‘Tis the Season, with Love in Mind | Romance Reviews

JUST FOR THE HOLIDAYS The winter season is fast approaching, and authors and publishers are doing their best to make sure there are stories to please everyone. Whether lighthearted or serious, fast-paced or leisurely, spicy or sweet, laid back or angst-driven, the latest books have it all. If readers want to spend Christmas exploring the countryside on a snowy Wyoming ranch, making candles in a peaceful Amish community, fighting outlaws in the Old West, foster-parenting a pair of abandoned boys, or braving the online dating scene, there’s bound to be a romance to match. With the fire crackling and the cider mulled, these stories will add some love to those cold nights.

Yuletide gifts

Alers, Rochelle & others. The Perfect Present. Dafina: Kensington. Oct. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9781496710185. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781496710253. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Three couples take center stage in this holiday-infused anthology by three of Dafina’s best-known authors. When their plane is grounded during a storm, a schoolteacher invites a soldier she met on board to stay with her family—who assume they are a couple—in Alers’s engaging “A Christmas Layover”; high school friends who went their separate ways reconnect ten years later with romantic results in Cheris Hodges’s “The Christmas Lesson”; and a sports agent and a stylist for a music group find the road to love is rockier than they’d thought in ­Pamela Yaye’s “Christmas with You.” ­VERDICT Sassy, seductive, and modern, this collection will please readers who like their seasonal romances with flair. ­Alers, Hodges, and Yaye live on New York’s Long Island; Charlotte, NC; and Alberta, Canada, ­respectively.

Greenwood, Leigh & others. Christmas in a Cowboy’s Arms. Sourcebooks Casablanca. Oct. 2017. 512p. ISBN 9781492656777. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781492656784. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

The Old West takes on a holiday glow as six of the genre’s favorite historical authors join forces in this delightful anthology of short stories and novellas (some linked to the authors’ other series) overflowing with cowboys, family, and a welcome sparkle of festive warmth. A man on the run finds love—and more—in “Father Christmas,” Greenwood’s clever spin on the Christmas story; in Rosanne Bittner’s realistic, child-centric “A Chick-a-Dee Christmas,” a notorious fast gun–gone–straight keeps his family safe and a young hothead from going astray; a disillusioned drifter finds belonging when a young woman drags him in from the snow in Linda Broday’s poignant heart-warmer “The Christmas Stranger”; a Texas Ranger and a widow who vows never to marry another Ranger find each other in Margaret Brownley’s touching “A Texas Ranger for Christmas”; Anna Schmidt’s insightful novella “A Christmas Baby” sees a young couple fight family and prejudice; and a pair separated by treachery years earlier sort out the past in “A Christmas Reunion,” a spirited entry by Amy Sandas. VERDICT Rich with Old West flavor, this gathering of Christmas tales has something for everyone and is just the thing to curl up with on a cold winter’s night. Greenwood, Bittner, Broday, Brownley, Schmidt, and Sandas live in Charlotte, NC; Michigan; the Texas panhandle; Southern California; Wisconsin; and the Milwaukee area, respectively.

Kramer, Kieran. Christmas at Two Love Lane. St. Martin’s Paperbacks. (Two Love Lane, Bk. 1). Oct. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9781250111043. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250111050. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

As a sixth-generation Southern belle and reputed to be a descendant of Cupid, Macy Frost takes her job as a professional matchmaker very seriously. When tech entrepreneur and Northerner Deacon Banks says he just wants a few casual dates in order to appease his aunt, who wants him to marry into Charleston society, Macy makes him a counteroffer. She’ll get him the “­unsuccessful dates” he’s after if he lets her take a shot at finding his soulmate before he leaves on New Year’s Day. Although skeptical, Deacon agrees, but with her match­making record, Macy’s sure she’ll discover The One for him. VERDICT Upbeat, quirky, and funny, this holiday treat nicely launches Kramer’s new contemporary series. Kramer (Trouble When You Walked In) lives in the South Carolina Low Country.

