This was . . . okay. I am glad to see an author interested in sharing Henry van Dyke's classic tale with young children, but this adaptation is very sThis was . . . okay. I am glad to see an author interested in sharing Henry van Dyke's classic tale with young children, but this adaptation is very strange. Maybe it's the overuse of whimsy, or maybe I'm too much of a purist to accept all of the changes (and there are many changes), but this just wasn't my cup of tea....more
If I rated this on my enjoyment, it would probably be 2 stars. Maybe 1.5. But that's largely because this is an overly sentimental, schmaltzy, feel-goIf I rated this on my enjoyment, it would probably be 2 stars. Maybe 1.5. But that's largely because this is an overly sentimental, schmaltzy, feel-good book, and that's not really my cup of tea. This volume, however, really nails that genre, so I'm giving it three stars for quality. It may not be my thing, but I can't hold that against it.
What I didn't like: There wasn't a lot of depth. I wasn't looking for a plot or anything, but for a series of unconnected glimpses into the world of Christmas angels, these circumstances seemed rather bizarre. The Christmas angels in this book are, for example, making Santa's toys so that the elves can take a break (and you can see sleeping elves in the background) or using their angelic powers to get Christmas shoppers discounts. I don't know what I was expecting -- spreading good cheer, or granting wishes to orphans, or something, maybe. Not that there isn't a lot of really sappy stuff in there too, to compensate.
What I did like: The artwork, first of all. The cartoons are pretty good and very entertaining, and they really add a lot. I also liked the humor, there are a few moments in particular where humor is used to great effect. Additionally, I liked that even at the height of its saccharine over-the-top sweetness, it doesn't come off as artificial. There's a certain warmth about this, as though the author really does love Christmas and wants to point out all the reasons why (sometimes with sweetness, sometimes with humor). Finally, A for effort. It's clear that the author put a lot of time and effort into making the book, and that helps.
Bottom line: Instead of presenting a view of the holidays that will inspire me to look for Christmas spirit and goodness in my dealings with others this Christmas, this book exists more or less in a fantasy realm (where all shoppers can always buy everything on sale!). It's not a moment of calm in the midst of holiday chaos. It's a world where there was never any chaos to begin with....more
This book was interesting, to say the least. It is divided into several chapters, each of which has its own distinctive flavor and style. It opens witThis book was interesting, to say the least. It is divided into several chapters, each of which has its own distinctive flavor and style. It opens with a story strongly based on the Gospels, followed by an old Christmas legend, then a sermon, then a war memoir, and finally by a Bible excerpt.
Parts of this volume are very preachy and almost off-putting. I do appreciate that this collection is from a very conservative family and parts of it are probably, to some degree, a product of the times. My least favorite part was the sermon, and this really surprised me--I have always been interested in theology, and I love Christmas. A Christmas sermon should have been right up my alley, so to speak. However, this sermon was so similar to so many that I've heard before, and it should win the prize, in my opinion, for being the only Christmas sermon I've ever encountered that isn't about Christmas. It's more about hell. Go figure.
That said, other parts of the book were delightful. The old Christmas legend was a bit of cultural history that I found fascinating, and the story was interesting in its own right, so that was a double win. Corrie's own memoir was powerful and moving, and the whole book would be worth it just for that chapter alone. It was also nice seeing her lightly fictionalized version of the Gospel story. The Bible excerpt was a beautiful close to a beautiful volume. Altogether, the book is marvelous. I borrowed this from the library, but if I ever find a copy for sale, I would buy it.
