It’s a Holly Jolly Holiday Story!

As much as I like chocolate, I’m not a big fan of drinking hot chocolate. I think it’s got something to do with the gritty sludge that is often left at the bottom of the mug. On the other hand, the marshmalows you can put on top? That’s a bit of a draw… What does this have to do with our recent book group discussion? Well, we talked about holiday stories and what goes better with a nice wintery, holiday tale than a big mug of hot cocoa?! Not everyone likes this “genre,” but that’s okay right? Again, it’s similar to the hot chocolate thing, where many people love their cocoa -but not all of us do… So let’s see what was selected -and you can decide for yourself what would be in your mug if you were reading that very same book!

Rosemary: A Christmas Homecoming by Anne Perry is her ninth Christmas mystery. These stories are suspenseful and rather dark considering their holiday themes, but each one is perfection in its own small way. Caroline and Joshua Fielding must spend the Christmas holidays with the wealthy Netheridge family in remote Whitby in Yorkshire. Joshua is to produce a play written by the Netheridge daughter based upon the story of Dracula. The days leading up to the production are full of contention and then a horrible act of violence occurs. Will Caroline be able to solve the crime before the dawn of Christmas day?

Julie: Steven Hornby’s first novel, Secrets of a Christmas Box, explores the secret world of Christmas tree ornaments. These Tree-Dwellers come to life every year after sleeping away the non-holiday season in the Christmas box. Apparently the author had intended it originally to be a screenplay and it might have fared better in that format.

Ann: In The Chocolate Snowman Murders by JoAnna Carl, (9th in the “chocoholic” mysteries series) the main character is Lee McKinney, a transplanted Texan in western Michigan, who manages her aunt’s chocolate shop. The town of Warner Pier is getting ready for WinterFest, a Christmastime festival designed to help promote winter tourism in the town along Lake Michigan. Lee is on the planning committee, and is asked to pick up the out of town judge who’s coming to town to judge the art exhibit that’s part of the festival. But on the way home from the airport, the guy is not only drunk and obnoxious, but begins pawing at Lee in the truck. She dumps him at a motel while she drives home and tries to compose herself. But when the guy is found murdered in his room the next day, Lee is under suspicion. Carl’s books fall somewhere between cozy and medium-boiled, and also give the reader a good sense of place of the western Michigan resort towns like Saugatuck and Grand Haven, after which Warner Pier is modeled.

Megan: The Snow Globe by Sheila Roberts is a cozy Christmas story about three best friends, each in need of a miracle. Kylie Gray is newly single and unemployed when she purchases the antique snow globe that will change their lives. According the shop owner, the snow globe was a gift to a German toymaker would had lost his wife and son. One day that woman came into his shop, mended his broken heart, and changed his life forever. Since then the globe has been passed down, always finding a person in need. Kylie is hopeful that this gift to herself will provide the miracle that she needs. This is a sweet, predictable story about friendship, family, and true love. If that type of story is not your cup of tea, you may enjoy Marvel’s Zombies Christmas Carol, adapted by Jim McCann and illustrated by David Baldeon and Jeremy Treece. In this graphic adaptation of Dickens’ classic story, there is no Christmas in London because the Hungry Death has devastated the city. Mankind’s only hope for salvation rests on the shoulders of the bitter miser, Ebenezer Scrooge. On Christmas Eve Scrooge is visited by three spirits who reveal to Scrooge the role he played in causing the Hungry Death and its devastating consequences. He awakens on Christmas Day inspired and resolved to change his ways and put the undead to rest. The illustrations are at once horrific and fascinating and the story remains quite true to the original, despite the unique zombie twist.

Emma: The Christmas Sweater by Glenn Beck is a story of forgiveness and second chances. 12-year-old Eddie feels he deserves a bicycle for Christmas even if money is tight since his dad died. His gift is a homemade red sweater. Eddie hates his new sweater, throws it on the floor and basically pouts all day spoiling the holiday for his mother and grandparents. What follows next is a dream which is too real for Eddie. On the way home from his grandparents house, there is a car accident and his mother is killed. Eddie is forced to live with his grandparents, hating it and eventually running away. A neighbor helps Eddie see the error in his choices. When Eddie wakes up he gets another chance to celebrate Christmas this time on December 26th. He is happy, content, and thankful for his family.

