Deck the Shelves

New Reads To Bring on the Holiday Spirit

There’s plenty of love and mayhem for readers this holiday season, with several series installments, Christmas anthologies, and some starred stand-alones, too! (For more holiday romances, see “Romance Reviews | October 15, 2013.”)

Albright, Beth. Sleigh Belles. Mira: Harlequin. Oct. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9780778315308. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781460319307. F

The third book in the “Sassy Belles” series (after Wedding Belles) features Dallas Dubois, a local TV news reporter for WTAL in Tuscaloosa, AL. Dallas is determined to earn the opening anchor slot at the station, but her mean-girl facade may cost her the job. When the station manager makes Dallas fill in as director of a children’s Christmas charity play, she is forced to work with her high school crush, Cal. As she spends more time with Cal, she starts to realize it may be time to drop the mask. Dallas has a tall order for Santa this Christmas—love, family, forgiveness, and a promotion. VERDICT Readers will find some sexy, Southern fun for Christmas with the Sassy Belles.

Andrews, Donna. Duck the Halls: A Meg Langslow Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Oct. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9781250028778. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781250028785. M

In this 16th entry (after The Hen of the Baskervilles) of this avian-themed mystery series, someone is playing pranks on the local churches by leaving skunks, a snake, and then ducks locked in the buildings and wreaking havoc on the planned Christmas events. Meg Langslow is enlisted to find space for rehearsals and programs and reschedule everything, but when the pranks turn deadly, she also takes on the role of sleuth. VERDICT A fun and uncomplicated cozy mystery that will make you long to visit small-town Virginia for the Christmas holidays.

Andrews, Mary Kay. Christmas Bliss. St. Martin’s. Oct. 2013. 304p.ISBN 9781250019721. $16.99; ebk. 9781250012738. F

Antiques dealer Weezie Foley and her best friend BeBe Loudermilk (last seen in Savannah Breeze and Blue Christmas) are feeling a little overwhelmed as the December holidays approach in Savannah. Weezie is trying to prepare for her Christmas wedding to Daniel Stipanek while he’s off in New York City working as a guest chef for the beautiful Carlotta Carlucci. The very pregnant BeBe is set to deliver at any minute, although she refuses to marry the baby’s father, even though she’s in love with him. Andrews’s holiday-themed novel is as warm and funny as usual, and the crazy antics of her two protagonists will entertain readers. VERDICT An essential Christmas read for anyone who likes amusing, Southern women’s fiction. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, 4/8/13.]

The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries. Vintage Crime/Black Lizard. Oct. 2013. 672p. ed. by Otto Penzler. ISBN 9780345802989. pap. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780345802996. M

This anthology lives up to its name, featuring nearly 60 Christmas mystery stories from a variety of well-known authors such as Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Sara Paretsky, Mary Higgins Clark, Ellis Peters, and Arthur Conan Doyle. The wide-ranging stories (many difficult to find anywhere else) were published between 1877 and 2011 and are arranged by category, from “classic” to “uncanny.” There’s something for everyone in another great collection from two-time Edgar Award–winning editor (The Big Book of Pulps) and mystery bookstore owner Penzler. VERDICT Mystery readers will not be able to resist the “festive felonies, deadly puddings” or “misdemeanors under the mistletoe.”

Byler, Linda. The Christmas Visitor: An Amish Romance. Good Bks. 2013. 238p. ISBN 9781561488056. pap. $14.95 CF

Raised in an Amish family and still a member of the Amish church today, Byler (Fire in the Night) offers a holiday Amish romance full of authentic detail. Recently widowed, Ruth Miller is now a single mother trying to raise six children. While the Amish community provides some support, even frugal Ruth is having a difficult time making ends meet. Then boxes of food and household supplies begin mysteriously appearing on the porch. As Ruth starts to wonder if they might be from the handsome newcomer to their community, John King, she also has to ask herself if she could ever really replace her late husband. VERDICT Christian fiction readers will appreciate this story of a widow’s journey through grief and rediscovery of joy along with a glimpse into real Amish life.

Cameron, W. Bruce. The Dogs of Christmas. Forge. Oct. 2013. 240p. ISBN 9780765330550. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781429992879. F

Unlike his previous canine best sellers, A Dog’s Purpose and A Dog’s Journey, Cameron’s latest novel tells the story from human Josh Michael’s point of view. Josh lives a newly solitary life in the mountains of Evergreen, CO, since his girlfriend Amanda left him for another guy. When a neighbor dumps his very pregnant dog, Lucy, off at Josh’s and disappears, Josh is more than a little upset. Consulting the local animal shelter for help, he meets animal lover Kerri, who helps him with Lucy and the new puppies and may just help him get over Amanda, too. VERDICT Some readers may wonder if a guy can really be as clueless as Josh, but dog lovers will appreciate the heartwarming story.

