Each year I eagerly await the release of the new Christmas romances and always find at least a handful to add to my Christmas collection that will be brought out for rereading during Christmases yet to come. While that collection of favorite Christmas reads includes everything from children’s books to murder mysteries, I particularly cherish the historical romances that allow me to experience Christmas in a distant place and time. For some reason, historicals have been rather scarce among the Christmas romances I have read in 2013, but thanks to the age of reissues, I still have a top five for the season.
1. Christmas Angel by Jo Beverley
Having survived Vitoria, Toulouse, and Waterloo, Leander Knollis, Earl of Charrington, has returned to England with a sense of his own mortality and a determination to settle down with a congenial wife. His problem is that all the eligible maidens he has met persist in falling in love with him, and Leander believes himself incapable of romantic love. Leaving the lovelorn misses in London, Leander sets out for Hartwell, the Surrey cottage where his friend Lucien de Vaux, Marquess of Arden, and his wife Beth have settled. Beth proposes that Lee consider a local widow for his bride, one certain not to fall in love with him.
The daughter of a poor curate with a large family and the widow of a popular poet, Judith Rossiter is dependent on a small quarterly sum provided by her brother-in-law. It barely covers the cost of the tiny cottage where she lives with her two children, Bastian, 11, and Rosie, 6. Judith is hoping to find the funds to provide at least a meager Christmas for her children. Lee’s proposal means not only a Christmas more splendid than her children’s dreams but a secure future for them and for Judith—if she can just stop herself from falling in love with the charming earl.
Winter Fire is my favorite Beverley Christmas story, but Christmas Angel, originally published in 1992, is a close second. The third in the Company of Rogues series, it shows the kinds of seasonal celebrations people of different classes enjoyed. One of my favorite moments occurs when Judith determines that the workers on her husband’s estate will enjoy a bountiful Christmas. Beverley reissued her original Company of Rogues books as eBooks this year
2. A Midnight Clear by Lynn Kerstan
Jane Ryder is desperate when she applies for and obtains a position as secretary to Lady Eudora Swann, an immensely wealthy grande dame, thanks to her having outlived six husbands. At eighty-six, Lady Swann is determined to leave something behind to ensure that she will be remembered. With this goal in mind, she is writing two books. One is a history of the British aristocracy to be printed a hundred years after Lady Swann’s death; the other, entitled Scandalbroth, is an account of the scandals that have rocked the ton during Lady Swann’s long memory, with three chapters devoted to the particularly disreputable Marquesses of Fallon.
The current Marquess of Fallon, recently returned from India where he made his fortune, is determined to restore the family’s estate which has been ruined by his father’s and grandfather’s excesses and the family name. Scandalbroth will make his task immeasurably difficult, if not impossible. Too stubborn to be persuaded and too wealthy to be bribed, Lady Swann is immune to the marquess’s pleas and threats. But she sends one offer via Jane. If Fallon will allow Jane access to the Fallon family papers and tell Jane his own story for the history, Lady Swann will consider destroying Scandalbroth unpublished. He does, and a snowstorm, an injured lord, and unexpected emotional intimacy lead to an HEA.
Jane and Fallon are both lonely people forced by circumstances to depend only on themselves and to make the most of their opportunities. Watching them become real and dear to one another and watching Lady Swann’s machinations force them into a realization of just what they have found in one another is heartwarming. The Christmas setting and the infant whose tiny hands grab both their hearts make this a special story, one guaranteed to become a favorite with readers like me who like their holiday romances generously seasoned with true sentiment. Belle Bridge Books reissued this delightful tale in 2013.
3. Kisses, She Wrote by Katharine Ashe
Charles Camlann Westfall, the Earl of Bedwyr copes with a painful past by living life on the surface. Incredibly handsome, with more than his fair share of charm, he has found this strategy a viable way of life as he moves lightly through ballrooms and gambling dens and through the hearts and bedrooms of willing widows and dissatisfied wives. Only a few close friends realize that there is more to Cam than the witty charmer the ton knows. For a variety of reasons, Cam finds it convenient to make an extended stay at the Brittany chateau that belongs to his cousin Luc, the Comte de Rallis. It is here that he finds a diary belonging to Jacqueline, Princess of Sensaire. He can’t resist reading a few pages, and once he begins, forgetting all notions of honor, he continues, uncomfortable and intrigued to discover that he figures prominently in the princess’s thoughts.
