Friday, December 19, 2008

Merry Christmas, y’all!

By Jennie Bentley

T’is the season to go absolutely crazy with shopping and stress, some of which I’m doing, so I’m going to make it easy on everyone today, myself included, and blog about holiday books. Other people’s holiday books, mostly, although in fairness I guess I should mention that I’m working on a Christmas book myself. DIY#3 is in the works, due to my editor by March 1 and scheduled for release in May 2010, and it’s set at Christmas. I wish I could have worked the timing better, but alas, it was not to be. Book 2—now officially called SPACKLEd and SPOOKED, and available for preorder on Amazon—ends on Halloween, so Christmas was up next. Sorry.

Christmas books are a really big deal, it seems. I’ve recently heard of several authors who have been asked to put other projects on hold to write seasonal books. In that spirit, I thought I’d share some of my favorites.

Trojan Gold by Elizabeth Peters is the fourth book in the bestselling Vicky Bliss suspense series, and the third in which art historian Vicky comes up against her on-again, off-again lover and nemesis Sir John Smythe AKA John Tregarth. As Vicky puts it, “He specializes in stealing the things I’m sworn to protect.” In Trojan Gold, the two of them find themselves spending Christmas Eve together in a tiny church in the Alps, snowed in, using hymnals for kindling and pews for firewood for the tiny fire they’ve created in the baptismal, while eating chocolate and gingerbread and playing Bach on a comb. Elizabeth Peters is my all-time favorite author, and the Vicky Bliss series is my favorite of her series... this is a wonderful, wonderful book!

Several of JD Robb’s In Death books are set at Christmas time. My favorite is Holiday in Death, in which Eve Dallas, Lieutenant with the NYPSD in the year 2058 or so, and her intrepid crew of detectives—plus her husband and mostly reformed criminal Roarke—have to hunt down a serial killer who meets his victims through a match-making service.

Julia Spencer-Fleming’s latest, I Shall Not Want, isn’t exactly a Christmas book, as it covers a long stretch of time, but it ends at Christmas, and the ending is just wonderful—well, sort of; those of you who have read it will know what I mean, those of you who haven’t, need too!—so I’ll include it anyway. That’s all I can say about it, though—about the Christmas part—without giving away HUGE spoilers. She’s a great writer, and it’s a great book, and the Christmas connection puts it on the list.

My favorite traditional mystery writer is Ngaio Marsh, who wrote a series of British police procedurals about Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn, his trusty sidekick Mr. Fox, and his wife Agatha Troy, a painter. They had a son, Ricky, who appears in some of the later books, as well. The Christmas book that comes to mind is called Tied Up In Tinsel. It’s your classic old school cozy, before ‘cozy’ became synonymous with far-out hobbies and do-it-yourself tips. (Yes, I know I shouldn’t complain; I’m riding that bandwagon, too.) Anyway, it has all the classic ingredients: the young lovers, the big country house, the British class distinctions, and the murder most foul. Highly recommended for anyone who likes traditional mysteries.

Not a mystery, but Mary Kay Andrews’s Blue Christmas is fun. It’s the third in a sort-of series, featuring the characters from Savannah Blues and Savannah Breeze. It’s December in Savannah, GA, and Weezie Foley is decorating her antique shop window in an effort to win the coveted Best Decorated Shop award. There’s a sort of mystery in there, too, although the book is most definitely not shelved in the mystery section. It’s a fun, light read, though—although it would probably be best to read at least Savannah Blues first, to get a better idea of the characters and their relationships. It won’t be a hardship, believe me! Of the three, Savannah Breeze is my favorite, so you may as well include that one, too. It has nothing to do with Christmas, but boy is it fun!

Not a mystery, either, although there are mysterious elements, and technically not even a book, but Lois McMaster Bujold’s novella Winterfair Gifts is great. It was released as part of an anthology called Irresistible Forces, but if you don’t mind reading things online, you can download it from Fictionwise for less than $2 (just follow the link, above). Well worth it. It’s part of the bestselling Vorkosigan Saga, which is a blend of sci-fi, space opera, and Georgette Heyer. Beyond that, it’s some damned fine writing. I don’t like sci-fi as a general rule, but I love Lois McMaster Bujold, and Miles Vorkosigan is as compelling and well-realized a character as any I’ve ever read. If you haven’t met Miles, you have to!

