Review by Anissa Telle
This month’s pick of the month from Andrea Peskind-Katz from GREAT THOUGHTS, GREAT READERS is “Bright Lights, Big Christmas” by Mary Kay Andrews
What is “Bright Lights, Big Christmas” About?
Kerry and Murphy Tolliver are siblings, but in name only. The two lived separate lives for almost thirty years. But they share a lingering connection to their family history and their desire to help the Tolliver Christmas Tree Farm continue. A serious health challenge for their father forces the two siblings to embark on an adventure at a New York City Street corner. They plan to live for a month without adequate facilities in very tight quarters to try to sell Christmas trees. Failing their mission will result in having to sell the family farm.
Friends Who Become Your Chosen Family
Along the way, we meet an entire cast of characters who live and work on this New York City street corner. Kerry and Murphy have their hands full trying to reach a big goal. The support of their neighbors and the new friendships help add a sense of Christmas magic. It would not be a Mary Kay Andrews book without a bit of romance, but the focus remains on the possibility and hope of new beginnings.
Finding New Purpose
Kerry’s life to this point related to her past career aspirations or romantic involvements has not been easy. She is a bit jaded and finds it difficult to believe in a positive future. The wonderful connections of a seemingly homeless man, a child of divorce, and his dedicated father, provide Kerry with a newfound resilience. These heartwarming connections make you smile, laugh, and cheer as you hope for Kerry to find another path for her future.
Nothing Is Certain
Nothing is certain and the stress of unlikely villains, health challenges, doubts, and weather issues adds complexity to this story. But I think all would agree they would love to step into this corner in Abingdon Square in New York City to spend a day with Kerry, Murphy, and their wonderful friends.
My Review of “Bright Lights, Big Christmas”
Mary Kay Andrews is known for her annual Christmas books, a beloved tradition for many fans. This book is one of her best as the characters truly become personal to the reader. Andrews has a gift of creating situations you can’t help but connect with. The true-to-life reality of family dynamics, career uncertainty, doubting oneself, and isolation from heartbreak are universal truths.
This story, based on a real-life Christmas Tree Farm, explores the long-standing relationships built through decades of living in the NYC elements for a month. We learn about the struggles of a farmer who typically devotes at least seven years of labor to a tree and the uncertainty of getting their investment back.
Andrews created a story centered around Christmas that is different from many others as it is not an overwhelming joy-filled happily ever after. The story is a delicate balance in this genre that does not feel like an automatic straight-to-the-Hallmark channel book. And longstanding fans may find references to past Christmas stories, amazing dogs, decorative touches to add to your celebrations, and delicious foods.
Her exploration of the human condition and ability to craft unforgettable characters makes this book one I highly recommend. As the characters feel so real to me, I can easily see a companion Children’s book series evolving from this book. I hope you also find a strong connection with the Tolliver family as you make your own Christmas Tree purchase this year. Or perhaps it will make you stop to think a bit more about how your live Christmas Tree came to add to your celebration.
I received a copy of Bright Lights, Big Christmas, from St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.
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About the Author: Mary Kay Andrews
Mary Kay Andrews is The New York Times bestselling author of The Beach House Cookbook and more than twenty novels, including The Santa Suit, The Homewreckers, The Newcomer, The Weekenders, Ladies’ Night, Spring Fever, Summer Rental, The Fixer Upper, Deep Dish, Blue Christmas, and Savannah Breeze. A former journalist for The Atlanta Journal Constitution, she lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Learn more about Mary Kay Andrews on her website.
Little Known Facts About Mary Kay Andrews
Mary Kay Andrews is a popular author, but there are some lesser-known facts about her:
Real Name: Mary Kay Andrews is a pen name. Her real name is Kathy Hogan Trocheck. She started writing under this pen name when she began her career in mystery writing.
Former Journalist: Before becoming a successful novelist, she worked as a journalist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Her background in journalism influenced her writing style and research skills.
Mystery Novels: While she is best known for her women’s fiction and beach-themed novels, Mary Kay Andrews initially wrote mysteries under her real name, Kathy Hogan Trocheck. She authored the Callahan Garrity Mystery series.
Historical Preservation: Andrews has a passion for historic preservation and often features historic homes and properties in her novels. She has been involved in the restoration and preservation of historic buildings.
Antiques Expertise: Her knowledge of antiques, which she acquired while working as a journalist covering auctions and estate sales, is evident in some of her novels, particularly “Savannah Blues.”
Southern Roots: Mary Kay Andrews was born in St. Petersburg, Florida, and she has a deep connection to the South, which is reflected in the settings and characters in many of her books.
Beach-Lover: Many of her novels are set in beach towns and often revolve around beach houses or coastal settings, reflecting her love for the beach and the sea.
