New Reads with a Holiday Twist

When you think of holiday stories,certain must-read classics come to mind, such as Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas and more recently Chris Van Allsburg’s The Polar Express. These are stories that make their way off my shelf and into my hands every holiday season.  However, sometimes I crave a new holiday story and go looking for touching, romantic or even mysterious holiday books to devour.  If you are looking for something new this holiday, here are a few suggestions of holiday-themed stories that have been published in the past few years.

whatlight-coverWhat Light, by Jay Asher—Released in 2016, this moving Young Adult novel follows the story of Sierra and Caleb. Sierra’s family runs a Christmas tree farm in Oregon and every year she has to pack up and move to California to sell trees in their Christmas tree lot. This Christmas she meets Caleb, a boy with a troubled past. This story is about finding forgiveness, redemption and love, and it just may break your heart.  This book is featured in our Holiday Gift Guide.

a-baxter-family-christmas-9781471143311_hrA Baxter Family Christmas, by Karen Kingsbury—Released in 2016, Kingsbury brought back the Baxter family for an all-new holiday story, as John Baxter invites the transplant recipient who now has his deceased daughter’s heart to share Christmas Eve dinner with the family, a dinner that just might change all of them. Continue reading

50 Facts About How The Grinch Stole Christmas and The People Who Made It

It can’t be denied that the mid-1960s was the golden age of the animated TV Christmas special. You could deny it, but you’d be wrong. The stop-motion Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer premiered in 1964, and A Charlie Brown Christmas debuted twelve months later. The next year, in 1966, How the Grinch Stole Christmas aired for the first time.


To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the animated Grinch, here are 50 facts about the classic TV special and the people who made it.

1. The Dr. Seuss book on which the special is based was published by Random House in 1957. It also appeared in an issue of Redbook magazine at the same time.

2. Dr. Seuss was the pen name of Theodor Geisel. His dozens of children’s books have spawned 11 TV specials, four feature films, four TV series and a stage musical. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1984.

3. While attending Dartmouth College, Geisel got caught drinking gin with friends in his dorm room. As punishment, he was forced to stop all extracurricular activities, including writing for the school’s humor magazine. To surreptitiously keep writing for it, he began using the pen name Seuss. (Dartmouth gave him an honorary doctorate in 1956.)

4. His first book, And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, was rejected by anywhere from 20 to 43 publishers, depending on which time he told the story.

5. An early version of the Grinch character appeared in 1955 in a Seuss story called “The Hoobub and the Grinch.” Continue reading

Christmas Past Makes a Great Christmas Present

The literary work most associated with Christmas is Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but, really, all of Charles Dickens’ works somehow seem to fit the holiday season, so we would like to take this opportunity to feature a very special array of British editions of Dickens’ novels, mostly first editions illustrated by Phiz, and a couple of other very special holiday collectible editions.1-thechimes

The Chimes
This 1905 J.M. Dent deluxe edition of the second of Dickens’ famous Christmas books is bound in vellum, with lovely decorative gilt to the spine and front board, showing holly, ivy and cherubs in an Art Nouveau style. Illustrated by Charles E. Brock. $225

2-nicholasnicklebyThe Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby
First Edition, mixed issue. Chapman and Hall, 1839. Twentieth-century half morocco binding by Zaehnsdorf of London. $1,200 Continue reading

Frank Sinatra and a Rat Pack Christmas

A Rat Pack Christmas

Yes, there is a CD that handily collects Christmas songs by Frank, Dino, Sammy (and Peter and Joey, as pictured above), so you could go that route.  But wouldn’t it be more fun to go looking for some of those classic Christmas albums by the Rat Pack guys, and maybe include some of their fellow holiday crooners?

Here are some suggestions for some albums and song choices that you could use to put together an ultra-cool playlist that might approximate who you would hear sing at a swingin’ holiday soiree hosted by the Rat Pack.

Dean Martin, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”

Dino could make anything swing, even “White Christmas.”  OK, well, maybe not “White Christmas.”  But Mr. Suave shares vocals on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with a whole female chorus rather than the usual one female vocalist.  It’s gotta be in the mix.

Frank Sinatra, “Mistletoe and Holly”

Ol’ Blue Eyes made “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” into bittersweet holiday ballads, but to meet the Rat Pack hip quotient, my choice is “Mistletoe and Holly,” if only to hear Frank croon “Oh, by gosh, by golly.”

Sammy Davis, Jr., “Jingle Bells”

The LP bins are lousy with records by Frank and Dean, but, incredibly, Sammy never released a Christmas album!  He has recorded some Christmas songs, though, and one has got to be included.  I’m going with “Jingle Bells” to keep things hoppin’.

Nat “King” Cole, “The Christmas Song”

Cole wasn’t in the Rat Pack, but he should’ve been.  He was a lot cooler than Joey Bishop.  All of these guys sang versions of “The Christmas Song” (You know, “The Christmas Song”: “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”—that one), but Nat Cole made it one of his trademark numbers, and we’ll make it the low-key change of pace to break up the Rat Pack holiday party cheer.

