Christmas Reads: Second Chances

My small town did Christmas yesterday, with Santa at the school, a parade and a tree lighting.  It’s a tiny blip on the map so it’s nice to have such an intimate gathering of the town for the holiday.  I always thought it would be really bold of me and somehow impressive to live somewhere like NYC but I think I’m a small town girl at heart. Especially with the internet so I can buy anything I want and have it mailed to me.

Also, Snow-pocalypse has turned more into rain and I took time off from work this week to get Christmas together, shopping, wrapping, etc so I can approach the holiday happy rather than stressed.  I need to make peanut blossom cookies with my son, the peanut butter ones with the chocolate kiss on top, even though he makes no bones about just eating the chocolate.  They are my husband’s favorite holiday cookie.  I’ll decorate some pre-made cookies too with my son and we will call it Christmas.

The two Christmas books for today’s post have to do with second chances.  I didn’t choose them that way:  one was the most recent available audiobook at the library and the other was another famous author Christmas book, but as I went along, binge reading/listening as is the joys of time off, I realized they were both about second chances at love.

 

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The Christmas Train, David Baldacci

Okay, so normally I wouldn’t be attracted to Baldacci’s work and because he seems pretty mainstream I wouldn’t come across him for a reading challenge.   It’s interesting that my Christmas reads are what get me to read the mega popular authors.  I guess that makes me a nerd.

And I think this has been my favorite so far of the popular authors Christmas reads.  It was clearly written by an author that likes to layer on the conflict and mystery, with an appreciable final twist.  I notice Christmas books that are more about romance and family don’t have the same tension and twists, and many people like them that way.  But this is a Christmas book with the constant presence of a twist, an intrigue somewhere.

A man who is taking a cross country journey by train for Christmas comes across a second chance at love and connection, as well as a natural disaster and a mystery intrigue.  I binge read this sucker one night when I couldn’t sleep and I kept asking myself why there were more pages because lots of things had already happened in the story.  And I kept thinking to myself, wow, I like this more than I expected to. I could possibly pick up another Baldacci in the future.  I feel like it might be a good read/listen for traveling.  Not that I plan on traveling sans 6 year old any time soon.  But my enjoyment of it was a pleasant surprise, to be sure.

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The Christmas Star, Donna VanLiere

I posted on the previous book in this series, The Christmas Town, last week, commenting that I am kind of late to the game with book #8.  This one was shorter than The Christmas Town and it is a continuation of the stories in #8 with a new set of characters thrown in.  This was sweet and it was happy, and I liked to listen to it while binge knitting, another one of my super cool Mom hobbies. And there is a couple who is thrown together for a second chance at love, and because it’s VanLiere, it’s about family too, and love at Christmas.  I feel that is one of her jams, and it’s one of mine too.   There are the bickering old lady friends to keep it interesting and they get to bicker about wedding planning, an old British woman and an old Southern one.  No stubbornness there, right?

This one did not have the tension and the twists that Baldacci has.  I don’t know if readers who are into his thrillers would like this and vice versa, but I liked them both.  I like how Christmas reads has been a reading challenge for me in its own right.

What I am reading for next week’s post is not a leap for me at all.  It was a big ermagherd this looks great!  It doesn’t have witches, though.  I have a book of holiday shorts with witches in it.  I really do. But I am so much more likely to listen and there’s no audio available.

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Christmas Reads: Family

Happy Hannukah to those who celebrate the light in that way!

I can’t remember the last time I actually wrote a post to be published same day.  The reading is done, but I was waiting for books to come off hold to read them.  I don’t know why I thought I would be able to read them in time to post, but now that I can officially enjoy the Christmas season, I can say that I have caught the optimism of the season.  I went to the annual local parade last night.  All optimism is excused.

It’s raining on the snow and the dog we are sitting is making a serious bid for my breakfast.  The tree is twinkling and I just taught my son the joys of mopping up egg yolk with buttered toast.  As a parent I take my job of establishing a solid foundation of life hacks very seriously.  Yesterday I taught him about the crayon sharpener in the back of the crayon box.  Mind. Blown.

Last year I read my first James Patterson book in the form of The Christmas Wedding.  I don’t think its a bad idea for me to dabble in the mega popular authors via their Christmas novels, so for this post I listened to:

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Skipping Christmas, John Grisham

I remember John Grisham’s legal thrillers being the hot books when I was growing up.   I still haven’t read any of those.  It’s a hard press to get me to pick up a legal thriller, so when I found out he wrote a Christmas short (like eight years ago but I wasn’t reading Christmas books back then) it was perfect.

