By Lauren Willig
It is not exactly an auspicious start to Arabella Dempsey's career as the newest instructor at Miss Climpson's Select Seminary for Young Ladies. Not only is Arabella bowled over twice before leaving the establishment; she is nearly stuck down by a Christmas pudding given to Reginald "Turnip" Fizthugh by his sister Sally. When the pudding turns out to contain a coded message - possibly from French spies no less - Arabella finds herself entangled with Turnip in a holiday adventure neither one of them will ever forget. Readers searching for the perfect literary treat need look no further than The Mischief of the Mistletoe. Not only does Willig deliver captivating characters and a lively plot, she effortlessly channels Austen's deliciously sharp sense of wit into her own sparkling prose.
"His Christmas Pleasure"
By Cathy Maxwell
Avon, 384 pages, $7.99
Already twice jilted, Abby Montrose is convinced she is headed for a life of spinsterhood when she unexpectedly receives a proposal from the season's most notorious rake, Spanish nobleman Andres Ramigio. What Andres actually proposes is something more like a marriage of convenience, but since Abby doesn't exactly have a line of suitors, she accepts. The two work hard to make their marriage work, and as Abby and Andres share their first Christmas together, both realize they may just have received the best gift of all: a marriage based on true love.
"A Darcy Christmas"
By Amanda Grange, Sharon Lathan and Carolyn Eberhart
Sourcebooks Landmark, 304 pages, $14.99
This trio of charming novellas celebrates the holidays with a Regency flair. In "Mr. Darcy's Christmas Carol," Eberhart blends the best of Austen and Dickens in her clever tale of how a visit from three spirits prompts Mr. Darcy to change his life for the better. In "Christmas Present," Grange pays homage to Austen most satisfactorily as she reunites the characters from Pride and Prejudice when Darcy and Elizabeth visit her sister Jane for the holidays. In Lathan's poetically touching "A Darcy Christmas," Darcy and Elizabeth lovingly look back on the holidays they have shared as a married couple.
"Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor"
By Lisa Kleypas
St. Martin's, 224 pages, $16.99.
After his sister's death, Mark Nolan becomes the guardian of her young daughter Holly, and he needs all the help he can get. Fortunately, Maggie Collins, owner of Friday Harbor's toy store, is more than happy to lend a hand. As the holidays arrive, Mark realizes Maggie is the woman for whom he has been waiting, but can he convince her to take another chance on love? Kleypas deftly imbues her sweetly romantic, superbly satisfying tale with just the right measure of holiday warmth and cheer.
"A Chesapeake Shores Christmas"
By Sherryl Woods
MIRA, 288 pages, $16.95
More than a decade after their marriage ended, Megan O'Brien returns to Chesapeake Shores to give her ex-husband Mike the best Christmas present ever: another chance. Everyone in the O'Brien family is delighted that Meg and Mike are getting back together again. Well, everyone except their son Connor, who is determined that his parents' wedding never takes place. Love, marriage, family, and forgiveness all play an important part in Wood's latest richly nourishing, holiday-spiced novel.
"Regency Christmas Proposals"
By Gayle Wilson, Amanda McCabe and Carole Mortimer
Harlequin, 288 pages, $5.99
Three different couples find Christmas is the perfect season for romance. In Wilson's richly poignant "The Soldier's Christmas Miracle," five years after the war Guy Wakefield finally finds the woman who gave him the hope needed to go on, but can he now convince Isabella Stowe to marry him? McCabe delivers beautifully nuanced characters in "Snowbound and Seduced," in which Mary Bassington gets another chance at happily-ever-after with her old flame Dominick Amesby. It had been more than two years since Gideon Grayson visited Steadley Manor, and now he finds a woman with a pistol waiting for him in Mortimer's sexy spin on a classic Regency plot "Christmas at Mulberry Hall."
By LuAnn McLane, Susanna Carr and Janice Maynard
NAL Trade, 320 pages, $14.00
This steamy trio of contemporary novellas is guaranteed to heat up anyone's holiday. After missing her train and finding herself stranded, Claire Collins accepts artist Jesse Marshall's offer to stay with him in McLane's humor-tinged, sensually-singed "Hot Whisper." After one unforgettable office party all Rachel Bartlett wants to do is avoid Justin O'Rourke, but all Justin wants to do is recreate their night of passion in Carr's scorchingly sexy "Hot for the Holidays." As far as Hollie Prentiss is concerned, running a B and B in North Pole, Alaska is just a temporary job until she meets Daniel Reynolds, the inn's long-term guest in Maynard's spicy "Hot Arctic Nights."