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If You Like Holiday Stories…Recommended by the Dear Author crew

Given that this is the holiday season, I thought it would be fun to gather a list of holiday recommended reads. Unfortunately the list is largely Christmas oriented, in part because there are so few non Christmas holiday stories out there. Leave your own recommendations in the comments so readers can refer to this list in the years to come.

A Christmas Promise by Mary Balogh

Janine recommends A Christmas Promise by Mary Balogh. Balogh’s A Christmas Promise is a class difference marriage of convenience story in which the main characters were both in love with other parties before being forced to marry, he by a debt he inherited and she by her dying father’s wishes. The book also deals with death and grieving, which keeps it from getting too saccharin.  Reviewed here.

Sunita provides these recommendations:

His for the Holidaystwelve nights sarah morganCarol of the Bellskis by Astrid Amara

His for the Holidays: This was Carina Press’s first m/m holiday anthology, with stories from LB Gregg, Harper Fox, ZA Maxfield, and Josh Lanyon, and it’s a great introduction to m/m romance. The stories range from humorous to angst-ridden, and all the authors are well regarded in the genre and very different from each other. I also like being reminded of the holiday issues that are different for some of us, and those that are the same for all of us.  Reviewed here.

The Twelve Nights of Christmas by Sarah Morgan, who writes some of my favorite Christmas stories. They are suffused with a sense of the season, but they’re never preachy. This one has a workplace romance with a sweet, sunny-dispositioned heroine and a yummy but verging-on-Scroogelike hero, and while it has Morgan’s trademark humor, it also has some poignant scenes that might make you wonder if you just got some dust in your eye.

Carol of the Bellskis by Astrid Amara. This one is set during Hanukkah and stars a Jewish paralegal, his handsome, closeted boss and lover, assorted Jewish guests at a B&B, and Whistler, BC. Amara thoroughly immerses you in the festivities, and while there is both humor and steamy m/m action in this novella, there is also a lot more than that. The guests aren’t just caricatures, our heroes find a way to an HEA, and the reader is gently and pleasantly reminded that there is more than one religious holiday that falls in December.  Reviewed here.

Jayne offers up:

Christmas with Her Boss by Marion LennoxThe Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren WilligLiz Fielding Mistletoe and the Lost Stiletto

Christmas with Her Boss by Marion Lennox – Rich Australian CEO gets invited by his assistant to spend Christmas at her family dairy farm where the two discover love amidst the milking. Reviewed here.

The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig – Overlooked heroine and genial but “not the brightest bear in the woods” hero find their HEA during the holiday season while Spying for England.  Reviewed here.

Mistletoe and the Lost Stiletto by Liz Fielding – Fun and flirty bon bon of a holiday story of two nice people who find their Mr/Miss Perfect during the busy buying season in London.  Reviewed here.

Claustrophobic Christmas Ellie MarvelThe Eighth Night - Sandra SookooComing Home for Christmas (anthology) by Carla Kelly

Claustrophobic Christmas by Ellie Marvel – Funny novella in which the heroine with the titular issues is wooed by a sweet hero while they’re stuck in traffic due to bad weather.  Reviewed here.

The Eight Night by Sandra Sookoo – A Hanukkah novella in which the orphaned heroine who has lost her faith finds happiness with the Jewish hero who impulsively invites her to the family gathering to fend off his matchmaking female relatives.  Reviewed here.

Coming Home for Christmas by Carla Kelly – Christmas across the nineteenth century which loosely follows the members of one family finding that perfect someone during wartime and decking the halls.  Reviewed here.

The Cockermouth Mail Dinah DeanFather Christmas by Barbara MetzgerReason to Believe by Kathleen Eagle

The Cockermouth Mail by Dinah Dean – A road romance in which a wounded war veteran and a woman on her way to a dreary future as a governess find love while stranded at a country inn during the holidays.  Reviewed here.

Father Christmas by Barbara Metzger – Hilarious controlled chaos ensues when the childness Duke of Ware decides to “borrow” one of his deceased cousin’s sons for an heir and their mother objects.

