Favorite Tales of Joy, Love, Horror & Absurdity
My favorite moments of the holiday season are those small seconds of stillness in between hustle and bustle. The twinkling of lights, the hush after everyone falls asleep, the cold windows in the morning. Those moments are best shared with a book, of course, as we can always find time to read, even in this busy season.
If you are a fan of cozy winter tales, with plenty of meet cutes and happy endings, the first half of this list is for you. If you lean more toward the Grinch before his heart grew three sizes, the second half of the list is all yours. There is hilarity to be found in those honest tales of holiday chaos. Either way, grab yourself a hot mug, find a cozy spot, and get into the holiday spirit with these great reads.
The Santa Suit by Mary Kay Andrews
From the New York Times bestselling author of Hello, Summer, comes a novella celebrating the magic of Christmas and second chances. This tale follows newly divorced Ivy as she buys an old farmhouse, sight unseen, and moves from Atlanta to a small town in North Carolina. Once there, she realizes the house needs way more work than she thought, plus the previous owners left so much furniture and personal belongings that sorting through it becomes a full time job. But one very special treasure, tucked away in a closet, sends her on an unexpected journey of discovery, healing and a second chance at love. If you love heartwarming Hallmark Christmas movies, this is your book!
Christmas in Peachtree Bluff by Kristy Woodson Harvey
In “pitch perfect tones” (Publishers Weekly), and written with her signature Southern charm, New York Times bestselling author Kristy Woodson Harvey explores the magic of Christmas, the power of forgiveness, and the importance of family in this engrossing book series. In this fourth edition of the series, three generations of women work together to rebuild their beloved town after a “storm of the century” hurricane, while they rebuild their beloved family from a storm of its own. This standalone book might lead you to fall in love with the rest of the Peachtree Bluff series. If you need a wonderful Christmas read that will warm your heart, this one fits the bill perfectly.
Mistletoe Season by Michelle Major
Mistletoe Season unites two lonely people, Anji and Gabe, just in time for the holidays. While their chemistry is romantic and undeniable, she was his childhood bully, and it’s not clear if enough time has passed to let bygones be bygones. I found myself falling in love with Michelle Major’s Magnolia world and its engaging characters. This is an extremely delightful tale of love, loss, self-discovery, happiness, and acceptance. That said, this book can be read as a standalone, although you'll want more of her Magnolia series once you've been introduced!
The Christmas Dress by Courtney Cole
Duty calls Meg Julliard home to Chicago to manage her late father’s historic apartment building, the Parkview West, filled with unique characters, urgent repair needs, and a handsome handyman that she always seems to embarrass herself in front of. Add to this what seems to be the end of her hopes for a career in the fashion industry, and it’s shaping up to be the worst Christmas ever! But a friendship with elderly resident Ellie, and the untold story of the very special party dress that Ellie saved all of these years, leads to an unexpected breakthrough for Meg and the salvation of Parkview West and its inhabitants. A tale to lift your heart!
So, This Is Christmas by Tracy Andreen
A perfect book to get you into the holiday mood, and also great for teens! Private school outcast Finley returns to her hometown of Christmas, Oklahoma, with her world upended. Her parents are on the outs with each other, her rival has snagged a job at her grandma’s inn, and her ex-boyfriend, well, that’s another story. But there’s another boy who enters the picture and she owes him a special Christmas. But can she come through with everything she has to juggle? If you want to enjoy this Christmas with an adorable Young Adult holiday romance, give Andreen a try.
Always, in December by Emily Stone
In this bittersweet holiday tale of love, Josie and Max meet by chance one December in London, and spend it by helping each other through their mixed emotions about Christmas, then falling hard for each other. Could Max be the one? But then he disappears, leaving a desolate Josie behind. This seemed like the end, but over the next year, their paths continue to cross. Even as fate pulls them together, the timing is always wrong. As Christmas comes around again, what will be revealed? A touching romance, this book is perfect if you’re in the mood for a cathartic cry with some cozy vibes.
In A Holidaze by Christina Lauren
A quick holiday romcom, this adorable and delightful tale is a Groundhog Day-style story, where one Christmas wish, two brothers, and a lifetime of hope are on the line for hapless Maelyn Jones. After spending her last Christmas at the beloved Utah cabin where her family celebrated since she was born, she grieves the end of this idyllic chapter in her life and asks the universe for the answer to happiness. This is a fun case of being careful what you wish for! If you’re looking for something you can read in one sitting and that will make you smile all through – fingers crossed you’ll find this one in your stocking.
