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Book reviews: Holiday reading to warm up the season

Posted 10:00 a.m. Monday

For anyone looking to snuggle up next to a fire and enjoy some warm, fuzzy reading, below is a list of holiday-themed books to bring the spirit of the season into the hearts of readers.

"A CHRISTMAS MESSAGE," by Anne Perry, $20, 162 pages (f)

"A Christmas Message" is the 14th book in Anne Perry's Christmas Stories series. Perry combines mystery and suspense in an allegorical tale about a Christmas night in Jerusalem.

The novella is set in Palestine in the year 1900, two days before Christmas. Victor Narraway is taking his wife Vespasia to Jerusalem as a Christmas present. At their hotel in Jaffa, Victor and Vespasia meet an old astronomer. They become friends with him, but that night he is murdered. Victor finds a note the astronomer left them asking the couple to complete his task of taking an ancient parchment to Jerusalem by Christmas Eve.

Victor and his wife agree, embarking on a pilgrimage to the city while followed by a mysterious, dark figure. The journey that follows is full of symbolism and interesting characters but still holds the Victorian charm Perry is known for and a Christmas message for all religions.

"A Christmas Message" contains no sexual content, a few mild swear words and a murder scene, but no graphic descriptions.

— Tara Creel

"CHRISTMAS JOY," by Nancy Naigle, St Martin's Griffin, $15.99, 352 pages (f)

USA Today best-selling author Nancy Naigle is at it again with "Christmas Joy," a tale about finding romance in unlikely places. The main character, Joy Holbrook, is completely obsessed with her job as a market research executive. That all comes to a halt when her Aunt Ruby suffers a fall and ends up in a rehabilitation center during the holiday season. This causes Joy to take a leave of absence so she can move back to the small town of Crystal Falls and manage the family farm.

Joy eventually becomes acquainted with Ben Andrews, a local accountant and handyman. They work together to help prepare for the annual Christmas Home Tour. As they spend more and more time together, Joy finds herself thinking less about her fledgling career and more about love and the spirit of Christmas.

Infused with loads of small-town charm, "Christmas Joy" is a heartwarming story that will bring joy to all who read it. The book contains mild sexual content, but no violence or swearing.

— Ryan Curtis

"DREIDELS ON THE BRAIN," by Joel Ben Izzy, Dial Books, $17.99, 320 pages, ages 9-12 (f)

Joel has dreidels on the brain in December 1971, hoping that this year Hanukkah really will be a season of miracles for his family. His father has a crippling health condition and a slew of unsuccessful inventions, and his mother always smiles but struggles to pay the bills. A few small miracles does not seem like much to ask of God, but is God even listening?

Cheeky and tender, "Dreidels on the Brain" by Joel Ben Izzy is a charming coming-of-age story about a boy looking for God and miracles. The introduction to Jewish culture will be eye-opening for non-Jewish tween readers, but the most illuminating discovery may be that Joel has the same insecurities, questions, dreams and longings to fit in as every other adolescent. Perfect for a time when different religions and races seem incompatible, "Dreidels on the Brain" will remind readers of the universality of the human experience.

This novel does not contain any violence, sexual content or profanity.

— Rachel Chipman

"THE CHRISTMAS LIST," by Ed J. Pinegar, Covenant Communications, $7.99, 111 pages (f)

In classic Christmas fashion, "The Christmas List," a novella by Ed J. Pinegar, reminds readers that the spirit of the season is found in doing little things for others.

This sequel to "The Christmas Code" is set 10 years after the first book, when Jacob discovers a list of simple acts of kindness that allow the joy of Christmas into the lives of both the giver and receiver.

Jacob enlists his friends, each with their own private struggles, to turn outward in the days counting down to Christmas. Each day, they focus on a different virtue — like friendship, gratitude or withholding judgment — and report back on a community blog to share their experiences.

Pinegar's story is a short, easy read. Its greatest strength is its simplicity in reminding readers that turning to Christ really means turning toward others.

"The Christmas List" is devoid of objectionable material and is suitable for any audience. Readers are invited to share their own experiences with the virtues from the list on the website MrGsLegacyLivesOn.blogspot.com.

— Miranda H. Lotz

"CHRISTMAS GREETINGS FROM THE PRESIDENTS," Shadow Mountain, $14.99, 88 pages (nf)

History is shown in a unique way when reading passages penned by past presidents to the people of the United States in “Christmas Greetings From the Presidents.” Viewing historical events by reading these letters gives an intimate look into significant American events from 1927 to 2009.

Complete with photographs and explanations regarding the events of the time, the penning of these letters take on dramatic significance. Herbert Hoover’s thoughts are poignant when considering they were written during the Great Depression. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who painted as a hobby, included a special portrait of George Washington to his staff. George W. Bush’s 2001 letter, written a few months after the tragedy of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, brings to mind the horrors experienced by a nation and the unity that followed.

Seventeen letters in all offer brief glimpses into a time and can help readers appreciate how Christmastime has nationally united people, no matter their circumstances.

“Christmas Greetings From the Presidents” is a clean book with nothing offensive in it.

— Elizabeth Reid

"CHRISTMAS MAGIC," edited by David G. Hartwell, Tor Books, $18.99, 496 pages (f)

David G. Hartwell, who has won several awards for his anthologies and passed away on Jan. 20 of this year, according to tor.com, put together a wonderful collection of fantasy holiday stories in “Christmas Magic.” The eclectic group of authors includes Harlan Ellison, Alan Dean Foster and Donald Westlake.

The stories range from whimsical to flat-out weird, from a story of talking animals in a stable on Christmas morn helping put two lovers together, to a story of Nackles, who is the evil opposite of Santa. This collection is something of a Christmas-themed version of the old television show by Rod Serling “Night Gallery.” The stories can be heartwarming, funny or just plain strange, but they will all entertain and make readers rethink or review their notions of Christmas.

There is no adult language. Violence does happen in one or two stories but is not graphic or gratuitous. The romance is vague and clean.

Hartwell was a celebrated editor of science fiction, fantasy and horror. He was best known for his work with Signet, Pocket and Tor publishers. He has been described as one of the most influential editors of science fiction in the past 40 years.

— Kent Larson

"AN AMISH CHRISTMAS," by Shelley Shepard Gray, Avon Inspire, $12.99, 259 pages (f)

Shelley Shepard Gray, a best-selling Christian author, added another book to her Charmed Amish Life series. In “An Amish Family Christmas,” more than one character is given a second chance at finding happiness. The heroine of the story hides a troubled past that comes back to haunt her, while her unlikely suitor is trying to recover from the death of his parents.

The healing power of love and the strength of family support are strong themes throughout the novel. A large Amish family comes together to heal their shared wounds suffered by a loss. Another former Amish family in the story comes together to help others heal from their experiences with domestic violence and abuse.

Issues of domestic violence and premarital sex are lightly discussed as characters deal with the consequences of past actions. One innocent kiss is shared between two characters and there is one scene of violence where domestic abuse is put to an end.

The difficult topics that underlie this love story are handled with sensitivity and care. There is no swearing, and good prevails over evil.

— Stacey Nash

Tara Creel is a Logan-native-turned-California-girl and mother of four boys. Her email is taracreel@gmail.com, and she blogs at taracreelbooks.wordpress.com.

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