I will be heading out soon to buy some novels with holiday themes, which I will put in stockings, mail along with greeting cards and leave around the house for visiting friends who have no desire to watch The Christmas Story again. I know, it's a cute film, but after seeing that kid get his tongue stuck to the flagpole for the nine thousandth time it's starting to lose some of its charm.
As I was making my shopping list, and checking it twice, I realized over the years I've become pretty picky about holiday-themed reads, and gave some thought to what I will buy, what I won't, and why:
Anthologies: If one of my favorite authors is a headliner, or if I know at least two of the authors are decent writers, I'll take a chance and buy it. If I don't read or recognize any of the authors, I'll pass. I don't like anthologies because usually there is at least one and often two or more badly-written stories in it, so I'm only going to finish 25-50% of the book. If the majority of the stories are really bad and/or tick me off, I will cut out the one or two good stories, make a new cover for them and throw the rest of the book away.
Dogs on the Cover Art: I love dogs in stories, and will happily buy a holiday-themed book that includes a furry face. Except if the book is a romance of any kind, in which case the dog seems to be warning me not to buy it because the story is going to suck. Seriously, I don't know if it's just dumb luck or what, but I have the worst track record with holiday romances featuring dogs on the cover. Every single one I've read has been deplorable.
Family Gathering Stories: Even when they're not about the holidays these tend to make my blood sugar spike, but I can read them if the family stuff is light and kept in the background. Mary Balogh regularly writes holiday stories that feature some type of family gathering, and as an element she always keeps it beautifully under control. It's the authors who idealize and inflate family gatherings into these never ending Norman Rockwell lovefests that I can't deal with. They definitely don't speak to my personal experience, and in a strange way they strike me as kind of sad and depressing.
Holiday Horror: I love a great horror story, and I can handle one that takes place during the holidays. Unless the holidays are an integral part of the horror elements, at which point I turn and run away from the shelf as fast as I can. I have a hard enough time getting through Christmas without adding nightmares about Rudolph the razor-toothed man-eating reindeer chasing me over the river and through the woods to Santa's slaughterhouse, thank you very much.
Meaningful/Spiritual: This is a tricky one, probably because I've written a holiday-themed inspirational novel for Guideposts, and it was no walk in the park. I don't particularly care for an inspirational holiday read that uses the holidays like a club to beat the real meaning of them into my head. I know the real meaning. Would like to see that told in a story in an interesting and original way versus the same-old same-old sermonizing, but these are few and far between.
Pun Titles: I try to ignore them, really I do, and most of the time I can slap a book cover on them as soon as I get home. That said, I cannot force myself to buy any book that uses "Santa" as part of the pun title. This goes double for erotica. Hey, I love Santa, honest I do, but I don't want to ever envision him naked and doing naughty things to an elf, okay? Okay.
Holiday-themed books rarely surprise me, too, and that's probably my biggest gripe. I wish authors of all holiday books would be more creative, try some new approaches and genres, and stretch their wings. I'd love to read holiday-themed steampunk, science fiction, non-romance historicals or urban fantasy.
I'm also interested in other-than-Christian holiday themes in novels, but try to find them at the book stores? You practically have to call search and rescue. One of my favorite series when I was growing up was the All-of-a-Kind Family novels by Sydney Taylor, who wrote about a Jewish family in turn of the century New York City. I adored those books (and still have all the original copies from my childhood in my book collection), they were wonderfully written and explained Jewish traditions and holidays from the family's point of view, which was like being invited into their home and taking part in their celebrations. I was the only girl in my third-grade Catholic Sunday school class who knew what Yom Kippur was, why Jewish people had a different New Year's Day, and what the foods served for Passover dinner symbolized.
So there you have it. When I hit the book store, I'm going to do my best to find the right holiday reads for me. Maybe this year I'll get lucky and find something surprising. Hope so.
How about you? Do you like holiday-themed books? Got any recent reads you'd recommend? Let us know in comments.