Christmas Ghosts. Fiction River: WMG. Oct. 2013. 280p. ed. by Christine Grayson. ISBN 9780615783550. pap. $15.99. ROMANCE

In this latest volume of an anthology series from WMG’s Fiction River imprint, best-selling authors (Mary Jo Putney and Carole Nelson Douglas) and rising stars (M.L. Buchman, Anthea Lawson, and others) present a wide selection of romantic stories, from Regency to romantic suspense to paranormal, all set during the Christmas season and featuring some form of a ghost. VERDICT This title offers eight original love stories that will give romance readers several satisfying happy endings.

A Cosmic Christmas 2 You. Baen. Nov. 2013. 320p. ed. by Hank Davis. ISBN 9781451639421. pap. $14. SF

This sequel to A Cosmic Christmas features 13 bizarre and fantastic holiday tales from several award-winning authors such as Joe Haldeman, Wen Spencer, the late Frederik Pohl, and Sarah A. Hoyt. Highlights from the collection include Tee Morris’s steampunk “In the Spirit of Christmas,” in which Scrooge summons Eliza and Wellington from the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences to rid him of some ghosts; a forgotten Santa Claus making an appearance on the moon in Marianne Plumridge’s “Wormhole Magic”; and a very amusing story called “How Thorvald the Bloody-Minded Saved Christmas” by Esther Friesner. VERDICT A fresh and original holiday collection for sf and fantasy fans.

Crawford, Isis. A Catered Christmas Cookie Exchange. Kensington. Nov. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780758274892. $24. M

Bernie and Libby are the bickering sisters and owners of a catering and bakery business in Longely, NY. As Christmas approaches, a murder also turns them into amateur sleuths again (after A Catered St. Patrick’s Day). The elderly ladies of the Christmas Cookie Exchange Club are anticipating entering their cookies in a baking contest on a TV show. No one wants to win more than Millie Piedmont, who has obsessively been testing cookie recipes for months. She’s finally come up with a sure winner—Millie’s Majestic Meltaways—but on the way to a run-through for the show, Millie is in a fatal car accident. When the accident begins to look suspicious and Millie’s cookies and recipes go missing, Bernie and Libby investigate. VERDICT A chatty cozy mystery without much action. Includes Christmas cookie recipes, although, disappointingly, not Millie’s Majestic Meltaways.

Harper, Karen. Upon a Winter’s Night. Mira: Harlequin. Oct. 2013. 400p. ISBN 9780778314721. pap. $7.99. F

Harper offers up another Amish romantic suspense novel set in fictional Home Valley, OH, where her last trilogy took place (Fall from Pride, etc.). Lydia Brand loves her Amish community and her adoptive parents, but she still longs to know more about her biological parents. While helping her neighbor Josh Yoder look for one of his missing live Nativity animals, Lydia encounters a woman’s body in the snow along with a note that may be a clue about Lydia’s parents. As Josh and Lydia investigate and their attraction grows, the killer’s threats hit closer to home. VERDICT An enjoyable read for those looking for a little more excitement in an Amish setting.

Jacobs, June McCrary. A Holiday Miracle in Apple Blossom. Sweetwater: Cedar Fort. Oct. 2013. 144p. ISBN 9781462113521. $12.99. CF

Jacobs makes her fiction debut with this novel, which won the publisher’s 2013 Holiday Tale Contest. The town of Apple Blossom is struck with tragedy when six-year-old Mary Noel Simmons and her dog are hit by a car. While Mary Noel will recover from her physical injuries, witnessing the death of her dog has traumatized her into silence. Mary Noel’s teacher Amber frequently visits her at the hospital and searches for ways to help the Simmonses, who are devastated by their daughter’s withdrawal and drowning in debt from her medical bills. Paul works for Mr. Simmons and encounters Amber at the hospital. The two soon connect and conspire to organize a community event to lift Mary Noel’s spirits and raise money for her family, hoping for a Christmas miracle. VERDICT A faith-filled and saccharine-sweet romance that would benefit from more realistic dialog.

