It's beginning to look a lot like Grisham, everywhere you go You know the feeling. It's December. You are in the throes of shopping. You are not in the best of moods, but 'tis the season to be jolly, and by golly you are not going to be snared by the Scrooge scenario.

Still, the cheery, jingly music is getting to you, and that thing on your face is a grimace, not a smile. You've spent the last four hours hiking through stores looking for that nebulous "perfect gift" for someone practically impossible to shop for. This less-than-festive feeling, felt by many as the days roll inexorably toward the 25th, is at the crux of John Grisham's latest novel. Skipping Christmas is the best-selling author's first foray into the realm of Christmas stories, though Grisham took another departure from his usual legal thrillers earlier in the year with the warmly received publication of A Painted House. And with another legal thriller due out in February, it's no wonder this little volume is seen as Grisham's "gift" a Christmas surprise for his readers and his publisher, which celebrated by ordering an astounding first printing of 1.5 million copies.

While A Painted House took reader's into rural America, Skipping Christmas is firmly grounded in suburbia. Ultimately a story that warms the heart, Skipping Christmas shows middle America with many of its clichŽs and prejudices in overripe full bloom. Grisham lets Luther Krank, his aptly named protagonist, give in to the "bah-humbug" side of himself, deciding that he and his wife Nora will skip the whole Christmas thing and depart on a Caribbean cruise.

As Luther and Nora prepare, tanning and dieting for their two weeks in the sun, tensions begin to build between the Kranks, whose house will be dark and unadorned on Christmas, and their neighbors, who had hoped to win the annual Christmas decoration contest for Hemlock Street. With snowballing hilarity, Grisham's tale of suburban holiday mania evolves into a modern day version of Dickens' Christmas Carol. With 11 best-selling novels to his credit, Grisham's willingness to risk exposing his lighter side to audiences accustomed to his white-knuckle page-turners is in itself a hallmark of the spirit of Christmas. 'Tis the season!


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