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Do you like holiday stories?

[poll id="232"]

Once October hits, we are inundated with holiday messages, primarily Christmas messages. In the romance genre, there is no escaping this either.

xmas at Harlequin

Harlequin isn’t the only culprit. Bantam republished Mary Balogh’s “A Christmas Promise“; Sourcebooks is putting out Phillipa Ashley’s “Dating Mr. December”; NAL has Nadia Aiden’s “Twelve Wicked Nights”; and Berkley has the “Wolfsbane and Mistletoe” anthology.

In the past, I’ve read and reviewed holiday books and I always seem to start out with “I don’t really enjoy holiday novels” and then I proceed to exclaim about a certain holiday novel I just read. I think the assumption I have in my head is that holiday books are going to be too saccharine or too hokey. Or, as in the case of Aiden’s Twelve Wicked Nights, the holiday celebrations provide an excuse to engage in sex rather than having the holidays be part of the conflict itself. And, I think, I tend to shy away from holiday books because of ridiculous covers like this one:

Christmas Cat

But Magical Christmas Cat was some kind of popular.   Or maybe the lure of mistletoe is really strong?

In yesterday’s post, both Sunita and Janine mentioned that they loved the Balogh book almost in spite of the strong Christmas message.   Neither of them observe Christmas.     But, according to at least this 2007 poll, a huge majority of people (83%) of the US citizens will celebrate Christmas and the holiday is celebrated throughout the year.   One of my favorite movies is Love Actually
which is a number of mostly happy ever after romances of characters whose lives intertwine each others like a holiday game of Six Degrees of Separation.   It may be that I dislike holiday books in theory but not in practice.

But it could be that I view the holidays and Christmas with a lot of mixed emotions. There are often family members who aren’t present and the group gatherings make those absences more pointed. There is the pressure to be happy during the holidays when that isn’t always possible. There is the expectation that every one enjoys being in the company of others when, in truth, large groups can be stifling. As Sunita noted in her review yesterday:

Balogh has a number of books set at Christmas time, and I think she pulls off the tension between loneliness, loss, and the almost obsessive desire to be happy in the holidays better in this book than in most of them.

Christmas, and the holidays in general, represent a time of very mixed emotion and I don’t know that everyone is as good as Balogh at addressing those issues. So where do you fall? Do you like holiday stories? If so, what are your favorites?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

40 Comments

  1. damyanti
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 04:06:07

    I like a good story, whether set during the holidays or any other time. If the story hooks me, and it is set in the holidays, I won’t set it down just because of that…

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  3. nitnot
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 04:54:40

    “But Magical Christmas Cat was some kind of popular. Or maybe the lure of mistletoe is really strong?”

    It has Erin McCarthy and Nalini Singh. ‘Nuff said.

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  4. Ell
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 05:14:02

    To clarify–

    If a story happens to be set during the holidays, that’s fine. However, if a story appears to be set during the holidays in order to meet some sort of publishing requirement, that tends to set up an expectation that the story will be pulled out of shape by the theme.

    Obviously, good stories can and are written to theme. But theme anthologies or theme novels, for me, start out with a strike against them. Because in my experience, a high proportion of them suck.

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  5. Marsha
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 05:44:26

    I do like holiday stories – those themed to Christmas as well as others – and actively seek them out at the appropriate time of year. I’ve never examined the why of it but I can say that I come by my obsessions honestly in that I was raised by a woman who decked the halls for not only Christmas, but St. Patrick’s Day, the 4th of July, and every other day, and who has a theme sweater for every occasion. “Happy Everything” is her motto.

    She wasn’t much of a reader, though, so I can’t blame her for my annual reading of what I objectively understand aren’t always awesome tales. Maybe I read holiday stories to round out my own enthusiasms, skipping the sweaters in favor of words? I don’t know – I’m hip deep in Christmas anthologies at the moment and just yesterday was wondering why I’ve never seen one around Fourth of July. Seems like a natural to me.

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  6. Lynne Connolly
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 07:04:03

    Not really. I don’t tend to read the books I buy straightaway, so I can be reading a Christmas book in March.
    It’s the sugar many authors pour on their books. I can’t take that, it just goes beyond, for me.
    But I do love a book with a sense of time and place, so I enjoy that. And I love the snow!

