Dec 25 2014 2:00pm

Contemporary Christmas 2014: New Releases and Reissues

Christmas at Seashell Cottage by Donna AlwardIf contemporary Christmas romance stories are one of your favorite holiday treats, you have a feast this year from which to select those you find most appealing. Novellas are more popular during this season than ever, and a list of what’s available may create the impression that every romance author who ever penned a series is adding a holiday novella. Whatever your preferred subgenres in contemporary romance, you can find a Christmas novel to suit your taste, and they generally range from the sweet to the sizzling. In addition to hundreds of new releases, there are bargains to be found among reissues of Christmases past—the recent past, the more distant past (but not, as far as I know, your past). Space (H & H’s) and time (mine) prohibit a comprehensive list. I offer, instead, a handful of personal top fives among all the novellas, novels, and reissues.

Top Five Novellas:

1. Christmas at Sea Shell Cottage, Donna Alward
I’m a fan of Alward’s Jewell Cove series, and I loved this addition to the series. An abandoned baby in the nativity manger, a romance that treats differences in class and race as no big thing, and a hero and heroine who were both likeable had me adding this one to my keepers. An added bonus is that you don’t have to have read earlier books in the series to enjoy the novella.

2. Merry Christmas, Baby, Jill Shalvis
Shalvis gives fans suffering from separation anxiety over the end of her long-running Lucky harbor series a look at the HEA-in-progress of one of her most popular couples, Chloe Traeger and her sexy sheriff, Sawyer (Head Over Heels, Lucky Harbor #3). Pregnancy hormones and Sawyer’s taciturnity may be creating a few waves, but these are the characters readers fell in love with in 2011, just five years later in their story. The story offers a glimpse of other familiar characters as well, including Chloe’s sisters and brothers-in-law, and the unforgettable Lance. 

3. Yours for Christmas, Susan Mallery
My only complaint about this one is that I wish Mallery had devoted a full novel to the story of Kenny Scott, my favorite of Score’s former football players, and the widowed Bailey Voss. No real surprises here, just more of what has made the Fool’s Gold series a fan favorite through fifteen books and counting—combined sweetness and sizzle with, in this case, a generous amount of holiday seasoning.

Gabriel's Gift by Christina Dodd4. Gabriel’s Gift, Christina Dodd
This one might be more accurately labeled “epilogue.” It is a slight but sweet story with kids and family and Christmas—and Gabriel Prescott, a character beloved of fans of two Dodd series: Lost Hearts and Fortune Hunters. This is probably not a good choice for those unfamiliar with the earlier series, but it is a definite aww-some treat for those who crushed on Gabe.

5. Snowfall: A Days of Redemption Christmas Novella, Shelley Shepard Gray
If you like your Christmas novellas with an inspirational touch, Gray’s Sugarcreek story featuring a widower with six children under ten, a Christmas tree farm, and a new caregiver for the kids is a winner. You have to love a book with this opening sentence: “They were horrible children.” The only drawback is the price, a bit steep for a novella.

Top Five Novels

Snow Angel Cove by RaeAnne Thayne1. Snow Angel Cove, RaeAnne Thayne
Thayne takes the last of the unmatched Caines (a family from her Hope’s Crossing series), gives the geeky billionaire Aidan a new home purchased as the setting for a family reunion in Haven Point, Idaho, and pairs him with Eliza, an independent heroine with bad luck, a child who has a serious health problem, and a reluctance to accept help. The result is a bridge between a beloved series that’s ending and a new one that promises to stay true to what worked. If you like Christmas stories rich in sentiment or if you are a fan of the Caines (three generations of them are present), definitely ask Santa for this one. 

2. Maybe This Christmas, Sarah Morgan
This book concludes Morgan’s O’Neil Brothers trilogy with a combination of sweetness and sizzle (although less of the latter than in book 2) with family dynamics in a winning mix. Morgan has a gift for creating characters who move from the page into the reader’s heart. Add this to a Christmas setting, and you have another treasure from this talented author. The book offers something special both for those who like their books family-centered and for those who demand an engaging romance.

3. The Lodge on Holly Road, Sheila Roberts
Readers who like Debbie Macomber’s Inn at Rose Harbor series should appreciate this tale of Olivia Wallace and the people who visit her inn for Christmas. Cynics beware: this book is not for you. It is filled with all the traditional Christmas touches plus Roberts’s trademark humor and multiple HEAs for a group of likeable, ordinary people whose lives entwine in various ways when they share a holiday in Icicle Falls. Although it is part of an established series and familiar places and characters get a nod or two, The Lodge on Holly Road can easily be read as a standalone.

Sleigh Bells in Valentine's Valley by Emma Cane4. Sleigh Bells in Valentine Valley, Emma Cane
The fifth book in the Valentine Valley series, this book offers an older hero and heroine in a holiday setting. Kate and Tony have a long history together, and even divorce could not eradicate their shared memories. Their son Ethan, to whom they are both devoted, is another enduring link between them. Because their marriage truly broke up because of “irreconcilable differences” rather than from indifference or infidelity, I found the reunion an easier sale. All the trappings and traditions of Christmas add an extra layer of meaning.

5. All He Wants for Christmas, Lisa Plumley
If you like Hallmark’s Christmas-set romantic comedies, I recommend you give Plumley’s fourth Kismet Christmas book a try. It features People Magazine’s “first-ever CEO Sexiest Man Alive” who is trying to control a scandal that could smear his family-focused toy company and a manager of one of the company’s stores who is violating company rules and setting sales records. AHWFC packages lots of froth and fun and feel-goodness and an ending to satisfy those who love their holiday schmaltz into this holiday gift.

