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Across the country this week, people are finishing Thanksgiving leftovers, dropping letters to Santa in the mail, and dumping peppermint schnapps into hot cocoa. But the “most wonderful time of the year” can also be quite stressful for romance readers. Nothing goes better with the overt sentimentality of the holiday season than romance, and as a result, there are an overwhelming number of Christmas romance novels.

So many books with “Christmas” in the title! So many promises of holiday miracles! So many adorable couples in stocking caps on the covers! Where does a reader begin?

Don’t worry. Restricted Reading has you covered. I selected a handful of holiday romance novels and put together the guide below. Happy holidays and happy reading!

Christmas Eve in Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas

An orphaned little girl named Holly who now lives with her (single) Uncle Mark wants a new mom for Christmas. Maggie, the local toy shop owner might be the perfect fit for Mark, except that she’s widowed and afraid to love again. For a while it seems like this story might actually be a love story between author Lisa Kleypas and the northwest corner of Washington state (as a native of said corner, I’m entirely on board), but it turns out the story is actually about Mark and Maggie and everyone getting over a lot of grief in order to find love.

Holiday cheer level: Moderate. Only the climax of the book takes place during the holidays, but everything you need to drum up Christmas magic – widows, orphans, hopeless bachelors, toy stores – is in place throughout.

Read this book: On a plane, train, or automobile. This one is light and moves quickly. Even more importantly, there’s only about a half a page of sex, so even if the person in 37E is reading over your shoulder, it won’t get weird. Or at least any weirder than that scenario already is.

The Christmas Bouquet by Sherryl Woods

This story starts with an accidental pregnancy. The couple – Caitlyn and Noah – are together, happy, and decide very early on not to terminate the pregnancy, which means the entire conflict essentially centers on Caitlyn’s meddling family and their efforts to convince/trick her into marrying Noah before the baby is born. Also, Caitlyn is grappling with the way the baby is going to force her to cancel/postpone her dreams of working with poor children in Africa. To be clear, Caitlyn and Noah are financially independent adults (doctors, in fact), and whether they get married is really no one else’s business. But maybe if you’ve read the other books in the “Chesapeake Shores” series you’ll see Caitlyn’s family as charming helpers, instead of interfering assholes.

Holiday cheer level: As much holiday cheer as a “Christmas in July” sale. Most of the book takes place in the spring. Some of the book takes place in the summer and fall. Almost none of the book takes place at Christmas, so the title, which refers a bouquet that was thrown long before this book starts, is a little misleading.

Read this book: While filling the lull between opening presents and Christmas dinner, especially if you’re feeling strained by the proximity of family. The Christmas Bouquet will remind you that it could be even worse.

A Christmas Baby Surprise by Catherine Mann

Porter and his wife Alaina have just adopted a baby. But it’s not that simple: Porter is a billionaire (obviously, since his name is Porter), Alaina has amnesia and doesn’t remember him or the fact that their marriage was on the rocks, and the baby has a club foot. Add in the fact that it’s Christmas time, and this book should be a glorious train wreck of soapy drama. Instead, it commits the most egregious sin that any romance can commit – it’s boring. Truly disappointing, since I thought we all could expect more from the “Billionaires and Babies” series.

Holiday cheer level: Manageable. The whole story takes place within a few weeks of Christmas, so you get a dose of tree-decorating and gift-giving, but it’s not central to the story. Also, they’re on a beach in Florida, so Santa might be uncomfortably overdressed.

Read this book: To avoid a more objectionable activity. By about halfway through the A Christmas Story marathon on Christmas Day, even a boring book might be a pretty good option.

Check out part two, coming soon!

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