Killer Holidays: Escape Christmas Stress with These 26 Yuletide Titles

THERE’S PLENTY OF MYSTERY IN STORE for this holiday season, from Christmas cozies to hard-boiled holiday tales.

There’s plenty of mystery in store for this holiday season, from Christmas cozies to hard-boiled holiday tales. And if the celebrations make you feel murderous, try plotting your own story with Mike MacDonald and Jilly Gagnon’s Choose Your Own Misery: The Holidays. Don’t worry—there are also a wealth of heartwarming tales that will restore your hope in humanity, although you may think twice about drinking the eggnog. For more holiday fiction, see Kristin Ramsdell’s Romance column (LJ 10/15/16, p. 66ff).

deckthehallways-jpg101716Carlisle, Kate. Deck the Hallways: A Fixer-Upper Mystery. Berkley. Nov. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9780451488220. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780451488237. Mys

Contractor Shannon Hammer is back in Carlisle’s fourth “Fixer-Upper” mystery (after Crowned and Moldering) set in the small town of Lighthouse Cove in Northern California. Shannon’s latest project is overseeing the remodeling of an old Victorian mansion into apartments for families in need. Since the bank donated the foreclosed house to the Holiday Homebuilders, company representative Mr. Potter is sent to keep an eye on the progress. However, he manages to harass and fight with several of the workers, including Shannon’s dad, then ends up murdered, leaving a long list of suspects. ­Hoping to keep her father off the list of potential killers and get the renovation back on track, Shannon does some amateur sleuthing. VERDICT An entertaining Christmas cozy for Carlisle’s fans.

Carter, Mary. Home with My Sisters. Kensington. Oct. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9781617737084. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781617737091. F

The Garland sisters—Faith, Hope, and Joy—mostly raised themselves after their father disappeared and since their mother was rarely available. Their childhood closeness didn’t survive into adulthood, though, and middle child Hope hasn’t had success reuniting the trio, even at Christmas. When their paternal grandmother summons the siblings to Leavenworth, WA, for Christmas as her dying wish, they reluctantly agree. Aided by a handsome neighbor and mysterious caretaker along with a few candy-cane martinis, the sisters sort out their differences and succumb to the festivities. ­VERDICT Despite the predictable surprises near the end of the novel, getting there is thoroughly enjoyable. Carter (London from My Windows) tells of a dysfunctional family dealing with heavy issues, but genuine characters and wonderful dialog make the story engaging. An excellent read-alike for fans of Elin Hilderbrand’s holiday novels.

Chamberlin, Holly. The Season of Us. Kensington. Nov. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9781496706812. $18.95; ebk. ISBN 9781496706836. F

Gincy escaped her critical mother and small hometown of Appleville, NH, for Boston decades ago. Now she’s being called home by her brother Tommy, who’s worried that their recently widowed mom is depressed. As Christmas approaches, Gincy heads to Appleville to assess the situation. Finding her mom unkempt, the house a mess, and cupboards bare, Gincy swoops in to fix things. With some help from her friends and family, it’s not long before Gincy realizes she’s underestimated her brother and mother, and it might not be too late for a fresh start. VERDICT Chamberlin (Seashell Season) successfully portrays a family at their best and worst as they struggle through their first holiday without a beloved husband and father and have to redefine their relationships.

Cohen, Tammy. Dying for Christmas. Pegasus. Nov. 2016. 400p. ISBN 9781681772615. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781681772851. Mys

On Christmas Eve, introverted archivist Jessica Gold does some last-minute shopping in London and meets charming Dominic Lacey. Dissatisfied with her life and longtime boyfriend Travis, Jessica accepts Dominic’s invitation to go back to his place. It’s a decision she quickly regrets as Dominic holds her captive for the 12 days of Christmas. When her family finally reports her missing, police officer Kim Harper investigates and suspects that she’s not getting the full story. VERDICT The details of Jessica’s imprisonment get a bit gruesome but are worth enduring for the story’s satisfying twists and turns. Cohen’s (When She Was Bad) holiday-tinged psychological thriller is perfect for fans of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.

