Santa’s book bag this year was a mix of many pleasant stories, almost a handful of true delights, and a few duds. I do miss the old Signet Christmas anthologies. I’ve read twenty-five newly published Christmas books this year (some were recycled in new configurations and at least one was a paperback edition of an earlier hardback), and not one had the appeal of those annual collections which I could count on giving me at least three stories I loved—and in a good year, five. I read ten 2009 anthologies, and the best ones gave me only a single story that I know I’ll be rereading for Christmases yet to come. But I’m not complaining. I love Christmas books, and any year that leaves me with additions to my Christmas keepers makes me happy.
1. The Heart of Christmas: “A Handful of Gold,” Mary Balogh; “The Season for Suitors,” Nicola Cornick; “This Wicked Gift.” Courtney Milan
“This Wicked Gift” is the only new story in this anthology, but it alone is worth the price of the book. It is one of those rare historical stories that feature protagonists from the ranks of ordinary people rather than aristocrats. Lavinia Spencer works in her family’s bookshop, struggling to save pennies to give her father and younger brother a Christmas worth celebrating. William Q. White is a poor clerk with the daring and the imagination to make an extravagant move. I loved these characters, and I loved the wit, the intelligence, and the passion of this novella—and I mean that last quality not just in the sense of sexual desire, although the story has plenty of sizzle, but in the larger sense of deep, strong emotion.
2. A Regency Christmas (Harlequin Historical): “Scarlet Ribbons,” Lyn Stone; “Christmas Promise,” Carla Kelly; “A Little Christmas,” Gail Ranstrom
Like “This Wicked Gift,” “Christmas Promise” gives readers a hero and heroine who are not part of aristocratic circles. Captain Jeremiah Faulk is at loose ends with the Napoleonic Wars finished. Ianthe Mears is a struggling widow with two children old enough for her to have real concerns about their futures. This is a friends-to-lovers story, one of my favorite themes, and it has a touch of Cyrano de Bergerac as well. Like all of Carla Kelly’s fiction, “Christmas Promise” is both intelligent and heartwarming.
3. Home for the Holidays, Sarah Mayberry (Harlequin SuperRomance)
I bought this one because I kept hearing buzz about Mayberry’s books, and I’m so glad I did. I like my stories with rich contexts, one reason I’m really picky about the categories I read. Many of them focus so exclusively on the H/H relationship that the characters never seem quite believable to me. This was definitely not the case with Mayberry. She gives Joe and Hannah both families who are relevant to the action. She shows them in a relationship that develops, encounters credible obstacles, and involves ordinary moments of conversation and family interactions as well as romantic moments. She left me smiling and teary-eyed in the process. Not only was Home for the Holidays a keeper for me, but Mayberry is set to become my first glom of 2010.
4. Merry, Merry Ghost, Carolyn Hart
OK, this one is a cozy mystery rather than a romance, but it does have a sweet romance thread with the promise of an HEA. More important in its becoming a keeper is Hart’s protagonist in her latest series, Bailey Ruth Raeburn, an angel who has a fondness for earthly comforts like fashionable clothes and good food and a heart for helping. This second book in the series finds her aboard the Rescue Express, bound for her hometown Adelaide, Oklahoma, with another assignment from the Department of Good Intentions. The story has not only a murder, but also a resurrection of sorts, an orphaned child, a reconciled family, and Bailey Ruth wreaking havoc to the dismay of her supervisor, Wiggins. Merry, Merry Ghost left me very merry indeed.
A Christmas Ball: “The Longest Night,” Jennifer Ashley;”My Lady Below Stairs,” Emily Bryan; “Traditions,” Alissa Johnson
A Highlander Christmas: “Winter Heat,” Dawn Halliday; “Yuletide Enchantment,” Sophie Renwick; “A Christmas Spirit,” Cindy Miles
I’ll Be Home for Christmas: “Christmas of the Red Chiefs,” Linda Lael Miller; “Once Upon a Christmas.” Catherine Mulvany; “Meltdown,” Julie Leto; “You Can Count On Me,” Roxanne St. Claire
Snow Angels: “Snow Angels,” Fern Michaels; “The Presents of Angels,” Marie Bostwick; “Decorations,” Janna McMahan; “Miracle on Main Street,” Rosalind Noonan
The Night Before Christmas: “On a Snowy Christmas,” Brenda Novak; “The Christmas Baby,” Day Leclaire; “The Christmas Eve Promise,” Molly O’Keefe
That Holiday Feeling: “Silver Bells,” Debbie Macomber; “The Perfect Holiday,” Sherryl Woods; “Under the Christmas Tree,” Robyn Carr
This Christmas: “Vacation,” Jane Green; “The Second Wife of Reilly,” Jennifer Coburn; “Mistletoe and Holly,” Liz Ireland
Together for Christmas: “The Unmasking of Lady Loveless,” Nicola Cornick; “Christmas Reunion,” Catherine George; “A Mistletoe Masquerade,” Louise Allen
The Christmas Clock, Kat Martin
A Christmas Scandal, Jane Goodger
Lakeshore Christmas, Susan Wiggs
The Perfect Christmas, Debbie Macomber
Her Patchwork Family, Lyn Cote (Love Inspired Historicals)
One Cowboy, One Christmas, Kathleen Eagle (Silhouette Special Edition)
Unexpected Gifts, Holly Jacobs (Harlequin SuperRomance)
A Mother’s Secret, Janice Kay Johnson (Harlequin SuperRomance)
A Weaver Holiday Homecoming, Allison Leigh (Silhouette Special Edition)
Baby Under the Mistletoe, Jamie Sobrato (Harlequin SuperRomance)
Twelve Nights, Hope Tarr (Blaze)
The Christmas Present, Tracy Woolf (Harlequin SuperRomance)
I’ll Be Home for Christmas/One Golden Christmas, Lenora Worth (Love Inspired Classics)
Have you read any 2009 holiday books? What are your favorites from Christmas present--and past?