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by Donna Huber For the A to Z Challenge, I'm discussing different book genres/categories. Each day, I will give a few details about the...

December 24, 2021

Celebrate Jolabokaflod with these Christmas Books

by Donna Huber

Iceland has a cool tradition of giving books and reading them on Christmas Eve. I recently read in a book that mentions the tradition and it is thought that it got started because books were hard to get and could be expensive in Iceland so it was a real treat to get a book. Apparently, new books are released to coincide with the celebration. This Country Living article mentions that the tradition started during WWII as paper was one of the few things not rationed in Iceland. For me Christmas Eve always feels like the quietest night of year - like a hush falls upon the earth. So really it is a perfect time for curling up with a good book. And of course, I have a few suggestions for Christmas books. If you are still looking for a gift or don't want to read Christmas stories, be sure to check out my list of favorite reads this year. And if you are needing a bit more relaxation before reading, I recommend 40 minutes of blanket yoga.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review.

Christmas Dessert Murder by Joanne Fluke

Christmas Dessert Murder
October 2021; Kensington; 978-1496736062
ebook, print (416 pages); cozy mystery

While this is listed as book 28 in the Hannah Swensen cozy mystery series, it is NOT a new story. It is actually two previously published stories. 

The first book in this set is Christmas Caramel Murder. I didn't realize at first that this book was a set of previously published stories, but I knew that this wasn't in the current timeline (Fluke has done "flashback" Christmas stories before) because it opens with Hannah having dinner with Ross. But soon the story started to seem familiar, especially the appearance of her dead father as a Christmas ghost. I took a closer look at the description of the book and realized I had listened to Christmas Caramel Murder last Christmas. Because I listened to it I didn't remember all the details so it was still an enjoyable Christmas story to read.

The second book is Christmas Cake Murder and I had not already read it. This one goes all the way back to before the series started. Hannah has returned home because her father has died, Michelle and Lisa are still in high school and Andrea is pregnant with her first child. I liked this story because it was very Christmasy as Delores (Hannah's mother) is trying to re-create the Christmas Ball for an elderly woman who has given so much to the community. I also liked it because there isn't really a murder to investigate. Instead, the mystery revolves around a story that Delores and Hannah found while getting things for Essie (the elderly woman) since she is in the hospital. They find a series of notebooks in which Essie had penned a mystery story of a pregnant woman on the run from some mob-like people. If you like this series because of the descriptions of baked goods and recipes, then this is a great book for you. The Christmas Ball features a cake parade and dessert buffet. Also, this story is when Hannah first decides to open The Cookie Jar so she is trying out recipes while testing the kitchen appliances.

If you are like me and playing catch up on this series, this book is a great way to knock out two books at once. These stories do NOT have to be read in order as they are outside the current timeline. So if you want a couple off un Christmas stories and plenty of Christmas recipes, then you should get this book.

Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan

Once Upon a Wardrobe
October 2021; Harper Muse; 978-0785251729
audio, ebook, print (320 pages); biographical fiction

Since Susan had already reviewed Once Upon a Wardrobe, I decided to wait until my holiday vacation to read this book. I knew that once I started it, I would not want to put the book down. And that is exactly what happened. 

I picked it up while the dark chocolate biscotti was baking and my Kindle was charging. I thought I would just read a few chapters and then go back to the book I was reading on my Kindle. That was about 3 pm. At 12:15 am, I turned the last page.

I cried at the beginning of the story and I cried again at the end of the story. 

It is set at Christmas but it is at the same time not a Christmas story and is a Christmas story. I think if it had been set at any other time of the year it would not have had the same impact.

The English winter setting and a terminally ill child who may never see Christmas is the perfect parallel to learning the secret of where does Narnia come from. Megs, the child's sister, attend Oxford University in 1950. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was recently released and C. S. Lewis is in residence as a tutor. Megs will do anything for her brother and when he insists that she ask Lewis where Narnia came from she knows she will have to figure out a way to approach this famed author. What follows is a sharing of stories by Lewis (mostly) and his brother Warnie in their Oxford cottage. 