Delany, Vicki. We Wish You a Murderous Christmas: A Year-Round Christmas Mystery. Berkley. Nov. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9780425280812. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780698192850. Mys

Merry Wilkinson is content with life in Rudolph, NY, where she runs a Christmas shop. The town has reinvented itself as a holiday-themed tourist destination full of indie businesses. So when the owner of the Yuletide Inn lands in the hospital following a heart attack, and his son, Gord, swoops in to convert the inn into a franchise of a budget hotel chain and sell land to a big-box store, the community is in an uproar. They’re almost relieved when Gord is murdered, until their resident Santa, Merry’s father, is questioned. Now Merry will have to find the real killer before her dad ends up in jail and the holiday is ruined. ­VERDICT The second book in this cozy mystery series (after Rest Ye Murdered Gentleman) continues its yuletide appeal.

deathofatoy-jpg101716Early, Barbara. Death of a Toy Soldier: A Vintage Toyshop Mystery. Crooked Lane. Oct. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9781629538389. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781629538396. mys

After writing the “Bridal Bouquet Shop Mystery” series (Floral Depravity) as Beverly Allen, Early launches a new series set in East Aurora, NY. When her father retires as police chief, Liz McCall returns home to help him open a vintage toy shop and keep an eye on him since he seems to forget he isn’t the police chief anymore. The McCalls are hoping for a successful holiday season, but then a man turns up dead in the shop with a lawn dart through his chest. Now Liz and her dad need to find the culprit and get back to business. VERDICT This holiday-themed tale gets Early’s fresh cozy series off to a lively start.

Fluke, Joanne. Christmas Caramel Murder. Kensington. Oct. 2016. 204p. ISBN 9781617732287. $20; ebk. ISBN 9781617732294. Mys

Best-selling author Fluke’s (Wedding Cake Murder) latest Hannah Swensen mystery takes place during the yuletide season in Lake Eden, MN. The Lake Eden Players are rehearsing for the annual production of A Christmas Carol, which will be followed by a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus. When sexy Mrs. Claus, aka Phyllis Bates, turns up dead, Hannah prepares for some amateur sleuthing to prove her friend Lisa’s innocence. As Hannah’s deceased father appears and plays the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, the visions remind Hannah of crucial details that help her find the unexpected killer. VERDICT With a dozen delectable recipes from ­Hannah’s Cookie Jar bakery, this holiday cozy will hit the spot with ­foodies and mystery fans.

redstarHallinan, Timothy. Fields Where They Lay: A Junior Bender Holiday Mystery. Soho Crime. Oct. 2016. 384p. ISBN 9781616957469. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616957476. MYs

Junior Bender, burglar and occasional fixer for the L.A. crime world, makes his sixth appearance (after King Maybe) in this funny, fast-paced mystery. It’s the week before Christmas, and Junior is forced into investigating the sudden increase in shoplifting at the Edgerton Mall for one of the mall’s owners, a dangerous Russian gangster. When the corpse of a shopkeeper surfaces, it’s clear that something even more nefarious is going on amid the rundown stores. In between dodging bullets and detecting, Junior fits in a little Christmas shopping and soul-searching as he gets to the bottom of the case. VERDICT Hallinan offers up everything readers could want in a hard-boiled crime novel with an action-packed story and a cast of colorful characters. [See Prepub Alert, 4/10/16.]

Harbison, Beth. A Shoe Addict’s Christmas. St. Martin’s. Oct. 2016. 160p. ISBN 9781250087218. $17.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250087232. F

On Christmas Eve, Noelle emerges from her office at Simon’s Department Store and finds herself locked in for the night while a snowstorm rages outside. Enjoying having the place to herself, Noelle is surprised when a batty old lady shouting “Zooterkins” suddenly appears out of nowhere and claims to be her guardian angel. As the angel and various pairs of designer shoes transport Noelle back through sad holiday memories, she’s shown what could have happened if she’d been less fearful. The visions of what could be convince Noelle to join her friend on a trip to Rome and finally stop avoiding her fate, which seems to involve a handsome guy named Jake. ­VERDICT A fun and shoe-filled modern take on A Christmas Carol from the best-selling ­Harbison (One Less Problem Without You) for all readers. [See Prepub Alert, 4/18/16.]

Hilderbrand, Elin. Winter Storms. Little, Brown. Oct. 2016. 256p. ISBN 9780316261173. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316261159. F

The conclusion to acclaimed Hilderbrand’s “Winter Street” trilogy (Winter Street; Winter Stroll) has the Quinn family trying to gather on Nantucket Island for the holidays in the midst of a snowstorm. Kelley and Mitzi are back together, running the Winter Street Inn despite Kelley’s battle with cancer and their anguish over their missing son, Bart. Margaret and Drake get married while Kevin and Isabelle plan a Christmas wedding. Ava, however, still struggles to pick the right guy. At least Patrick is finally released from prison but Jennifer is still dealing with her pill addiction. After this harrowing yet hopeful year, the Quinn family reunion is bound to make for an unforgettable Christmas. VERDICT Hilderbrand satisfyingly wraps up this holiday trilogy with ample doses of joy that are bound to please her many fans. [See Prepub Alert, 4/18/16.]

