A few more grown-up Christmas books

12 Books of Christmas concludes, with one extra!

Hopewell's Public Library of Life

Earlier I posted a list of humorous Christmas books for grown-ups. This time I’m looking at slightly more serious ones.

Hired man

This little book packs a whole lot of great story in a small package. A little bit mysterious, a little bit coming-of-age story, this is a story to restore some faith in men and the value of hard work as well as in the love of Christmastime. The Hired Man’s Christmas by George Givens.

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David Baldacci is not know for “sweet,” but this book has a way of turning your heart to sweeter thoughts. A train trip that can restore a little Goodwill to Men? Not in my experience! Travel, romance, and faith in humanity all in the same book? It takes as skilled a storyteller as Baldacci to pull it off. You won’t regret the time spent enjoying this one! The Christmas Train by David Baldacci

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I don’t normally…

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Top Five Wednesday: Fictional Items I’d Give Myself for Christmas

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Experiences

Lunch With the Artist: Photographer Robert Kincaid

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from Bridges of Madison County. Because, heck yeah I want to meet him! I have since I read the book. And, please, bring the motorcycle, ok guy? Wowser!

 

 

 

Fictional Gift Cards

 

 

Gabri’s Bistro in Three Pines

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from Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series.–I’m dying to try all of the great food there, but especially the Cauliflower and Stilton Soup with Date and Pear Relish and the Scrambled Eggs with Brie (maybe I’ll finally like eggs?). NO SPOILERS PLEASE!!  On the left is the last book in the series that I’ve read–I don’t want to know that my beloved place goes out of business in book number X, ok? And, could I get a Tim Horton’s double-double coffee on the side? We don’t have Tim Horton’s here (maybe I’d like coffee then?) FYI: I LOVE this series!

Cluck in a Bucket

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from Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. What’s not to love about Lula’s favorite fried chicken? Heck, all the Trenton food spots sound good. I’d probably give gift cards to all of them!

$500 Gift Card to Marks & Co

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from 84 Charing Cross Road. I’d love to shop here! I’d find all sorts of old biographies and leather-bound treasures from country house libraries! And I’d chat with Frank and all the staff about books. In those days $500 would have bought a huge array of superb books, Spy prints, old maps and other great antiquarian book treasures.

 

 

 

Well Animal Visit at Farnon and Associates, Skeldale House, Darrowby, Yorkshire

 

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from the  All Creatures Great and Small series by James Herriot. Though, to tell the truth, I’d be a little upset that Helen wasn’t really Carol Drinkwater! I always thought Christopher Timothy was a bit wimpy though. And I’d want to smell the Woodbine smoke and see Tristian magically start shaking a bottle of something to show he hadn’t been sleeping. And then I’d want Sigfried to take me out to some great country house to check on a fabulous hunter. But most of all, I’d want James to check out my cat and then we’d all have tea and scones prepared by Mrs. Hall. It’s rare to love both the books and the film/tv version, but oh how I love both of these!

Bonus

Free hair cut and blow dry at Truvy’s

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from Steel Magnolias, as long as I can have some of the house wine of the South and take a wack at Ouiser! There is no such thing as natural beauty and time IS marching across my face. No one has ever been able to make MY hair poofy, but I bet Truvy or Annelle could! For one day at least, I could have lovely hair!

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12 Books of Christmas: Number 4: The Christmas Horse and the Three Wise Men

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New for Christmas this year is Isabelle Brent’s retelling of the Biblical story of the three wise men journeying to meet the Christ child. Told from the point of view of an Arabian horse, a camel and an elephant–each from different lands,  the language of the story includes actual Bible verses. Magnificent illustrations add luster to this gem of a re-telling. The Christmas Horse and the Three Wise Men by Isabelle Brent.

Earlier in her career, the author published yet another re-telling of the Christmas Story From the King James Bible.

You can read more about Isabelle Brent here.

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books I’d Like Santa to Leave Me

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Just a friendly reminder: I made no money if you click. The links are for your convenience only.

 

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This one I just discussed (again) in a post last week. Defying the Nazis: The Sharp’s War

 

 

 

 

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I found this one today in an excellent Book Riot post on small press books of the year. Can’t wait to read it. So much about this story appeals to me, not the least of which is the location: Mozambique. I lived “next door” in Malawi. The First Wife: A Tale of Polygamy by Pauline Chizinane.

