Home for the Holidays

By Liz, about to hit send on Tell Tail Heart! No, really, I mean it this time…


Home for the Holidays

Hey, friends. I hope everyone survived–I mean enjoyed–Thanksgiving. We all know how this time of year can be for some people, right? Not everyone has those perfect, Hallmark-movie families and lives.

We talk a lot on this blog and in our circle about why people write and read cozies. We all agree there are lots of reasons–the tendency for justice to be served, the small towns we fall in love with and love to revisit–but for me, the one that stands out is the people. The families and the relationships. The closeness, the togetherness, whether it’s romantic relationships or family and friend relationships.

When I was in my twenties I went through a Nora Roberts phase. I read everything of hers I could get my hands on, and when I ran out, I re-read some of my favorites. I could usually deduce how the story would go, but it didn’t matter. I knew why I read those books – the family dynamics. Usually one of the main characters had a big Irish family, and the other main character/love interest didn’t have the same, so he or she was immediately welcomed into the new family. And of course the relationship was perfect after that first rocky phase that played into the tension of the storyline.

Because who doesn’t really want a happy ending, right? Even in a murder mystery or crime story?

I wanted to be a part of those families, those partnerships. And for the duration of the book, I could be. There was something so appealing about all of it – the warmth, the close-knit relationships, the honesty and the trust between the characters. It’s what kept me coming back to those books over and over.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but later when I began writing books seriously, I recognized that I wanted to create that same feeling in my own books. I wanted to create it not only for my readers, but for myself while I was writing. I wanted to feel like I was part of those relationships for 350 pages.

And I want people to feel that too – and to keep them coming back for more. So they know that, even if their holiday reality isn’t quite what they want it to be, they always have a place to go in the pages of a good story.

Readers, do you have a favorite author or series you go back to often? Why? Tell us in the comments below. 

And, I’m giving away a JJ’s House of Purrs coffee mug to one commenter!

45 Thoughts

  1. Ursala LeGuin, Terry Pratchett, Madeleine L’Engle: classics that I think will survive the pass of time.

  2. And you have accomplished your goal, Liz – I love the relationships between the characters in both your series. It is like coming home to a favorite family to pick up one of your books.

    For me, I don’t think I have reread a book in decades, but I did reread the Laura Ingalls Wilder books at least once through when I was much younger, and Little Women, too.

  3. Sometimes the “unhappy” ending really isn’t actually unhappy at all.

    I’m going to write about my Thanksgiving this year, and because it’s so recent, I haven’t really wrapped my arms around it all and I KNOW I don’t yet have any perspective, but bear with me.

    I’ve written about the factions in my family (often coming perilously close to sectarian violence), and having been taught well my my mother, I’ve learned that I have to navigate these straits very carefully. So one of my navigation techniques is to spend Thanksgiving with one warring faction and Christmas with the other. Generally it works out well (except that the Thanksgiving branch is the one with the crazy uncle who listens to talk radio 24-7 and spouts off more loony conspiracy theories than you could imagine. And no matter how I strategize, I always end up sitting next to or across from him. Frankly, it’s NOT something I look forward to.

    But, not wanting to be the one to fire off a international conflagration, I bite my tongue, smile, and comment on how tasty the yams are this year.

    So, it’s now traditional that Crazy Uncle faction always invites me for Thanksgiving. And this year I had a host of other invitations, including a few that would have been extremely pleasurable. But I dutifully turned all of them down. Then, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, just as I was starting to be a tiny bit nervous about not receiving the expected invitation from Crazy Uncle Faction, I get a call from The Other Faction inviting me for Thanksgiving. I briefly toyed with switching holidays on the two groups, but realized that to do so would be playing with matches in the dynamite warehouse and politely declined. I was sure that I’d get a last minute call saying, “You are coming as usual, aren’t you?”

    But the call never came. By Tuesday, I was pretty sure that either they’d completely forgotten about me (possible) or they were sick of hearing me talk about how tasty the yams were this year (equally possible), and I began to try to promote an alternative invitation. I first called everyone who’d invited me earlier, but that I’d turned down. But either they were so offended by my refusal that they pretended to have other plans or they were screening out any calls from me. Or perhaps they really were flying to Brazil to meet with a long-lost relative.