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  7. Jennifer Estep
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 07:41:50

    I do like holiday stories. I just finished Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor and really enjoyed it. One of my favorite holiday stories is an Agatha Christie murder mystery — Murder at Christmas I think it’s called — about a dysfunctional family. Not sure what that says about me. LOL.

    Funny you should mention the Magical Christmas Cat book. My local B&N had that one on an end cap display with several other holiday books.

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  8. Scorpio M.
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 07:43:00

    I don’t seek out Christmas stories but I don’t mind them.

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  9. jayhjay
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 07:45:53

    I am not a fan of holiday stories b/c I don’t celebrate Christmas and this seems to be all that is out there. I would read a book that took place over the holiday time if it was incidental to the story, but nothing that is about a Christmas celebration, the meaning of Christmas, etc. It is actually cutting down on my TBR list this month though, so maybe that is good!

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  10. Christine M.
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 07:47:38

    I bought The Magical Christmas Cat (not full price, thank god) for Nalini Singh’s story.

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  11. cead
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 07:52:13

    No. Sometimes I’ll read a Christmas book if it’s part of a series I’m following, or if the set-up is more a set-up for sex, or if I’ve read reviews that complain reveal that the holiday theme isn’t actually very prominent. But, like @Lynne Connolly, I can’t stand the sugar-coating. I’m also Jewish, so heavy-handed Christian holiday messages aren’t really something I’m particularly keen to read, but it’s really more the sugar-coated idealisation that gets to me. I’d be wary of Rosh Hashanah-themed books too. (Though I’ll admit that since I haven’t found a lot of books with Jewish leads, I might read one out of curiosity.)

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  12. Darlene Marshall
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 07:55:24

    I enjoy Christmas stories, especially the Regency set historicals, but I’ve never figured out why I enjoy them since I don’t celebrate Christmas. I generally hope the season will pass by to January 1 as painlessly and quickly as possible.

    Despite that, a Balogh Christmas story is an autobuy for me, and if I want a good weepfest I just have to re-read one of my favorites of hers, “The Best Gift” from the Under the Mistletoe collection.

    Another author who used to figure prominently in the collections was Carla Kelly, and some of her Christmas tales are true keepers as well. I especially enjoyed “Let Nothing You Dismay” from Regency Christmas Wishes. I miss those Signet collections.

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  13. Isabel Cooper
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 08:09:06

    I like Christmas stories, but not those with a heavy Christian message: I’m not Christian and I don’t like message stories, so they strike out on two counts. I like the whole snow-and-lights-and-velvet-dresses thing, and the songs, though, so anything featuring those elements is pretty cool.

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  14. Wendy
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 08:12:58

    I always think I don’t like holiday stories, but then I can’t stay away from the possibility of good open sleigh ride, snow, piles of furs, singing.
    I guess I like the contrast of winter and warmth, but I feel like no one goes there without making it a Christmas story. They should. Winter is the perfect time to be playful, but everyone is always so concerned with getting out of the cold. (And here, my friends, is the reason I can’t leave Minnesota. I complain about the chill every year, but really, deep down, I just want snowball fights and hot cocoa.)
    I also always find myself writing holiday stories set in my fictional worlds. I think holiday stories allow the writer to play on the heightened emotions that already exist around these “ritual” times in human life. This can be used for good or ill.
    Sure, they can get sweet like Twinkies really fast, but done well, I think the opportunity for bittersweet or very spicy is right there.

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  15. library addict
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 08:43:39

    I enjoy reading Christmas-themed books as so many of them are novellas. Unless they have an entry from one of my auto-buy authors, most of these anthologies I get from the library. Rarely do I then rush out to buy them, but I have discovered multiple new-to-me authors this way (most recently Alissa Johnson from A Christmas Ball anthology).

    I like the stories which focus on spending time with family and the stress of the season rather than the religious aspects of Christmas itself (though I do celebrate it). I would love to read a Hanukkah themed romance, but those seem to be pretty rare.

    A Bride for St Nick by Carole Buck is one of my favorites. It's part of the Holiday Honeymoons series she wrote with Merline Lovelace. I also enjoyed A Season for Miracles and Some Enchanted Season from Marilyn Pappano's Bethlehem series. And Memory in Death is one of my favorites from the JD Robb series.