Hill, Melissa. The Gift of a Lifetime. Griffin: St. Martin’s. Oct. 2016. 384p. ISBN 9781250077158. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466889002. F

giftofalifetime-jpg101716Beth Harper has a passion for movies and shoes and pairs them perfectly in her job as she makes movie-themed displays and sells designer shoes at a Manhattan department store. She loves her job and boyfriend Danny of seven years, but lately he has been constantly working late and breaking plans, causing Beth to worry about their relationship. When Beth receives an anonymous gift shortly before Christmas, she wonders if it’s a surprise from Danny or from attractive new coworker Ryan. As the gift turns into a scavenger hunt of movie trivia across New York City, Beth can’t wait to find what and who are waiting for her at the end. VERDICT Hill (The Gift of a Charm) pens another charming Big Apple holiday romance.

Hughes, Anita. Christmas in Paris. Griffin: St. Martin’s. Oct. 2016. 288p. ISBN 9781250105509. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250105516. F

Isabel Lawson is building a successful career in finance and looking forward to her winter wedding at her parents’ Philadelphia estate and honeymoon in Paris. Then her fiancé decides to abandon city life and take over his grandparents’ farm, leaving Isabel with cold feet. She breaks off the engagement yet still heads to Paris, where she meets beautiful illustrator Alec, also suffering from a recent heartbreak. However, a little couture shopping and a stay at the luxurious Hotel de Crillon with the magical backdrop of Paris at Christmastime does wonders for healing broken hearts. VERDICT It’s hard to ever feel too sorry for Hughes’s (Santorini Sunsets) privileged characters, but the enchanting setting and sweet romance continue to exude charm.

James, P.D. The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories. Knopf. Oct. 2016. 176p. ISBN 9780451494146. $24; ebk. ISBN 9780451494153. Mys

This volume of four previously uncollected holiday-themed short stories from the late James (Cover Her Face) evokes mystery’s Golden Age without quite being cozy. In fact, “A Very Commonplace Murder” is a bit creepy and distasteful as it tells of a filing clerk who surreptitiously enjoys a secret stash of pornography and observes a neighbor’s trysts until they end in murder. Much more enjoyable are the two pieces featuring Adam Dalgliesh as he investigates homicides that occurred during Christmas. The title story is also entertaining as an elderly woman reminisces about an extraordinary Christmas in 1940, when her grandmother’s houseguest ends up murdered. VERDICT These short tales feature James’s clever plotting and witty narration with gratifying conclusions. A perfect stocking stuffer for James’s many readers. [See Prepub Alert, 5/9/16.]

Lee, Amanda. Better Off Thread: An Embroidery Mystery. Berkley. Dec. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9780451473851. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780698186521. Mys

Marcy, owner of the Seven-Year Stitch embroidery specialty shop in Tallulah Falls, OR, makes her tenth series appearance following The Stitching Hour. Her friend Captain Moe is playing Santa for kids at the hospital and convinces Marcy to fill in as an elf, but her elf duties are cut short when a hospital administrator is found in Santa’s sleigh with a knife in her chest. As Captain Moe becomes the prime suspect, Marcy must find the real murderer. Snooping around the hospital, she realizes that her questions are putting her in grave danger. VERDICT A pleasurable crafty cozy for the holidays.

MacDonald, Mike & Jilly Gagnon. Choose Your Own Misery: The Holidays. Diversion. Oct. 2016. 362p. ISBN 9781682303191. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781682303184. F

holidays-jpg101716The former Onion writers who previously authored Choose Your Own Misery: The Office offer up a yuletide-themed parody of the beloved childhood favorite “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories, only this one is a raunchy grown-up version. You think you’re about to have the perfect Christmas sans family as you escape to a tropical resort with a college buddy, but then Tropical Storm Menudo makes landfall and your flight is canceled. Your first decision comes when you call your new girlfriend Lindsi and she invites you to spend Christmas with her family. This is choose your own misery, so of course, all your decisions take you down a path of hilarious holiday hell. VERDICT Bah! Humbug! An ideal choice for holiday haters and readers who enjoy David Sedaris’s hysterically funny take, Holidays on Ice.

