You better watch out, you better not cry, better not pout, I’m telling you why:
I’m reading, shhhhh!

Yup, I saw that eye roll!

With the hectic pace of the past several months, I had a repeated fantasy of a deliberately unhurried November where I leisurely read Christmas stories near the fireplace. Given my recent Harper Lee binge, I decided to begin with a Christmas tale from Lee’s childhood friend, Truman Capote.

Capote’s A Christmas Memory is a simple short story (bound into a beautiful book with splendid artwork from Beth Peck). It is profoundly moving and skillfully crafted. Focussing on the tender relationship between 7-year-old Capote and his elderly, eccentric cousin, the narrative seamlessly captures the essence of the preciousness of memories and the comfort of nostalgia.

I am delighted that I began my holiday reading with this story. It’s everything that I hoped for in a Christmas tale and more. I picked up my edition from our local library. If you have a chance to secure a copy, it’s an absolutely delightful read.

5 stars, Best enjoyed in hardcover with its full artwork.

The Greatest Gift is a 24-page story that inspired the 1946 film classic It’s a Wonderful Life. Similar in theme to Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, The Greatest Gift focuses on the meaning of life and finding our place in the world. It’s a beautiful little tale with an absolutely fascinating background. I encourage you to read more about its background here: https://blogs.loc.gov/catbird/2018/12….

You’re welome! And Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas, movie house! Merry Christmas, Emporium! Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan!
My apologies, I’ve obviously watched the movie way too many times.

5 stars. Available in Hardcover, Kindle or Audible.

I recently went on a Miracle on 34th Street binge, delving into the novella, the condensed children’s storybook, and watching the 1947 movie. While I enjoyed the novella (and the storybook), the movie, which was produced first, stands as the far superior version. The movie boasts greater character depth and a less rushed narrative. Nevertheless, it was interesting to discover each version’s unique changes to the storyline.

If choosing just one version, this is the rare instance where I recommend the movie over the book.
3.5 stars – novella
3.5 stars – storybook
5 stars – movie

A Vintage Christmas is a classic collection of lesser-known holiday short stories and poems from well-regarded 19th-century authors, including Louisa May Alcott, L.M. Montgomery, Harriet Beacher Stowe, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and numerous others. My favourite piece was Mark Twain’s whimsical “A Letter From Santa Claus,” written to his 3-year-old daughter.

L.M. Montgomery’s “Aunt Cyrillic’s Christmas Basket” and William Dean Howells’ “Christmas Every Day” were also among my favourites as they stood distinct from some of the other pieces that unfortunately blended together.

Best read at an unhurried pace, this collection’s common themes risk becoming a tad overwhelming when read too closely together. Despite an overall 3 star rating, with a few 4-star highlights, I was glad that I included A Vintage Christmas in my holiday reading. I especially enjoyed the historical insights provided, e.g. the use of hot bricks for warmth in winter sleigh rides and Charles Dickens’s impact on Christmas becoming a family-centric celebration, particularly the tradition of Christmas dinner.

This was my pick for our book club read for December, The other members also rated this volume as a 3 (good but not great). We also agreed that these 19th century stories revealed many core challenges that resonate timelessly with our present-day holiday experiences.

3 stars. Available in Hardcover, Kindle or Audiobook.

Sometimes, I believe I have lived much of my life under a rock. I have never read a Harry Potter book or watched any of the films. If you promise not to tell anyone, I don’t think I could even provide many details on the key story points behind Harry Potter. I simply wasn’t paying attention. Ditto for the more recent JK Rowling controversies that I knew absolutely nothing about until my husband mentioned them to me earlier this week.

But, I had been searching for my next holiday-themed read, and The Christmas Pig was available digitally from my local library. Knowing nothing about it, I downloaded a copy and began reading. After the first couple of pages, I almost returned the book, believing it was meant exclusively for children. After a few more pages, I was hooked and continued reading.
The Christmas Pig is a heartwarming tale that beautifully captures the essence of friendship and resilience. It’s a story about love and devotion, as a boy’s unending determination lead him through a world of wonder and adventure.
From the opening pages, Rowlings masterfully tackles complex issues of divorce, loss, messy emotions, death and grief. By the end of the story, the main character, 8-year-old Jack, learns that loss is part of life and that what was lost can live forever in our hearts.
All of the above make this an excellent story to read and discuss with children. However, its thought-provoking and ultimately uplifting message about bravery, sacrifice, and a chance to set things right make this a wonderful holiday read for adults and children alike.

The Christmas Spirit by Debbie Macomber was the perfect light addition to my holiday reading. I especially enjoyed Macomber’s introduction to this story, sharing how this tale of a pastor and a bartender came about and stating that it was one of her favourites to write. The twist with this story being told by a nana to her grandchildren and then nana turning out to be one of the main characters added extra appeal.

4.5 stars. Available in Paperback, Kindle, Audible (and hopefully your local library)

If you are looking for a quick holiday read with a twist that focuses on the magic of Christmas and the strength of community, this is an excellent choice.

When I picked up a copy of ‘Christmas at the Island Hotel’ from our library, I hadn’t realized it was the fourth book in a series. This likely explains why I had much difficulty getting into this story. Immediately, I found the many complex characters and multiple storylines challenging to sort out. The second half of the novel was a bit smoother for me. Although much of the ending was predictable, it was still enjoyable.

When I checked out other reviews, I was surprised about the mention of inconsistencies in characters’ names and details between the books in this series. I tried to find out more about this from other online sources, but none of my rabbit hole dives led to information about these changes.
I did read that Jenny Colgan’s daughter had watched a Hallmark Christmas romance movie and asked if her mom could write something in a similar style. Christmas at the Island Hotel was Jenny’s answer to her daughter’s request.
If you are a fan of Jenny Colgan and have read the other books in this series, this addition might add a satisfactory conclusion for you (despite a few frustrating name/detail changes). Although this novel can work as a standalone, I personally felt like I was missing something.
3 stars. Available in Hardcover, Kindle, Audible (and Vancouver Island Regional Library). 😀

Earlier this year, I served as a beta reader for Christmas at Manus Ridge by Joanne Tracey. As this book has recently been published, I reread it and loved it just as much the second time around.

Ainsley, who readers previously met in Careful What You Wish For, receives the spotlight. She has made some (big) mistakes, hits a low point, and is given a chance to grow and redeem herself. Ainsley is surrounded by a cast of diverse characters – not all with her best interest at heart.

This is exactly the kind of book I love to curl up with during the holidays – beautiful writing, engaging twists and turns, meaningful takeaways and characters who stay with you long after you have finished reading. Oh, and a wonderful feel-good ending. Who doesn’t need this in our current time?!

5 stars. Highly recommended.
Available in paperback or on Kindle.

Since my cohosts and I recently finished reading Little Women, we baked something to go along with the novel (which is our tradition).

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As gingerbread was repeatedly mentioned, we made our own version (actually Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Gingerbread). It was a wonderful and tasty way to immerse ourselves in the holiday spirit!

Have you been doing any holiday reading? What’s been on your bookshelf lately? I look forward to your thoughts and recommendations.

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Happy Holidays from Sue @ Women Living Well After 50, Jo @ And Anyways , Debbie @ Deb’s World and me!

Published by Retirement Reflections

Prior to retirement, I lived and worked in Beijing China for fourteen years (Middle School Principal/Deputy Director at The Western Academy of Beijing). Leaving international life behind, my husband and I retired to Vancouver Island in June 2015. To document both this transition and our new adventures, ‘Retirement Reflections’ was born. I hope that you enjoy reading these reflections, and will be willing to share your own.
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