Rating: 2.5 Stars

Publisher: A.D. Ellis Publishing

Genre: Gay Romance

Tags: Contemporary, Age Gap (7 Years), A Little Christmad Magic, Brother’s Best Friend, Fake Relationship, First Time, Friends-to-Lovers, Romance

Length: 284 Pages

Reviewer: Cindi

Purchase At: Amazon

Blurb –

Ivyrson is the quintessential Scrooge when it comes to anything having to do with the holidays. However, the chance to win a hefty chunk of money and free repairs on his old home is enough to entice the man to take part in a holiday-themed reality game.
Emory has had a crush on his older brother’s best friend for years. When the chance to help Ivy possibly win a reality game comes along, Emory doesn’t hesitate. After all, that’s what friends are for.
The two men have known each other forever, but living together and pretending to be a couple means getting to know each other on a whole new level. Can they convince the viewing audience their fake relationship deserves to win the grand prize? Or will Ivy and Emory get swept up in the holiday magic and find themselves falling in love for real?

Once Upon a Christmas House is a steamy, forced-proximity, fake relationship, M/M Christmas romance between a grumpy Scrooge and his best friend’s cheery little brother.

Review –

Well, that was frustrating. It started out good. Unfortunately, the author chose to drag Ivy’s issues out until almost the end of the book. By the time they were resolved, there weren’t enough pages left to give him and Emory a chance to live as a real couple instead of a fake one. There’s an epilogue that takes place the following Christmas, but by the time I got there, I was over Ivy. Throughout the book, I felt that Emory could do better. I hate that because it could’ve been a really good book for me.

Now to my review…

There will be spoilers in this review because I’m not sure how I can give my thoughts or describe the story without them.

Ivy and his best friend Trevor sign up for a reality show called Once Upon A Christmas House. The show will have couples from all over the country competing for a $500,000 grand prize and a remodel of their home, with the show filming for 8 weeks with voter eliminations along the way. Trevor doesn’t need the money so much, but Ivy does. He’s recently purchased a home they’ve always called The Christmas House, and it’ll take quite a bit of cash to remodel and fix things in the old house. He’s a mechanic, so he’d also use some of the money to expand his shop. The only problem? Trevor is as straight as they come, and Ivy’s only been with women. He’s never considered himself straight, gay, bi, pan or anything else. He just has sex with women because it’s all he’s ever known.

I have to throw this out there before I get back to the story… Ivy gave way too many details of what he’s done sexually with women. I didn’t need to know all that. I’d say the same had he been talking about men he’d been with had he done so. It was way too much in front of Emory.

Emory is Trevor’s little brother by seven years. He’s twenty-three when Ivy and Trevor are both thirty. Ivy’s always been close to their family, but not as close to Emory as Trevor because of the age difference. Emory’s sexuality has never been a secret. His being gay was a non-issue for pretty much everybody he was close to.

When they’re discussing the reality show, it’s fairly obvious that Trevor and Ivy will have a hard time faking it (a relationship) for the cameras. Even so, they plan on trying anyway. That is, until Trevor’s involved in a bad accident that puts him in the hospital. Thankfully, he’s okay, but there’s no way he can be part of the show. Emory volunteers to take his place. One, he’s always had a crush on Ivy. Two, he knows how important winning that money would be for the other man. Of course, they’ll have to fake it, but how hard can it be?

Pretty hard, apparently.

When they’re in the bottom two in the voting the first week, they know they have to step up their game. This involves more kissing – they’d ‘practiced’ a little before the show started – holding hands more, and acting like they truly love each other. For Emory it’s super easy. For Ivy, not so much. Sure, he’s turned on by Emory, and he truly cares about him – he’s his best friend’s brother, after all – but he’s scared of developing feelings when he can’t do that. Why can’t he, you ask? Because he’s a grumpy Scrooge whose father left his family on Christmas when Ivy was was twelve. He’s associated the holiday with that for eighteen years, and because he’s convinced he’s incapable of love because of his crappy dad.

You know how I know this? Because it was brought up either verbally or in his head 5.2 million times. Okay, that may be a slight exaggeration, but I swear it was on almost every page.

They do the challenges for the show, with some involving a bit more touchy-feely and lovey-dovey stuff. This leads to some sexual situations in one of the ‘almost private with no cameras’ area of the house – the bedroom. The bathroom is the other room without cameras. Correction. The bedroom has cameras, but they’re supposed to only catch mumbles and silhouettes of any intimate moments. Those cameras don’t stay on 24/7, so they’re able to discuss things in there more often than not.

