Solo Lisa Reads: Holiday 2019

In the midst of the busy holiday season, what better form of self care is there than curling up on the couch with a good book? Just picture it: A cozy throw, your favourite pajamas, fuzzy socks, a cup of tea or a yummy snack within reach, and a fresh new read to dive into and a fictional world to get lost in. I have six books to recommend if you're looking for just such an escape.

1. Christmas Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

The ninth book in Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series finds our heroine, Becky Bloomwood, planning a Christmas party for her friends and family. She's trying her best to accommodate all the contradictory requests and help everyone get along, but feels like she's failing miserably. Her parents and their neighbours/best friends are feuding; her sister wants a vegan turkey; and she can't figure out what she should get her husband Luke and her daughter Minnie. Oh, and somewhere in the middle of the chaos there's a rocker ex-boyfriend who re-appears in Becky's life and his current girlfriend, who seems to be after Luke for...something.

Kinsella gets a lot of flack for writing the sort of books that are described as "cute" or "silly." But as a longtime fan of her work, I think she deserves more credit than she gets. It takes genuine storytelling and comic skill to produce a narrative that moves along breezily and bounces from one hilarious set-piece to another, and to make it look and feel effortless on top of that. I literally couldn't stop giggling at the scene where Becky is testing different aftershaves on Luke while he's sleeping, and it takes a lot for a book to make me laugh out loud. What's more, I've always enjoyed how the Shopaholic series taps into current pop culture obsessions in a savvy way. Christmas Shopaholic owes a debt to saccharine Hallmark holiday movies, which have really hit the cultural mainstream these days. Sure, the plot can be a little OTT, but it features a cast of loveable, good-hearted characters I enjoyed revisiting, plenty of cozy holiday vibes, and a feel-good ending.

2. Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Surviving the Overlook Hotel and having a homicidal, alcoholic father does not set one up for a well-adjusted adulthood. This sequel to The Shining follows little Danny Torrance into adulthood and he is not doing well. Dan (as he is now called) has post-Overlook trauma, uses alcohol to numb himself, and can't hold down a job. After hitting a particularly low point, Dan relocates to a sleepy New Hampshire town for a fresh start. It is there that he meets Abra, a young girl whose gift is much more powerful than Dan's, and learns that there are terrifying supernatural beings in this world who prey on children with the shining.

This book is just really good Stephen King—a compelling blend of horror, propulsive storytelling, cozy New England vibes, and human pathos. As always, King's prose is plain and straightforward, but the details are so sharply observed that they paint vivid pictures in the reader's mind. There were so many tiny details about Dan's struggle with alcoholism—the AA meetings, listening to the sound of a beer being opened with morbid fascination, driving past bars and wondering idly what they're like inside and what's on tap—that blew my mind because of how specific and visceral they were. (In the afterword, King talks about his own experience with AA.) Ironically, Doctor Sleep kept me up all night reading, and I'm sure it'll do the same to you. Read it before watching the new movie starring Ewan McGregor.

3. Dear Girls by Ali Wong

For a book that's as dirty as it is, Dear Girls was borne of a surprisingly poignant premise. Before Ali Wong's late father passed away, he wrote her a letter expressing how much he loved her and how proud he was. Wong realized that she never got to know the parts of her father's life from before she was born, and she never would, so she set out to write a series of letters to her daughters so that they would get to know their mother and benefit from her hard-won wisdom when they became adults. The resulting essays span a wide range of topics, from how Wong and her husband met, to what it really takes to succeed in comedy, to the value of travel, to the literally disgusting reality of motherhood.

Remember how I said it takes a lot for a book to make me laugh out loud? Well, Dear Girls had me howling at every other paragraph, and then turning to Lawrence to read passages out loud so he could revel in the hilarity as well. There were so many good jokes and one-liners it would be impossible to recap my favourites, but I have to give kudos to the Filipino name generator and the comparison chart for how to pick a good Asian restaurant.