    So I started trying to at least get a dinner reservation at a nice restaurant. If I was going to end up alone, I might as well have wonderful food, right?

    Here’s a piece of advice. If you plan to dine out on Thanksgiving, do NOT wait until two days before to try and get a reservation.

    So having exhausted all the really nice restaurants, I started going down my list of “okay” restaurants (in other words, one step up from Dennys). But again no dice, they were either closed or could offer me either the 10 AM or 11:30 PM sittings.

    When it comes to Thanksgiving food I’m a traditionalist. It’s got to be turkey, dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. (The yams are optional).

    Now cooking a whole turkey is out of the question for me for a bunch of reasons, not the least of which was that there was no way I’d even have it thawed by Thanksgiving.

    Fortunately, I had, in my freezer, a box of Turkey and Stuffing en Croute with gravy and Cranberry Sauce that I bought at Trader Joe’s last November. (Yeah, yeah, I’ve got to do a better job rotating my freezer contents. I KNOW.)

    I also found a frozen Trader Joe’s pumpkin pie of the same vintage. I supplemented these with packaged sides of mashed potatoes and green bean/fried onion casserole along with some dinner rolls from the grocery store.

    The turkey was so salty as to be inedible. The green bean casserole was … disgusting is the only work I can think of that even comes close. If I’d taken a can of green beans, dumped a can of mushroom soup on top and dumped a can of fried onions on top of that, it would have been an order of magnitude better that the congealed mess that I paid six dollars for at my local market. The cranberry sauce was fine and the rolls and mashed potatoes were okay, but let’s face it a Thanksgiving dinner where mashed potatoes and dinner rolls are the highlight is not going to make your top ten list of favorite meals.

    I still don’t know about the pumpkin pie. I filled myself up with so much mashed potato and dinner rolls that I was too stuffed to even think about the pie.

    So, was it a miserable Thanksgiving?

    Actually, no. It really wasn’t. With each new disaster, I was able to console myself that I wasn’t having to sit next to Crazy Uncle and make conversations about Yams. I really wasn’t feeling lonely, largely because I knew that multiple friends had invited me to have Thanksgiving with them. And I really did enjoy those mashed potatoes and dinner rolls. And the wine.

    Did I mention the wine? I opened a very nice bottle of wine and drank myself silly.

    Okay, I had two glasses. I have a low threshold for silly.

    So here’s my point .. at least so far as I understand it less than a week out from the day. We can’t all have “Nora Roberts” families. In fact, I’m guessing that more of us have Crazy Uncle families than “Nora Roberts” families. If you decide you day’s going to be miserable, then it’s going to be miserable, even if you do have a “Nora Roberts” family to spend it with, and if you decide you’re going to be fine, then you’re going to be fine even if you’re alone (and you’d rather not be).

    So here are my wishes to each and every one of you that you had neither Trader Joe’s Turkey en Croute nor Crazy Uncle, but took pleasure in whatever fate brought you this Thanksgiving.

    1. I absolutely love the way you dealt with Thanksgiving. You found the silver lining (even if it may have been made with tin foil) and decided to call it a good day. And it was. I we decide a day is bad, it definitely will be. If we decide it is good, it certainly can be. You (and I) know how to truly be happy.

    2. I don’t have any relatives that I see except for my parents. That cuts down on the crazy, except my mother has mental problems. She doesn’t think she does though. She’s definitely delusional. We just had a little turkey roast for Thanksgiving – one of those Jennie-O types in the foil pan since my mother won’t make a big turkey. Gotta have my turkey too.

  4. And I just realized that I didn’t respond to your question Liz. Oh yes! I have so many favorite series that I can’t name them all. However, the two that seem to me the most idealized (apart from the murders, of course) and the ones I wish were real are the bistro in Three Pines (Louise Penny’s books) and that incredible pet-centric town in Krista Davis’ Murder She Barked series.

