It seems that every book club I have belonged to has struggled with "the perfect Christmas read." As the conversation begins about the choice, comments range from, "it's always so busy during the holidays; let's pick something easy!" to "should we even meet? It's so busy" to "I thought [insert name of book here] was great but it was too 'fluffy.'"
It also seems that somehow the Christmas books my clubs eventually choose always end up with something textile-related (quilting and hand-knitted sweaters, for example).
I received an Advanced Reading Copy of A Plain and Fancy Christmas from Ballantine Books at the beginning of December. It does still involve textiles (yes, quilting) but manages to straddle the line between "holiday fluff" and "rest-of-the-year gravity."
A Plain and Fancy Christmas has several strengths going for it. Although I struggled a bit with the initial premise (a baby switch that occurred decades ago), the believable nature of the characters and their general likability pulled me through. There is also a New York City component and anyone who knows me knows that will rivet me!
The questions asked by Ellie Lawrence and Rachel King as the book spirals through their lives in Manhattan (Ellie) and the Pennsylvania Amish Country (Rachel) are hard ones, asked against a backdrop of knowing those questions affect people around them in ripples of impact. Rachel's daughter, Katie, stands on the precipice of a fast-paced world she would not have known otherwise, surrounded by people who probably have never known an 11 year old who does not watch TV. Ellie's one-dimensional boss and boyfriend each have their shallowness exposed as Ellie discovers that simplicity is not that simple, "professional" may mean taking a restaurant order correctly as opposed to designing a high-profile PR campaign, and the people in our lives may not have our best interests at heart to the degree we think.
This book is sort of like the best Christmas presents -- there is solid evidence for why a particular gift is needed and will be valued, but the anticipation builds so slowly and there is sufficient doubt that the gift will materialize, that it is an even more appreciated joy when it is opened.
Toward the end of the book, Ellie reflects on the transition she has made over the course of the book (you'll have to read it yourself for the details!): "From working in a world filled with artifice, she had magically come to be celebrating Christmas in this place of spiritual peace and truthfulness."
A page turner that makes us reflect on spiritual peace and truthfulness (while, by the way, making us salivate at the idea of delicious Amish food), A Plain and Fancy Christmas would be a wonderful addition to your book club's holiday reading list.