This is a modern day Scrooge novel.  A modern day tale of love and the meaning of Christmas. If anyone is unfamiliar with the plot, I won’t ruin it, but I wouldn’t have made the same decision at the turning point of the novel that the Kranks do.  And of course his name is Krank, because this is a tale about being a scrooge.  It was a three hour listen and I found out it was made into a Hallmark movie when I went to look up the Caramel Pie recipe mentioned, which turns out other people have done as well and there is a Pinterest recipe.  I haven’t watched it.  I thought also about watching the movie before I blogged.  Thought about it.  Probably everyone else watched it years ago and I found out once I was looking up a recipe from reading the book.  I have always been just this cool.

I liked this better that A Christmas Wedding.  Maybe because I find the premise of A Christmas Wedding annoying and not because of Patterson’s writing.

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The Christmas Town, Donna VanLiere

This was one of the few books that didn’t get caught in my library audiobook Christmas sweep last year. It is narrated by the author and I loved it.

A young woman, Lauren, who was raised in foster care, is looking for a family for Christmas.  She stumbles into a neighboring town where she is taken in by the residents there. Being a Psychologist I love me a story about attachment and love.  Not necessarily romance, and this is not a romance this time, even though I am enjoying them more than I was. I love a story about someone finding a family because Christmas is about family.  Romance with the intention of a relationship that becomes family can also be healing and wonderful, so that’s where it gets me.  I don’t care if I know all along that they will become a family, I like making sure it happens!

This is like book 8 of 9 in the series so I jumped in way late.  It looks like all of these center on the same town and the same cast of characters.  I wish I started at the beginning, but the library audiobooks started at 8, so that’s what happened.  Doesn’t mean I won’t read nine.

Christmas books continue!  I took this week off to get my Christmas anxiety under control via wrapping and mailing.  Some shopping.  And I am hoping to get myself to write during my week off.  Need to get back to it after the gap of parenting and holidays if I am going to make it into anything.

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Bust out the Christmas Reads!

Even though my family was a two weeks before Christmas get the live tree kind of family, I am now part of a fake tree up the weekend after Thanksgiving kind of family.  It confuses my son a little, who thinks Santa should come the moment the thing is up and then has to wait another month for the presents to magically appear.  Even though it always takes a month for Santa to come.

The snow is finally seasonally appropriate, however.

My elf isn’t coming out until December because I have more control over that one.  I can leisurely take my last week in November.

Also I realize that I read Christmas novels the way many watch Hallmark Christmas movies, which I didn’t even know existed until about 12 years ago in grad school when we had a roommate that put up a tree in the apartment even though no one had any kids.  I know sometimes these books get made into Christmas movies too.

The first Christmas cozy novel happened!  And I am not alone because the Christmas audiobooks at the library were already checked out. So there are some other local library patrons right now who were not judging me one bit.

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Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses, Jenny Hale

So here it is, the quintessential clean Christmas romance, a rags to riches story to warm your Christmas heart. I am enjoying the romance genre more than I did.  I can’t do the really sexy stuff, but this one was good.  And it isn’t sexy. It was predictable, the obstacles not too high for the couple to overcome to be together.  I know that low stress and predictable are requirements for some people, so if that’s you, read this.

Nick, the love interest, only had a little bit of emotional development to do to make the reader happy that they work out as a couple in the end.  He wasn’t like a super dark narcissist with an abuse history or something that you know can’t be resolved by a month of courting.   And I did like that Abbey, the main character finds more actualization than just in her getting a guy who has enough money so she doesn’t have to work or struggle. She is looking to have a business that is her true heart and calling. I am sure there are plenty of modern day wish fulfillment narratives where women marry into the kind of money that will just make her problems go away and then she can lead a life of leisure.  I say modern day because I have read plenty of classic literature where the whole point is to get to be idle, but that’s not today’s world and I, for one, am happy that it is no longer like that.

I am working on more for the Christmas season, but this is as far as I have gotten.  I have made a good dent in the shopping and planning, but not in the reading.  I made my addictive cracker toffee and earned all the praises for Thanksgiving. I read another book in the middle that didn’t get blogged about.  So those are my excuses.

More Christmas reads next week though, so stay tuned.

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Just a Few More Christmas Reads on the Eve

I just did not want to post end of year specs on Christmas Eve.    I mean, it’s Christmas Eve!  We have already begun to dip our toes into holiday magic!

