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9 Festive Books We Always Read to Get Into the Holiday Spirit

December 1 2020
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For many of us, the holidays may be looking a little different this year. But, luckily, we have our good ole books to enhance the warmth of the fire or give us that boost of joy we’re craving. We’ve rounded up the books that invite us into their worlds, and the characters that open up their homes to us, never failing to provide that heartwarming feeling of wonder and belonging that always comes around this time of year. Whether it be a fairy-tale tradition, a nice slow-burn romance, or an enchanting wintery wonderland fantasy, these are the stories we curl up with every year. We recommend reading them with a cup of cocoa and plaid blanket at your side.

For even more festive recommendations check out Simon & Schuster’s official Books I Love to Give holiday gift guide!

In the Midst of Winter
by Isabel Allende

Emily’s Pick #1

All you really have to do is look at this dreamy snow-filled cover to get into the holiday spirit, but if you want to embrace it even more, dive into this enchanting read by Isabel Allende. After a Brooklyn snowstorm results in a car crash, three people find their lives forever intertwined—a human rights scholar; his tenant, an international lecturer; and a young refugee caretaker. The narrative follows them during the ensuing snowstorm as these three strangers unite to help one another, and it weaves in scenes from their past, showing the tragedies, politics, cultures, and more, that got them to where they are, and who they are now. Isabel Allende’s themes and characters embody the generosity and compassion that make the holidays so special. If the craziness of 2020 has you feeling like a grinch, this book will expand your heart this year and get you right on track for the season.

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In the Midst of Winter
Isabel Allende

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Little Women
by Louisa May Alcott

Molly’s Pick

The first four lines of Louisa May Alcott’s seminal classic LITTLE WOMEN are dialogue from each of the little women—sisters Jo, Meg, Amy, and Beth—discussing the upcoming Christmas holiday. Each line perfectly encapsulates the characters’ personalities: Jo complains about a Christmas without presents, Meg laments being poor, Amy describes the injustice that “some girls . . . have lots of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all”, and Beth sweetly remarks that what matters most is that they have each other. On Christmas Day, the girls end up sacrificing their own Christmas traditions to help their neighbor, a mother with a sick newborn and six other children without heat or food. This opening scene is full of warmth and community and always gets me in the holiday spirit. I also grew up just a few towns away from Concord, Massachusetts—Alcott’s hometown and where LITTLE WOMEN takes place—so I am brought back to my own childhood Christmases whenever I read this scene. In fact, my copy of LITTLE WOMEN was a Christmas gift from my mom, and I read it for the first time during the holiday season. (And yes, I did call my mom crying after watching Greta Gerwig’s adaptation last year because it made me so homesick.) It’s a truly wonderful book, and it includes one of my favorite lines from literature that I think we can all appreciate as we approach the new year: “Be comforted, dear heart! there is always light behind the clouds.”

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Little Women
Louisa May Alcott

A stunning new edition with deluxe cover treatments, ribbon markers, luxury endpapers and gilded edges. The unabridged text is accompanied by a Glossary of Victorian and Literary terms produced for the modern reader.

The lives of four teenage sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy – unfold in this treasured classic. Living in Massachusetts the March sisters are struggling though poverty and the effects of the American Civil War, which has taken away their father. Through happy and sad times, the sisters pull together with help from their mother, Marmee. Despite squabbles and desperate times, the sisters have a contagious sense of fun that leads to many adventures and eventually they learn exactly what it takes to grow up. Little Women was released in 1868 to commercial success and favourable reviews from critics. It has since become a true literary classic, made into countless adaptations, and a worldwide success that is loved by many.

The FLAME TREE COLLECTABLE CLASSICS are chosen to create a delightful and timeless home library.

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Cookies & Cocktails
by Katherine Cobbs

Saimah’s Pick #1

Raise your hand if you completely ignored any diet you were planning to do this year. Great, now all of you folks who needed some comfort food are right here with me! If you need some recipe ideas for your stress eating (and drinking) this holiday, look no further than this delightful little book of joy. I enjoy baking as a way to take a break from staring at a screen and to channel my anxiety and stress-related anger on some dough. COOKIES AND COCKTAILS has many different recipes for cookies that are going to soon become family favorites and cocktails that will have you singing out in joy. We all need a little pick-me-up this year, and this book will give you all the tools for that. So what are you waiting for? Eat some cookies and drink some cocktails because 2020 is the best year to do it.

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Cookies & Cocktails
Katherine Cobbs

Sip luscious libations and satisfy your sweet tooth with these 50 amazing recipe pairings featuring creamy cocktails and delicious desserts—written by a seasoned food writer.

