The holidays are a wonderful time to get together with family. Although, along with family, often comes drama – at least, this is what happens in the novels that I love to read at this time of year.
One of my recent reads was the novel “Flight” by Lynn Steger Strong. Henry, Kate and Martin are preparing for the holidays without their mother, the matriarch who held their family together and hosted the yearly family Christmas. They plan to meet up, along with their families, at Henry’s house in upstate New York. Henry is feeling the pressure of this, as is his wife, who has never quite felt accepted into the family. Steger Strong gives you each sibling's perspective, as well as those of their spouses. You learn their thoughts and dreams, and sympathize with each one as they mentally complain about each other. While the drama occasionally feels heavy handed, I enjoyed following these siblings as they navigated their adult relationships with each other and learned how to interact with openness and vulnerability.
I would be remiss if I wrote about holiday dramas without mentioning one of my favorites, “Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners” by Minnesota author Gretchen Anthony. Cerise has recently moved back to Minneapolis with her partner Barb (or her "roommate" as Barb is referred to in the family Christmas letter). Cerise's mother, Violet Baumgartner, is fairly overbearing and now that Violet's husband Ed has retired, Violet has more time on her hands. When word gets out that Cerise is pregnant, Violet can't accept Cerise and Barb's unwillingness to disclose how their baby was made. Thus ensues a hilarious and often frustrating year in the lives of the Baumgartners and their neighbors. This is a contemporary, feel good story with distinctly Minnesotan characters. Anthony has published two other family dramas “The Kids are Gonna Ask” (2020) and “The Book Haters’ Book Club” (2022), although “Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners” is my favorite.
Over Thanksgiving I enjoyed “Seven Days of Us” by Francesca Hornak. The Birches are at last together for Christmas, after being without their eldest daughter Olivia for the past few years. The family plans to spend the holiday holed up in their English manor home, under quarantine for 10 days due to Olivia’s recent work treating patients with the Haag virus in Africa. Olivia and her sister Phoebe aren’t close, and everyone is keeping secrets from the others. Their mother Emma is determined that nothing will get in the way of a cheery holiday, but their newspaper-columnist father Andrew is full of cynicism. While much of the action is predictable, the characters are endearing and I thoroughly enjoyed following the Birch family’s holiday. If only this wasn’t Hornak’s only novel!
For some nonfiction to accompany these novels, try Ellen Stimson’s memoir “Mud Season.” This is Stimson's humorous account of how her family decided to move to Vermont, buy a Horribly Quaint Country Store, make the entire village mad by moving the bread aisle in said store, and ultimately decide to sell the store before they went completely broke. Along the way they get chickens and accidentally adopt some lambs. Stimson's memoirs are great for when you have an entire day to just relax and read. You will, however, miss her once you've finished the book. In which case, you can then read her follow-up memoir, “Good Grief: Life in a Tiny Vermont Village.” I read these humorous stories about Stimson's family in one day. Great for a laugh. I only wish Stimson would publish more books. I am bereft now that I have finished hers.
Katelyn Boyer is the Adult Services Librarian at the Fergus Falls Public Library.