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Do You Believe in Santa?

Sierra Donovan. Kensington/Zebra, $6.99 mass market (312p) ISBN 978-1-4201-3422-3

Donovan (No Christmas like the Present) puts the titular question at the heart of a romance that leans heavily on old-fashioned values. Provincial Mandy Reece firmly believes Santa Claus is real. When she falls in love with Jake Wyndham, a visiting businessman who wants to bring her small community into the corporate world, both will have to reexamine their beliefs. Jake is a caricature of traditional masculinity: he insists on opening doors for Mandy, jumps to immediate jealousy, has the more powerful job, thinks of Mandy in terms of her ability to bear and raise his future kids, and is more sexually experienced. This conventional portrayal is balanced somewhat when he realizes he has to change in order to reach his professional and personal goals. The dual arcs blend well together—Jake’s plan to commercialize Mandy’s town may cost him her heart—and the Christmas theme is central to the conflict keeping Mandy and Jake apart. This chaste love story will appeal to traditionalists. Agent: Jonathan Clements, Wheelhouse Literary Group. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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On the Naughty List

Lori Foster, Carly Phillips, Sugar Jamison, and Beth Ciotta. St. Martin’s Paperbacks, $7.99 mass market (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-07129-3

This quartet of contemporary Christmas novellas mixes sugar and spice for an appealing holiday treat. In Foster’s “Christmas Bonus,” coworkers Maggie and Eric are pining for each other but don’t realize it—until Eric finds a page from the erotic novel Maggie’s been writing. In Phillips’s “Naughty Under the Mistletoe,” a no-nonsense lawyer impulsively decides to kiss her boss at the holiday Christmas party, but ends up in the arms of his identical twin. Ciotta nods to A Christmas Carol with “Some Kind of Wonderful,” about a grieving Marine sniper and the childhood friend who helps him remember all of the good things worth living for. In Jamison’s “Have Yourself a Curvy Little Christmas,” brash single mother Dina Gregory is determined to make her infant son’s birth father take some responsibility for his son—and falls in love with his brother instead. There’s no coal in this stocking; each story satisfyingly tugs at the heartstrings. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Amish Christmas Sleigh

Kelly Long, Amy Lillard, and Molly Jebber. Kensington, $15 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-4967-0013-1

Three blended Amish families celebrate Christmas in this warmhearted romance anthology. In Long’s “A Sleigh Ride on Ice Mountain,” orphaned Kate is struggling to raise her disabled young brother. Gentle toy maker Sebastian offers Kate a job—and a lifeline. In Lillard’s humorous “A Mamm for Christmas,” three spirited sisters decide that their schoolteacher should be their new mother and insist that their widowed father marry her. Jebber transports readers to a small community in early-20th-century Ohio for “An Unexpected Christmas Blessing,” in which a widowed mother with two young children is drawn to her charming but secretive neighbor. Filled with traditional Amish romance elements, the tales cover a variety of themes while remaining true to the spirit of the holiday. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Christmas in Mustang Creek

Linda Lael Miller. HQN, $17.99 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-0-373-77908-6

Miller (The Marriage Season) liberally sprinkles Christmas magic throughout this companion book to her Brides of Bliss County contemporary series. Charlotte Morgan was born and raised in Mustang Creek, Wyo. She couldn’t wait to leave for the big city. Unfortunately, the big city sent her back, jobless and needing to care for her aunt. The last thing Charlotte expects from her first night home is to be caught in a blizzard and stuck sharing a hotel room with veterinarian Jaxon Locke, her ex. Jax was heading to Mustang Creek with the express hope of running into Charlotte again. With help from mutual friends and the gentle, pointed influence of the mysterious Mrs. Klozz, his gamble may just ensure the sweetest Christmas ever. Humorous happenstance defines this quintessentially warm and cozy slice of small-town life. Agent: Irene Goodman, Irene Goodman Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Unwrapped

Katie Lane. Grand Central/Forever, $6.99 mass market (336p) ISBN 978-1-4555-5189-7

Lane’s third McPherson contemporary (after Ring In the Holidays) is weak on plot but has plenty of delightful characters. Patrick McPherson, one of several handsome brothers working in the family construction business, has escaped briefly to an isolated cottage in Colorado. A stormy night forces Jacqueline Maguire to seek refuge with him. Patrick suspects she was sent by his matchmaking aunt, but he gives her a one-night stand to remember; the next day, she disappears. When Jac learns she is pregnant, she returns to tell Patrick about the child. She needs a husband to fulfill the terms of a will, so she accepts Patrick’s dutiful proposal, but it will take more than obligation to make the couple’s Christmas dreams come true. Readers will love the appealing McPhersons, and savor Jac and Patrick’s sizzling chemistry. Agent: Laura Bradford, Bradford Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Naughtier than Nice

Eric Jerome Dickey. Dutton, $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-525-95520-7

