Archive for the ‘Christmas stories’ Category

Christmas at Downton AbbeyAt Williamsburg Regional Library we face a problem common to many public libraries; seasonal items are, well, seasonal. The hold lists for the most popular Christmas DVDs, CDs and books gather steam in late November and peak just before Christmas, so many people find they are finally getting their Christmas items in January or later. For me this was a happy circumstance. Christmas is over, but our wintry weather isn’t, so I have been enjoying Downton Abbey’s magnificent music CD well into March.

This two-disc set has almost fifty tracks performed by a variety of artists, including famous singers like Kiri Te Kanawa and the Choir of the Kings College Cambridge. They showcase a variety styles but there are no rock versions; all the music is traditional. With my astounding musical knowledge I would describe them as “tinkly.” The tracks range from single voices (O Holy Night) to joyful and uplifting choir numbers (Joy to the World, The Lord is Come) to somber organ music (God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen) to instrumental (Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy).

Even if you don’t have a voice like Kiri Te Kanawa (I’m guilty!) these are wonderful songs for singing along. Some beloved Christmas carols have been sung for hundreds of years and are the Christmas songs of millions of childhoods.  I may not be able to hold a tune but I know all the words to Good King Wenceslas, and I feel better for belting them out on my commute. I have to admit that I have gotten some funny looks at traffic lights but I know confining my sing-alongs to my car is better for everyone’s health and safety. I suspect if I sang along at work I might find myself out the window despite (or because of) any winter storm warnings

I recommend this CD for all year long (coming from the southern hemisphere, I’ve always been a bit seasonally confused when it comes to Christmas). You don’t have to be a Downton Abbey fan to need and enjoy comforting, inspiring music that will get you out there exercising your lungs!

Check the WRL catalog for Christmas at Downton Abbey.

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mysteriesChristmas is a great time not only for ghost stories but also for mysteries. This collection, gathered by The Mysterious Bookshop’s owner, Otto Penzler, is a fine place to start if you are looking for crime fiction short stories set during the holidays.

Penzler has compiled a selection of mysteries from classic authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Thomas Hardy (of all people), Damon Runyon, G. K. Chesterton, and Ngaio Marsh, as well as contemporary masters of the crime story, including Peter Lovesey, Mary Higgins Clark, Ed McBain, Ellis Peters, Donald Westlake, and Catherine Aird. There are well-known tales here like “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” (my favorite Christmas mystery of all time), as well as a host of excellent stories I have never read before, all set in the Christmas season.

Penzler has put the stories in clever groupings — traditional tales, modern narratives, humorous stories, Sherlockian adventures, noirish pulp fictions, and of course ghost-centered mysteries. There will be something here to delight any crime fiction fan, and if you have a mystery reader on your Christmas list, you can do you shopping early this year and order a copy of The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries for the 2015 holidays.

Check the WRL catalog for The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries

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ChristmasMouse1“The kettle began to sing, promising comfort.”

Sometimes only cosy* will do. On occasion I feel like action and excitement from my literature, and I am willing to put up with violence and despair to get it, but sometimes life requires a more moderate gait. When you need a gentle tome, then Miss Read will deliver.

I am new to Miss Read, despite her first book being published in 1955. I was creating a “Curl Up With a Cozy Tale” display at the library and felt drawn to The Christmas Mouse. Being slightly obsessive, I have branched out into her other titles in myriad formats; as ebooks and as audiobooks on CD. Her basic postulation seems to be that nothing in life is so bad that the sadness can’t be lessened by time, a cup of tea and the warmth of family and friends, with special emphasis on the cups of tea.

For my commute, I grabbed the first CD that was checked in and plunged into the middle of her Thrush Green series. I discovered that there are a lot of characters, like when my Great Aunty Judith tells me long and involved stories about the internal workings and external marriage problems of distant cousins, and I am expected to keep them all straight. After negotiating a tricky intersection I’d hear something such as, “Betty, Maggie and Dotty all sat down at Betty’s scrubbed kitchen table for a nice cup of tea. Outside the birds hopped among the spring flowers and chirped cheerfully. ‘Tell me all about it,’ said Betty.” I would suddenly realize that I had no idea of the identities of Betty, Maggie and Dotty, but for the enjoyment of the story it doesn’t matter because it is like meeting real people; I am introduced to them as they are now, and then slowly learn about their pasts and how they interconnect to other people we know in common.

