As a child, if I was disappointed about something, my mom would encourage me to look at the bright side. She would then proceed to take me on a cheery, verbal trip to said bright side, explaining and enumerating its advantages. With all the suffering that exists, excavating the advantages of this time can be a challenge. Embracing any blessings we can find is often all we can do. This holiday season, fewer places to go amounts to more time to become immersed in the pages of a good book. Here are some selections that Literary Mama editors recently enjoyed, beginning with one of my own. Enjoy, and may your holidays be safe and peaceful.
Author Jasmine Guillory is responsible for some of my favorite summer beach reads (The Proposal, Party of Two, The Wedding Party), so I was thrilled to learn she’d penned a story set during the festive holiday season. In Royal Holiday, dedicated social worker Vivian Forest is whisked away to England to spend Christmas with her daughter, a stylist for one of the royals. Vivian spends her stay on palace premises, enjoying the hospitality, the luxury, and of course, the scones. Enter Malcolm Hudson, the Queen’s private secretary, who takes an immediate liking to Vivian and after some persuading, treats her to a myriad of magical excursions throughout London. While romance blooms, readers vicariously tour British landmarks, get a taste of British cuisine (e.g. mushy peas, which surprisingly delight the protagonist), and learn a bit about palace protocol. Various mishaps and misunderstandings threaten Vivian and Malcolm’s relationship, though, and readers are kept in suspense regarding the prognosis for their growing love affair, especially since a promotion awaits Vivian back in the States. In addition to his role at the palace, Malcolm serves as a father figure to his creative nephew who would prefer to study art than attend Oxford, further amplifying the novel’s theme of whether to pursue the practical or follow one’s heart.
Senior Editor Christina Consolino shares her latest read, an adventurous tale that took her to Italy: “Lori Nelson Spielman has been on my radar since I read her first novel, The Life List, so I’ve eagerly anticipated the release of her latest novel, The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany. As Nelson Spielman is wont to do in all her books, she takes a unique premise—this time centering her story around a centuries-old curse that hinders second-born Fontana daughters from finding lasting love—and drops us right into the story. In this case, the story begins in Lucchesi Bakery and Delicatessen in present-day Brooklyn, where Emilia (a second-born Fontana daughter) makes cannoli while dreaming of true love. One day, Emilia receives a letter from eccentric Aunt Poppy, who offers her the gift of a lifetime: a trip to Italy, the country where the family curse began. Emilia and her cousin Lucy accompany Aunt Poppy and spend their days visiting Venice, Tuscany, and eventually, the Amalfi Coast, where Aunt Poppy is supposed to meet the great love of her life, Rico, after having spent decades apart. The storyline is compelling, the characters are engaging, and the vibrant imagery of the Italian countryside makes the reader feel as though she is along for the journey. Anyone who likes novels about love, family relationships, secrets, and self-discovery will truly enjoy this book. I certainly did, and I cannot wait to see what else Nelson Spielman has in store for us.”
“With the pandemic having seriously curtailed my public life,” writes Senior Editor Libby Maxey, “I thought it might be a good time to read Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life. The title is a bit inaccurate, as it turns out. Bryson has set himself to the task of writing a history mapped out with reference to the rooms of his own house, a 19th-century English parsonage. The book spends more time, however, on the history of English and American architecture, electricity, sewerage, and disease than it does on what we might consider private life. Bryson can’t get enough of adverbs and tangents, but if you can roll with his writing style, you’ll probably find some valuable tidbits in his grab bag of educational anecdotes. Meanwhile, you’ll surely find yourself entertained. His discussion of how earlier eras regarded children may be of particular interest to Literary Mama readers.”
Reviews Editor Autumn Purdy shares a collection that serves as a testament to the joy of reading, capturing the essence of this column: “Last Christmas, my husband and children gifted me a copy of A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader, a compilation of work edited by Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick. Ever since I unwrapped the mesmerizing book, I have savored and delighted in the contents of this epistolary collection, which can be described as more than one hundred letters written ‘to the young readers of today’ from a wide array of ‘artists, writers, scientists, and cultural heroes.’ Each ode to reading is well-matched with an artistic rendition that further exemplifies why holding a book in the palm of your hands is an extraordinary experience. Written primarily, I believe, to inspire youthful minds to put down their devices and instead pick up a real, tangible, life-changing thing, young and old alike will appreciate the heartfelt depths of this volume. I suspect readers will be further spellbound as they catch a mirrored version of themselves through the works of the writers and artists commissioned for the project. If I owned a coffee table, this illustrated book would be its focal point, the centerpiece. Instead, I often reclaim this treasured volume from its prime placement on the living room bookshelf and begin exploring it again. Every excerpt makes a lovely companion, each letter is a connection to a kindred spirit, and on every page, I discover printed reassurance that reading a book will never go out of style. Several of my favorite creatives—Anne Lamott, Yo-Yo Ma, Mary Oliver, Ann Patchett—penned letters for the book. Witnessing their written correspondence, as well as that of the numerous philosophers, poets, artists, scientists, and humanitarians who join them in this anthology, has been thrilling. Anne Lamott quite frankly shares, ‘If you love reading, you will have an amazing life. Period.’ I couldn’t agree more. The letters featured are as varied as the human experience, and the inspiration, humor, anecdotes, and literary pondering explored between the hardbound covers of this tributary tome vary just as widely. Yet all contributors remain united in one great purpose: to give witness to how reading stories changed their lives.”