Miss Bates loves Christmas: stars, trees, lights, baking, candle-lit church services. Carols! She decorates; she cuts out gingerbread people. She even mails Christmas cards. And, with Mrs. Bates, they haul a beautiful sapin de Noël up the narrow staircase to her apartment and spend happy hours with tinsel, glitter, garland, and ornament. Early December finds her ribbon-cutting the season by bringing out her Christmas tea mugs. Every year, on November 25th, the feast day of St. Catherine, patron saint of spinsters (also lace-makers) Miss Bates embarks on a month-long reading of Christmas-themed, Christmas-set romances. The genre presents her with a plethora of choices and the covers are sentimental favourites. She’s read some duds and she’s read some wonders. Here are her wonders; if you’re a Christmas-romance fan, you might have read them, or you might consider reading one, or two 😉 this year.
Balogh’s Regency romance combines two of Miss Bates’ favourite tropes, marriage-of-convenience and cross-class romance. Balogh’s hero and heroine, Randolph and Eleanor, marry when Eleanor’s dying father compels Randolph, Earl of Falloden, to wed his daughter in exchange for the wealthy coal merchant taking on the aristocrat’s debts. Resentment, regret, and misunderstanding reign between Randolph and Eleanor: he thinks she married for status; she believes he married for money. Neither are right. They take their soul-hurt at being used thus out on each other in petty and cruel ways: by withholding warmth and sympathy in the marriage-bed, at the dinner table, in the cold light of morning and the cool silvery-starred nights. Trapped in this loveless marriage, they retire to Randolph’s country estate for Christmas. Eleanor invites her boisterous “cit” family to join them. A sleigh ride, bonfire, and snowball fight bring them together. A shared conversation, a moment of sympathy, a shared smile, a deep attraction, and two prickly-proud people make their way to love one mistletoe kiss and hand-clasp at a time.
Creighton’s contemporary romance may be Miss Bates’ favourite: from its title’s play on words to its setting in an actual 1992 Texas panhandle snowstorm to its reading as Christian allegory. It’s a delight from start to finish. Our Joseph and Mary are a unique couple: working-class, single-dad, trucker-hero Jimmy Joe Starr and sperm-banked, eight-months-along mom-to-be, Mirabella Waskowitz, and a chance encounter at a truck stop on a snowbound highway. Jimmy Joe is a gentleman and knight. He is a gentle, sweet, southern giant who succors the prickly Mirabella, or as he drawls when he gives up calling her ma’am, “Marybell.” His truck carries a big, blue shiny star logo. When there is no room at any inn, or motel as the storm strands motorists and truckers, he brings Mirabella’s little girl into the world with tenderness and humour under that star. Miss Bates can’t capture the beauty and gentle lightness of One Christmas Knight, the sheer goodness of its characters (not sappy, or inspie one-dimensional): they have weaknesses and vulnerabilities; they have strength and instinct and thought. And if all that and Joseph and Mary aren’t enough, Creighton gifts us with one of the best proposal-declarations and acceptances Miss Bates has ever read: humble, loving, giving … perfect.
How can Miss B. praise the fun and poignancy of Willig’s Regency non-aristos Miss Arabella Dempsey and Mr. Reginald “Turnip” Fitzhugh? How well-matched they are? How funny and opposites-attract perfect? The Mischief Of the Mistletoe is seventh in Willig’s now eleven-volume Pink Carnation series: in Miss B’s estimation, who’s read to book #8 and is hoarding the others like the last few pieces of sea-salt and caramel chocolate, it’s the sentimental favourite. As in the rest of the series, Willig offers: Intrigue! Spies! Mustache-twirling Napoleanic nasties! Femme fatales! Christmas Pudding Projectiles! Christmas pudding projectiles, you say?! Miss Arabella Dempsey, not orphaned, but dubiously blessed with a needy family of numerous siblings, formerly loosely “adopted” by a wealthy aunt, now abandoned for a young Lothario by said aunt, takes the position of schoolmarm at Miss Climpson’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies. There, she is re-acquainted with the adorable Turnip when he rescues her from a flying Christmas pudding … a pudding tied to a list of French spies, which puts Arabella in danger. The delight of the novel lies in the serious, smart, and kindly Arabella and the not-brightest-vegetable-in-the-patch, stalwart, honourable wearer of outlandish waistcoats, Turnip Fitzhugh, who protects and rescues her, climbs trellises for her, loves her with a deep innocence and hearty lust. They end up at the Dowager Duchess of Dovedale’s Twelfth Night festivities, catch the baddies, and declare their love. Turnip’s decency and humour make him Miss Bates’ favourite and most endearing romance beta hero. The generosity and good will of the season abide in Turnip Fitzhugh.
Dear reader, are you a fan of Christmas-set romances? Historical, or contemporary? Or, do you shudder at them as at a piece of fruitcake? Whether lover, or shudderer, tell Miss Bates about it in the comments! (Do you have favourite Christmas-set romance titles? Offer them up to Miss Bates; she never has enough. She has two lovely fruitcakes fermenting in “spirits” and many many Christmas romances in the TBR, stay tuned.)