Reason to Believe by Kathleen Eagle- an estranged couple finds their way back to each other during a freezing cold cross country ride in honor of the hero’s Lakota ancestors.


 This Wicked Gift breath on embers anne calhoun

This Wicked Gift by Courtney Milan. This historical novella made my top of 2010 list. Lavinia Spencer manages her family’s lending library. Just before Christmas she’s horrified to find the few coins she’s saved for Christmas dinner have been “borrowed” and “invested” by her unthinking younger brother with a swindler who now demands even more of the Spencer familiy’s meager resources. All is not lost, however. A young man who comes regularly to the library and whom Lavinia fancies, Mr. William Q. White, offers Lavinia a way to recover her funds. The story is sexy, funny, full of unexpected twists, and features great protagonists. Despite its brief length, it tells a wholly satisfying holiday tale. It was a 2010 RITA for Romance Novella finalist.

Breath on Embers by Anne Calhoun.

Many novels explore the grief engendered by losing someone we love; many romances tell the story of finding love again after such a loss. I’ve read lots of tales of “a second chance at love” and few of them have felt as powerful as did this novella by Anne Calhoun. Her heroine, Thea Moretti, lost her husband Jesse two years ago during the Christmas season. When Jesse died, so did much of Thea. Thea is “seeing” firefighter Ronan just for amnesiastic sex and she’s sure that’s all she’s capable of feeling. Ronan, however, knows that beneath all of Thea’s pain is a fiercely feeling woman who needs to learn to trust in emotions again.He’s sure he’s the man who can make her feel. The story takes place over the few weeks before Christmas and is perfectly placed in Manhattan. It’s dark, sexy, moving, and all around fabulous. Reviewed here.


From Jane:

A Curious Courting by Laura MatthewsHis Christmas Bride (Harlequin Presents) - Helen Brooks

A Curious Courting by Laura Matthews. An eccentric young woman who has spent much of her youth parenting her male cousin finds love with a prickly and uptight gentleman. While not exactly a holiday story there is snow and sleigh riding.  Review here.

His Christmas Bride by Helen Brooks.  Brooks often writes about a wounded heroine who is persistently (but not in a stalkerish, Edward sort of way) by a wealthy male (often with chest hair).  This is the formula I like best from Brooks.  In His Christmas Bride, photographer Blossom has never really recovered from being betrayed by her ex and she’d like to live out her life as the beloved spinster aunt to her sister’s children.  Zak Hamilton takes one look at Blossom and falls almost instantly but spends the whole book trying to convince her to take a chance on him.  Reviewed here.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Mireya
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 06:47:23

    I’d love to try “The Cockermouth Mail” but it’s not available electronically. Oh well…

  2. Jayne
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 06:54:10

    @Mireya: Unfortunately I don’t think any of Dinah Dean’s books have been digitalized which is a shame since I’ve enjoyed all of them that I’ve read and she has a great Regency series set in Russia.

  3. Lindsay Townsend
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 07:00:40

    My “The Snow Bride,” “A Christmas Sleeping Beauty,” and “Twelve Kisses,” are Christmas stories.
    I blog about my own romances set during the Christmas period on my blog.

    I also would like to recommend a sweet Regency romance novella, “Mistletoe Everywhere,” by Linda Banche.

  4. Kati
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 07:05:30

    I just finished Breath on Embers by Anne Calhoun last night. I don’t do holiday romances, which is why there are no recs from me up there, but this novella utterly blew me away. It’s deep, it’s emotional, it’s beautifully written. I can’t recommend it enough.

  5. Mary Beth
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 09:34:51

    @ Mireya – The Cockermouth Mail is such an excellent book it is worth buying used. These days, I too prefer to purchase ebooks, however this little book is a gem which I still think about at times and then pick it up and reread it! This book was my introduction to Dinah Dean and I would second Jayne’s recommendation of her series based in Russia – great stories and an unusual setting.

    I have been consistently impressed over the years at what splendid stories authors such as Dean and Balogh, and many others, managed to write with such a limited page count. The old Signet regencies have some true treasures.