Carol: I am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley is the fourth in a series starring precocious 11-year-old Flavia de Luce. It’s nearly Christmas in post WWII England when our chemistry and poison-obsessed young sleuth decides she’ll trap Saint Nick while he’s delivering gifts–and prove his existence to her two sisters. All of her plans are put on the back (Bunsen) burner when a film crew comes to make a movie at her family’s estate Buckshaw. When a movie star on set turns up murdered, the fearless Flavia, who is herself among the suspects, throws herself headlong into the investigation. Always a delightful series, this one is made even more merry by the Christmas-time setting.

Janet: The Perfect Love Song by Patti Callahan Henry centers on the lives and careers of two couples. Brothers Jack and Jimmy are musicians who lead a nomadic life with their band in order to perform to live audiences. Their absence is difficult for Kara (Jack’s fiancée) and Charlotte (Jimmy’s first real love). As a Christmas gift for Charlotte Jimmy writes a love song for her which is renamed “A Christmas Song” by their overly eager agent which audiences across the country love. With this song Jimmy, as a solo act, hits the big time. His popularity as a performer keeps him on the road longer which jeopardizes his relationships with his loved ones. After much soul-searching Jimmy realizes the next step he must take.

Steve: Skipping Christmas, by John Grisham, is a nice quick read for the holidays. At the onset, we see Luther and Nora Krank dropping off their only child, Blair, at the airport as she is set to embark on a Peace Corps trip to Peru. Blair is fresh out of grad school and this is the first year she will not be home for Christmas. Unable to sleep that night, Luther, an accountant, tallies up the previous Christmas’ expenses, and seething at the high cost, $6100, conjures up a plan to skip Christmas and instead escape with his wife on a Caribbean cruise. He manages to convince his wife to go along with this, and thus the shenanigans begin. The Kranks live on a nice suburban street, along with nosey neighbors and their do-what-I-do mentality. The neighbors are not happy to hear that the Kranks will be skipping Christmas, how dare they! But the Kranks stand their ground, that is until Christmas Eve, the day before their cruise is to set sail, when Blair calls from the airport with news that she is surprising them by coming home for Christmas! Not only that, she is bringing her new fiancé, a Peruvian who has never experienced an American Christmas. It ends up that without their neighbors’ help, they will not able to pull things together and everyone comes to the rescue. There’s nothing earth shattering here, but in the end Luther sees the importance of Christmas activities and neighbors and even ends up giving his cruise tickets to his nemesis across the street. The book does raise an interesting question of “What if” you skipped all the Christmas hoopla and stripped things down to the basics, would it make for a more, or less pleasant, holiday?

Dori: The Gift: A Novel by Pete Hamill is a semi-autobiographical coming of age novella about a young sailor on leave from boot camp who comes home to spend Christmas with his Irish Catholic family in Brooklyn, New York before he’s shipped off to Korea. He’s hoping that he can win back the affection of his high school sweetheart and longing to get to know his hard drinking, emotionally absent father. Hamill perfectly captures the claustrophic, poor, yet supportive neighborhood and young Pete’s dreams of a different life. Lyrical and bittersweet, this novella is a gem.

Stacey: The Miracle on 34th Street by Valentine Davies was written as a novella to accompany the release of the movie in the spring of 1947. This is one of those classic stories that will never feel out-of-date as the underlying idea is timeless and universal: if you believe in the good of others and follow your heart, you’ll find what makes you happiest in the end. Doris, a single mom and dedicated career woman, is raising her daughter Susan with no illusions about life, but their new neighbor Fred thinks it’s a little sad to have no sense of wonder about the world. When Kris Kringle becomes Macy’s seasonal Santa, it gives everyone an opportunity to see the magic in their world.

Shockingly, we’re following up our Holiday tales with Horror! (I should mention that we pick the genres at random, or is that stating the obvious now?) So if you want to start 2012 off on the same reading page as our book group, you’ll want to find a book that has been written to frighten the reader, with supernatural or occult elements to make it different from standard suspense fiction. There are subgenres in this category that range from comic horror to demonic possession to historical horror to haunted houses, so there should be something out there somewhere that will appeal to just about everyone, right? Right! Have a wonderful Holiday Season, filled with good books of all kinds!

— Stacey


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