The Christmas Mouse tells the story of Mrs. Berry who lives with her widowed daughter and two small grandchildren. Despite the tragedy of the daughter’s young widowhood, the book gently and with quiet wit paints a portrait of a close and stable family. On Christmas Eve, Mrs. Berry must face her fears–of mice and other stray creatures. The line drawings by J.S. Goodall add to the warmth. The little boy in the frontispiece exudes contentment, sitting in an overlarge armchair, wrapped up in a voluminous coat and slippers, and eating a warm bowl of bread and milk.

Try The Christmas Mouse if you are in the mood for cosy. Try it if you are tired of the commercial fuss in the lead up to Christmas, as The Christmas Mouse’s characters don’t have much material stuff, but still make Christmas a warm, loving family affair. And just in case you think this sort of book isn’t intellectually stimulating, I learned a new word, which doesn’t happen frequently in my fiction endeavors: wayzgoose, which is a printers’ outing. Literary quotes at the beginning of each chapter, from Robert Burns to William Wordsworth add to the appeal. 

* And this is definitely cosy and not cozy because this is a Very British Book.

Check the WRL catalog for The Christmas Mouse.

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SilverThe book from my childhood that I would most like to see reprinted is The Golden Name Day, published in 1955 by Jennie Lindquist. Lindquist was a librarian and an editor of Horn Book, and she wrote this charming, quintessential little girl’s book by drawing on stories from her Swedish immigrant parents. Nine-year-old Nancy, whose mother is in hospital, spends a summer in the country with the Bensons, Swedish immigrants to New England. Each of the girls she befriends–Sigrid, Elsa, and Helga–celebrate not only a birthday but a “name day” as laid out in a calendar of names and dates in the Swedish Almanac. But as much as the little girls enjoy these special celebrations, there’s no “Nancy” in the almanac. Threaded through their season of picnics, animals, flower crowns, and May baskets is the story of how Nancy’s friends provide her with a name day of her own.

Sadly, our library doesn’t own The Golden Name Day, but we do own its sequel, which is even more fitting for this time of year, as it takes Nancy and her friends through the autumn, Advent, and the “Long Swedish Christmas.” In The Little Silver House, an abandoned, boarded-up house captures the girls’ imaginations, especially when the portrait of an old-fashioned ten-year-old girl is discovered in its attic. With this mystery in the background, it’s the celebrations of occasions great and small that give the book its charm. Gift-giving is the theme of the season, and the girls’ “random acts of kindness” include planting bulbs along the roadside for “traveler’s joy” and giving up some of their most treasured possessions for a special care package. Lonely newcomer Ben and others are brought into the circle of the Bensons’ warm hospitality and good food. Oh, how I wanted to be Swedish! My generic American family seemed so dull by comparison—no special traditions and not a chance that my mother was going to let me put lighted candles in a wreath on my head for St. Lucia’s day. The holidays continue with hand-wrapped karameller given to visitors, the Long Christmas Dance, Dipping Day, and “Second Christmas,” which made me wonder whether the Swedes are related at all to the hobbits.

Finding a book like this on the library shelves is as close as we come to time travel. Nancy’s yellow rose wallpaper! The horses, Whoa-Emma and Karl the Twelfth! For a nanosecond, I was nine years old again. Illustrated with the feathery pencil drawings of Garth Williams, so familiar from his work on the Little House series, these warm-hearted books will appeal to the same girls who enjoyed the Christmases of Laura and Mary Ingalls, whether those girls are nine years old or, ahem, somewhat older.

God Jul.

Check the WRL catalog for The Little Silver House.

