112 reader recommendations for festive holiday fiction

112 reader recommendations for festive holiday fiction

Readers, there’s nothing like a good long book list for the holidays, am I right?

These past years I received numerous requests for holiday fiction recommendations for adults, ranging from “please no cheesy Hallmark stories” to “books set during this holiday but not specifically about it” to “give me all the holiday romance.” We put it up as a #WSIRNReaderRecs post and the responses flooded in. But as the holiday fiction requests keep coming, I thought an easy-to-use, easy-to-reference reader-generated book list would be so helpful—and we’ve added even more titles to this year’s new list!

A few notes. We’ve separated this into three main categories: holiday fiction, holiday romance, and books set during the holidays but not about the holidays. There are a few subcategories for the first two. However, you’ll have to do some detective work to figure out whether something is to your reading taste, as one person’s definition of cheese is someone else’s definition of the perfect book, one person’s steamy romance is someone else’s version of tame, and so on. We included books that are part of a series and in most cases, the recommender said they could be read as standalones. But again, you’ll want to do your research.

New this year: we’ve chosen ten titles to highlight—we hope you enjoy browsing the extra info on these books! The featured titles are a mix of titles I particularly love and newer titles of note. And because we’ve received so many requests for holiday audiobook recommendations, we’ve also added notes in parentheses for titles that are great on audio. (Please drop your favorite listens in the comments section!)

I’d also love to hear about your favorite Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa novels in the comments as this holiday fiction list is quite Christmas-heavy.

10 stand-out book selections for the holiday season

Some links (including all Amazon links) are affiliate links. More details here.

Little Women

Little Women

Alcott's 1869 novel about New England sisters growing up in the Civil War Era is commonly mentioned as a favorite holiday re-read. The opening line: "'Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents,' grumbled Jo, lying on the rug." Did you know that Alcott herself didn't want to write Little Women? When a publisher asked her to write a book for girls, she put aside the thrillers she'd been writing and wrote about the only girls she knew—her sisters. The book's unexpected success changed her life and literary career, and turned many children in to readers, too. More info →
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Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice

Your most recommended title. In this quiet novel, five individuals, each dealing with their own painful personal tragedy, are unexpectedly brought together during the Christmas season in the Scottish countryside—though they've decided not to celebrate the holiday; it's too painful this year. But redemption is found in surprising places, and in the midst of so much loss, love and redemption emerge. This book was a delightful surprise; I enjoyed it so much. More info →
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The Snow Child

The Snow Child

Author:
I loved this magic-infused story about love, loss, and the wildness of nature, based on a wintery fairytale. (Hear more about the book's origins in One Great Book Volume IV Book 6). It's Alaska, 1920, the night of the first snowfall, which inspires a typically serious couple to indulge in a bit of silliness: they build a child out of snow, just for fun. In the morning, the snow child is gone, but the couple spies a young girl they've never seen before running through the trees. From there, a magical and tender story unfolds. More info →
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Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas (Being a Jane Austen Mystery)

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas (Being a Jane Austen Mystery)

You've been telling me to read this series for YEARS, and I finally picked up the first few books on a fall camping trip. I can't wait to read this holiday-inspired installment soon. Nancy Drew meets Jane Austen in this murder mystery set on Christmas Eve, 1814. When a holiday guest dies in a tragic accident, Jane is suspicious, and is soon chasing down cleverly-hidden clues to discover the murderer's identity before they can strike again. A cup of tea and cozy fire is a must when reading this one. More info →
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The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living

The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living

Author:
A fun, more-or-less lighthearted read about a Boston pastry chef who flees to the country after literally setting her workplace on fire with a flambéed dessert. Perfectly cozy and seasonable for winter reading. Reviewers called this parts Jan Karon and parts Gilmore Girls. Perfect for fans of Jenny Colgan's The Little Beach Street Bakery or Laura Dave's Eight Hundred Grapes. I can't help but notice that Louise Miller's covers are every bit as charming as her characters. More info →
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Mr. Dickens and His Carol

Mr. Dickens and His Carol

Author:
Anthony Doerr, author of All The Light We Cannot See calls this "A charming, comic, and ultimately poignant story about the creation of the most famous Christmas tale ever written. It's as foggy and haunted and redemptive as the original; it's all heart, and I read it in a couple of ebullient, Christmassy gulps." You don't need to appreciate Dickens in order to be charmed by this novel full of London atmosphere and holiday spirit. But after reading, you might be tempted to pick up the original tale. More info →
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Royal Holiday