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  16. Maili
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 08:54:46

    I have zero interest in Christmas-themed stories. I grew up without Christmas, which was the norm in my area, and so it means nothing to me.

    Hogmanay was much more important and relevant. Clean out the house on the day of the eve, have a proper knee-up with family and friends, make fun of the local sacrifice, and continue partying for two days (until 2nd Jan).

    Although I never came across one, I’m not sure if I’d be interested in reading a Hogmanay-themed story!

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  17. LoriK
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 08:57:54

    I like some holiday stories, but I always end up feeling that I liked them in spite of being holiday stories, not because of it. Most holiday books seem to involve elements that I find sappy and like Lynne Connolly and cead, I really don’t like that. I also agree with Isabel Cooper about books that use the Christmas for proselytizing. Do. Not. Want.

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  18. GrowlyCub
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 09:09:37

    I have yet to find a Xmas story that’s not overly sugary and I disagree with Sunita and Janine about Balogh, actually. Her Xmas books are so sweet you go into sugar coma. Bah humbug! :)

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  19. Carin
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 09:20:22

    I don’t know if I’ve read a full length holiday story, but I love the novellas and story collections. In the same way that I get in the mood for my grandma’s fudge and other overly sweet treats that are part of my family’s holiday traditions, I get in the mood for Christmas novellas. Like a dessert tray at grandma’s house!

    (I like other holiday themed stories, too. New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving. I’m a sucker for them.)

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  20. Ridley
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 09:52:00

    I am a Christmas junkie. The tree gets bought and put up Dec. 1 and stays up until Jan. 1. Every room in the house gets decorated. The Christmas music comes out and stays out. Wine is mulled, cookies baked and holiday novels are greedily consumed. The holidays are conspicuously rocked in our house.

    Amusingly, I’m a committed atheist, and so is the husband.

    When it comes to holiday novels, I read them for the same reason I cover the house in lights and put Bing on repeat: ambiance. As soon as there are overt Christian messages or the author starts taking shots at the “Happy Holidays” crowd, we’re done. But if Christmas dinners, families, decorations and parties frame a nice, homey romance, that’s a total win.

    The holidays present great set ups for romance stories. You get the homecoming story where one or both characters are back in town after a long absence and love is rekindles. Or the drunken holiday party meetup. Maybe they get stuck together trying to travel to their respective families. The possibilities are endless and exciting.

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  21. Chicklet
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 10:01:17

    I think it’s the sheer overload of Christmas paraphernalia elsewhere that makes me avoid Christmas-themed romances. I’m already getting bombarded with TV commercials, print ads, music in stores (Paul McCartney needs to be flogged for unleashing “Wonderful Christmastime” on an innocent public), etc. — seeing a bunch of Christmassy books turns me off completely. Which is a bummer, because wintertime provides lots of potential for fun, romantic hijinks — but it gets lost in the sugary, gloppy sentiment so prevalent in the Christmas-themed books I’ve read.

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  22. Marianne McA
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 10:33:19

    I like to have a Christmas story for Christmas Eve. There’s a moment where all the mad rushing round has been done, but the children aren’t asleep enough for Santa to visit (given the youngest is now 15, it can be a long wait) – and something like a Regency Christmas story just fills the gap nicely. When we were young, my mum read us ‘A Christmas Carol’ every Christmas Eve, so maybe that’s why it feels right to be reading.

    I read ‘Decent Exposure’ the UK version of ‘Dating Mr December’ by Phillipa Ashley after DA’s recent piece about her. Really enjoyed it, and plan to read her backlist. However in the UK edition the hero is Mr July. I don’t think Christmas is even mentioned. It would aggravate me if I bought a book specifically to get a holiday themed read, and the only Christmassy thing about it was the cover. Is the US edition very different?

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  23. Joy
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 10:39:44

    I love Christmas and all the things about it and I love holiday stories of all kinds (_The Best Christmas Pageant Ever_, anyone?). As a sort of religious person myself, I love how Balogh does not neglect that aspect of the holiday in her Christmas stories either–I’m thinking particularly of the one in last Christmas’s anthology–a getaway of rakes and mistresses and she manages to work a clergyman and a Christmas baby in there!

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  24. meoskop
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 10:57:28

    I think the ‘Christmas’ story is a success because the backdrop is such a highly emotional one. People’s problems seem magnified the most at the holidays, whether financial, interpersonal or otherwise significant. The emotional conflict is built into the story.