Top Five Reissues: Singles and Box Sets

1. Candlelight Christmas, Susan Wiggs (2013)
The tenth book in Susan Wiggs’s Lakeshore Chronicles and the third book that focuses on characters who were teenagers in the earlier books, this story expands the world of familiar characters, introduce some new ones, and offers a story rich in family dynamics and romance. Fans of the series who watched Logan grow from a wild teenager rebelling against his controlling father into a young man determined to accept the responsibilities of fatherhood and who felt sorry for him (even if you belonged to team Julian) when his marriage to Daisy fell apart will be especially pleased to see Logan come into his own as the hero who finds his own HEA. Candlelight Christmas succeeds as a holiday story and as a small-town contemporary romance.

Christmas with the MacRaes by Teresa Hill2. Christmas with the McRaes, Teresa Hill (2000, 2002, 2003)
This is a box set that includes the first three books about the McRaes plus a bonus short that introduces Hill’s upcoming New Adult series about another generation of the family. I include it because Twelve Days, the first book, is one of my all-time favorite contemporary Christmas stories. Sadder than most Christmas tales, this one offers a troubled marriage tale and three “abandoned” children, Emma, Zach, and Grace—real kids rather than cute, precocious paper dolls. The later books feature the grown-up children as the lead characters. Edge of Heaven is Emma’s story; Bed of Lies is Zach’s. Grace’s story, Five Day’s Grace, is not part of this package.

3. ’Tis the Season, Robyn Carr (2009, 2010, 1991)
If you like variety in your collections, these reissues give you a Christmas story, a New Year’s Eve tale, and a Mother’s Day romance in one bundle. “Under the Christmas Tree” is a Virgin River story with the town’s famous Christmas tree, abandoned puppies, and a typical Carr romance. “Midnight Confessions,” another Virgin River story, also features the famous tree, Preacher’s holiday meals, a party at Jack’s bar, and a New Year’s Eve hookup that becomes life-changing. “Backward Glance” is an older, unrelated story. It’s a secret baby tale that shows the promise readers see fulfilled in later Carr books. This is a great way to make your first visit to Virgin River or to revisit a favorite Christmas setting.

4. Together for Christmas, Various Authors (2010, 2012, 2013)
Tailor-made for fans of small-town romance, this collection of novellas allows the reader to pay brief visits to Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove, Washington—“5-B Poppy Lane”; Brenda Novak’s Whiskey Creek, California—“When We Touch”; Sheila Roberts’s Icicle Falls, Washington—“Welcome to Icicle Falls”; and RaeAnne Thayne’s Cold Creek, Idaho—“Starstruck.” All are sweet stories and quick reads with touches of Christmas, fitting holiday treats for those who can’t get enough of small towns.

5. The Kent Brothers Trilogy, Jaci Burton (2010, 2011, 2012)
For those who like their Christmas stories a bit spicier, Burton offers three years of Christmases with her sexy Kent Brothers as each finds his HEA. There’s nothing radically new here, but I don’t think people read Christmas stories with that expectation anyway. What Burton offers is family togetherness, brotherly bonds, and three satisfying HEAs tied with a bright Christmas ribbon.

Christmas anthologies have been a staple in contemporary romance at least since the 1980s, and 2014 brings some traditional anthologies and some variations. Category authors were among the first to join the Christmas parade of books, and this year these authors add a bevy of titles to the collection, some of them among Santa’s choicest offerings. I would be remiss if I finished without a cheer for my favorite in each of these groups. I’ve been humming “Cowboys Are My Weakness” since I read Cowboys for Christmas, an anthology of connected stories in which three friends find that heart-stealing cowboys add the perfect touch to a Christmas celebration. 

“Love Me, Cowboy” by Terri Osburn, “Kiss Me, Cowboy” by Liz Talley, and “Marry Me, Cowboy” by Kim Law each has its own charms and together they will leave readers with Christmas dreams filled with visions in their heads that Clement Moore never imagined. Karen Templeton’s Santa’s Playbook, book 3 in her Jersey Boys series, is my top category Christmas book and one of my favorite Christmas reads across types. She pairs a grieving widow with four kids, one of them a budding matchmaker, and a heroine who definitely doesn’t see herself as part of this picture. Tender and real, with a big emotional punch, this is one I’ll be rereading for Christmases to come.


Learn more about the books mentioned in this post:

Christmas at Seashell Cottage by Donna Alward  
Merry Christmas, Baby by Jill Shalvis  
Yours for Christmas by Susan Mallery  
Gabriel's Gift by Christina Dodd  
Snowfall: A Days of Redemption Christmas Novella by Shelley Shepard Gray  
Snow Angel Cove by RaeAnne Thayne  
Maybe This Christmas by Sarah Morgan  
The Lodge on Holly Road by Sheila Roberts  
Sleigh Bells in Valentine Valley by Emma Cane  
All He Wants for Christmas by Lisa Plumley  
Candlelight Christmas by Susan Wiggs  
Christmas with the McRaes by Teresa Hill  
Tis the Season by Robyn Carr  
Together for Christmas by Various Authors  
The Kent Brothers Trilogy by Jaci Burton  

















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.

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