Royal Holiday

When her daughter Maddie takes on styling a royal family member, Vivian Forest tags along to see the London sights. She doesn't expect to fall for the queen's royal secretary, but his charm and loyalty win her over. What starts as flirtation turns to a full on holiday love affair, but what happens when it's time for Vivian to return home? Mistletoe kisses, British accents, and a royal palace make for such a fun romance read. If you've read Guillory's books before, you'll know that she includes some open door moments. More info →
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10 Blind Dates

10 Blind Dates

Author:
With her parents in Louisiana for Christmas and a freshly broken heart to nurse, Sophie goes to spend the holidays with her grandparents and huge extended family. Hoping to cheer up her granddaughter, Sophie's nonna makes a plan to set her up on 10 blind dates, chosen by different family members. The dates are just as eclectic and surprising as her family members, filling her Christmas break with memorable moments. But when her ex-boyfriend turns up, she has new feelings to sort out. This charming YA novel is perfect for fans of big family stories; I thoroughly enjoyed it last year. More info →
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In a Holidaze

In a Holidaze

Get your holiday rom-com fix with this fun new novel from writing duo Christina & Lauren. Maelynn Jones is dreading the holidays this year. She hates her job, messed up her love life, and wishes she could move out of her parents' house. To cap it all off, this is the very last Christmas that she'll spend in her favorite place in the world: a snow Utah retreat that her family shares with two other close families. At least...she thinks it's the last Christmas until she slips on her way out, hits her head, and finds herself repeating the holiday from the beginning again. Now, Mae gets a chance to win back her true love as she finds a way out of this weird time loop. Swoony, funny, full of cheer (and open door). More info →
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Mangos and Mistletoe: A Foodie Holiday Novella

Mangos and Mistletoe: A Foodie Holiday Novella

Author:
This baking show-inspired novella is on my list of holiday reads this year and comes highly recommended from a romance-enthusiast friend. Adriana Herrera writes heartfelt, realistic romance; her characters have depth and charm. She also writes amazing food scenes. In this holiday story, pastry chef Kiskeya Burgos is determined to win this year’s Holiday Baking Challenge in Scotland, but sparks fly when she faces off with home-cook Sully Morales. Heads up for open door moments. More info →
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Holiday Fiction

General:

Mystery:

Short Story/Anthology:

Holiday romance

Heat rating is noted if the recommender included it. As a reminder, if you prefer sex scenes to be minimal or only hinted at, look for “closed door” romance. If you’re okay with your romance being more explicit, look for “open door.” If you don’t want there to be anything more than kissing, then look for romance described as “chaste.” (I, along with many writers and readers, prefer not to use the term “clean,” because it implies books with sex are then dirty— although plenty of authors writing along these lines still use the term.)

Hanukkah Romance: 

Christmas Romance: 

Kwanzaa Romance:

Set during the holidays but not about them

P.S. If that’s not enough holiday fiction recs—or if you’d like more details on the books you’re considering reading, try this list of cozy winter reads, and browse all our book lists here.

112 reader recommendations for festive holiday fiction

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47 comments | Comment

47 comments

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  1. Jenn says:

    Thanks for putting together this great list, Anne!
    Here is another excellent newly released Christmas-themed book — “A Very Bavarian Christmas” by Katie M. Reid.
    Happy holidays, and happy reading, all!

  2. Karla says:

    I can’t believe none of the Christmas Chronicles books by Jeff Guinn were on this list! I read The Autobiography of Santa Claus every year, but The Great Santa Search & How Mrs. Claus Saved Christmas were equally well written. Wonderful blend of history, whimsy, and the true meaning of the holidays.

    • Taylor says:

      I read The Great Santa Search every December! Started that tradition when I was a young teenager, I think. It’s so good and happy!

  3. Cathy says:

    The first Inspector Gamache mystery, Still Life, is set during Canadian Thanksgiving. I read it during the American holiday this year and it felt appropriate.

  4. Judith says:

    Great list but you could add The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, edited by Otto Penzler and published by Vintage. Many thanks for your newsletter!