Long, Kelly & others. The Amish Christmas Candle. Kensington. Oct. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9781496710154. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781496710161. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Stories focusing on Amish communities are as popular as ever, and this trio of Christmas novellas from three of the genre’s most beloved authors are ideal for the season. A smart father hires a handsome young man to help his unmarried daughter in their candle shop with more than one ulterior motive in Long’s “Snow Shine on Ice Mountain”; a woman must choose between returning to her old Englisch life or marrying an Amish man she’s come to love in Jennifer Beckstrand’s “A Honeybee Christmas”; and a young Amish woman and a ­Mennonite man are attracted to each other as they work on a Christmas charity project but fear their different faiths may keep them apart in Lisa Jones Baker’s “The Christmas Candle.” VERDICT Sweet, gently humorous, and steeped in Amish tradition, this collection will entice inspirational and ­traditional romance fans alike. Long, Beckstrand, and Baker live in Hummelstown, PA; Centerville, UT; and Bloomington, IL, ­respectively.

Macomber, Debbie. Merry and Bright. Ballantine. Oct. 2017. 272p. ISBN 9780399181221. $20; ebk. ISBN 9780399181238. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

With her family, the holidays, and her difficult, by-the-book boss all demanding her attention, Merry Knight, a temp at a consulting firm, has no time for a social life. Her mother and brother take matters into their own hands and sign her up for an online dating site (under a pseudonym, with the family dog as her photo), leaving Merry annoyed, then curious, and finally amazed when she connects with a kindred spirit. But her cyberbeau is none other than her overworked, difficult boss Jayson Bright, something neither of them knows until they have almost fallen in love. VERDICT ­Online dating leads to hilarious, eventually romantic results for a deserving, likable pair in this tender holiday delight. Macomber (Any Dream Will Do) lives in Port Orchard, WA. [See Prepub Alert, 5/1/17.]

Miller, Linda Lael. A Snow Country Christmas. HQN: Harlequin. (Carsons of Mustang Creek, Bk. 4). Oct. 2017. 256p. ISBN 9780373789313. $17.99; ebk. ISBN 9781488029394. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Graphic designer and single mom Raine McCall wasn’t looking to spend Christmas Eve with high-powered film executive Mick Branson. But Mick is in town to surprise Slater Carson with the debut of his Wild West film on Christmas Day, and he also wants to see Raine again about a business proposal. As nothing is open in Mustang Creek on Christmas Eve, Raine does the only thing she can—she invites him over to share her private holiday tradition: green chili hamburgers, wine, and a John Wayne classic. The evening is an unqualified hit, and the attraction that sizzles between them can’t be denied despite their obvious differences. A haunted cabin, a dash of magic, and snippets from the novel that Raine’s Western writer grandfather started and that Mick is finishing add humor, intrigue, and a dollop of whimsy. VERDICT A stunning setting, flirty banter, and the chaotic warmth of a large family Christmas make this a worthy addition to this popular series. Miller (Forever a Hero) lives in ­Spokane.

Palmer, Diana & others. Christmas with My Cowboy. Zebra: Kensington. Oct. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9781420144697. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781420144703. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Cowboys from Wyoming and Colorado to the Australian Outback make the season all the merrier in this anthology of contemporary Western romances from several best-selling authors. A woman with law enforcement but no ranching experience struggles to make a go of the spread she inherited from her father but clashes with her neighbor on just about everything in Palmer’s “The Snow Man”; a blizzard gives an estranged pair the opportunity to let go of the past and start over in Lindsay McKenna’s heart-wrenching “Kassie’s Cowboy”; and a couple torn apart by betrayal are given a second chance at Christmas in Margaret Way’s intense “Her ­Outback Husband.” VERDICT Hard-hitting, gritty, and ultimately joyful, these stories have a serious side, making the holiday influence that much more satisfying. Palmer, McKenna, and Way live in Cornelia, GA; Tumacacori, AZ; and Brisbane, Australia, respectively.

