86 reader recommendations for festive holiday fiction

86 reader recommendations for festive holiday fiction

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

Last year 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 requests keep coming, I thought I’d turn it into an easy-to-use, easy-to-reference reader-generated book 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: I’ve also added notes in parentheses if I know that a title is great on audio; we’ve had a bunch of requests for holiday audiobook recommendations, so please drop your favorite listens in the comments!

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

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

Holiday Fiction



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.

86 reader recommendations for festive holiday fiction

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  1. Casey says:

    I just read Festive Spirits by Kate Atkinson, which is three short Christmas stories. It was published in October 2019, but I had to order it from Amazon UK because it wasn’t published here in the US. I requested it from my library and the told me “Nope, can’t get that one.”. I think it’s worth it for die-hard Atkinson fans, but not for someone just looking for a brief short story collection.

  2. Jackie says:

    It’s already too late for me to add these to this December’s reading given the giant pile of library books I’ve amassed for my holiday break, but I’m certainly adding some of these for next year!

  3. Amy says:

    Don’t forget that Louise Penny novels are often centered around certain times of the year! Still Life takes place at Canadian Thanksgiving and A Fatal Grace is at Christmastime, with plenty of references to both holidays. I’m sure her others fall on holidays as well but I am forgetting the time of year for all of them (working on a re-read right now, can you tell?!).

    • Mary says:

      I’m just reading A Fatal Grace for the first time and was wondering why no one had mentioned it for this list. This book is lovely!

      • I love the seasonal nature of Louise Penny’s books. I’ve been saving How the Light Gets In just for holiday reading this year! Also, Bury Your Dead takes place in February during Carnival in Quebec City – so not Christmas-y, per se, but definitely perfect for a cozy read by the fire.

  4. I just finished Last Christmas in Paris and loved it. Capote’s A Christmas Memory is a MUST read. What Child is This is another good short story by Rhys Bowen that I didn’t see on the list. Also, A Vineyard Christmas, set in Martha’s Vineyard. Loving so many good holiday books!

  5. Fonda says:

    The Bromance Bookclub by Lyssa Kay Adams is set between Thanksgiving and Christmas (open door)

    Christmas Adjacent:
    One Day in December by Josie Silver

    Where’d You Go Bernadette? By Maria Semple

    And I would classify The Christmas Sisters as similar to Royal Holiday in steaminess.

  6. I am so grateful for this list! I highly recommend The Dogs of Christmas for any W. Bruce Cameron fans.

    Also, for a fun winter travel/romance to read after the holidays, I recommend Winter Wonderland by Belinda Jones. Although it’s set in wintry Quebec, it was just the ticket to help me through my winter blues one year!

  7. Pam says:

    I have a Christmas collection for my Kindle books, so I can peruse them this time of year. Here are a few from said collection:

    Kissing Christmas Goodbye (Agatha Raisin series) by M. C. Beaton
    Santa 365 (short story; Chet and Bernie series) by Spencer Quinn
    Rest You Merry (Peter Shandy series) by Charlotte MacLeod
    The Shortest Day (Homer Kelly series) by Jane Langton
    Holiday in Death (In Death series) by J. D. Robb
    Festive in Death (In Death series) by J. D. Robb
    Christmas in Absaroka County (Walt Longmire series) by Craig Johnson
    The Spy Who Came for Christmas by David Morrell
    Not a Creature Was Stirring (Gregor Demarkian series) by Jane Haddam
    A Stillness in Bethlehem (Gregor Demarkian series) by Jane Haddam
    A Frontier Christmas by William & J. A. Johnstone (western!)
    A Highland Christmas (Hamish Macbeth series) by M. C. Beaton
    The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia) by C. S. Lewis
    Comfort & Joy by Kristin Hannah
    Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor & Heather Webb


  8. Christine says:

    One more for the Christmas fiction/short story list… Christmas With Anne. This is a compilation of short stories by L. M. Montgomery (compiled by Rea Wilmhurst) which place in the Christmas season. It includes two short stories that are chapters from Anne books (puffed sleeves!) and the rest were published in various ways over many years. It’s wonderful and heart-warming.

    • Barb says:

      Ooh I have ‘A Little House Christmas Treasury” which is all the Christmas parts of the Little House series combined in one book. It’s charming and my oldest daughter (now 30) reads through it every year.

  9. Courtney Caccia says:

    This is exactly what I needed! I’ve been craving holiday reads, and just finished A Christmas Carol. I need another book, and want to keep to the holiday theme. I opened up my email, and voila! — a timely post from Anne! I can’t wait to dig in to this list!

    Happy Holidays and thank you!
    — Courtney

  10. Jorie says:

    I really enjoyed Covent Garden in the Snow, Notting Hill in the Snow, and From Paris with Love this Christmas all by Jules Wake. At bargain prices for kindle on Amazon.

  11. Sarah says:

    My favorite Christmas short story collection is ‘Holidays on Ice’ By David Sedaris. I also really enjoyed Greenglass House and The Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford are both set during the Christmas season and are lovely cozy reads.

