an early Christmas present. But to be completely honest, it’s not me doing the giving, it’s my dear friend Addison Albright. I asked her if she wanted to write a flashfic story for Holidays at Nell’s as a treat for you, because she excels at flashfic stories, and since she’s one of the nicest people I have the privilege to know, she agreed.

So without further ado; please help me welcome Addison Albright to the blog. 😍

When the queen of short, toe-curling romance that makes you grin ear-to-ear and say cliché things like “aww,” asked me to write a bit of flash for her holiday blog event, of course I jumped at the chance! I opted to write a bonus scene for the Christmas short story I wrote a couple years ago. Déjà Vu is not your typical holiday story. It tries to be dark (much like this bonus scene), but ends up eliciting chuckles and giving you the warm fuzzies instead.

Although featuring characters from a published short story, this bonus scene was written to be enjoyed as a standalone bit of flash.


Déjà Vu – Two Days Before Christmas

Gavin

“Hard to believe it’s only two days until Christmas.” Gavin entwined his fingers with Matthew’s as they strolled through the busy mall. He had a bounce in his step and wore a wide grin.

“I know!” Matthew sing-songed the words in a cheery voice. “Aww, look.” He pointed toward a line of children waiting in line to sit on Santa’s lap. A trio of scary-looking elves with maniacal smiles minded the queue, but Matthew didn’t seem to notice them. “Makes me almost want to have kids.”

Gavin snorted but thankfully didn’t spurt any of the berry-flavored concoction he’d just sipped. “Almost? You’re not being serious, are you?” Because surely, Matthew wouldn’t bring up such an important subject so casually?

“Oh.” Matthew’s laugh had a nervous ring to it. “I didn’t mean to say that out loud.” He shook his head. “But don’t worry, I haven’t developed a sudden overwhelming urge to expand our family.”

“Hmm.” Gavin drew his brows together. Matthew’s words didn’t quite match his body language. “Wanna talk more about it when we get home?”

Matthew kept his face mostly neutral as he considered the question. He opened his mouth to reply, but then a shadow fell across them from a figure looming too close for comfort.

Matthew’s hand flew to his chest, and he jumped when he turned his head toward the menacing, creepy elf, who was now solo as the other two looked on from a distance, no longer even pretending to herd the children.

Gavin stiffened and drew Matthew closer to him. “What do you want?” he asked the elf.

The elf’s deranged grin twisted, and his ears actually twitched. “You’ve been bad boys, haven’t you.” His tone grated like sand being ground against glass, and he inflected the sentence like a statement, not a question.

Gavin shivered. “You know what? How about you go back to work and leave us alone?”

The elf’s freaky grin widened, and he blew a fetid kiss toward Gavin before turning his gaze back to Matthew and licking his thin, cracked lips.

* * * * *

Victor

“Ew.” Bryan planted a warm kiss to Victor’s neck, to that spot just below and slightly behind his ear that always sent a delightful shiver down his spine. “What are you planning for their demise this time? The creepy elf reads like he could be a vampire.”

“Nah.” Victor shook his head. “Been there, done that. It’s a dark elf. He’s gonna jump them in the men’s room and bash them with his tiny toy-making hammer.”

Bryan snorted. “Amelia will like that.”

Victor grinned and pulled his husband down for a proper kiss. After Bryan’s sister—and Bryan—had gotten over their initial horror at the thought that he might be seriously planning to kill off his most popular series’ characters, their dark senses of humor had surfaced, and they’d begun to look forward to the occasional horror-inspired scenes he wrote to let off a little steam.

“She’s going to psychoanalyze it, though,” Bryan added with a comically arched brow.

Ah, yeah. Victor had been carefully avoiding thinking too hard about his rationale for Gavin and Matthew’s initial conversation…Matthew’s slip of the tongue. Was he subconsciously looking to open that same conversation between himself and Bryan?

“Hmm.” Victor kept his tone noncommittal.

Bryan’s eyes widened, likely because Victor was crap at disguising his thoughts. “Hmm back at you.”

“Are you trying to psychoanalyze me?”

“Should I be?”

Victor groaned and ran his fingers through his hair. “I haven’t really thought it through yet.”

Bryan squatted beside Victor and stared up into his eyes while patting his thigh. “I think this is a conversation for another day. I don’t want to blindside you.”

“So this is something you’ve thought about?”

“A little. Hadn’t gotten to the point where I was ready to bring it up and potentially take action on it, though.”

Both of Victor’s brows reached for the sky like a cornered burglar. “You have?”

“Yeah.” Bryan’s nod was decisive. “Still, let’s hold this conversation for another day. I know how much you like to analyze your feelings on heavy conversations before talking them out.”

“Thank you.” Victor’s lips twitched up into a thankful smile. Bryan understood him like no other, and it wasn’t the first time an impromptu discussion had been shelved until he could sort his thoughts before airing them.

“We could, however—“ Bryan affected a farcical wink. “—take a deeper dive into your motivations behind that ‘bad boys’ accusation.”