So that’s it for me. I could keep going, but I see I’m already over 800 words, and that means it’s time to stop.

It’s your turn. What’s your favorite Christmas book, and why?


Joyce said...

This is terrible, but I don't think I have a favorite Christmas book. I'm sure I've read a few that were set at Christmas--I just can't think of what they are! I love Julia Spencer-Fleming's books but I haven't read the latest one yet, so I can't count that one.

Jennie Bentley said...

Looks like it's just you and me here today, Joyce. I guess everyone else is shopping. Oh well, their loss...

Joyce said...

They'll check in later, I'm sure!

I've noticed that most of the blogs I visit have been very quiet this week.

Carla Buckley said...

Jennie--this is a great post. Everyone's out shoveling snow, secretly shopping online at work, in a baking frenzy, or cleaning house in preparation for guests. Me, I'm checking in a little late to see what you're up to! Love your suggestions, especially the reference to Ngaio Marsh, who was my first favorite writer. I loved her better than Agatha Christie (oops, did I say that aloud?) and it's no wonder I became a mystery writer. Too bad she and I can't share a book signing someday, but I'm looking forward to doing so with you!

As for holiday reads, I have to confess I save books that have been highly recommended to read during this period of time, when I'm visiting my in-laws in snowbound Minnesota and curling up with a favorite book and a cup of coffee rejuvenates me so that when my kids return to school, I'm raring to start writing again. Who's on my reading list this year? Lee Child, Laura Benedict, Hannah Tinti, Dennis Lehane, and YOU!

Jennie Bentley said...

Aaaw! Thank you, Carla! If you haven't read it yet, you should add Julie Kramer's Stalking Susan to your suitcase. It's set in Minnesota (Julie lives there, doesn't she?). And speaking of winter in Minnesota, have you read any of the Monkeewrench books by PJ Tracy? They have one called Snow Blind that takes place during a Minnesota winter. It's not my favorite - I think I like Monkeewrench (the first) - best, but they're all pretty exciting and fast-moving. That one, Snow Blind, just felt a little pat to me.

Yeah, I like Ngaio Marsh better than Agatha Christie, too. That's not to say that Christie didn't write some great books. My favorite of hers is The Pale Horse, I think. But I like the Marsh characters better, and since I read for character more than for plot, I'm always going to side with the book that has the most compelling cast.

Carla Buckley said...

I absolutely read Stalking Susan and can see why it's a People magazine pick! I can't wait for her next one.

I can't believe I've missed a MN series, so thanks for passing the recommendation on. Have you read William Kent Krueger? Fabulous. And Steven Hamilton's MI series just keeps getting better.

Like us, right?!

Jennie Bentley said...

Definitely like us. Getting better all the time. Like fine wine. Or cheese.

Annette said...

Hey, Jennie, I got your message over on Facebook and here I am. The problem is I can't recall reading any books (other than The Night Before Christmas) that were set at Christmas. I guess when it's cold, I want to read about tropical settings!

And, yes, I was out shopping all day, but I'm done now. I'm planning to hole up until Christmas Eve.

Jennie Bentley said...

Tropical settings, huh? Not sure I can help you there. Does Miami apply? And the Florida Keys? Have you read Paul Levine? Wonderful courtroom drama/comedy series about two lawyers, Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord. My favorite is the first - it's just called Solomon vs. Lord - but they're all good. Janet Evanovich has a series set in Miami, but they're not as good as the Stephanie Plum series. Also Mary Anna Evans; she writes for Poisoned Pen, I think, so the books can be hard to come by, but they're about an archaeologist name Faye Beauchamps who owns an old plantation house in the Mexican Gulf. And if you like hot & abroad, there's Elizabeth Peters's Amelia Peabody series, all set in Egypt. Plenty hot there. I'm just full of suggestions today, aren't I? ;-)

stuckinmypedals said...

An Idiot Girl's Christmas by Laurie Notaro had me laughing so hard I cried!