A Few Seasonal Re-reads

There are many novels, novellas and poems I'd love to read every Christmas if only there was time. I usually pick up a couple of new Christmas stories through the year and try to squeeze them in as well, but I'm going to try to make myself not do that this year. I think I want more time for re-reading the treasures I enjoy so much.I did manage to get in three of my favourites this year:
Old Christmas by Washington Irving, A Child's Christmas In Wales by Dylan Thomas and A Cup of Christmas Tea by Tom Hegg.

Old Christmas is just beautiful, full of wisdom and history and wonderfully usable quotes. My review from a previous reading is here

A Child's Christmas in Wales is the reminiscing of a man about his boyhood Christmases. It's thoroughly enjoyable to read from beginning to end as he recalls what Christmas was like from the viewpoint of a young boy. He talks about family gatherings, his neighbours, the gifts, the food, and the weather with both humour and a touch of nostalgia. I'm sure most of you have read this at one point or another but for the few who may not have, you are missing out on a delightful reading experience. I've seen it online so you don't even have to buy it, although there's nothing quite like holding it in your hands, while you sit by the Christmas tree sipping a cup of eggnog. Treat yourself to this very special piece of literature next year.

A Cup of Christmas Tea  is a sentimental poem available in a lovely hard cover book that I set out as part of my Christmas decorating. It's that pretty. The poem is about a man who doesn't want to visit his aging aunt before Christmas. He's busy and she's been ill and he doesn't want to see her as she is now. He'd rather remember her as she was when he was a child and she a younger, vibrant woman. His conscience gets the best of him and the rest of the poem describes the visit. I first read this years ago and with aging relatives of my own, found it quite moving. Now that I'm the aging, infirm aunt, I love it even more and it makes me tear up every time. Whatever your age, I think this is going to get to you. I hope it does, because there are a lot of us aging, infirm aunts out here
and we would love a visit. 

I wish you contentment in the coming year. 
God bless you and yours. 

"Christmas at Thompson Hall" and "The Christmas List"

Christmas at Thompson Hall & Other Christmas Stories by Anthony Trollope

This little book contains five of Anthony Trollope's Christmas stories. I enjoyed the lack of sugary sweetness usually found in Christmas stories and I find Trollope's Victorian language lovely.

The first is Christmas at Thompson Hall, a story about a husband and wife trying (well she's trying, he's fighting it) to get from France to England to join their family for Christmas.

The second is Christmas Day at Kirkby Cottage, about a young couple who are meant to be together but have trouble communicating their feelings for each other.

The third story is The Mistletoe Bough, about a young man and woman who meet again two years after her father told the young man she was too young to be thinking about marriage.

The fourth is The Two Generals in which brothers fight on opposite sides in the American Civil War. It was refreshing to read a Christmas story not focused on  a romantic relationship.

The final story is Not If I Know It, about brothers-in-law whose relationship is threatened by a few hastily spoken words.

I recommend this book to anyone looking for something seasonal and easy to read in the busy month of December. It would also make a very nice Christmas gift for your favourite reader, even if your favourite reader is you!

The Christmas List by Richard Paul Evans

This was not what I expected at all. When you talk about a "list" this time of year it usually means a list of things someone wants for Christmas but here it's a list of people the main character, James, has hurt in his work as a land development tycoon and now wants to help. This change of outlook comes after he reads his own obituary and the comments attached to it. Another man with the same name had died and somehow the reporters got the two men mixed up and reported the demise of the wrong James Kier. The eye-opening part was the glee with which people read of his death and rejoiced that the world was better off without him.

This all leads him to ask his secretary to list the people who have suffered the most from his heartless business practices and he begins his quest to make things right. Of course most of those people don't want anything to do with him so it's not as easy as he hoped it would be. He may have had an Ebenezer Scrooge-type change of heart, but some of the damage he's done in both his business and his private life cannot be undone. It is a Christmas story though so in the end things turn out as well as they can, all things considered, and some of those "things" are pretty serious.

I found the story refreshing because it was different and it wasn't a sappy perfect ending. It's written in short chapters making it easy to read in five minute segments, which is sometimes all you get this time of year. I did have a couple of free hours one evening and was able to finish it quickly. All in all it was a nice read, positive and inspiring, perfect for light, but not fluffy, holiday reading.

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Photographs

These are just a few pics from this years decorating...


"The Empty House" and "In Time for Christmas"

The Empty House by Rosamunde Pilcher 

A couple of chapters into this one it began to dawn on me that I'd read it before, probably four or five years ago. I couldn't remember the ending and it's short so I read it through again. It's about a young mother who is trying to adjust to life with her two children after the accidental death of her husband. She rents a run-down cottage by the sea near an old family friend in Scotland. Also nearby is a farm run by a man she once came close to having a romance with. What happens from there is fairly predictable but the writing that unfolds the story is so enjoyable I didn't really care. It's comforting writing. Pilcher makes you feel like she's writing about your home, your people. She writes characters that stir your interest and sympathy and describes places that call you to them. Every time I finish one of her books I want to get on the first plane to England or Scotland or wherever the story was set. My favourite of her books is "September", and "The Shell Seekers" is also very good. This one wasn't as good, but still a nice diversion for a couple of days.

