SALT LAKE CITY — That's it, folks, Halloween is over: Put away the pumpkins and bring out the holly! Or so says the Hallmark Channel. Actually, the first of their "Countdown to Christmas" movies started up on Oct. 27, but we decided to at least have the decency to wait until after Halloween to talk about the holiday season. (We'll let you judge if nearly two months before Dec. 25 is too early for a merry countdown.) To get ready for Hallmark Channel's signature blend of romance, misunderstandings and of course, important life lessons, we've combed through this year's "Countdown" offerings to find films that started their lives as books — and added in three new holiday books that could easily one day end up as Hallmark Christmas films.
Nov. 3 — "Christmas Joy"
"Christmas Joy," by Nancy Naigle, St. Martin's Griffin, 352 pages
Don't be fooled by her name: Joy Holbrook is less joyful and more of a get-the-job-done kind of woman. But when her Aunt Ruby has an accident just before the holidays, Joy takes a leave of absence to run the family farm, even if it means she might not get the promotion she's been working toward for years. Enter hunky, handy neighbor Ben Andrews and a little girl named Molly to possibly help Joy find the joy she's long been lacking in her working ways. There's always a chance.
Nov. 23 — "Pride, Prejudice, and Mistletoe"
"Pride, Prejudice, and Mistletoe," by Melissa de la Cruz, St. Martin's Press, 231 pages
New York Times best-selling author Melissa de la Cruz ("Alex and Eliza") joins the ranks of authors who have reworked Jane Austen's beloved "Pride and Prejudice," this time swapping genders and making Darcy Fitzwilliam a 29-year-old woman with a bit of a pride problem. But all of that changes (or does it?) when she's called back home to Pemberley, Ohio, to be with her family and sick mom, and she runs into Luke Bennet, her now handsome — and seemingly ambitionless — childhood enemy. Plenty of the old "Pride and Prejudice" standbys make appearances, albeit in updated forms.
Nov. 24 — "Christmas on Honeysuckle Lane"
"Christmas on Honeysuckle Lane," by Mary McDonough, Kensington, 378 pages
Following the deaths of their parents, the three Reynolds siblings return to their childhood home on Honeysuckle Lane to clean out the house and revisit their long-past holiday traditions — and their own complicated personal history. Their beautiful home and its contents stir up old memories, and the siblings must determine if they can be a whole family again as they gather for Christmas without their parents.
Nov. 25 — "A Shoe Addict's Christmas"
"A Shoe Addict's Christmas," by Beth Harbison, St. Martin's Press, 158 pages
From the title, you might not expect "A Shoe Addict's Christmas" to be a "Christmas Carol" adaptation, but the story draws from the Dickens' classic to tell the tale of Noelle, a department store employee who accidentally gets locked in the store on Christmas Eve. Noelle isn't too worried until a woman appears and informs Noelle that she's her guardian angel. From there, the night turns into a "ghosts" of Christmases past, present and future sort of thing, all while Noelle is camped out in the shoe department, culminating (spoiler) in Noelle finding the true spirit of Christmas.
Dec. 15 — "Time for Me to Come Home for Christmas"
"Time for Me to Come Home for Christmas," by Dorothy Shackleford with Travis Thrasher, Berkley, 273 pages
Author Dorothy Shackleford knows a thing or two about the inner lives of country music stars — after all, she's the mother of top-selling artist Blake Shelton. In this sweet book, Shackleford tells the story of fictional country star Heath Sawyer, who, after playing Madison Square Garden on Dec. 23, decides he needs to get home to family in Oklahoma for the big holiday. But plane delays, bad weather and an unexpected female traveling companion keep things interesting along the way, reminding him of what is really important in his life.
Non-Hallmark Channel holiday books
"LARK! THE HERALD ANGELS SING: A Meg Langslow Mystery," by Donna Andrews, Minotaur Books, 288 pages
What are the holidays without a cozy mystery? best-selling author Donna Andrews returns with her fifth Christmas mystery and her 24th Meg Langslow installment. This time around finds the full-time blacksmith and part-time sleuth getting ready for the holidays by directing the town's Nativity pageant. When a live baby appears in the manger with a note pinned to her claiming that the baby's father is Meg's brother (something he strongly denies), Meg sets off to discover the baby's true identity, unknowingly putting herself and her friends in danger.
"THE NOEL STRANGER," by Richard Paul Evans, Simon and Schuster, 352 pages
King of Christmas fiction Richard Paul Evans returns with the second installment of his "Noel Collection," telling the story of Maggie Walther, a woman who desperately could use a happy Christmas. Following a divorce from her disgraced former husband, a local councilman, Maggie sinks into a deep despair, and the oncoming holidays hold none of their former cheer. With prodding from friends, she reluctantly purchases a Christmas tree, meeting a new friend along the way. Andrew, the owner of the local Christmas tree lot, is new to the city and, like Maggie, is single. As their friendship deepens, Maggie learns that Andrew's past isn't quite what she thought.
"ALASKAN HOLIDAY," by Debbie Macomber, Ballantine Books, 256 pages1 comment on this story
Hallmark Channel: Take note! Here's a book that seems ready-made for a "Countdown to Christmas" film. It has all the elements: a charming, wintery setting (Alaska, even), a likeable, hard-working heroine and the hunky swordsmith she inconveniently falls for. The summer before starting her new job as a sous chef at a hot new restaurant in Seattle, Josie Avery heads north to work at a rustic lodge in Ponder, Alaska, where she falls for Palmer Saxon, the aforementioned hunky swordsmith. When Josie has to stay in Ponder for the winter thanks to a missed boat, she and Palmer must face the reality of their relationship. Will love and the Christmas spirit prevail?