Love stories set during the holidays are almost always good-natured, but this year’s standouts take good cheer and good will to another level. Personal transformations and turning points abound in these empathetic and festive happily ever afters.
★ So This Is Christmas
Author Jenny Holiday takes readers on a third trip to the fictional country of Eldovia in So This Is Christmas. Management consultant Cara Delaney arrives in the small Alpine country to modernize the operations of a luxury watch company partly owned by the royal family. Matteo Benz, equerry of the king (think executive assistant), has been tasked with helping Cara but gives her a cold welcome. A traditionalist, he’s concerned her proposed changes might adversely affect his beloved country and its citizens. They parry, they clash, they kiss and find themselves consumed with thoughts of each other even as they investigate problems at the company. There’s time for hot chocolate and admiring the snowy beauty of Eldovia, but can two high-powered professionals from different countries admit to love and find a way to be together? This delightful charmer is the ultimate holiday escape.
Kiss Her Once for Me
Comics artist Ellie Oliver is at a low point in her life when she agrees to marry Andrew, a near-stranger, in Kiss Her Once for Me by Alison Cochrun. He needs a wife to secure his inheritance, and she desperately needs the money he offers her to become that wife. What could go wrong? Only that Andrew’s sister, Jack, is none other than the woman Ellie fell in love with over one magical night the year before—and now they have to spend the holidays together. To make matters even worse, Ellie and Jack’s fling didn’t end well and Ellie has promised Andrew she’ll pretend they’re marrying for love. From there, Cochrun piles on the rom-com fun: stranded at a snowy cabin with a single bed, the obligatory admiring of wood-chopping prowess, the “we better get out of these wet clothes” gambit. It’s not all holly jolly, however. Ellie’s vulnerable first-person voice gives readers intimate insight into a mind and heart prone to second-guessing, and the family drama that occurs during the merriest season is a reminder that Christmas rarely proceeds as planned. It’s a satisfying romance with a few tears to balance its fresh-baked sweetness.
A Merry Little Meet Cute
A plus-size adult film actor stars in a Christmas TV movie in A Merry Little Meet Cute by Julie Murphy and Sierra Simone. Bee Hobbes (aka Bianca Von Honey) hopes to keep her sexy alter ego secret from everyone at the decidedly PG-rated Hope Channel, including her co-star, former boy band wild child Nolan Shaw, who is trying to take his personal brand in a more straight-laced direction. Nolan was Bee’s biggest teenage crush, and unbeknownst to her, he is one of Bianca Von Honey’s biggest fans. They keep those truths from each other for a short while, but soon their mutual attraction is burning up the set. What happens next is as predictable as it is enjoyable: multiple fiery love scenes and hilarious attempts to fool their co-workers. Bee and Nolan are energetic, self-deprecating and honest narrators, and a fab cast of supporting characters add more sparkle to this spicy holiday fare.
Just Like Magic
Sarah Hogle’s Just Like Magic is the type of book the words over the top were made for. Narrator Bettie Hughes unwittingly summons the Holiday Spirit—call him Hall—just in time for a Christmas vacation with her dysfunctional extended family. Bettie is way, way down on her luck, so she’s elated when Hall tells her that he will make all her wishes come true . . . until she’s expressing sufficient holiday cheer, of course. (Bettie mischievously supposes that accomplishing that task could take just about, oh, forever.) The plot’s frenetic pace matches Hall’s feverish ideas for how to make this Christmas the best ever; as a human for the first time, he wants to experience it all. Bettie and her relatives are insufferable at first, but as Hall’s magic takes hold, their charm begins to shine through. It’s impossible to predict where this clever romance will go next. Bettie and Hall are an unlikely pair, and their unlikely story will steal hearts.
Season of Love
A Jewish artist gets a chance to save the family Christmas tree farm in Season of Love by Helena Greer. When her estranged but still beloved Great-Aunt Cass dies, Miriam Blum discovers that Cass named her part-owner of Carrigan’s, a tree farm and inn that caters to uber-fans of the holiday season. The other owners include Miriam’s childhood BFF and Noelle Northwood, the farm’s manager. Noelle sees Miriam as an interloper and is resolved to dislike her, no matter how sexy Noelle may find her. While determining what to do with the property, Miriam and Noelle are forced to face their pasts and end up intimately connecting over family, regrets and momentous mistakes. Told from both women’s perspectives, Season of Love is an emotionally driven holiday romance with definite heft. Miriam and Noelle both have baggage to unpack before they can risk falling for someone, and Greer shows how the season of snow and hope can also be a time of self-reflection. Readers will root for Miriam and Noelle to heal their hearts and begin to fully live—and love.