In Time for Christmas by Katie Flynn

I might as well just say it: I didn't like this book at all. I found the writing awful and the story no better. The story line had potential but fell flat at every turn. The characters weren't interesting, the dialogue wasn't natural and I have no idea why I kept reading. I finished all 455 pages even though I could have chosen to put it down at any time and start one of the 71 books I have waiting to be read. I think I was hoping it would turn into a Christmas story but the title was a little misleading.  A few Christmases take place in the course of the story but so do a few springs and summers. Usually I spend December reading a new Christmas story or two and then re-reading some of  my old favourites. I should have gone straight to the favourites. It has a pretty cover though.

Another Catch-Up Post

The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter

The Inklings were a "circle of friends who gathered about C.S. Lewis and met in his rooms at Magdalen". This interesting biography tries to tell the stories of several of them at once and it does a pretty good job. I was mostly interested  in Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein, but enjoyed reading about Charles Williams and the others as well. It does focus more heavily on Lewis and that's fine with me. I tend to romanticize Lewis's life because being a professor at Oxford and meeting regularly with other literary notables sounds like the perfect life to me. Can you imagine living at Oxford? Sigh. Of course the reality was different than my romantic fantacizing and the nitty gritty everyday of their lives wasn't perfect by any means. Still, I loved being immersed in that atmosphere for the time it took to read the book. This is a biography worth reading if you're a fan of these authors.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

I must be one of the last people to read this book. It's been reviewed on hundreds of blogs, the movie has been made and watched by millions and the copyright page says the book is, incredibly, almost ten years old. Every reader and movie-watcher I've heard from has loved it. Some have told me this was one of those rare circumstances when they found the movie as good as, or even better than, the book. I haven't seen the movie, but having read the book I'm very curious to see how they pulled it off and will make a point of watching it soon. Maybe it's on Netflix.

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

A gothic mystery set on bleak and barren Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, England, this book has just the right amount of creepiness. Mary Yellan loses her mother and goes to live with her aunt and uncle, innkeepers in Cornwall. On the journey there she hears whispers of strange goings on at the inn, and the carriage driver hurries away as soon as he drops her at the door. He's told her that travelers don't stop there anymore, that it has a bad reputation.

As Mary tries to settle in and make a life in her new home, she realizes that her aunt lives in fear for a reason. Her uncle is coarse, given to anger and drinking binges and is unpredictable, with friends coming and going inexplicably in the middle of the night. Strange things are afoot. Then comes a night when he tells Mary she must stay in her room with the door locked and the covers over her head until daybreak. Cue the spooky music. Not ghost-spooky, though. The living characters are creepy enough to make it interesting.

Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner

I picked this up at a craft fair that had a used book table. I intended to buy no books and went home with five.

The Hotel du Lac is a small hotel on Lake Geneva where novelist, Edith Hope, has gone to pull herself together after ditching her fiance at the alter. Her horrified friends, who think she doesn't know how lucky she was to find such a catch, insisted that she needed time away to come to her senses. She's pretty sure they're expecting her to go home properly subdued and apologetic for upsetting everyone with her foolishness. She arrives at the hotel  at the end of the season so there are only a few other guests in residence. She becomes acquainted with their stories one by one, including that of Mr. Neville, who just might be the path to a new and easier life for her. In learning their stories, she also learns some things about herself that help her decide what she wants and doesn't want for her future. The focus is on the characters, who they are and how they relate to one another. There are little dramas but it's not a plot driven story. I love books that are all about the characters. I'd never heard this title before but it is apparently a Booker Prize winner. And, really, with quirky characters gathered at a quaint hotel in Europe at summers end, how could you go wrong?

The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman

Tooly Zylberberg (Why, oh, why do authors give characters names that can be pronounced a dozen different ways? I drive myself crazy trying to decide which one to use each time I come across it.) runs a bookshop in a remote area of Wales. She keeps to herself because people are always interested in each other's histories and she doesn't know how to explain hers. When she was a little girl she was taken from her home to grow with an odd group of characters. There was Humphrey, a grumpy older man with a Russian accent who read books obsessively; Venn, the apparent leader who showed up and disappeared again without explanation; and Sarah who was flashy and flighty and completely undependable. Tooly didn't know why she'd been taken to live with them or even who they really were. Years later, when she hears through an old friend that Humphrey is in desperate straights, she feels compelled to set out on a complicated journey to find the answers to her questions.  

I am sorry to say I didn't like this novel very much. It's gotten wonderful reviews from people who know a lot more about literature than I do, but as much as I try to talk myself into liking it, I didn't really. I need to love the characters or the setting or something in a book and there simply wasn't much here that spoke to me. I didn't even find the plot all that interesting. Tooly spends all her time trying to discover her past, but there seems to be little going on in the present. I guess I can't expect to like every book I pick up, But, darn it, why not?