McDonough, Mary. The House on Honeysuckle Lane. Kensington. Oct. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9780758293510. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780758293527. F

McDonough, best known as Erin from the TV show The Waltons, pens her second novel set in the small town of Oliver’s Well, VA (One Year). The three middle-aged Reynolds siblings convene in their hometown to celebrate Christmas and settle their mother’s estate. Divorced Buddhist author Andie, single successful businesswoman Emma, and family man and chef Daniel have several long-simmering resentments that surface as they sort through their mother’s possessions and prepare their childhood home for sale. But in reliving holiday traditions and rehashing the past, the siblings work their way to a fresh start. VERDICT This holiday homecoming story will appeal to fans of Nancy Thayer.

Macomber, Debbie. Twelve Days of Christmas. Ballantine. Oct. 2016. 288p. ISBN 9780553391732. $20; ebk. ISBN 9780553391749. F

Julia Padden is vying for a social media job at a software company—whoever generates the largest online following in the month of December gets the position. So far Julia’s blog isn’t stirring much interest, but when her infuriating Scrooge of a neighbor, Cain Maddox, steals her newspaper, she’s inspired to write a new post about killing him with kindness for the next 12 days until Christmas. The piece takes off and Cain seems to be responding to her efforts. But what will happen to their burgeoning relationship when Cain finds out about the blog? VERDICT Macomber’s annual holiday novel (Dashing Through the Snow) is a sweet, feel-good romance that may even inspire you to kill someone with kindness during the hectic Christmas season. [See Prepub Alert, 4/18/16.]

Meier, Leslie & others. Eggnog Murder. Kensington. Oct. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9781496704474. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781496704481. Mys

These three tales of deadly eggnog will make you pause before indulging in the holiday treat. In Meier’s “Eggnog Murder,” reporter Lucy Stone tries to find out who sent the mysterious bottle of eggnog that killed busybody Dorcas ­Philpott. “Death by Eggnog” from Lee Hollis has food and cocktails columnist Hayley ­Powell investigating grumpy librarian Agatha Farnsworth’s fatal allergic reaction to the beverage. Finally, in Barbara Ross’s “Nogged Off,” Julia Snowden gets more than she bargained for when she invites her tenant to join her family in Maine for the holidays. VERDICT This collection of short cozy mysteries set in Maine and featuring delicious recipes serves as a great introduction to these authors’ series for new readers or as a bite-sized delicacy to tide established fans over until the next book.

Naigle, Nancy. Christmas Joy. Griffin: St. Martin’s. Oct. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9781250106070. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250106087. F

Since her mom died at Christmastime, Joy Holbrook avoids anything to do with the holiday, including visiting her Aunt Ruby, who helped raise her. Instead she focuses on her career, but when her elderly aunt falls and is hospitalized, Joy heads home to Crystal Falls, NC, to care for her. While Ruby recovers, Joy takes over her farm chores and Christmas decorating for the annual home tour. Handsome local accountant and handyman Ben Andrews also complicates matters. But the longer Joy stays, the more she appreciates the small town and begins to open her heart back up again to the possibility of love and all the heartache that goes with it. VERDICT An exhilarating holiday romance by the author of the popular “Adams Grove” series (Sweet Tea and ­Secrets; Out of Focus).

Nelson, Willie with David Ritz. Pretty Paper. Blue Rider. Oct. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9780735211544. $23; ebk. ISBN 9780735211568. F

prettypaper-jpg93016Singer and songwriter Nelson’s fable is based on his classic Christmas song “Pretty Paper,” which was inspired by a legless street vendor selling wrapping paper in Fort Worth, TX. Imagining the vendor’s life story, the narrative takes readers back to the 1960s when Nelson was just starting his career and barely making ends meet. The salesman, Vernon Clay, turns out to be a musician, too, but tragedy cut his career short. As Nelson and Clay form a tentative friendship, Nelson realizes he may be able to help right the wrongs of the past and forge a new future for Clay. VERDICT This engaging holiday musical treat by a country music star will delight all readers, particularly Nelson’s fans. [See Prepub Alert, 5/9/16.]

Norton, Sheila. Oliver the Cat Who Saved Christmas: The Tale of a Little Cat with a Big Heart. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. Oct. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9781250108470. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250108487. F

Timid pub cat Oliver loses his home in a fire but is rescued by a kind young couple. The residents of Oliver’s small English village are also sorely missing the pub and adjacent village hall since they both served as the town meeting spaces. Now the Brownies and Cubs, the senior citizens club, and the nursery and preschool are all without a home. While Oliver can’t speak human, he can, of course, understand it. As he roams throughout town, he manages to discover exactly what each of his humans need, leading them to new friends, jobs, and the perfect place to celebrate Christmas with the whole village. VERDICT Norton’s (Ticket To Ride) latest presents a tantalizing Christmas tale for cat lovers. [See Prepub Alert, 4/18/16.]

