Holiday Fiction Reviews | October 15, 2012

’Tis the season for Christmas fiction! This year there’s plenty of inspiration from Charles Dickens and stories that range from heartwarming to horrific. [For more holiday titles, see the romance column.—Ed.]

Abbott, Scott & Amy Maude Swinton. The Ghost of Christmas Present: A Novella. Howard: S. & S. Oct. 2012. c.224p. ISBN 9781451660395. $16.99. CF

Given that Abbott is a screenwriter, it’s no surprise that this novella reads like a made-for-TV movie. Patrick Guthrie’s wife unexpectedly died of an enlarged heart, a condition their son Braden inherited. Now Guthrie spends his evenings at the hospital, waiting for Braden’s heart surgery as his world crashes down around him. He abruptly loses his teaching job and promptly receives a visit from child protective services, who were tipped off by his estranged father-in-law. Desperate for money and inspired by a creative panhandler on the subway, he hits the streets as a Shakespeare-quoting Ghost of Christmas Present. The role leads him to some unexpected places and eventually a happy ending. VERDICT A lightweight holiday novella for those unconcerned with the plausibility of the story.

starred review star Bowen, Rhys. The Twelve Clues of Christmas: A Royal Spyness Mystery. Berkley Prime Crime. Nov. 2012. c.320p. ISBN 9780425252789. $24.95. M

It’s December 1933, and single, penniless Lady Georgiana Rannoch is facing a bleak winter in Scotland at Castle Rannoch with her brother and dreadful sister-in-law. Seizing on an opportunity to escape, Georgie answers an ad to play hostess at a Christmas house party in a small English village, but the idyllic village soon turns sinister when the villagers begin dying in suspicious accidents. VERDICT Lady Georgiana’s sixth outing (after Naughty in Nice) offers another witty and thoroughly enjoyable mystery with a dash of romance. Christmas recipes and period party game instructions are included. [See Prepub Alert, 7/5/12.]

Brom. Krampus the Yule Lord. Harper Voyager. Oct. 2012. c.368p. illus. ISBN 9780062095657. $27.99. Horror

Returning home to his trailer one night, Jesse Walker is surprised to see some goons attacking Santa Claus as he tries to fly away in his sleigh. In the melee Santa’s magic sack falls out of the sleigh and through Jesse’s roof. Of course, possessing the sack only leads to trouble as Santa and the sack’s original owner, the trickster demon known as Krampus, are both trying to get it back. Krampus seeks vengeance against Santa and enlists Jesse’s help. Jesse is busy dealing with the corrupt cop trying to steal his wife and daughter and the local drug lord trying to kill him, but one doesn’t say no to the Yule Lord. VERDICT This illustrated horror novel by acclaimed gothic fantasy artist, illustrator, and novelist Brom (The Child Thief) is perfect for anyone who disdains a cozy, sentimental holiday story.

Fahy, Christopher. The Christmas Star. Overlook Connection. Nov. 2012. c.122p. illus. ISBN 9781623300005. pap. $12.95. F

Shortly before Christmas, Russ Dodge is in Maine closing a deal to buy Sheffield Peak from an ailing elderly gentleman. Dodge has plans to evict the peak’s local caretakers and turn the undeveloped land into a ski resort. He wants to take one more look at the property before heading back to Manhattan, but a snowstorm sends his car off the road. He’s soon rescued by the caretakers and is forced to stay with them until the storm subsides. His disbelief at their simple homesteading lifestyle soon turns to admiration and makes him question his development plans and his own materialistic priorities. VERDICT Lines from the Tao Te Ching and black-and-white drawings by artist Courtney Skinner begin each chapter in this pleasant novella by Fahy (The Fly Must Die) that not so subtly encourages a more Zen way of life.

