Bookshelf: Mary Kay Andrews brings the holiday spirit with new book

‘Bright Lights, Big Christmas’ delivers the warm fuzzies this holiday season.
Mary Kay Andrews is the author of "Bright Lights, Big Christmas."
Courtesy of St. Martin's Press

Credit: St. Martin's Press

Combined ShapeCaption
Mary Kay Andrews is the author of "Bright Lights, Big Christmas." Courtesy of St. Martin's Press

Credit: St. Martin's Press

Credit: St. Martin's Press

With all the bad news happening in the world right now, getting into the Christmas spirit this year may be challenging for those who observe the holiday. Not even the Hallmark Channel’s Christmas movie marathon may do the trick this time.

Thankfully, we have Mary Kay Andrews’ New York Times bestseller “Bright Lights, Big Christmas” (St. Martin’s Press, $24) to the rescue.

Breaking with tradition, as she does upon occasion, Atlanta’s own Queen of the Beach Read refrained this summer from publishing one of her fun, seaside novels in lieu of delivering a sweet, cozy Christmas novella this fall. And I can personally attest to the fact that if there’s a little Grinch lurking in your heart, this book will vanquish it. Since I’m not hosting my family’s holiday celebration this year, I had been toying with the idea of not putting up a tree. But halfway through “Bright Lights, Big Christmas,” I not only had decided to put up a little Fraser fir, I’d already picked out the perfect spot for it.

A recurring formula in Hallmark Channel Christmas movies is the stressed-out big-city gal who gets stranded in a small town where she falls in love with a down-to-earth guy and discovers the true meaning of the holiday.

For “Bright Lights, Big Christmas,” Andrews flips the script. Kerry Tolliver is a small-town girl from North Carolina, where her family runs a Christmas tree farm. With her father in recovery from a heart attack and Kerry laid off from her graphic design job, she’s recruited by her mother to accompany her estranged, taciturn brother Murphy on his annual trip to New York City where he spends a month selling trees from a lot in the West Village.

Forced to camp on the city streets, Kerry and Murphy share quarters in an old pink and turquoise trailer they call Spammy because it looks like a canned ham. They park it for the duration of their stay in front of the Tolliver Family Christmas tree stand, and while it has no working bathroom or kitchen, it does provide shelter and heat, thanks to a long electrical cord plugged in at Lombardi’s Café.

Here, over time, Kerry forges a meaningful relationship with her enigmatic brother, becomes smitten with a well-to-do businessman and his precocious son, and meets an intriguing cast of characters. Among them is the mysterious Mr. Heinz, who looks like he could be homeless but who has a keen eye for art and an interest in Kerry’s sketches.

To Kerry’s surprise, Murphy is beloved by the local residents and business owners, with whom he’s built relationships during his annual visits. And they embrace Kerry in turn, inviting her to use their luxe showers and attend their lavish holiday parties. The contrast between Kerry’s miserable accommodations and the comforts that envelop her in their sumptuous homes makes reading “Bright Lights, Big City” feel like a soft snuggle on a cold night.

Contributing to that sensation is the luscious way Andrews describes some of her characters’ fabulous fashions: the bottle-green velvet blazer, “voluminous white wool palazzo pants,” a cashmere sweater “softer than a baby’s sigh.” It’s enough to make you swoon.

In the end, though, what really gives “Bright Lights, Big Christmas” such a warm, fuzzy glow is the portrait Andrews paints of that special kind of joy experienced when strangers come together to form a self-made family. The Atlanta author’s latest is like a little box of Christmas spirit all tied up in a neat bow, and sometimes that is exactly what you want for the holidays.

Andrews will appear Saturday, Dec. 9, at Winterfest at Virginia Highland Books. For details go to

Suzanne Van Atten is a book critic and contributing editor to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. You can contact her at

About the Author