Cookbooks: In addition to her fiction, she wrote cookbooks with a Southern flair, including “The Beach House Cookbook” and “The Weekenders Cookbook,” which feature recipes inspired by her novels.
While Mary Kay Andrews is widely known for her novels, her background in journalism and her versatility as a writer in different genres and formats contribute to her unique perspective and storytelling abilities.
Other Books by Mary Kay Andrews
These are just a few of Mary Kay Andrews’ novels. Her books often feature strong female protagonists, Southern settings, and a combination of romance, mystery, and humor.
“The Fixer Upper” (2009):
Dempsey Jo Killebrew, a recent divorcee, finds solace and new purpose in renovating a dilapidated historic mansion in Savannah. Along the way, she uncovers secrets of the house and her own past.
“Summer Rental” (2011):
Three friends facing personal challenges decide to spend a summer in a beachfront cottage in North Carolina. As they navigate life’s ups and downs, their bond grows stronger.
“Ladies Night” (2013):
After her marriage falls apart, Grace Stanton is court-ordered to attend a “Divorce Recovery” group, which leads to new friendships, personal growth, and even an unexpected romance.
“Christmas Bliss” (2013):
We revisit characters from a previous book, “Blue Christmas” as Ella, Eloise’s best friend, plans a Christmas wedding. However, the holiday season brings its share of chaos and surprises, making for a humorous and heartwarming story.
“The Weekenders” (2016):
Riley Griggs looks forward to her family’s summer weekends on Belle Isle, but when her husband goes missing, she unravels the mysteries of the island, her marriage, and her future.
“Sunset Beach” (2019):
Drue Campbell’s life takes a surprising turn when she inherits her estranged father’s law practice in the Florida panhandle, leading to intrigue, romance, and personal discoveries.
“Hello, Summer” (2020)
Conley Hawkins, a journalist, returns to her hometown to work for her family’s newspaper, uncovering secrets, scandals, and her own path to self-discovery.
“The Santa Suit” (2020):
When Ivy Perkins stumbles upon a vintage Santa suit in the attic of her historic Georgia home, she decides to wear it to bring some cheer to her small town. As she takes on the role of Santa, she finds herself making a positive impact on the community.
Fun Christmas Facts
Here are some fun and festive holiday facts to get you in the Christmas spirit!
The Oldest Christmas Carol
Many believe “The First Noel” is the oldest known Christmas carol, with its origins dating back to the 13th century.
Tallest Christmas Tree
The tallest Christmas tree ever displayed was in Seattle in 1950. It stood at a whopping 221 feet!
According to historical weather data, there’s a 1% chance of having a white Christmas in New York City. There is a 12% chance in Denver.
Santa’s Many Names
Santa Claus goes by various names around the world. In Germany, he’s known as “Weihnachtsmann,” and in France, he’s “Père Noël.”
Sir Henry Cole, a British civil servant, created the first Christmas card in 1843. It featured a simple message and artwork.
The Real St. Nicholas
Santa Claus, based on the historical figure of St. Nicholas, a Christian bishop who lived in the 4th century in what is now Turkey, was known as generous with his gift giving.
The Origins of the Candy Cane
It’s thought that a German choirmaster created the candy cane in the 17th century to keep children quiet during church services. Some believe its shape represents a shepherd’s crook.
Many believe the Druids, started the custom of kissing under the mistletoe, which they viewed as a symbol of love and fertility.
NORAD Tracks Santa
Since 1955, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has been tracking Santa’s journey around the world on Christmas Eve. This tradition began with a misprinted phone number in a newspaper ad.
“Jingle Bells” was Originally a Thanksgiving Song
James Lord Pierpont composed “Jingle Bells”, initially intended to be a Thanksgiving song, in 1857. However, it later became associated with Christmas.
Santa’s Postal Code
In Canada, Santa Claus has his very own postal code: H0H 0H0.
The Largest Gingerbread House
The largest gingerbread house ever created measured 2,520 square feet. It was constructed in Texas in 2013.
Christmas Trees for Wildlife
In some places, Christmas trees are recycled and used to create habitats for fish and wildlife in bodies of water.
The World’s Largest Advent Calendar
In 2007, the Guinness World Record recorded the largest advent calendar in Germany. 2,500 painted and illuminated windows made up this calendar.
These Christmas facts add some extra magic and wonder to the holiday season. They showcase the rich history and traditions associated with this festive time of year.
About Andrea Peskind Katz from GREAT THOUGHTS, GREAT READERS:
Andrea Peskind Katz runs Great Thoughts, Great Readers, a Book Salon presented via her private FB group where approximately 5,000 prolific readers and authors interact. To quote Robert Frost, she created her “second act” career to “unite my avocation and my vocation”. After 20 years in high-pressure sales, Andrea retired to spend time doing what she loves best: hanging with her family and reading good books.