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This one is from Nancy :

 I’ll be the first to admit I love a feel good Christmas story any time of year. Richard Paul Evans’ book The Gift does not disappoint. Make no mistake, the characters of the book face everything from personal tragedy and physical pain, to public scorn and hatred. Thus begins the journal and the story of Nathan Hurst, a man who has grown to hate Christmas and yet finds healing from the most unexpected places. Enter fate…a holiday weekend, a snowstorm, a cancelled flight, and Collin and his mother and sister stuck in the same airport overnight. As the days pass from Thanksgiving to Christmas the story tells of the special healing powers of young Collin, the curse that comes with each healing, and the greed and overwhelming desperation of mankind when it comes to their own mortality. The innocence of one healing creates an onslaught of public outcry for help regardless of the consequences. Nathan becomes a guardian for his new friends and in the process he receives both physical and emotional healing.

I highly recommend this in audio book form as well. The narrator makes it possible to envision the innocents of the young miracle worker and the desperation of those seeking his touch. Also recommended is Evans’ Finding Noel which tells the story of Macy, adopted as a young child, and her search for her biological sister. A healing of sorts results as well for all those involved.

Check the WRL catalog for The Gift

Or look for it as an audiobook on compact disc

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I’ve happily plowed through the first fifteen titles in M.C. Beaton’s Hamish MacBeth series, and this Christmas special is the 16th. So far I’ve listened to all of them in audio format with the excellent Davina Porter narrating. A Highland Christmas does not appear to be available in audio format, however, so I took the opportunity to download it from WRL’s new OverDrive ebook collection.

After 15 episodes I have become quite fond of Police Constable Hamish MacBeth, the Scottish village of Lochdubh’s only representative of law and order. Although unambitious and often quite lazy, Hamish has the Highlander’s insatiable curiosity and loathes unanswered questions. Therefore he always becomes more involved in local crimes than his superior – the boorish and unimaginative Chief Inspector Blair of Strathbane – would like. What’s more, Hamish always solves the crime, stealing the ambitious Blair’s undeserved thunder and making him look bad. He is sharply attuned to underlying emotions and motives in people, a talent he often uses to get at the truth Miss Marple style.

The Northern Scotland locale is a character in itself, with its ever-changing landscape, howling winds, and fickle climate. Regular characters emerge, eccentric, exasperating, and lovable. It’s great fun to watch Hamish interact with them all.

In this installment in the series, Christmas is approaching and the village of Lochdubh, most of whose old-fashioned residents frown upon Christmas as a “heathen” holiday, is most decidedly not in a festive mood. This has P.C. MacBeth somewhat down in the mouth, and it doesn’t help that he is called out to the neighboring village of Cnothan to see about a crotchety old lady’s lost cat and the town’s missing Christmas tree.

The Hamish MacBeth series are cozy mysteries, but A Highland Christmas is the coziest of the bunch in that there is less murder and more “warm and fuzzy.” It’s a pleasant interlude for readers already invested in the series. For readers who have not read any of the books in the series, it’s a nice introduction to Hamish MacBeth’s world or a feel-good standalone Christmas story.

Check the WRL catalog for the book, or check out the ebook, which you can download to a computer, e-reader, or mobile device. A large print book is also available.


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It’s Christmastime in New York City, and both Dash and Lily are spending the holiday without their families. Being a bit of a Scrooge, Dash is on his own by choice, as he tricked each of his divorced parents into believing he is spending Christmas with the other parent. Lily, however, loves everything about Christmas. She was left at home with her older brother (who is at first too busy to be festive, and then too sick) while her parents and grandfather vacation in warmer climates.

Needing something to occupy her time, Lily leaves a red Moleskin notebook in the Salinger section of the Strand, a used bookstore. The notebook contains instructions for the finder to follow, if he is a teenage boy, with clues leading around the store and perhaps into Lily’s heart. Dash finds the notebook and, after following Lily’s clues, decides to continue the game. Rather than leaving his phone number for Lily to find, he leaves instructions to travel to a nearby pizzeria.