Kincaid, Greg. A Christmas Home. Crown. Oct. 2012. c.256p. ISBN 9780307951977. $16. F

Fans of Kincaid’s A Dog Named Christmas will welcome another story featuring the McCray family and their rescue dog, Christmas. Todd McCray is now 24 and, while he still has some developmental disabilities, he’s thriving owing to his work at the local animal shelter. Todd has even trained rescue dog Gracie to be a service dog for his best friend and former classmate, Laura, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis. Sadly, his small Kansas hometown and the shelter are not immune to the bad economy, and the shelter is going to close after losing its funding. Now Todd is trying to find homes for 50 animals before Christmas and contemplating a new career and possible romance with Laura. VERDICT Dog lovers and anyone looking for a heartwarming Christmas story will enjoy Kincaid’s latest.

Lord, Christopher. The Christmas Carol Murders: A Dickens Junction Mystery. Harrison Thurman Bks. 2012. c.268p. ISBN 9780985323608. pap. $13.95. M

Dickens Junction, OR, was founded on the values of Charles Dickens, and the charming Dickens-themed town has always been a safe, welcoming place. Now, a few days before Christmas, the town is shocked when the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come in the Christmas Carol tableau turns out to be a corpse. Simon Alastair, bookstore proprietor and great-grandson of one of the town’s founders, turns amateur sleuth as he tries to protect his hometown. With the support of handsome reporter Zach Benjamin, Simon might just find the murderer—and love—in time for Christmas. VERDICT Readers will appreciate the many literary references in this debut mystery and will look forward to future outings with Simon and Zach.

Macomber, Debbie. Angels at the Table: A Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy Christmas Story. Ballantine. Oct. 2012. c.220p. ISBN 9780345528872. $18. Romance

The bumbling but well-meaning angels Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy are back, along with their apprentice, Will (Where Angels Go). During an unauthorized trip to Earth to see Times Square on New Year’s Eve, Will causes two lonely strangers to bump into each other and connect. Unfortunately, the timing is wrong, and now 11 months later the angels have to fix the mess they’ve made with Lucie and Aren. Lucie is busy running her new restaurant, and Aren is a food critic. The angels’ “help” leads to a bad review for the restaurant, and the chances of a match between Lucie and Aren grow slimmer. A little more divine help, though, will reunite them in time for a memorable Christmas. VERDICT Best-selling Macomber (The Inn at Rose Harbor) spins another sweetly charming holiday romance that will please her many fans. [Library marketing; see Prepub Alert, 5/20/12.]

Michaels, Fern & others. A Winter Wonderland. Zebra: Kensington. Nov. 2012. c.384p. ISBN 9781420121445. pap. $7.99. Romance

In the first of this romantic holiday quartet, headliner Michaels offers a story of two singles questioning their careers and choices as they find each other at a Colorado ski resort. Holly Chamberlain follows with a tear-inducing tale of guilt, loss, and love as jewelry designer Iris tries to move on with her life in Portland, ME, after her mother succumbs to cancer. Leslie Meier gives her Lucy Stone series fans a treat with a mystery starring Lucy’s daughter, Elizabeth. Saving the best story for last, the collection ends with Kristina McMorris’s romance featuring an estate sale worker and a reformed daredevil. VERDICT Readers looking for a little more realism than usual in their holiday stories may appreciate this collection as the characters all have to earn their happy endings.

Perry, Anne. A Christmas Garland. Ballantine. Oct. 2012. c.176p. ISBN 9780345530745. $18. M

Colonial India is the setting for best-selling Perry’s tenth Christmas novella (A Christmas Homecoming). The soldiers at Crawnpore are still reeling from a mutinous massacre and a recent ambush that was possible because a prisoner escaped with information about the British patrol route. Medical orderly John Tallis is now on trial for allegedly helping the prisoner escape, mainly because he is the only soldier whose whereabouts at the time of the escape are unknown. Lt. Victor Narraway, the future boss of series sleuth William Pitt, is new to Crawnpore and commanded to defend Tallis enough to make the trial look fair. Narraway is surprised when he believes Tallis’s claims of innocence and sets out to find out what really happened. VERDICT A clever but grim mystery best for Perry’s established fans. [See Prepub Alert, 5/20/12.]

