Jaci Burton, Holiday on Ice

I love sports romances. I love holiday romances. I love Jaci Burton books. That makes this book a trifecta of Guppy happiness.

This was a quick read, which is a requirement of all my holiday reads. I don’t have a lot of time from Halloween until New Year’s Day, so they’ve got to be fast. I have 4 holidays, 4 birthdays, numerous holiday events, and a lot of holiday knitting to do. My holiday stories must be quick, entertaining, and emotionally satisfying, and this one fit the bill.

“Trick” had a casual thing (don’t call it a relationship!) with Stella previously. Because of their jobs (she’s a dancer on Broadway, he’s a hockey player), they drifted apart. They meet again in a bar after one of his games, and they remember how much they enjoyed being together. They both like each other a lot, and respect each other’s career requirements. There’s no jealousy because she’s at rehearsals until all hours. She’s not freaking out because he’s out of town with the team. This book is all about two people trying to make it work with all the outside demands on them. These are also two people who have commitment issues, especially Stella, so it was nice to watch her take a chance on Trick.

This was a nice addition to my Holiday Novella collection. I’ll be spending a lot of time with this one through the years.

Mistletoe on Main Street, Olivia Miles

I am SUCH a sucker for holiday stories. I devour them every year from October through January, and I’m usually willing to take a chance on a new (to me) author with a holiday story, which is exactly what happened here.

Mistletoe on Main Street is book one of the Briar Creek series by Olivia Miles. Grace is returning home for the second time in 5 years. Her father died of a heart attack, and this is the first Christmas without him, so she’s coming home to spend the holidays with her sisters and her mom. Unfortunately the first person she sees is the one she had hoped most to avoid: Luke. Her childhood sweetheart, the love of her life, and the one man she’s always loved, even though he broke her heart.

I enjoyed this one. It had enough angst to tug at the holiday heartstrings, yet it didn’t feel too over-the-top. There were a few things I would have liked to have seen expanded on. For example, the drama and mystery surrounding what happened originally to break up Luke and Grace went on a little too long. And we never really did get a clear answer on that. Sure we “see” what happened immediately after, and what the consequences were, but we never really understand what exactly happened to drive them apart. We also never find out how Karen came into the picture. How long did he really wait before dating her after Grace?

Y’all know my stance on groveling. There can never be enough. That goes double, in my opinion, for holiday stories. While no one really needed to grovel here, the smoothing over of issues was a little too quick. If I were either Grace or Luke, after clearing the air I’d need more than a few minutes before we jumped into bed together, or even took a chance on renewing the relationship.

Overall, this was a nice way to spend an afternoon. I liked seeing their mom start to come out of her grief and get into the Christmas spirit, and I want to shop at Grace’s dad’s book store. I’m also intrigued by both of Grace’s sisters, so I’ll be watching for their books to come out. I’m looking forward to seeing how Olivia Miles’ writing continues to grow.

Rating: 3 Stars

Lynda the Guppy
aka Give Me All the Christmas Stories
And No One Gets Hurt
aka the Fish with Sticks

Starting from Scratch, Stacy Gail

Starting from Scratch by Stacy Gail nearly broke me. Some of my favorite tropes in this one: Military Hero, Damaged Hero, Marriage in Trouble, Small Town, Holiday Story.  So many tropes. And it all worked.

The book starts with Lucy at work hearing Sully is back in town. We come to learn Sully is her ex-husband Sullivan. He was an Army Ranger who was injured by an IED. He is now recovering from a Traumatic Brain Injury and remembers almost everything…except Lucy.

Lucy is still in love with her ex-husband. They’ve only been divorced less than a year, and it wasn’t her idea. Since Sully had no memory of his wife, he decided she shouldn’t be chained to him while he recovers.

I have to say, I had heard a lot about this story. All of it good, and nearly all of it using words like “sobbed my way through” and “ugly cry” and “OMG I couldn’t stop crying.” All of it accurate. I pretty much weeped my way through this book. My heart absolutely broke for Lucy. She loves Sullivan so much and yet he doesn’t remember her at all. And even worse, their marriage was in trouble before he shipped out this last time. He does have an insatiable craving for cookies. Since Lucy is a baker, I knew his craving for cookies was a craving for Lucy and that, too, broke my heart.

While I was rooting for this couple, I couldn’t help but want Lucy to just leave town. She was in so much pain having to deal with Sullivan and her unresolved issues with his choices and the fact he treats her like everyone else. I just wanted her pain to stop, and seeing him around town was just torture for her.