Ella Fitzgerald, “Winter Wonderland”

Ella knew how to swing the holiday stuff, and was a big influence on the Rat Pack crooners.  Her version of “Winter Wonderland” bounces right along, and earns her a spot as a Rat Pack special guest.

Tony Bennett, “My Favorite Things”

Why Tony Bennett was not a member of the Rat Pack I don’t know. His version of “My Favorite Things” (yes, it’s a Christmas song) is peppy.  Tony’s still goin’, and in 2008 released an album with the Count Basie Band called A Swingin’ Christmas.  Perfect!

Peggy Lee, “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town”

The Rat Pack always had a few ladies around, so we’ll let Peggy join Ella to represent the feminine element.  All she has to do is sing to Dino, Frank and Sammy: “Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.”  

Of course, there’s room for other Rat Pack wannabes at the party, like Steve and Eydie, Bobby Darin, and Vic Damone. A nice, swingin’ way to dig the holidays! – Steve

Steve is Staffing & Development Manager (aka the “Buy Guy”) at Half Price Books Corporate.

5 Non-Conventional Movies to Watch at Christmastime

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with eggnog, mistletoe and holiday cheer, here’s a list for you. It’s a cinch to make a list of your favorite holiday films, but here are some non-conventional movie choices for the season. Criteria #1: Must take place around Christmas time. That’s it. Although, it’s an added bonus if there’s a chase scene or explosives. Here are 5 picks to get you started.

Die Hard (1988) NYPD Cop John McClane is flying to LA to spend Christmas with his wife Holly. Arriving just before the start of the corporate Christmas party, John is freshening up in the bathroom when all you-know-what breaks loose! A group of thieves, believed to be terrorists, are out to rob a corporation, but the one thing they didn’t count on– the fly in the ointment, the monkey in the wrench– was McClane himself. It’s one big cat and mouse chase movie as Lt. John McClane tries to save Christmas for everyone.

Lethal Weapon (1987) Roger Murtaugh is about to retire from the LAPD just as he’s assigned a new partner, Martin Riggs, a man who has lost his wife and has suicidal tendencies. Murtaugh takes on the case of an old war buddy whose daughter was recently murdered. As they investigate, they discover the murder runs much deeper than anyone had imagined. A fun action-packed movie with plenty of laughs.

LA Confidential (1997) If you have not seen this film, it is a must see, nominated for 9 total Oscars including Kim Basinger’s supporting actress performance win. LA Confidential’s conflict starts early with things going awry at the Police station Christmas party. Two unlikely partners– brilliantly played by Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce– are paired together to investigate the Night Owl murder, during which they discover that the corruption has infiltrated their own police force. This fantastically written, well acted modern-day film noir movie should be seen at least a few times.

Batman Returns (1992) Batman Returns has its very cheesy moments, yet it does take place at Christmas time. A disfigured man, known as the Penguin, wants to become part of society again. He blackmails business man, Max Shrek, to help him with his task. Batman, not convinced by Penguin’s recent generosity, uncovers a plan to take control of the city and the main power plant. Selina Kyle, Catwoman, complicates things by developing feelings for Bruce Wayne, not knowing his alter-ego is Batman. Great comic fun!

Behind Enemy Lines (2001) Fighter pilot Chris Burnett (Owen Wilson) is shot down while flying missions over Bosnia on Christmas morning. The chase is now on. Trying to elude the Bosnian army, Admiral Reigart (Gene Hackman) stays in communication with Burnett and together they work their way to a safe extraction point.

Can you name a few more? Do you have any favorite non-traditional movies you like to watch around the holidays?

Remember, no talking or texting during the feature presentation.

— Jim

Thus, the story behind Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

“Marley was dead to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.”  Thus — such a wonderful word, thus, and greatly underused in today’s society, I think –– begins the immortal story of Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol.”  With his wit, humor and imagination, Dickens sings for us a carol that has permanently woven its tune into the holiday season, and even everyday life.  I mean, who hasn’t called a stingy person a Scrooge? And who names their child Ebenezer anymore? Here are some interesting facts behind the story of “A Christmas Carol.”

  • Instead of chapters, Dickens called the breaks in his story staves.  A stave is a verse in a poem or a song.
    Originally, Bob Crachit’s  sickly child was named Fred, after Dickens’ younger brother.  Though, the young Crachit’s name was changed to Tim, the name Fred was still used in the story for Scrooge’s nephew.
  • “Fan” was not only Scrooge’s sister in the book, but also the nickname of Dickens own sister, Frances, who died of consumption in 1848 at the age of 38.
  • Dickens’ sister “Fan” has a son Henry, who was a sickly child and died at the age of 10.  He was most likely the model for Tiny Tim.
  • Dickens stated in his diaries that Scrooge stems from a grave marker, which he saw in 1841 for the vintner Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie.  The marker identified Scroggie as a “meal man,” meaning he was a corn merchant, but Dickens misread to say “mean man” and wrote it must have “shriveled” Scroggie’s soul to carry “such a terrible thing to eternity.”  Unfortunately, the grave marker was lost during construction work in 1932.
  • There have been several theories as to where Dickens got additional inspiration for the character of Scrooge, but the man who Dickens mentions in his letters that bears a strong resemblance to the character was a noted British eccentric and miser named John Elwes (1714-1789).  Dickens illustrator, John Leech used Elwes’ likeness to portray Scrooge in his illustrations.
  • The word “humbug” means deceptive or false talk. Though Scrooge is known for saying “Bah! Humbug!” he actually only says it twice in the entire book. He uses the word “Humbug!” by itself seven times, but he stops on the first syllable the seventh time after realizing Marley’s ghost is real, and the word is never used again. 
  • The name “Ebenezer” is Hebrew for “Stone of Help.”
  • Since its publication in 1843, “A Christmas Carol” has been adapted for theater, film, television, radio and opera.  Can you name some of the actors who have played Ebenezer Scrooge?  What about Bob Crachit?