  5. I’ve read all of Janet Evanovich’s books I like them as they are laugh out loud funny. I like Louise Penny’s books but I wouldn’t want to live in Three Pines. I also read all of Sue Grafton’s alphabet books. I loved the characters and the area and having a female P.I. There are way too many cozy authors and series that I love but you can go to my GoodReads page to see how many I’ve read and how many I want to read.

  6. I read and reread so many series! Outside of the mystery genre, my go to is Debbie Macomber. I love all of her books and have read all of the series. The one that is my favourite is The Blossom Street series. There is just something about it that keeps me going back again and again.
    I grew up with my paternal grandparents being such an influence in my life. I loved when they came for the weekends and for the holidays. I miss having that family feeling so much. Nowadays, it seems everyone is in such a hurry that they forget what is important. I think that is why I am drawn to cosy mysteries. There is always family, great friendships and wonderful towns.

  7. I read Charlotte MacLeod for one of my “comfort” rereads, either her Peter Shandy tongue in cheek books – hilarious – or her Kelling series of cozies.. Also Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Polifax series. There are a few others but that’s enough for now.

  8. Though my family always made sure I had plenty of books, I did reread quite a few of them–all the Nancy Drews, early on; Mary Stewart, Helen MacInnes (I always loved Rest and Be Thankful, and still have my tattered copy) in high school. Liz, I think you made some great points. Cozies create families. The protagonist may be new to town, but she finds friends, and she learns about herself as well (while solving a murder or two, of course). I think they’ve always had a special appeal to me because my mother was an only child, her father was an only child, her mother was an orphan with no relatives, so none of my family had any idea of what a big family could be like. My Catholic father had two siblings, and there were lots of kids in the next generation–but my mother hated all her inlaws, so I never met my Irish grandparents, and didn’t meet their offspring until I was an adult. So cozies provided happy fantasies.

    1. That’s fascinating, Sheila. My family wasn’t very big either, and I think that concept has always been appealing to me. Although I’m sure there are some downfalls too…

  9. Margaret Maron fits the bill here. Whatever the mystery is, the real fun is in revisiting Deborah Knott and her family and the larger community. So true, everything you’re writing here—and congrats on hitting send (getting ready to) on the new book too!

  10. Yes, the relationships are a big draw in cozy mysteries. I will often smile as each character makes an appearance for the first time. A favorite? I’m not sure I could name one there are so many.

  11. You are exactly right about the cozies. Growing up I wanted the Donna Reed/Ozzie & Harriet family and cozies are like that. The predictability is the best part. And there are some authors and series that provide that continuing relation even if they aren’t cozies. Yep, Nora Roberts (and J. D. Robb), Debbie Macomber, Dorthea Benton Frank, Emily March, Nancy J. Cohen, Sharon Struth, and many others.

  12. The books I’ve read and reread over the years aren’t mysteries but they are comfort books for me. Smokey by Will James, The Cowboy and the Cossack by Claire Huffaker, and pretty much anything by Jean Stratton Porter

  13. I don’t often reread books because there are always so many “new” ones I haven’t read. However, I never get tired of going back to Agatha Christie.

  14. I very rarely reread books, but some of my favorites are Karen White’s Tradd Street Series, Gone With The Wind, Rebecca, Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice. With so many new books coming out, it doesn’t leave time to reread even my favorites.

  15. I reread a number of books/series – it changes depending on my mood. They are all comfort reads.

  16. Having been pretty withdrawn when I was younger, I have the same reaction to books where someone learns how to connect with people. It’s a feeling i identify with.
    For series I go back to, it’s probably Silver/Bronze Age comics.

  17. I have quite a few cozy mystery authors that I love to read because I like to revisit their characters! I also enjoy Janet Evanovich, Dorothy Howell, Emelle Gamble,and C. J. Carmichael!

  18. I love cozies for good clean fun and the warm feeling they provide – a nice cat and maybe a knitting shop or bookstore? I don’t reread much because I have tons of other books to read, but I like to reread Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, or Elizabeth Peters. And Harry Potter. I also love Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen series and Laura Childs’ Tea Shop series. Haven’t reread any but I haven’t read every single one in those series.

  19. JK Rowling and Diana Gabaldon are great authors: I loved their books and I will keep reading the upcoming releases =) Thanks for the chance!

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