Johnson, Craig. Spirit of Steamboat: A Walt Longmire Story. Viking. Oct. 2013. 146p. ISBN 9780670015788. $20. M

This is Johnson’s tenth book (after A Serpent’s Tooth) to feature Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire, who is also the basis for the TV show Longmire. Not so much a mystery as the other series titles, this holiday novella is a suspenseful adventure story that flashes back to the Christmas Eve shortly after Longmire is elected sheriff. A terrible snowstorm is raging, and Longmire has to find a way to get a young car accident victim to the Denver Children’s Hospital. Roads are closed, and the Medevac helicopter can’t fly in this weather either. An old World War II bomber plane called Steamboat and Lucian Connally, the former sheriff, are the girl’s only hope for survival. ­VERDICT Series fans along with adventure and Western readers will raptly devour the details of the treacherous flight and revel in the history of the bomber and the bucking horse that inspired its name.

redstar Johnstone, William W. with J.A. Johnstone. A Big Sky Christmas. Pinnacle: Kensington. Nov. 2013. 411p. ISBN 9780786032679. pap. $7.50; ebk. ISBN 9780786032686. F

During the autumn of 1873, Jamie Ian MacCallister, a famous frontiersman, ends up in Kansas City, MO, where he quickly finds trouble in the local saloon. After incapacitating the wagon master of a group of immigrants headed to the Montana Territory, he’s drafted into the job. Despite his admonitions that it’s crazy to leave for Montana so late in the year, Jamie agrees to try to get them to their homesteads by Christmas. They’ll have to battle weather, Indians, and outlaws along the way, but if anyone can do it, it’s Jamie. VERDICT Following A Rocky Mountain Christmas and A Lone Star Christmas, Johnstone and his nephew have written an excellent Western with plenty of action and suspense along with great secondary characters and story lines that will appeal to historical fiction readers, too.

redstar Kelly, Carla. Carla Kelly’s Christmas Collection. Sweetwater: Cedar Fort. Oct. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9781462112272. pap. $8.99. ROMANCE

Kelly’s delightful collection presents four distinct Regency romance stories set during the Christmas season. All feature smart, strong heroines who still need to be rescued by the right man. In “The Christmas Ornament,” old neighbors Lord Waverly and Sir Waldo conspire to bring their single, intellectual children together. In “Make a Joyful Noise,” two young widows with children find they may be able to save each other. Returning from sea, Capt. Michael Lynch is in for a surprising holiday in “An Object of Charity,” while the final tale trades England for Spain and centers on a woman hunting for Christopher Columbus’s original documents along with a Spanish soldier trying to guide her to safety. VERDICT Charming, witty, and full of tender romance, this is a must read for fans of Regency romances.

Maas, Jane. The Christmas Angel. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. Nov. 2013. 192p. ISBN 9781250037572. $16.99. F

The story of a wooden Christmas angel that is passed down for generations begins in Wales in 1875 when a young coal miner, Owen Thomas, wins a trip to London for a singing contest with his church choir. There he falls in love with a young actress and carves the angel for her, but she is unwilling to leave London and acting. Owen departs for America heartbroken but eventually finds love again with Maggie in Pennsylvania. The stories of subsequent generations play out in Bethlehem, PA, London, and New York and come full circle again in 1990s Wales when the Christmas angel is brought home. VERDICT The novel’s touching vignettes about the struggles and love the families of each generation experience make for a heartwarming and tear-inducing read—perfect for a movie from Hallmark, which bought the rights.

Macomber, Debbie. Starry Night: A Christmas Novel. Ballantine. Oct. 2013. 243p. ISBN 9780345528896. $18. ROMANCE

Seattle native Carrie Slayton, currently the society page columnist for a Chicago newspaper, yearns to write more serious stories. When she threatens to quit, her editor says she can choose any topic to write about if she manages to get an interview with Finn Dalton, a reclusive author who wrote a popular book about his life in the Alaskan wilderness. Some digging (and an appeal to Finn’s mother) lands Carrie a flight to Finn’s remote cabin, where a storm traps them together long enough for sparks to fly. When Finn asks her not to write about him, will Carrie risk her career for a life with Finn? VERDICT This is a sweet contemporary Christmas romance sans Macomber’s usual angelic activity. The best-selling author’s many fans will enjoy. [See Prepub Alert, 4/8/13.]

Meier, Leslie. Christmas Carol Murder: A Lucy Stone Mystery. Kensington. Oct. 2013. 262p. ISBN 9780758277015. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780758277039. M

The 20th Lucy Stone mystery (after Easter Bunny Murder) finds the town of Tinker’s Cove, ME, not faring so well in the economic downturn. Medical bills, layoffs, and cut hours have several of the small town’s residents facing foreclosure from the unforgiving Downeast Mortgage, making for plenty of suspects when one of the Scrooge-like owners is killed by a mail bomb. Lucy’s job reporting for the local paper gives her plenty of opportunities to talk to potential suspects and find the killer before someone else is hurt. VERDICT Longtime Lucy Stone series readers will be happy to catch up on life in Tinker’s Cove in this cozy Christmas mystery.

