A Christmas Story

“Our family always had its Christmas on Christmas Eve.  Other less fortunate people, I had heard, opened their presents in the chill clammy light of dawn.  Far more civilized, our Santa Claus recognized that barbaric practice for what it was.  Around midnight great heaps of tissuey, crinkly, sparkly, enigmatic packages appeared among the lower branches of the tree and half hidden among the folds of the white bed-sheet that looked in the soft light like some magic snowbank.” (page 31)

Christmas traditions… every family has their own unique way of celebrating the holiday.  Some come and go over the years while others stand the test of time.  In my family there has always been two traditions that we can count on each year: opening the presents early (Christmas Eve at the latest!) and watching A Christmas Story.  These days we usually watch it once on Christmas Day but it wasn’t too many years ago that we eagerly sat through a great part of the A Christmas Story 24-hour marathon on TV.

A Christmas Story

This year I decided to read the book too.  The movie is based on Jean Shepherd’s short stories from In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash and Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories.  Five of the stories that inspired scenes in the movie have been republished in A Christmas Story.  It’s a very quick read and one of the advantages of having seen the movie so many times is that it was easy to imagine Jean Shepherd narrating the book like he did in the movie.

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“But over it all like a faint, thin, offstage chorus was the building excitement.  Christmas was on its way.  Each day was more exciting than the last, because Christmas was one day closer.  Lovely, beautiful, glorious Christmas, around which the entire year revolved.” (page 10)

While I prefer the movie to the book (a rare thing indeed!), I wouldn’t mind adding it my holiday reading list each year!

From The Cover: The holiday film A Christmas Story, first released in 1983, has become a bona fide Christmas perennial, gaining in stature and fame with each succeeding year.  Its affectionate, wacky, and wryly realistic portrayal of an American family’s typical Christmas joys and travails in small-town Depression-era Indiana has entered our imagination and our hearts with a force equal to that of It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street.

This edition of A Christmas Story gathers together in one hilarious volume the gems of autobiographical humor that Jean Shepherd drew upon to create this enduring film.  Here is young Ralphie Parker’s shocking discovery that his decoder ring is really a device to promote Ovaltine; his mother and father’s pitched battle over the fate of a lascivious leg lamp; the unleashed and unnerving savagery of Ralphie’s duel in the show with the odious bullies Scut Farkas and Grover Dill; and, most crucially, Ralphie’s unstoppable campaign to get Santa—or anyone else—to give him a Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot range model air rifle. Who cares that the whole adult world is telling him, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid”?

The pieces that comprise A Christmas Story, previously published in the larger collections In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash and Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories, coalesce in a magical fashion to become an irresistible piece of Americana, quite the equal of the film in its ability to warm the heart and tickle the funny bone.

This Edition: Hardcover published by Broadway Books (2003)

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Mystery In White: A Christmas Crime Story

“The Great Snow began on the evening of December 19th.  Shoppers smiled as they hurried home, speculating on the chances of a White Christmas.” (page 11)

Mystery In White

“It snowed all day and all night.  On the 22nd it was still snowing.  Snowballs flew, snowmen grew.  Sceptical children regained their belief in fairyland, and sour adults felt like Santa Claus, buying more presents than they had ever intended.” (page 11)

The snow that inspired thoughts of a white Christmas quickly turned into a blizzard that threatened to ruin Christmas plans.  Traffic soon ground to a halt and even the trains became snowbound.  The 11.37 from Euston came to stop near the village of Hemmersby and inside one of its third-class compartments six of the main characters of J. Jefferson Farjeon’s Mystery In White are beginning to realize that they’re not going to reach their holiday destinations anytime soon.  The old man, the clerk, the chorus girl, the brother and sister, and the elderly bore eventually decide to leave the train and see if the branch line at Hemmersby is fairing any better.  Though they don’t all leave at the same time, they all somehow manage to navigate through the blinding snow to the same country house.

