Believe it or not, our local Costco has the Halloween costumes and decorations out already. And, any day now, I expect the early Christmas trappings to start appearing. Usually, the stores have the decency to wait until the kids are back in school and Labor Day has come and gone, but it seems the merchants are rushing to get to the “good” stuff—the time of year when they sell enough to keep afloat for another year.

For a reader, the holiday season means the release of ANTHOLOGIES. Yes, had to give that a shout-out. I love anthologies. Why? I’ll be happy to share with you.

First, the anthology usually has a delicious story from a favorite author or, if I’m really lucky, at least two keeper authors. The story could be a continuation of one of my favorite series or it could take place in that series’ world, or it could be a great new tease for some yet-to-be-uncovered universe, all somehow tied to the holiday season.

Second, there’s usually at least one new-to-me author in the collection and, every once in a while, it ends up being someone whose voice really touches me and voilà!—a new body of work to dig out and discover.

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Third, the price of the anthology is the price of a single book. Woohoo! I’m saving money but getting a bigger value, or at least that’s what I tell myself.

Those are THREE excellent reasons to adore romance anthologies, but the best reason for a busy reader is that the stories are compact. They’re poignant. And sometimes sweet. Or maybe sexy. Possibly suspenseful. And oftentimes about the holiday season.

My first introduction to anthologies was through the historical romance Signet Regency collections. In fact, an anthology is where I first discovered Mary Balogh—for which I am ever grateful. A slew of other historical writers I now collect and treasure were also in these Regency anthologies. Then, to my pleasure, non-historical anthologies with a holiday theme started appearing on the shelves in October. Fighting for space with Halloween tales of vampires and witches, it seems every publisher, small press and savvy author has started to produce a holiday story or two or five. And like the department store displays, the holiday books have started to appear earlier and earlier. Now September is the beginning of the holiday season for books.

It’s important to note that, with more books going straight to e-book, or having the e-version available first, anthologies are starting to be left behind. Finding a holiday novella or standalone title is more likely. Which leaves me with a dilemma: Do I forgo discovering a new voice in order to enjoy a sure thing? How about you: Do you prefer getting a single book for a holiday read versus an anthology or collection from several authors?

In any case, while you are still enjoying the baking oven of August, it’s time to start to look forward to the holiday book season. Many of the anthologies seem to be repackaged versions from previous years, but a few standalone holiday titles have a lot of promise. I have two books to share from authors that have delivered great holiday stories in the past. But first, I want to mention one anthology. It’s not holiday themed, but it includes magic in the form of reimagined fairy tales. Mirror, Mirror by J.D. Robb, Mary Blayney, Elaine Fox, Mary Kay McComas and J.C. Ryan doesn’t promise to include my longed-for Eve Dallas and Roarke story, but some habits die hard.

And now for the standalone holiday titles. Cowboy's Christmas Baby

Texas is never a bad place to begin or end a holiday. Caroline Brown knows it and has set her contemporary romance series either in Texas or at least close enough so the Oklahoma people can pop down. For this holiday season, Brown dishes up a scrumptious cowboy and a feisty heroine…with baggage. Including a dead coyote, three whimpering puppies and a baby. Lucas Allen and Natalie Clark have been dating online, and although it was always possible that they’d meet some day, Lucas never expected the big winter storm to bring Natalie and her baggage to his doorstep. But being the resilient cowboy that he is, he’s probably good to take care of Natalie’s critters—except the baby. But it’s the holidays, so they’re story is sure to end well. Although the pink pistol has to be explained, I can’t wait for The Cowboy’s Christmas Baby (Sourcebooks Casablanca; September 24, 2013).

As you probably know, I love a good Regency romance, and Grace Burrowes is a new favorite author of mine. She writes both strong Regencies and Victorian-era novels. Part of the Windhams Family series’ sub-series, The Duke’s Daughters, Burrowes’ Lady Jenny’s Christmas Portrait (Sourcebooks Casablanca; September 24, 2013) introduces one of the remaining Windham sisters. Through hard work and persistence, Elijah Harrison has become a successful portraitist. To gain a nomination to the prestigious Royal Academy of Artists, he must submit some portraits of juvenile subjects. He's accepted a commission to paint the Viscount Rothgreb's grandchildren, and finds that their aunt, Lady Jenny Windham, has offered to assist him. Although Harrison recognizes Lady Jenny Windham’s talent, he can’t jeopardize his own career and future. In turn, Lady Jenny wants to explore her artistic talents and Harrison offers that opportunity. But will he break her heart and destroy her dreams? Despire this being a happy Christmas story, their journey toward love should be deliciously emotional.

Do you have any holiday books you’d like to suggest? It’s seriously not too early for this, and we’ll be featuring some of the ones you like here at Kirkus and also at Fresh Fiction, so add yours suggestions to the comments and I’ll check them out. In the meantime, enjoy the end of summer! The holidays will be upon us soon enough.

Sara Reyes is the founder and partner at FreshFiction.com, a popular fiction web site for today's reader with new titles, contests, over 50,000 genre fiction author profiles with backlists, and permanently archived reviews, plus all the industry buzz. Fresh Fiction has a biweekly segment (Buy the Book) on WFAA Channel 8 Good Morning Texas to talk about new books not to miss. Believing face-to-face interaction is as important as virtual communities, Fresh Fiction sponsors an annual author reader tea in June, a readers conference in November, monthly literary events, and book clubs. Follow Sara at @FreshFiction on Twitter or Facebook.com/FreshFiction