    My favorites were Edith Layton’s – and she didn’t even like gingerbread.

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  25. Ridley
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 10:57:44

    @Chicklet:

    Paul McCartney needs to be flogged for unleashing “Wonderful Christmastime” on an innocent public

    ZOMG, where do I sign? I’m behind this idea 110%.

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  26. DS
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 11:41:46

    Two weeks ago I ran into a Salvation Army bell ringer outside of a grocery store. It was all I could do to keep from a hearty “Bah, humbug”.

    I guess I should be grateful they waited until Halloween was over.

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  27. Kay Webb Harrison
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 12:15:26

    @damyanti:

    I agree with damyanti. A good story is a good story no matter when it is set.

    Two of my favorite Christmas-set stories are:

    Christmas Stranger by Joan Hohl, a Silhouette Desire Time Travel in which an Old West Marshall goes forward in time and changes the life of a present day doctor.

    “Sunshine for Christmas” by Mary Jo Putney, a novella about Randolph, the fiance who lost Alyson of The Rake and the Reformer/The Rake. He decides to spend the Christmas holidays in Italy, where he finds his heart’s ease.

    Kay

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  28. Janine
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 13:07:30

    In yesterday's post, both Sunita and Janine mentioned that they loved the Balogh book almost in spite of the strong Christmas message. Neither of them observe Christmas.

    To make a correction, I was raised without Christmas. And since we were Israeli, even Hanukkah was not a big deal in our house. Passover, on the other hand — I would love to read a Passover-themed romance!

    However, while I don’t observe Christmas in any religious way, I have been drawn into celebrating it with my husband and his family. Half the time I’m in a “bah humbug” state of mind about it though, since I dislike shopping for gifts in a rush.

    Anyhow — holiday stories. I have read some over the years although I never read them at Christmastime. I find I’m more interested in reading about snow and cold in summertime.

    Some of the Christmas stories I have enjoyed most and remember best are oldies that include:

    Second Chance by Patricia Gaffney in A Victorian Christmas (An American set historical Christmas story)

    The Best Husband Money Can Buy by Mary Jo Putney, in A Stockingful of Joy (another wonderful marriage of convenience story)

    Sunshine for Christmas by Mary Jo Putney in Christmas Revels (a story that deals with depression during the holiday season)

    The Black Beast of Belleterre by Mary Jo Putney in Christmas Revels or A Victorian Christmas (A Beauty and the Beast themed story)

    “Bluebird Winter” by Linda Howard (I forget where this one appeared; probably an anthology of Silhouette line authors’ stories. This is a story about a pregnant woman stranded in a snowstorm giving birth and who should show up and fall in love with her but a doctor specializing in preemies? Unlikely premise, but the story always moves me.)

    I’m sure I’m forgetting other stories I’ve enjoyed.

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  29. GrowlyCub
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 13:19:01

    @Janine:

    Even though I don’t like Xmas stories, I love the Putney Sunshine for Christmas. I really wish she’d written a novel length book about the two. It’s such a low key, lovely story. If I didn’t have to take Red to the vet I’d re-read it right now.

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  30. Michelle Butler
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 13:57:45

    I love Christmas-themed stories. They are about the only kind of anthologies I ever purchase because I prefer reading a novel to a novella. I also enjoy Christmas-themed novels and have a particular soft spot for historical ones. I think the mix of the dark side of the holidays with the hope for new starts make for strong reads.

    I also love the MJP Sunshine for the holidays, all of Carla Kelly’s novellas (for some reason I was not as into her novel Marian’s Christmas Wish, but I may need to try it again), Mary Balogh’s christmas stories, and some of the Harlequin Historical or Superromance anthologies. I second the recommendation of the Marilyn Pappano novels (I really wish her single-titles were still published!).

    I need to stock up on some new holiday stories soon.

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  31. Jaclyn
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 17:32:35

    I have enjoyed holiday anthologies that combine stories from several authors, but have never read a stand-alone holiday book by a single author, and I don’t read holiday anthologies unless I know at least one author in the collection. This leads me to think that it’s not the holiday theme that’s driving my decision to read the book so much as a new story by a fave author.

    Two things I like about a holiday setting in a story:

    1. The holidays bring friends and family together, making for a great set-up with an old flame, or past crush that can finally be realized.

