Happy Holiday Reads 2013
Ah, December – the month when I read nothing but Christmas books! Life’s too full of stress and difficulty during the other 11 months of the year, so I figure, why not take a month off and focus on what’s good in our world?
Here are the titles I’m reading this year:
Sleigh Bells in the Snow by Sarah Morgan
Workaholic Kayla Green can’t stand Christmas. So when duty calls her to snowy Vermont to close a deal with a new client, she is grateful for an excuse to avoid the holidays for another year. But she gets more than she bargained for when she arrives at the resort, especially the chemistry between Kayla and her client, Jackson O’Neil. Kayla might be an expert at her job, but she's out of her depth with Jackson—he makes her crave the happy-ever-after she once dreamed of, and it's terrifying. As the snowflakes continue to swirl, will the woman who doesn't believe in the magic of Christmas finally fall under its spell?
Starry Night by Debbie Macomber
Newspaper reporter Carrie Slayton is sick of covering Chicago society events, so she hops on a plane to the Alaskan bush, determined to track down Finn Dalton, a famously reclusive bestselling author who hates reporters. As she grows closer to finding out who Finn really is, Carrie will have to decide whether to respect his wishes by abandoning the story that would make her career, and Finn will have to decide whether he can open his heart again.
The Twelve Clues of Christmas by Rhys Bowen
She may be thirty-fifth in line for the throne, but Lady Georgiana Rannoch cannot wait to ring in the New Year—before a Christmas killer wrings another neck… She is snowedin at Castle Rannoch with her bumbling brother, Binky, and sourpuss sister-in-law, Fig. So it’s a miracle when she contrives to land a position as hostess to a posh holiday party in Tiddleton. But no sooner has she arrived than a neighborhood nuisance, a fellow named Freddie, falls out of a tree dead. On her second day, another so-called accident results in a death – and there’s yet another on her third. Perhaps a recent prison break could have something to do with it…that, or a long-standing witch’s curse. But after her true love Darcy shows up beneath the mistletoe, anything could be possible in this wicked wonderland.
Other titles to try:
Miracle Road by Emily March
A Lady Most Lovely by Jennifer Delamere
Christmas on 4th Street by Susan Mallery
Never Desire A Duke by Lily Dalton
Pick of the Week: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
Love, devotion, selfishness and rejection are the themes woven throughout Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri's family saga, The Lowland.
The two Mitra brothers, Subhash and Udayan, are close in birth and inseparable while growing up in Calcutta. Subhash, the older brother, is studious and dutiful to his parents. The younger brother, Udayan, is the family favorite, even though he is reckless and gets into trouble.
When Subhash decides to continue his scientific education in America, Udayan stays behind and gets involved in the political unrest tearing apart his homeland. Udayan falls in love with Gaura, who had been resigned to living a single life of solitude. When Udayan and Gaura marry against his parents' wishes, the couple still moves back into the family home, causing tension between Gaura and her new in-laws.
Udayan pretends to be a dutiful husband, son and teacher. But he secretly becomes more involved in the political rebellion, which costs him his life. Subhash, devastated by his brother's death, returns to Calcutta to find that Gaura keeps herself isolated in her room. When Subhash learns Gaura is pregnant, he convinces her to marry him and go to America to raise the child.
Can Gaura, who lost her one true love, ever feel love again? Can Subhash, always trying to do the right thing, ever find happiness? Can Gaura and Udayan's daughter ever be able to come to terms with her past?
Those are questions The Lowland unravels in powerful and heartbreaking writing. Lahiri's characters don't always behave the way I think they should, but contrary characters only add to the story. I also appreciated learning more about a turbulent time in India's history.
Pick of the Week: Jeeves and the Wedding Bells
I've been meaning to read comic writer P.G. Wodehouse's works for a long time, but somehow never got around to it. So when a homage to Wodehouse came out recently by Sebastian Faulks called Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, I decided to give it a go.
Wodehouse first caught my attention when I noticed he was mentioned so often by other writers when asked whose work they admired, including George Orwell, Lev Grossman and Christopher Hitchens. Douglas Adams, author of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, declared that "Wodehouse is the greatest comic writer ever.'' Even Agatha Christie dedicated one of her novels to Wodehouse, "whose books and stories have brightened my life for many years.''
