Holiday Roundup 2023
It’s always fun to see what people come up with to get in the holiday spirit, and although the season hasn’t really started yet (carols in the department stores from July on don’t count), the realities of marketing mean that the peak season for Christmas books is actually October. Here is a roundup of the titles that have come my way so far, with short descriptions to help you decide which might get you in the holiday spirit over the weeks to come.
As usual, books are listed in alphabetical order by author’s last name. If the year says just 2023, the book is out already. Those marked Nov. 2023 are due within the next couple of weeks.
Rhys Bowen, The Proof of the Pudding (Berkley, Nov. 2023)
As you all know, I’m a huge Lady Georgiana Rannoch fan. Peril in Paris was on my Fall Bookshelf list, and I’d no sooner finished it than I discovered this new one will be released (at a ridiculously high price for an e-book but, well, Lady Georgie—plus that’s what Kindle credits are for) next week. So, although I haven’t read it yet, I plan to dive in as soon as possible. While waiting, you too can have fun with my New Books Network conversation with Rhys Bowen about Lady Georgie’s last Christmas adventure and all the books that came before.
By now, 1936 is about to give way to 1937, and World War II has begun to cast its shadow over the series. Georgie, noticeably pregnant, has recently returned home from Paris. She and Darcy plan to settle in and entertain, but one thing leads to another, and soon a neighborly dinner at a house known for its Elizabethan poison garden goes horribly wrong, and Georgie and Darcy are once again up to their aristocratic ears in crime.
Bernard Cornwell with Suzanne Pollak, Uhtred’s Feast (Harper, Nov. 2023)
Last Kingdom fans, you know who you are. You also know that Uhtred doesn’t believe in Christmas, because he is an unrepentant and committed pagan—but he definitely recognizes the Winter Solstice, the annual event that inspires most of the holidays held in this season. Also, Uhtred fans have been in withdrawal since their hero’s saga officially ended with the unification of England, and a gift of this book—which does contain three previously unpublished tales—is guaranteed to raise their spirits.
Even those who, although not Uhtred buffs per se, are in general interested in the past and how people lived a thousand or even five hundred years ago will enjoy Uhtred’s Feast, which combines historical overviews of daily life in Saxon England, recipes for dishes that Uhtred might have eaten, and those aforementioned tales.
I’ll be talking about the historical portion and the recipes more in a couple of weeks, so check back to find out more.
Clara McKenna, Murder on Mistletoe Lane (Kensington Books, 2023)
You can find out more about this novel and the series of which it’s a part in my previous post, where I interview Clara McKenna.
In brief, in this fifth installment, set in December 1905, Stella Kendrick, the daughter of a rich Kentucky horse breeder, and her husband, Viscount Lyndhurst (known as Lyndy), are celebrating their first Christmas together at the family estate in Britain’s New Forest. Just days before the holiday, the family’s housekeeper falls ill, then turns up dead on Mistletoe Lane, not far from the estate. The death is not at first considered to be murder, but the circumstances are sufficiently unexplained for Stella and Lyndy to investigate, gradually exposing a web of secrets and lies.
Erica Ruth Neubauer, Murder under the Mistletoe (Kensington, 2023)
This latest installment of an ongoing mystery series set in 1926 features Jane Wunderly—an intrepid American widow who has already visited Egypt, England, and Turkey in previous adventures with her partner, now fiancé, the mysterious Redvers. You can hear my interview with the author about the earlier novels on the New Books Network. The next full-length adventure, Secrets of a Scottish Isle, moves forward to 1927 and comes out in March 2024.
In this holiday novella, Jane and Redvers are back in Britain, celebrating Christmas at his ancestral home. Jane expects to spend the holidays getting better acquainted not only with her new family but with the man she’s agreed to marry. Then her father-in-law-to-be announces his forthcoming marriage to the humorless Evelyn Hesse, upstaging Jane and Redvers.
But being kicked out of the limelight is the least of the problems threatening to doom Jane’s Christmas. It turns out that Evelyn had several previous husbands, all of whom died under mysterious circumstances. Then a man is murdered at a holiday party, thrusting Jane and Redvers into yet another case, one that threatens their own family and future.
Anne Perry, A Christmas Vanishing (Random House, Nov. 2023)
I wasn’t expecting to receive a pitch for this short novel because the author—many of whose Inspector Monk and Thomas Pitt books I have enjoyed in the past—died last year. But I suppose it’s not that surprising, given how much time usually elapses between submission and publication, that the latest installment of Perry’s Christmas mysteries should appear even after the author herself has left the scene.
Not all of Perry’s Christmas novels involve murder—in fact, none of the ones I’ve read do—but they do each contain an element of mystery. Here Mariah Ellison, the hard-to-please grandmother of Charlotte Pitt (Thomas’s wife and partner in helping him solve crimes), feels abandoned by her family over the holidays. She accepts an invitation to visit an old friend, Sadie, in the English village where Mariah spent part of her childhood and Sadie still lives with her husband.
When Mariah arrives, she discovers that Sadie is nowhere to be found, and Sadie’s husband revokes the invitation. Mariah seeks shelter with another old friend, and the two of them set out to discover Sadie’s whereabouts before the disappearance turns into a tragedy. Doing so, however, forces Mariah to face certain hard truths about her own past and why her family may prefer to spend the holidays without her.
Karen Swan, Christmas by Candlelight (Pan Macmillan, 2023)
A group of friends from university days have decided to gather for a house party nine years after their graduation. Libby Pugh, the narrator, has spent most of those nine years building her career and avoiding her old pals for reasons that become obvious only toward the end of the book. But for this occasion, she has agreed to show up for a few hours to celebrate the imminent parenthood of two members of the group.
She brings along her current boyfriend, a fellow lawyer at the firm where Libby works, on the understanding that they will leave right after dinner. But then the snow starts, and the power goes out, and this reunion is about to expose old wounds and reveal secrets in ways that none of the group members ever expected. If you or a potential gift recipient enjoy thoughtful, complicated contemporary novels, this would make a great stocking stuffer.
You can find out more from our written Q&A a few weeks ago.