Do you hear what I hear? It's the sound of every streaming service and cable channel releasing the new crop of festive, formulaic, friendly holiday rom-com movies.
I've talked about this before: I love holiday rom-coms. I need to watch a grumpy no-nonsense business-type get taken over by the magic of Christmas, I need to watch a very unlikely coincidence play out in the most jingle-bells-jangling manner, I need a love of festive holiday puns to bring two people together under the mistletoe. I need two people to kiss and/or dance in a gazebo in the snow.
While I love watching these movies while wrapping presents, baking cookies, or decking the halls, I think this form really shines in romance novels. These stories are worth your undivided attention. Read on to enjoy the 12 books of kiss-mas!
We can't stop talking about Kiss Her Once for Me. It's a Portland rom-com (and it's accurate — get ready to be "Leonardo DiCaprio pointing at the screen" when landmarks are referenced or fictitious-but-too-accurate Portland businesses pop up); there's a complicated tale of love and money and maybe a sibling love triangle (not the Folger's commercial kind!!); and our protagonist falls in love on Christmas Eve when she reaches for Fun Home at Powell's (that's us!) at the same time as a tall, dark, and handsome stranger. Also, this is absolutely a swoonworthy romance, but manages to be as much about ambition and family and art as it is about falling head over heels. My heart.
Alison Cochrun and was kind enough to write about romance novels for the Powell's blog!
If you've read any of Lyssa Kay Adams' previous books in the Bromance Book Club series, then you already know this is going to be a treat. Nashville's burly bros have a romance reading book club, and they rely on their romance knowledge to cure their own unlucky-in-love ills. In this festive installment, country music musician Colton thought he found love with immigration lawyer Gretchen last Christmas, but Gretchen did not stick around. Now, Gretchen needs Colton to become the face of a new whiskey brand to get an infusion of cash from her wealthy family (money that can help serve her mission). Colton's willing to help, but makes a deal: They have to go on three dates to see if their love is real. I love an outlandish contract, and I love a series that has an internal reason for why everyone is orchestrating complicated rom-com schemes, and I love that Colton has such a strong support system of romance-loving dudes.
I'm so excited for this — a bookshop owner with a winky seasonal name (ELINOR NOEL, but she goes by Nory) returns to her old prep school for her friends' wedding in a castle, at Christmas, and ends up getting increasingly close to the head gardener Isaac. This promises to mix up a healthy dose of Complicated Nostalgia Feelings, seeing folks in a new light, and probably getting over a childhood crush — a class-conscious school reunion wrapped in a big Christmas castle bow.
Once Upon a December is magic, or at least has a deep lore underpinning the romance. We've got one character recovering from a divorce and visiting her favorite Christmas market in Milwaukee, and we’ve got another character who makes the best kringle in all the land. The twist? Our baking aficionado only exists in December — his whole life is this Christmas market, in a very literal way. (Also important: The characters are named Astra Noel Snow and Jack Clausen. Clausen.) This has been a year of time loops for me, and I'm so excited to explore this festive, midwestern, love-conquers-all-I-assume take on the trope.
A failing cat café? Is this the best rom-com setup in the whole world? Kara Ingalls opened a cat café called Meow and Furrever, and it has the most adorable problem: there are too many cats. Ben Reese is a marketing professional with some kind of plan to get this café profitable, and to help adopt out the cats. But can these two keep it professional, and overcome Kara's number one dealbreaker of "being good at taking care of animals" and Ben's number one weakness of "not being good at fostering a cat"??
We have long-awaited a Grinch-inspired holiday romcom, and Timothy Janovsky has delivered. Wealthy, spoiled, big-city-dwelling Matthew Prince causes some PR disaster and is sent off to spend Christmas with his grandparents in a charming small town. A small town means constantly running into the same gorgeous, unimpressed local — Hector Martinez — and being thrown together in some wacky party planning (an annual charity gala, which will almost certainly come together in a surprisingly short amount of time). The whos down in whoville are s-who-oning over this one! (I'm not sorry.)
A real-world freak blizzard is scary or annoying — you're trying to get groceries before the roads get terrible, or work from home when the power goes out, or explore a city that isn't used to snow in a wardrobe that wasn't made for wintery mixes. But a giant blizzard in a cozy book? The atmosphere! Whiteout is the second collaboration between these all-star authors, following the very good Blackout, set during a summer heatwave blackout in NYC (a perfect read if you hate this season but love an ensemble rom-com). It follows twelve teens trying to make a grand gesture apology in the midst of a once-in-a-century Atlanta snowstorm. I cannot stress enough how much fun an ensemble rom-com can be, and teens are basically unstoppable, so this promises to be amazing.
Bonus recommendations: Other than Blackout, this is a great book if you enjoyed Let it Snow (the book or the Netflix adaptation), or Love, Actually (and if you hated Love, Actually, check out Lindy West's book of essays on movies — Shit, Actually.)
My favorite things about holiday houseswap romcoms are that it's two love stories for the price of one, two fish-out-of-water/new-person-in-town stories for the price of one, and that this is not at all a common situation but has become a trope (thanks to one of Nancy Meyers' finest, The Holiday). The Holiday Trap focuses on Greta (lives on a small island off the coast of Maine, wants to expand her world) and Truman (lives in New Orleans, needs to escape when he finds out his boyfriend had a secret family), two strangers with a mutual friend who agree to swap homes for a month to shake up their lives. Will they learn new things about themselves in a new setting? Will we get to sit in on two different holiday celebrations? Will they find love in an unexpected place?
It's a workplace romance with a festive twist! An artist (Miriam) who reluctantly inherits her Jewish family's Christmas tree farm is definitely going to learn to appreciate her family in a new way, while learning to love the surly manager of the farm (Noelle — I love this trend), as they work together to keep the business solvent! If there is not some kissing in an incredibly picturesque tree farm, I will scream.
This is somehow the second time loop book on this list (an early gift)! This is an imperfect comparison, but I loved the first season of Russian Doll on Netflix, and I loved Palm Springs on Hulu, and I can't wait to read the cozy, Christmas-y version of someone having to relive a very celebratory day over and over again. Especially when Gwen's forever-family-Christmas involves uncovering family secrets, and a boy-next-door Dev (with repeated chances at a meet-cute). What better way to learn the true reason for the season than to live it in a seemingly endless loop?
Teens! Working seasonal jobs in the mall! The mall where their families have longstanding beef competing for best restaurant! Coming together to defeat an evil developer who plans on evicting everyone in the mall and building condos! And maybe... having a much-cozier and happy-ending-er Romeo and Juliet story of ending their families' feud and falling in love. (This is also hitting on personal trendwatch for 2023 books — the mall is looming large as a setting.)
All I Want for Christmas involves a classic, relatable premise — Sadie and Max are on a reality singing show called Starmaker, they perform so well together that they gain a following and a portmanteau-ed couple hashtag, and they have to fake-date to keep their popularity up (despite hating each other). I'm loving romances that manage to address how wacky it would be to have a shipping fanbase, while still being a fun and wacky story that proves those fans can be correct. Also, it seems really likely that everything comes to a head at a big televised holiday special, which is the sort of sparkly grand finale that truly makes this season bright.