They are glad for the shelter from the storm, but they quickly realize that something isn’t quite right with the house. There’s a nice fire going and tea has been set out but the house is completely deserted.  And then there’s that bread knife on the kitchen floor…

The last person from the train to arrive is the elderly bore and he brings some disconcerting news with him.  A passenger in the compartment next to the one they had been in has been found murdered.  Naturally, they all begin to wonder if one of them could be the murderer but as the story progresses and more people show up at the house they begin to realize that the mystery of the house is every bit as important as the mystery on the train.

“Christmas has got to be Christmas, wherever you spend it.” (page 80)

I really enjoyed Mystery In White!  While the mystery itself wasn’t all that suspenseful the story was entertaining and there were a lot of great characters.  They’re making themselves at home in someone else’s house, determined to have a cheerful Christmas while simultaneously trying to solve the murder.  I think this is going to be one of my yearly Christmas reads!

From The Cover: ‘The horror on the train, great though it may turn out to be, will not compare with the horror that exists here, in this house.’ On Christmas Eve, heavy snowfall brings a train to a halt near the village of Hemmersby. Several passengers take shelter in a deserted country house, where the fire has been lit and the table laid for tea – but no one is at home.
Trapped together for Christmas, the passengers are seeking to unravel the secrets of the empty house when a murderer strikes in their midst.
This classic Christmas mystery is now republished for the first time since the 1930s, with an introduction by the award-winning crime writer Martin Edwards.

This Edition: Paperback published by The British Library (2014)

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A Wild Ride Through The Night

October… the days are happily spent stocking up on your favorite candy and searching for the perfect costume while the nights tend to take on a more sinister atmosphere.  Ghosts and goblins lurk in the evening shadows and you’re fairly certain there’s something hiding under your bed. Nights like these, when the wind is howling outside your window and the house seems to be creaking a little more than usual, are the best nights to read a good book. Especially if that book is filled with weird creatures of its own!

If you’re looking for a good October read make sure to check out A Wild Ride Through The Night by Walter Moers!

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From The Cover: In a world between legend and dream, in a time between childhood and adulthood, Walter Moers describes the exhilarating and comic adventures of 12-year-old Gustave, a boy who aspires one day to be a great artist.

But before he can achieve this, Gustave must first pit himself against mysterious giants and a Siamese Twins Tornado; he also finds himself encountering the Most Monstrous of All Monsters, rescuing a beautiful damsel from the clutches of a dragon, traversing a forest swarming with evil spirits, navigating a Galactic Gully and meeting a dream princess, a talking horse, and even his own self.

Having made a wager with death for nothing less than his life and soul, he must travel from the earth to the moon and back again in a single night.

Using twenty-one drawings from the work of Gustave Dore, the most successful illustrator of the nineteenth century, Walter Moers has created a wondrous and utterly delightful tale.

dore2The forest seemed to come alive. Branches lashed around, leaves went scudding through the air, treetops shook, bark crunched against bark. In the twinkling of an eye, Gustave found himself hemmed in by a formidable horde of forest demons of the most multifarious kinds. (page 65)

doreDeath turned his pale face in Gustave’s direction. Up here in the cold light of space he looked even more unreal than he had on earth. His tone was cold and businesslike. (page 166)

Other Books By Walter Moers: The 13 1/2 Lives Of Captain Bluebear, Rumo: And His Adventures, The Alchemaster’s Apprentice, The City Of Dreaming Books, The Labyrinth Of Dreaming Books

You Might Also Like: The Princess Bride by William Goldman

…And now you know for sure there is a little monster hiding under your bed!  The loud purring is a dead giveaway that the cat is back in its favorite hiding place.