Milk and cookies are a classic. There’s no better culinary combination than a sweet, crumbly, and warm cookie colliding with a rich, cool, creamy liquid…the extraordinary contrast of temperature, texture, and flavor wow and delight our senses. It’s no wonder that people have been dunking and drinking for decades.

But somehow, this magical combination became associated with childhood—a pairing reserved for after-school snacks or Christmas Eve treats for Santa. But, no more! A new era has begun. Retro cocktails are more popular than ever (hello, Harvey Wallbanger?) and like mad scientists, bartenders everywhere are crafting cocktails that tap into milk-and-cookie nostalgia too. If you’ve ever thought a Girl Scout cookie would taste great with a boozy beverage or wished you could order Cereal Milk Punch at your local watering hole, then this book is for you.

Cookies & Cocktails features dreamy drink recipes paired with delicious cookies, biscuits, wafers, and bars. Whether you crave a cutting-edge craft cocktail or a soul-warming nightcap to end a cozy wintry evening you’ll find a sensory surprise on every level. Cheers!

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One by One
by Ruth Ware

Sharon’s Pick

ONE BY ONE is the ideal snowy thriller for those days when you just want to escape the cold air and warm up inside with a hot chocolate next to a roaring fireplace. Ruth Ware takes readers to a rustic chalet in the French alps, where members of the tech startup Snoop are holding their corporate retreat. When the week’s agenda is upended and an avalanche hits the slopes, tensions rise, and soon the group dwindles, one by one.

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One by One
Ruth Ware

“The Agatha Christie of our generation.” —David Baldacci, #1 New York Times bestselling author
“Diabolically clever.” —Riley Sager, author of Final Girls

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Turn of the Key and In a Dark Dark Wood returns with another suspenseful thriller set on a snow-covered mountain.

Getting snowed in at a luxurious, rustic ski chalet high in the French Alps doesn’t sound like the worst problem in the world. Especially when there’s a breathtaking vista, a full-service chef and housekeeper, a cozy fire to keep you warm, and others to keep you company. Unless that company happens to be eight coworkers…each with something to gain, something to lose, and something to hide.

When the cofounder of Snoop, a trendy London-based tech startup, organizes a weeklong trip for the team in the French Alps, it starts out as a corporate retreat like any other: PowerPoint presentations and strategy sessions broken up by mandatory bonding on the slopes. But as soon as one shareholder upends the agenda by pushing a lucrative but contentious buyout offer, tensions simmer and loyalties are tested. The storm brewing inside the chalet is no match for the one outside, however, and a devastating avalanche leaves the group cut off from all access to the outside world. Even worse, one Snooper hadn’t made it back from the slopes when the avalanche hit.

As each hour passes without any sign of rescue, panic mounts, the chalet grows colder, and the group dwindles further…one by one.

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In a Holidaze
by Christina Lauren

Saimah’s Pick #2

I’m thinking I’m not alone in wishing I could hit fast-forward to the holiday season and see the end of 2020. This charming novel by Christina Lauren is the perfect balm to the anxiety that this year has brought. Every holiday season, Maelyn Jones and her family go to a cabin in snowy Utah with close family friends and reminisce about years past. But this year, Mae feels lost—she’s living with her parents again at the age of twenty-six, hates her dead-end job, just made a huge mistake in her love life, and discovers that this will be the last year at their beloved holiday retreat. Dismayed as she drives away from the cabin after Christmas, Mae makes a plea to the universe: “Show me what will make me happy.” What comes next Mae does not expect: the car crashes, and when she wakes, she realizes she’s trapped in a cycle just like the movie Groundhog Day. Stuck reliving December 20, she must figure out how to break free of this crazy time loop and put her life back on track. This read had me laughing, swooning, and letting out a few expletives in frustration alongside Mae as she has to start over again so many times in a time loop when she gets so close to confessing her feelings to her crush! I can’t wait for you all to escape with this enchanting story.

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In a Holidaze
Christina Lauren

THE INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

One Christmas wish, two brothers, and a lifetime of hope are on the line for hapless Maelyn Jones in In a Holidaze, the quintessential holiday romantic novel by Christina Lauren, the New York Times bestselling author of The Unhoneymooners.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…but not for Maelyn Jones. She’s living with her parents, hates her going-nowhere job, and has just made a romantic error of epic proportions.

But perhaps worst of all, this is the last Christmas Mae will be at her favorite place in the world—the snowy Utah cabin where she and her family have spent every holiday since she was born, along with two other beloved families. Mentally melting down as she drives away from the cabin for the final time, Mae throws out what she thinks is a simple plea to the universe: Please. Show me what will make me happy.