The Wodehouse family hoped that Faulks' book would introduce new readers to the delightful characters of Jeeves and Wooster and Wodehouse's other extensive works. Wodehouse wrote about the duo's misadventures in dozens of short stories and 11 novels over a period of more than 50 years. Bertram "Bertie'' Wooster is a young, well-to-do British gentleman who manages to get into all sorts of scrapes. He often is rescued by his brilliant valet, Jeeves, who quotes Plato and Shakespeare with ease. The stories generally take place in the early 1900s, before the Great War.
In their latest adventure, Bertie is summoned to the estate of Sir Henry Hackwood to help his childhood friend, Woody, mend fences with his fiancée, Amelia, who is Sir Henry's daughter. Bertie is ecstatic when he finds that the beautiful Georgiana Meadows, whom he met in France, also is at the estate.
Through some comic twists, Jeeves ends up being mistaken for the gentleman, while Bertie pretends to be Jeeves' valet, Wilberforce. Jeeves of course is wonderful in his role and fits right in, especially with his knowledge of horseracing. Bertie, who can't even make a cup of tea, struggles with his part.
The result is hilarious fun. I enjoyed this book so much that I hope Faulks continues to write about Bertie and Jeeves. He certainly left the door open for sequels. In the meantime, I look forward to exploring the delights of P.G. Wodehouse.
Pick of the Week: The Goldfinch
"Who was it that said coincidence was just God's way of remaining anonymous?"
From the beginning of this book, when he survives a bombing in a New York art museum that kills his mother, Theo Decker is adrift in the world. He is anchored only by the one thing he took with him from the wreckage of the bombing, a small, yet world famous, painting of a goldfinch which he hides and protects almost religiously. The bombing and its aftermath haunt Theo for the rest of his life and the longer he keeps the painting, the more significance it has for him. After his mother's death, 16 year-old Theo bounces between the homes of old friends and new acquaintances until he lands in Las Vegas with his ne'er-do-well father and his sleazy girlfriend. As a mother, I was bothered by his reckless lifestyle during this part of the book, but Theo and his new sidekick Boris, managed to coast through in a drug and alcohol-induced stupor, with few serious consequences. When a debt collector comes looking for his father with a baseball bat, Theo rushes back to his safer friends in New York.
I kept waiting for Theo to grow up and take charge of his life, and he does eventually, but not quite soon enough for me. I enjoyed this book for Theo's journey and the caring people he met along the way. They might not have been traditional caregivers, but they helped guide lost Theo.
In the hands of a lesser writer, this book might have been a slog, but I was entirely emotionally engaged. I loved this book even though sometimes I wanted to yell at the main character to just grow up, already.
I would recommend this book to readers who aren't afraid of long books and those who appreciate exquisite writing and sophisticated character development. Although it's probably too long for most book clubs, there are plenty of ideas to talk about.
Pick of the Week: Eleanor and Park
I remember being a teen in love and being told dismissively by the adults in my life, that these feelings were just 'puppy love'. Rainbow Rowell has written a book that perfectly captures the intense, almost exquisitely painful feelings of a teen's first true love and she doesn't patronize nor dismiss these very real feelings. Neither does she provide easy answers for Eleanor and Park, two teens who meet on the school bus and initially bond over comic books and music. Both are targets for the high school's bullies and struggle to maintain their dignity in the face of almost daily taunts,threats and attacks. Both have built emotional armor to protect themselves, yet as they slowly get to know and trust each other they gradually let down this guard and reveal their true selves. Eleanor's home situation is awful and as he realizes just how awful it is, Park wants to help. But the more he tries to help, the worse it becomes.
This is a powerful and empowering book. Most of the adults in Eleanor's life are unable, unwilling or just too scared to acknowledge let alone face, the trouble she is in. Rainbow Rowell recognizes that teens' emotions are quite real and that often they are able to act on those emotions to solve problems that adults pretend don't exist.
I highly recommend this book for teens and adults who like a realistic love story with a realistic and satisfying conclusion.
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