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Check It Out

Courier Article by Lucy Clem
Sunday, November 28, 2005

Christmas Books Offer Respite in Small Packages

Maybe you're one of those enviable folks who have all the shopping, wrapping, and baking done. Or, more likely, you still have most of it to do. Either way, taking a book break is an excellent way to relax during this hectic time of year. All of these holiday offerings are short enough to be read in an evening, or while waiting for the cookies to come out of the oven. Happy holidays!

Skipping Christmas by John Grisham (Doubleday, 2001).

What would happen if you just opted out of all the holiday hysteria? No presents, no parties, no Frosty on the roof? How about a Caribbean cruise instead? With their only daughter off for a year in South America, Luther and Nora Krank decide to do just that. It's harder than they bargained. The battle begins with a skirmish with the stationer ("Just a bit worried about your Christmas cards, Mrs. Krank") and slowly escalates through encounters with the Boy Scouts selling Christmas trees and the policemen selling calendars. The situation explodes when the neighbors realize that the Kranks intend to be the only family on the street without a 7-foot Frosty waving from the rooftop. Just when it looks like Luther and Nora are going to make their getaway, a call comes from Peru. Darling Blair will be home after all, and she's bringing her Peruvian fiancé to experience a real American Christmas. Don't pass this up because you've seen Christmas with the Kranks, the movie version. As usual, the book is better.

A Christmas Journey by Anne Perry (Ballantine, 2003).

Known for her mystery series set in Victorian England, this author writes with such detail you can almost see the candles glowing. Here, budding detective Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould (just imagine her business cards!) is happily looking forward to a long holiday house party filled with friends, good food, and roaring fires. Romance is in the air as the assemblage anticipates an engagement announcement from young widow Gwendolen Kilmuir and the eligible Bertie Rosythe. However, the atmosphere is suddenly chilled by an intentionally cruel remark from another lovely widow, Isobel Alvie, who apparently has her own eye on Bertie. When Gwendolen's body is found the next morning, Isobel becomes the prime suspect. Her effort to redeem herself takes her on a wild and dangerous journey through Scotland, accompanied by Vespasia, to find Gwendolen's mother and incidentally solve the mysterious death. As usual, Perry makes the reader feel a part of the intricate social life of the Victorian era while telling an intricate tale.

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris (Little, Brown, 1997).

For those of you who grow tired of the relentless cheeriness of the season, here's an antidote. Sedaris is an author, playwright, and NPR regular whose wryly cynical take on life has earned him the description "America's most beloved misfit." This series of stories takes shots at everything Christmas. "SantaLand Diaries" is the chronicle of his career as an elf at Macy's in New York and gives us a unique behind-the-scenes look at visiting Santa. Two conspicuous consumers fight it out in "Christmas Means Giving," first competing to acquire increasingly outrageous possessions and then battling to give everything away, including children and body parts. And for those of you who have seen one Christmas pageant too many, "Front Row Center with Thaddeus Bristol" is an hilarious review—"Trite Christmas: Scottsfield's young hams offer the blandest of holiday fare."

These books, and other fine holiday fiction, can be found in the Christmas collections at Central and the EVPL branches. They are sometimes overlooked because they're shelved in a separate location. If you haven't already sampled some, seek them out. You'll find nonfiction there as well. While you're browsing, you just might find the Christmas cookie book you were looking for, or the perfect holiday decorating idea.

Lucy Young Clem is the Tech Center Supervisor at Central Library, where she sandwiches reading book reviews between computer training sessions.