  6. Dabney
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 09:57:44

    @Kati: Yes. Yes. Yes.

  7. cleo
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 10:51:33

    I love holiday stories, especially novellas, and now I have more to read.

    My recs (partial list):
    All Seated on the Ground by Connie Willis – this is more sf/f with romantic elements than a pure romance, but it’s so much fun. Aliens land in a mall during the Christmas season and a scientist works with a choir director to figure out how to communicate with them.

    The Dickens with Love by Josh Lanyon – m/m contemporary with a bit of a mystery thrown in. Plus, an escaped ocelot and a never before published Dickens Christmas story.

    Turkey in the Snow by Amy Lane – m/m contemporary. Amy Lane in heartfelt but not super angsty mode. I just read this and it hit the spot for me. It’s a sweet romance (not very steamy) between a young banker trying to raise his 4 yo niece and the flaming but hot day care guy at his gym. As I’m writing this, I’m cringing because it sounds like it’d either be icky (not a big nanny romance fan) or a treacly, plot moppet-y sugar fest, but it didn’t read like that to me.

  8. Lauren Willig
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 11:02:41

    For those interested in “The Mischief of the Mistletoe”, I’ve noticed that it’s currently deeply discounted at Amazon (60% off both the hardcover and paperback).

    There’s also an extra bonus love scene (written as part of a bet with Sarah of Smart Bitches after “Mistletoe” won the RITA) available in the Free Reads section of my website:

    Happy holidays and happy reading!

  9. Janine
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 11:58:16

    @Kati & @Dabney:

    I also finished Breath on Embers recently, thanks to Dabney’s raves. While I liked it, I didn’t love it as much as you guys. Thea was great, but I had a problem witn Ronan’s character which was that he was just so perfect that I couldn’t fully believe in him as a real person. He was a great guy in every way — patient, kind, sexy, good looking, smart, courageous, etc. etc. If he had a flaw or an insecurity, I never saw what it was, and I generally need something like that to form an emotional connection with a character.

    I also, as I read, couldn’t help comparing the novella to Dirty by Megan Hart, another erotic work with a female protagonist who is using the male protagonist for sex when he wants to date her and for them to be an actual couple. It’s probably not fair to compare them, but I loved Dirty, and Breath of Embers didn’t have the same degree of complexity and therefore wasn’t quite on the same level for me.

    With that said, I did like Thea very much and I found her journey through her grief very moving. Some of the sex was quite hot and I loved the scene with the carolers and candles where she finally came to terms with everything. I’d give it a B-.

  10. Laura Florand
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 12:07:05

    @Lauren Willig: Yes, and if you haven’t read it yet, that love scene is a pure delight.

  11. Mireya
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 12:11:44

    @Mary Beth: Well, I am sold. I bought a used copy from Amazon.

    I forgot to mention in my earlier post that both Carla Kelly and Mary Jo Putney have collections of their Christmas short stories available in electronic formats. I got Carla Kelly’s last year, and this year I got Putney’s. Worth checking (I plan on re-reading Kelly’s collection). I love to read Christmas/Holiday stories this time of the year. Thanks for the recommends (of which I own quite a few already). :)

  12. Estara
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 12:58:20

    I can recommend Mary Jo Putney’s A Christmas Fling, which is a contemporary romance for some side characters in her previous suspense contemporary romances. It’s an 85 page novella and lots of excerpts for the Circle of Friends novels at the end, but it really works. Quoting my own review on GR:

    I really would have loved to have had A Christmas Fling expanded, it was just such a romantic and simply nice Christmas in the Cotswolds read. Only very rarely did the emotional description venture into purple prose. The few side characters, Plato the Cat, Patricia the heroine’s sister, were fun, as well.

    It’s a “second chance at love” story and I didn’t need any suspense or plot other than the difficulties that both Greg and Jenny of believing themselves worthy enough to try and make something more than just a fling out of their mutual attraction.

