I wouldn’t mind keeping some of the more traditional signs of winter -like wind chill factor and snow days- far into the future. But! I do like the sparkly lights, the amazing treats, and the cheerful “howdy-doos” that start up right about now. And of course -the stories! Those cheesy Christmas books and movies that show us allll the different ways we can be jolly yet *still* learn an important life lesson? Love ‘em!! Don’t worry though, I realize not everyone shares my interest in the shmaltz of the season… So here come a variety of books -and opinions- from our latest genre discussion.
Carol: In retaliation of how materialistic the Holidays have become, I looked back in time for the true meaning of Christmas and reread O. Henry’s classic short story “The Gift of the Magi.” Probably familiar to most, it was originally published in the New York Sunday World in 1905. Readers meet James and Della Young, a young married couple who, despite their meager income, have each resolved to give one another an elegant gift on Christmas Eve. Della sells her beautiful long, cherished hair in order to buy a platinum fob chain for Jim’s treasured antique gold watch. However, Jim has pawned his treasured pocket watch to purchase jeweled tortoiseshell combs for Della’s lovely hair. When the two exchange their gifts, they recognize the irony of their sacrifices, put their gifts away for better days, and realized that what truly is precious is not something we can buy or sell.
Rosemary: A Christmas Garland by Anne Perry is the 2012 edition of her holiday mystery series. This story is particularly compelling and thoughtful. The setting is India in the 1850s and it is during a time of violent rebellion against the British. John Tallis, a young medical orderly, is arrested for the murder of a fellow guard when his only crime was that he had no witness to verify his whereabouts during the time of the murder. Another young British soldier, Lieutenant Victor Narraway, is given the daunting task of defending Tallis in a hastily arranged trial. Their commanders want a quick resolution to the murder, which is causing a great deal of unrest within the garrison. Narraway is told that he doesn’t need to put much effort into the defense. He is sure Tallis is innocent and, in the short time allotted to him, takes his defense of Tallis very seriously. Narraway is touched by a young widow of a soldier and her children. He sees the pure goodness in them and this inspires him to seek justice for Tallis.
Megan: Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan is the story of how one teen embarks on a mission to meet her one true love. Lily loves everything about the Christmas season, but her holiday spirits are dampened when her parents decide to spend Christmas alone in Fiji. Her older brother devices a clever plan to keep her occupied and help her find Mr. Right. She hides a notebook full of challenges on shelf at her favorite book store. Her dares are accepted and she and her mystery man begin an intimate, yet anonymous friendship. Wonderful characters, a unique treasure hunt, and the charm of New York City at Christmastime will certainly put readers in the holiday spirit.
Emma: The people of Harmony, Indiana expect a certain routine to their Christmas Eve service at Harmony Friends Meeting House. It includes the reading of the Christmas gospel, the singing of a few carols followed by fresh-from-the-oven angel cookies and milk. This year eccentric Dale Hinshaw arranges a different sort of celebration, a progressive nativity scene involving the whole town. There is much fanfare and lots of cookies and hot chocolate are enjoyed, but the message of Christmas is lost for most people. Later that night Pastor Sam Gardner and an elderly parishioner find each other back at church where the two reflect on the Christmas gospel and enjoy cookies together. Christmas in Harmony by Phillip Gulley is a sweet story of friends, family, and tradition.
Dori: In Marion Babson’s Twelve Deaths of Christmas, the residents of a London boardinghouse have no idea that a killer is living among them. As a series of heinous crimes are committed in the days leading up to Christmas, baffling the local police, alternating chapters reveal the killer’s voice, madness and motives, divulging more to the reader than the police know. Any of the diverse lodgers could be the killer, from the artist/housekeeper to a retired major or a Middle Eastern student. Little do they know, however, that as they prepare for a communal Christmas dinner, the killer prepares to kill them all. This fast read is a cozy murder mystery perfect for the holidays!
Steve: The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog, by Dave Barry, is a cute and funny story about junior high student Doug Barnes. Doug, his family, and his fellow students are preparing for Christmas in 1960 Asquont, NY. Things are a bit tense in the Barnes family, as Frank the family dog has been sick since Thanksgiving. In addition, the children have been practicing for the annual Christmas pageant at St. John’s Episcopal Church, whose attic is filled with bat droppings. Things get pretty crazy as an event involving the attic, and another dog, Walter, really brings things together!
Ann: The Cat Who Came Back for Christmas by Julia Romp is the story of how a cat changed a family’s life. It is also a single mother’s story of her struggles raising an autistic child. George, Julia’s son, is frequently withdrawn and uncommunicative. Then a stray cat, which George names Ben (but sometimes calls Benny Boo or Baboo), comes into their life. George becomes animated, and begins talking to Ben and about Ben in his little “cat voice.” His mother, Julia decides to communicate with George in her own little cat voice, and for the first time, the two of them are having conversations. George and Ben the cat are inseparable. George begins doing better in school and in his relationships with other children too. Then one day Ben disappears. It’s not really giving anything away to say that this is a heartwarming story with a happy Christmas time ending.
Julie: If you’re looking for a little suspense to go with your spiced nog, try December Dread by Jess Lourey. It’s the eighth in a series featuring Mira James, a librarian/reporter solving murders in her small town. This time, a serial killer is targeting women who use an online dating service and who also happen to fit Mira’s description. This is more of a cozy mystery with dashes of humor for a cold winter’s night.
Stacey: If you’re looking for a Downton Abbey-esque holiday story, then you’re looking for The Walnut Tree by Charles Todd! In July of 1914, Lady Elspeth Douglas is caught in Paris when war is declared. While attempting to book passage back home to the British Isles, Elspeth finds herself helping wounded soldiers stranded along the roadway. Training as a nurse would be frowned upon by her guardian -if she told him her plans. Wartime hardships, difficult life choices, and a sweet Christmas celebration make this a book to treasure -maybe as a new Christmas tradition!
Next year -crazy! right?- we’ll start off with a heated discussion of Literary Fiction! (Okay, probably not a heated discussion per se… maybe if we could achieve lively? Then it’d be a job well done, all around!) If you want to join in, find yourself a book that is a prize winner, shows a distinctive writing style, and focuses on the characters more than the plot. Experimental, technically challenging, and subtle details help define this category. Enjoy!