    2. These stories are often sweet, and around the holidays that’s what I’m looking for. Although I’ll take sweetness set at the beach; the holiday part isn’t what’s essential.

    I read the Magical Christmas Cat because it had stories by three authors I like (though I didn’t enjoy all of the stories in it). And while I thought the cover was totally dopey, because it was man-titty free I read it at Kiddo’s swimming lessons without feeling weird.

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  32. Tae
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 17:51:19

    I like Christmas stories…around Christmas. I’m not a big fan of reading them in July or out of season. I like to be in the holiday mood when I read holiday stories. That being said, I HATE Christmas music and will only tolerate them on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

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  33. Jenny Schwartz
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 19:17:28

    I like to mix in some seasonal reading. I read Trisha Ashley’s latest, “Twelve Days of Christmas”, a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed the traditional English Christmas, mixed up family and dash of romance.

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  34. Leslie
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 19:46:32

    I’m with Darlene, I LOVED those Signet Regency collections and still dig mine out every couple of years. The stories were usually really sweet and sometimes a little sad – oh, so seasonal. I did enjoy Kleypas et al’s Wish List.
    The last holiday collection I bought was last year’s Alluring Tales: Hot Holiday Nights – a little different (ahem) tone than the Signet stories, but I did like them and will probably pull it out again.

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  35. KB Alan
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 22:17:04

    I do like to read holiday stories, but I usually avoid the anthologies, unless I’m in just the right mood. I think the short stories are nearly impossible to keep from being too sweet, but occasionally I like that. Also, I sometimes like to read a Christmas story in April, just to mix things up :D

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  36. Sunita
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 22:37:50

    @GrowlyCub: Heh. I agree that some of them can be overly sweet, but she has several in which the hero or heroine are not in the Christmas spirit at all, so you get this juxtaposition of Bah Humbug with Christmas overload.

    @Janine: We actually had a tree and presents in India, but in a corner of my grandparents’ very Hindu house! My in-laws also celebrate Christmas, but without going to church. If we’re on our own we don’t do trees & decorations, and we do minimal presents. It’s hard to ignore Christmas but so many people today celebrate it as a cultural rather than religious holiday.

    I remember a great Christmas Eve in NYC. I had a lot of Jewish friends and I went out with them, which meant Chinese food and a movie. The theater on the Upper West Side was packed with people we knew.

    @KB Alan: There’s nothing like a Christmas book in the summer heat, especially since there’s always snow on Christmas in the book, even if it’s highly unlikely IRL.

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  37. Bella F.
    Nov 17, 2010 @ 02:41:50

    @nitnot–LOL! I read ur comment and had to laugh because iwas just thinking, “hmmm, I totally picked up that book for Nalini Singh..the cover didnt matter to me iin that particular decision”

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  38. Bella F.
    Nov 17, 2010 @ 02:46:48

    I’m not sure if I’m in a majority or minority for this, but I’m one of those hokey readers that does like to have at least one holiday-perfect read for different times of the year. For instance, I liked reading a witch/warlock story this past Halloween,had a Valentine themd book in Feb, and intend on getting at least 1 Christmas romance this December:)
    It’s not a must but it’s fun.

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  39. Chicklet
    Nov 17, 2010 @ 15:20:54

    @Ridley: Last year, I went to the Mall of America to do some holiday shopping. (Weirdly enough, the mall that people literally fly in from Japan to see is the one most convenient to my house.) Aaaanyhoodle, I heard “Wonderful Christmastime” four times within an hour. If McCartney had materialized in front of me, I would have kicked him in the ‘nads.

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  40. orannia
    Nov 17, 2010 @ 17:30:18

    Santa always used to include a Christmas anthology in my stocking :) I’ve discovered some fantastic authors this way, including Lisa Kleypas, and I still pull my favourites out to re-read over Christmas…which is about the only Christmasy thing I do now :) I don’t think the later stories are as good as some of the earlier ones…

    There's nothing like a Christmas book in the summer heat, especially since there's always snow on Christmas in the book, even if it's highly unlikely IRL.

    Definitely. I’m usually reading about snow etc. while sitting in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt drinking cold water! I have experienced one snowy Christmas…the fact that it snowed in London at Christimas was very unusual according to my work colleagues!

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