We all know the feeling. As the holidays approach, gifts must be bought, parties planned, food prepared, the house decorated. With the bustle of getting ready for Christmas, it’s easy to miss out on the best part of the season: the opportunity to spend time with family and friends. Stress takes over, and the holidays become more of a chore than a time for celebration.

In new Christmas novels by Ann Pearlman and Richard Paul Evans, we’re encouraged to put that stress away and focus on the true meaning of Christmas. The authors aren’t subtle in pushing their messages. The back cover of Pearlman’s The Christmas Cookie Club sums it up nicely: at Christmastime, “The most important ingredient is love . . .”

Pearlman’s debut novel is based, in part, on a true story; the author herself has participated in a Christmas cookie club since 2000. The prologue to The Christmas Cookie Club lists the strict rules of the fictional version. On the first Monday of December, 12 women will get together and exchange cookies. Each must bring 13 dozen cookies to the party—the extra dozen to donate to a charity. No chocolate chip cookies are allowed, and every participant must share their recipes. (Lucky for us, Pearlman lists the recipes at the beginning of each chapter. The chocolate-almond bonbons look especially tasty.) Every year, the women use the club as a way to catch up, share joys and losses and get in the holiday spirit.

Each chapter of The Christmas Cookie Club is devoted to one of the 12 members. Marnie, the club founder and “head cookie bitch,” narrates the intertwining stories. The women span age and experience; they range from their thirties to their sixties. Throughout the book, we learn each woman’s story: one has lost a son and another has recently adopted a baby. One woman is involved in an affair, and another is happily in a relationship with a man half her age.

Readers with large groups of friends will love this story of women who support each other through tough times. They will agree with Marnie’s comment at the end of the novel: “And maybe love is, ultimately, the best we get. It doesn’t solve everything, but in spite of it all, it’s the most significant thing we have.”

Pearlman joins the likes of Wally Lamb, Garrison Keillor and Gregory Maguire as a newcomer to the holiday genre. A psycho­therapist, the author is best known for her memoir from 2000, Infidelity. Depicting the effects of marital betrayal on her grandmother, her mother and herself, Infidelity was nominated for both a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award. In 2004, the memoir was turned into a Lifetime movie. CBS Films has already bought the rights to The Christmas Cookie Club.

A second chance
Richard Paul Evans is no stranger to Christmas fiction. His first novel, The Christmas Box, has become a holiday classic with more than 8 million copies in print. Taking the inspirational message of his story to heart, Evans is the board chairman of The Christmas Box International, a charity that funds shelters for abused or neglected children. Although he initially resisted being pegged as a “Christmas writer,” Evans now embraces the genre. To explain this choice, he says, “I love Christmas and its true gifts; the ones of family and friends and giving of ourselves, as well as its deeper messages of God’s love.”

The Christmas List is Evans’ 14th novel. This retelling of A Christmas Carol stars real estate mogul James Kier as a modern-day Ebenezer Scrooge. Instead of receiving visits from ghosts of the past, though, Kier embarks on his personal transformation after seeing his own premature obituary. The newspaper mistakenly pronounced him dead when another James Kier dies. After the obituary is printed, Kier has the unusual opportunity to see what others think of his legacy. Business associates and “friends” post about him on the newspaper’s online message board. The verdict is not good. Kier is called “the Grinch, Scrooge, and the Bergermeister rolled into one.”

In an attempt to redeem himself before it’s too late, Kier seeks out five of the people he has caused the most harm. He asks each person on his “Christmas list” for forgiveness and tries to make amends—not always with success. At the end of the novel, Kier makes a simple—but to him, revelatory—proclamation: “If you have someone to love, you are lucky. If they love you back, you’re blessed. And if you waste the time you have to love them, you’re a fool.”

Both Pearlman and Evans deliver heartwarming, inspirational stories about withstanding loss and the power of love. These messages are not new, but they are worth remembering in the season of giving.

Drawing a lesson from an unwanted gift
Just one year after its publication, Glenn Beck’s novel, The Christmas Sweater, has become something of a Christmas classic. Published in the fall of 2008, the book went on to become a #1 New York Times bestseller. If you haven’t yet read Beck’s first foray into fiction, the season is right to read (or give) this sad but inspiring tale.

Beck tells the story of 12-year-old Eddie, a boy who is ungrateful when his mother gives him “a stupid, handmade, ugly sweater” instead of a bicycle. When Eddie’s mother dies a few days after Christmas, the boy learns a painful lesson about faith, love and family as he finds his way after this terrible loss. Beck has said that the novel is more fact than fiction, since his own mother died when he was 13.

This month, Beck will stage a Broadway-style show,  “The Christmas Sweater—A Return To Redemption,” which will be simulcast to select movie theaters nationwide. In this inspirational performance, the radio and TV personality will share the real-life events that inspired the novel and chronicle how the message of The Christmas Sweater has impacted others. Younger readers will also enjoy the newly released picture book adaptation of the novel, a perfect holiday treat.

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