4. One Day In December by Josie Silver

One snowy December day in London, Laurie is going home on the double decker bus and locks eyes with a handsome guy at the bus stop. Sparks fly for both of them, but before they can meet, the bus pulls away from the stop. During the next year, Laurie searches fruitlessly all over London for her bus stop mystery man—only to finally meet him when her roommate/best friend Sarah throws a party and introduces her new boyfriend, Jack. Jack, as you may have guessed by now, is the guy from the bus stop. Laurie tries her best to move on for Sarah's sake, but she and Jack still have feelings for each other. Over the next decade of New Year's Days and fresh starts, the story of their intertwined lives unfolds—filled with yearning, heartbreak, and paths not taken.

Once you get over the implausibility of the premise (who obsesses over some guy she locked eyes with once for the next 10 years, much less one she didn't even talk to initially?!), this is an epic, tender-hearted love story about three friends just trying their best to muddle through an impossible situation. A couple of things save this novel from descending into terrible cliches. First, I enjoyed seeing Laurie grow up and go from being a twentysomething adrift in life, career, and love to figuring out what she wants and going for it. Second, I liked the genuine and supportive friendship between Laurie and Sarah. And oh yeah, there's a grandiose romantic gesture at the end that happens during Christmas that's just so very Love Actually.

5. The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez

A friend from barre recommended this delightful rom-com to me and I'm so glad I picked it up. Kristen is attractive, funny, loyal, sarcastic—and she also happens to have severe fibroids. Kristen will need a hysterectomy while she's still in her 20s, a procedure that will leave her unable to have children. But in the meantime, she has plenty to keep her busy with her mail-order dog accessories business, a long-distance boyfriend, and helping her best friend plan her wedding as maid of honour. Then Kristen meets Josh, the best man, who seems perfect for her in every way. The catch? Josh wants a big family, and as much as Kristen and Josh want to be with each other, she doesn't want to hold him back from his dream of being a father.

The sizzling chemistry and funny banter between Kristen and Josh elevate this novel from your standard rom-com fare. As someone with endometriosis, the scene where Josh picks up tampons and McDonald's takeout for Kristen unprompted (a sundae and a burger, "something sweet and something salty" like what his sisters craved when they were on their periods) has to be one of the best fictional romantic gestures of all time. There are genuinely moving moments that brought me to tears as well, but I won't spoil anything here.

6. The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

Kim Liggett's dystopian YA novel is part Lord of the Flies, part The Hunger Games, part The Handmaid's Tale. In Garner County, the villagers believe that a girl passing into womanhood possesses powerful innate magic, a magic that gives them the ability to tempt men and cause mischief. Therefore, all the 16-year-old girls from the village are rounded up and left to fend for themselves in the woods for a year. This "grace year" is supposedly for the girls to get the magic out of their systems before returning to the village to become obedient wives and dutiful mothers, but in reality, it's a violent and horrifying ordeal. The girls turn on each other, forming intense alliances and rivalries, and not all of them come back alive. And then there are the poachers, who kill grace year girls and sell the body parts on the black market, to be consumed by villagers who believe them to be an aphrodisiac and youth enhancer.

Some elements of Liggett's world-building didn't work for me—I like my dystopias to be more rooted in contemporary socioeconomic and political issues, so that the fictional world seems like a grim yet logical extension of our world's collapse. By contrast, the world of The Grace Year seems completely unmoored from our present reality and there's no attempt to explain how things came to be. Nonetheless, I found Liggett's exploration of feminist themes, like the sexualization of teenage girls and rivalries between women, to be intriguing. The Grace Year has already been optioned by Universal Pictures, and Elizabeth Banks is set to direct the movie.

Shop the post


  1. My order of Dear Girls is waiting to be picked up from the post office! I also LOOOVE the Shopaholics series from Sophie Kinsella. For the longest time I read all of them and then I stopped reading as much and now I'm super behind. I need to get caught up!

    1. There you go, your reading list is set for the holidays!

  2. In our holiday-themed blog series, Solo Lisa Reads, we invite you to cozy up with a cup of hot cocoa and immerse yourself in a world of captivating stories and heartwarming tales. Join Lisa, our avid reader and book enthusiast, as she shares her favorite reads and recommendations for the holiday season of 2019.
    violation of a protective order virginia


Back to Top