"Christmas At Cold Comfort Farm"

Christmas At Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

I settled down to return to Cold Comfort Farm for a Christmas visit, fully expecting to get reacquainted with some old friends and enjoy a few days of their deliciously odd behaviour,  when what to my wondering eyes should appear...but a collection of short stories, only one of which is set on the farm and only two of which have any connection to Christmas at all. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning unwrapping a present and finding clothes inside.

I read the first two stories and loved them, and though there were disappointingly few Christmas settings, the stories were all entertaining and well written. If you're familiar with her short stories, some of the titles included here are: To Love and To Cherish, The Murder Mark, Sisters, The Walled Garden, Golden Vanity, More Than Kind, Cake, and Mr. Amberly's Brother.

I don't usually like short stories much. I find it hard to get to know characters in so few pages and the story always ends before I'm ready to let it go. I don't know quite how she does it in so little space, but Stella Gibbons made me feel like I knew these characters personally and understood their lives. Her stories tell you enough, but not too much, and they end at just the right point. If there are other short stories, and short story writers, this good out there, I think I might become a fan.

I know for sure I'm a Gibbons fan; I want to find and read everything she wrote. The list is not nearly long enough and I'll hoard them for awhile to make them last, but I don't want to miss one word. Her writing suits me perfectly and her books are some of the most enjoyable reading I've ever encountered.

"How Far To Bethlehem"

How Far To Bethlehem by Norah Lofts

This is a fictional account of the events surrounding the birth of Christ. Mary's story is here but most of the book focuses on the three wise men, who they were and how they came to be together at that point in time.

The copy I read is an old, cheap paperback that has a number of typos, which for me can lessen the experience. One or two isn't bad, but when there are a lot of them I end up thinking that if the publisher cared that little, maybe the book isn't worth reading. I know it shouldn't bother me that much but it always has.

I've read several of these fictional accounts over the years and am always amazed at how different the stories are. This one for me was just average. I found myself drifting at times but most of the story was fairly interesting. I was looking for something to inspire me to think more about the reality of Christ's birth and how it affected the lives of all the various people involved in the story, and this book accomplished that for me.

I recommend it, not as great writing, but as a good read for the Christmas season.


"Moon River and Me"

Moon River and Me - A Memoir by Andy Williams

I am such an Andy Williams fan. Does anybody even know who he is anymore? That easy smile and smooth voice - those sentimental songs and those corny Christmas specials. I have some of those old shows on dvd and re-watch them every December. They seem so innocent now. Forty years ago we were content to be entertained without cursing and dirty jokes. Whatever happened?

Andy Williams began singing with his 3 brothers, performing as "The Williams Brothers" while he was still a child. Later his brothers went their own way and he struck out on a solo career. He got parts on radio and tv shows and in a few movies. In the early 60s he starred in a tv show of his own on NBC: The Andy Williams Show. It was a variety show with different entertainers in guest appearances, including the Osmond Brothers. This is where Donnie and Marie Osmond got their start.

The show ran throughout the sixties with a few specials airing after the weekly show was cancelled. I remember sometimes gathering in the living room to watch the regular shows, but the Christmas specials were something special that we looked forward to for weeks. Back then Christmas shows were filled with gorgeous Christmas scenes, costumes, trees and snow and every song sung was a recognizable Christmas tune.

I love to read how people's careers began and developed and Williams' history is an interesting one. He met and worked with most of the big names in music of his time - Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope - and was quite close to the Kennedy family. He writes, too, about his personal life. There are stories about his parents and siblings and then later about his romantic relationships. He married and had children with the incredibly beautiful Claudine Longet. Later, he met his second wife, Debbie Haas, who he was married to for many years, until his death in 2012.

His theater in Branson, Missouri is still operating and annually puts on a Christmas show that is supposed to be somewhat reminiscent of his tv specials. Some of the Osmond brothers still sing there.

There's far more to his story than the little I've mentioned here, so if you're a fan, do pick up a copy of this enjoyable memoir.

"Red, White, and Drunk All Over"

Red, White and Drunk All Over by Natalie MacLean

This is an entertaining journey through the world of wine that's written in - surprise!- language we can all understand. I've read - or at least started reading - others that only experts would be able to get through. For a nowhere-near-expert they were beyond boring. This is one you can understand and enjoy. It may even give you the courage to experiment a bit.  

She begins with a chapter called "The Good Earth" in which she explains how the grapes are grown in various regions. This is followed by Harvesting Dreams then The Merry Widows of Mousse which is about Champagne. That was my favourite chapter. Who knew just talking about champagne could be so much fun?

The next is "Purple Prose with a Bite", about wine writing, then A Tale of Two Wine Stores, comparing two different retail marketing styles, and "A Glass Act" which is a look at what types of wine glasses are available and what works best and why. The remaining chapters are Partners at the Table, Undercover Sommelier, which is quite funny, and Big City Bacchus.

Well written, entertaining, and down to earth, this book is filled with great stories of the author's experiences with wine. It's probably the un-stuffiest wine book you'll ever find. It has lots of helpful information, and is utterly lacking in the silly wine snobbery that tries to make us ordinary folk feel inadequate. This author is someone you could enjoy having a wine conversation with even if you're just a beginner. She's fun rather than intimidating and when you're talking about wine experts, that's not something you often get to say. This book is definitely worth a look if you want to learn a little more about wine and pick up a few suggestions on what to order with dinner or what to stock in your cellar.