The game continues past Christmas and into New Year’s as Lily and Dash send each other to a variety of well-known New York locations. They use the notebook not only to leave each other clues, but to get to know one another. They write about how they are spending the holidays, what they want for Christmas (“No, really, don’t be a smart aleck. What do you really really really supercalifragiwant?”), and their best and worst Christmas memories. They do hit some roadblocks along the way, such as when Lily misses her opportunity to pass the book on to Dash and when they unexpectedly meet under less than ideal circumstances. But surely everything must come out alright in the end, right? After all, it is Christmas.

Check the WRL catalog for Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares.


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I’m completing a run as Professor Bhaer in a local theater production of My Jo, a musical based on Little Women. I just wouldn’t have felt like a good librarian or actor if I didn’t get familiar with the source material, so despite being a man in my early 40s, I decided the time had come to crack Louisa May Alcott’s classic. I don’t regret any of the time I spent with the March family.

The Marches, of course, stand in for Alcott’s own family, and her experiences growing up in Concord, Massachusetts in the years during and following the Civil War. While she was tasked with writing an inspirational tale for girls in the mode that Horatio Alger stories took for boys, the realistic underpinnings of her story and Louisa May’s independent (and somewhat moody) character make Little Women much more than just a morality tale.

The book that we now know as Little Women was originally published in two parts. Little Women came first, and its immense and immediate popularity led to the publication of Little Wives only six months later. In the first half, we are introduced to the four March sisters and follow them through various adventures created by their own foibles and quirks. I won’t recap the story in detail– most of you know it– but what makes these girls and their young male friend Laurie Lawrence delightful is that despite the moralistic tone, they are not instantly reformed by any of their experiences. They behave like real young people with real spirit. In the first half of the book, the absence of their father (based on Bronson, Louisa’s philosophical father, who was reform-minded but often thoughtless about his own family’s welfare), who has volunteered in the Civil War, creates many obstacles for his poor but vivacious and bright wife and daughters.

While I love the characters established in the first half, the real treasure for me is Little Wives, the second half of the story. You can tell that Alcott was feeling empowered by her recent success, dropping the morality tales for more complex dilemmas that resonate even more deeply with modern readers. It’s here that we encounter (spoilers coming, if that’s possible with this frequently retold tale) Jo’s rejection of Laurie’s courtship, Beth’s tragic decline and death, Laurie’s awkward but earnest connection with little sister Amy, and Jo’s unusual relationship with the older German professor Friedrich Bhaer. This is not conventional children’s material, so this is a book to be treasured by readers of any age, and Jo is such an original that she jumps off the page 140 years after the book’s publication. An iconoclast for any era, Jo will appeal to any reader with an independent streak. Alcott’s vividly detailed language and humor also hold up well.

This is not a book to read in isolation. I strongly recommend enjoying it in combination with a biography of Alcott, such as Harriet Reisen’s 2009 biography, Louisa May Alcott: The Woman behind Little Women. The story in Little Women is even more powerful when you know how it softens the tragedies of Alcott’s real life.

I also recommend several of the films, the 1933 edition for Katharine Hepburn’s great portrayal of Jo, the 1949 version for my favorite all-around cast, or the 1994 Winona Ryder vehicle for the best handling of the story’s more sophisticated and realistic aspects. Finally, you might continue to Alcott’s two sequels, Little Men and Jo’s Boys, which follow Jo and Fritz Bhaer’s school, sons, and students through various adventures. While I haven’t read them yet, most agree that these later works are lesser creations (probably because they are much more fictionalized and plot-driven), but still worthy of a read.

Check the WRL catalog for the book Little Women (if this isn’t available, there are many other editions)


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high-spiritsAlthough we generally associate ghost stories with Halloween and October, there is a long tradition in Great Britain of telling ghost stories around the Christmas season. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a classic example, with Scrooge being haunted by spirits who offer him one last chance to see the error of his ways. Robertson Davies served for 18 years as Master of Massey College at the University of Toronto. During that time, he wrote and presented a ghost story each year at the Massey College Christmas Gaudy, or college party.