I read Callahan's Becoming Mrs. Lewis in 2020 and fell in love with her storytelling ability. I had never been particularly interested in Lewis's life but she brought him so alive in her book that I wanted to know more. So I was excited about Once Upon a Wardrobe and learning more about what brought Lewis to write a "children's" book. This book did not disappoint and I loved that I could read it straight through. If reading is the only thing on your schedule today, then I highly recommend reading this book.

Buy Once Upon a Wardrobe at Amazon

The Mistletoe Pact by Jo Lovett

The Mistletoe Pact
October 2021; Bookouture; 978-1800197961
ebook, print (346 pages); holiday romance

Evie makes a pact with her best friend's brother that if they are both single when she turns 30 they will get married. After a drunken birthday celebration in Vegas, they wake up together the next morning and realize they got married. Awkwardness and an annulment ensue.

The Mistletoe Pact felt like a Christmas version of Emily Henry's Beach Read.

Unfortunately, the marriage pact trope felt a little too worn to be entertaining. I did enjoy the back and forth in the timeline and it wasn't hard to follow as it skips from the present to various past points in Evie and Dan's lives. There was a continuity mistake but as I was reading an ARC, it may have been corrected in the final version.

Dan and Evie and the rest of the cast are wonderful. I did feel like some parts of the story were drawn out too long - like the whole thing about Max's accident. I think the slow pace of the story is what made the story fall flat for me. I wanted it to be a quick, snappy read. 

Really my disappointment with the novel is all just personal preference kinds of things. The writing was good and I really did like the characters. And it has one of the cutest Christmas covers I've seen this year. If you are wanting a Christmas romance, then this is the book you should pick up today.

Buy The Mistletoe Pact at Amazon

Home for Christmas: Stories for Young and Old

Home for Christmas
October 2021; Plough Publishing House; 978-0874860313
audio, ebook, print (339 pages); anthology

I've mentioned in previous years that I love Christmas anthologies. I have a couple of treasuries and I'm thrilled to add this one to my collection. 

As with my other anthologies, this one is filled with short stories - there are 20 stories in this one. They are older stories - often the stories aren't subject to copyright laws. This one is unique among my collection in that it has stories that are appearing in English for the first time. I think the only author I recognized is Madeleine L'Engle (author of A Wrinkle in Time among other stories). For me though, this is part of the charm of these treasuries - discovering little known (at least today) authors and story gems.  

I like looking up the authors as I read their stories. I discovered that Henry van Dyke has published several Christmas stories but I don't think I've read any of his work. I was kind of surprised that O. Henry's The Gift of Magi wasn't included as it seems to be the story that is most often in common upon these Christmas treasuries. Selma Lagerlöf's story The Christmas Rose is also included in my Normal Rockwell Christmas Book. But otherwise, these are all new stories for me.

As I like to savor these Christmas anthologies, I haven't read all the stories yet. I will read a few more today and tomorrow and then save the rest for next year. I have an e-galley but I'm buying a hardcover copy so that I can display it each Christmas as I do with my other anthologies. 

The stories I have read so far are entertaining but definitely have a deeper meaning than the typical fluffy Christmas read. I loved the story set in Cuba called The Three Kings. The three oldest boys at school are selected to be The Three Kings (the wise men from the Biblical story of Christ's birth) and give out toys to the children in town. It's kind of their version of Santa Claus. But these gifts are bought by the parents for the boys to deliver. There is great wealth but also great poverty and it lives in the same neighborhoods - often the poor live next door to the wealthy. The story reminded me of the meme on social media that says parents should stop telling their children that Santa Claus brought them iPads and game consoles because the children who don't get those things from Santa will feel like they haven't been good enough. But that isn't the real moral of The Three Kings. The moral of the story is that the true spirit of Christmas is not in what we get but what we give to those less fortunate.

Other stories feel like folklore and they are just beautiful. Not only are these stories well-crafted but they give a glimpse of what was important in years past - when life was "simpler". These are definitely stories to be cherished. If you are looking for something you can read together as a family or are like me and enjoy stories of old, then this is the book you should be reading today.

Buy Home for Christmas at Amazon

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour

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