I am trying to stay on top of my bills this holiday season so that is a bit of the magic to me!  And it was a process deciding what treats were to be made for what this season.  A fun process.  An I-Think-I-Have-A-Pinterest-Problem process.

Plus, free shipping day ended up being an issue for this girl buying stuff for herself because she hates paying shipping.  I even got myself a knitting book from Barnes and Noble because they let me combine a coupon with free shipping! Nearly unprecedented.

But instead of reviewing the year, which we certainly will do once the presents are opened and the feasts are consumed and the holiday glitter fades to a soft, contented glow.  I can’t wait to see my son’s excitement over his gifts tomorrow and his excitement to give out the gifts that he bought for others for the first time this year.

I have two more Christmas choices on the docket today, if by chance you are still looking for a Christmas novel to read, even into the New Year.  The first book I talk about is not about Christmas but gives me the feel good spirit of Christmas, coming together, connection, and love.

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A Man Called Ove, Frederik Backman

My father asked me to choose his Christmas books this year.  He had no particular requests so he said, “have you read anything that you think I might like?”

Well, I was not sure about that one.  He can be finicky and he has not my guilt about abandoning a book that is not working out for him.  He read Mr. Mercedes until the character and plot line he liked died and put it down because there was nothing, in his mind, left to read for.  Even more grievous was his inability to love All the Light We Cannot See.  He may not have finished it. I look too much like him to question my mother about my paternity after that trick, but it was called into question.

This is not to say I have not had some success:  we read The Sellout together this past summer, because we like to read Man Booker prizewinners and like I reviewed, The Sellout was hysterically funny.

I had not read A Man Called Ove but it was so heavily endorsed and for lovers of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, a book my aunt gave to my father and which might be his favorite book of all time. I mean the man is 74 and he has been a reader his whole life, so his favorite book to top those piles is a real honor.  The themes and characters resonated with him so deeply that he left the room to cry through the end of it.

Anyway, I wanted to read Ove, so I sent him this one, which came before the other two, and then I listened to it while he read it, and we loved it.  He’s an initially unlikable character whose solid character is built up through the telling of his life story. Backman is awesome at holding his cards to his chest.  The surprises and the little twists are meted out at decent intervals. While I have been enjoying my unapologetically light Christmas books, I might miss some of the art of the way literary fiction tends to unfold. I had bubbling questions about how this man ended up married but with no children, married despite his rigid and unsociable style, the fact he was abandoned from a young age by the deaths of two beloved parents.  It’s a heart wrenching story of a man whose wife dies and he is forced into retirement, and just wanting to be with her back and desperately missing having his own purpose in life, plans out ways to kill himself.  He is continually foiled by the purposes he still has but of which he is unaware.  It is funny and heartwarming and is about love and purpose in unlikely places, people coming together, people supporting each other despite not always agreeing, people loving together.

Yes, I did read it simultaneously with my father at Christmas time, but this book is about the spirit of love that I think Christmas is meant for, more than the fact I read it with him at this time.  Fifteen plus thousand reviewers on Amazon can’t be, and weren’t, wrong.

P.S. The other two books I sent were The Best Small Fictions of 2017 and Burial Rites by Hannah Kent.  I have sent him a few flash fiction collections in the past and they generally win.

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Starry Night, Debbie Macomber

Another library audiobook raid.  This one was a classic romance. Just a genre romance for Christmas.  Now, this season has been a decided departure from the classic Christmas reads of last year into the lighter stuff, and this fits.  Goodreads reviewers agree that if you need a light and fun holiday book, Macomber is your girl.  And clearly she does it well, as she is prolific and well known.

That said, this plot was very uncomplicated. It was not an unhealthy romance, although there was one part where I was a little testy with the male protagonist making demands of her when she did not owe him diddly.  Not a diddly thing.  I don’t want to get too much into it, just a writer looking to change her career is given an assignment to interview a reclusive author in Alaska and ends up getting stranded in his cabin for 48 hours in the middle of nowhere and they fall in love.  And then she has to return to her separate world and he has to figure out his demons to see if they can make it work.

I am glad I have been reading more romance.  It is helping me get over some of my reservations about the genre.  Life does not always require the heavy tomes.

That said, I am craving a snow read for January.  I have a couple being considered.  The Luminaries and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell set the bar a little high on the snow reads, though.  I was thinking about The Goldfinch before it becomes a movie, but undecided still. People seem to be really divided and love it or hate it and I have to decide if I want to give it a chance to get me through the 8-10 weeks of winter hell following Christmas.

That also said, if I want to do more writing in the new year I have to slow down on the novels.

It’s a Chick-lit Christmas!