 

 

 

 

persiaI love cookbooks. I love to cook, love to read about food–especially food from other cultures. Before the internet and Pinterest, I loved to check out exotic cookbooks from the library and try interesting dishes–at least those for which I could find the ingredients. Now I have one of Cincinnati’s treasures, Jungle Jim’s, right on my way home. Each year I try a few new exotic dishes thanks to having this store so close by. I’ve read several memoirs and novels set in the cultures covered by this book as well, so it would be even more meaningful. Taste of Persia by Naomi Duguid.

 

 

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This morning’s look at the New York Times book reviews introduced me to a new crime series that sounds well worth it. Hopefully I can find it on audio for my commute. Series fiction is a Godsend for long commutes. Plaid and Plagiarism by Molly MacRae.

 

 

 

 

 

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I also hope this one is out in audio. I love the sound of nearly all of it! The Bookseller’s Tale by Ann Swinfen

 

 

 

 

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I usually read at least one nature or natural history book per year. This fits the bill perfectly. A Buzz in the Meadow: The Natural History of a French Farm by Dave Goulson.

 

 

 

 

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This one has been on my t0-read list since it was published. Time to finally read it I think. The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de  Waal.

 

 

 

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This one will be tricky–it isn’t out until February! Still, notice of pre-order would be a super gift! I was a Russian and East European Studies major. This year there are several new books out for the Russian Revolution’s Centenary. Lots of good history to re-enjoy. Caught in the Revolution by Helen Rappaport.

 

 

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I recently read a book about expatriate life in Iceland, so Greenland is a natural next read.This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland by Gretel Ehlrich

 

 

 

 

 

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Finally, I really would like to find a lovely, hardbound copy of Tolkein’s Letters From Father Christmas, which I reviewed late last week in this post.

 

Stop by The Broke and the Bookish and check out all of this week’s Top Ten Tuesday posts! Our, better yet, join in and post your own list!

12 Books of Christmas: Numbers 5 and 5.5 Christmas in Harmony

 

 

When it comes to heartwarming series fiction, Philip Gulley’s Harmony is right up there with Jan Karon’s Mitford in my affections. While Mitford’s Father Tim is an Episcopalian priest, Harmony’s Pastor Sam is a Quaker. His long-suffering wife, like many another small church pastor’s wife, has had her share of necessities relabeled as Christmas gifts. In Christmas in Harmony Sam is guilt plagued by the thought that a four-slot toaster is too “extravagant.” So, in the Christmas Scrapbook he sets out to redeem himself as a gift-giving husband by making her a gift from the heart, but as usual, there are consequences. But then what could possibly go wrong for a pastor who must hold his elders’ meetings on the folding table next to the noodle freezer?

Happily, the Christmas Scrapbook is on sale for $1.99 for Kindle right now. It’s barely the length of a novella, so even if you are not familiar with the series, buy it, fix a cup of tea or cocoa, and have a delightful Christmas read today. I know you’ll be hooked on this wonderful series that showcases small town Indiana at its best.

Christmas in Harmony and the Christmas Scrapbook by Philip Gulley.

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Also on sale, for $3.99 for Kindle, is Gulley’s newest, A Gathering in Hope, which I will be reviewing in the New Year. Enjoy this follow-up to the Harmony series.

12 Books of Christmas: Number 6: Letters From Father Christmas

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First let me say that this book took my breath away–even on Kindle. Now I won’t rest until I have a hard-bound copy to keep forever! I’ve never made it through the Hobbit, nor the Lord of the Rings trilogy. My brother, nephew and niece’s husband are big-time Tolkien freaks, but not me. This book changed that–at least on Tolkien as artist and scribe for Father Christmas!

There are no words to do this masterpiece justice. As the children writing to Father Christmas grow up, so do Father Christmas’s replies get more sophisticated and the cast of helpers at the North Pole grows. The business of Santa becomes more complex and is more harshly impacted by world events like the Great Depression and World War II. The polar bear assistant goes thru all sorts of problems–just like LOTR, Tolkien creates an entire world of Santa-land at the North Pole.

But, to me, it is the exquisite drawings–so compelex, so measured and exact–that makes this book the treasure that it is.

 

You can view many of the illustrations in these blog posts:

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Shelley Davies’ Christmas is Coming post

 

 

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Tygertale’s Letters from Father Christmas post

Letters From Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

 

Top 5 Wednesday: Series that just got worse

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My First Thought….

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Robert Bathurst as Sir Anthony Strallan in Downton Abbey

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…was the destruction of a gentleman. What Julian Fellowes did to Sir Anthony Strallan was unforgivable. Doofy, sweet Anthony would NEVER have gone back on his word. Never mind that Edith got to outrank Mary in the end, this was the moment Julian destroyed Downton Abbey for me! Never has a t.v. show mistake obsessed me like this did. I wrote fan fiction and then, ultimately, my own fictional series, to recover from my shock and grief. You can read more about my obsession here.  Happily, Julian’s book, Belgravia, was a dud in my humble opinion. You can read my review here.