Dickey’s excellent second novel of the McBroom sisters (after 2003’s Naughty or Nice) spans a year from one Christmas to the next, delivering family drama, romantic angst, and sexual gymnastics by the boatload. When eldest sister Frankie McBroom is betrayed in love, her sisters, Livvy and Tommie, come immediately to her defense. But soon the rest of the McBrooms are struggling to conceal the flaws in their own relationships, and their secrets and lies endanger them all. Everyone in the book seems simultaneously focused on love, honesty, chaos, and self-destruction. Dickey has deft control of each voice, and the Los Angeles backdrop is so well drawn that it becomes a character in its own right. The resolution is messy, terrifying, and satisfying all at once, with fresh blooms of hope for all concerned. Agent: Sara Camilli, Sara Camilli Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Knights Bridge Christmas

Carla Neggers. Mira, $17.99 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-7783-1759-3

Neggers’s fifth Swift River Valley contemporary (after Echo Lake) features widowed Claire Morgan, the new library director recently arrived in small Knights Bridge, Mass., with her six-year-old son, Owen. Busy ER doctor Logan Farrell visits from Boston to move his feisty grandmother, Daisy, into an assisted living facility. Claire sees Logan as “one of those imperious, successful men who likes to get his way,” but Daisy convinces Claire and Logan to decorate her home together “for one last Christmas.” Daisy’s cryptic request to put a candle in the window mystifies them, but readers will recognize it from the prologue, which reveals how 15-year-old Daisy fell in love with Logan’s grandfather. As mutual affection grows, Claire and Logan help each other navigate challenges: her anxiety for Owen’s safety, his desire to shake his reputation as work obsessed and neglectful of his family. Appealing protagonists, good neighbors, small-town Christmas traditions, and Neggers’s own recipes make for a fine romance. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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An Amish Christmas Gift: Three Novellas

Amy Clipston, Ruth Reid, and Kelly Irvin. Thomas Nelson, $12.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-0-7180-3965-3

Three Amish romance novelists confect variations on the theme of Christmas in a collection that’s long on seasonal sweetness. Irvin’s tale has the most effervescence: Rocky, a young English (non-Amish) man, follows Frannie, a young Amish woman, to Texas after her parents send her to stay with family there to disrupt their growing attachment. The chemistry between the two is heartwarming, even if Rocky’s growing interest in the Amish way of life is not wholly convincing to the reader. Reid’s story uses the familiar romance trope of opposites attracting to bring together garrulous Abigail and critical Micah, when the latter engages the former to care for his grandmother. Clipston draws on one too many tired devices—the precocious motherless child, an injury sustained in a winter storm, multiple love interests that generate misunderstandings for the main character—in her tale of 24-year-old Naomi King resigning herself to unwedded life until widower Caleb Schmucker returns to town with a young daughter obviously in need of maternal nurturing. This trio is best suited to hardcore Amish romance readers. Agents: Clipston: Mary Sue Seymour, Seymour Agency; Reid: Susan Brower, Natasha Kern Literary Agency; Irvin: Mary Sue Seymour. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Christmas Kiss

Celeste O. Norfleet, Regina Hart, and Deborah Fletcher Mello. Kensington/Dafina, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4967-0050-6

Three wise men star in this trio of artful novellas. In Norfleet’s delectable “Sealed with a Kiss,” a bad boy turned multimillionaire returns to Hayden, Ga., to reunite with his first love, who sacrificed her own happiness to convince him to leave the town he hated. In Hart’s somewhat tangled “Mistletoe Lane,” a man healing from a failed marriage and his wife’s infidelity falls for his new employee, who’s trying to overcome her own hurtful past. In Mello’s delightful “His Christmas Gifts,” Ethan Christmas falls for Bianca Torres, who’s 25 years his junior; her parents are attempting to fix her up with Ethan’s son, who’s secretly gay and already in a relationship. Parades, hot chocolate, tree trimming, and gift giving help guide these couples to their merry-ever-afters. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Cowboy Firefighter for Christmas

Kim Redford. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-4926-2147-8

An over-the-top cowboy joins perfectly with a strong heroine and small-town living in Redford’s debut, which launches the Smokin’ Hot Cowboys contemporary romance series. Trey Duval is a cowboy who ranches, fights fires, and throws himself headfirst into supporting his hometown, Wildcat Bluff, Tex. Troubleshooter Misty Reynolds lands in his lap like a Christmas present from heaven. He and the whole town start calling her their Christmas angel after she arrives just in time to help Trey stop a potentially deadly fire. Fire is Misty’s nemesis, and she hates Christmas almost as much. But she’s certain she can handle both her phobia and her dislike of the holiday season when she accepts an undercover job to discover the cause of mysterious fires in town. The attraction between Trey and Misty is instant, scorching, and flavored with just a hint of sweet innocence. Add in the distilled essence of a perfect small town, and this tale will melt even the iciest heart. Agent: Elaine English, Elaine English PLLC. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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