A Time Of Gifts

“I knew it was my last night in Holland and I was astonished how quickly I had crossed it. My heels might have been winged. I was astonished, too, at the impressive, clear beauty of the country and its variety, the amazing light and the sway of its healing and collusive charm. No wonder it had produced so many painters!” (page 29)

I was browsing around Amazon one day a few years ago and I came across a book called A Time Of Gifts. It sounded interesting and it had pretty good reviews so I decided to give it a try.  I am really glad I did because Patrick Leigh Fermor quickly became my favorite author!

a time of gifts

“The scene was beginning to change. My path followed a frozen woodland stream into a region where rushes and waterweed and marsh vegetation and brambles and shrubs were as densely entangled as a primeval forest. Opening on expanses of feathered ice, it was like a mangrove swamp in the Arctic circle. Encased in ice and snow, every twig sparkled. Frost had turned the rushes into palisades of brittle rods and the thickets were loaded with icicles and frozen rainbow-shooting drops.” (page 128)

In 1933, Patrick Leigh Fermor left London and headed to the Hook of Holland. From there, his goal was to travel to Constantinople… on foot.  A Time Of Gifts covers the first part of his journey and as soon as I started reading it I knew I was going to love it.  The way he describes his experiences – from the people he meets and the places he travels through – is wonderful and he is never short on details. It’s not unusual for several pages to be used to describe an architectural style or the transformation of a certain region’s clothing over the years. “We shall never get to Constantinople like this. I know I ought to be moving on; so does the reader. But I can’t – not for a page or two.” (page 238)

I think my favorite part about Fermor’s writing style is his ability to bring history to life. His knowledge of the history of most of the areas he travels through is outstanding and I find myself jotting down notes about people and places I would like to know more about. “It was an amazing vision. Few stretches of Central Europe have been the theatre for so much history.  Beyond which watershed lay the pass where Hannibal’s elephants had slithered downhill? Only a few miles away, the frontier of the Roman Empire had begun. Deep in those mythical forests that the river reflected for many days’ march, the German tribes, Rome’s Nemesis, had waited for their hour to strike…” (page 80)

About The Book: In 1933 at the age of eighteen, Patrick Leigh Fermor set off from the heart of London on an epic journey – to walk to Constantinople. It was to be a momentous experience, and one that would change the course of his life.
A Time Of Gifts is the rich and sparkling account of his adventures as far as Hungary, after which Between The Woods And The Water continues the story to the Iron Gates that divide the Carpathian and Balkan mountains. Acclaimed for its sweep, intelligence and observation, the moment in time that it captures is remarkable: he heads through the Lowlands to Mitteleuropa, the Teutonic and Slav heartlands, the Gothic north, the cockpit of the Reformation and the Thirty Years War and the baroque remains of the Holy Roman Empire; up the Rhine, just after Hitler came to power, and down the Danube into the old Balkan and sub-Byzantine realms.
With a ‘lifeline’ allowance of a pound a week, he planned to live ‘like a tramp, a pilgrim, or a wandering scholar’, sleeping in work-houses, monasteries and barns. But a chance introduction in Bavaria led to a counterpointing of this rough existence with leisurely sojourns in castles: one night he would be kept awake by cattle, the next by heavily-embroidered coronets on the linen of a rococo four-poster.
At once a memoir of coming-of-age, an account of a journey, and a dazzling exposition of the English language, it is also a portrait of a continent already showing signs of the holocaust to come.

Just One More Thing: “There is nothing more absorbing than maps of tribal wanderings. How vaguely and slowly nations float about! Lonely as clouds, overlapping and changing places, they waltz and reverse around each other at a pace so slow as to be almost stationary or work their expanding way across the map as imperceptibly as damp or mildew. What a relief it is when some outside event, with an actual date attached to it, jerks the whole sluggishly creeping osmotic complex into action!” (pages 159-160)

This Edition: Paperback published by John Murray (2004)

Other Books In This Series: Between The Woods And The Water, The Broken Road

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None But You

“The fog, which clouded the past, lifted and he was able to clearly see this Anne, still as bright as anything.  This was the Annie he loved the most.  This Annie had haunted his dreams for years. This was the little brown-eyed ghost he cursed when the occasional black mood settled in.” (page 17)

I love all of Jane Austen’s stories but my favorite one is definitely Persuasion. After reading it again earlier this year I decided to try some other books based on Persuasion.  I was kind of surprised about how little was out there. Obviously I knew there wasn’t going to be as many as have been written about Pride and Prejudice but I was still expecting more.