Since each chapter is a standalone, here are my separate ratings:
Part 1: The Bible story as Corrie told it (more like a story than direct quotes) 3.5 stars Part 2: An old Christmas story 5 stars Part 3: Sermon 2 stars Part 4: WWII 5 stars Part 5: Bible excerpt (I'm not rating the Bible (!) but I will say that it was a perfect close to a very special book)...more
This collection of short stories was annoying and preachy in some places, but it did have its moments of entertainment and humor. One story in particuThis collection of short stories was annoying and preachy in some places, but it did have its moments of entertainment and humor. One story in particular about children eating cookies really brought out the funny side of seemingly normal events. The first story and the last story are a bit heavy-handed, but I suppose that's understandable, especially in a Christmas book. If this were a collection with only those three tales, I would give it at the very least a solid 3-star rating. The remaining story tries too hard to be funny. Unlike the cookie story, it does not reveal humor in a commonplace situation, but rather concocts a disgusting situation and tries to pass it off as funny. This story is the reason I can't recommend it to my mother, and she loves both Christmas and audio books....more
This book is a collection of Christmas-related Biblical passages. It is accompanied by many beautiful illustrations - some are original, for this voluThis book is a collection of Christmas-related Biblical passages. It is accompanied by many beautiful illustrations - some are original, for this volume, but many are reproductions of paintings, sculptures, and stained glass from different countries and centuries.
Parts of this book I enjoyed very much, but I still am puzzled by the specific passages selected. Some famous passages were omitted which I had felt sure would be included. Moreover, chapters 2 and 3 are definitely post-Christmas, with Jesus as a twelve-year-old celebrating Passover and, later still, in his 30's preaching on adultery and hell (among other things). Did I mention this book was intended for young children? All in all, some very strange decisions at work here. It's mostly about Christmas and it's mostly for young children, but it doesn't commit fully to either....more
This book is lovely! It contains words and music for many traditional favorites, as well as for some songs that maybe aren't quite as well known. TheThis book is lovely! It contains words and music for many traditional favorites, as well as for some songs that maybe aren't quite as well known. The arrangements are not difficult, and the colorful illustrations add to the book's charm....more
This book wins the prize for being the most offensive Christmas book I have ever read. It's worse in some respects than even The Christmas Shoes. At lThis book wins the prize for being the most offensive Christmas book I have ever read. It's worse in some respects than even The Christmas Shoes. At least that novel showed a few people with offensive attitudes. This book is just one guy (the author) demonstrating offensive attitudes and holding them up as some higher moral "truth." I almost didn't add it to Goodreads because I'm ashamed to have read it. I am embarrassed. I hope my friends who don't read many Christmas books won't judge the whole genre by this one item. But if you are looking for something Christmassy to read, don't pick this. Read my review, and you'll get the Cliffs notes version of everything this book has to offer. And then some.
[This book has a forward, a preface, and seven short stories.]
THE FORWARD: The forward is the only part of the book that's worth reading. The book's cover proclaims, "Forward by Walter Wangerin Jr," and that's probably a big part of why I chose to read this book in the first place. I'd read and enjoyed some of Wangerin's other stuff, and he doesn't disappoint here. His forward describes the structure of the stories to come, which will tell of various characters in various situations as they each reach an epiphany of startling joy that changes their whole perspective on life. The forward is beautifully written and uplifting.
THE PREFACE: I could never quite decide if the preface is supposed to be a short story, or whether it's the author describing an epiphany in his own life, presumably the inspiration for the stories that follow. I think the preface is supposed to be an anecdote, likely an exaggerated anecdote, from the author's own life. It is THE single most offensive part of the entire book. The author, I assume, is Christian in the technical sense of the word, because he gets all preachy. However, his extreme view do not represent any form of Christianity I have ever encountered. Also, he calls Jesus a parasite.
So, it's wintertime, and the preface's narrator is riding the bus. He is offended by the bus driver, who talks to him while she drives. And she's fat. And she's middle aged. And she's dating. And did I mention she's fat? Seriously, he goes on and on about how she's fat, and not pretty, and fat, and he checks out her bum and reports that it's larger than the seat, and he checks out her boobs and reports and that no one would care to check out her boobs, and also she's fat. And she's talking to him, which is clearly a mortal sin. Now I admit, it's probably a little unnerving to have a total stranger initiate a long conversation while you're stuck on a bus together, but when you start asking her questions to prolong the conversation, you've more or less waived your right to be offended when she answers you. She wasn't going on and on about politics or war or something even borderline offensive. No, she tells him to watch his step climbing on. (Gosh, no wonder he was offended. Sheesh!) She tells him it's easy to fall and get hurt. Then she gets slightly more personal, I admit, and mentions that her daughter slipped off a curb and is in a lot of pain from a torn ligament. And she talks a bit about her family, and he asks about her family, and she answers. As he leaves the bus, he realizes that even though she is offensive to him, others (namely God) might still care for her. Meanwhile, he is "the distinguished professor," "arrogant" and "sophisticat[ed]"; Christ came to earth for him and for all people, and he realizes that all people includes her too. He counts her sins, "overweight, obnoxious, promiscuous, over-the-hill," and realizes that Christ might "work in her," but of course, he would have to reach her by using someone else who is "saintly." And therefore, in a back-handed way, God cares for her anyway, even though she's fat. And that's a Christmas miracle.
