| Checked Out: December Book Showdown –Holiday Reads |

There’s nothing like a good book to kick off the holiday season: thick, weighty pages in your hand, wrapped in the most festive colors of red and green, paperback or hardcover covers, donning snowflake backdrops or mistletoe depictions.  

I didn’t have any winter novels in my house- I can’t even say with confidence that I have ever read any. But the Instagram game was strong this year and as always, it had me double-tapping the most popular titles, searching Kindle and the few stores I ventured to for copies of my own.

And it was lovely to count down to Christmas with a little help from my (fictional) friends. I tend to immerse myself in holiday cheer- decking the halls, baking the cookies, sending the cards, stuffing the stockings- and escaping to New York City or a snowy cabin at the end of each day just felt like the star on top of the Christmas tree.  

But now, the season has passed and as I pack up and store all holiday trinkets and tinsel, I reflect of these books in a more analytical way, am here to tell you how they stacked up against the rest of my 2020 reads.  

The first book that I downloaded was “Faking Under The Mistletoe,” by Ashley Shepard. It was reviewed well but didn’t have a lot of ratings yet; I added it to my cart, was sold on the $2.99 pricetag. It seemed like a cute, quirky fictional read and I loved the New York City setting, a place of nostalgia for me, now living in Virginia.

Olivia Langley is responsible for spreading holiday cheer around the office- As a PR intern for a renowned agency in New York City, she works to perfection in hope of soon graduating to a full-time paid position. In the meantime, she juggles a night job at a restaurant to pay the bills while setting her sights on the skyline, cycling through routines of closing up shop and being the first in line to get her boss’ coffee in the morning.

There’s just one problem- Her boss is the definition of “grinch” and he’s not so easy to crack. Even when Olivia orders holiday decorations to his house, plans Christmas themed happy hours and outings, and elevates the mood of the entire office, Asher finds it all less than ideal.

One night, Asher begrudgingly accompanies the team to a holiday-themed event and Olivia finds out that he is still not over his ex-girlfriend, a gorgeous model who is still very much around. Olivia devises a plan to be in a forged but elaborately public relationship with her boss, sure to make any ex jealous, until PDA and holiday magic mingles in unexpected ways.

As Olivia spends more time with Asher, she realizes she has a few things wrong about him and some of the other people that she idolizes. Opposites attract and the two bring out the best in each other, but what is one to do when so many other elements are at play- Asher is Olivia’s boss, she still needs to work two jobs to support herself financially, other -less chivalrous but more assertive- men have their eyes on Olivia as a prize to claim, and oh yeah, she’s technically in a fake relationship.

I enjoyed the book, could definitely see it as a Netflix Original movie or something because beneath the shiny Christmas- inspired surface, there were more thematic elements at play like serial assault scenarios and body image themes. (Olivia was short and curvy, loved herself that way.) At times, I thought that Olivia’s personality was a little conceded, a little naïve, but I know that she had other traits to balance that and definitely saw that Asher was her match. He was grounded and serious while she was fun and outgoing.

“Faking Under The Mistletoe” held my interest and made me long for the holiday season in NYC; Ashley Shepard is also a skilled writer so my imagination followed along easily, could draft up characters like Asher and Olivia with ease. This book is very highly rated on Goodreads and others with 4+ marks, but I personally rate it a solid 3.5. In a word, it’s cute, just like Olivia, with undercurrents of depth and more that meets the eye.

“In A Holidaze,” by Christine Lauren, was one of the most popular books on Instagram, so I downloaded that one as well. I have read two other time travel books this year and although this one paled in comparison, the Christmas backdrop was refreshing and unique.

Maelyn Jones feels caught in a rut- At twenty-six years old, she still lives with her parents, hates her job, and leads a lackluster love life. Worst of all, she has just found out that her favorite Christmas tradition is coming to an end, her close-knit circle of family friends will no longer be meeting each year in Salt Lake City, Utah, and celebrating the holidays in their snowy, cozy cabin. Ever since she was little, her parent’s friends and all of their kids would venture to this secluded wonderland and engage in winter fun; It was a time to eat, drink, be merry, and swoon over Andrew, her crush since childhood and the older brother of her best friend, Theo.

The news of selling the cabin sends Maelyn spiraling and in desperation, she begs the universe: “Show me what will make me happy.” And there, Mae’s journey to find happiness begins.

In sort of a ‘groundhog day’ fashion, Mae relieves her last days at the cabin, over and over again, navigating through details and events that make her heart soar and sink, becoming increasingly aware of the missteps that send her back in time and onto the doorstep of her family’s holiday abode. She pushes forward, inching closer to her own happy ending with every new ‘lifetime,’ until she finally gets to a place of uncovering all she’s ever wanted.

Once again, I thought this was an enjoyable novel. Both books beckoned me to binge, the way all vacation-reads should.

“In A Holidaze” has over 48,000 reviews on Goodreads, coming in at a 3.81 rating, where “Faking Under The Mistletoe” only has 2,931 reviewers, but remains steady at a score of 4.09. I recommend both as easy holiday storylines, not ones that will make you cry or make you laugh hysterically throughout, but ones that will make you smile and whisper, “that was delightful” after skimming the last page. They remind of Hallmark films, sweet to their core, with little complexity but little room for error. Everyone loves a holiday feel-good treat.  

Both of these books were Kindle reads so although I will not be able to display them on shelves for future holiday seasons, they definitely fulfilled their purpose of getting me into the holiday spirit.

What were some of your favorite Winter reads this year? I’d love to hear some of your recommendations- Post in the comments below!

** Want to see what I’m reading next? Find me on GoodReads and join the 2021 challenge with me! https://www.goodreads.com/addingpunctuation **

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