It has become a holiday tradition for the publishing industry: little Christmas novels to cozy up to on chilly nights. And they’re a thoughtful stocking-stuffer size, too. USA TODAY recommends four new tales sure to enchant readers.

Pretty Paper: A Christmas Tale

By Willie Nelson with David Ritz

Blue Rider Press, 283 pp.

***½ out of four stars

In the early 1960s at Christmastime, Willie Nelson spotted a crippled man outside a department store in Fort Worth, selling “pretty paper” and “pretty pencils to write ‘I love you.’” Nelson passed by the legless vendor on a rolling cart, but the brief encounter inspired the song Pretty Paper, made famous by Roy Orbison’s soulful rendition. Nelson obviously has been haunted for decades by that man selling ribbons and paper, because now he has written a sweet, sad country song of a Christmas tale that imagines who he might have been. The fictional story of “Vernon Clay” unravels like a mystery as Willie tries to befriend the gruff young man who refuses to explain how he lost his legs. This is a touching, well-crafted, hard-knocks tale that earns its bittersweet ending; it stays with you like a mournful melody you can’t quite shake.

— Jocelyn McClurg

The Mistletoe Secret

By Richard Paul Evans

Simon & Schuster, 320 pp.

***½ stars

Three things you can always count on: death, taxes and a predictable Richard Paul Evans holiday love story to warm the heart. In his latest, The Christmas Box author sends Alex Bartlett, a Florida man still stinging from a recent divorce, on a trip to snowy small-town Utah to track down a blogger whose lonely online missives under the initials “LBH” have captured his complete attention. While searching for this mystery woman, Alex also is bewitched by Aria, a diner waitress with her own string of bad romantic luck. Evans is as usual trying to push all the emotional buttons, but what’s enjoyable about Mistletoe Secret is the string of (human) fruitcakes Alex meets on his way to Mrs. Right.

— Brian Truitt

The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories

By P.D. James

Knopf, 152 pp.

***½ stars

Mystery lovers are in for a very merry time with this posthumous collection of short stories set around Christmas (and Boxing Day) from Britain’s P.D. James. In a preface, James writes that “the good short story … can provide one of the most satisfactory reading experiences.” She delivers four stellar stories that will please fans of the author and those who like a classic Agatha Christie “whodunit.” In the title story, a best-selling crime writer describes a real crime that hit very close to home 50 years earlier. The second involves the experiences of a reluctant witness, and the final two feature Adam Dalgliesh of New Scotland Yard, who starred in many of James’ novels. All four tales will entertain and delight.

— Mary Cadden

What Light

By Jay Asher

Razorbill, 272 pp.

*** stars

The young-adult crowd gets its own seasonal novel with this tale of a girl, a boy and a whole bunch of Christmas trees. Oregon teen Sierra spends a month every year in California with her family selling those signature pine-scented holiday delights, though this might be the last year for this particular tradition. She’s torn between friends in both places, yet this Christmas is a little brighter thanks to crush-worthy Caleb, a kid with a big heart who doesn’t have the best reputation. Secrets are revealed while Sierra fights with her mom and dad about whom she can and can’t date. Author Jay Asher does a good job of keeping the angst to a tolerable degree in this story with themes of understanding and redemption at its core.

— Truitt