STORY NO. 1: It's a Christmas pageant, and the little match girl a teenager who plays Mary has left the church; she is out in the snow with no coat holding a doll. She realizes that without the doll, there's no pageant, since the doll is Jesus, and she can take time to reach some spiritual epiphany since no one can do the play without her and the baby. So she stays outside in the snow with no coat until she sees Jesus in the doll.
STORY NO. 2: There's a poor old woman who never gets to visit her granddaughter. The child's mother uses the girl as leverage against the grandmother, and the little girl doesn't know that the old lady she passes every day is family. Meanwhile, grandma buys presents for the child from a catalogue, and the mom pretends that they're from Santa. In this story, some of the grandmother's friends arrange for the grandmother and the girl to have some time together for Christmas carols. In exchange for this, they make the grandmother promise never to send gifts again or to contact the granddaughter in any way. And the little girl still doesn't know they're related. But the grandmother knows it's worth it, sacrificing any future relationship for the sake of two anonymous hours. Oh joy.
STORY NO. 3: A woman has never been able to have kids, so she and her husband adopted two girls. Now one of them is in high-school and pregnant, and the mother is jealous of her daughter for being able to be pregnant. The daughter resents the mother for being so envious in the first place. Then the mom realizes there is still joy in the holiday - she still has another daughter, in college, who is easy to love. So she goes to see her instead.
STORY NO. 4: This is probably the second most offensive portion of the book. In fact, it's a toss-up between the preface and this story. The Bible says to pray without ceasing, so the lady in this story, who prays once a day, never says "Amen." She figures that by picking up the same prayer the next evening, she is praying without ceasing. And what does she pray for? Why, sinners, of course! Those poor successful, rich, sinners, (specifically her daughter and son-in-law) who don't go to church. Yes, I tell you, her prayers revolve around these heinous sinners who live miles and miles away and never bother her. But she calls them up to remind them to go to church. And yet, even though she is ever so holy and wise, they don't listen to her. So this one Christmas, she goes to visit her daughter, son-in-law, and grandkids. And she looks out the window, is distracted by the beauty of the mountainside, and says, "Oh, my God." Her little granddaughter asks her what she sees, and she says, "Jesus. He's [. . .] there." She looks and can't see anyone. She asks where he is, and the grandmother tells her to look at the mountains. Of course, there's no one there. The granddaughter is frustrated at this peculiar game of hide-and-seek, and she says that she can't see Jesus. She wants to see him. Well, the grandmother takes this as a sign, as the answer to her prayers. Now, she can take the granddaughter to church, secretly, and it won't be a sin because she asked to see Jesus. Control issues aside, it's a little disturbing to read about an adult playing mind games with a child and insulting her intelligence, all at the same time. And talk about entrapment! She could have said, Look at the blue jay? --Where? --It just flew behind the mountain! --I want to see it! and declared that her granddaughter was destined for a life of ornithology. And good grief, if the grandmother is that controlling/judgmental/manipulative/crazy-religious, it's no wonder the daughter moved so far away.
STORY 5: A pre-teen gets a horse for Christmas, but it arrives several weeks before the actual holiday. So on Christmas morning, when there are a few things to unwrap but not many, she throws a hissy fit. Her father excuses her because she is at that awkward age between childhood and adulthood, and because she is starting to get boobs. Seriously, what is with this author writing about women as though they were a piece of meat? Some animal has been killing their chickens but not eating them, and the daughter is upset because of the waste. When she and her father learn that the marauding animal is a mink, they realize it's okay because it's just so beautiful an animal. That is, the daughter decides there is good in everything. She is able to forgive the mink because it's just so cute. If it had been an ugly animal, there would be absolutely no story here at all.