Many of Davies’ novels reflect his interest in the supernatural. Murther and Walking Spirits, is narrated by a dead man and the shade of composer E.T.A. Hoffmann has a central role in The Lyre of Orpheus. The stories here all reveal ghostly encounters that Davies supposedly had at Massey. In the spirit of traditional tales of Christmas hauntings, the stories move easily between humor and horror. Massey was a new college, and Davies, a traditionalist in many ways, its first Master. As such, many of the stories he relates were intended, as Davies said in his introduction, “to stave off that most dreadful of modern ailments, the Rational Rickets.” Nothing becomes a college like a good ghost story or two that lends an air of antiquity and elegance to the place.

The stories here definitely fall on the more humorous side of the ghost story genre, and reflect Davies’ interest in books, Canadian history, royalty, the lives of the saints, and the occasional fine cigar. While perhaps not as frightening, or even serious, as many stories of the supernatural, High Spirits, evinces an English sensibility moderated by a brisk North America air. These are fun stories, and would benefit, as do many ghost stories, from being read out loud among friends.

Check the WRL catalog for High Spirits

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Let it SnowI hope you have all enjoyed this week of Twilight alternatives. And now, in the immortal words of Monty Python, for something completely different:

Summer is nearly upon us and it is starting to get hot. While I cannot help with the heat, I can recommend a great set of wintery short stories. Set at Christmas, during the worst snowstorm in fifty years, these stories are as light and fluffy as the snow itself. John Green, author of Paper Towns (another great book), Maureen Johnson, author of 13 Little Blue Envelopes, and Lauren Myracle, author of Bliss and Rhymes with Witches (which I also enjoyed) offer three short stories with overlapping settings, characters, and events.

In “Jubilee Express”, a Christmas Eve train derailment leads Jubliee (“Julie” when she doesn’t feel like explaining her name) to take a harrowing trek through the snow to find shelter at a nearby Waffle House. The presence of fourteen over-enthusiastic, over-caffeinated cheerleaders in the Waffle House prompts her to trudge through even more snow and across a frozen river to find shelter at the home of her new friend, Stuart. She may well not make it through the holiday alive, and all because her parents were arrested while waiting in line to buy the latest limited edition house for their Flobie Santa Village collection.

In “A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle,” the presence of the aforementioned cheerleaders at the Waffle House results in a race through the ice and snow to deliver a game of Twister. Friends Tobin, JP, and the Duke (real name – Angie) were enjoying an evening of James Bond movies, when their plans for Christmas Eve changed. Waffle House employee Don-Keun makes a late night call to Tobin’s house and makes the following announcement:

“The greatest night of my life has just begun. And I am inviting you to join me, because I am the best friend ever. But here’s the catch: after I get off the phone with you, Mitchell and Billy will be calling their friends. And we’ve agreed in advance that there’s only room here for one more carful of guys. I cannot further dilute the cheerleader-to-guy ratio. Now, I am making the first call, because I’m acting assistant manager. So you have a head start. I know you will not fail. I know I can count on you to deliver the Twister. Gentlemen, may you travel safely and swiftly. But if you die tonight, die in the comfort that you have sacrificed your lives for that noblest of human causes. The pursuit of cheerleaders.”

Tobin and JP manage to persuade the Duke to accompany them with the promise of hash browns, as the Duke is a girl, and therefore not particularly interested in seeing cheerleaders. But the night doesn’t quite go as expected.

In “The Patron Saint of Pigs,”  it’s the day after Christmas, and Addie reports to work at Starbucks at 4:30 am. She’s been miserable since Christmas Eve, when her boyfriend Jeb failed to meet her at the coffee shop. His absence sends a clear message; he doesn’t forgive her for the “Charlie Thing.” To make matters worse, the sink breaks and causes a flood, she forgets a very important errand she was supposed to run for a friend, and another friend accuses her of being completely self-involved. Not a very Merry Christmas. Luckily, Addie has a Christmas angel who changes her perspective on the universe, and the day begins to look up.

Check the WRL catalog for Let it Snow: Three Holiday Romances.

