'Tis the season for Hallmark holiday movies and themed TV episodes. But there are also plenty of Christmas books to be enjoyed, preferably with a roaring fire and a cup of cocoa nearby. Sure, some of them are a little cheesy, but there are also darker options for those with a less starry-eyed perspective. Here's a mix of great Christmas titles for every holiday mood.
Christmas at Rosie Hopkins' Sweetshop (Morrow, paperback $14.99) by Jenny Colgan continues the lives of the characters from Rosie Hopkins' Sweetshop of Dreams (although it can be read as a standalone). With quirky English village characters, delicious candy all around, and Rosie trying to figure out the nuances of her new relationship, it's a pleasantly sweet story.
Charles Todd's The Walnut Tree (Morrow, paperback $9.99) unfolds at Christmas as World War One begins, and Lady Elspeth Douglas finds herself trapped in Paris. Her almost-fiancé, the gallant Alain, is off with the French army, and Elspeth feels compelled to return to England and be of service. As she attempts to reach Calais, she gets drawn into a battle and is rescued by handsome Captain Peter Gilchrist, a childhood acquaintance. The Walnut Tree is a perfect holiday tale (and a must-read for Downton Abbey fans). It conjures up a genteel era obliterated by the onslaught of war.
In Blue Christmas (Harper, paperback $11.99) by Mary Kay Andrews, it's a challenging time for heroine Weezie Foley. She's facing business competition, her boyfriend is depressed about the holidays because of bad memories, and other obstacles keep cropping up. But Weezie is determined to make this a great Christmas, and Andrews's light and breezy tone strikes just the right balance.
Mischief of the Mistletoe (NAL, paperback $15) by Lauren Willig is a historical holiday romp, featuring Mr. Turnip Fitzhugh (who was not nicknamed for his mental prowess), Miss Arabella Dempsey, teacher at a select young ladies' seminary, and some French spies who are trying to use the Dowager Duchess of Dovedale's Christmas festivities as a cover for their activities.
Miracle on 5th Avenue (Harlequin, paperback, $7.99) by Sarah Morgan starts with a cliché--a young, blonde, Christmas-loving food blogger ends up trapped by a snowstorm in the penthouse apartment of a gruff, holiday-hating mystery writer. But Morgan's clever dialogue makes the plot believable, and will have the reader rooting for Eva and Lucas to resolve their difficulties in time for a Christmas miracle.
And in Rosamunde Pilcher's Winter Solstice (St. Martin's Press, paperback $8.99), five lonely strangers are drawn together at the holidays. A grieving man, a lonely woman and a teenager on the run are among those who find affection in unexpected ways. A heartwarming story, Winter Solstice is a testament to the power of love.
Christmas Mysteries & More
Envious Casca (Sourcebooks Landmark, paperback $13.99) by Georgette Heyer is a quintessential country house mystery in the style of Agatha Christie. Curmudgeonly Nathan Herriard is killed on the eve of Christmas, and nearly all of his guests and relatives are glad he's dead, leaving Inspector Hemingway quite a puzzle to solve.
Several short stories by the late P.D. James have been gathered in a newly published collection, The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories (Knopf, $24). Some are Christmas-themed, including one starring a young Adam Dalgliesh, and fans of James's writing will enjoy this dark little holiday treat.
Martin Edwards, a connoisseur of British crime fiction, has collected 16 stories from the genre's Golden Age in his third mystery anthology, Silent Nights (Poisoned Pen, paperback $12.95). There are a few classic pieces by well-known authors, but he also includes less familiar writers. This collection will amuse and satisfy mystery lovers who like a little murder with their eggnog.
Arnaldur Indridason's Erlendur series has brought Iceland to life for readers around the world, and the third entry, Voices (Picador, paperback $17), tells the story of a hotel doorman stabbed to death in the middle of the busy Christmas rush. Erlendur, a stereotypically gloomy and introspective detective, must face his own demons amid the holiday busyness, while also solving the complicated case.
Away in a Manger (Minotaur, paperback $15.99) by Rhys Bowen stars the indefatigable amateur detective Molly Murphy Sullivan. In 1905, most women are content to stay home with their children, but when Molly discovers a pair of well-bred English children begging on the streets of New York City at Christmastime, she's determined to uncover their missing mother's fate.
Connie Willis brings a touch of the fantastic to her collection Miracle and Other Christmas Stories (Bantam, paperback $7.99). From alien invasions to secret Santas to the time-traveling appearance of the actual Joseph and Mary in search of an inn, Miracle is a wonderfully different twist on a traditional Christmas.
If you're looking for a book to enjoy as a family, you can't go wrong with The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (HarperCollins, paperback $5.99) by Barbara Robinson, with illustrations by Judith Gwyn Brown. The hilarious hijinks of the terrifying Herdman children (the scourge of the neighborhood), and their shenanigans during a Christmas pageant will keep both you and your children laughing.
And, finally, for a timeless holiday option for all ages, the Christmas stories from the assorted Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder have been gathered into one volume entitled A Little House Christmas Treasury (HarperCollins, $14.99). Perfect for a family read-aloud, the nostalgia created by the Ingalls family's Christmas traditions are bound to give the most peevish of relations a Christmas Carol-esque transformation.