Christmas Romance Roundup

For many readers, particularly those of us in colder climates where it gets into subzero temperatures and you can’t go out without feeling like your face is going to crack and peel right off, the coming of winter signifies the commencement of the reading season. Oh, sure, we talk about beach reads, but come summer, we cut back on reading in favor of gardening, vacations spent doing much less reading than intended, and other pursuits that enhance our vitamin D absorption. Summer is the off-season; winter is the big game.

But…Christmas. The shopping, the decorating, the church commitments, the wrapping, the parties, the Santa pictures. Your kids get out of school. Your relatives come to visit you, or you go to visit them. Despite your to-read pile, your goal of finishing x number of books before 2014, and all those tempting “Best of the Year” lists popping up all over magazines, newspapers, and the Internet, squeezing in an entire book at this time of year can be tough. On the other hand, sometimes a book is your only escape from holiday stress.

The shortage of time and excess stress make the holiday season the perfect time for some light novella reading. Maybe that’s why the romance imprints love to put out holiday themed shorts this time of year. Here are a few e-only novellas I’ve gone through in the last few days. (Full disclosure: I live half a continent away from my family and friends. My holiday stress level is negligible.)

scandalThe Scandal Before Christmas

by Elizabeth Essex

St. Martin’s Paperbacks, $1.99 Kindle Edition, ASIN B00DK43OPQ, October 2013

Lieutenant Ian Worth needs a wife by Christmas, and he can’t afford to be choosy. He has to find her, woo her, and wed her before he goes back to sea – all within a matter of days. Anne Lesley is a shy spinster with no prospects, and nothing and no one to recommend her but her own self. She accepts the lieutenant’s hasty offer only for the comfort and security it will bring. But when a midwinter storm snows her and Ian in, they both find they got much more than they bargained for – laughter, light, and a Christmas filled with honest to goodness true love.

Dysfunctional families, anyone? Ian’s older brother, the heir to the family estate, lies wounded and probably dying from a horse riding accident, and their almost-unbelievably crass, cruel, and controlling father demands that Ian marry his brother’s betrothed and take his place as heir. Ian, unwilling to take a society wife, promptly snatches up the first possibility of marriage that crosses his path: the eldest daughter of a former shipmate. Anne, for her part, wants to escape the constant chattering of her overbearing and somewhat socially awkward mother, and life with an often-absent sailor husband and mostly empty house sounds wonderful to her. If the couple can just get past Ian’s initial poor and incredibly rude reaction to Anne, the machinations of Ian’s father, and the general annoyance of Anne’s mother, they just might make a match. This sweet and spicy Regency is perfect for a snow day.

‘Twas the Night Before Mischief

by Nina Rowen

Forever Yours, $1.99 Kindle Edition, ASIN B00FKAGNGK, December 2013

When Penelope Darlington is persuaded to elope with a most unsuitable suitor, she wastes no time. With visions of passion and adventure dancing in her head, she steals away in the middle of the night, just before her father’s Christmas feast. Fearing for his daughter’s reputation, Henry Darlington begs Darius Hall, the Earl of Rushton’s daring yet discreet son, to bring Penelope home. When Darius finally catches up to Penelope, he is shocked. She’s not the silly little girl he expected, but a beautiful woman with a sharp mind and an allure that cannot be ignored.

Since her mother died when she was a young girl and her father remarried, Penelope Darlington has felt invisible. She longs for adventure and passion, two words no one associates with Darius Hall. Pennie longs to stand out. Darius is writing a dictionary. On the surface, they’re totally incompatible, but when Darius rescues Penelope after her fiancee jilts her (actually, her fiancee’s mother jilts her), he realizes he loves her passion and she comes to see the value of a loyal and steady man. Fun and adorable, this story ultimately features familial reconciliations as part of the happily ever after.

Kiss Me on this Cold December Night

by Charlotte Phillips

HarperImpulse, $2.99 Kindle Edition, ASIN B00GQUYE5U, December 2013

Checking into her boutique hotel for a weekend of Christmas shopping, the last person Ella expects to bump into at reception is Tom bloody Henley – ambitious doctor, highly eligible bachelor and with whom she had the most unbelievable, mind-blowing brief encounter five Christmases ago. But Ella slipped out quietly the morning after all those years ago for a reason and although Tom’s got a look on his face that suggests Christmas has come early, there’s no way she’s going to be repeating past mistakes… right?

In the contemporary subgenre, we have a traditional one-night stand reunion turned true love story. Ella sneaked away the morning after her fling with Tom in December 2008 because she knew her uncertain future and his preordained place as a partner in his family’s medical firm wouldn’t mesh. When they find themselves snowed in together in a London hotel, Ella’s sure their situations haven’t changed, but Tom has never stopped thinking about her and is ready to pull out all the stops to keep her this time. The love scenes felt a bit mechanical, but the love story felt solid.

The Entity Who Came for Christmas

by Cat Devon

St. Martin’s Paperbacks, $1.99 Kindle Edition, ASIN B00DK41PC0, October 2013

Pru Daniels should know better than to hook up with sexy Simon Howell. He’s a vampire Demon Hunter and a former knight at King Arthur’s roundtable. She’s a witch, a descendant of Morgan Le Fay. Clearly things could get complicated. When Simon shows up in Vamptown while Pru is visiting a friend and fellow witch, he claims to have come for the holidays to visit fellow vampire Demon Hunter Damon Thornheart. But things soon turn passionate as Pru and Simon join together to battle the forces of evil. The holidays won’t be the only thing ruined if Simon and Pru can’t work things out. Can this vampire Demon Hunter find his heart in time to save his love…and his immortality?

I read this, but I have to admit, I have no clue what happened. Here’s what I gleaned: hero=vampire, heroine=witch, past one night stand with questionable motives on hero’s part=heroine cursing him with impotence. Other than that, I think you need to be a fan of the author and know the series’s background. Vampires, witches, King Arthur, Merlin/Morgan Le Fay rivalry/attraction… I’m getting confused again just thinking about it. You have to admit, though, the title is a cut above.

Happy holiday romance, everybody! What’s your favorite holiday escapist reading?