Holly Jolly Book Season


Christmas is my favorite time of the year.  The lights, the good will, the food, yes, I love all of it.  But it’s also the time of year when traffic in the bookstore doubles, even triples, and I get to do that much more of one of my favorite pastimes: talking about books.  Here’s my list of the books I think I’ll be talking about the most.

For anyone |  Two years ago, after it was released on November 30, 2021, I recommended Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These to anyone who would listen.  The content of its 128 pages is nearly perfect.  The following year, Grove Press released another novella by the Irish author, Foster.  Both of these stories had been published to great acclaim in her home country years before.   But still our discovery of Claire Keegan feels fresh and I’m delighted to report that a collection of three more of her stories, So Late in the Day, is being released this November.  All three books are slim, have a small trim size, and feature gorgeous cover art similar in style.  They make lovely hostess gifts, stocking stuffers, book club gifts, teacher’s gifts, or really anyone's anytime gifts.  You’ll want to pick up two copies of each — one set to keep for yourself. 

For the home chef |  Erin French owns the popular restaurant The Lost Kitchen in Freedom, Maine (now also the subject of a television show of the same name airing on Max).  She’s the author of the cookbook The Lost Kitchen and the memoir Finding Freedom. Her new cookbook, Big Heart, Little Stove, hits shelves on October 31 and features over 75 recipes for meaningful but simple dishes.  French also gives ideas for creating moments of connection around the table through decorations and thoughtful gestures.  Other new cookbooks to consider include More is More: Get Loose in the Kitchen by Molly Baz, who wants to make cooking fun, and Seafood Simple by Eric Ripert.  A good back-up is the newest Best American Food Writing, this year edited by Mark Bittman.

For the music lover | 2023 seems to be the year of the musician biography.  Britney Spears’ new memoir, The Woman in Me, will likely end up being the bestselling of the bunch, and I’ve read it and I can recommend it — it’s got bombshells galore, and her story deserves to be heard.  But wait, there’s more: Barbra Streisand’s long-awaited memoir, My Name is Barbra, finally hits shelves in November.  Dolly Parton’s My Life in Rhinestones is a big, beautiful, blinged-out affair.  Willie Nelson gives us Energy Follows Thought: The Stories Behind My Songs.  Jeff Tweedy is back with World Within a Song: Music That Changed My Life and Life That Changed My Music.  There are also new biographies of Madonna, George Harrison, Lou Reed, and Tina Turner.  Laura Flam and Emily Sieu Liebowitz have compiled an oral history of 60s girls groups called, But Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?  Or take a different route and pick up This is What It Sounds Like: What the Music You Love Says About You by Susan Rogers and Ogi Ogas, which will help anyone understand how music, emotion, and the brain work together to form love. 

For the fiction lover |  One of my favorite books of the year is Tom Lake by Ann Patchett. It’s simply a good story well told.  I also loved Night Watch by Jayne Anne Phillips, a novel set during the Civil War that shows women enduring and healing, alone on the land and together in an asylum.  It’s a novel that offers plenty of surprises and beauty amidst the horrors of war.  Other favorite reads in the Book Shop this year by big-name authors include The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store by James McBride, Let Us Descend by Jesmyn Ward, The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese, The Fraud by Zadie Smith, and Absolution by Alive McDermott.  For genre readers, The Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros was an instant bestseller when it came out in May and has been hard to keep in stock since then.  Believe the hype and get it for your favorite dragon-loving reader in your life.  A special edition releases in early November with sprayed black edges and two bonus chapters.  Reliably John Grisham is back with The Exchange, a follow-up to The Firm, and Ken Follett returns with The Armor of Light, a sequel to A Column of Fire and the fifth in the Kingsbridge series, which began over 30 years ago with The Pillars of the Earth.  If you’re looking for
something a little different, Dayswork by Chris Batchelder and Jennifer Habel, a husband-and-wife team, is a meditative, gorgeously written novel of a marriage — and also the weirdest Melville biography you’ll ever read. 