    Carla Kelly has a Christmas themed e-anthology out, Carla Kelly’s Christmas Collection (link to my review), and a 1989 novella, Marian’s Christmas Wish (link to my review), which she released independently last year.

    And then there’s Tied with a Bow, a paranormal romance anthology with a holiday theme which I only bought for the Eileen Wilks’ World of the Lupi short story included (it’s also the only story I read) and it was great! Rule’s brother and his new mate visit her family and get entangled in someone else misusing magic.

  13. Jane
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 13:01:51

    @Janine: Conversely, I thought Dirty by Megan Hart was monotone with the main character’s emotional flatness written with no nuance. Dan, in Dirty, was also portrayed as the amazing super hero of a guy, always knowing exactly how far to push Elle and when to draw back. He read her emotional-less aspect like a five year old reading a picture book.

  14. cleo
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 13:36:53

    @Mireya: Is the Carla Kelly anthology you mention a different one than the one recommended by Jayne – Coming Home for Christmas? I hope so – I loved CHfC and I’d read more.

  15. MaryK
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 13:58:44

    @Mireya: Putney wrote one of my fav Christmas stories, “The Best Husband Money Can Buy.”

  16. Jane
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 14:01:17

    I think it’s interesting that so many favorites are novellas or category length. Maybe the secret is that holidays simply can’t last too long before the period wears out its welcome. In recent years, I’ve really loved Shannon Stacey’s holiday novellas.

  17. Dabney
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 14:16:54

    @Janine: “Dirty” didn’t do much for me. I usually dislike perfect heroes, but Ronan worked for me.

  18. Mireya
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 15:45:45

  19. Mireya
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 15:46:52

    @MaryK: Excellent, I am so looking forward to starting reading the collection. I am taking some time off this month so it’s going to be fun fun fun. :D


  20. Statch
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 15:57:22

    I loved His Christmas Bride by Helen Brooks (very romantic) and the Marion Lennox. I’m off to get the Sarah Morgan book and check out the new Carly Kelly anthology. Marian’s Christmas Wish is one by her that has stuck in my mind all these years.

  21. leslie
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 16:08:13

    Carla Kelly’s Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand. Best Christmas regency romance ever! IMHO. I was thrilled to find it in e-book at Amazon.

  22. Brie
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 16:08:40

    @Janine: The way I see it is that had Ronan been paired with a different heroine, he probably would have been more reticent to deepen the relationship, and maybe his flaws would have been more evident. But Thea needed external help to move on. She was never going to let go of the past and her grief on her own, and she needed someone confident and willing to risk his own feelings to help her see the life she was missing, and to bring her back from her extreme detachment. I think Ronan didn’t have the luxury of being flawed. It wouldn’t have worked between them otherwise. Although the way he suddenly decides he wants more from Sadie and pushes her into a relationship didn’t strike me as perfect.

    I’m not a big fan of holiday books, at least not when they are super sweet and cute, but a couple of novellas and shorts that I enjoyed are Simple Gifts by LB Gregg and the Winter Warmers anthology by Chrissy Munder, Clare London, JL Merrow, Josephine Myles and Lou Harper. All m/m, and all sweet and cute, so I just contradicted myself. I agree with @Jane, though, the shorter length makes it easier for me to stomach the sweet.

  23. Joanna
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 16:11:40

    I have a paperback copy of some of Mary Jo Putney’s regency set Christmas novellas that I pull out every year – my favorite is “Sunshine for Christmas” about an English gentleman who goes to Italy for Christmas and falls in love with an English governess who has been living there for years. He was a minor character in her book “The Rake” but you don’t have to have read that one to enjoy the story. The others are also delightful and I think at least some of them may now be available in e-format.

  24. Jane Horton
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 17:10:08

    One of my newer favorite Christmas reads is a book called Sing We Now of Christmas from last December – poignant and sweet and full of hope. It’s by Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy and I really enjoyed it.

  25. cleo
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 17:27:36

    @Mireya: Thanks!