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Between 1920 and 1942, J.R.R. Tolkien, best known for his epic fantasy, created these fantasies-in-miniature: yearly letters sent direct from Father Christmas, by Elf Messenger, to Tolkien’s four young children. (He started when his oldest son was three.) Each envelope brought the latest news from the North Pole, hand-lettered in spidery script and colorfully illustrated, describing the preparations for Britain’s gift-distribution and the latest antics of the North Polar Bear and his two cubs, Paksu and Valkotukka.


Tolkien was not bad with watercolors; I’ve always liked his stylized landscapes and the illustrations he created for the Hobbit. These letters, which grew longer and more detailed as the children grew older, are charming and quirky and clearly a labor of love, down to the hand-drawn stamps and North Pole postmarks.

Being Professor Tolkien, he also created alphabets for both the Elf Secretary (Ilbereth… hmm, that name sounds almost familiar) and the North Pole goblins. The North Pole is not without conflict, an ongoing struggle between elves and goblins that gets worse each year as, in real life, England was heading towards World War II.

The library owns an out-of-print edition, the one I remember from my childhood, but if you’re looking for a gift for a Tolkien-o-phile (hint, hint), there is a revised edition that includes a few more letters than this one.

Check the WRL catalog for The Father Christmas Letters.

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miracle Quiz time! Instead of reading Christmas stories, Jessica would rather

1. Vacuum

2. Get measles

3. Jump off a bridge

Answer: It was a trick question! All of the above answers are correct!

…you think I’m joking, don’t you. I’m not, believe me, I’m not. Christmas stories are wholesome, and heartwarming, and warm and fuzzy and I believe I’d rather die than suffer through another lesson about the true meaning of Christmas.

It is therefore a testament to how much I love Connie Willis that I read her collection of Christmas short stories. Since Willis is my favorite science fiction writer (her novel The Doomsday Book is the best science fiction novel ever, and her novel Passage has the best plot twist ever), I decided that just maybe I could attempt her Christmas stories, given the very good chance that time travel might play a role.

Yeah, well, I was right. Each story involves some sort of science fictiony twist, and there is indeed some time travel involved; witness, for instance, my favorite piece in the collection, “Inn”: two young people, a male and a female, who speak some sort of unidentifiable foreign language, come seeking shelter at a modern-day American church on Christmas Eve. And the female is pregnant and– well, you probably see where Willis is going with this.

Miracle is a great read for people who steadfastly refuse to read Christmas stories, AND for people who steadfastly refuse to read science fiction.

Check the WRL catalog for Miracle, and Other Christmas Stories

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Truman Capote is probably recalled by most people today for his flamboyance, his odd speaking voice, and his dissolute lifestyle in the 1960s and 70s. Others may think of him as one of the founders of the narrative nonfiction movement with the success of In Cold Blood, published in serial form in the New Yorker in 1965 and then in book form in 1966. Students of Southern literature may think of Capote for his first novel Other Voices, Other Rooms. All of these are vital pieces of who Capote was. But I have always thought of Capote as the author of one of the most charming and moving Christmas stories that I have ever read, A Christmas Memory.

In this brief story, Capote recounts one Christmas time in his youth in the early 1930s. He is seven years old, already an outsider, even from his family. After his parents divorced, Capote was sent to live with his mother’s people in Alabama. Here, he struck up a friendship with a sixty-some year-old cousin, Sook Faulk, who was the only person in the family who seems to have really cared for him. Over the course of the story, which begins with the cousin waking one November morning to announce that “It’s fruitcake weather,” Capote describes the preparations and gathering of ingredients for the pair’s annual baking of Christmas fruitcakes. It seems a slight subject on which to hang a tale, but Capote is a wonderful storyteller, and knows how to put together a sentence. There are memorable characters throughout the piece, including Mr. Haha Jones, the local bootlegger, from whom the pair manage to get the whiskey needed to soak the cakes.

It is a bittersweet tale, and there is an elegaic tone that runs throughout the story. The changes that would come to the South and to Capote himself are just around the corner, and in both cases, you get the sense that these are changes for the worse. Nonetheless, ever since I came across the piece on my parent’s bookshelves thirty five or so years ago, I have had a warm affection for Truman Capote and for his recollections of Christmas time.