Thayne, RaeAnne. Sugar Pine Trail. HQN: Harlequin. (Haven Point, Bk. 7). Oct. 2017. 342p. ISBN 9780373803682. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781488020049. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Librarian Julia Winston should have known better than to agree to rent the upstairs apartment in Winston House to her longtime secret crush Jamie Caine, head pilot for Caine Tech’s jet fleet, even though it’s supposed to be only for a few weeks. But she needs the money, and Jamie’s sister-in-law is one of her best friends. Still, an unwanted attraction ignites, and when Julia agrees to take in temporarily two foster boys and Jamie lends a hand, the dynamics change, and things suddenly become a lot more romantic. A heroine determined to experience new things and a hero committed to helping her give in to love in this story that features a number of memorable supporting characters—the young boys are particular favorites. VERDICT Deliciously flirty and totally engrossing, this over-the-top charmer is an essential holiday read. Thayne (Serenity Harbor) lives in Northern Utah.

Throughout the year

redstarBalogh, Mary. Someone To Wed. Jove. (Westcott, Bk. 3). Nov. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9780399586064. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780399586071. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

When independent, reclusive businesswoman Wren Heyden gathers her courage and offers Alexander Westcott, the newly minted but impoverished Earl of Riverdale, wealth in exchange for marriage, it’s an unconventional but definitely intriguing proposal. Alex needs funds to restore his badly neglected estate, and wealthy Wren, cursed with a purple facial birthmark she believes renders her generally “unmarriageable,” wants a husband and a family. It’s a logical choice, and they agree to a tentative courtship. Neither, of course, is expecting the attraction and deep affection that eventually develop. With a courageous heroine who gradually reclaims the sense of self-worth that had cruelly been stripped from her as a child and a hero observant enough to see what she needs, this story restores faith in the human spirit to survive against the odds. VERDICT Balogh delves into her characters as only she can and delivers another emotionally compelling romance that is truly unforgettable. This brilliant novel will find a place on readers’ “keeper” shelves. Balogh (Someone To Hold) lives in Canada.

redstarBurrowes, Grace. No Other Duke Will Do. Forever: Grand Central. (Windham Brides, Bk. 3). Nov. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9781455570010. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781455570003. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

There is no way Julian St. David, Duke of Haverford, is going to marry, or even choose a bride, until he’s dealt with his family’s enormous debt and gotten things back on an even keel—not even when his well-meaning but meddlesome sister plans an extravagant, three-week-long house party filled with eligible, hopeful young ladies, all for the purpose of securing for Julian a rich wife. Yet sensible Elizabeth Windham is a breath of fresh air, and though planning to remain merely friends, they can’t ignore the feelings growing between them. An honorable, caring hero determined to do the right thing and a smart, insightful heroine who helps him to see what is important deal with interfering siblings, a vengeful foe, and their own evolving if somewhat inconvenient attraction. Fascinating secondary characters (several of whom have their own romances), a beautifully depicted Welsh setting, and a striking literary collection that will warm the hearts of librarians and bibliophiles are welcome additions. VERDICT Compelling, sympathetic characters and a rare blend of passion and humor result in another exquisite gem from a master of the genre. Gorgeously done. Burrowes (Too Scot To Handle) lives in rural Maryland.