And Sullivan…What he did becomes clear, and he DOES do some grovel, and while his explanation is satisfactory, I’m from the “There can never be too much grovel” school of thought, and thought she forgave him way too easily. He hurt her a LOT, not just after his injury, but before when they were still married. It felt like she cut him too much slack because he had been injured since then. I would have liked some acknowledgment of all the issues they still need to work through.

Lest you think this book is nothing but an angst-filled heartbreaking tragic story, every now and again Ms. Gail puts a line in which makes you laugh.

“Every time you say you hate Christmas, one of Santa’s elves explodes.”

Or…

“Tweed is the devil’s material, and moths are his fluttery, dusty minions that want to steal my soul.”

As a knitter with a closet full of wool yarn and hand-knit wool items, I COMPLETELY agree. Damn soul suckers.

There was just enough humor in this book to keep it from being too dark. There was hope, even when it seemed Lucy was crushed under the weight of her grief and sadness. While I cried my way through, I never felt as if these two wouldn’t get their HEA. I had absolute faith Sullivan would remember Lucy and realize what a jerk he had been to her before and make it all up to her. Because if he didn’t, I was showing up on his doorstep with pitchforks and torches.

At the end of the story, Ms. Gail has a note that there are “deleted scenes” on her blog, and to check them out. I did, and I wish they had been included! The epilogue she has posted on her site is what I needed there to be at the end. It shows how Lucy and Sullivan (especially Sullivan) really worked to get their relationship back. It shows us the end of the book wasn’t as simple or cut and dried as it seemed. Lucy DID make him work for it. Good for her. She deserved it, and he needed to put his time in making it all up to her.

And warning: on her site there’s also a letter to Sully’s friend’s kids which will make you cry. Crying is kind of a recurring theme with this book, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

While this book is technically a “holiday” story, This one is going to end up in permanent rotation all year long. Whenever I want a great, emotional, sob-fest of a story, this is the one I’ll reach for.

I’ll be keeping an eye out for more from Ms. Gail. According to her site, she’s writing another Bitterthorn book. Yay! And I’m hoping at some point we will get Coe’s story, too. He intrigued me.

Lynda the Guppy
aka The Fish With Holiday Peppermint Sticks
aka The Fish With Sticks

Rating: 5 Stars

Holiday Games, Jaci Burton

Ahhhh Holiday Stories. Is there anything better to read in November and December? I didn’t think so.

I’ve read the first three books of Jaci Burton’s Play-by-Play series, and have enjoyed them quite a bit. I love reading sports heroes. There’s just something so sexy about a hero so focused and athletic. *shiver*

And seriously, does ANYONE get men on their covers hunkier than the ones for these books? Because YOWZA. They’re the few covers I actually collect.

PlayByPlay

See what I mean? The first one, The Perfect Play, remains my favorite cover. Mmm.

With Holiday Games, Jaci Burton gives me what I consider to be an ideal holiday story. Lots of family, holiday festivities, a little angst, but not a lot, a look at favorite characters from past books, and a quick read. It’s the Christmas cookie of books. Sweet and tasty, and perfect this time of year.

I’ve always liked Liz. I know she was a total bitch in The Perfect Play, but her heart was in the right place, and she more than makes up for it in her book, Changing the Game, so I was excited when I saw she and Gavin would be the focus of Holiday Games.

Liz and Gavin are trying to have a baby, but they’ve been trying for a while and it hasn’t happened yet. Liz is getting a little discouraged, but she’s determined to keep her hopes up and tries to hide how she’s feeling from Gavin because she doesn’t want him to be upset because she’s upset.

What’s fantastic about this book is these two are totally honest with each other. I know. I just said she’s trying to hide her feelings, but she’s not successful. LOL And when he realizes she’s making herself crazy over their first time hosting Christmas at their house, he calls his mom for help. Yeah, he does it and doesn’t tell Liz, but she knows. They both act out of their great love for each other and they have each others’ backs at all times. When she isn’t sure if she wants to talk to the family about something, he covers for her without even thinking about it. These two are clearly A COUPLE and NOTHING will shake them.

I’ve found through the years that while I love books where the relationship is in jeopardy at various stages, my favorite books are usually the ones where the conflict comes from outside the relationship, and this one has the perfect amount of angst for me. It was a sweet, brief glimpse into the lives of the Riley family and a novella which will be added to my yearly rotation of holiday reads.

Lynda the Guppy
aka Can’t Stop Staring At Those Covers Guppy
aka The Fish With Sticks

Rating: 4 Stars

Snowbound with the CEO, Shannon Stacey

This review was original posted
at www.wickedlilpixie.com

One thing you need to know about me. I am an absolute SUCKER for holiday stories. Holiday novellas, especially. They’re usually short enough to be quick reads between family holiday…excitement…and yet long enough to be satisfying romances. They’re sentimental and sappy and I love them like you would not believe.