  26. Mireya
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 18:11:05

    I just remembered one of the first Christmas anthologies I ever read was titled “Naughty or Nice” and published at Ellora’s Cave (I am a relative newcomer to romance, as I started reading the genre in 2003, when I discovered EC). It’s not available there any longer. So, I did a bit of research and it is available from Loose-Id, with a different title, here: I really liked that little collection of stories and if you are a fan of MaryJanice Davidson’s Wyndham werewolves like I am, you should add this one to your collection. My favorite story, have to admit, is “Jingle’s Belle” though.

    Another Christmas/Holiday story I recommend is Grace Burrowes’ “Lady Sophie’s Christmas Gift”. I like her writing style and I enjoyed this book. It’s a full length novel.

  27. Susan/DC
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 20:42:30

    Whenever the topic of holiday stories comes up, I always say how sorry I am that Signet ended its Christmas anthology — I looked forward to that every year. I’ve loved Christmas stories by many of the authors already mentioned (Carla Kelly, Mary Balogh, etc), but I think my favorite story is “The Gingerbread Man” by Edith Layton. She’s so very very good at creating character in a few paragraphs or even words. In addition this is a friends-to-lovers story, which is both one of my favorite tropes and a way to make the romance and HEA more believable in the short format.

  28. cayenne
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 21:32:37

    I love Mary Balogh’s & Carla Kelly’s Christmas books – “Marian’s Christmas Wish” is so much fun. My favourite of Balogh’s is “Christmas Belle”, which I don’t think has been re-released yet in ebook. Highly recommend keeping an eye out for when it does become available in ebook, or finding a used copy.

  29. Janine
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 22:39:50

    @Jane: Yeah, I remember your reaction to Dirty. It was montone (though I felt there was nuance there too, just very subtle nuance) but given that Elle was narrating it and she was emotionally deadened for much of the book, I felt that it needed to be that way. Breath on Embers also felt monotone to me, again with subtle nuances, but it was written in third person, so I’m not convinced it needed that monotone quality.

    I take your point that Dan in Dirty was too good to be true in many ways as well, but he didn’t have Ronan’s gorgeous physique or physical courage and his religion was different than Elle’s which presented a conflict, so he struck me as a more believable character, despite his overly perfect reading of Elle. Ronan read Thea in exactly the same perfect way, BTW.

    @Brie: I don’t really understand why Ronan needed to be perfect. To me for him to have a human moment and blow up at Thea for rejecting his love over and over would have made him much more believable and if what they had was as strong as he kept saying, he should have been able to do that and still win Thea at the end. But even if as you say, Thea needed him to be perfect, I needed him to have at least one or two imperfections. He was too much of a fantasy man for me to be able to relate to him and view him as a fully believable character.

  30. Jessa Slade
    Dec 12, 2012 @ 00:05:34

    It’s not technically a holiday story, but I usually re-read Kathleen Woodiwiss’ A ROSE IN WINTER around this time of year because the mood is right. The ebook is discounted at Amazon to $3.79.

    Also, I gathered together some friends’ holiday books AND their holiday cookie recipes through a Pinterest board at Sugar buzz + sexy stories > holiday stress.

  31. Kati
    Dec 12, 2012 @ 08:47:47

    @Janine: I so admire Megan Hart’s writing ability but her books make me uncomfortable – in that same way that witnessing a socially awkward moment has. I can’t read her. She’s a brilliant author, and is so talented, but her books are too raw for me. I admire her abilities, but can’t appreciate her books.

  32. Janine
    Dec 12, 2012 @ 15:22:56

    @Kati: She’s very hit or miss for me. My faves are Pleasure and Purpose (which you might like even if her Spice books don’t work for you, it’s very different from those), Dirty and Broken, but on the other hand, I DNF’d Stranger, No Greater Pleasure and Selfish is the Heart. I read some others that were in the mid range of B to C-, as well. At this point I don’t review her anymore because I find her writing so uneven.

  33. Amy
    Dec 14, 2012 @ 00:42:04

    Is it possible to buy This Wicked Gift on its own? I can only find it as part of The Heart of Christmas anthology on Amazon. I’m not all that interested in the other stories (based on the reviews I’ve read).

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