STORY 6: A woman is worried about a little girl whose father promised to visit for Christmas but never showed up. Turns out, the little girl doesn't have any feeling for her father, is completely indifferent to him, and is therefore protected from any emotional pain. She becomes excited by a new year's party, and she doesn't care about her dad at all. The woman is relieved by such a wonderful blessing befalling so young a child.
STORY 7: This story is told in the first person from a judgmental man who openly admits to being "not nice" and "unabashedly elitist." He puts on a performance, a dramatic reading of Scripture at a church, and even though he doesn't think much of his own artistic merit -- he'd been having a bad night, from an acting perspective -- someone still told him afterward how great he was. Somehow, this leads the elitist actor to some kind of spiritual epiphany.
This book is dreadful. It's even worse than it seems here. But it does have some redeeming qualities. 1) Some of the characters are nuanced and interesting. Some are flat, and some are over-the-top, but some are really well-designed and might, in the hands of a different author, offer worthwhile reading. 2) His stories have plots. I have read several short stories that just give a detailed look at one character in an extreme situation and end before anything actually happens. Not Schaap. He, at the very least, offers stories. Person A encounters Person B under C circumstances and D happens. I finished reading this book, and I felt upset and offended, but at least it felt like finishing an actual book....more
This book is a beautiful addition to any Christmas collection. It has nice pictures and looks great on your shelf.
Also, if you need a festive bookmarkThis book is a beautiful addition to any Christmas collection. It has nice pictures and looks great on your shelf.
Also, if you need a festive bookmark, some of the pages have bookmark-shaped designs just waiting to be laminated.
That said, I can't really recommend anything else about this book. I'm not sure if this is the authors' fault so much as the editor's, since it looks like the book is comprised of several different excerpts from a few different writers, all lifted out of context. Consequently, each page of the book feels like a dust-jacket summary, and with this level of preachiness, you might just as well pick up a box of Bible tracts and sift through them.
Now about the content . . .
There are a few spiritual questions raised, and there are a few deep points that are probably worth pondering. And then there's the rest of it. I was afraid to put it on my Christian shelf because so much it is, well, unlike any Christian theology I've ever heard. For example, do you know the worst possible sin you can commit? Apparently, it's happiness. That's right, according to this book, the best that any Christian should hope for to reach a kind of peace, but any actual happiness is a sign that he or she has betrayed God and the faith. So if you're happy, you really need to reevaluate your spiritual priorities.
It was about at this point that I reevaluated my interest in this book, and I put it back on the shelf where it's been sitting ever since. Doesn't it look pretty!
Now to be fair, the author might have been trying to articulate a complicated, nuanced philosophical/spiritual/theological concept, but there's very little room for explaining anything (let alone citing sources) in a three-paragraphed Bible-track-sized page. But at least that page had a cute picture. ...more
Food and friendship go together in Patricia Cornwell's book Scarpetta's Winter Table. In this story, we see Scarpetta with her friends and family as tFood and friendship go together in Patricia Cornwell's book Scarpetta's Winter Table. In this story, we see Scarpetta with her friends and family as they come together for Christmas, but the events unfold in the context of food. We get into Scarpetta's head, for example, as she prepares a meal for her coworker and her niece. In another chapter, animosity disappears as a troubled child and a curmudgeony police officer bond over homemade chili. I've never another book that took this approach, and I think it's a fine idea, and well used here.
That said, I didn't really care for this book. For all its well-crafted prose and unique premise, I didn't like the main character, Kay Scarpetta, and it's very difficult to like a book when you don't like the main character. I understand that this book is part of a series, and I have never read the other books; I am sure that those books shed more light on Scarpetta's personality. Certainly many other people reading this book will begin it with a clear picture of her already in mind, and I'm sure that helps their enjoyment of this story. It may be that this book only doesn't function as a standalone.
