Erica’s Pick of the Season: Holiday Fiction Roundup

Confession:  I hosted Thanksgivng this year. But I did not serve turkey. 

Turkey is not bad. It is a perfectly fine piece of protein, I guess, and de rigueur during Thanksgiving, and you can make a very nice soup with the leftovers. It’s just that I wanted something a little different this year, and the pork roast from this cookbook — tasty, impressive-looking, easy to prep the night before — was the perfect way to mix things up. With all our favorite sides and a ridiculous number of pies, it still felt like Thanksgiving. Just…fresher.

This year’s holiday fiction roundup feels similarly refreshed. There are still plenty of books that fit the typical Christmas vibe — we have the latest from Debbie Macomber, Susan Mallery, Maisey Yates and more — but there are also titles featuring all sorts of holidays, so everyone can enjoy some seasonal reading.

With its charming, hand-lettered cover, Jean Meltzer’s The Matzah Ball looks like a standard romcom — and there IS a sweet second chance romance — but at its heart, this story is squarely focused on the heroine. Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt is the daughter of a prominent rabbi, which means she has to hide her near-obsessive love of all things Christmas, including her career as a bestselling author of Christmas romances. But when her publisher pushes her to write a Hanukkah romance instead, she struggles to find inspiration, until she realizes that the boy who broke her heart years ago is now a famous event planner — and his latest event, The Matzah Ball, is a Jewish-themed party that will give her all the inspiration she needs. Shenanigans ensue as she finagles her way into the event, and he finagles his way back into her heart. But the real focus of the story is how Rachel grapples with both her faith and her chronic illness, and how to best incorporate them into the vibrant life she deserves. The author spent several years in rabbinical school and her explanations of Jewish traditions and beliefs are both insightful and accessible.

If you’re looking for a globetrotting romance, Sonya Lalli’s A Holly Jolly Diwali is a great choice. When type-A data analyst Niki Randhawa loses her job right before her Indian best friend’s wedding, she impulsively flies to Mumbai to celebrate both the marriage and Diwali, the Festival of Lights. Once there, she meets Sameer, a London musician she feels an instant connection to.  Over the course of several weeks, the two fall hard for each other. But when Niki has to return to her “real life” just in time for Christmas, sustaining their sizzling vacation fling seems nearly impossible. With a focus on food, family dynamics, and the chemistry between the two leads, it’s a fun and breezy romance that doesn’t lean too heavily into the standard holiday romance tropes.

One of our staff-favorite holiday titles last year was The Twelve Dates of Christmas by Jenny Bayliss. Her followup, A Season for Second Chances, hits the same saucy notes — an adorably wacky small town, well-meaning meddlesome neighbors, mouthwatering food — but it’s a decidedly different story (with a lot more four-letter words).  This time, the heroine is Annie, an acclaimed  40-something chef who has finally, finally walked out on her cheating husband/business partner and ends up renting a historic house in the coastal town of Willow Bay. It’s a short-term rental, however, as her landlord’s very grumpy, very attractive nephew makes clear: The house and its adjoining cafe will be sold in spring, so Annie shouldn’t get too comfortable. Naturally, she can’t help getting drawn into the lives of her neighbors, including the homeless handyman, a Victorian literature book club who have decidedly UN-Victorian conversations, and that very grumpy nephew. As fall turns to winter, and Annie helps the town celebrate countless holidays and traditions, she must figure out what she wants the next chapter of her life to look like…and how to make it happen. It’s wickedly funny (especially the book club) and a delightful change of pace — romances with middle-aged protagonists aren’t as common as they should be, and this one shows that second chances can be even more rewarding than the first go-round. 

Traditions, it turns out, are often more about feelings than particulars — and there’s something wonderful about witnessing how they grow and change alongside the people you share them with. The same can be said of our reading lives, so whether you are looking for the familiar cheer of a Christmas romance, or a fresh and funny take on the season, check out our holiday collections at either location, or fill out our Ask A Bookie form for more great reads.

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