  5. Sarah says:

    I love love love your lists! The only thing that would make it better is if it could be in a printer format so I can take it with me to the library or book store. I know it’s in my phone and all that but I’m a girl that still loves a hard copy. Thanks and keep up the good work!!

  6. Roxie says:

    For Thanksgiving, I enjoyed The Ramblers by Aidan Donnelley Rowley! It takes place in New York City over the week of Thanksgiving, and it was fun to read passages about the Macy’s parade from a local point of view, as well as the family stories that unfolded around the holiday.

  7. Lauren says:

    Fantastic list! I would add Nina Stibbe’s Almost Perfect Christmas. She is so funny in the way that only a really great British author can be.

  8. Melanie says:

    This list is missing the very funniest Christmas book – Christopher Moore’s The Stupidest Angel. Totally irreverent but so hilarious and festive.

  9. Nancy Andrews says:

    Thank you so much!! Just exploded my hold list and Amazon order. Also second the nomination for the Big Book of Christmas Mysteries. I
    t’s great for dipping into all through the year.

  10. Alison says:

    Such a good list – thank you! I look forward to reading many of these.

    Others I could think of were:
    The Other Wiseman (Henry Van Dyke)
    One Christmas (Truman Capote)
    The Thanksgiving Visitor (Truman Capote)

  11. sarah williams says:

    Thank you for such a great list. I was looking for a seasonal read for the next couple of weeks.
    I plan on reading Half Spent Was the Night: A Witches’ Yuletide (Ami McKay’s Witches Book 2) the week of Christmas. I began my reading year (12/26/19-12/25/20) with The Witches of New York by Ami McKay. I loved this book! You recommended it in one of your episodes. So I will get to end my reading year with the same author.

    • Donna Goodin says:

      Thanks for this, Sarah. I loved The Witches of New York. Just downloaded Half Spent. Can’t wait to read. If you want another witchy Christmas read, check out The Twilight Before Christmas, by Christine Feehan.

  12. Allison says:

    I’m surprised that Dash and Lily did not make the list. I re-listen to Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares and the sequel, Twelve Days of Dash and Lily, every December. This year, a third book was released, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. The Dash and Lily books are the perfect holiday reads. Cute YA romance, with all the magic of NYC at Christmas time, bookish references all over (the whole thing starts at The Strand bookstore), and a Gilmore-style cast of idiosyncratic characters. I really love these books.

  13. Tracey Jordan says:

    Thank you for this list! Winter Solstice is my annual “It’s getting close to Christmas” read (despite my festive seasons being dominated by heat, cicadas and the beach), so I am looking forward to adding so many of these titles to my TBR list. Merry Christmas!

  14. Judy K Calvert says:

    A book I haven’t seen mentioned is Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners by Gretchen Anthony. I originally thought I wouldn’t enjoy this but it turned out to be a very good winter read.

  15. Alicia says:

    I recently listened to Jenny Colgan’s Christmas at Rosie Hopkin’s Sweetshop, sweet and cozy. A Christmas Date by Camila Isley, sweet and romantic. And Debbie Macomber’s Dashing Through the Snow, hilarious. All three were quick listens also.

  16. Andrea says:

    Sophie Kinsella’s Christmas Shopaholic was delightful. A little cheesy, but funny and everything I wanted during this weird time.

  17. Jennifer Cook says:

    For laugh-out-loud humor I recommend Christmas at the Vinyl Cafe by Stuart McLean. The chapter on Dave cooking his first turkey was so hilarious that I had to read it to my husband — and he even listened!

  18. Sara says:

    Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris is such a funny read. And a great Christmas anthology is A Family Christmas by Caroline Kennedy; we pull it out every year.

    Thank you for all of the suggestions!

  19. Christine Christensen says:

    Clean romance: RaeAnne Thayne “Coming Home For Christmas.” She has lots of other great Christmas romance books.

  20. Ann says:

    The Handmaid and the Carpenter by Elizabeth Berg tells the story of Mary and Joseph. It’s a quick, pleasant read for the season!

  21. Karen from Canada says:

    I read it every year since I was a little girl, and LOVE it: ‘THE BIRDS’ CHRISTMAS CAROL’ by Kate Douglas Wiggin.

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