At this point, holiday-themed romance is a yearly institution. And like most holiday traditions, it can all get a bit overwhelming. But never fear! Whether you’re in the mood for small-town sweetness or an old-fashioned Christmas ball, these five romances are the season’s best.
Another member of the Westcott family finds true love in Mary Balogh’s Someone to Trust. The setting is snow-covered and the company jolly, but two people at the holiday family gathering are feeling gloomy. Widow Elizabeth Overfield, at 35, wonders if now might be the time to find another husband and try for children. Eligible bachelor Colin Handrich, Lord Hodges, is 26 and contemplates doing his duty in the New Year and beginning the business of finding a wife. The pair enjoys each other’s company and feels an undeniable attraction, but the age difference makes them incompatible—or does it? Colin and Elizabeth bring out the best in each other, but on the way to a happy-ever-after they must confront ugly gossip, societal expectations and manipulative relatives. The quiet, authentic intensity of the characters’ emotions is a hallmark of Balogh’s work, and it is a pleasure to experience each heart-wringing moment in this romance made for warming a winter night.
MISSION OF LOVE
In Lori Wilde’s The Christmas Key, a soldier with PTSD reluctantly experiences the annual celebrations in the small town of Twilight, Texas. Consumed with guilt for his part in a fellow soldier’s death, Mark Shepherd is on a mission to return an heirloom key to the young man’s family. Upon meeting the Luthers, he’s astonished to find that Naomi Luther is straight out of his dreams—as in, he’s literally dreamed about her. Naomi doesn’t let on at first, but she’s dreamed about Mark, too. Are they soul mates? There are obstacles aplenty to real romance—from Naomi’s out-of-town sweetheart to Mark’s need to address his childhood and wartime experiences. The events surrounding Christmas ensure the two have plenty of time together, and as their feelings grow, so do the issues lying between them. Questions of destiny and faith are explored, and readers will cheer when the couple finds their way to forgiveness and love. The Christmas Key is a romance brimming with holiday spirit.
ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS
It’s Yuletide in London in Kiss Me at Christmas by Valerie Bowman. Lady Regina Haversham is looking forward to the holiday season because she’s decided to gift herself a man. A particular man: the dashing and roguish Daffin Oakleaf, a member of the Bow Street Runners, London’s first police force. He and Regina indulged in a flirtation in the not-too-distant past, but Daffin doesn’t accept her indecent proposal. Embarrassed by his rejection, Regina thinks she wouldn’t mind never seeing him again, but after she experiences some frightening attempts on her life, the lawman is forced to stay near the tempting Regina to solve the puzzle of why someone wants to harm her. Scorching romance and enjoyable mystery twine together in this charming story of a hero and heroine battling strict class expectations. Regina is no wilting flower, and her determination to direct her own life makes her an admirable partner for the oh-so-honorable Daffin (who wields his handcuffs in some very decadent ways). Bowman’s latest is a sparkling holiday tale.
HOLIDAY HIGH JINKS
Holiday, Texas, goes all-out for Christmas in Cowboy Christmas Jubilee by Dylann Crush. Jinx Jacobs doesn’t expect much out of life and hasn’t experienced a great deal of love. The holidays have never meant a thing to her, but that’s about to change when her broken motorcycle strands her in the small rural town, where she meets the Walker family and enters into the gleeful antics of this Christmas-crazy part of the country. Sheriff’s deputy and single dad Cash Walker doesn’t trust the tough loner at first, with her blue hair and tattoos, but soon he sees beneath the surface to find the warm woman with a big heart. Readers will enjoy the description of a holidays-gone-wild town that sponsors everything from a Turkey Trotter race to an Elf Auction to a Kissmas Cam. There are two unusual pets and a plot with some zany moments, but the characters are good, caring people who deserve to find everything their hearts desire under the tree.
TOP PICK IN ROMANCE
Susan Fox sends an arrow to the heart with Sail Away with Me. Family obligations bring successful musician Julian Blake back to Destiny Island in the Pacific Northwest. He ran from the island as a teen, under the shadow of a terrible secret. But now he must manage his complicated emotions concerning the island in order to return and help his injured dad. Iris Yakimura, the introverted local bookseller, acts as a balm to Julian’s soul. They build a friendship, albeit one that has a limited shelf life, since he’ll be returning to his career and she believes she’s island-bound forever. But they both find hidden strengths—Julian exposes the man who sexually abused him, and Iris faces up to her near-crippling shyness. This is no saccharine Christmas tale, though there’s sweetness to be found in the courageous actions of the characters. The discussion of the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II adds another dimension to this wonderful story of finding love in the midst of hardship and pain. Prepare for tears and smiles, and have tissues at the ready.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with Susan Fox about Sail Away with Me.