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Of what I’ve read so far, my favorite companion story to Persuasion is the Frederick Wentworth, Captain books by Susan Kaye which tells the story from Wentworth’s perspective. The first book, None But You, starts with Wentworth just returned to England and continues on from there. But it also has Wentworth’s memories of his earlier time with Anne and how he has struggled to move on from that.

“For a moment, he thought of her as fading away.  His memories of her had dimmed over time but being back in her company had recharged them and made them vivid again. It hurt him to think the woman herself was less than she had once been.” (page 178)

Frederick Wentworth, Captain is described as a novel in two parts and None But You ends just after the accident in Lyme. I had barely started None But You when I knew I had to go ahead and order the second book, For You Alone, because I would want to keep on reading.  I really wish there were more books in the series!

From The Cover: Eight years ago, when he had nothing but his future to offer, Frederick Wentworth fell in love with Anne Elliott, the gentle daughter of a haughty, supercilious baronet. Sir Walter Elliott refused to countenance a marriage, and Anne’s godmother, Lady Russell, strongly advised Anne against him. Persuaded by those nearest to her, Anne had given him up; and he had taken his broken heart to sea.

When Jane Austen’s Persuasion opens in the year 1814, Frederick Wentworth, now a famous and wealthy captain in His Majesty’s Navy, finds himself back in England and, as fate would have it, residing as a guest in Anne’s former home. Now it is the Baronet who is in financial difficulties, and Anne exists only at her family’s beck and call. For eight long years, Frederick had steeled his heart against her. Should he allow Anne into his heart again, or should he look for love with younger, prettier women in the neighborhood who regard him as a hero?

The mature sweetness of Jane Austen’s Persuasion is brought to life in Wytherngate Press’s None But You, the first in the two-volume series Frederick Wentworth, Captain by Susan Kaye.

Just One More Thing: “They had shared the seafaring life together in many parts of the world. Now, it was clear, one of them would never partake of that life again. Another’s future was clouded by grief and uncertainty. The third would return to the sea and, no doubt, wring out of her as much glory as she would ever allow.” (page 201)

This Edition: Paperback published by Wythergate Press (2007)

Part 2 Of This Series: For You Alone

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Lost In Austen

“This book is no ordinary book, and should not be read through from beginning to end.  It contains many different adventures, and the path you take will depend on the choices you make along the way.  The success (or failure!) of your mission will depend on the decisions you make, so think carefully before choosing…” (page 3)

When we were growing up, my brothers and I loved to read the Choose Your Own Adventure books.  In fact, it was probably the one series that we could all agree on liking.  I enjoyed them because you had a certain amount of control over the story and you could read them more than once and still not know what to expect at the end.  So I was really excited when Lost In Austen by Emma Campbell Webster was released a few years ago.  A Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure… you can’t get any better than that! (I’m not so sure my brothers would like this one though!)

lost in austen

The goal of the book is the same goal as any of Jane Austen’s stories… a happy marriage.  Your character is Elizabeth Bennet and all of the characters from Pride and Prejudice are here as well as many of the characters from Austen’s other books.  So the decisions you make as you go along could lead to some interesting matches!  In addition to the “choose your own adventure” aspect of the book it also has a point system you can use to judge how you’re doing.  There’s little questions to test your knowledge of the time period and “helpful” hints like this:

“Don’t be stupid, his pride is extremely objectionable.  If you can already appreciate the value of his pride, what can you possibly hope to learn from your interaction with Mr. Darcy?  You are displaying an inappropriate level of psychological maturity.” (page 98)

The first time I went through the book, I ended up following right along with the Pride and Prejudice story and married Mr. Darcy.  The other three or four times I’ve read it I made to sure to make some questionable decisions and the results were pretty interesting!

