Wednesday, December 3, 2014

'Tis the Season

...for Christmas anthologies. The holidays are a busy time of year, and I have less time to read. For that reason, I really enjoy romance anthologies in December. The short story format allows me to get through the whole emotional arc and reach the happily-ever-after before I forget the backstory and plot set-up.

I am not the only romance reader who feels that way. Publishers always release Christmas-themed romance anthologies, because they sell like Christmas cookies. Regency Historicals are my go-to comfort reads, so those are the type of anthologies I gobble up.

I am currently reading (and enjoying) Christmas in the Duke's Arms, a brand-new anthology with stories by best-selling authors Grace Burrowes, Shana Galen, Carolyn Jewel and Miranda Neville. All three stories take place in the same Nottinghamshire village, home to an inn called The Duke's Arms. They are tied together by having a common setting and some overlapping scenes and secondary characters. In that way, they are reminiscent of the non-Christmas, wedding-themed anthologies that Miranda Neville has done with Katharine Ashe, Caroline Linden and Maya Rodale.

I am beginning to do more reading on my smartphone (although I still prefer paper most of the time). I was delighted to discover today that A Grosvenor Square Christmas is currently free in digital formats. On our first trip to London, my husband and I visited Grosvenor Square, mainly to see the FDR memorial and the mid-20th-century U.S. Embassy building. Other sides of the square are still occupied by the Georgian townhouses that have provided a steady income for the Grosvenor family (the Dukes of Westminster) for more than two centuries. While we were sitting on a park bench enjoying the pleasant surroundings, a gentleman dressed like an Elizabethan town crier came through the square, inviting all and sundry to a free Shakespeare play later that week, courtesy of His Grace, the Duke of Westminster. Alas, our itinerary would not allow us to accept the Duke's kind invitation.

Several years ago, I read Snowy Night with a Stranger, with stories by Jane Feather, Sabrina Jeffries and Julia London. The title says it all -- each story involves strangers who meet due to winter travel disruptions. The stories are not interconnected, but they are delightful. The anthology's theme means that each story contains the meet-cute as well as the falling-in-love part of the romance. There is something especially exciting about a new attraction (and in the pages of a romance novel, we needn't worry that the guy will turn out to be a bad credit risk). While travel is no longer as difficult or hazardous as it was two hundred years ago, most of us can relate to the notion of being stranded over the holidays due to bad weather.

Mary Balogh has written a number of Christmas-themed novels and novellas over the course of her long career. I have enjoyed many of her novels, but of the Christmas-themed stories, I prefer the novellas. They often appear in anthologies with other authors, but I recommend the all-Balogh collection Under the Mistletoe. No one writes about lonely introverts who have difficulty communicating their true feelings like Balogh. This collection includes two stories about married couples who finally learn to communicate and trust.

Happy reading, and Happy Holidays.

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