The next thing she knows, tires screech and metal collides, everything goes black. But when Mae gasps awake…she’s on an airplane bound for Utah, where she begins the same holiday all over again. With one hilarious disaster after another sending her back to the plane, Mae must figure out how to break free of the strange time loop—and finally get her true love under the mistletoe.

Jam-packed with yuletide cheer, an unforgettable cast of characters, and Christina Lauren’s trademark “downright hilarious” (Helen Hoang, author of The Bride Test) hijinks, this swoon-worthy romantic read will make you believe in the power of wishes and the magic of the holidays.

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Outlander
by Diana Gabaldon

Jordyn’s Pick

This may not be set during the holidays or have any mistletoe or snowmen, but OUTLANDER is the perfect cozy holiday read. The chilly highlands, roaring fireplaces, a plaid blanket wrapped around your shoulders—how can you deny this fits in with the books you read with a hot chocolate and warm socks as the snow starts to fall? Not to mention the slow-burn romance will fit in perfectly between all the cheesy holiday movies. I know this has probably been on your to-be-read list for ages, or maybe you’re due for a reread, so start your holidays by finally escaping to the Scottish highlands.

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Outlander
Diana Gabaldon

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The Thin Man
by Dashiell Hammett

Kerry’s Pick

We all have different traditions for the holidays, but the one I always wish I could indulge in is solving mysteries for fun. The closest I’ve gotten is rereading THE THIN MAN by noir icon Dashiell Hammett—a sparkling and effervescent tale of murder amidst the rich and privileged. Set over the holidays in 1930s New York City, retired detective Nick Charles and his witty wife, Nora, solve crimes in between wise cracks, cocktails, and Christmas parties. What could be better as we wait for the new year?

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The Thin Man
Dashiell Hammett

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The Bear and the Nightingale
by Katherine Arden

Emily’s Pick #2

THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE is honestly winter reading goals. In a remote Russian village, winter lasts the majority of the year, resulting in cozy fireside storytelling and creepy nearby forests. When young Vasilisa realizes her nurse’s fairy tales might be more than just “tales,” she must take charge to make things right. Complete with wicked stepmothers, winter demons, and magical powers, this book has all the elements needed for the perfect holiday read to ride out the end of 2020.  

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The Bear and the Nightingale
Katherine Arden

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White Elephant
by Trish Harnetiaux

Jessica's Pick

I adore WHITE ELEPHANT. It is a fabulous “locked room” style mystery set in a glamorous chalet in Aspen. A crackling novel with a Christmas setting, it combines murder and blackmail at a holiday office party, in a mashup reminiscent of Big Little Lies and Clue. The characters are rich, wonderfully flawed, and at least one of them is a murderer. It’s a delight to escape into with a cup of hot chocolate.

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White Elephant
Trish Harnetiaux

A crackling Christmas mystery that combines murder and blackmail at a holiday office party, in a mashup reminiscent of Big Little Lies and Clue.

There are only a few rules in a White Elephant gift exchange: 1) Everyone brings a wrapped, unmarked gift. 2) Numbers are drawn to decide who picks first. 3) Gifts don’t need to be pricey—and often they’re downright tacky.

But things are a little different in Aspen, Colorado, at the office holiday party for the real estate firm owned by Henry Calhoun and his wife Claudine. Each Christmas sparks a contest among the already competitive staff to see who can buy the most coveted gift: the one that will get stolen the most times, the one that will prove just how many more commissions they earned that year than their colleagues. Designer sunglasses, deluxe spa treatments, front row concert tickets—nothing is off the table. And the staff is even more competitive this year as Zara, the hottest young pop star out of Hollywood, is in town and Claudine is determined to sell her the getaway home of her dreams.

Everyone is puzzled when a strange gift shows up in the mix: an antique cowboy statue. At least the sales agents are guessing it’s an antique—otherwise it’d be a terrible present. It’s certainly not very pretty or expensive-looking. In fact, the gift makes sense only to Henry and Claudine. The statue is the weapon Henry used to commit a murder years ago, a murder that helped start his company and a murder that Claudine helped cover up. She swore that no one would ever be able to find the statue or trace it to their crime. So which of their employees did? And why did they place it in the White Elephant? What could possibly be their endgame?

Over the course of the evening, Henry and Claudine race to figure out who could have planted the weapon, and just what the night means for the secrets they’ve been harboring. Further adding to the drama is a snowstorm that closes nearby roads—preventing anyone from leaving, as well as keeping law enforcement from the scene. And by the end of this crazy night, the police will most definitely be required…

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Photo credit: iStock / karandaev

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