But since this book is my only impression of Scarpetta, I don't really have anything else to go by. The result is a main character who comes off as cold, distant, fussy, judgmental, and vaguely hypocritical. In the first chapter, for example, when she is preparing food for two close friends, she doesn't seem happy, or even sad. She doesn't seem like she feels anything: neither pleasure (nor even annoyance) at the work she does preparing the food, not enjoyment when she eats it. She isn't even all that warm to her guests. She's very particularly about the way she makes the food, and she only uses high-quality ingredients, but she never seems to have a sense of pride in food well prepared. It was like she was just going through the motions.
In a different chapter, Scarpetta tries to convince her niece to come with her to visit the rest of the family. She tells Lucy that it's a good thing to do, that she might someday regret not coming. But after making such a big deal about the importance of family and holiday get-togethers, Scarpetta is irritable and rude to her mother. She gets very angry at her mother over something really trivial, and then she almost seems to blame her mother for putting her in a bad mood. She has good health habits (which is great), but she seems to look down on, even judge, her family for not being healthy. She inflicts her own dietary tastes onto them, going shopping by herself, buying only what she wants, even ignoring her mother's specific request for certain items. She's a guest, for the love of Pete. Who died and made her supreme dictator? And what really gets me is the borderline-hypocrisy of it all. After making such a big deal about family, she treats her own mother coldly. When congratulating herself on a healthy lifestyle, she conveniently forgets that she drinks a lot. She pours wine for herself, and the rest of the bottle goes into the soup. Then she gets another bottle, pours more for herself, more for the soup. The soup is specifically designed to use whatever ingredients are available, but Scarpetta's soup MUST have wine. I've no idea why. I have heard of some dishes that called for wine, but none of them was soup. And don't get me started on her well-stocked house. Or her friend, whom she invited to bring the spiked eggnog. I mean, I give her credit for not driving after so much alcohol consupmtion, and she doesn't let her guests drive either. But then, later on, to play the I'm-health-conscious-and-you're-not card? She was way out of line.
This book was very enjoyable in places, and it certainly had some very sweet moments. But my favorite chapters in the book were the ones without Scarpetta, and that makes me sad....more
This novel follows two different characters during a difficult Christmas season: A boy, Nathan, learns that his mother is dying of cancer, while a harThis novel follows two different characters during a difficult Christmas season: A boy, Nathan, learns that his mother is dying of cancer, while a hard-working lawyer, Robert, realizes that he has become distanced from his wife and children. When a chance encounter brings the boy and the lawyer to the same department store check-out line, Robert learns something beautiful about the true meaning of Christmas.
I was not expecting this book to be the Great American Novel. I was expecting it to be sappy, saccharine even, and it was, and I don't have a problem with that. Sometimes I'm in the mood for something schmaltzy, and that's fine. If I hadn't wanted to read something sappy, I'd have quit after the first few pages. I was not expecting it to be Christian fiction, although that doesn't really surprise me. What did surprise me was this book's knack for making me angry.
First of all, the mom has been very sick for some time. She's tired and getting weaker. She's on hospice. She knew from the very beginning that she probably wouldn't make it. She's already done the chemotherapy, and she's got a hospital bed for her living room. She's come home to die. So I want to know why in the heck she and her husband wait until the day she dies to tell their eight-year-old son that the mother won't get better. Up until that day, he thought she wasn't seriously sick. I understand the parents wanting to protect the child, but they can't save the mother, so he's going to have to face this tragedy anyway. The least they could do was be honest with him. Moreover, during the mother's last hours of consciousness, the father and grandmother sit with her, read to her, talk to her. When she's safely dead, they decide it's okay for their son to come in and say goodbye. He's eight. He's not a baby. He's certainly old enough to understand what's going on, and they have robbed him of something he'll never regain. But Nathan is relieved, because apparently his father almost waited until the next day to tell the son. So hey, it could have been even worse.
