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For Christmas: 5 golden reads

Sara Frederick
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

If the cold weather hasn't put you in a holiday mood, these books surely will.

—"The Snow Globe" by Sheila Roberts; St. Martin's (166 pages, $14.99)

Kylie, who has had a run of bad luck — her live-in boyfriend left her to move in with her sister, for starters — is browsing in an antiques shop when she impulsively buys an old snow globe. According to the shopkeeper, he got the globe from the final heir of family that for many generations used it to predict their futures: One shake of the globe, and the toy factory scene inside it is replaced by one that shows what life has in store for you. Kylie takes a leap of faith and shakes the globe, and of course what appears is tall, dark and handsome.

The story is a little cloying, and you can guess how it ends (hint: this isn't a tragedy), but the pace is brisk, and "The Snow Globe" makes for a quick holiday read.

—"The Zombie Night Before Christmas" by Clement C. Moore and H. Parker Kelley; Cider Mill (47 pages, $12.95.

The traditional Christmas Eve poem penned by Moore is turned on its (dead) head in this adaptation, a perfect fit in this popular year for flesh-eaters. Simple word swaps ("Not a zombie was stirring, not even a mouse") are accompanied by Dominic Mylroie's wonderfully creepy illustrations (the zombie mouse has fluorescent green eyes and has been gnawing on someone's missing finger).

This is a terrific novelty stocking stuffer for zombie lovers still lamenting the season finale of AMC's "The Walking Dead."

—"An Amish Christmas" by Cynthia Keller; Ballatine Books (239 pages; $16)

The best in this bunch of holiday-themed books, "An Amish Christmas" tells the story of Meg Hobart, a comfortable middle-class woman whose husband James has lost everything in a bad investment. With the loss of their home and most of their possessions, the couple, their two sullen teenagers and precocious preteen son pack up and head north to live with Meg's parents, a stern, cold couple she fled as soon as she was old enough. Along the way, a car accident puts them in the care of David and Annie Lutz and their large Amish family. The wrecked car will take two weeks to repair, but the incredibly generous Lutzes insist the Hobarts stay on the farm for free. The three Hobart children are horrified — "I know we've gone back to 1742," (daughter) Lizzie said with sarcastic sweetness, "but could you please wake me when it's the present again?"

Meg and James immerse themselves in the Amish family, working with them, sharing meals, learning lessons they've forgotten they knew before the business of working and raising children took over their lives. Meg comes to realize she's raising three spoiled, ill-mannered brats and that her own life could use a little improvement.

The lessons — that hard work is its own reward, that one should give selflessly and be thankful for what she has, that you can still raise decent children in this crazy techno-world — speak directly to how a lot of us are living our lives today. The story in no way suggests that we should all become Amish to be happy, but the vivid images Keller gives of farm life make you feel a little more peaceful inside. We can all use a little of that this time of year.

—"Promise Me" by Richard Paul Evans; Simon & Schuster (334 pages, $19.99)

A single mom with a sick daughter meets a mysterious man on Christmas Eve. He immediately takes care of all of her problems and becomes what she believes to be her soulmate. Then she discovers that the mystery man's appearance in her life involves time travel and a familial relationship.

The sickly-sweet story, which tangentially ties in Christmas as a special date for a reunion, is every bit as ludicrous as it sounds, but if you're a reader of romance novels, the white knight theme and the fantasy life the strange pair creates might work for you. At least reading will help you forget about the holiday season's crowded checkout lines and rude drivers for a little while.

—"'Twas the Night Before Christmas: 21st Century Edition" by Bruce Kluger and David Slavin; Andrews McNeel Publishing (80 pages in paper, $9.99)

This updated version of the holiday staple has more heft than its zombie counterpart and makes Santa the victim of a hostile takeover by a large corporation. The poem has been entirely rewritten — "The toilers were toiling through night and through day. The business of Christmas was well underway" — and the illustrations are accompanied by Photoshopped images of magazines, newspapers and corporate memos, each fully realized.

The details are genius — news articles announce the downsizing of elves and the North Pole toy factory's move to Honduras — and are perfect for this moment in time. Who would have thought a classic holiday poem could be so relevant?

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