Update 18 December (2): Two books that weren’t in the original version of Secret Santa have been added back in, and I have added the reviews. These are Hiding from Christmas and The Wealth of Christmas, under Heat Level 2. If you have already bought Secret Santa, re-downloading it will bring these up for you.
Additionally, I have added the correct blurb to this page… apologies for any confusion there.
Update 18 December (1): The original review stated that the Bookfunnel for volume 2 only includes a download for an ePub file. It has since been pointed out to me that it should offer the option between this and a Mobi (Kindle) file. Looks like there was a glitch on my end… Oops. I have updated the review accordingly.
Before I start this review proper, I would like to point out that this review takes place across a number of pages. Two of these pages are dedicated to my review itself, thanks to the total number of stories included in the collection. The reason I’m drawing your attention to this, however, is because the back matter that I include at the end of each review has its own page.
Secret Santa: A Christmas Romance Collection (which I’ll just call Secret Santa from here on out) is an absolutely massive anthology, with a slew of contributors for me to list the socials for. So, please (pretty please with a cherry on top) read all the way to the third page, and have a look at all the authors. Hell, if the review bores you (and at over three thousand words, I really wouldn’t blame you), just click through to the third page. The royalties earned from Secret Santa aren’t going into the author’s pockets; instead, they are going to Ronald McDonald House, which is a wonderful cause.
So why not spread a little Christmas cheer and check out these guys’ socials? They’re doing a great thing here. And if you are willing to shell out a dollar or so to any of these stores, please do.
I must confess to not being an avid romance reader. Yes, there are some romances I enjoy (much like most genres), and I enjoy stories where romance is an element, even a big one. But romances themselves aren’t something I gravitate towards. However, in just four sittings over the course of two days, I have read the massive—and ‘massive’ is quite the understatement—Secret Santa, a romantic Christmas anthology that Amazon told me comes in at a massive 1,204 pages (or more accurately, the estimated page swipes). But upon reaching the end of my Kindle purchase, what do I find? A link to the rest of it.
This hidden, secret second volume of Secret Santa (what a lovely Christmas surprise!) comes in at a whopping 1,888 ‘pages,’ bringing the total for these two volumes to a massive 3,092 pages/swipes. Or, as one of the authors has told me, a grand total of 1.2 million words. Contained within this massive tome is a variety of stories that range anywhere between a few pages to full-length novels.
I bought this compendium for the purpose of reviewing and promoting it, with the royalties from the single Australian dollar I paid going straight to Ronald McDonald House. If you’re not a fan of romance, I can almost guarantee there is something you will like; if you are a fan of romance, there will be a lot for you to love. Regardless, given the price of this anthology, you really can’t go wrong. Especially when you think of the children.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must alert you to the following:
- I have read each and every story in Secret Santa. Yes, all 71 of them (before the 18 December update, this was 69… which I thought was deliberate… silly me!
- Reading this entire collection was a last-minute decision. I have other things to write, more books to read, and more books to review. Accordingly, I speed read my way through them to ensure that I can get this review published in enough time for you to get yourself a copy before Christmas. As a result, these stories won’t stick with me as much as they ordinarily would, and I won’t be going into as much depth about them.
- But as you will see, I am providing a little commentary about each one.
- I’m dizzy. Like, really fucking dizzy. Speed reading and leaping straight into a book review is not the way I tend to read. Hopefully, this review is not too scattered as a result.
While I mentioned above that I am not traditionally a romance reader, there is not a single story contained within Secret Santa that I didn’t enjoy. Obviously, as is the way with any anthology, I enjoyed some more than others, but I don’t feel I wasted (or even came close to wasting) my time with a single one of them.
Each story has been well-crafted and edited, telling their own romantic story. Some are happy, some not so much, others are funny, and others are not so much. And to bring this review back to the Christmas theme (it is a Christmas book in a month where I’m reviewing Christmas books, after all), some of these stories are nice; others are naughty. Very naughty.
As I mentioned above, Secret Santa comes in two volumes. The first includes all the “nice” stories, or those that those with Heat Level 1 – Bell Pepper. The naughtier ones come in Heat Levels 2 to 4, Chili Pepper, Jalapeño Pepper, and Habanero Pepper. As an added bonus, you can also get a Christmas cookbook by the authors. This, I have not yet read.