“And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”

Happy holidays! — Julie

Holiday Entertaining Recipes & Cookbook Giveaway

Throw open your doors to family and friends for gatherings and feasts filled with holiday cheer. To help inspire you, here are some sweet and savory recipes for your holiday entertaining. Find these featured cookbooks in your neighborhood HPB store or online at HPB Marketplace. Be sure to read through to the end for details how you can win a cookbook!

As my family gathers around at grandmother’s house on Christmas morning, the first thing to disappear are the Piglets in Blankets. Here’s how to make them. Unroll an 8 oz package of crescent roll dough. Cut into four strips about 1/8 inch wide. Wrap one strip of dough tightly around each mini sausage. You can also cut the dough into triangles and roll them croissant-style, if you wish. Place wrapped piggies on baking sheet or pan, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 8 hours. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Just before baking, whisk 1 large egg with 2 tsp water. Brush the dough with egg wash. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until golden brown. Serve hot out of the oven.  Makes about 4 dozen.

– Recipe from Parties and Projects for the Holidays by Martha Stewart

Whip up a batch of crisp and flaky Rugelach cookies for your Chanukkah party. Start by mixing in a bowl 4 oz unsalted butter and 4 oz white cheese (none of that low-fat business, full-fat farmer’s cheese). Beat in 1 tbsp sugar, 1 egg, and 1/2 tsp salt. Fold 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour into the creamy mixture until the dough can be worked with the hands. Knead and shape the dough into a ball, then cover and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Divide dough into 6 equal pieces. On a floured surface, roll out each piece until the dough is about 1/2 inch thick. Then brush with a little melted butter. Sprinkle golden raisins and chopped walnuts (or substitute raisins for chocolate chips, if you prefer). Sprinkle dough with a touch of sugar and cinnamon. Cut the rounds into 8 to 10 wedges. Roll the triangle from the large end towards the tip (resembling a croissant). Place on baking sheet. Brush the tops with butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake for 15 to 30 minutes until lightly browned. Let cool before serving. Makes 48 to 60 cookies.

– Recipe from Jewish Food for Festivals and Special Occasions by Marlena Spieler

After an evening out singing Christmas carols, warm up with this treat – Spiced Hot Chocolate. Mix together in a saucepan 3-3/4 cups of mil, 7 oz of dark chocolate (at least 70% solid cocoa) broken into pieces, 2 tsp sugar, and 1 tsp allspice. On medium heat, whisk until it’s simmering. Remove from heat and pour into heatproof glasses or mugs. Garnish with a whole cinnamon stick and a dollop of whipped cream. Serves 3 to 4.

For a beverage suitable for your holiday cocktail party or for ringing in the new year, try a Gumdrop Martini. First, rub the rim of a chilled martini glass with the wedge of a lemon, then dip the glass edge in a saucer of superfine sugar. Shake over ice cubes 2 measures of lemon rum, 1 measure of vodka, 1/2 measure of Southern Comfort whiskey, 1/2 measure of lemon juice and 1/2 tsp dry vermouth. Strain into prepared glass and serve with a toast!
– Drink recipes from The Bartender’s Guide by Parragon Books

In the family-tradition of Half Price Books, we love have a good time — especially so around the holiday season. In the words of founder Ken Gjemre: “We’re going to eat and drink some. We’re going to party more. We’re going to shop more. We’re going to remember friends, family and children. And we’re going to be nice to one another. Now what’s wrong with that?”

Tell us about your favorite holiday tradition or family recipe! Enter yours in a comment below and you’ll be automatically entered to win a FREE cookbook. Three lucky winners will receive a selected cookbook from Half Price Books. Winners will be randomly selected at 3pm CST on Friday, December 9. Don’t forget to share this with your friends so they can enter to win a free cookbook too!

Eat, drink and be merry.

— Meredith


UPDATE: Congratulations to our winners – Laura Olson who shared her “Holly” cornflakes recipie; Daria Schaffnit who told us about grandma’s cookie factory; and Megan Miller who shared about her tradition to make gingerbread men. You’ve each won a free cookbook! To claim your prize, drop us a note at with “Cookbook Giveaway” in the subject and include your mailing address in the body. This giveaway is now closed. Thanks to everyone who participated.