Getting In the Spirit Between the Covers

If you are a big reader like I am, you may read books centered around the holiday theme when the calendar flips to December (or maybe earlier!). Like me, you may have some favorites, and then some new discoveries.

Classic favorites include Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women”, Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” and J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Letters from Father Christmas”.

To bridge the classics with the newer holiday reads, I took a step back in time, to over a hundred years ago. Anyone that knows me (or has seen my bookshelves) knows that I love historical fiction, so “Last Christmas in Paris” by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb was a no-brainer for me. I’ve read other historical fiction books by the authors, so I knew I was in for a real treat. I read this one in 2018, a year after it was released. The story jumps back and forth between the Christmas seasons of World War I and 1968 in the form of an epistolary novel, with letters exchanged between Evie and her brother’s best friend, Thomas. If you enjoyed “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer, you’ll love this one!

I read “Comfort and Joy” by Kristin Hannah last year, and it has stayed with me throughout the year, so much so that I checked the book out again last week and read it again. Maybe I should just buy it?

I did buy Kristin Hannah’s other novels, “The Great Alone” and “The Nightingale” after all. Hannah’s main character, Joy, is like me: single, estranged from some family, and struggling with the holidays. Seeking to escape her troubles, Joy travels to the Pacific Northwest, and meets David, a recently widowed man with a young son experiencing his first Christmas without his mother.

To say that I’m a Jenny Colgan fan is a HUGE understatement. I’ve read all of her books (several times). Colgan is the queen of Scottish/English RomComs, and when I feel the burnout from non-fiction and some very heavy historical fiction, I turn to Jenny Colgan. Something about the Scottish countryside setting while I’m curled up under a blanket with a glass of wine or cup of hot cocoa just feels so right. “The Christmas Bookshop” is set in Edinburgh, and you know I can’t say no to a book set in a bookstore, right? The main character, Carmen, loses her job, and has to move in with her sister, who has way too much on her plate. She sends Carmen to work in a bookshop that desperately needs help, but then again, she also desperately needs help. Maybe the Christmas spirit can help them both?

I belong to a couple of Facebook reading groups, and one of the members recommended “The Christmas Dress” by Courtney Cole. The story is reminiscent of a Hallmark holiday movie, with the main character leaving the big city and her high-stress job after her father’s death to return home, where she meets a building full of older people. This time though, the setting is in another big city, Chicago, and the other main characters in the book are a vintage gown and a vintage building. I love old buildings and historic preservation, so this was a real treat. I think it will be for you, too!

My library suggestion after “The Christmas Dress” included “A Redbird Christmas ” by Fannie Flagg, and I’ve loved everything else by her (Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe & The Whole Town’s A Talkin”), so I checked it too. Flagg’s main character, Oswald, is a lonely man from Chicago that travels to a small town in LA (Lower Alabama for those not from the South) for his health, where he meets a cast of characters you would only find in the South. One of these characters is a redbird, Jack, who, of course, is central to the story since he’s in the title, right? Jack and the other characters help Oswald to see his life is not so lonely after all, and Oswald brings cheer to his new town as well.

This passage from “A Redbird Christmas” had me so entranced:

Oswald welcomed the cooler weather because in the following days he discovered it brought winter sunsets, and the river sunsets were different from anything else he had ever seen. They mesmerized him. He loved sitting there on the dock in the cool crisp air, the river so quiet you could hear a dog bark a mile away.

Every afternoon he watched the sky turn from burnt orange to salmon, pink and lime green to purple. Navy blue and pink clouds were reflected in the water, and as the sun slowly disappeared he watched the river change from teal blue to an iridescent green and gold that reminded him of the color of the tinfoil that came wrapped around expensive candy and then from rich tan to a deep chocolate brown. As the evening became darker, the birds and ducks that flew by became black silhouettes against the sky.

He sat each night watching the evening change colors and the currents of the water make circles, until the moon came up behind him and rose over the river. With the last of the sun fading, he could see the reflection of the green lights on the docks across the way and the stars twinkling in the river like small diamonds. What a show. This was better than any movie he had ever seen, and it was different every night.

It was so wonderful at times he felt he wanted to do something about it, to try and stop time, make it last longer, but he didn’t know what to do. How can anyone stop time? He knew with each passing day his own time was running out, and there was nothing anybody could do to stop it. If he could, he would have stopped it right then and there on the river, while he was still well enough to enjoy it.

As always, my TBR pile is a tottering skyscraper, and thanks to the Facebook groups I belong to, I’m always adding new titles, like Mary Kay Andrews’ “The Santa Suit”, Debbie Macomber’s “The Christmas Spirit”, and just for shiggles (yes, that’s a word I made up), David Sedaris’ “Holidays on Ice”. As a brown person growing up in a mostly white country, I grew up with Christmas in my face. I’ve never seen a book by a Jewish author about Hannukah on bookshelves, and recommendations for LatinX and Black authors are few and far between, but I’m excited to see books like Jasmine Guillory’s “Royal Holiday” and Carolyn Hector’s “The Magic of Mistletoe”, both of which are on my TBR pile for the coming weeks!

May these books get you in the spirit, or lift your spirits up if the holidays get you down in the dumps like they do for me sometimes!

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