The holiday season in America is typically a combination of faith, family, and football. The book recommendations I am going to suggest this month are a combination of each of these topics. There is something for everyone here!
As this season approaches many of us feel a little more sentimental, nostalgic, and even a wee bit romantic. We want to be close to those we love, and we might even want to reevaluate what is most important to us. If you are missing loved ones, or your family situation is . . . complicated, it can also be a time when we feel more lonely, or depressed.
Ah, the perfect time for some good reading! Let me introduce you to some books that could help bring the depth of these holiday emotions right up to the surface, and maybe some healing too.
If you are feeling the need for a heart-tugging Christmas novel, then a Richard Paul Evans Christmas novel may be just what you need. Richard Paul Evans was named the “King of Christmas fiction” by the New York Times, back in 1997. To date he has nine best-selling novels that specifically touch that Christmas vibe. You should also know that there is a Christian undercurrent to each of these novels, though not preachy or overt. You may know some of his work because several of his novels have been made into films. I want to recommend one of his novels, but that’s like choosing your meal and a great restaurant; it all depends what you are in the mood for.
Richard Paul Evans first #1 best-seller was a book titled The Christmas Box. It is the book that launched his career and a charity known as The Christmas Box House International. If you like to read in chronological order there it is. I am including in this group a book titled The Christmas Box Miracle because it is the inspiring personal story of Richard Paul Evans’ journey since he wrote that first novel.
The characters in these books are easy to identify with and care about. They are the imperfect humans we all know. Common themes involve overcoming obstacles, healing, forgiveness, and deeper understanding of the human condition. Not to worry, there is plenty of comfort and joy too! These books would appeal to a wide age range of adult readers. The book, Grace, deals with a runaway teen and would appeal to young adult readers especially.
Skipping Christmas by John Grisham
There is a craziness that overtakes most of us Americans as the Christmas season approaches. No matter what one’s spiritual beliefs are, it is hard to resist the pull. Who doesn’t want that warm fuzzy feeling sung about in Christmas Carols? How can you root against “Peace on Earth, and Good will to All”? Skipping Christmas is the hilarious story of good, middle class Americans going temporarily insane with holiday spirit. What happens if one family tries to take a year off? Can they quit cold turkey?
There is more to this book than just a wacky Christmas story. Best-selling author John Grisham gives us an affectionate laugh at ourselves from many angles. Like all good Christmas stories, you will feel better for having read it.
A movie based on this novel was made several years ago. All I can say is read the book, you will be in the hands of a master storyteller.
Bleachers by John Grisham
Has there been someone in your life that made a profound impact on you? For the young men in the small town in this story, that person is the controversial high school football coach Eddie Rake. This story is told from the perspective of teammates 15 years after the glory days of those high school years. Team mates that carry both heavy burdens and strength from what they experienced during those years.
Coach Rake is now on his death bed, and past players, in fact the entire town, comes together to mourn this larger than life man. Thirty four years of coaching, over 400 wins, 13 state titles, and mistakes that still haunted many of his players.
High school is a time where boys are becoming men, and for those playing in competitive sports, the process is vivid in their minds long after the games are over.
If this story had been told in real time most of us would find it shallow and one-dimensional. But the primary character, All-American quarterback Neely Crenshaw, and his teammates have had 15 years of life experience to measure the effects this man, and the small-town madness of high school football have had on their lives.
Bestselling author and lawyer John Grisham is well known for the many legal thrillers he has written, but he is also a man who clearly understands sports. If you haven’t had enough football this season, you might want to check out this book. It’s an easy read that will keep your interest all the way through to a satisfying conclusion.
Other sports themed books written by Grisham are, Playing for Pizza and Calico Joe. Grisham also wrote another book that I have highlighted in this blog titled, Skipping Christmas.
P.S. Grisham’s legal thrillers are AWESOME too!
Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas by Ace Collins
The Celebration of Christmas is filled with tradition. How rich it is to understand how these traditions were created and how they evolved. Some of these traditions are purely American, but most have deep roots in cultures around the world. What a wonderful way to feel connected with the generations before us! An interesting example of this goes back to how the date of December 25th was chosen, even as there is no evidence that this was actually the birthday of Christ. It’s an interesting story that dates back to 320 A.D.!
This book presents the significance of many of the decoration we use and the foods we eat. There is also a revealing look at the role music and the famous Christmas poem, “T’was the night before Christmas. . .” played in the evolution of this holiday. Be the storyteller at your holiday celebrations and pass on these stories. Just don’t forget Santa and the mistletoe!
The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward
This current day story is told in short chapters by two individuals whose dramatically different lives are destined to intersect.
First there is Carla, a young Honduran girl being raised by a grandmother, and the occasional money sent to them through Western Union by their mother in America. The family has struggled amidst desperate poverty, drugs, violence and parental absence. When grandma dies, their mother scrapes together money to pay a “coyote” to bring 11 year old Carla and her 6 year old brother to her in Austin, Texas. Carla and her brother join the flow of thousands of children traveling across Mexico to get to America. The trip is brutal and heartbreaking. What Carla finds when she does get to America is not what she had imagined.
In alternating chapters to Carla, another individual tells her story. We are introduced to Alice, a hardworking American woman in Austin, Texas. Alice and her husband Jake have a barbecue restaurant, and their years of hard work and dedication are just beginning to pay off. With glowing restaurant reviews and a loyal clientele, their down home business is now thriving. They are living their American dream, and yet they have personal heartaches and struggles too.
This book reminded me that every life has a story to tell. The current wave of immigration taking place in this country and around the world is not just numbers, they are human beings. As our stories intermix we touch each others’ lives in so many ways.
This book, published in 2015, is especially touching and relevant. It is not political. Carly and Alice are two individuals that you would want to know. We do all live under The Same Sky.
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, with Christina Lamb
This is an autobiography of Malala Yousafzai, a 15 year old Pakistani girl. In the year 2012, Malala is a smart, sweet teenage girl in a country being overtaken by the radical Islamic Taliban. Malala’s family is not wealthy, nor do they have great influence or power. They are devout Muslims, with a love of their country and its vast history. Malala is a hardworking and ambitious girl who loves to laugh with her friends, and dreams of one day being a doctor so she can help the many in her country who are suffering. Malala’s father is a teacher. In the midst of the rapidly deteriorating oppressive rule of the Taliban, he fearlessly believes that girls should be educated and Malala has a passion to learn.
As the Taliban move in to her area, Malala speaks out for the rights of girls to be educated. Her writing is recognized as exceptional. Eventually she writes a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC. She speaks out for the rights of girls to pursue an education. It is for this last reason that a Taliban soldier would flag down her school bus, and board it shouting, “Who is Malala!” She is shot in the face, and expected to die, like so many others who dare to challenge the Taliban. But she did not die, and her story was heard around the world.
It is obvious in this book that Malala’s father played an important part in her view of the world. He modeled the kind of relentless energy that it would take to stand up under the oppression that they lived under. Her father’s school taught all subjects freely. Malala knew that the boys educated at the Madrassas were influenced by government and political leaders. According to Malala, the students at these schools recite the Quran for hours and are taught, as Malala states, “There is no such thing as science, or literature, that dinosaurs never existed and that man never went to the moon.”
It is terrifying to see the influence the terrorists have, and how they use violence to intimidate and ultimately control people. Malala loves her country and she loves her Muslim faith, but she knows that she needs an education in order to survive. She describes education as, “a precious gift that many people in the world are starving for”. It is because she speaks for so many oppressed people that we must listen to her.
I can tell you about this book, but in hearing it first-hand you will learn things from an insider’s perspective. She is a delightful young woman that has become a voice for so many. Hopefully you will be hearing about her for many years to come. In 2014, at age 18. Malala became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize. I recommend that you meet this amazing young woman!
P.S. The movie about her life will be in theaters soon too!
—Contributed by Michelle Andreas, Library Technician, Flower Mound