Jennifer Barnhart | Sugarplum Fairies, Christmas Miracles, Santa: Not this Year

Every year from Halloween to Christmas, people begin the frantic schedule of Holiday parties, shopping, family visits, and the marathon of sugary, sweet Christmas movies and romances that play 24/7. Sometimes I feel like the Grinch at the top of Mount Crumpit, “hating the Whos” because of all the “noise, noise, noise, noise” that has become Christmas.

Like most of you, I feel the commercialization of the Holiday is out-of-hand. This is apparent in the production of Christmas stories that are put out each year where there are plenty of Christmas miracles but not very many substantial plots. Don’t get me wrong, I watch Christmas movies. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the cartoon not the other), The Nightmare Before Christmas, and A Christmas Story are part of my yearly tradition. I also happen to think that all three have depth, cleverness, and really fantastic plots

That’s why this list isn’t going to be Christmas stories where wishes and Christmas miracles solve all problems. This is a list for the heartbreaking, the damaged, and the wonderful resilience of the human spirit.

LOVE AND OTHER UNKNOWN VARIABLES by Shannon Lee Alexander

LOVE AND OTHER UNKNOWN VARIABLES
LOVE AND OTHER UNKNOWN VARIABLES

Charlie Hanson has a clear vision of his future. A senior at Brighton School of Mathematics and Science, he knows he’ll graduate, go to MIT, and inevitably discover solutions to the universe’s greatest unanswered questions. He’s that smart. But Charlie’s future blurs the moment he reaches out to touch the tattoo on a beautiful girl’s neck.

The future has never seemed very kind to Charlotte Finch, so she’s counting on the present. She’s not impressed by the strange boy at the donut shop—until she learns he’s a student at Brighton where her sister has just taken a job as the English teacher. With her encouragement, Charlie orchestrates the most effective prank campaign in Brighton history. But, in doing so, he puts his own future in jeopardy.

By the time he learns she’s ill—and that the pranks were a way to distract Ms. Finch from Charlotte’s illness—Charlotte’s gravitational pull is too great to overcome. Soon he must choose between the familiar formulas he’s always relied on or the girl he’s falling for (at far more than 32 feet per second squared).

LAST NIGHT AT THE BLUE ANGEL by Rebecca Rotert

LAST NIGHT AT THE BLUE ANGEL
LAST NIGHT AT THE BLUE ANGEL

Chicago in the 1960s teems with tension and some of the country’s best jazz. Naomi Hill has been on the brink of stardom for a decade and it’s all about to pay off with a cover of Look magazine. But what will the personal cost be? Sophia is Naomi’s ten-year-old daughter. She knows her mother is charming and ambitious as well as self-destructive and careless. Naomi’s rise to fame will come at a price, but will it be Sophia who pays it?

LAST NIGHT AT THE BLUE ANGEL is a story about the complexity of mother-daughter relationships. Fresh Fiction reviewer Samantha Randolph writes, “What I love the most is the contrast between Sophia and her mom…Their relationship is far from perfect. It holds an emotional kind of distance, a fragile balance, and even a little neglect, but it also holds a powerful love worth fighting for. Though the story leads up to the final night at the Blue Angel, don’t be surprised if you find your mind returning there over and over after you finish the story. Rebecca Rotert has written a stunning novel of desperate beauty in LAST NIGHT AT THE BLUE ANGEL…” Definitely make time for this lyrical, haunting novel during the Holiday season.

LAST TRAIN TO BABYLON by Charlee Fam

LAST TRAIN TO BABYLON
LAST TRAIN TO BABYLON

Who put the word fun in funeral? I can’t think of anything fun about Rachel’s funeral, except for the fact that she won’t be there.

Aubrey Glass can’t believe Rachel committed suicide, especially since Aubrey is the one with a collection of potential suicide notes—just in case.

In the days leading up to the funeral and infamous after party, Aubrey’s past and present collide. Memories of friendship are twisted with painful new encounters at the macabre memorial turned-high-school-reunion, and Aubrey must confront the man responsible for everything that went wrong between her and Rachel and a painful truth about herself.

Fresh Fiction Reviewer Debbie Wiley writes “LAST TRAIN TO BABYLON is not an easy read. Instead, LAST TRAIN TO BABYLON is the sort of tale that jerks your emotions around, leaving you floundering as you try to decide if you love or hate the characters. Charlee Fam creates realistic, very uncomfortable situations for her characters but it’s also a story that is impossible to put down.”

Aubrey isn’t a likable character. She’s harsh and brittle. She’s seen and done too much in her short time. She appears heartless and uncaring. She fantasizes about committing suicide. It is the pain and fear beneath those layers that make her and her story compelling, and it is her resiliency and ability to change that made me pick LAST TRAIN TO BABYLON for this list.



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