This holiday season we're indulging in a delicious mix of stories in which heroines whether they be maidens fair or conflicted modern women find heroes in their own lives.

"Marry a man at least of your standing," demands Helena's uncle in Stephanie Laurens' hardcover debut, The Promise in a Kiss. The aristocratic young Frenchwoman may have been reared in the genteel ways of an 18th century Parisian convent, but she's determined to choose a man for herself. The absolute last choice in her mind is the too overpowering, too arrogant, too bloody attractive Sebastian Cynster.

But a long-ago stolen kiss in the moonlit convent garden has lived on in each of their hearts. And her uncle's penchant for sinister gamesmanship reunites Sebastian and Helena in a match of wills. For Helena there is also the awakening awareness that choosing Sebastian may mean sacrificing those she holds most dear. Longtime fans of the Cynster family tales as well as first-time readers will be drawn to the captivating storytelling of Stephanie Laurens as she builds an evocative tale of a love so powerful it grows beyond a lifetime to create a dynasty.

There must be something in French convent drinking water that makes young ladies so determined to make choices despite their own best interests. Why else would Sister Eloise stubbornly stick to her plan of becoming Abbess of the Convent of the Brides of Virtue in Betina Krahn's merry, heart-charming The Husband Test? But the current abbess has other ideas for the overzealous Eloise and devises a test that takes her away from her virtuous upbringing.

Judging Peril, Earl of Whitmore, as a prospective husband opens Eloise to the dangers of rampaging seas, stampeding wild boars and a heart that just refuses to cooperate. Betina Krahn is a treasure among historical writers, and The Husband Test is a story to savor.

Across the channel in the convent of St. Swithin's, the Redclift sisters find a hero for Meg lying bloodied and battered in the frozen squash patch in My Lady Wayward by Linda Lael Miller, writing here as Lael St. James. After nursing the anonymous warrior she calls Adam back to life and keeping him safely sequestered, Meg is determined at all costs that her wounded hero will help find her missing sister Gabrielle.

Long beloved for her frontier Americana tales, Lael Miller/St. James traces the spunky grit and spirit of that frontier character back to its natural origins, where ladies are at their best when they are wayward.

Summer lights for winter nights Fast forward from the distant past of historical romance to a seemingly ordinary beach house along today's California coast, where Another Summer is about to unfold, month by month, couple by couple, in Georgia Bockoven's masterful morsels of multiple life stories within the framework of one compelling novel.

Beach houses, like chocolates, like people, may seem perfectly smooth and ordinary on the outside, but Bockoven has an unmatched talent for reaching deep inside the living and drawing out strong stories of the triumphant healing force of love over anguishing pain and trauma. Share in the triumph of reunited lovers long separated by deception; experience the magic of family members trying to find their way back together. Perfectly drawn for reading in short moments of retreat, Another Summer will shimmer bright amid the darkest winter nights.

If your desire for holiday escapist reading runs along the lines of pure unadulterated sass and sparkle, Karen Kendall's To Catch a Kiss is romantic comedy that'll put a naughty twinkle in your night. Jazz Taylor takes on Tony Sinclair's too-traditional idea of livin' and lovin' in this story that suits to a "T."

Sandy Huseby writes and reviews from her homes in Fargo, North Dakota, and northern Minnesota.


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