I had a question after my last post about Christmas-related books I’d recommend. I go through these like candy, so I had to check my reading log, and it only goes back to 2009, so I had to try to remember the earlier ones. These aren’t all necessarily great books, but they have worked for giving me a bit of holiday spirit.
I’m dividing these into two categories: books with Christmas elements and Christmas books. The books with Christmas elements are books that happen to be set around Christmas, but the story isn’t necessarily about Christmas. The holidays may up the emotion, but you could have the plot take place at other times, and it wouldn’t feel weird to read these books at other times of the year. To compare to movies, I’d put Die Hard on this list (for those in the “Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?” debates). It’s set at Christmas, and that raises the emotions and stakes, but you could set the same story at another time and it would still work, and it was released in the summer. I’d also put The Holiday on this list — it’s set around Christmas (though Christmas itself is a minor blip), but you could switch out Christmas for another vacation and the story would still work. It just wouldn’t be as pretty.
So, books with Christmas elements:
A Promising Man by Elizabeth Young — a young woman meets the perfect man, but it seems he’s already dating her nemesis from school. How much loyalty does she owe to someone who tormented her? Set at Christmastime in London (with a visit to a village), and a subplot is about how the heroine was planning to celebrate the holidays with friends in the city and gets abandoned at the last minute. This was actually the book that got me started looking for Christmas reads. I’d just picked up a book to spend a day reading when I gave myself a day off during the holiday season and didn’t realize it was set at Christmas. There’s nothing on the description or packaging to suggest that this is a Christmas book, so it was a pleasant surprise and I started trying to replicate the experience.
The Rose Revived by Katie Fforde — a group of women who for various reasons are down on their luck room together in a canal boat. There’s a pivotal part of the book taking place at Christmas.
Life Skills by Katie Fforde — a woman takes a summer job cooking on a hotel boat, with unexpected consequences. The climax of the book takes place at Christmas.
Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos — a seemingly perfect man comes into the shop where a woman works, and then his young daughter shows up, looking for him there, which gets the heroine tangled up in all sorts of drama. Set at Christmastime. This one is a real tearjerker. Incidentally, it was edited by the same editor who first published the Enchanted, Inc. books.
The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis — in case you want some science fiction Christmas. In the near future, an Oxford historian is sent back in time to study the medieval period. But soon after she leaves, a terrible flu epidemic sweeps through the city, and meanwhile, she learns she was sent to the wrong time, just in time for the Black Death to hit. Takes place at Christmas. I’m not sure how fun this would be to read this year. It ranges from laugh-out-loud funny to heartbreaking and is one of my all-time favorite books. It’s alarmingly prescient about life during an epidemic — there’s even a toilet paper shortage and the Americans resist all lockdown efforts. I may have to reread this one next year after we’ve (I hope!) made it through this pandemic and I’ll have a different perspective.
One Day in December by Josie Silver — this fits into that subgenre of British books about people who meet, then go through all kinds of things over the course of years before they finally get together. On a December day, a young woman sees a man through a bus window and just knows he’s the guy for her, then sets out to try to find him. Lots of key events happen around Christmases over the years.
I like rereading The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame at Christmas. There is a pivotal scene that takes place at Christmas, but the whole book makes me feel cozy. It’s a good read-aloud if you have kids.
We Met in December by Rosie Curtis — A young woman moves into a house share arrangement in a big London house and falls for one of the housemates, but there’s a strict policy about not hooking up with any of the other residents. Pivotal scenes at beginning and end take place around Christmas.
A Winter’s Tale by Tricia Ashley — a woman inherits a manor house from her estranged grandfather and sets out to make it a tourist attraction, over the wishes of the distant cousin who expected to inherit it. Set in the weeks leading up to Christmas, with a nice Christmas scene.
Christmas Books are those that are about Christmas. It would be hard to remove the Christmas element without changing the story, and they’re marketed as being about Christmas. For a movie comparison, these would be like the Hallmark Christmas movies. Remove Christmas, and there’s not much there, and it would be weird to read them when it’s not Christmas (unless you’re the sort of person who likes Christmas year-round).
Debbie Macomber has a bunch of Christmas books, many of which have been made into Hallmark movies. The ones I’ve read are mostly the Angel books, which is about a trio of somewhat inept angels trying to play matchmaker. I’ve also read Trading Christmas, which is a lot like The Holiday, only it’s a middle-aged mother who wants to get away from home for the first year her daughter won’t be spending Christmas with her and a man who wants to get away from Christmas entirely switching homes (what he doesn’t realize is that her home is in a town that’s basically Christmas USA). “Debbie Macomber Christmas Books” is actually a search term on Amazon.
I have one called Christmas at the Comfort Food Cafe by Debbie Johnston on my list, but I can’t remember anything about it.
Jenny Colgan has done Christmas books for most of her series. There’s Christmas at the Cupcake Cafe for her Cupcake Cafe books, Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweet Shop (I think this is also called A Christmas Surprise) for her Rosie Hopkins books, and An Island Christmas for her island books. You’d probably need to have read at least the first book in these series to follow the Christmas books, as these series are kind of like soap operas, with a cast of recurring characters that we catch up on in each book. And, fair warning, she’s prone to what I think of as “throw the kid under the bus” plotting in which the emotional breakthrough comes through something bad happening to a child. It all works out in the end, but if you’re emotionally raw and don’t want too much drama, these may not be ideal.
Pride, Prejudice and Mistletoe by Melissa de la Cruz — a sassy modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice set at Christmas. They made a Hallmark movie based on this, but I would imagine it would have to have been changed significantly to fit their brand. It’s basically Jack and Karen from Will and Grace going through the holiday season in the heroine’s hometown.
If you’re not up to reading about plague but still want a science fiction Christmas, Connie Willis has two collections of Christmas-themed short stories, Miracle and A Lot Like Christmas. There’s a lot of overlap between the two books, but there are some stories that are unique to each.
You Make it Feel Like Christmas by Louise Marley — I just read this one. A woman who grew up in the family of a British Martha Stewart type who specializes in Christmas and who used her family as props wants to get away from the TV nightmare and have a “normal” Christmas that’s not on camera, so she heads to what she thinks is a hotel but is actually an old owned by her ex-boyfriend, but the whole family follows her with a reality show crew in tow as her mother desperately tries to save her TV career.
To be honest, I have a hard time finding just what I want in seasonal reads. I prefer the ones where Christmas is just the setting, but since those aren’t marketed as Christmas books, it’s hard to tell which ones might be what I’m looking for. There’s one on my to-be-read pile that I set aside earlier this year when it turned out to be set near Christmas. Now I have to remember which one it was and where I put it. Then there’s the disappointment when I think I’ve found one, since it’s set in December, but there’s almost no Christmas content. Some of the Christmas ones that are marketed as Christmas books go a little over the top and get a bit sappy. It’s really hard to strike a good balance. If you’ve got recommendations, please share!