I hope everyone is in full swing of making Christmas or their own holiday of love and light.  It has not felt very Christmas where I am yet, with no snow and it has been mild.  We had a bonfire on both days of the weekend and were cleaning the yard.

I have taken a significant chunk out of my own holiday duties other than deciding what I am going to bake, other than the chex mix of my childhood.  Not the things in bags with the bagel chips in them.  While bagel chips are good they have no place in the chex mix of my childhood.  Not even since they seem to have crept into the online recipes which is entirely blasphemous.

Christmas is actually getting so close my husband is tempted to get into his new socks before I wrap them.

The love of Christmas reads rolls on.  End of year posts are also looming, but I had some sweet holiday reads for the car trip home to see my friends the weekend after Thanksgiving, a personal tradition I have had since before I had my baby.  Now that I have my baby he decorates for Christmas with his father while I am gone.  Win win.

Also briefly I have noticed that last year I was tackling the classic Christmas stories, reading all of the Dickens and Washington Irving and this year I am like, chick lit Christmas!  Algernon Blackwood has a Christmas tale that I need to read because I really like him but it wouldn’t fit in the parade of light Christmas books.

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Christmas Bliss, Mary Kay Andrews

So my cheapskate behavior around audiobooks has led me to library lends, which leads me to the more popular authors.  And I have been on a streak of the light stuff, so why not use a chance to get to know more of the more popular writers?

This one claims to be #4 in the Weezy and Bebe mysteries, but there was only one tiny mystery and it was not the entirety of Bebe’s plotline. It ended long before her bit of the plot was over with her pregnancy and her fiance.  So if you want a mystery, this is not really it.

But I can see why Bebe and Weezy are ongoing characters because they are both very fun, with antiquing and trying to pick the right man to marry this time.  It is also a humorous look into the South, with its social gatherings and status.  Does not make me want to move there but I can appreciate their love of a cheese ball for celebrations.  And those Christmas cookies sounded exquisite.

There is a piece of this that involves NYC at Christmas, spoiler alert, which puts it in common with my next read, which is all NYC at Christmas.  Low tension, mostly fun, goodreads agrees that it is quick. Won’t take you away from wrapping and keeping the true chex mix recipe alive and well.

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Angels at the Table, Debbie Macomber

The other audiobook of hers from the library is taking FOREVER to be available.  Whoever has it clearly does not know the appropriate speed with which to consume an audiobook.  Another first time experience with a popular author and it was just what I expected.

Angels checking out NYC on New Years accidentally bring together a couple too soon, and, as happens in romance novels, they manage to mess things up between each other with a little ‘help’ from the angels before they have a chance to get their relationship off the ground.  I think if you just want something feel good, low on family dysfunction (Christmas Bliss even had more family dysfunction than this one with an oppressive old school Southern matriarch making women grit their teeth) and not like insurmountable issues that make characters compromise themselves to make the relationship work, then this is it.  None of the romances I have read involve people compromising themselves for others, thankfully.

Angels are tops in my love of supernatural beings, not more so than in my love of witches, but I like the idea of the boundless goodness of angels, even some well-intentioned shenanies, like these angels get up to.  It’s Hallmark Channel Christmas, which I had a grad school roommate first expose me to.  I saw a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie drinking game, and I would so rock that.

The end of the year reading roundup is looming!  I don’t know if I have more Christmas reads to wrestle for posts. You will just have to be left in suspense.

 

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Christmas Reads 2017 part 2

Christmas has thrown up in my house and in the world around me.   I worked Black Friday to come home to an erected tree with twinkling lights and ugly ornaments I made with my son as a Thanksgiving craft and lights strung around my porch.  I know my husband just did it because our son loves it and there are only a few magical Christmas years ahead for our little family.  So we will enjoy it, exhausting as it is, while it lasts.

In keeping with this, the two Christmas reads to kick off December are both heavy on the family.  Lots of grown up siblings entangled in the dramas of their own lives.  Perfect and fun if that is your thing.

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The Christmas Wedding, James Patterson

Also, this is my first James Patterson book.  I have mentioned before I am trying to be better about giving a chance to the super popular authors whose work sells in Wal-Marts and in impulse buy lanes and end up in the donated books in the box in the break room.  Trying to reduce my own prolific snobbery. So this one can break the seal on that.

And break the seal it did.  It is about a widow who asks her four grown children to return on Christmas to attend her surprise second wedding with an unknown groom.  There is the usual family drama to keep things interesting, but this is a heavily Christmas-y, heart warming Christmas tale, I think done pretty well with a man writing from the point of view of an older woman who has raised four children.