But then….

I remembered that this Top 5 is mostly about books.

The trouble with writing a series is making each book equally good. I have several series I love, but all have had their less-than-great additions. One series though stands out for getting progressively worse. In fact, I’ve given it up. It’s gotten that bad. I’m not sure if it’s greed on the part of the publisher, ennui on the author’s part of just what.

The One I Quit Reading

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When I discovered Patrick Taylor’s Irish Country series, I fell in love. Head over heels in love! Such vivid characters, so a nice story–not goody-goody but no one having sex on the village green. I loved Fingal and Barry and all the gang. But then….it got really popular. It started selling zillions of copies. A cash cow, you might say. Suddenly the books that once covered months of passing time, not covered about 15 seconds and took too many pages to do so.

Suddenly savvy doctor Fingal had to have his memory refreshed so often on medical procedures and naval terms that he needed an Alzheimer’s evaluation. And the amount of headlines worked in! Geesh. The citizens of Balleybucklebo must do nothing but read the Times of London! They were more up-to-date than the politicians.

This is the trouble with historical fiction. There’s an urge to explain every detail so no reader quits because they feel ignorant. But Google is the place to learn–not the story. I was so disgusted with the last volume I bought that I wrote an honest review–didn’t sugar coat it.

The Ones I Still Love, flaws and all.

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As someone once said of the James Bond series, “put your brains under the seat and don’t ask too many questions….” Well, that applies to the Stephanie Plum series as well. I ADORE Stephanie, Ranger, Joe, Bob the dog, and especially Grandma Mazur and Lula. But I loved this series on audio until….yep, you guessed it! It changed readers.  C.J. Critt WAS the voice of this series. She was superb! The poor reader who took over on the Recorded Books editions IS an excellent audio book reader, but…. What the heck? She totally made Grandma Mazur sound like a cartoon idiot! I still want C.J. back. I tried–I TRIED–to stay with this series on audio, but I just couldn’t. So, I read them now.

I must say that since Joe and Stephanie and are would be age-mates in real time, I’m a little amazed that they’ve kept their looks! I do wish we’d get Christmas Story presenting Stephanie’s life in the future–one “future” with Joe and one with Ranger. I’m still hoping for Diesel though. Fun series.

The Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evonovich

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Thankfully the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency still enjoys the services of incomparable reader, Lisette Lecat. Her command of the local accent is superb and brings these stories to life in a way that print just cannot. I adore each of these books, but there have been ones that have hit pretty wide of the mark. One even left out Violet Sephohto!And there was the annoying resumption of the Red Bush tea versus ordinary tea debate.

It was a peak literary moment though when I learned, first, that the great Clovis Andersen was from Muncie, Indiana, and second, that he had attended Ball State University. (I grew up in the shadows of BSU in a small town, now a bedroom community, by Muncie).

No 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

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I love William Monk! And I adore Oliver Rathbone and I admire Hester Latterly. But, as often happens on t.v. when a romantic triangle’s tension has carried the show, the series took a dip after a couple married (no spoilers on which one). Then too, the series has now gone from gritty to possibly a cause of PTSD for some readers. I like the characters too well to give up on it, but I did ask myself why I was listening to a Christmas story about sex crimes. Regardless, Anne Perry writes these brilliantly. The characters are vivid and you can smell the stench of the Victorian Thames and its surrounding slums. You can also feel the caring of Monk, Oliver, Hester and a few others. Note: This series won’t make sense if you don’t read them in order.

The William Monk series by Anne Perry

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Alexander McCall Smith is a series-writing machine! This series, which began when all were residents of the same apartment building in Edinburgh, has a large cast of characters. Cyril, the dog, is my favorite–with his gold tooth. But poor Bertie–stuck at age 6, stuck wearing crushed strawberry dungarees, stuck with his hapless father and bizarre mother. I just ache for Berite. I also love Angus and Dominica, but I’m glad the guy who played the Duke of Plaza Toro died. Now if Bruce would vanish. Bringing Bruce back wasn’t good. These books began as a regular feature in the Scotsman newspaper and feature a few real life characters like Scotland’s First Minister who occasionally has a walk-on.  Very fun.

44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith

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Lest we forget what should have been…. Andith forever

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The should-have-been Sir Anthony and Lady Strallan

Downton Abbey

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Season’s Greading ;) Tag

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Thanks to AbbieLu at Cafe Book Bean
for the idea!