Check the WRL catalog


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For some, Christmas is a time of joy; for others the holidays are difficult. For me the holidays are a big mix of nostalgia, stress, annoyance, confusion, and sheer wonder at the bizarre extremes of behavior that I see this time of year. That, in a nutshell (with emphasis on the nuts), is why I can really appreciate a novel like Christopher Moore’s The Stupidest Angel: a Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror.

Moore rounds up the wacked-out residents of Pine Cove, California (several of his books are set there) for another ridiculous adventure. When Lena Marquez accidentally kills Santa in self defense (a Santa played by her rotten ex-husband, the town’s resident Evil Developer) she gets help from helicopter pilot Tucker Case and his pet, the giant fruit bat Roberto, in hiding the body. Unfortunately, a video-game obsessed boy named Josh has witnessed Santa’s slaying. Raziel, the screw-up angel of the title, has been sent from heaven to perform the annual Christmas miracle, and when he hears Josh wish for Santa to return to life, he raises the Evil Developer and the rest of the town’s dead from the grave as ravenous zombies.

Meanwhile, Former B-movie actress Molly “The Warrior Babe” is off her meds and hearing voices again and husband Theo, the town constable, has fallen off the wagon and is back to his pot-smoking ways. In a hilarious parody of O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” Molly gives Theo a bong (to celebrate his success in giving up pot) and Theo gives Molly a samurai sword (to commemorate her career). Neither realizes that the other has a dubious use for the symbolic gifts.

These are just the main characters in Moore’s fast-moving, funny story. It’s vulgar, it’s profane, and it all ends with a standoff between the zombies and the town residents they surround in a church during the annual Christmas party for the single and lonely. What fun! It reminds me of my family Christmas parties, but that’s another story

Try this or any of Moore’s delightful satires when you need a break from serious reading or the stress of daily life.

Check the availability of The Stupidest Angel in the WRL catalog

The Stupidest Angel

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Cheryl reminds us of why it’s worth returning to this Christmas classic:

Christmas may be a humbug to Ebenezer Scrooge but it certainly wasn’t a humbug to Charles Dickens who wrote several fine tales of the holiday season. His best and most famous Christmas story is of course, A Christmas Carol. People have grown up watching this holiday perennial on TV and know the story by heart so is there anything to be gained by reading it? Well, yes there is.

The well-known tale concerns a bad-tempered miser named Ebenezer Scrooge who finds enlightenment and redemption one cold Christmas Eve through the intercession of his dead former partner Marley, and three holiday spirits. Dicken’s wondrous way with words is evident in the delightful dialogue present in any of the better films, and by that I mean the Alastair Sim (1951) and George C. Scott (1984) versions, but the movies lack much of the evocative exposition found in the book.

Dickens LOVED to describe things in extravagant detail. There are long passages delineating everything from people’s moods to how a building looks at night or even the weather. I suspect his publisher paid him by the word. In some of his other holiday stories this plethora of prose can be confusing and even annoying, but in A Christmas Carol, he strikes just the right balance and his verbosity greatly enhances the story. Take this typical passage about Scrooge’s personality:

Oh! But he was tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold from within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.”

The written version of A Christmas Carol is rife with passages like this that vividly bring Scrooge and his Victorian world to life and make it a pleasure to read. In addition, the story’s message of mankind’s interconnectedness, that we are all, as Scrooge’s nephew says, “fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys…” and the importance of sympathy and compassion for others is always timely but especially so during the Christmas season.

Happy holidays to all and in the immortal words of Tiny Tim, “God bless Us, Every One!”

Check the availability of A Christmas Carol (print version) in the WRL catalog

Audiobook of A Christmas Carol in WRL catalog

A Christmas Carol film (1951) with Alistair Sim in WRL catalog

A Christmas Carol film (1984) with George C. Scott in WRL catalog

A Christmas Carol

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Morag offers us a Christmas classic from the junior collection:

If you are looking for a wonderfully funny satirical story to share with your family or church over the holidays – this story is recommended for ages 8 and up: a beloved wacky, witty, fast moving classic since 1972. Six wild children, the Herdman children teach a church congregation the true meaning of the biblical Christmas story.