One More for Christmas by Sarah Morgan
A delightful read, this one tells the story of two sisters, Samantha and Ella, who are estranged from their workaholic mother, Gayle. When their mother ends up in the hospital, the family is drawn back together and Gayle is determined to make things right. Set in the beautiful Scottish Highlands, this story is full of love, family, friendships and new beginnings.
The Twelve Dates of Christmas by Jenny Bayliss
Kate is done with relationships. She’s a 34-year old fabric designer who has returned to her childhood hometown of Blexford, England, where she is perfectly content, thank you very much, and wiles away her time baking delectable goodies at her second job in a friend’s cafe. But when one of her friends signs up for a dating agency, in the hopes of finding someone special, she figures, ‘OK, what’s the harm?’ And so Kate embarks on a journey of twelve dates with twelve different men, with each date more disastrous than the previous. But wait, I promise this ending is worth the ride. Counting down to Christmas has never been more fun!
Christmas in Vermont by Anita Hughes
This charming holiday love story of an unexpected reunion between college exes shines as bright as the lights in the Vermont snow. Brought about by a chance find in a pawn shop on Christmas Eve, Emma finds herself wondering about a long lost love. Though she dismisses it as a coincidence, her friend Bronwyn has other ideas and sets things in motion that seem doomed to fail. This cheerful tale believes miracles can happen. And in what better setting than a snowy Vermont inn?
The Christmas Surprise by Jenny Colgan
Anything Jenny Colgan writes is perfect for a holiday read! Make time for The Christmas Surprise, The Christmas Bookshop, Christmas at the Island Hotel, and my favorite tale of a helpful librarian, The Bookshop on the Corner. If you’re looking for a good friend to spend time with this month, Colgan is your gal!
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
I worked one Christmas Eve in a lonely academic library and spent my time reading this story from start to finish for the first time. Even if you think you know the tale, I highly recommend reading it again. The themes of haves vs. have nots and gratitude vs. greed are most timely. I would wager that we all know someone who could benefit from a visit with the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future! Pick up this beautiful and heartwarming read to capture the true spirit of the season.
So if those romantic and illuminating tales are a bit too sweet for your holiday appetite, consider these alternatives with a bit of bite!
Those of you who have never picked up Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris, put this article down and place the book on hold. Now. And you’re welcome! Sedaris is the perfect narrator to start our tour of less than cozy but still riveting holiday reads.
This is Going to Hurt and Twas the Nightshift before Christmas, both by Adam Kay, share stories from the perspective of a junior doctor working in the UK’s National Health Service over the holidays. These books are love letters to those who tend to the sick, birth babies, and assist with the trauma of emergency medicine in the winter.
An Idiot Girl’s Christmas by Laurie Notaro serves up a platter full of holiday disasters. If you’ve ever waited to shop, thought you were better off crafting something yourself, or been forced to seek out supplies late on Christmas Eve, you will love Notaro’s stories. You’d be an idiot not to learn from her goof-ups!
Holidays Are Hell by Kim Harrison and Others is an anthology of holiday stories from your favorite fantasy authors that reminds us all of the true meaning of the horrordays. You’ll walk through graveyards, dine with vampires, and barely survive séances gone wrong… it’s a black magical season for lovers of gothic tales.
The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror by Christopher Moore says it all in the title! What would a kid do if they saw Santa take a shovel to the head? Probably wish for him to rise again, right? But if a poorly trained angel steps in to grant a skewed version of that wish, things could go terribly wrong in the tiny town of Pine Cove, California, complete with roaring hellfires and assorted other horrors. After all, Charles Dickens’ famous Christmas Carol is really just a scary ghost story with a positive message. Let the fun begin!
And speaking once again of that famous holiday ghost story, Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva imagines what it must have been like for Charles Dickens to write this his scary lesson in miserliness vs. largesse. A fun blend of fiction and fact, Silva demystifies many of the romantic notions about the most famous holiday tale ever.
The Atlas of Christmas by Alex Palmer showcases unique and odd traditions from all over the world. Learn about Krampus, Pavuchky, and the combustible Yule Goat. If you’re bored with your holiday traditions, a new, strange world awaits here.
Finally, I hope you are not Spending the Holidays With People I Want to Punch in the Throat. Author Jen Mann obviously has, and she categorizes them as “Yuletide Yahoos, Ho-ho-humblebraggers, and Other Seasonal Scourges,” who ruin an often otherwise joyous time. Adapted from her blog by nearly the same name, Mann nails the things that annoy all of us. Like those holiday newsletters that are really just a chance to brag! This one is great for a hearty holiday laugh, which we could all use these days.
And with that, I wish you much joy, love, light, and good health this season and in the New Year. I hope you spend your holidays doing whatever makes you happy! ❄️