Jacqueline may be a princess by birth, but she has little in common with princesses of fairy tale fame. She is plain of face rather than beautiful and straight in body lines rather than curvy. Shy and bookish, she also lacks the social skills expected of a princess. There is no villainous stepmother in her life, just a determined mother who has always found Jacqueline less than satisfactory as a daughter and a princess. Jacqueline knows that regardless of her lack of feminine allure and accomplishments, she will soon be wed to an English lord of her brother’s choosing. Reiner loves his sister, and Jacqueline is confident that he will choose a kind husband for her, but he also expects the alliance to be one that will benefit Sensaire. And he has warned Jacqueline that while the Earl of Bedwyr may be a friend of the Prince of Sensaire, he is not husband material for the princess. But Cam, who is her opposite in every way, captures Jacqueline’s heart and imagination. He may have no place in her life, but he has a central role in her fantasies, the ones she records in her diary.
With the Christmas season as a backdrop, this story of a seductive lord accustomed to using words to charm seduced by the power of words written by a woman who stumbles over words in his presence is different, delightful, and deeply romantic. Few novellas strike me as complete and polished as this one is. Even the title and cover work!
4. Season for Scandal by Theresa Romain
Jane Tindall, cousin to Alexander Edgeware, Lord Xavier, hero of Season for Surrender (2012), has followed her cousin’s lead and turned to gambling. She thinks that with her gift for numbers and mimicry, she has a foolproof scheme, but she did not count on dishonest opponents or ending up with heavy losses. Edmund Ware, Baron Kirkpatrick, a family friend, offers her a way out, a marriage of convenience that will give Jane the means to pay her debt and provide the heir Kirkpatrick is persuaded he must have to protect his family. Things might have worked out as planned if Jane hadn’t confessed her love for Edmund.
What follows is a complex dance of deception and disguise that shows how a marriage in trouble can become an opportunity for both partners to grow and change, to move from misunderstandings to honest communication, and to arrive at a happily ever after that is earned and credible.
Romain’s Christmas books have become a tradition with me. This is the third year that her Holiday Pleasures books have been a highlight of my historical holiday reading, and Season for Scandal is the best of the trio.
5. ’Twas the Night After Christmas by Sabrina Jeffries
Christmas has no connotations of family festivities for Pierce Waverly, the Earl of Devonmont. His parents abandoned him to lonely Christmases when he was a child, and he refuses to spare his mother a thought as an adult. But he finds that he cannot ignore her as completely as he wishes when he receives word from her companion that Lady Devonmont is ill. He leaves London for his country estate in Hertfordshire where his mother lives in the dower house, expecting to find her at the point of death.
Brought up in an orphanage and widowed at a young age, Camilla Stuart knows better than most what it means to be without family, especially at Christmas. It is only the kindness of Lady Devonmont that makes it possible for Camilla to have her six-year-old son Jasper with her. When she learns that the Earl of Devonmont can’t be bothered to visit his mother even for the holiday, she takes things into her own hands and sends a not-strictly-true message. When word comes that the Earl will be arriving momentarily, Camilla realizes she will have to deal with the consequences.
The consequences include a contest of wits, a journey to love, forgiveness and reconciliation, and a happy Christmas for all. ’Twas the Night After Christmas was released in hardback last year. It was one of my favorite Christmas stories then. This year, it has been released in mass market paperback, and I found it an even more delightful Christmas reread this year. It even includes Clement Moore’s famous poem.
Janga spent decades teaching literature and writing to groups ranging from twelve-year-olds to college students. She is currently a freelance writer, who sometimes writes about romance fiction, and an aspiring writer of contemporary romance, who sometimes thinks of writing an American historical romance. She can be found at her blog Just Janga and tweeting obscure bits about writers as @Janga724.