At the end of the compilation, a link is included to volume 2, via Bookfunnel. This will give you the option of downloading a Mobi (Kindle) file, or an ePub (everything else) one.
One other thing that I will point out is that with the exception of just two M\M stories, each of the tales in this book is about straight, cisgendered couples.
And with that, on to the stories!
Heat Level 1 – Bell Pepper
Company Christmas: A Red Flag Romance by Summer Abernathy opens this compendium on a somewhat dour note, telling the story of a relationship that’s not quite so happy. Naturally, songs from my youth, like Smash Mouth’s All-Star and Oasis’s Wonderwall, managed to lift my spirits.
Christmas Rider: A Lost Saxons Short Story by Jessica Ames tells a sweet romance story with multiple POV characters within the Lost Saxons Motorcycle Club.
Miracle at Midnight by Amy C. Beckinsale tells a worrisome, sad tale, that goes straight for the readers’ emotions.
Under the Mistletoe: A Sweet, Small Town Romance by Jennifer Bonds is the first story in the collection to use a third person narrative. It tells the story of nine couples across three generations finding love, complete with amusing sides throughout.
Mr. Christmas: Zodiac Hearts by Jo Bradley is a cute romance with juxtaposing points of view from its protagonists. It is also one of the shorter stories in the collection, or at least feels that way.
A Very Bradypus Christmas by Caitlyn Coakley gets points for its title, more points for all of its geeky references, and even more points for naming a character from X-Men’s Professor Charles Xavier. It is also full of humour and heart, if that matters.
Fairytale Christmas by Merrie Destefano is an historical fantasy set in Ireland, 1,400 BC, during the Bronze Age. The Ice Ages, Stone Ages and Iron Age are all also very pertinent to this ambitious romance.
A Cabin in the Snow by Dusty Grein expertly builds towards its climax. The beginning of the story has no connection to the title, adding a little mystery to the romance.
Miracle on the Christmas Tree Farm by Mira Kane is a short, dialogue-heavy story that uses its limited space to get the reader into the characters’ heads.
Christmas Captive by Valkyrie Luna and Zaria Knight tells the story of the annual Christmas family gathering. Naturally, it is a crime family. This is the first chapter in a longer story—presumably a book. Unfortunately, it doesn’t say where you can get the rest of the story, which is a little disappointing. I’ll have to do my own research!
Wintertide by Stacey Jaine McIntosh is a Welsh historical epic. It also happens to be an enjoyable Christmas story and romance, so it has a lot going for it.
Love in the Dumpster Fire by Mandy Melanson, Colleen Key, Morgan Meyer and Isabella Jacobs has some brilliant character voices belonging to the point of view characters, and a wonderful sense of fun. An accomplishment on its own, let alone for a story set in a hospital dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ugly Christmas Sweaters by Irene Michaels is a fun romantic comedy set to the backdrop of an ugly Christmas sweater competition.
The Reindeers’ Christmas Secret by Naomi Panthera and Zelda Knight is the first chapter of a larger story. As fun as it is, it is a little difficult to gauge how the rest of this tale will play out.
#Santa by K M Pine tells a delightfully romantic Christmas story about students coming to the end of the year at school, before breaking for Christmas, right through to the day itself. And you really can’t go past that title, can you?
Her Christmas Duke by Arietta Richmond opens with a heartbreaking loss during the War of 1812. Through a lack of support from her husband’s family, as well as her own, is she able to find love again?
His Heart Beats for Her by J.A. Roles tells the story of how a delayed flight leads to a romance that builds all the way until Christmas.
Christmas in the Wheatbelt: A Fields of Gold Story by Katy Rose tells a story set in Australia, so it automatically gets points. That it discusses the Black Dog Institute, an Australian organisation dedicated to supporting people through their mental health issues gives it a tonne more bonus points. It also includes Christmas and romance!
Unforgettable Hearts: A Thunder Ridge Christmas by Amy Stephens tells the story of a heartbreaking departure that may actually be a lovely surprise for Christmas.Merry Christmas, Henry: A Chicago Christmas #1 by Aubrey Wynne is the last story of volume one, and it’s a beauty. It tells the story of Henry and his best friend/former romantic interest, the portrait Henry is in love with and the woman his best friend would love to set him up with.