Miss Bates’ Favourite Christmas Romances

Christmas_IvyMiss 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.

Christmas_PromiseMary Balogh’s A Christmas Promise

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.

One_Xmas_KnightKathleen Creighton’s One Christmas Knight

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.

Mischief_Of_MistletoeLauren Willig’s The Mischief Of the Mistletoe

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.)

29 thoughts on “Miss Bates’ Favourite Christmas Romances

  1. My favorite Christmas romance is Courtney Milan’s A Kiss for Midwinter. It might actually be my favorite Milan book. I love the awkward physician hero, who’s loved the heroine from afar for a long time but expresses it in ways she doesn’t appreciate. I love the subplot with his father. I love the heroine’s strength. She’s kind but not a push-over and her backstory feels both period appropriate and modern. I love the bet that comprises the romance. I love the holiday touches. I love the resolution. I love the balance the novella strikes between sweetness and tartness. Writing about it makes me want to re-read it, in fact. ; )

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    • And it definitely makes Miss B. want to read it: she doesn’t even have to go “far,” it’s been in the e-TBR for a few years now. ‘Tis the season’ and you sold her on physician-hero: there aren’t enough of those, other than in Betty Neels, of course, in romance. Hint … 🙂

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        • As does Jessica at RRR: but Miss B. was remiss in saying she looks for physician heroes in historical romance. She tried a few of that line: meh. But in historicals, she really liked Carla Kelly’s physician-hero in The Surgeon’s Lady. Also, his name is Philemon … how cool is that!

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          • Have you read Sherry Thomas’s Not Quite A Husband? Historical doctor heroine. I have fallen out of love with Thomas’s later books but I really loved that one. Best Epilogue Ever.

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            • Confession here: Miss Bates read Thomas’s first novel: Private Arrangements and didn’t like it very much. She found the prose over-wrought, but it could be, in retrospect, that she was on a “stay away” from anything that sounded contrived that way. Fact also is that she’s never quite forgotten it? She has this in the TBR and has been eying it dubiously for years … maybe the doctor hero might be her impetus in reading it? 😉

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            • I didn’t like Private Arrangements much, either. I did like Delicious and I really liked NQAH. I think it’s worth a try if you already have it.

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  2. I really liked the Balogh and Willig books and I bought the Creighton because of you a few weeks ago. I am NOT a huge fan of Christmas romance, but since we seem to have similar tastes in them, I recommend Sarah Morgan’s 12 Nights of Christmas (only 99 cents right now) and, if you haven’t read it, Jessica Hart’s Under the Boss’s Mistletoe (which I think was my very first category romance, and I don’t remember much except I loved it, and it’s Hart!).

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    • The Hart is a great rec; Miss B. hasn’t read it, but it’s in the TBR and under “consideration” for Wendy’s TBR December Challenge, which is, of course, a holiday romance. Because, exactly, it’s HART! Miss B. read and LOVED Morgan’s The Twelve Nights of Christmas, with the Scrooge-bah-humbug hero and ingenue heroine: it was actually on a the very long, original Christmas list for this post and was whittled down, but kept on the “back-burner” for next year.

      Oh, she does hope you like the Creigton: the reread highlighted some disappointing commentary by Jimmy Joe about his ex-wife and motherhood ideals, but the overall effect is still endearing. Also, that Mirabella is an older woman (and well, surprise surprise, a quite modern “virgin” is a bit over-the-top, but Miss B. does love allegory) who’s decided to have a child for herself by herself and that Jimmy Joe is younger, less educated, working-class hero, she still loved that.

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  3. Oh I loved The Mischief of the Mistletoe and even more now that I’ve read Cotillion by Georgette Heyer. I wish there were more heroes like Freddy and Turnip.

    I don’t *think* I’ve read A Christmas Promise but will double check, and I’ll definitely add One Christmas Knight to Mt. TBR.

    Have you read Under The Mistletoe (anthology) by Mary Balogh? Five short stories, all Christmas-themed, and really quite lovely. I especially liked The Best Gift and you might like it also as it has echoes of a Jane Eyre-ish story.

    Falling Angel by Anne Stuart is an unusual Christmas-y story because it begins with a very, very bad man who has been refused admittance to heaven because of his evil deeds to his fellow man on earth. He’s sent back to earth on Thanksgiving and given one month to right three wrongs. Or else. *gulp* I know it sounds a little ridiculous, but I really loved this redemptive and second chance story.

    I just finished Carla Kelly’s Christmas Collection (four short stories). I loved The Christmas Ornament for its shy awkward intellectual hero paired with a heroine who is even smarter than he is. 😉 The second story, Make A Joyful Noise, was also excellent. You have a widower on a mission to find recruits for his parish choir (not one member can carry a tune in a bucket) and a widow and a stranger in the parish with a lovely voice and cruel in-laws. An Object of Charity was a good story about forgiveness and family though darker than the other stories. The Three Kings was my least favorite. It felt underdone to me in that the relationship was a bit rushed and the ending was just . . . not satisfying.

