I fully support everyone who rails against stores who decorate for the holidays too early or local radio stations who switch over to playing holiday-themed music entirely (they know who they are). I try to embrace this plan also – waiting to get fully enveloped in the warmth of seasonal feelings except where holiday reads are concerned. Every year publishers give us more and more excellent Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanza-filled novels and it’s important to start reading them early because there just aren’t enough reading hours to fit them all in! This year I read some good ones, some great ones, and some truly terrible novels but they all shared the same themes of family, celebration and delicious food (some with recipes included). Here are the highlights!
All I Want for Christmas by Maggie Knox
Maggie Knox is back with a second holiday romance! If you didn’t read The Holiday Swap last year, I encourage you to click over to the catalogue and place a hold. It continues to keep a place in my heart even though I read it over a year ago (and have read so many romances since).
The 2022 novel from this team of authors (best-selling Canadian authors Karma Brown and Marissa Stapley) is set in a televised country music singing contest in Nashville smack dab in the run up to Christmas. Two competitors with very different backgrounds are hoping for the ultimate prize – cash and a recording contract – but their incredible early chemistry is such a hit for the ratings that the show’s producers force them to fake a relationship or they are out of the competition. Fake dating has been done many times but – just as they did with their previous novel – Stapley and Brown create something special here. This very easily could have been a boring boy-meets-girl-at-singing-competition romance but the baggage that both Sadie and Max bring to the relationship deepens their connection with each other – and our desire for them to make it work.
The book is set in the dreamy world of Nashville during the holidays and I couldn’t help but wish that someone would buy this and turn it into a movie – I can visualize every bit of it (especially the ending) and I’m not even a big country music fan. This is a can’t-miss story, even if you only get around to reading it mid-summer.
Season of Love by Helena Greer
This is the story of Miriam Blum, an amazingly talented queer Jewish artist who returns to the family Christmas tree farm in upstate NY after the death of her aunt and falls in love with the farm’s manager, Noelle Northwood. So, obvious Hallmark vibes. However, Greer has crafted the heartfelt story of a woman who was estranged from her family due to emotional abuse and has lived in New Orleans for a decade where she rebuilt her life around her artwork and the support of people who purchase it. Every sentence had me thinking I’ll read anything this author writes – it’s all sensational.
When Miriam returns to the tree farm the reception is complicated and far more layered than the average festive fare which makes this novel one of the best I’ve read all year, even with the beautifully decorated trees, sleigh rides and late-night hot chocolate thrown in. There is a love story at the core but Miriam and Noelle have an incredible support network of friends and community members and I was delighted to learn that a sequel is in the works for this charming holiday romance. I’m going to keeping my eye out for this next novel because I can’t wait to read about everyone again – I fell for everyone in this little town and I’m sure that you will too!
You’re a Mean One, Matthew Prince by Timothy Janovsky
It took me a few chapters of this book to start liking the main character. The title was so much fun that I thought I’d give the author a bit more time to develop Matthew and I’m so pleased that I did. He is the son of extremely wealthy parents, spoiled on a level that is hard to imagine. The novel begins with him being sent to live with his grandparents in the Berkshires as a punishment for buying an island (it makes sense when you read the novel). Definitely hard to connect with a character like this but if you settle in for a bit longer you will begin to enjoy the romance that builds between Matthew and Hector, the young man who lives with his grandparents.
They are forced to live together in the basement of Matthew’s grandparent’s house and their personality clashes are instantaneous, with circumstances pushing them together as they plan a local charity gala. Their enemies-to-lovers story is a treat to read and seeing Matthew grow from the entitled, unpleasant person he is when he first arrives at his grandparents cottage to the person he is at the end of the novel is a bit of a holiday transformation, very like the Grinch’s heart growing “three sizes that day.” It’s a sweet story and might cause you to go back and read this author’s previous novel.
Blackmail and Bibingka by Mia Manansala
If you prefer your holidays with a puzzle to solve then the third book in the Tita Rosie’s Kitchen mystery series is the way to go. Like the first two, Blackmail and Bibingka is set in Shady Palms, Illinois around the restaurant and cafe owned by Lila Macapagal and her family. The family element is what really makes these mysteries a star, for me. I think the murder storyline is strong and the light romance provides a nice balance but I adore the relationships between Lila, her aunt, and their extended family.
In this story a ‘prodigal son’ of a cousin, Ronnie, returns and causes trouble at the Winter Bash which is always an extremely pleasant set up in a murder series. Any sort of winter festival telegraphs that someone is going to eat or drink something that disagrees with them fatally and that is exactly what happens here. Poor Lila and family are faced with trying to save their reputation and prove Ronnie’s innocence even though she has her doubts about him.
Lila uses the experience she has developed with the last two murders she has solved to protect Ronnie and the rest of the family from a blackmail plot which begins with the demand that they pay $50,000 or the “world will know what they did in Florida”. The previous novels almost tip into holiday territory with the descriptions of delicious food, large groups of people celebrating together and raucous conversations around the tables in the restaurant and café and now that Manansala has added a bit of sparkle to the story, it is perfection – aside from the unfortunate murder, of course.
If you are looking for a break from the stress of shopping and holiday prep or need something to build your festive mood, then grab one of these books and a warm drink for an instant boost. Our staff would be happy to talk about other options for books, magazines, films and music to add to your list and would love to hear what helps you either get in the festive spirit during this time or bring necessary calm during these busy days.