For nonfiction readers of all stripes |  What makes a better gift than delight? The poet Ross Gay’s The Book of (More) Delights contains micro essays detailing a year of daily observations of things that bring joy.  Legendary producer Rick Rubin said he set out to write a guide to creating great art and instead “it revealed itself to be a book on how to be.”  Give The Creative Act to your creative friend or to a young person just starting out in life.  Liza Mundy, author of the bestseller Code Girls, has written a history of women in the CIA, The Sisterhood. 

It should surprise no one that women made good spies, but the book still has many reveals and unknown stories to tell and makes a great gift for history buffs. New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast takes readers on a wild ride in her new graphic memoir I Must Be Dreaming, a surreal journey into dreams.  Finally, for sports fans wondering who the best football players of all time are, there’s The Football 100 from the sports publication The Athletic, which offers 100 profiles for readers to debate.     

For the kids |  You’ll notice a lot of familiar names and faces in this year’s crop of kids holiday picture books. For starters, there’s How the Grinch Lost Christmas! I’m not kidding. It’s written in the style of Dr. Suess and takes place a year after the events of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. When the Grinch tries to win at Christmas by creating the best Christmas tree ever, he needs to be reminded once again what Christmas is really about. Dasher: How a Brave Little Doe Changed Christmas Forever by Matt Tavares is a more modern classic, and now it has a follow-up: Dasher Can’t Wait for Christmas. With artwork that is subtly realistic with a whiff of nostalgia and plenty of snow, Tavares’ newest book celebrates the season by showing the joy of helping others. If Mo Willems’ Pigeon books are a staple in your household (Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late, etc.), don’t miss Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Sleigh.  Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen make a great picture book duo (Extra Yarn is one of my all-time favorites), and they’ve once again teamed up on How Does Santa Go Down the Chimney?  This book is full of humorous conjecture as it attempts to answer that age-old question.  For a non-holiday themed picture book, poet Amanda Gorman and illustrator Christian Robinson have created a beautiful story about change and hope.  

Some of the most exciting new books for older kids also have a lot of recognizable names. 

The Wild Robot Protects is the third book in Peter Brown’s Wild Robot series and it sees Roz on an underwater journey in an attempt to save her beloved island and the ocean itself. 

Carl Hiassen provides the wild ride you’d expect in a familiar Florida setting in Wrecker, replete with smugglers, grave robbers, and pooping iguanas (naturally). And for those who worried the Percy Jackson series was over, rejoice, for the original heroes of The Lightning Thief are back, and they’re trying to help Percy get into college in spite of the gods: he must complete three quests in order to get the three letters of recommendations necessary for his application. 

For youWhile shopping for others, it’s hard not to treat yourself. And you deserve it! Plus it’s nice to let the holidays seep into your own reading to get you into the spirit. England has produced Christmas murder mysteries since the Golden Age of mystery writing in the 1930s.  Finally the U.S. is starting to catch on. Check out North Shore author Peter Swanson’s The Christmas Guest, a novella about an American student in London who accepts an invitation to spend the Christmas holiday at a classmate’s Cotswold country manor. As secrets are revealed, this idyllic setting unravels into a terrifying week — and a satisfying thriller.  For those who like their holiday reads less spine-tingling and more like a mug of hot chocolate, the ever-reliable Scottish author Jenny Colgan returns with Midnight at the Christmas Bookshop.   Am I biased because it’s set in a bookstore?  Perhaps.   But Colgan has a knack for charm and in her newest book, a newly single bookstore manager lets an American production company film a cheesy Christmas movie in her store because she needs the money.  It can be hard to find time to read this time of year, so let me remind you that poetry exists.  A Nature Poem for Every Winter Evening, edited by Jane McMorland Hunter, can help you get through some long nights—and when you’re done with it, pass it along.  It, too, makes a great gift. 

Hannah Harlow is owner of The Book Shop, an independent bookstore in Beverly Farms.  Harlow writes biweekly recommendations in her column “Shop Thoughts” in the Manchester Cricket.  See more of what she recommends reading at