Before I start celebrating all of the festive holiday-themed Romance novels you can curl up with as the weather tuns cold and the nights grow longer and you need a break from all of the forced cheer, I need to address a huge, huge mistake in last month’s column.
I forgot to include My Fake Rake by Eva Leigh, which came out on November 26th. As someone who came of age in the 80s and loves a rollicking historical, omitting this title from my October and November rundown is an embarrassing omission. I mean, the series title is Union of the Rakes and the prologue is basically The Breakfast Club only at Eton and with all boys and it just gets better from there. There are two delightfully geeky protagonists and so many ’80s rom-com tropes that to list them all would be entering into deep spoiler territory. It’s an absolute delight and I am kicking myself for leaving it out last column.
Onward, then, to Holiday cheer.
My personal favorite Christmas Romance is Lady Sophie’s Christmas Wish by Grace Burrowes. Full disclosure, I haven’t re-read it in a while and it may not hold up and the premise was a bit silly to begin with, but here’s why I keep recommending it: It is a baby-focused book–a thing I usually hate with the fiery passion of a thousand blazing suns–that managed to make the baby and the protagonists’ cooing over him absolutely charming. If someone had just described this book to me–a man and a woman are trapped by in a London townhouse by a snowstorm at Christmastime and have to care for an abandoned baby–I would have rolled my eyes so hard. But I read it because it’s a Grace Burrowes Windham family story and I had loved (and still love) the previous books in the series, so why not? It’s not as angsty as the three previous books in the series, which is probably a good thing for a Christmas book. If you’re looking for a sweet, fun, slightly ridiculous Christmas Romance, you should give this a try. (One caveat: Although it’s not strictly necessary to do so, you might want to read the three previous books in the series–The Heir, The Soldier, and The Virtuoso–before diving into this one.)
While there are seemingly a ton of Christmas-themed Romances on the market, other winter holidays are less well-represented. For our December meeting, Third Street Books’s Romance Book Club chose to read Lighting the Flames by Sarah Wendell, one of the founders of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. It’s a friends-to-lovers story set at a summer camp that has opened up to host a Hanukkah camp event for families. Gen and Jeremy have known each other since childhood summers spent at Camp Meira and have come back to the camp as staff. It’s short–under 200 pages–so it’s perfect for reading in whatever small moments of time you can find during this crazy season. The downside is that it’s a CreateSpace-published title, which may keep some stores from stocking it.
Eight Kisses: Eight All-New Tales of Hanukkah Romance, edited by Mindy Klasky and Lori Anne Bailey is a collection of short stories that just published this year. I haven’t read it yet myself, but I am familiar with some of the authors from other things they’ve written and I love the variety of story types–from Historical to Contemporary Erotica and everything in-between–so it’s definitely on my wish list.
How the Dukes Stole Christmas is an Historical Romance anthology inspired by four classic Christmas movies. It came out in hardcover last year, but is now available in a convenient (read: less-expensive and easier to carry) mass market edition. Featuring stories from Sarah MacLean, Tessa Dare, Sophie Jordan, and Joanna Shupe, this anthology also serves a nice little sampler of four of Avon’s most popular authors of Historical Romance. And while I enjoyed all of the stories, I found the MacLean and Dare entries to be the strongest and wish I had read the stories from last to first so that I was able to judge the two latter stories on their own merits, rather than comparing them to what had come before.
Last year, Reese Witherspoon chose One Day in December by Josie Silver as a book club pick. It was a cute, very British Romance spanning ten years and inspired in no small part by David Nicholls’s One Day. This year, Rosie Curtis published We Met in December, a cute, very British Romance that plays out over the course of a single year and has a female protagonist whose favorite book is the aforementioned One Day. This, apparently, is going to be a new Christmas tradition: a cute, very British Romance inspired, at least in part, by One Day. And I don’t hate it. As traditions go, this one could even grow to be a favorite.
Even though the first two Holiday Romance titles I mentioned were rather deep backlist, I want to go back even further and remind everyone of a book that was a sensation when it was released and without which the books mentioned just prior to this would likely not even exist. I am talking, of course, about Bridget Jones’s Diary. One young woman. One diary. One year. One missed opportunity and poor life choice after another, all leading to one perfect kiss at the New Year. There are parts that don’t quite hold up 20 years on, but it is still an absolute delight, even if one finds oneself occasionally cringing on Bridget’s behalf.
And before anyone says anything: Yes, I know this list is very straight and very white. This was not deliberate. I would love to include more queer and/or non-white protagonists in my Holiday Romance reading, but I was not having a lot of luck finding them. I know they’re out there, but my searches were failing me. I found a lot of m/m Holiday Romance written by women, but those are so often written for the female gaze that I am leery of them. And, except for Royal Holiday (which I mentioned in my last column), I wasn’t having much luck finding non-white protagonists, either. But that’s why comments exist. If you have favorite Holiday Romances with queer and/or non-white protagonists, tell me about them. Please.
Billie Bloebaum is a bookseller at Third Street Books who has been reading Romance for more than three decades. She is the founder of Bookstore Romance Day, which will be celebrated for the second time on August 15, 2020. She probably has cookies.