Myers, Cindy. The Mountain Between Us. Kensington. Nov. 2013. 274p. ISBN 9780758277428. pap. $15. F

Maggie Carter’s story continues in the small mining town of Eureka, CO (after The View from Here), where she went to claim her inheritance from the father who abandoned her as a baby. Maggie found healing and love in Eureka and is now shocked to discover that at the age of 40, she’s pregnant. That’s not the only news—a shady investor has stolen the town’s money, leaving the community broke and facing a hard winter. Now the residents will have to band together to keep the town running through the holidays. ­VERDICT Fans of small-town romances will enjoy visiting Eureka and its eccentric residents.

Parker, Robert B. with Helen Brann. Silent Night: A Spenser Holiday Novel. Putnam. Oct. 2013. 240p. ISBN 9780399157882. $24.95. M

Parker’s longtime literary agent, Brann, completed this novel that was left unfinished when Parker died in 2010. It’s December in Boston, and Spenser is working in his office when he’s visited by a young homeless boy named Slide, who relays a message that Jackie Alvarez wants to meet with him. Jackie runs Street Business, an organization that houses and tries to find jobs for homeless boys. The Street Business kids are being threatened, and Jackie wants Spenser to help get to the bottom of it. Spenser, with some help from his buddy Hawk, soon realizes that the threat is much more dangerous than he expected. With the stakes suddenly higher than ever and Christmas just days away, Spenser prepares for a showdown. ­VERDICT This is the perfect holiday treat for crime readers needing another Spenser fix. [See Prepub Alert, 4/29/13.]

Scott, Jennifer. The Sister Season. NAL: Penguin. Nov. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9780451418814. pap. $15. F

Elise is decorating her Kansas City farmhouse for Christmas, anticipating the return of her fractured family for her husband Robert’s funeral. A sister’s betrayal and an abusive father drove Elise and Robert’s three daughters away years ago. Needing to bury their father and support their mother, the girls have returned: free spirit Claire, intimidating and driven Julia, and perfect Maya. Under one roof at last, Elise and her girls will have to confront finally the past if they want a happier future. ­VERDICT This angst-filled and guilt-ridden novel by a YA author (as Jennifer Brown) making her adult fiction debut will not raise readers’ spirits for the holidays.

Thayer, Nancy. A Nantucket Christmas. Ballantine. Nov. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9780345545350. $18; ebk. ISBN 9780345545466. F

Recently retired and newly remarried, Nicole Somerset anticipates a magical Christmas with her husband on the island of Nantucket—until she learns that her self-centered and very pregnant stepdaughter, Kennedy, will be spending the week with them, bringing her husband and young son along. Nicole does her best to welcome them, but Kennedy is determined to sabotage the new marriage and has a plan for reuniting her divorced parents. However, a stray dog and some unexpected events might just change Kennedy’s plans in time for a joyful Christmas after all. VERDICT Thayer (Island Girls) gives readers of women’s fiction another enjoyable foray to Nantucket.

redstar Wiggs, Susan. Candlelight Christmas. Mira: Harlequin. (Lakeshore Chronicles). Nov. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780778314745. $16.95; ebk. 9781460320846. ROMANCE

Wiggs pays another satisfying visit to Avalon and its inhabitants (after Return to Willow Lake), although newcomers will enjoy this holiday entry as much as series fans. Single dad Logan O’Donnell just wants to give his son, Charlie, a great Christmas. When Logan meets beautiful, independent Darcy Fitzgerald, though, he begins to dream of having a whole family again. Despite her initial trepidation about getting involved with someone once more after her divorce, Darcy soon begins to fall for Logan, too. They’re all definitely in for a great Christmas. VERDICT A warm and witty story that romance readers will find delectable—along with the included recipes.

Wills, John M. The Year Without Christmas. Oak Tree. Nov. 2013. 266p. ISBN 9781610090759. pap. $15.95. F

Responding to a report of a break-in, police officer Eric Doyle finds his life forever changed when he fatally shoots one of the burglars. While the death is ruled a justifiable homicide, Eric’s actions take a toll on him and his family as he struggles with the guilt by drinking uncontrollably. When a stranger offers him a ride to Chicago, Eric seizes the opportunity to escape his problems, but he quickly runs out of money and options, ending up homeless on the streets of the city. Meanwhile, Eric’s family is desperately searching for him. Only some divine guidance will make a Christmas miracle possible for the Doyles. VERDICT The author is a former Chicago police officer, giving him good background for this story, but at times it seems like this novel is more a book about post-traumatic stress disorder in disguise.

Melissa DeWild is Collection Development Manager at Kent District Library in Comstock Park, MI