And if it’s any indicator, 2015 is looking good.

Forget family, fudge, and fa-la-las; the best part about Christmas break is staying up late to read.

And boy did I read—a few good books, in fact—but this is the one that kept me up til 2 am on several happy occasions.  My days may have been spent with a messy house and at-home kids, but my nights were spent with a throng of poor English villagers as we fought bravely against the Great Plague of 1665.

Doesn’t sound like a cozy holiday read?  Just wait, it gets better:  there’s fist-fighting, knife-fighting, evil-spirit-fighting, witch drowning, mining disasters, childbirth disasters, prayers to God, prayers to the Devil, betrayal, abuse, death, disease, poison, and poppies—the hallucinogen of choice for the Dark Ages.  (Plague victims have hard days, too.)

But there’s also compassion, courage, humility and hope.  There’s faith, fortitude, and a host of characters who are enchanting and evil and repulsive and relatable to our 21st century selves.  There’s romance and mother-love and the best of the best of friendships.  There’s ignorance and enlightenment, literacy and lunacy, regret and redemption.

And among all this there’s a housemaid named Anna who should (and will, I think) go down as one of the great heroines of modern literature.  (Did I say heroine?  Shoot: hero.  She’s that good.)

For the pleasure of meeting Anna—and reading this gorgeously gritty book—I am indebted to Ms. Geraldine Brooks, distinguished author and, of course, my future BFF once I meet her at Bella Voce this February.  And should you think, perchance, that my admiration for this book stems only from my anticipation in meeting its author, I invite you to read it yourself and give me a call.  We can then discuss Anna, her rector, his wife, their whole jacked-up situation, and how this book stands, dark and dignified, all on its own.

More importantly, you can tell me what to wear when I meet Geraldine.  It’s important, people.