James, Eloisa. Wilde in Love. Avon. (Wildes of Lindow Castle, Bk. 1). Nov. 2017. 416p. ISBN 9780062389473. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062389480. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

When Lord Alaric Wilde returns from his explorations, he is shocked and annoyed to discover that not only have the “Lord Wilde” accounts of his travels become wildly popular but that Wilde in Love, a play purportedly—but inaccurately—based on his adventures, has taken London by storm. Alaric heads for his childhood home, Lindow Castle, only to find a house party in full swing, attended by a number of adoring ladies. Unfortunately, the only one he finds interesting is outwardly reserved, well-read Wilhelmina Everett Ffynche, and she wants nothing to do with him and his notoriety. The adventuresome Alaric is not about to give up. A heroine who wants to stay out of the limelight and a hero whose novels have turned him into a magnate for the masses come to terms with their feelings—and their situation. A would-be killer and an American sable (aka skunk) named Sweetpea add both danger and humor. VERDICT Witty and sensual, enhanced by dazzling sartorial descriptions, and tempered by a sinister edge, this occasionally bawdy Georgian romp gets James’s new series off to an excellent start and hints at complications to come. James (Seven Minutes in Heaven) lives in New York City.

Lerner, Rose. A Taste of Honey. CreateSpace: Amazon. (Lively St. Lemeston, Bk. 4). Oct. 2017. 93p. ISBN 9781976359941. pap. $5.99. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

Pretty, upbeat Betsy Piper has adored her boss, confectioner Robert Moon, from the start, yet getting him to pay attention to her as a woman (and potential wife) has been a losing battle. Then the combination of the absence of Robert’s assistant and a big catering job throws them together for a week in the kitchen, with delectable results. A heroine as appealing as fresh-baked bread and a naïve, virgin hero who’s a quick study finally realize love is more important than financial security in a heated story brimming with mouth-watering candy-making descriptions so vivid the fragrance of caramel wafts from the pages. VERDICT Explicitly sexy, funny, and sweet as spun sugar, this engaging, erotic bagatelle is a decadent treat for fans who like their romances on the edgy side. Lerner (Listen to the Moon) lives in Seattle.

Shupe, Joanna. A Daring Arrangement. Avon. (Four Hundred, Bk. 1). Nov. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9780062678898. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062678904. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

Lady Honora Parker is furious when her noble father scotches her plans to marry a struggling artist and sends her to her aunt and uncle in America to find a worthy husband. Undeterred, she hatches a foolproof plan to ensure that she is sent back to England—and into the arms of her beloved Robert. All she has to do is become engaged (temporarily, of course) to the most totally unsuitable, obnoxious Yank she can find. Brash financier Julius Hatcher is the perfect choice, though he has a long-standing hidden agenda of his own. While Nora’s proposition is a good one, the results are not at all what either intended. VERDICT A young lady’s outrageous plan to marry the man of her dreams backfires most effectively in this steamy romance that takes excellent advantage of a seldom-used New York Gilded Age setting. Shupe (Mogul) lives in South ­ Orange, NJ.

Woods, Sherryl. Lilac Lane. Mira: Harlequin. (Chesapeake Shores, Bk. 12). Oct. 2017. 382p. ISBN 9780778331339. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781488028328. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

When her fiancé dies suddenly of a heart attack, Kiera Malone, devastated and alone once again, accepts her daughter’s invitation to leave Dublin and heads for Chesapeake Shores, MD, to be near her new granddaughter and work at her son-in-law’s Irish pub. The only fly in the ointment is the pub’s chef Bryan Laramie, who clashes with Kiera at every turn. But the sparks also fly in more ways than one, as their relationship takes a friendlier turn. With her visa set to expire, Kiera must decide if she has the courage to risk giving her heart once again. Much-loved familiar characters (plus a few new ones), a delightful assortment of small-town festivities, and an abundance of realistic family dynamics combine in a story that touches on some serious issues and deftly walks the line between romance and women’s fiction. VERDICT Down-home Southern magic is enhanced by a touch of the Irish in a tale rich with family and sage (usually) advice that will please series fans and win over new ones. Woods (Willow Brook Road) divides her time between Key Biscayne, FL, and Colonial Beach, VA. Her “Chesapeake Shores” novels are the basis for the TV series of the same name on the Hallmark Channel. Season 2 premiered in August 2017. [See Prepub Alert, 5/1/17.]