It was exactly what it promised to be.  The sweet diversion of a book just under five hours with some drive time and walk time in there.  There was enough family drama without it being too nerve wracking and intense. I have to admit I was not completely on edge about who the bride was going to choose because the story was more than that, and I cared about other plotlines just as much as her little story about choosing one of three men who had all asked her and were waiting to be chosen.  And it felt more solidly Christmas related than the Holly Martins that I very much enjoyed that I reviewed last week.  Maybe because this story was more American?  Don’t know, but I am glad the library had it on audio for me to borrow.

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Winter Street, Elin Hilderbrand

I had bought this one last year for the parade of Christmas reads and did not get around to it.  Was apparently reading about too many other wet panties, I guess.

This one was very similar to The Christmas Wedding in that it had to do with a grown up family coming together for a rare adult sibling Christmas.  The drama in this one is actually around a stepmother leaving a father and their son serving in Afghanistan who all the kids are worried about, as well as the ex wife.

Every sibling has their own story, their own love story or professional story, and you get to hear everyone’s piece: about how the family was started and how it changed over time to make the characters in the story giving each other sensible adult gifts and fervently wishing the best for one another.

This is actually the first in a series and I might read more of the series as I go.  I did like it, it was fun without being overdone.  I love the stories of families.  I think it is why I work with them professionally, and I think about how characters in stories become who they are because of how they started off in a family.  Another recommend.  It has some love stories but it’s about all kinds of love.

Next week is more Christmas reads.  I will be attending a Santa breakfast and doing all sorts of holiday related stuff with my son.

Thinking about what my reading in the new year is going to look like and what my goals are for 2018.  Also, I have like a read and a half for Read Harder to make it through.  I swear I am still working on it. The last two categories I am reading might kill me.

 

Christmas Reads: Because Thanksgiving is Over

My best friend is a firm believer that there is no Christmas until Thanksgiving is over.  This is because he is not a parent and he loves Thanksgiving infinitely more than he loves Christmas.

I don’t have the luxury of a statute of limitations.  If I don’t get a head start Christmas is even more exhausting than usual.  I have wrapped gifts downstairs and I have to get to PetSmart because my son asked Santa to be sure he brought things for the dog, so I have to keep the magic alive.

Christmas seems to be a falling in love season.  The first time I fell in love was the fall, but I get why seasonal Christmas reads have been focused around a couple finding love in the holiday of love and light.

And I have to admit the ones I discuss today helped me give romance novels a bit of a break. I want romance novels to end in healthy relationships, and both of these books end in healthy relationships where people are growing together as people.  And while there was sex, it wasn’t erotica.  And no wet panties. I don’t like discussions of wet panties.

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Christmas Under a Starlit Sky, Holly Martin

So both of these Holly Martin books are set at Christmas, but Christmas does not feel as central to the plot as other holiday romances I have read.  Otherwise, though, I like her settings of remote British Isles that are vacay spots.  Vacay spots do increase the festivity rating of a book.

This one had more conflict in it than the other one I am reviewing.  There are two plotlines where the resolutions are drawn out longer.  I looked and it was written later than the other one, which makes sense that there are two distinct plot lines with the conflict heaped on, in contrast to the other.

One couple is trying to make something work after a breakup because the guy moves away to be an actor and another is trying to figure out if they can take a chance on love when it might turn long distance and they are both healing from other failed relationships. Both involve how to manage the long distance thing and I like that it does not always work out that the couple feels that their true place is home.  I get annoyed with authors who end romances with home being where people belong and not on their adventures.

But I liked the characters, I like that the women did not have to be movie star beautiful and they are competent and hard working and feel fulfilled by their work already.

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Christmas at Lilac Cottage, Holly Martin

I could definitely see that this was an earlier novel of hers, but sometimes a little less conflict is a good thing and it’s relaxing.  I like that her books involve family themes and wanting to be part of families.  I like finding Mr. Right instead of Mr. Right now or Mr. Wish FulFilment.  I mean these guys were good looking but they weren’t bad boys at hear and I have never been into bad boys. I like something easy and seasonal and fun.

This was just one plot line about a woman finding her place in a ready made family and the conflict was centered around that more than it was around poor behavior from the guy.

I would recommend both of these for curl up Christmas reads as a break from holiday bustle.  She has a lot of books out for low prices on Kindle, and they are series, so that makes it even easier to binge.

 

Happy kickoff to Christmas!  More holiday reads next week.

 

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