The narrator’s mother suddenly (and reluctantly) takes over the planning of the yearly Christmas Pageant from the church’s born organizer “who does everything at the church except preach.” However, she is severely challenged when all six Herdman children start coming to Sunday school and are the only volunteers for the main roles in the play – Mary, Joseph the three wise men and the Angel of God. These six children are known to be cigar-smoking arsonists, liars and thieves and none of them have ever been to church before and know nothing about the Christmas Story.

In a hilarious and thought-provoking way the Herdman family act out the pageant in their own way – The “Herdman” way, with some thoughtful direction from the narrator’s mother. When Imogene and Ralph Herdman enter the church, on the night of the pageant as Mary and Joseph “they stood there looking like refugees.” Imogene has the baby doll slung over her shoulder and thumps it twice on the back before putting it in the crib. “Jesus could have had colic.”

When Gladys Herdman, the angel of God appears she hollers “hey, unto you a child is born,” and the boy shepherds really tremble in fear as they are truly afraid of her. The three wise men appear bearing the Herdman’s ham from their yearly charity basket – they want to bring something useful, not frankincense or gold or myrrh.

At the end of the pageant the Herdmans and the whole church congregation learn about true meaning of Christmas and everyone agreed it was “The best Christmas pageant ever.” “One of the best Christmas books ever” – Publisher’s Weekly

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Best Christmas Pageant Ever

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Melissa shares her review of Grisham’s Christmas book:

Ever get tired of the commitments and commercial glitz of the holidays? Luther and Nora Krank do, well, mostly Luther. He analyzes how much money they spent last Christmas and decides, since their daughter is in Peru with the Peace Corps, that they should skip Christmas this year and take a cruise. Nice idea, huh?

Well, facing neighbors who expect the usual decorations (including a rooftop Frosty), nonprofit organizations which expect the usual donations for cheap calendars and inedible fruitcakes, and friends who expect the usual lavish Christmas Eve party turns out to be tougher than the Kranks thought. But even still, I was rooting for them to hold out. I’m no Ebenezer Scrooge, but I agree with their complaint that we should be able to decide for ourselves how we want to celebrate a holiday. Even Christmas.

Blair calls at the last minute – Christmas Eve morning – surprising her parents with the announcement that she’s on her way home (with a fiance). Instead of saying, “Sorry dear, we’ve made other plans,” the Kranks spend a horrific day
scrambling to put together the Christmas Blair remembers: party, Frosty, decorations, the whole thing. And, because this is a Christmas book, it all works out in the end.

A movie called “Christmas with the Kranks” came out a couple years ago. It has some funny moments, but Grisham’s book is better.

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Skipping Christmas

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I thought it would be appropriate to end the week with one of my favorite holiday movies, A Christmas Story from 1983. It is based on the childhood memories of humorist Jean Shepherd and his book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash. Shepherd, who also narrates the movie, is excellent in bringing back the nostalgia of what Christmas is like as a child. It is a story about a little boy, Ralphie Parker and the best Christmas he ever had in the late 1940’s. The moment Ralphie sees a Red Ryder BB gun in a department store window, he knows what he wants for Christmas and he determines he will have to drop lots of hints to get it. But no matter how hard he tries and no matter who he tells (his mother, his teacher, Santa) the answer is always the same: “You’ll shoot your eye out!”

The movie is filled with hilarious scenes that the actors do a good job of bringing to life. His visit to Santa, his class dreams (especially the one where his teacher turns into a witch), his frequent encounters with the town bullies, and what happens when Christmas finally comes are all memorable scenes. I also enjoyed the scenes where his parents bicker over the leg lamp, which you have to see to believe. A Christmas Story is a light-hearted, funny and nostalgic look at Christmas past that is sure to get you in the holiday spirit. Highly recommended.
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