Sometime just barely after Halloween it begins.
Around the first of November I'm usually trying to nudge myself toward the idea that Thanksgiving is just weeks away and Christmas follows a month later. There are gifts to buy, wrap and, in some cases, mail. There are parties to plan and attend. I have to write a Christmas letter to go into the Christmas cards, which must be addressed and mailed. Stockings must be stuffed and turkey dinners planned. We put up the tree, add lights and ornaments, slap the topper on and hang a wreath on the front door. And oh dear, what did I get Aunt Nellie last year?
Pretty soon all the shopping and planning and preparing lead to inevitable grumpiness and a decidedly Grinch-like attitude. Until...
Books with snow and Christmas trees and ornaments on their covers start to appear on the shelf at my favorite booksellers, and pretty soon some of them are on the end table beside the couch where I usually sit and read. Since I started reading romance a few years ago I've come to believe it's not really Christmas until I've read a few holiday romances. It's easier to tackle the shopping crowds with a couple Happily Ever Afters under your belt.
This is a difficult time of year for many people. They've lost loved ones or loved ones are away from home for the holidays. They may be jobless or in dire financial straits. They may be suffering a severe health crisis. But time after time I've heard authors say they've received a letter from a reader who wrote "Your book helped me get through my chemo treatment today" or "After being alone for so many years I'm learning to believe in love again."
Romance gives readers a sense of hope and a moment of escape from their everyday lives. They provide that sense of hope all year long, but reading about finding love under the mistletoe or receiving a toe-curling kiss in the town square with snow falling all around makes it even more magical, and ups the hope factor a couple hundred percent.
What I want from a holiday romance is not only the hope, but the "awwwwww" at the end when the hero and heroine live happily ever after. A couple years ago I bought an anthology with a story by a favorite author. After I read two of the novellas and learned they were about serial killers and dead Santas, I realized that just because it has Santa on the cover, it's not necessarily going to leave me with all sorts of warm, fuzzy feelings. Just setting the story in December with snow falling and a wreath on the front door doesn't cut it.
Debbie Macomber has written some terrific Christmas romances. One of my very favorites is a novella called "Shirley, Goodness and Mercy" about three angels with slightly crooked halos who work a little Christmas magic on a man who has hit rock bottom and doesn't believe in Christmas anymore.
This year's stack on my end table includes an anthology from Harlequin Next called "Christmas Presence." I've only read one story so far but it is definitely a keeper. "You're All I Want for Christmas" by Susan Crosby is the story of divorcee Lauren Wright who decides to escape Christmas memories with a trip to the Bahamas. A storm shuts down all flights and strands her at O'Hare airport. Christmas looks pretty bleak until she meets fellow strandee Joe who makes her see that running away might not be the answer after all.
Yesterday I re-read "'Tis the Silly Season," the Rita award winning novella by Roxanne St. Claire from 2006's "NASCAR Holiday." It is about a single mother who hires on as a sexy race car driver's pretend wife in order to give her kids the perfect Christmas they've never had. Meanwhile, sexy race car driver is trying to paint himself as a stable family kind of guy so he can get picked as a driver for Kincaid Toys' team and get into the NEXTEL series., Add in two adorable little boys and some Christmas magic and you've got a definite "awwwww" inspiring story.
Right now I'm reading "Annie on the Lam: A Christmas Caper" by Jennifer Archer. This is also from Harlequin Next and features forty-year-old Savannah socialite Annie Macy who's left her fiance at the altar and fled the comforts of home for New York City to try and learn the real reasons behind her mother's death twenty-odd years before. At the company Christmas party, Annie steals papers from her boss to try and prove he's laundering money through his restaurant. Consequently she ends up on the lam with cab driver Joe Brady, who's also a PI hired by her father to keep an eye on her. So far we have lots of sexual tension and a bad snowstorm that's probably gonna trap them together somewhere. Oh how I love a hero and heroine trapped in a snowstorm!
Since my shopping is done, my Christmas cards are mailed and my house got a spit-polish last week in preparation for a party last Saturday, I should have plenty of time for the books still in the pile, which includes "The Gift" by Nora Roberts. I know... I should be writing. Let's just say I'm refilling the well that was thoroughly emptied by all the dusting, scrubbing, polishing, vacuuming and mopping I did last week. I'm still having nasty flashbacks when I smell Pledge.
What are you reading this Christmas season? Do you like holiday romances? Do they help make the season merry and bright for you? One lucky commenter will win a Christmas prize package with chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate.
P.S. Thought you might like to see my Christmas lights.