I am relatively new to the CWSL series of books. My collection has quickly grown to include 17 books, including the special editions, "The Ultimate Southern Living Christmas Book" and "Southern Living Big Book of Christmas." (The special editions are actually unnecessary, as they contain much of the same material found in the regular annual books.) I am a HUGE fan of the books edited by Rebecca Brennan, which go up to the year 2010. They are FABULOUS, despite the fact that occasionally, some of the same ideas are featured in more than one book. But the love affair was tainted when the 2011 book came out, not edited by Brennan, but by Katherine Cobbs. The style was completely different and awful compared with the timeless elegance, delectable recipes, useful features and perfect layout of the offerings edited by Brennan. With that said, CWSL 2012 is a small step back in the right direction. Edited by Ashley T. Strickland, 2012 seems to want to recapture the style and elegance that was missing from 2011, but didn't quite get it done in my humble opinion.
Many (not all) of the recipes are a little too gourmet, and there aren't many that I desire to try. The decorations are a mixed bag; a few of them are beautiful, but many are over-the-top cluttered or downright uninspiring. Page 53 has the word "NOEL" spelled out with greenery and apples. I like the way it looks, but with no "how-to" instructions, it'll never be more than a photo. The "Merry Mantles," "Cheery Christmas Trees," and "Timeless Table Settings" Sections were all disappointing with nothing to write home about. The "Timeless Table Settings" section in particular, is nothing more than a huge missed opportunity. The ideas are very common ones that require little-to-no creativity, resourcefulness or even good taste: The same tired, gold-rimmed dishware with either a napkin or an ordinary place card holder, blah, blah, blah. And apparently, the more clutter, the better. The photo on page 81 contains so much clutter, I still have no idea what I'm looking at. The featured kitchen and decorative ideas in the "Old to New Again" section are hideous (fluffy marshmallow place settings? Seriously?).
I was delighted to see a section entitled "A Child's Christmas," and hope that CWSL continues this in future books. Unfortunately though, this section left a lot to be desired, and I hope it'll be improved upon in the future. Finally, I was a little disappointed that there was no section on gift wrapping this time.
There are a couple of reasons why, despite my criticism of this book, I gave it 3 stars. First of all, I already gave CWSL 1991 a 1-star rating; it was truly horrible, the worst of all. Compared to that, this one is definitely better. Also, there are a few recipes that look delicious, that I will probably try. Overall, the book is bright and cheerful with excellent quality photos, and I'm sure that it will appeal to others, especially those new to CWSL. However, sorry to say, it just doesn't come up to the level of excellence of the books edited by Rebecca Brennan.