  12. Elise says:

    Fun! I’m especially excited about the mysteries and short stories.
    If I may add some poetry, I want to recommend W.H. Auden’s For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio. It is dense, but so deeply meaningful. The final poem in the collection, “The Flight into Egypt” is an especially poignant read as Christmas comes to an end.
    Also “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees” by T.S. Eliot http://deefrank.tripod.com/tseliot.html

  13. Nicole says:

    Holidays on Ice is a collection of holiday stories by David Sedaris, including his story about working as an elf at Macy’s. It’s great if you need some comic relief during the holiday season!

  14. Tracy says:

    For those who like historical fiction, I really enjoyed Last Christmas in Paris (an epistolary novel) and Christmas Bells both listed above! Thanks for the list. Any one have some Christmas books that are particularly great on audio?

  15. Amanda says:

    For a fun YA selection, I recommend The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand, especially for fans of A Christmas Carol. I found the story to be very interesting with an unexpected ending!

  16. Raela says:

    Georgette Heyer is best known for her Regency romances, but she actually wrote a bunch of drawing room-esque mysteries and one is set at Christmas! I read A Christmas Party (previous title Envious Casca) in 2016 and enjoyed her dry wit, clever inspector, and Agatha Christie-like group of cranky suspects all stuck in one mansion over the holiday. To add to your mystery list!

  17. Mary Kay says:

    “A Shoe Addict’s Christmas” by Beth Harbison is very charming! I was put off initially by the title, but it was a very sweet story in the vein of “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

  18. Janene says:

    Thanks for the great list! I read Last Christmas in December last year and loved it! Joanne Fluke writes a series of cozy mysteries and several of them are set around Christmas time. They are best when read in order.

  19. Liz P says:

    Two YA Christmas themed books: Let It Snow, which features three interlinked stories by John Green, Lauren Myracle, and Maureen Johnson; and My True Love Gave to Me, a short story collection edited by Stephanie Perkins. I’ve really enjoyed both!

    • Caroline Lohmann says:

      If you like both of those (I do, too!), you should read Dash and Lilly’s Book of Dares, by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn. A fun and bookish YA Christmas and New Year’s book! It has a sequel, too.

  20. Judith Gucker says:

    A Quilter’s Holiday: An Elm Creek Quilts Novel (The Elm Creek Quilts Book 15) isn’t a Thanksgiving Day story; but the day after when the quilters sew quilt blocks that represent their thankfulness and gratitude.

  21. Marilyn says:

    The All Of A Kind Family Hannukah, Jane Austen’s Christmas, A Charles Dickens Christmas, Mrs. Miracle and A Christmas Promise.

  22. Laura J says:

    I love holiday books or books that have holidays as part of the story. A few I like: children’s books but oh so good, all by Richard Peck, A Season of Gifts, On the Wings of Heroes, A Long Way from Chicago and A Year Down Yonder. Grandma Dowdel is not a traditional grandma but well worth knowing. These books are the kind that stay with you long after you finish them. Peck’s writing creates such a vivid picture and I won’t tell you which one makes me cry just describing the scene at the end. I just finished and enjoyed, Home and away : a World War II Christmas story by Dean Hughes and I always enjoy Truman Capote’s The Thanksgiving Visitor and while reading A Christmas Visitor out loud, couldn’t finish because I was crying too hard. My son took over.

  23. Suz N says:

    I’m currently re-reading Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher. IT IS SO GOOD, I can barely lay it down. Loving every single word. Highly recommend.

  24. Dorothy says:

    The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith (may be sold as Carol since the movie version of that name came out a few years ago). It starts at Christmastime in NYC and I find that setting vital to the story and incredibly festive!

  25. Sandy B says:

    I was surprised by the number of “general” Christmas books I have read (and enjoyed most of them) but I have to mention that Wally Lamb’s Wishin and Hopin is a standout. The audio version will have tears of laughter rolling down your cheeks but still conveys the message of Christmas.

  26. Pam says:

    The Gregor Demarkian mystery series by Jane Haddam are set during holidays all through the year – Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Easter, etc. Also, Valerie Wolzien wrote a series of cozy mysteries set around holidays, but these might be out of print.

  27. Jackie says:

    You mentioned that you’re looking for books about Thanksgiving. I’ve downloaded (but have not yet read) “Thanksgiving in Connecticut” by May McGoldrick. The author is actually a husband and wife team. I was prompted to purchase this novel after spending a day in jury duty selection with “Mr. McGoldrick”. I’ll have to make a point of reading it in 2020!

  28. Karen says:

    If someone enjoys vintage Christmas mysteries, Mystery In White by Jefferson Farjeon is a good one! There are quite a few re-released British Library Crime Classics on Amazon.

  29. Dana says:

    I’m so excited to see Miracle and Other Christmas Stories by Connie Willis on your list – she’s one of my favorite authors! She also released a slightly different version of the book a few years ago. “A Lot Like Christmas” has some of the same stories that are in “Miracle” but it includes several of her other Christmas short stories too

  30. AnnJ says:

    This month I listened to two of Greg Kincaid’s Christmas books—Noelle & A Dog Named Christmas. Really sweet books and excellent listening choices. Also good choices for animal lovers.

  31. Mark Taylor says:

    I love reading classic detective fiction over Christmas a few years I read all the Sherlock Holmes books and this year it’s Farther brown by go chesteton

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