Ho, Ho, Holiday Stories!

Is there any other time of year when it’s not just okay (but maybe expected?) to go looking for a fabulously sappy, happy story? I think not! But just because I enjoy these books, it doesn’t mean everyone does. It’s like Cadbury Eggs in that only come out in time for Easter. I love the sugary, colored “egg yolk” in the middle of the chocolate egg, but I know they don’t appeal to everyone. That’s good since it leaves more for me! (Both books and Cadbury Eggs!) And how did I come to discover this truth you might wonder? For the second year in a row, our genre book discussion group has dished the dirt on Holiday stories and both times I’ve heard the rumor that some people around the table don’t see the appeal. But there was a good discussion and an interesting mix of sappy, suspenseful, and humorous, so I suspect there’s an excellent chance all readers will find a book that will appeal to their reading tastes! Now wouldn’t you like to know what we read? Here they come:

Emma: An Amish Christmas by Cynthia Keller is the story of the Hobart family living the American dream in Charlotte, North Carolina. Life is good until James is fired and loses all of the family’s savings with a risky investment. After losing their home, the family’s only option is to move in with the Meg’s parents. On the way to New York there is a car accident, and an Amish family takes them in until repairs are complete. James, Meg and their children experience a simpler daily life and begin to realize “stuff” doesn’t make them happy. This is an enjoyable Christmas story with a close look into the life of the Amish.

Donna: Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas. This appealing, contemporary romance is a perfect holiday treat filled with laughter, love, a few tears and a happy ending for all. With the sudden death of his sister, Mark Nolan is forced to provide a new home for his six-year-old niece, Holly. He gets help from Maggie Collins, a young widow who owns the local toy store. Together, these three lonely souls try to add love and happiness again to their lives.

Rosemary: Christmas Mourning by Margaret Maron is the 16th in her Judge Deborah Knott mystery series. Even though Christmas is quickly approaching, Deputy Dwight Bryant, Deborah’s husband, is faced with the investigation of a single car crash that killed a popular high school girl. To add to the community’s grief, two young brothers are found shot to death just days after the accident. Dwight finds many more questions than answers as he tries to piece together the reasons for the crash and shootings. This series is so appealing because Deborah comes from a huge North Carolina family, and they are a constant presence in her life. Their shared affection adds a warm glow to their many holiday traditions.

Carol: In Santa Cruise: A Holiday Mystery at Sea by mother/daughter duo Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark, Lottery winner Alvirah Meehan and her husband Willy invite investigator Regan Reilly and husband, Jack, head of the NYPD Major Case Squad along on an all-expenses-paid cruise right after Christmas. This “Santa cruise” is a publicity stunt to generate buzz about a new ship, the Royal Mermaid, as she sets out on her maiden voyage. Also on board is a mystery fan convention celebrating a “ghost of honor,” as well as ten men who donated time playing Santa Claus, looking to rest up after the season. The Christmas tranquility soon vanishes when two Santa suits disappear from a locked room, a storm develops, and an attempt is made on a passenger’s life. Trusty amateur sleuth Alvirah is on board and must solve this quick-to-read, but light-on-plot caper.

Evelyn: Under the Mistletoe combines two Christmas romances. The first one is Bluebird Winter by Linda Howard. It’s Christmas Eve and Kathleen Fields is alone and in premature labor. Struggling to drive herself to the hospital in an Arkansas blizzard, she loses control and lands in a ditch. Derek Talifero is driving back to Houston when he sees a car in the ditch and stops to help. Kathleen’s prayers have been answered—Derek is a pediatrician and is able to get her back home and deliver her daughter safely. Derek arranges for Kathleen to come to Houston and stay in his home so she can be near her daughter in the Neonatal unit. Soon Kathleen and Derek find their love for small baby turns into a love for each other. Naughty or Nice by Stephanie Bond. When the Chandelier Hotel in San Francisco is purchased by a national chain, they are told to toe the corporate line. Current manager Cindy Warren’s family has a long history of working for the hotel–her great-grandfather built it. To survive, the hotel has found a niche by attracting unusual conventions—like the Klingons. Checking into The Chandelier‘s reluctance to fit the corporate image, headquarters sends out its top hatchet man Eric Quinn Stanton. Eric checks into the hotel under an assumed name and promptly gets involved in its quirkiness, and with Cindy, too. What will happen when she finds out his real identity? Full of laughs and lots of love, this story will warm your heart.

Julie: A Chesapeake Shores Christmas by Sherryl Woods is the fourth in a series that is a light read, good for getting away from holiday stress and finding a happy ending. Megan left her husband, Mick, years earlier because he was too controlling and ignored the family, immersing himself in work. She has slowly been reconnecting with her ex, believing he has changed and is ready for another chance at love, but complications, including the vehement opposition of her youngest son, may mean they don’t make it back to the altar.

Megan: In the beautifully illustrated book Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera, Sophie Kringle is curious about her Aunt’s mysterious annual business trip that keeps her away from home in the months before Christmas. Sophie stows away in Auntie Claus’ luggage and finds herself at the North Pole. Sophie finally learns her aunt’s true identity and saves her little brother from the Bad Boys and Girls List. This is a sweet and magical book that readers of all ages will enjoy.

Janet: Promise Me by Richard Paul Evans is a highly readable book. The story line centers on Beth Cardall, a single mother whose life suddenly falls apart. Her husband dies from cancer, Charlotte, her 6-year-old daughter is suffering from symptoms that have not been accurately diagnosed and Beth’s job does not provide enough money. When Beth meets a man who is too good to be true this story takes a strange turn that the reader will either love or hate.

Ann: A Highland Christmas by M.C. Beaton. Police Constable Hamish Macbeth is feeling a bit forlorn just before Christmas. His former girlfriend has moved away, his other family members are off on a trip they won, and some people in his hometown of Lochdubh in the Scottish Highlands frown on what they view as the pagan ritual of Christmas. But Hamish soon has two cases to worry about. A grouchy old woman insists her cat Smokey has been stolen, and the Christmas lights and tree from a neighboring town are missing. Through his investigations, Hamish finds ways to spread some Christmas cheer through the village. A humorous cozy mystery that’s not too sweet, and not too tart, but just right.

Dori: In The Fat Man: a Tale of North Pole Noir by Ken Harmon, Gumdrop Coal, head of Santa’s Coal Patrol, has been fired and framed for murder. Who in Kringletown is guilty? Is it Candy Cane, who’s looking to replace Santa, the Misfit Mafia, a group of toys who are sick and tired of their exiled life, or Rosebud Jubilee, star reporter and femme fatale? This holiday mystery is a recipe for humor and holiday puns mixed together and spiced with the perfect Christmas lesson.

Stacey: Busy Body by M.C. Beaton is the twenty-first book in the Agatha Raisin series and it’s as much fun to read as all the ones that came before! This time around, Agatha is drawn into solving the murder of John Sunday, a Safety Inspector who was really just a mean bully and totally lacked any Christmas spirit. While Agatha searches for the killer she’s also looking for a little romance (of course!), a little recognition from the police department, and maybe a little more control over the office drama. This might not be high on the Christmas sappy meter, but it’s an easy, fun read for busy time of the year!

And so this brings a close to our Genre Book Discussions for the year 2010 -but don’t be sad! Start looking forward to our Genre Book Discussion 2011 style and our kick-off genre… fantasy! Isn’t that fantastic? If you want to read along with us again, here’s what you’ll want to be looking for: a book that has strong elements of magic, a plot that emphasizes a mental or physical journey, and stresses human virtues through acts of courage, sacrifice or kindness. Not a bad way to start a year, yes?

— Stacey

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