Last week, we offered holiday shopping suggestions for poetry lovers, with all our Poetry Friday authors. But we didn’t want to leave out other books and writers we’ve featured in 2009!

First, just in case you’re still looking for books with Christmas themes, here are a few favorites from WVFC contributing editor Elizabeth Willse, who each year produces a holiday round-up for the Newark Star Ledger and confesses to being “giddy about all things Christmas, from music to tree trimming”:

greeleyHome for Christmas, Andrew M. Greeley, Forge Books, 192 pp., $14.99

Many of Father Andrew Greeley’s novels highlight themes that come to mind at Christmas: kindness, love, family, responsibility and faith. One of the central characters is a soldier deployed to Afghanistan, adding a timely element to this Christmas romance.

Almost everyone in Father Jimmy’s parish knows that Petey Pat and Mariana have been destined for one another since childhood. After a prom-night tragedy, Petey Pat enlists in the military, leaving everything familiar behind.

The many kinds of healing at the core of this novel seem a lot to pack into a tender Christmas romance. Told in brief, choppy scenes, letters, even dialogue that reads like a transcript of a news broadcast, Greeley’s story gets disjointed and in its own way at times. But as the story gains momentum, it gains emotional power.

Greeley confronts the complexity of grief as the two reconnect and face the past. Although he tackles serious themes, banter between Petey and Mariana, and Father Jimmy’s kind humor, add playful warmth.

The young Charles Dickens.

The young Charles Dickens.

The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits, Les Standford, Crown Publishers, 256 pp., $19.95

“The Man Who Invented Christmas” is a treasure trove of information about Dickens’ past, the evolution of the publishing industry and, of course, the beginning of the modern Christmas celebration. Readers may be surprised to know that the Christmas holiday Bob Cratchit asked Scrooge for was not commonplace in 19th-century England or America, and Christmas cards, gifts and turkey dinners were not prevalent in 1843. For Charles Dickens, who published “A Christmas Carol” himself, marketing the story was quite a gamble, with no indication of the classic it would become or the traditions it would inspire.

Although Standford reveals himself as more of an academic than a storyteller in somewhat dry prose, his attention to historical detail is sure to fascinate and delight curious readers, and may inspire reading or rereading of the original “A Christmas Carol” or other Dickens works.

handmaidcarpenterThe Handmaid and the Carpenter, Elizabeth Berg, Ballantine Books, 176 pp., $17.95

Best-selling novelist Elizabeth Berg’s lyrical prose draws the reader into the lives of Mary and Joseph, forced to travel far from everything familiar in Nazareth. Berg transforms the familiar Nativity story into a close look at a very human couple, struggling with their faith in each other and in God. Her writing gives a sense of a distant place and time, while keeping the couple’s tangled emotions immediate.

This is a story of faith in many senses. It is not easy for Joseph and Mary to comprehend her pregnancy, with only her own faith and a few muddled dreams as guidance. Joseph wrestles with his religious beliefs, as well as his ability to trust Mary’s word and stay close to her.

Berg’s tale is an intimate view of the love and utterly human flaws in Mary and Joseph’s relationship, and a respectful invitation to the reader to meditate on their place in the larger tradition.

Lakeshore Christmas, Susan Wiggs, Mira Books, 384 pp., $21.95

LakeshoreChristmasImageThrown together to plan Avalon’s annual Christmas pageant, shy librarian Maureen Davenport and former child star–turned–rock musician Eddie Haven have nothing in common. She loves the beauty and hope of the season. He’s helping the pageant as court-ordered community service. As sparks of argument and attraction fly between the mismatched pageant directors, there are few surprises.

Few surprises, but still an engaging Christmas tale, fueled by the warmth and humor of their budding romance, along with the stories of the rest of the community. It would have been nice to see more of the rest of the pageant volunteers, like the wisecracking Veltry brothers, geeky Cecil Byrne and photographer Daisy Bellamy, whose subplot feels particularly unresolved.

What makes Wiggs’ story work so well is the plausible flaws and insecurities of her ensemble cast, particularly the screwball comedy of the central lovers edging warily toward a relationship. Even a touch of outright Christmas magic works to add genuine warmth to the story.

But to fill your gift list with the voices we’ve shared this year on Women’s Voices for Change, you can start with the list below. Click on their name to see their post, and the second to their latest books.

gailcollins3When we caught up with Gail Collins a America-s-Women-400-Years-of-Dolls-Drudges-Helpmates-and-Heriones-MC-BargainBabe-fb-20718575few month ago, she gave all of us lots of reasons to buy her new book, When Everything Changed. But you also might love her previous book, America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and Heroines, which reminds us that women’s resilience has always been the fulcrum of change.

mcnamaraIn times like these, when Alaska is in the kmcover1news for all sorts of reasons, it’s good to know that we can pick up Narrow Road to the Deep North by Katherine McNamara, editor of the long-lost, pioneering Archipelago.

olivekIf it’s awards that most interest your book-loving gift recipients, try Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer winner, Olive Kitteredge,hemingsescover or Annette Gordon-Reed‘s already iconic The Hemingses of Monticello (which also won the National Book Award).

stillbrave_Similar intellectual heft comes from Beverly Guy Sheftall, director of the Women’s Resource and Research Center and professor of women’s studies at Spelman College. We plan on starting with her newest, Still Brave: The Evolution of Black Women’s Studies.

nightnavigationcoverGinnah Howard, who graced us with a two-part interview, is still in the middle of writing her grand trilogy, which we can so far enter only with The New York Times–praised Night Navigation.

savannahcrookedhousesSusan B. Johnson, imscreamingone of our newer columnists, gave us a Christmas memory just this week. But for a better shot at why she was named Georgia Author of the Year, you might want to pick up Savannah’s Little Crooked Houses. If Elizabeth Flock‘s essays were more your style, try her newest novel, But Inside I’m Screaming.

bookofnamesJill Gregory and Karen Tintori bluecottongowntalked to us about how friendship made them co-authors and their first book, The Book of Names, as did Patricia Brown about her Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife’s Memoir.

admissionJean Hanff Korelitz, one of our Still Alice finalfirst Ten Questions at WVFC, talked about reporting and writing the acclaimed Admission, while Lisa Genova, our most recent, let us peek at her journey from neuroscientist to novelist, and that of her novel Still Alice from self-published upstart to center of a national dialogue on Alzheimer’s disease.

Please tell us in comments what books, if any, you’re buying this season, and whether you’re choosing new, used or e-books.

Join the conversation

  • Mary Faucher December 21, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    I am recommending “Courting Kathleen Hannigan,” by Mary Hutchings Reed, who was my roommate in law school. As Amazon’s description says: this novel is based on “Reed’s (Yale Law, ’76) personal knowledge of what goes on behind those beautifully veneered law firm doors. Kathleen Hannigan shrewdly plays the partnership game with her whole heart until she is called to testify in a sex discrimination suit and is forced to choose between her partners and her principles.” And for each book sold, Reed will donate $1.00 to the Lawyers for the Creative Arts (in Chicago) and $.50 to the Girls First Project run by the Seattle YWCA. The book is available from Amazon and on Kindle.

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