The viewers are loving them so they keep getting voted through to the next week. The only problem is when Emory can’t keep his feelings to himself anymore and makes it clear that while he understands Ivy’s issue with relationships, he (Emory) wishes their fake relationship could be real when the show is over. For that reason, he takes a step back. He takes a step back because Ivy is too much of a coward to do what his heart keeps telling him to do. Only when they’re in the bottom two again in the voting do they kinda/sorta go back to pretending.

That pissed me off. Emory, to guard his heart, had taken a step back, though the timing couldn’t have been worse because they were near the end of the show. When he tells Ivy he’s okay with faking it all again, what happens? Do they talk about things? Maybe hug and go back to being friends? Uh, no. The first thing that happens is Ivy is bending Emory over the desk in his office.

Leading him on much? You know, knowing how Emory feels? Emory may not have said the L word, but he didn’t have to. It was so obvious, but I felt that Ivy took advantage of the situation when Emory wanted to go back to the faking thing for the cameras.

Other things happen in the book. The house is known for its Christmas magic, maybe a little paranormal, and weird things start happening when Ivy finally agrees to let Emory decorate for the holiday. He only agrees because the voters made it a challenge and he couldn’t say no.

Did I mention how much Ivy HATES Christmas? Yeah.

Anyway, back to the magic of the house. First, there’s a creepy nutcracker and Santa Claus whose eyes follow their every move. I’m with Ivy on the creepy nutcracker. I’m not a fan, and had nightmares about those things when I was a kid. Then there’s an old snow globe that has an exact replica of the house inside it. Not just that. Every new decoration or whatever in the real house shows up on the one in the snow globe. Emory adds a wreath to the door and there’s one on the small house. Lights are turned on in certain rooms, they come on in the rooms in the snow globe. Smoke even comes out of the chimney when a fire is in the fireplace in the real house. There’s also the matter of mistletoe that appears over every door no matter how many times Ivy throws it away. Then there’s the coffee that changes from the normal Folgers to chicory but only in certain Christmas cups. Other paranormal slash weird things happen, but these are the main ones.

Even seeing this stuff with his own eyes doesn’t convince Ivy that there’s any such thing as Christmas magic.

This book aggravated me to no end. As I was reading it, I was fairly convinced that the only real problem I’d have with the story would be Trevor, who didn’t want his best friend in a real relationship with his brother. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Trevor, once he saw things on the show, was all for Ivy and Emory together. He even brings it up to both men separately. What absolutely aggravated me the most was Ivy’s woe-is-me-my-dad-ran-off-and-left-us-for-a-new-family-on-Christmas-when-I-was-twelve-and-now-I-can’t-love-because-my-dad-hurt-me-as-a-child.

He needed therapy. Seriously.

Dear God, that was the entire book. It never let up, even when it was obvious he was hurting Emory by being so adamant about not catching feelings. This literally went on until the VERY END, not including the epilogue. I’m thinking it was the last page before he got his head out of his ass (as Trevor so eloquently put it at one point) and told Emory he loved him.

There were sweet and romantic moments from Ivy during the entire book. They even danced naked (a challenge from the viewers) to You And Me by Lifehouse, telling Emory that the song lyrics described his feelings for Emory.

Talk about leading somebody on when you have no intention of continuing things when the show is over. I know the words to that song. It’s one of my all-time favorite songs, and has been on every single playlist I’ve ever had since I created my first one years ago. By telling Emory some of the lyrics said how he felt about him was giving Em hope.

I tried to keep an open mind with this book. I really enjoyed Holly Hills Christmas by this author, with it even being one of my favorite books of the year for 2021 and had hoped to feel the same about this one.  I kept thinking that Ivy would get over his woe-is-me-I’m-incapable-of-love spiel, but it simply never happened until the last page or close to it. I get faking it for the show, but behind closed doors there was no faking, and they had a very active sex life when Ivy had never been with a man, and Emory had never gone all the way (so to speak) with anybody. Ivy had been with so many women over the years – we know this, again, because he said it often and went into way too much detail about that – that it came across in a way that he had an itch and Emory was there to scratch it, even knowing how Emory felt about him.

I’m going to have to stop here because if I don’t, I’ll continue ranting.

I loved that Ivy was a tattooed bad boy – his description, not mine – and that Emory was a cute geek who wore glasses. Unfortunately, those are about the only really good things I have to say about the book. I despise rush rush endings, and that’s exactly what I got here.

Note that I tried to center the video below but couldn’t figure out how without Googling when I’ve already spent enough time on this review.