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Holly Jolly Reads: 10 Books for the Holidays

These spirited titles, including mysteries featuring the Queen and Hercule Poirot, will put you in a festive mood / BY Nathalie Atkinson / December 6th, 2023


There’s no place like home for the holidays, especially when you’re snuggled up with a wintry crime caper. Or maybe you prefer feel-good festive fiction? Our latest seasonally themed reads include throwback puzzle mysteries and heartwarming fiction, as well as the Hollywood backstory of the most beloved Christmas movie of all time and a lavish look at holiday culture around the world. (For the reading equivalent of a Hallmark Christmas movie marathon, check out Zed’s recent round-up of holiday-themed romance novels.)

Obsessive Book Buyers: Zoomer editors have carefully curated our book coverage to ensure you find the perfect read. We may earn a commission on books you buy by clicking on the cover image. 

 

1Winter Lightsby Deborah Jenkins

When the season brings more stress than gingerbread and mistletoe, take a brief literary time out. These 11 heartwarming short stories follow various residents in the fictional town of Henford in Sussex – not unlike the part-time primary teacher and English author’s own community – as they prepare for Christmas and New Year’s. The influence of Elizabeth Strout and Anne Tyler is clear in these sensitive snapshots about fleeting moments and the power of human connection in everyday life.


2The Christmas Guestby Peter Swanson

This 112-page holiday whodunnit by the acclaimed Massachusetts-based psychological suspense writer (Eight Perfect Murders) is a quick atmospheric read. Largely set in 1989 London, the Gothic-style mystery is set in motion when American art student Ashley gets a last-minute invitation to her classmate’s Cotswold manor, Starvewood Hall, for the holidays. Decades later in New York, Ashley revisits diary entries about the fateful events – the estate’s name is your first clue that family members were weird and, as she discovers, cruel.


3Murder Most Royalby S.J. Bennett

The third in the ongoing series that imagines Queen Elizabeth II discreetly solving crimes in between Royal duties (with the help of her British-Nigerian private secretary, Rozie) may be a little bittersweet now that the monarch is no longer with us, but it’s no less entertaining. In this holiday themed installment, Her Majesty investigates the disappearance of an eccentric aristocrat near Sandringham during the 2016 Christmas holidays. Imagine if Murder, She Wrote and The Crown had a crossover episode that explored the dynamics at Sandringham, where the royals famously celebrate the holidays and walk to church services every year. I spoke with the London-based author when the first book in her cozy mystery series was published.


4The Christmas Appealby Janice Hallett

Like her bestseller The Appeal, the award-winning British journalist-turned-mystery writer’s hilarious new novella features the Fairway Players – a dysfunctional local theatre troupe – as a murder disrupts rehearsals during an attempt to stage a festive pantomime. (Think: Only Murders in the Building by way of mockumentary Waiting for Guffman.) The Audible audiobook is performed by a cast that brings Hallett’s signature layered epistolary storytelling (including emails, texts and transcripts of correspondence) to life. It also rings in at a scant 3.5 hours, making it the ideal hands-free companion to festive prep, like holiday baking.


5A December to Rememberby Jenny Bayliss

Three French hens? Try three bickering half-sisters whose only commonality is their love for their late father Augustus. In this novel, set leading up to the winter solstice, the British writer reunites estranged siblings Maggie, Simone and Star at the curiosity shop in Kent where they grew up, as they hear the unusual terms of his will. To inherit, they must join forces on a series of challenges that bring the town together in a light-hearted novel about familial bonds and reconnection.


6It’s a Wonderful Lifeby Michael Newton

The newest in the BFI Film Classics series on landmarks of world cinema offers a wealth of appreciation and information about It’s a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra’s beloved 1946 holiday movie about a desperate small-town man (Jimmy Stewart) who is having an existential and financial crisis. Newton, a Dutch critic and English lecturer at Leiden University, rewinds to the genesis of the project and the various incarnations, casting ideas (Cary Grant!), script treatments by Clifford Odets and Dalton Trumbo, plus interesting history about its production and reception. It’s a slim but comprehensive book that digs into the movie’s poignant themes, its complexity between sentimental treacle and cheerless noir, as well as the ineffable quality at the heart of its enduring appeal.


7Hercule Poirot’s Silent Nightby Sophie Hannah

In this inventive throwback mystery, Hercule Poirot investigates an apparently motiveless Norfolk murder in time to get home for a quiet holiday. The fifth of the British crime novelist’s estate-authorized Agatha Christie continuations takes place before Christmas 1931, and features winsome Inspector Edward Catchpool (an original character created as Poirot’s new sidekick – basically Japp and Hastings combined). The duo reluctantly stay with Catchpool’s kooky mother, who adds amusing elements to the caper’s otherwise grim proceedings as the sleuths put their own lives at risk to solve the murder. The audiobook is brilliantly performed by British actor Julian Rhind-Tutt, the heavy from David Suchet Poirot’s movie, Halloween Party, but either format will thrill Golden Age fans.


8The Book Club Hotelby Sarah Morgan

Single parent Hattie runs the Maple Sugar Inn and just needs to get through the busy winter rush when a trio of girlfriends check in for a weeklong book-club holiday. Against the backdrop of their gathering at this idyllic Vermont setting – including the historic hotel’s covet-worthy library – the bestselling romance writer (The Christmas Sisters) entwines their stories for an uplifting novel about resilience, the strength found in female friendship and fresh starts.


9All I Want for Christmas is YuYuby Arton Baleci

For more than a decade, singer Yuliya has lived, Mariah Carey-style, off the profits of her Christmas single, which was a global sensation. When the song slips to No. 2 (in spite of the enthusiasm of yunatics, as her hardcore fans are known), she attempts to rekindle interest, but some groupies take their obsession to Misery-level depths. This Christmas-themed suspense novella (written under a pseudonym by British soccer-thriller writer Arton James) promises an entertaining dive into toxic fandom and the cutthroat music industry alongside the seasonal cheer.


10The Christmas Bookby Phaidon Editors

This coffee table book is a visual celebration of Christmas origins and holiday traditions around the world, and across cultures. The essays trace its birth as the religious holiday through secularization, commercialization and pop culture, and feature sumptuous imagery from the likes of Andy Warhol, Grandma Moses, Joel Meyerowitz, Richard Scarry and Norman Rockwell. It covers Father Christmas, regional decorations, food and drink and even demystifies the ugly Christmas sweater phenomenon. (Dec.11)


THE SCROLL

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