Back in 2010 when I was just beginning to figure out this whole Twitter thing, I was following Sarah from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and she was raving about a short story titled Holiday Sparks by an author I’d never heard of: Shannon Stacey. I took a chance, (and, hey, Holiday story!) and bought the novella. I remember I sat at my dining room table while my mom was getting ready for us to go to a New Year’s Eve party at my aunt’s house and read the entire thing. I. Loved. It. The next day I went to Amazon and bought her entire backlist.

In 2011, Shannon Stacey published Mistletoe & Margaritas. Another holiday story! Yay! I continued the tradition and read it on New Year’s Eve. Loved it even MORE than the last one.

So imagine my disappointment when I found out there would be no holiday story from Ms. Stacey in 2012! But…but…but…WHY?!?! Turns out she wrote a summer short story. Well, okay, at least I got a story, but it just wasn’t the same. Rumors of pouting, whining, and throwing myself on the ground kicking and sobbing are absolutely true greatly exaggerated.

This year Ms. Stacey is OBVIOUSLY making it up to me, because I get not one, but TWO stories this holiday season. YAY! I haven’t read Snow Day (yet), so I’m not sure if its actually a holiday story or not (I don’t really care. Snow. Novella. Shannon Stacey. I’m in), but Snowbound with the CEO most definitely IS and it’s a fantastic way to kick off what I like to call “Holiday Novella Season.” It may be too early for Christmas lights (Staring at you, neighbor down the street) or Holiday displays in stores, but as soon as Halloween is over, I start hoarding ALL THE HOLIDAY STORIES. I store them like a squirrel stores nuts, keeping them to help me through the bleary winter days with too much food and WAAAAY too much family togetherness. LOL.

In Snowbound with the CEO, Adrian Blackstone is a handsome and successful owner and CEO of Blackstone Historical Renovations, and he wants his executive assistant “more than he’d ever wanted a woman in his life.” Rachel Carter wears sensible heels, professional clothes, has been working for Mr. Blackstone for 16 months, and is trying to remember seducing her boss will end with being unemployed.

They’re at one of Adrian’s former renovations to meet with and impress a potential client. As the title suggests, they get snowed in and hijinks ensue. They’re snowed in at a luxury hotel with guests and a full staff, so its not like they’re roughing it. The nice bit about this (versus the usual “stranded by ourselves, whatever will we DO until help arrives?!” plot) is it gives Ms. Stacey the ability to focus solely on Adrian and Rachel and their interactions with each other, rather than having to spend precious novella pages rescuing themselves in some way. That kind of thinking and paring a story down to focus on its most important elements are things Ms. Stacey excels at and is part of what keeps me coming back book after book.

After discovering they’re snowed in, Adrian heads to the bar and sees a woman at the bar whom he is instantly attracted to. She laughs and he’s entranced. When he sits down next to her he discovers…its Rachel.

Number thirty-two, or thereabouts, on Rachel’s list of one hundred and one ways to seduce her boss was to pretend to be a stranger in a bar. Being mistaken for a stranger in a bar was close enough to send a little sizzle down her spine.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you laugh like that before,” he said, and it wasn’t in his Mr. Blackstone voice. It was definitely a picking-up-a-woman-in-a-bar voice.

“You’ve never told me a joke about two elves, a reindeer and a candy cane.”

He swiveled his stool a little toward her, so their knees almost touched. “Let me buy you another drink and I’ll think of a joke.”

They share their first kiss after a dance, and I melted. A good sexy dance scene is nearly as romantic and sexy to me as anything that happens in the bedroom.

…since I’ve only heard you call me Adrian in my mind— sometimes when I’m dreaming and sometimes when I’m in the shower— I want to hear it from you more often.

Although a conversation like this while dancing ups the Sexy Quotient drastically. fans self*

This was a fun and (not to be to redundant) a sexy read. They spend the better part of a weekend in bed in a lodge only to come home and have a misunderstanding or two which keeps them apart for a little while. There is some angst, and there are some supportive family, a Stacey trademark, and a Merry Christmas and Happily Ever After, of course. It IS a Holiday Novella.

I’m thrilled to add Snowbound with the CEO to my Shannon Stacey Holiday Novella Collection. I’ll be reading it every year just like I do Mistletoe & Margaritas and Holiday Sparks. Reading these stories has become one of my favorite holiday traditions.

Lynda the Guppy
aka No Grinch With Sticks
aka The Fish With Sticks

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars