Over the Holidays

Over the Holidays

The best holiday traditions are meant to be broken.

It's only December 1, and Vanessa Clayton has been dreading Christmas since she spotted tinseled trees at her local mall in September. Thankfully, she and her husband, JT, can't afford to drag their twin boys across the country to New England for the annual celebration at her stuffy sister-in-law Patience's home. Not that Vanessa has prepared a proper Christmas for her family in years, and she has less time than ever since she agreed to consult on the script of a local play. Her older sister, Thea, is no help -- she'd rather make art and flirt with surfers than babysit her nine-year-old nephews. Then Patience drops a holiday stress bomb: Her family will come to California instead.

In between "baking" cinnamon rolls for the school potluck and overbearing Patience testing her patience, Vanessa can't stop thinking about the difficult but charming playwright at work. Meanwhile, Patience's teenage daughter, Libby, obsesses over a college boy she has met by the pool, and Thea searches desperately for the meaning of Christmas -- for her latest installation, of course. As their holiday plans go comically awry, these four women discover the true spirit of the season is hidden in every festive surprise.
  • Gallery Books | 
  • 336 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781439158708 | 
  • October 2009
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Over the Holidays includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Sandra Harper. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


This year, Vanessa Channing is NOT flying across the country to New England to spend Christmas with her in-laws. Determined to have a simple, meaningful holiday at home, she suggests to her husband they just stay in Los Angeles with the twins. But simple becomes complicated with the arrival of the Massachusetts relatives and, as plans go awry, Vanessa, her family, and friends search for the joy and goodwill of the season.


Discussion Questions

1. As sisters, Vanessa and Thea couldn’t be more different. Vanessa lives in the suburbs of Los Angeles with her husband and twin boys, while Thea lives in vibrant, gritty Venice Beach with her art. How are these two sisters different in their approaches to life? Do they share any similarities?

2. Vanessa wakes up early one morning to find her husband JT making a spontaneous batch of cinnamon rolls (p. 22). What is the reason for JT’s sudden need to bake so early in the morning, and how does Vanessa deal with her husban see more

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About the Author

Sandra Harper
Photo Credit:

Sandra Harper

Sandra Harper is the author of the play, Magpie's Tea Room, which enjoyed a successful run in Los Angeles at The Ventura Court Theatre. She has written a cooking column, "The California Cook" for the newspaper, Skirt. A script reader for Pathe Studios and Springcreek Productions, she also wrote and produced fashion and rock videos for Elvis Costello, Chaka Khan and Vidal Sassoon, amonf others. Ms. Harper recieved her B.A. in Journalism from the University of Southern California and has completed a children's book, The Witches Club.