by | Dec 23, 2016 | The Writer's Life | 6 comments

By Francine Mathews

Like everyone else at this time of year, I’m up to my elbows in house guests, menus, shopping lists and wrapping paper–not to mention, in my particular case, the overflowing laundry baskets of boys home from school. When exhaustion fells me for a few moments of rest by the fire, I have only one desire–to pick up a good book and dive into it. 

But my attention span is so frayed, I’m naturally turning away from nonfiction tomes intended to enlarge my mind and deepen my understanding. Late December is designed for holiday escapes–and this season’s reads are well worth a few stolen hours on the couch.

First up: The Mistletoe Murder by the late P.D. James, a posthumous collection written by a master of storytelling when she was at the peak of her form. This is a slimmer book than I could wish–but the four stories, mostly set around Christmas, are drawn from fairly early in her career and are superb. Some feature her series detective, Adam Dalgliesh; the creepiest entrant does not. Short story collections are ideal for this season, when time is short and closure is useful before turning out the bedside light.

Next: Fields Where They Lay, by Timothy Hallinan. This is the latest installment of his riotous series featuring Junior Bender–a “fast-talking fixer to the felonious” in Hollywood. It is important to know before picking up this book that Junior is a professional burglar. He is also a serendipitous P.I. With a mordant sense of humor. If you like your murder mysteries slightly hard-boiled, in the Elmore Leonard or Donald Westlake tradition, Junior is for you. This was a Kirkus Best Book of 2016, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2016, and a BookPage Top Pick for December. 

And for those of you who are looking for a holiday escape read entirely free of mayhem, I would suggest the book sitting on my bedside table right now–another collection of short stories, this time by Georgette Heyer, a doyenne in her field as revered as Dame P.D.–her field being the invention, out of whole cloth, of the Regency Romance. Heyer, who died in 1971, is perhaps the closest heir to Jane Austen in the English language, and her world of Corinthians and Diamonds of the First Water is beloved by many all over the world. Snowdrift and Other Stories reissues a number of her previously published short stories–with the added fillip of three entrants lost to time and the modern eye. Which is a fabulous holiday gift to Heyer fans. The book, published by Heineman in England, is available through third-party sellers on for those of us who absolutely have to have it right away.

What are you reading in these dark winter months? Share your favorites with us!

Merry, Merry–


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  1. Karna Bodman

    Francine – what a wonderful list of ideas for Christmas reading. I'm heading to Barnes & Noble today for some last minute shopping – which you just made much easier. As for what I'm reading now: (1) a longer book, but delightfully written in what I would term "erudite" language – A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW and (2) THE HAMILTON AFFAIR. These are in addition to books written by some of our Rogue colleagues! Now thanks for your great suggestions – Merry Christmas to you!

  2. Francine

    I've been wanting to read both of those, Karna. Would love to hear what you think.

  3. Karna Bodman

    About those books I mentioned – with all the talk about Alexander Hamilton, I found THE HAMILTON AFFAIR particularly interesting….it begins with his truly rough childhood down in St. Croix — showing how he overcame al of those difficulties to make such a mark on the new American government's monetary policy among other things. And it tells us more about the "affair" he did have — hinting that it was all a set-up. You'll see if you have a chance to read it. It's great. Haven't finished A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW yet – but have to say, the writing is so "erudite" — it's amazing.

  4. Sonja Stone

    Francine, thank you for the recommendations! I, too, look for a lighter read this time of year–a few pages as I'm tucked in bed to help me drift off. Currently, I'm rereading THE BOOK THIEF, narrated by Death. Perhaps not the best holiday choice…

  5. Gayle Lynds

    Those are wonderful books, Francine! And I can just see the piles of laundry. There's nothing better than family, and you know they're home when the washing machine is running! Merry Christmas!

  6. Jamie Freveletti

    Love Regency novels and thank you for the suggestion. Happy Holidays!