    Lastly, Betty Neels’ The Mistletoe Kiss is wonderful! There’s a ‘lingering’ smooch under the mistletoe with the handsome RDD, which makes butterflies take flight in our dear Ermentrude’s tummy as well as other interesting ‘floaty’ sensations. 😀 Plus, Christmas in Professor Ruerd ter Mennolt’s home in Holland, decorating the Christmas tree, lots of family and children running amok, Dutch carols at church, amd a blue cashmere scarf for Ermentrude. Oh, did I mention THE LONG KISS under the mistletoe?? Phew! I think I re-read that one scene several times. 🙂

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    • Kathy
      You must be my ‘reading twin’! You beat me to the punch in recommending Neels’ ‘Mistletoe Kiss’ (one of my all time favorites from the Great Betty).
      I agree with your ratings on the Kelly short stories. I like that collection, but I love the related stories in ‘Coming Home for Christmas’. That’s the book I grab when I’m in the holiday mood.

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      • Miss Bates thinks it’s adorable that you’re “reading twins”! She seems to have Neels’ The Fifth Day of Christmas in the TBR, not sure about Mistletoe Kiss. Also, that Kelly in TBR! Every time she types that phrase, she remember to be just a tad sheepish about the TBR. 😉

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    • Yes, Turnip is really one of Miss Bates’ favourite heroes: so endearing, funny, big, strong, loveable. And Arabella is equally though more quietly loveable. They make for Miss B’s favourite Pink Carnation couple. To read that there’s a Heyer “Turnip” makes Miss B. anticipate reading Cotillion even more …

      Miss B. has read Kelly’s collection and her favourite of the stories is “Make A Joyful Noise”: she’d definitely include it in next year’s list. It made the long-list, but got whittled down and out for this year.

      Miss B. didn’t even know until this post that Balogh had Christmas stories and novellas: Balogh in miniature works better than Balogh-major, so these would be a delight to add to the really can’t even contemplate the size of the TBR! 😉 The Anne Stuart sounds a lot of fun too, a kind of old Hollywood film feel to it, like Miss B’s and everyone’s favourite, It’s A Wonderful Life.

      Dutch carols … a BLUE CASHMERE SCARF: sold!

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  4. I second Kathy’s recommendation of the Carla Kelly Christmas collection. Kathy also mentions the Balogh collection. Most of these stories were first published in the annual Signet Christmas Regency anthologies. Edith Layton, Allison Lane, and various other authors regularly participated. It’s nice to see them being re-published.

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    • Miss Bates just finished an Edith Layton, The Devil’s Bargain and enjoyed it very much; she wants to read more of her. She loved Kelly’s “Make A Joyful Noise” in that collection. Yes, she’s seen those Signet collections on used books sites: it’s IS good to see them re-issued.

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  5. Miss Bates
    In addition to the Milan story mentioned by Emma, I also love Milan’s first story–‘This Wicked Gift’. Happy sighs!
    I find Balogh’s Christmas short stories to be rather hit or miss for me. But I’m always willing to try one, because the one’s that work for me are soooo good.

    However, my go to Christmas story collection isn’t Romance, though some of the stories have romantic elements: It’s Connie Willis’ collection ‘Miracle and Other Christmas Stories’. Absolutely fabulous! I do think you would enjoy it.

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    • Oh, I love that Connie Willis anthology, but my favorite Christmas story of hers is “All Seated in the Ground”. The aliens have landed, and they seem friendly enough,, though it’s hard to tell what they want until they hear the All-City Christmas Corale sing. Sounds odd, I know, but kind of a madcap, screwball, story with a heart.

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    • Miss Bates didn’t know there were more Milan Christmas stories; she does have Emma’s mention in the TBR. It sounds great! And thank you for the Willis rec: she looked it up and it sounds so interesting!

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  6. I know we’ve discussed before how Turnip Fitzhugh is the Bertie Wooster of romance heroes: not too bright, but wonderfully loyal to his friends, and just a decent chap all around. I also heartily recommend A Kiss for Midwinter. Definitely one of my favorite romance heroes ever and a lovely non-traditional sort of Christmas story.

    And if you haven’t read any Connie Willis yet, you have to! I think you would love her. She writes mostly speculative fiction, but there’s almost always a very lovely, understated romance in all of her books. In addition to the Christmas stories she’s done, there’s To Say Nothing of the Dog, which is a funny romp through Victorian England, and there’s Doomsday Book, which is partly set during the Black Plague and is absolutely heartbreaking. Probably not the best for Christmas time, that last one. 😉

    One Christmas story that’s stuck with me through the years is Jolly Holly by Stef Ann Holm. It was part of a holiday anthology published ages ago. It’s a historical set in Central California–the heroine is planting a lemon grove and the hero is a cowboy/drifter type. But he’s also a water dowser and as as Christmas gift to the heroine, dowses for water for her so that she can irrigate her trees. I’ve always loved that touch in the story.

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    • Miss B. has the Connie Willis on order! She loves the sound of that “water dowser,” especially because she’s been reading Margaret Laurence’s The Diviners! That volume, with Linda Howard and Jude Deveraux, is available used.

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  7. What a nice selection of Christmas stories Miss B. I have The Christmas Promise by Balogh in my tbr pile. I typically love her earlier works.

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