The holidays are fast approaching, and with them, mile-long to-do lists and jam-packed calendars. Amid all that hustle and bustle, it’s important to take time to recover — and what better restorative than a holiday-themed book?
This year, I’ve discovered the delight that is British holiday fiction. Similar to Hallmark movies, these stories are full of quirky communities, trope-filled love stories, and happy endings galore, but they’ve also got a bit of an edge, a little salt to counter the sweet. In my opinion, that makes them even more delicious — so here are here are three to curl up with, preferably with a cup of tea and a biscuit or two.
My runaway favorite, and the one I’ve been recommending to everyone I see is Rosie Blake’s HYGGE HOLIDAY. Clara, a Danish woman who’s been traveling around England, finds herself in the struggling town of Yulethorpe just as the madcap owner of the local toy store decides to set off for warmer territories. Europe. Clara volunteers to run the shop in exchange for a place to stay, and begins to show the town the joys of hygge (a Danish concept emphasizing coziness and connection). Naturally, the madcap owner has a grumpy, overworked son, Joe, who lives in London and Does Not Approve of Clara’s whimsical ways. He returns to sell the store, and Clara decides to change his mind through the power of candlelight, tasty food, and winter fun. Naturally, Feelings Develop and Opposites Attract. Can you predict what’s going to happen? Absolutely. Does it matter? Not a whit. Clara is funny and determined and charming without being saccharine. (The scene where she teaches a new friend how to curse in Danish is particularly fun.) Joe’s arguments actually make sense, lending a sense of genuine conflict to the story. The supporting characters are well drawn and entertaining in their own right. And while the ending is never in doubt, it also has a surprising depth to the sweetness.
Another, slightly more somber choice is Poppy Alexander’s 25 DAYS ‘TIL CHRISTMAS, about a young widow struggling to make ends meet while caring for her son, and a man grieving the loss of his younger sister. Kate’s life is, frankly, a mess: her odious boss keeps threatening to fire her if she doesn’t take on increasingly thankless tasks, her son is struggling at schoool, and she’s lost her Christmas spirit entirely. But when she and her best friend make plans to give her son a magical December on a shoestring budget, she finds herself crossing paths with Daniel, a standup guy afraid of facing this year’s Christmas without his sister. And while their slowly burgeoning relationship is an important part of the story, it’s really more about the power of friendship and community to make a difference in people’s lives.
Jasmine Guillory’s ROYAL HOLIDAY is technically not British — Guillory, after all, is American, as is the protagonist of this novel, which features Vivian Forrest, a social worker in her fifties. Vivian’s spending the holidays in England with her daughter, a stylist for a duchess who bears an uncanny resemblance to Meghan Markle. While hanging out on the royal estate, she ends up falling for Malcolm Hudson, the Queen’s Private Secretary. The story is utter wish-fulfillment (a private tour of the Crown Jewels! A spontaneous visit with the Queen!) and the conflict is easily resolved, but it’s also refreshing to read a romance featuring middle-aged protagonists. (Just a heads-up — this book is considerably spicier than the other novels on this list.)
Of course, there are plenty of great holiday reads on this side of the pond, too — stop by the reference desk at Cook Park or Aspen Drive, and we’ll make sure you’re stocked for the season.