Patterson, James with Richard LiLallo. The Christmas Mystery: A Detective Luc Moncrief Story. BookShots: Hachette. Dec. 2016. 160p. ISBN 9780316319973. pap. $4.99; ebk. ISBN 9780316319997. Mys

The second BookShots story featuring NYPD Det. Luc Moncrief (French Kiss) finds the wealthy Frenchman and his partner Katherine Burke investigating potential art forgeries and then a wealthy socialite’s murder as the festivities approach. They chase the perpetrators from Park Avenue to the Bronx to the Catskills, dodging bullets all the way. The duo wrap up the case and earn a few days off, but they’re soon jetting off to Paris when they learn that Moncrief’s father has died. While not overly sad about his distant father’s death, Moncrief is suspicious about the cause. As that mystery is solved and the will is read, he and Burke enjoy their holiday in Paris. VERDICT Best-selling author Patterson (15th Affair) delivers a short, fast-paced mystery with a compelling detecting duo that will attract reluctant and time-crunched readers.

Perry, Anne. A Christmas Message. Ballantine. Nov. 2016. 176p. ISBN 9781101886380. $20; ebk. ISBN 9781101886397. Mys

Perry’s latest holiday novella (after A Christmas Escape) takes place in Victorian-era Jerusalem and features ­Victor ­Narraway, who is Thomas Pitt’s former boss, and his new wife, Lady Vespasia. The Narraways are enjoying their retreat in the Holy Land until a new acquaintance is murdered and a torn piece of parchment is bequeathed to them. They honor the request to deliver it to Jerusalem by Christmas, but their journey is fraught with danger as they narrowly escape an attack by a man known as the Watcher. Victor and ­Vespasia finally manage to reach their destination along with two other message bearers, but they have not outrun the Watcher. VERDICT Perry’s 14th Christmas story offers a strangely intriguing mystery handled neatly by the wonderfully capable Victor and Vespasia. [See Prepub Alert, 5/9/16.]

Rosenfelt, David. The Twelve Dogs of Christmas: An Andy Carpenter Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Oct. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9781250106766. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250106773. Mys

Rosenfelt’s 15th mystery featuring Paterson, NJ–based defense attorney Andy Carpenter (Outfoxed) takes on the case of Martha “Pups” Boyer, who earned her nickname after years of rescuing and placing stray puppies. However, a neighbor complained to the city about the dogs, and now Pups is due in court to fight the zoning law. Although she wins that battle, she’s soon hauled off to jail for allegedly killing the complainant. To make matters worse, that case calls into question the death of Pups’s husband. Now Andy will have to prove her innocence and avoid the killer. ­VERDICT The wisecracking, dog-loving attorney still has plenty of appeal in this fast-paced Christmas mystery that avoids any holiday sentimentality. [See Prepub Alert, 4/10/16.]

Tolstoy, Leo & others. A Very Russian Christmas: The Greatest Russian Holiday Stories of All Time. New Vessel. Oct. 2016. 160p. ISBN 9781939931436. $21.95; ebk. ISBN 9781939931443. F

This collection features 12 Russian stories from the 19th and early 20th centuries. While the tales take place at Christmas, they vary widely, from a story of two young boys trying to run away to a man’s quest for vodka and his reckoning after dying in the snow. However, they all seem to share a common thread of misery running through them. VERDICT While some of the pieces here appear in English for the first time, and stories from notable Russian authors Anton Chekhov, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy are included, this anthology will most likely only be appreciated by die-hard Russian literature enthusiasts, as these are not traditional or endearing holiday tales.

VanLiere, Donna. The Christmas Town. St. Martin’s. Oct. 2016. 240p. ISBN 9781250010674. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250010681. CF

After spending half of her life in foster care, Lauren Gabriel is now 20 years old and still longing for a home and family. She’s barely surviving as a grocery store cashier and dreading another lonely Christmas. After witnessing a hit-and-run accident in the neighboring town of Grandon, she’s soon drawn into the community and even volunteers at the annual Christmas fundraiser for Glory’s Place, a center that has a food pantry and after-school care for down-on-their-luck families. Local residents embrace Lauren, and she begins to hope that she just might end up with a real family for Christmas after all. VERDICT With eight other yuletide novels under her belt, VanLiere (The Christmas Light) is an expert at tugging heartstrings, and this sincere tearjerker delivers. [See Prepub Alert, 4/18/16.]

Melissa DeWild is Director, BookOps, Brooklyn Public Library and New York Public Library. She is a 2014 LJ Mover & Shaker

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