Won’t you play along? Post your list!

Favorite book/s to [re-]read during the Holiday season?

It’s a tie!

….and these are just the grown-up books.

 

 

Here are the all-age books….a tie again.

See this post for an explanation.

 

The Christmas Cat by Tasha Tudor

 

Tell us your best Christmas memory?

 My kids’ first Christmas!

 

Favorite fictional winter wonderland?

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Love the reindeer

Santa Claus the Movie

 

 Snow Man or Snow Angel?

 

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Cary Grant

 see below

What is your all time favorite Christmas/Holiday movie?

 bishopsThe Bishop’s Wife

If you could spend the Holidays anywhere (fiction or non-fiction,) where would you go?

 

mistletoeWherever the mistletoe is…..[see below]

OR

To my fictional Amberleigh–or, since that’s where Christmas will be, at Shellborne. I’d love to spend a holiday with MY families.

Who would you like to meet under the mistletoe?

Any of these men.… hey, it’s a kiss under the mistletoe with an over-the-hill librarian…whose wife would be upset by that??

 Mark, Simon, Pierce,  Sam, Sean, Tom, George, Jeremy or Craig.

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What is your favorite hot holiday drink?

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I stopped buying them cold turkey last year and haven’t had one since, but if I was driving on Christmas day and found a McDonald’s open……

 

What author from any time would you like to have a cup with?

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 Sir Winston Churchill

Yes the Prime Minister–not the American novelist of the same name.

Hence the SIR being specified.

What book are you hoping Santa will bring you?

 

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Defying the Nazis: The Sharp’s War

See this post for more information

Want to play along?

Post your list and give me a link–and one to Thanks to AbbieLu at Cafe Book Bean

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Christmas book written just for me! The 12 Books of Christmas: No 7 A Cornish Christmas

“Sometimes, on your way to one dream, you find a new one, a better one.”

(p.128)

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A back-to-the-land Old Etonian, his children’s book illustrator wife now call Cornall their home. As Stuart creates exotic jams from the turnips and cabbages he grows in his plastic sheeting greenhouse (aka the poly-tunnel), Ivy draws the illustrations for the cute Inspector Fudge children’s mystery series.  Their lovable bulldog and secretive cats help make their home cozy.

Did I mention Stuart’s sister is an award-winning biographer, currently working on Cornwall’s own Daphne Du Maurier? Or that this sister once used seemingly my own words by confiding that she “regretted her popularity [as a writer] because it often meant that she spent far less time doing what she loved–which was research” (p. 94). Now, I ask you? Can you get more ME than that? I could move right in to the amazing study she calls her office. But, she’s a minor character.

Having given up London and the rat-race for a simpler life in Cornwall, Stuart and Ivy’s big goal has at last been achieved they are about to become parents–finally. But the mother-in-law-  from-somewhere-not-heaven makes a comment that nearly draws blood. All while Ivy’s longing for her late mother to share all her joy has come to an interesting crossroads.

There’s a dash of pixies or a pinch or fairies or maybe just a touch of whimsy that makes this book the exact right book at the exact moment I needed it this holiday season.Here’s yet another reason why:

Love should feel good….when you have love it should only ever enhance your life, it should never detract from it….love really should just feel good; sure you can have your bad patches, and those should be worked on, but for the most part love should feel right. If it doesn’t there’s a problem (p. 101-102).

I have not read anything by this author before, but her work reminds me of a British version Sarah Addison Allen. And, that, to me is a very good thing! I look forward to more delightful books from author Lily Graham.

A Cornish Christmas by Lily Graham

The 12 Books of Christmas: Number 8: Visions of Sugar Plums

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Often one of the really fun parts of reading a book series is the extra books–Christmas or Halloween or side- or back-story books. It was pure coincidence that I reached Visions of Sugar Plums in the Stephanie Plum series during Christmas week! A delightful coincidence? “Dam* Skippy”–as Lula would say. Grandma Mazur dating a Senior Citizen Stud Muffin? Perfect sis Valerie a mess? A Ranger-like angel known as Diesel hanging out with Stephanie? “Babe….” How could pass up a Christmas like this! Throw in Randy Briggs–one of my favorite Plum FTAs [failure to appear in court–the guys she tracks down as a bounty hunter], the ever loving Joe Marelli, a villain named “Ring” and an elf cookie riot and you’ve got a pleasant way to de-stress after the too-crowded, too-picked over Mall.

Visions Of Sugar Plums by Janet Evanovich. You can buy all the Stephanie Plum Between The Numbers books in a single volume Kindle edition, too.

This review originally appeared on my old blog on December 21, 2010