I read a handful of 2021 holiday releases so you don't have to, and now will share my thoughts. While I realize Hanukkah is not "Jewish Christmas," there is one Hanukkah-themed romance of note that will be included below. There is something for everyone - romance, cozy mystery, cookbooks, and writings from the past!
After the new release list, I'll include a few more recommendations!
Amor, Actually: A Holiday Romance Anthology
by Adriana Herrera, Alexis Daria, Diana Muñoz Stewart, Mia Sosa, Priscilla Oliveras, Sabrina Sol, Zoey Castile
This doesn't come out until December 7th, so I haven't had a chance to try it yet, but there are some authors I like on this list!
Baking for the Holidays: 50+ Treats for a Festive Season
by Sarah Kieffer
I am so excited for this cookbook! This is my first year having kids in my home and I have a long list of treats I want to make for and with them. The full-color illustrated step-by-step instructions really make this cookbook stellar, and I like the creativity in the recipes. I look at a lot of holiday cookbooks and could still find ideas to try in this one. The Rainy Day Bites Cookbook Challenge group in Instagram has been baking through this cookbook in Instagram for November and December so you can find a lot to look at there.
Christmas Past: An Anthology of Seasonal Stories from Nineteenth-Century America edited by Thomas Ruys Smith
This is for the scholars or those interested in historical readings from the era that Christmas really became popularized in English-speaking places, the Victorian era.
The Legend of the Christmas Witch
by Aubrey Plaza and Dan Murphy, read by Aubrey Plaza
Move over Kris Kringle, his sister has her own story to tell. I loved that this is Aubrey Plaza (aka The Office) and loved to have a witchy narrative for this season!
The Matzah Ball
by Jean Meltzer
A Jewish romance writer has always had Christmas as her secret obsession, and has made a comfortable life based on the sales of her Christmas romance novels. But times are changing and her publisher wants something "more Jewish." It's SO meta in that the actual author is struggling through a lot of cultural assumptions while also making it work, and I thought it was cute, and all well intentioned. Please see aforementioned disclaimer that I now Hanukkah is not the same as Christmas.
by Eloisa James, Christi Caldwell, Janna MacGregror, and Erica Ridley
These four interlocking stories all take place during the same holiday revelry, in 1815, at the Duke of Greystone's palatial home. I got a little confused because I Googled him in case he was a character in one of these four romance writers' worlds but it's Tarzan? Bizarre.
One woman has been told she's unattractive her whole life and has accepted it (but maybe her father just wanted to control her?); one woman got tired of waiting for a fiance and ended an engagement, only to reconnect during the revelry; one woman rediscovers her husband of one year; one woman is 23 and destined to be an old maid forever.
Maybe it's the time period and I'm not used to it; maybe these characters have more fleshed out stories in other books, but for me, it's not enough for a man to want to kiss me for me to believe anything! These women jump to love/belief so quickly it's amazing it's not four stories of betrayal and cons. (I suppose we especially want to believe under the mistletoe...)
Murder Most Festive: A Cozy Christmas Mystery
by Ada Moncrieff
If you combined my two favorite British shows - Downton Abbey and Grantchester (until James Norton left) - you would have this rompy novel about a murder at a grand house. It is set later than those shows but still had those feelings, so I'd recommend it. And it looks like there may be previous books by this author with similar tone.
The Naughty List
by Ellie Mae MacGregor
I keep referring to this book as "The Santa Smut" in my head and can never find it when I search for it because of this. If you've ever wanted a sexy Santa, this is the novella for you. Only in Kindle. And technically it isn't a new release but I read it this year and only discovered the author this year.
The Santa Suit
by Mary Kay Andrews
This is a traditional romance with the storyline trope of a woman, freshly single, moving to a small (NC) town to restart her life. And as with most small town romances, there are quirky townspeople, blue-collar love interests, and a bit of holiday magic.
That's my shortlist. I read a few more romance and/or contemporary/women's fiction novels but can't really recommend them so I'll leave it here.
A few recommendations from previous years:
2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino
I only ever read this because of a mystery postal book swap, but it's very cute and takes place over the 24 hours of Christmas Eve to Christmas.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Can't think of a better classic.
Dash and Lily series
The books and the tv series are super feel-good, YA but family-friendly, about two friends in a light romance involving bookishness and a variety of cultural backgrounds.
Home Made Christmas by Yvette van Boven
I made so many great dishes from this cookbook in 2018 and 2019!
If the Fates Allow by various
I found this collection of short stories, all very sweet and happy and featuring LGBTQ+ characters, in Hoopla. My favorites included a woman volunteering at an animal shelter and one featuring a matchmaker librarian!