Pittman, Joseph. A Christmas Hope: A Linden Corners Novel. Kensington. Oct. 2012. c.256p. ISBN 9780758276957. pap. $12.95. F

Favorite characters return along with some new ones in Pittman’s third novel (after A Christmas Wish) about the quaint New York village of Linden Corners with its iconic windmill. Gerta Connor’s daughter, Nora, and grandson Travis return to Linden Corners looking for a fresh start. Nora has bought Elsie Masters’s antiques store, and Thomas Van Diver is her first customer, asking her to find a rare edition of the classic ’Twas the Night Before Christmas. Nora’s search for the book and her place in the world leads her straight back to her family and new friends in Linden Corners. VERDICT For those looking for a cozy small-town Christmas story.

Randisi, Robert J. & others. Six-Guns and Slay Bells: A Creepy Cowboy Christmas. Western Fictioneers. Nov. 2012. c.248p. ISBN 9781478189169. pap. $12. F

The Western Fictioneers, the world’s only organization of professional authors devoted solely to Western fiction, presents 15 original Western horror stories just in time for the holidays. These stories all have some supernatural element to them running the gamut from ghosts to vampires to aliens. Standouts include Randisi’s “Sheriff Santa,” Douglas Hirt’s “Christmas Wraiths,” and James Reasoner’s “Presents for One and All.” L.J. Washburn ends the collection with a strong entry, “A Creature Was Stirring,” featuring a monster. VERDICT This anthology lives up to its claim of being “the most unusual Western Christmas anthology ever published.” For horror and Western aficionados.

Rosett, Sara. Mistletoe, Merriment, and Murder. Kensington. Oct. 2012. c.320p. ISBN 9780758269218. pap. $7.99. M

Professional organizer Ellie Avery is the suspect in the seventh entry of this cozy mystery series (after Mimosas, Mischief, and Murder) when she’s discovered at the scene of the crime. After Ellie discovers the dead body of a fellow military wife and her best friend becomes the latest victim in a rash of thefts in the area, her to-do list expands to include solving a murder, breaking up a theft ring, baking some cupcakes, and buying Christmas presents before December 25. VERDICT Fans of the series will welcome this title, and those seeking a Christmas-themed cozy will have no trouble picking this up mid-series. “Tips for a Sane Holiday Season” are included at the end of some chapters.

starred review star Webb, Peggy. Elvis and the Blue Christmas Corpse: A Southern Cousins Mystery. Kensington. Oct. 2012. c.304p. ISBN 9780758241436. $23. M

Basset hound Elvis, the reincarnated King himself, graces us with his presence in the fifth entry (after Elvis and the Tropical Double Trouble) of this comic Southern mystery series. Elvis’s human mom, Callie, and the whole wacky Valentine clan are embroiled in murder again when someone electrocutes Santa and his reindeer at the mall’s Christmas court. Callie and her cousin Lovie immediately start investigating since Uncle Charlie was the one playing Santa. Callie’s almost ex-husband Jack is also around to complicate things. The murderer doesn’t stand a chance against Elvis and his humans. VERDICT Make yourself a mug of Jack’s Mayan Hot Chocolate from one of the included recipes and settle in for a ridiculously funny holiday mystery.

Willett, Marcia. Christmas in Cornwall. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. Oct. 2012. c.320p. ISBN 9781250003706 $25.99. F

Following his wife’s death, Clem and his young son, Jakey, move to Cornwall, England, to be closer to Clem’s mother, Dossie. Clem finds work as a groundskeeper at a nearby convent where the elderly nuns become a surrogate family. But when a mysterious stranger arrives in town, Clem and the nuns’ peaceful existence is threatened. Now they’ll need some heavenly inspiration to contemplate a new future if they’re going to spend another Christmas together. VERDICT Willett (The Summer House; A Week in Winter) deftly portrays all of the characters in this touching multigenerational story of love and family. [Library marketing.]—Melissa DeWild, Collection Development Manager, Kent Dist. Lib., Comstock Park, M