You are in control of Jane Austen’s characters.  Happiness (or tragedy) is lurking throughout the pages and everything rests on the decisions you make.  I absolutely love it!

From The Cover: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young Austen heroine must be in want of a husband, and you are no exception.”

Your name: Elizabeth Bennet.  Your mission: to marry both prudently and for love, avoiding family scandal. Equipped with only your sharp wit, natural good sense, and tolerable beauty, you must navigate your way through a variety of decisions that will determine your own romantic (and financial) fate. Ever wonder what would happen if Elizabeth accepted Mr. Darcy’s proposal the first time around? Or ran from his arms into those of Persuasion’s Captain Wentworth?  Now is your chance to find out.

Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure begins in Pride and Prejudice, but your decisions along the way will lead you into the plots of Austen’s other works, and even newly imagined territory.

Lost in Austen is a labyrinth of love and lies, scandals and scoundrels, misfortunes and marriages that will delight and challenge any Austen lover.  Will Elizabeth succeed in her mission?  It’s all up to you.

Just One More Thing: “You accept his proposal and after your average wedding you move to your husband’s average estate and live off your average fortune.  You are occasionally visited by your average connections and you otherwise spend your days practicing your average accomplishments.  Does this sound like a happy marriage to you?” (page 313)

This Edition: Paperback published by Riverhead Books (2007)

You Might Also Like: Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil G. Brinton (written in 1913, this is the original Jane Austen sequel and includes characters from all six of her novels)

The Scrapbook Of Frankie Pratt

“I always win at Authors.  That’s because all these books are in Daddy’s library.  After he died, I made a vow to read every single one.  And I did, by the time I turned 15.” (page 14)

I love collecting vintage ephemera!  I keep the items I find stored away in boxes and albums but I know a lot of people like to use them in art journals and scrapbooks.  And as Caroline Preston demonstrates, they can be turned into an excellent novel.

scrapbook of frankie prattIn The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, Caroline Preston has used her own vintage ephemera collection to create the first scrapbook novel.  In it the heroine Frankie Pratt diligently documents her life in her scrapbook: from the tough decisions she has to make about college, her career and love to highlighting the people and places she comes across.

“Mother hands me a card with $400.  It must have taken her 2 years to save so much.
Something to help you get started in your new life, she says.” (page 85) 

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I read this straight through in just a few hours after I bought it, but since then I just like to pick it up and flip through it every once and awhile. I’m always spotting something I hadn’t noticed before and each new detail just adds to the overall charm of the story.

From The Cover: For her graduation from high school in 1920, Frankie Pratt receives a scrapbook and her father’s old Corona typewriter.  Despite Frankie’s dreams of becoming a writer, she must forgo a college scholarship to help her widowed mother. But when a mysterious Captain James sweeps her off her feet, her mother finds a way to protect Frankie from the less-than-noble intentions of her unsuitable beau.

Through a kaleidoscopic array of vintage postcards, letters, magazine ads, ticket snubs, catalog pages, fabric swatches, candy wrappers, fashion spreads, menus, and more, we meet and follow Frankie on her journey in search of success and love.  Once at Vassar, Frankie crosses paths with intellectuals and writers, among them “Vincent” (alumna Edna St. Vincent Millay), who encourages Frankie to move to Greenwich Village and pursue her writing. When heartbreak finds her in New York, she sets off for Paris aboard the S.S. Mauritania, where she keeps company with two exiled Russian princes and a “spinster adventuress” who is paying her way across the Atlantic with her unused trousseau.  In Paris, Frankie takes a garret apartment above Shakespeare & Company, the hub of expat life, only to have a certain ne’er-do-well captain from her past reappear.  But when a family crisis compels Frankie to return to her small New England hometown, she finds exactly what she had been looking for all along.

Just One More Thing:
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This Edition: Hardback published by HarperCollins (2011)

Other Books By Caroline Preston: Jackie By Josie, Gatsby’s Girl, Lucy Croker 2.0

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