Among recent romances are the promising starts of two new series, and a pair of holiday tales set in England.

“Consumed” by J.R. Ward
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“Consumed” by J.R. Ward

Consumed

By J.R. Ward

Gallery Books.

416 pp. $27.

Consumed is the exciting first installment in J.R. Ward’s new Firefighters series. Anne Ashburn is a New Brunswick, Mass., firefighter. Firefighting is in her blood: Her father was a firefighter, and her brother, Tom, is fire chief. Anne is a member of a close crew that includes Daniel Maguire, and, ahem, sparks have been flying between the two of them for a while. After fighting their attraction, they have shared one night of burning passion but know it was a relationship that would be forbidden as long as they worked together.

A terrible blaze one night at an old warehouse alters Anne's life forever and haunts Danny with guilt. Afterward, Anne must drop her lifelong dream of firefighting and forge a new path as a fire investigator.

During an investigation, Anne begins to suspect an arsonist is responsible for several warehouse fires, including the one in which she was hurt. She finds herself in danger as she gets closer to the truth. Meanwhile, Danny is drawn into a downward spiral and starts taking dangerous risks on the job. Anne confronts him about it, and they realize their passion is still as incendiary as ever.

Ward is best known for her long-running Black Dagger Brotherhood vampire series. This sizzling new series also features a band of deeply flawed heroes loved by strong heroines. Who knew that firefighters have lives of such drama and passion?

“Phoenix Unbound” by Grace Draven.
“Phoenix Unbound” by Grace Draven.

Phoenix Unbound

By Grace Draven

Ace. 400 pp. $15.

Phoenix Unbound is the first novel in Grace Draven’s Fallen Empire series. Draven is known for her immersive fantasy romances, including the fantastic Wraith Kings series.

Every year, each village is required to send a young woman to the Empire to be burned in a spectacle to entertain the masses. For several years, Gilene has been the same living tithe from her village. Her secret powers enable her to survive the ordeal, thus sparing the village’s other women.

This year is different. When Gilene reaches the capital, one of the gladiators sees through her illusion and recognizes her. As champion, Azarion gets to have one of the women for the evening, and he chooses Gilene. Alone later in his cell, he shocks her by saying he has seen her returning each year and wants her to help him escape his slavery to the Empire. He recognizes that Gilene can wield the power of fire and is immune to its danger. He forces her compliance by threatening to expose her deception, leaving her family and village open to deadly retaliation from the Empire.

Draven has created a brave and resourceful heroine in Gilene. She and Azarion draw closer as they come to rely on each other during their dangerous journey to his homeland. Once there, Gilene draws on the knowledge of the fire priestesses to learn how to wield her powers more effectively. Draven sets up a thrilling showdown as Gilene joins Azarion’s fight against the corrupt Empire.

“Mutts and Mistletoe” by Natalie Cox
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“Mutts and Mistletoe” by Natalie Cox
“One Day in December” by Josie Silver.
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“One Day in December” by Josie Silver.

Mutts and Mistletoe

By Natalie Cox

G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

320 pp. $13.

One Day in December

By Josie Silver

Broadway Books. 416 pp. $16.

Two enjoyable holiday-theme romances are Mutts and Mistletoe and One Day in December. Though both contemporary novels are set in England, one is a snarky romp and the other a heavier contemplation about the journey toward love.

In Mutts and Mistletoe, Charlie is definitely not feeling the holiday spirit. Her cheating boyfriend has left her, her mother has gone off traveling with her fifth husband, and her apartment has been damaged in a gas explosion. Bruised and concussed, she goes to recuperate at her cousin's place in the country.

Jez runs an upscale kennel for pampered dogs. Unfortunately, Charlie does not like dogs. When Charlie arrives, she has an awkward introduction to the local veterinarian, Cal. Though she notes that he is "eye candy," she is not impressed by his crabby attitude.

Just as Charlie is starting to settle into the quaint Devon countryside, Jez gets an invitation to meet up at last with her online flame in person and leaves Charlie to look after the dogs, including a heavily pregnant beagle and an elderly, constipated poodle, for a few days.

A series of dog emergencies and misadventures throws Charlie and Cal together. Charlie finds herself warming up to Cal and his muscular forearms, which she keeps ogling, and discovers that this Christmas season won't be such a disaster after all.

One Day in December draws an obvious comparison to one of the storylines in the Christmas rom-com-drama Love Actually. Laurie is sitting in a crowded London bus, and her eyes meet those of a man sitting at a snowy bus stop. It is love at first sight for Laurie, and the man appears struck, too. But before either can do anything, the bus pulls away. Later, she laments to her best friend, Sarah, about her missed opportunity with “bus boy,” and she continues to scan strangers hoping to see him again one day.

Months later, Sarah is head over heels about her new boyfriend, Jack, and introduces him to Laurie. It is bus boy! Silver’s novel follows the trio over the next 10 years. The novel is at times frustrating (why didn’t she just get off at the next stop and walk back?), but it ultimately is a heartwarming rumination on friendship and true love.