Most of the cancer plot is done well enough. It's sappy and a little predictable, but that's okay for this style of book. There were even some things that I liked. For instance, I always thought shoes were a sort of strange gift to give to someone who could no longer walk, so I was wondering how VanLiere would introduce the idea. It turns out that Nathan heard his teacher saying that her favorite Christmas was the one on which she received, as a present, a new pair of shoes. So Nathan, who only just learned of his mother's impending death, dashes off to buy the only thing he knows of TO buy. It makes sense, and its both sweet and sad. That said, the teacher character isn't all that well-written: in 29 years of teaching, she's never had a student whose parent had died. Really? 29 years' worth of students all came from happy, two-parent homes? VanLiere did not have to make Nathan's surroundings artificially cheery in order to make his situation, which is intrinsically tragic, seem sad.
What really steamed me about this book is the other plot, the lawyer who has a chance encounter with the boy. He had a nice job. He bought a nice house. This, apparently, makes him a bad guy. His wife thinks that he works too many hours, and she wants a divorce, She doesn't suggest trying to reconnect, nor does she want counseling. No, the first indication that he has that she is in any way dissatisfied is when she says that she wants a divorce, which she then tries to justify with the flimsiest rationalization I can imagine: "Let's face it, you left this family a long time ago." Are we even supposed to like the wife? It's not that she's mean. In fact, outside this one scene (a page and a half), she doesn't really have any personality. What did he do that was so wrong? He embezzled! No, wait, that's not it. Maybe he had an affair? No? Did he just get drunk and make a pass at his mother-in-law? No? Really? You mean he only worked hard and lived honestly? Heck, I'd divorce him too.
But like I said, there isn't enough of the wife in the book to like or dislike her. She's just kind of there. Robert's mother, however, has a personality. Not a great one. She's nosy, arrogant, judgmental, mean-spirited, and she's one of the story's heroes because it was she (and not the wife) pointed out to Robert the error of his ways. She cornered him, and even though he did not want to discuss it with her, he listened to her sermonlecture conversation. But did it have to be so much like a catechism? What is the problem in your marriage? I'll tell you. You are the problem in your marriage. Why are you the problem in your marriage? And on. And on. The mother seems to have been endowed with the ability to know exactly what's troubling her daughter-in-law without ever having discussed anything with her, but is she psychic? No! Turns out she can speak for all women. Joy!
Meanwhile, the rich lawyer is contrasted with Nathan's family, where money is "tight," and they "can barely make ends meet." They bought a ranch house, put in a new roof, new floors, new carpeting, and new plumbing. And I don't mean they fixed a leak; they ripped out the pipes and put in new ones, and they made repairs to the foundation as well. They made it "the nicest" home on the block. Then, the wife went nuts buying all kinds of new plants for the garden. Meanwhile, her husband had a steady job, and she worked part-time. But, oh, by the way, they're so poor. The husband is kept awake nights feeling guilty for not being a better provider, and the wife consoles him by saying that there is a difference between wants and needs, and at least they have their needs. Heck, if a sprawling ranch house, remodel, and plants are needs, I'd hate to see their wants. Of course, by the end of the story, the lawyer learns how misguided he has has been. He says, "We all have questions in this life. It's taken me a long time to figure out what the really important question are. NotHow am I going to make enough money?[. . .]No, more like What are flowers thinking beneath the snow?" That about says it all, I think. Years from now, I can tell my own kids, "Aw, gee, Sport. I'm sorry you're having the seizures/chest pains/asthma attacks/allergies/near-sightedness/any-kind-of-ailment, but son, that's just not important. You should focus instead on the emotions of last summer's dead plants. That really matters." (I assume VanLiere meant "seeds" or "bulbs," not flowers, but it's a moot point anyway since neither dead flowers nor live bulbs possess an amygdala.)
That's most of what bothered me with this book. It was too shallow, the characters were unlikeable (except for the unlikable lawyer--him I understood). It tries too hard. It presents a moving scene, but then it spells out why it's moving, and then it has the characters narrate their own process of discovering the beauty/sorrow/love of the season. It's the kind of Christian book that gives Christian fiction a bad reputation, and I'm not even sure how Christian it is. I didn't appreciate VanLiere insulting Easter, the holiest of our festivals, just to make Christmas look better by comparison, nor did I enjoy her interpretation of the star that guided the magi as being the light at the end of the tunnel. Look at the light! Go into the star! It's a death star! Oh, please.
Life is too short to read bad books. Save yourself from this one....more