Victor stood and pulled Bryan into his arms. “Maybe a little Gavin and Matthew roleplaying? Was your comment about vampires wishful thinking?”

“Now you’re psychoanalyzing me?” But Bryan’s grin widened.

“Hmm, maybe those vampires from my first horror scene a couple years ago could turn Gavin first, then have him devour Matthew?”

Bryan laughed, and they both ignored the tinkle of an ornament crashing to the floor in the living room mixing with the scurry of their cat, Felix, running for cover. “Come on.”


Click for blurb

Gavin and Matthew just want to get home to enjoy Christmas Eve in their safe, warm apartment. Should they walk or take a cab? But will either option do the trick when Victor, suffering from his holiday blahs, is determined to undermine this happy twosome at every turn?

Years ago, Victor made the unfortunate mistake of coming out to his family on Christmas. Why couldn’t he have picked a random summer day?

Can Victor’s husband Bryan pull him out of his gloomy mood in order to give the popular Gavin and Matthew the merry Christmas they deserve?

At first glance, it looked like an innocuous white sweater with a wide red band that had rows of demure diamonds trimming the top and bottom edges. Until you took a double-take at the three white reindeer in that field of red and saw what they were doing, which was…each other.

Quote from Déjà Vu

Déjà Vu will give you something less traditional, dirty Christmas sweaters, and the delicious kind of quiet romance Addison Albright does so well. It’ll make you think huh, what did I just read? in the best possible way, and it will leave you with a smile on your face. Maybe it won’t fill you with the overly sentimental feelings we normally associate with Christmas, with hot chocolate in the snow and singing along to Christmas carols (yes, I’m referring to myself 😀 ) but I don’t discriminate. I love ALL kinds of holiday stories. 😀

Victor stretched in the dim early morning light. He turned on his side and lay watching Bryan’s chest expand and contract with the long slow breaths of sleep. The inhalations were steady and dependable, just like the man. Always there, always supportive, always loving. Always.

Quote from Déjà Vu

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Nell Iris' Christmas

Holidays at Nell’s: Day 22

Today, I’ll introduce you to Sixty-Nine Santa 😁

Day 22 of Holidays at Nell’s: A Swants Soiree by E.J. Russell
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Introverted software engineer Brent Levine struggles with the life part of work-life balance, but to hold on to his new job, he’ll have to embrace his employer’s dreaded “staff enrichment” events. This year’s annual ugly holiday sweater party will strain his ambition to remain inconspicuous: everyone has to wear sweaters converted into pants—aka “swants.”

Brent’s an ace at coding, but when it comes to handcrafts, he’s definitely at the far left end of the bell curve. Luckily he encounters seriously cute theater costumer Jonathan at the Goodwill Outlet. Jonathan offers Brent both an acceptably ugly sweater and his expertise in swants conversion. Attraction sparks on Brent’s side, but can Jonathan be interested in a guy like him?

“Swants? What the heck is swants?” was my first question when I stumbled upon this book. A quick google (no, google, I did not mean ‘a swan soiree’) later told me it’s actually a thing and not something the author came up with (you never know with us author types), and that it’s really ugly (click here if you don’t believe me), it’s taking ugly Christmas sweaters to a whole new level, and then E.J. Russell took it even further than that.

Allow me to introduce Sixty-Nine Santa.

[—]Santa in a garish red suit, his beard in a different kind of yarn that made it look fluffy against the rest of the smooth stitches.

Then Jonathan flipped the sweater upside down.

Brent blinked. “So this is what? Sixty-Nine Santa?”

Jonathan peered down at the sweater. “No wonder he’s so jolly.”

Brent covered his face with both hands. “I’ll be walking around the office all day, looking like I’m getting a blow job from St. Nicholas.”

Quote from A Swants Soiree

Holy crap, this book, and anything with Sixty-Nine Santa, had me laughing so hard I gasped for air. I loved everything about it; the premise, Brent’s workplace, and mostly the main characters. They are both lovely; Brent is a nerdy and smart gentle giant and Jonathan is a short, creative, bubbly person, so the definition of opposites attract. And yet, they are perfect for each other.

I love the gentle-giant trope and Brent is the definition of one. I almost died of a cuteness overdose when Jonathan stepped onto a coffee table to kiss Brent so he wouldn’t get a crick in his neck.

It’s also full of nerdy references that made my heart happy.

“Help me, Sixty-Nine Santa,” he murmured. “You’re my only hope.”

Quote from A Swants Soiree

This is a meet cute story, full of ugly-but-hilarious swants, and high on the adorableness factor. It’s the first wobbly steps of a relationship, but the guys are so freaking adorable together that I’m absolutely certain they’re living a glorious HEA. With a little help of Sixty-Nine Santa, of course.

He gestured to himself, to his red swants covered with mistletoe boughs.

Warmth pooled in Brent’s belly, and he started to grin. “You realize what you’ve done?”

“No. What?”

“You’ve just waved a shit-ton of mistletoe over Sixty-Nine Santa’s head.”

Quote from A Swants Soiree

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