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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.


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