a halloween treat

Harte, Marie. All I Want for Halloween. Sourcebooks Casablanca. Oct. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9781492656531. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781492656548. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Shafted by his cheating ex-fiancée, Sahara, and former best friend and partner Brian, Harrison “Gear” Blackstone just wants his Motorcycle Madnezz TV contract to be over so he can open the custom motorcycle shop of his dreams. He certainly doesn’t want to be at a contract-mandated costume party. Caterer Sadie Liberato doesn’t want to be there either, but it’s important that she mingle with the guests for the business. She doesn’t bargain on connecting with a masked “devil” who knocks her socks off behind the bamboo or to deck the duplicitous “ex” in self-defense. She also doesn’t anticipate that her “devil” is the infamous Gear—or that she ends up liking him a little too much. A “just for fun” relationship becomes real when two wary people learn to trust and go for what they really want. This riotously funny romance benefits from a captivating supporting cast. VERDICT Offbeat characters, zingy humor, and red-hot sex add up to a flawless Halloween sizzler for fans who like their tricks and treats with a surfeit of earthy spice. Harte (Just the Thing) lives in Oregon.

Stocking Stuffers

Brown, Carolyn. Long, Tall Cowboy Christmas. Forever: Grand Central. (Happy, Texas, Bk. 2). Oct. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9781455597475. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781455597468. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Dailey, Janet. Just a Little Christmas. Zebra: Kensington. (Cowboy Christmas, Bk. 3). Oct. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9781420140088. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781420140095. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Donovan, Sierra. Do Not Open ’til Christmas. Zebra: Kensington. (Evergreen Lane, Bk. 3). Oct. 2017. 288p. ISBN 9781420141528. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781420141535. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Grant, Donna. The Christmas Cowboy Hero. St. Martin’s Paperbacks. (Heart of Texas, BK. 1). Nov. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9781250165428. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250165435. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Maynard, Janice. Billionaire Boss, Holiday Baby. Harlequin Desire. (Billionaires & Babies). Oct. 2017. 224p. ISBN 9780373838721. pap. $5.25; ebk. ISBN 9781488011870. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Michaels, Fern. Holly and Ivy. Kensington. Oct. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9781496703170. $22.95; ebk. ISBN 9781496703163. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Quinn, Tara Taylor. A Family for Christmas. Harlequin. (Where Secrets Are Safe, Bk. 13). Nov. 2017. 284p. ISBN 9780373640508. pap. $6.99; ebk. ISBN 9781488017322. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Snow, Jennifer. Maybe This Christmas. Forever: Grand Central. (Colorado Ice, Bk. 3). Oct. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9781455594924. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781455594900. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Terry, Candis. Tangled Up in Tinsel. Avon. (Sunshine Creek Vineyard, Bk. 3). Oct. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780062471864. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062471819. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Yates, Maisey. Christmastime Cowboy. HQN: Harlequin. (Copper Ridge: The Donnellys). Nov. 2017. 480p. ISBN 9781335013316. pap. $7.99. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Second Time Around

Kleypas, Lisa & others. A Christmas To Remember. Avon. Oct. 2017. 432p. ISBN 9780062747235. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062747259. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

Romance shines with plenty of festive cheer in this quartet of historical novellas by some of the genre’s most gifted authors. Though all have been published previously, Kleypas’s “I Will” (2001), Lorraine Heath’s “Deck the Halls with Love” (2012), Megan Frampton’s “No Groom at the Inn” (2015), and Vivienne Lorret’s “The Duke’s Christmas Wish” (2015), as an anthology, make a diverting holiday read. Kleypas, Heath, Frampton, and Lorret live in Washington State; Plano, TX; Brooklyn; and Indiana, respectively.

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About Kristin Ramsdell

Kristin Ramsdell is Librarian Emerita, California State University, East Bay. She is the author of the romance section of What Do I Read Next? A Reader's Guide to Current Genre Fiction (Gale, annual) and Romance Fiction: A Guide to the Genre (Libraries Unlimited)

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