Skip to main content

Holiday Reading

Time for a confession: I have a soft spot for books that take place over the holidays. They may be just a tad formulaic, but many of these novels do such a good job of conjuring up the best aspects of the holiday season (snow, cold weather that hasn't gotten annoying yet, wrapping presents, hot chocolate and mulled cider and eggnog, holiday cookies, thick, warm sweaters, fireplaces, good will towards man and so on) that I forgive them their predictability. Reading one of these books is like pulling on your favorite cozy socks and curling up on the couch under your favorite soft blanket. You know that you'll feel warm and fuzzy when you've finished.

Some authors, like Debbie Macomber, Fern Michaels, Richard Paul Evans, Jill Shalvis, Susan Mallory and Anne Perry, just to name a few, reliably churn out a holiday book every year or so. These novels tend to be the book version of a Hallmark made-for-TV movie. There is the inevitable romance, which often starts off very poorly, along with snow, presents, the occasional small child or cute pet, some Christmas miracles and a very happy ending. I usually read one or two a season, just to get a brief dose of the holiday feels. More than that is overkill, I admit, but reading just a few of these books (and they are always very short) is enough to put me in the holiday mood.

Elin Hilderbrand, the queen of the summer beach novel, has jumped onto the holiday book bandwagon. However, her seasonal books have themes that are darker than the standard treacly fare. The Winter Street trilogy (which unexpectedly and, in my opinion unwisely, included a fourth novel) takes place on her beloved Nantucket in late November and December, rather than in the summer. It includes all the trappings of the typical holiday novel (see above), but tackles bleak topics (cancer, PTSD) that don't usually appear in the seasonal book offerings. This year, she released Winter in Paradise, the first in a new holiday trilogy. Unlike her other novels, this one is set on the island of St. John. As a result, it lacks the snow and hot drinks that are otherwise pervasive in holiday novels, but it does contain plenty of drama. 

Some novels are set over the holidays but are more about family dysfunction, in all its comic and recognizable forms.  In these novels the holidays provide a setting for families to come together, blow apart and then heal. In that sense, the holiday season functions as more of a plot device than as a key element.  Some recent examples of this type of holiday novel are last year's Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak, about an estranged family that is stuck together under quarantine over the holidays, and this year's Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners, which follows the fallout from the surprise announcement of an unexpected pregnancy at a black tie retirement party. A few other examples from this year's holiday-themed new releases that are worthy of mention are Jenny Colgan's Christmas on the Island, her sequel to the charming The Cafe by the Sea, which takes place on a remote Scottish island in December, and Caroline Hulse's debut novel The Adults, about the Christmas vacation of a separated couple, their daughter and their new partners.

Sometimes, a series will include a holiday-themed book. This is the case with one of my favorite series, the Irish Country series by Patrick Taylor, which is about the adventures of two doctors in a small Irish village in the 1960s. The third book in what is now (with the publication in October of An Irish Country Cottage) a 13-book series is called An Irish Country Christmas. It is charming and heart-warming and will make you want to spend a long holiday in the Irish countryside, if not consider moving there permanently. Several mystery series include holiday interludes, like Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mewd, the 8th book in the wonderful Flavia de Luce series by Alan C. Bradley, and Gone Before Christmas, a short holiday installment in the excellent Charles Lenox detective series by Charles Finch.

Of course there are the classics. Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory and Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales are evocative and emotional stories that will tug at the heartstrings of even the most bah humbug-y among us. And speaking of which, there is really no holiday story to compare with Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, about which I will have MUCH more to say later this month.

The library has LOTS of holiday books, not only the ones that have just been released but also holiday novels, cookbooks and other seasonal fare from years past. Come find them on the holiday books display table or on the shelves. Then wrap yourself in a thick blanket, put on cozy socks, sip something warm and settle in.


Popular posts from this blog

One Book, One Wallingford 2019

If you are new to town, you may not know that the library launched Wallingford's first-ever One Book One Town extravaganza, called (of course) One Book, One Wallingford, in 2018. The goal of One Book, One Wallingford is to bring members of the Wallingford community together in reading a specific book and then gathering to discuss both the book and topics related to its themes. The culminating event of last year's inaugural One Book, One Wallingford event was the visit to Wallingford by Matthew Quick, the author of the 2018 One Book, One Wallingford selection The Reason You're Alive. Quick spoke to a full house at the Paul Mellon Arts Center, answered questions and then signed copies of his novels, taking the time to chat with the scores of Wallingford residents who had waited to meet him. As people were leaving the PMAC that evening, several of them approached me and other library staff members and asked us to promise that we would run another One Book, One Wallingford pr…

A London Bookshop Crawl

When my younger daughter decided to spend the fall semester of her junior year of college studying abroad in London, as I did an unmentionable number of years ago, I instinctively planned to fly across the pond with her to help settle her in. But it turned out that she mostly wanted to do some shopping and neighborhood exploring and have help carrying her luggage up to her top floor flat in South Kensington. Once we had accomplished those key tasks, she gave me a fierce hug and sent me on my way.

What should a bookish Anglophile do with a free afternoon in London? Why, she should visit bookstores, of course! Armed with a list of books I wanted to purchase, carefully chosen only to include books that would not be released in the US this year, I set off to visit four different bookshops, accompanied by my close college friend Melissa, who lives outside of London and tolerates my crazy ideas with cheer and good humor (I think she is secretly planning a tell-all). Here is how it went:


A Facebook Week of Favorite Books

A few weeks ago, I got an email letting me know that a friend of mine had tagged me in a Facebook post. This is a sufficiently rare occurrence that I stopped what I was doing and logged into my Facebook account to read the post. This is what it said: "Day 2 of sharing a favorite book with no explanation and tagging a friend in the hopes that they'll do the same for 7 days. Cynthia Mann Haiken, lawyer-turned-library-scientist, you're on!"

I had seen these kinds of Facebook posts before. Pick a theme of some kind, post a photo each day for a specified period that satisfies the theme and tag someone else to do the same. It's like a chain letter (remember those?), but of the social media variety. For a while, there was a steady stream of black and white photos in my Facebook feed that, without context, represented something in the life of the person who posted them. More recently, there were posts of record covers (remember those?) that are still on the playlist of …