Get lost in a book at DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun.

Local reader, writer, and #ThisIsTucson Book Club moderator, Genevieve Dahl, shares book recommendations and novel reviews in the series Bibliophile in the Desert, which includes the most appropriate Southwest locale to enjoy a good book. You can find Genevieve on Instagram at @ReadingRainCloud.


It is the most wonderful time of the year, Tucson. ‘Tis the season when we desert dwellers put our sandals and swimsuits aside and bust out our winter gear — light hoodies and closed-toed shoes.

There is something magical about this time of year in Arizona: saguaros adorned in Christmas lights, chile pepper ristras in place of evergreen wreaths, and Santa in a T-shirt rather than a snuggly suit. Though Tucson’s winter may look a little different from other areas of the Northern hemisphere, we’re still present in the holiday spirit department.

I’m excited to share with you the books on my holiday reading list this year, as well as the best places in Tucson to sneak in a little reading time while you are out and about enjoying the festivities our beautiful city has to offer.

The MSA Annex is a worthy spot for drinks, food and finding a nice spot for reading a good book.

“The Santa Suit” by Mary Kay Andrews at the MSA Annex

Located to the west of bustling downtown Tucson and down the street from Mercado San Agustin, the MSA Annex is one of my favorite places to read. With shipping containers of fun little shops, this outdoor community space offers warm caffeinated drinks courtesy of Decibel Coffee Works, holiday spirits from Westbound, and the option of ramen or vegan burgers if you get hungry. You could sit here and read all day.

I did just that with “The Santa Suit,” this year’s holiday must-read by bestselling author Mary Kay Andrews. In this novel, newly divorced Ivy Perkins decides to launch her fresh start by purchasing an old farm property sight unseen. It turns out the listing photos did the farmhouse more than justice. When Ivy’s real estate agent hands her the keys to her new home, she discovers it is fully furnished and stuffed to the brim with junk.

Among the piles, Ivy finds a Santa suit with an intriguing note in the pocket — a Christmas wish from long ago. Curiosity sparked, she sets out to find the story behind the letter, a quest that clashes with her initial mission to buy a farmhouse and live securely in complete solitude. Instead, Ivy discovers community, friendship, love, and holiday spirit.

Sitting on one of the rustic benches at Silverbell Lake has proven to be perfect for reading.

“No Ordinary Christmas” by Belle Calhoune at Silverbell Lake

Did you know that Tucson has a lake in the middle of the city? Silverbell Lake, aptly located right off Silverbell Road, is one of the best places to bring a book and just be. There is a set of rustic benches on the shoreline that I refer to as “reading benches” because I’m nearly certain that is what they are intended for, though others tell me they are meant for fishing.

If you love a Christmas-filled small-town romance, then come on over and share a reading bench with me. Belle Calhoune’s “No Ordinary Christmas” takes readers to Mistletoe, Maine where we meet Lucy, the town librarian, and Dante, a Hollywood actor returning to his hometown to give back by selecting Mistletoe as his next blockbuster film’s shooting location.

Before Dante was a famous movie star, he and Lucy dated, and he broke her heart (jerk). If you are thinking this sounds like the premise of a Hallmark Christmas movie, you’re not wrong. I happen to love Hallmark holiday specials, so I thoroughly enjoyed this second chance romance story with a Christmas twist.

“Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days” came to us by recommendation from a bookseller at Antigone Books on Fourth Avenue.

“Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days” by Jeanette Winterson on Fourth Avenue

Obligation-free days are rare, but if I have one, I head down to Fourth Avenue. My first stop is always Antigone Books. I love the people who work here and often ask for staff recommendations — an act of faith that has never steered me wrong. With my new book in hand, I walk down the avenue, noshing at my favorite eateries while I indulge in a few chapters at each one, never outstaying my welcome and always leaving a nice tip behind.

This last visit, I asked an Antigone bookseller for a Christmas recommendation and was handed Jeanette Winterson’s “Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days.” Winterson, an incredibly talented writer, has penned a couple of my favorite books and this brilliant collection of short stories and essays quickly joined the ranks. No two pieces are alike, each one bends into a different theme, and the entire collection gracefully stretches across a variety of genres.

Each one of the 12 fictional shorts is followed by a personal essay on a memorable meal accompanied by a relevant recipe. Typically, I prefer fiction to memoir, but Winterson’s way with words wrapped me up in her intimate meal-centric accounts. Any pangs of hunger or thirst they incited were quickly addressed as I enjoyed the patio spaces, culinary creations, and beverages of Martin’s Comida Chingona, BOCA Tacos Y Tequila, and Che’s Lounge — my favorite bar for a Bloody Mary and a good book.

Get lost in a book at DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun.

“The Christmas Escape” by Sarah Morgan at DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun

When I step foot onto the desert property brought to life by artist Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia, I find myself overwhelmed with gratitude that I happen to reside in the same corner of the world as Gallery in the Sun. These 10 acres of desert land were DeGrazia’s home and now they serve as his place of rest.

Though most people come here for the art, many return for the spiritual encounter. Gallery in the Sun is an inviting place to get lost in a story. I sat down at a courtyard picnic table with Sarah Morgan’s “The Christmas Escape” and spent the day with two characters, Christy and Alix, a set of longtime friends navigating their relationship as adults with different lifestyles.

This novel is mostly set in Lapland, a subarctic region of Finland. While Gallery of the Sun thankfully does not share the freezing temperatures of Lapland, it does boast that same inexplicable feeling of peace and creative energy, which made for a heightened reading experience.

Morgan weaves romance and holiday spirit throughout this novel, but she does so subtly, focusing on the complexities of adult friendship, personal development, and finding one’s truth. “The Christmas Escape” is a wonderful read for someone who wants a bit of Christmas magic without the holiday cheese factor.

Head north on Campbell Avenue with a good book and a view of the sunset.

“The Matzah Ball” by Jean Meltzer at Campbell Trailhead

Head north on Campbell Avenue until you can drive no more and you will find the Campbell Trailhead. Should you be inclined and wearing the proper footwear, you can hike the trails here, but truth be told, most people come for the parking lot views.

Sometimes, if I get off work with time to spare, I will drive up Campbell to enjoy the sunset with my current reading selection. This time, my parking lot date was “The Matzah Ball” by Jean Meltzer. Though Hanukkah tends to coincide with the Christmas season, it is not considered a High Holy Day like Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah. Perhaps that is why there are not many Hanukkah novels out there, but when I read the synopsis of this one, I began to think there should be. And yes, Hanukkah has passed this year, but you can easily enjoy this funny, fast-paced story any time of the year.

Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt is the daughter of a world-famous Rabbi, and she has a deep, dark secret — she loves Christmas. So much so that she has made her living writing Christmas novels under the pen name Margot Cross. When Rachel’s publishers demand she write a Hanukkah romance this year, she panics and worries she may not be able to complete the task while managing her secret identity, living with a chronic illness, and dealing with her family’s unexpected Shabbat guest. Lighthearted and well-written, readers will walk away with a big smile and a heartfelt lesson.

Surround yourself with holiday energy at La Encantada — and bring your favorite book.

“The Holiday Swap” by Maggie Knox at La Encantada

I’m an introvert at heart and a writer by trade, so when I am in a crowded space, I find myself creating stories about my surroundings. La Encantada is a great reading venue and a fun people-watching arena. This time of year, the outdoor mall is bustling with holiday energy, happy shoppers and the occasional staged snowstorm, making it my chosen setting for reading for “The Holiday Swap.”

Maggie Knox delivers the cutest Christmas story of the year with this tale of two identical twin sisters who swap lives. Though they are motivated by good reason, things do get complicated. If you enjoyed any of the “The Princess Switch” movies on Netflix, a holiday film franchise in which actress Vanessa Hudgens seems to play most of the roles, you’ll love this book. While it has a plotline of its own, it shares the same sweet and sentimental theme as “The Princess Switch.”

Bonus tip: if you prefer your romance novels to be light on the steam and heavy on the saccharinity, this is the Christmas book for you.

Cuddle up with some blankets while reading Sophie Cousens' book "This Time Next Year."

“This Time Next Year” by Sophie Cousens in your comfy bed

There are two types of people in this world, those who love to whoop it up on New Year’s Eve and the ones who prefer to ring in the new year with a good book. I am the latter (big surprise). On Dec. 31, you can find me in my finest sweatsuit with a glass of bubbly in one hand and “This Time Next Year” by Sophie Cousens in the other.

I read this meet-cute novel last year and vowed to revisit it each New Year’s Eve and Day in the future. Cousens is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. When I enter the world of her books, I know I will cry as much as I will laugh out loud, and I live for a book that moonlights as an emotional rollercoaster.

Minnie Cooper’s (yes, her parents named her that) life is a bit of a mess. She blames her circumstances on a man named Quinn Hamilton. She’s never met him, but they share the same birthday, Jan. 1. In 1990, Quinn shot out into the world minutes before Minnie, making him the first baby born in London that year and her the second born. He got the headlines and the cash prize, while she was left with a mother who had also planned on naming her baby Quinn, but in a brain-fogged quick reaction, chose the name Minnie instead.

As someone who goes back and forth between wanting the first day of the new year to be greatly symbolic and realizing that luck is more what we make of it than anything, this is the perfect book to start the year ahead.


Tucson has several independently owned bookstores to shop from, each one staffed with book experts and enthusiasts. If you’re shopping for holiday reads or bookish gifts, we encourage you to do so locally.

I am a hardcover and paperback loyalist but sometimes I prefer an audiobook. While sharing this with Barrio Books proprietor, Syrena Arevalo-Trujillo, she recommended an app called Libro.fm to me. Libro.fm is an audiobook service provider that allows users to select an independent bookstore of their choice to receive a portion of their purchase. They have several Tucson bookstores listed. Check out Libro.fm and choose a Tucson bookstore to support.

Looking to dive deeper? Join the #ThisIsTucson book club group on Facebook.


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