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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 (click here for part 1). Happy holidays and happy reading!

Sleigh Bells in the Snow by Sarah Morgan

Imagine Ebenezer Scrooge was a wildly successful business lady, and you have the core of Sleigh Bells in the Snow. Kayla has traumatic memories of Christmas and essentially no relationship with her family, so she dreads the holiday season. When Jackson recruits her to come use her amazing business skills to help save his family’s winter wonderland vacation business, she ends up completely immersed in the kinds of holiday fun and family festivities that she tries so hard to avoid. To be fair, Kayla is a much more sympathetic character than Scrooge, but she’s also a little slower to come around; Scrooge sorted out his shit overnight, but it takes her a full week to overcome her sad past and fall in love with Jackson.

Holiday cheer level: Out of control. If Santa Claus, Rudolph, and Frosty the Snowman were dancing around a Christmas tree drinking egg nog and singing “Deck the Halls,” it would still be a less Christmas-y experience than this book. There is an honest-to-god actual Christmas sleigh.

Read this book: If you wake up at 3am on Christmas morning and are too excited to go back to sleep. Sleigh Bells is fun and charming enough to keep you entertained while you wait for everyone else to get up so you can open presents. This advice only applies if you’re an adult. There is way too much sex in this book for impatient children to be reading it on Christmas morning. Or any morning, really.

Lighting the Flames by Sarah Wendell

Genevieve and Jeremy, two long-time friends and counselors at a Jewish summer camp, reunite for a one-time winter camp so that they can spend extra time together in a place they love. But Genevieve is still grieving the loss of her parents. And Jeremy is getting pulled away from the camp by his grown up life and job. And the camp might be going bankrupt. And they’re actually in love! Lighting the Flames is a nice addition to the holiday collection, and not just because it’s one of the few Hanukkah-focused holiday romances out there. In fact, Wendell, who is both Jewish and a prominent romance novel reviewer/advocate, wrote it in part to part to address the shortage.

Holiday cheer level: Not so much holiday cheer as seasonal reflection. Of all the books discussed here, Lighting the Flames has by far the strongest spiritual themes and conversations, though they’re by no means overbearing. Between the Hanukkah and Shabbat observances and discussions of death/grieving, the contemplative pieces of the book provide a nice balance to the camp hijinks.

Read this book: While everyone else is suffering through The Nutcracker. Or god forbid, a holiday movie. This one’s fairly short, so if you sneak out early on, you should be able to find a nice quiet corner of the lobby and read through a good chunk of it on your phone’s e-reader app before the final curtain.

When Snow Falls by Brenda Novak

In this slightly less uplifting holiday tale, Cheyenne is overwhelmed with problems. Her terrible mother is dying, her sister is a drug addict, the bed and breakfast that employs her might be going under, and pretty much all of her friends have just gone on vacation without her. She’s also torn between two men and obsessed with memories that suggest her mother might not actually be her mother. But it’s December, so… Merry Christmas!

Holiday cheer level: Essentially zero. There are some nice Christmas moments in this engaging story, but Novak seems intent on reminding readers that neither the calendar nor Santa can keep bad things from happening in life. Luckily, by the new year, things are looking up.

Read this book: When you need a break from all the joy and love and magic of the season. My recommendation is that you grab When Snow Falls and head to the gym. The story is dark enough to knock “Holly Jolly Christmas” out of your head and compelling enough to keep you entertained on the treadmill while you work off the cookies and spiked cider.

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