A long time ago the Christmas story unfolded in a poor village less than a day’s walk from Jerusalem. Since that night the story has been retold over and over and we never tire of the sweet message. This Christmas season a particularly poignant retelling of the story of our Savior’s birth and childhood appears in Robert Marcum’s Mary & Joseph. I’m not fond of fictional characterizations of scriptural or historical figures, but in Marcum’s well-researched story of the Christ Child’s earthly parents, I found something both touching and real.
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Each December, I compile a list of books I recommend as Christmas gifts and this year I’m starting my list with the greatest of love stories, one that dims the commercial din, enlightens the soul, and brings peace to troubled hearts. Mary & Joseph would be a marvelous gift for almost anyone, but especially for yourself. I can think of few gifts finer at this season than to be able to immerse oneself in this well-written, absorbing story.
Short stories seem to go hand-in-hand with Christmas. Every Christmas a number of these short stories appear as Christmas books. They’re great reading for getting into the Christmas mood and they also make thoughtful gifts for neighbors, visiting teaching sisters, or home teaching families, and one can be used as a special Christmas card for a particular loved one, a shut in, or hospital patient. Many of the old favorites are available in bookstores where can also be found a nice selection of new stories.
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Two of the new books I have particularly enjoyed this year are A Father’s Greatest Gift by Kathryn Jenkins and Christmas in Haggerty by Betsy Brannon Green. The first is a nondenominational story of a young woman’s efforts to help her dying husband make their last Christmas together as a family memorable for their children. The second is of a door-decorating contest in a small town, peopled by Green’s beloved characters, a mystery, and a great deal of Southern charm.
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Shopping for those fiction readers who enjoy novels that fall outside the usual genre categories and which are unusual in some way for the LDS market will be easy this year. Redemption Road by Toni Sorenson Brown is an incredible book (reviewed in November). 80 Miles from Nowhere by Melissa Ann Aylstock and Until the Dawn by Gale Sears have also been reviewed earlier this year but deserve to be mentioned as great gift suggestions.
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One other nontraditional book I greatly enjoyed was A Train to Potevka by Mike Ramsdell. This book is based on the real experience of an American undercover agent whose covert mission had been compromised and he was left to make his way alone across 6,000 miles of Great Mother Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway in the deep cold of a Russian winter. It is a fascinating journey, both physically and emotionally, filled with danger, intrigue, and personal evaluation.
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Here are a couple of suggestions for giving to romance readers on your list. Perfect Timing by Michele Ashman Bell is both satisfying and heartrending. Just imagine a young woman whose mother dies shortly after the young woman enters the mission field, then her father remarries before she returns home! Added to that is the discovery that the man she loves isn’t as faithful as she believed him to be.
Part of the appeal of national romances for many women is their convenient size – perfect for tucking in a backpack, purse, or pocket. Granite publishing’s Love Notes Collection (various authors) is the same size as national market paperback romances.
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A great book to introduce this line to the romantically inclined is Hannah’s Heart by Marnie L. Pehrson. In this short novel, based on the lives of the author’s own great-grandparents, young Hannah falls in love against her father’s wishes. She detests the man her father chooses, and the struggle is on to win the man her heart is set on and change her father’s mind about him. Both her love and her strength of character are tried as she is forced to make painful choices. These small books are inexpensive, making purchasing more than one book in the collection feasible.
A big favorite any time of the year, suspense novels are great gifts, and though there haven’t been as many published this year as last, four outstanding suspense novels top my giving list. I reviewed the Counterfeit by Robison Wells in August and Time Will Tell by Julie Bellon in April. The other two I savored are Double Cross by Betsy Brannon Green and Dead on Arrival by Jeffrey Savage.
Both Green and Savage are adept at keeping readers grasping for logical answers to seemingly impossible dilemmas. Though their styles, their characters, and their plots are totally different from each other, they each keep readers hanging on every word and wishing the author would write the next book faster. Green’s Double Cross returns to the characters from Hearts in Hiding, and along with the suspense, delivers a generous helping of Southern small town ways. Dead on Arrival is the second Shandra Covington mystery, featuring a couple of brash modern city women, Shandra’s police officer friend, Bobby, and a man the reader is never quite sure whether he is dead or alive.
Dean Hughes’ Saboteur (reviewed in October) combines romance, history, and adventure genres into one marvelous volume. Almost any fiction reader would be thrilled to find it in his/her Christmas stocking.
Series are a perennial favorite of LDS readers. Wrap up the next volume in a series a loved one is reading for a greatly appreciated gift or introduce someone you care about to a complete to-date series. Anita Stansfield has finished her Dance series with A Dance to Remember and Rachel Nunes has completed her Huntington Family series with By Morning Light. Both series are prominently high on bestseller lists, attesting to their popularity with readers.
Another series that I believe is complete, though she has left open the possibility of continuing on, is H. B. Moore’s Out of Jerusalem: Toward the Promised Land.
This third volume is by far the best of the trilogy and will be a treat for those following this Book of Mormon saga.
Annette Lyon’s second “temple” book, At the Journey’s End (reviewed in September) is a big favorite of mine as is I’ll Be Seeing You by Jerry Borrowman, and A Banner is Unfurled: Be Still My Soul by Marcie Gallacher and Kerri Robinson. Perhaps I’m being presumptuous, but I would include my own Bracelet series here with my latest volume, The Emerald. A few long time favorite series, such as The Work and the Glory are now available in a less expensive paperback format, perfect for gift-giving.
This past year has seen the publication of many fine LDS novels in a wide array of genres, and my list of personal recommendations is only a suggested starting point. Check the shelves of any store that carries LDS fiction, and you’ll likely find at least one novel that fits your personal taste. If you haven’t read an LDS novel recently, I suggest you give a reader on your list any of these books, then borrow it back after Christmas. I suspect you’ll be pleasantly surprised. And if you’re feeling a little “Bah! Humbug!” this year, read a Christmas short story or better yet, visit the Holy Land with Mary & Joseph.