This collection of short stories didn't quite match up to MacLeod's first collection, Mistletoe Mysteries. The author list is just as impressive--incl...more This collection of short stories didn't quite match up to MacLeod's first collection, Mistletoe Mysteries. The author list is just as impressive--including Elizabeth Peters, Robert Barnard, Reginald Hill, Dorothy Cannell, Patricia Moyes, and others--but the stories just weren't quite as good. I rejoiced to see a short story by Evelyn E. Smith included. I have enjoyed her novels featuring Miss Melville and looked forward to reading the short story. In "Miss Melville Rejoices" we have the older, self-appointed hit-woman setting her sights on a particularly repulsive former dictator who has decided to dress up as Santa for Christmas. That's what Miss Melville does, you see. She takes it upon herself to rid the world of slimey characters who for one reason or another are beyond the reach of justice. The story was adequate, but didn't have the same charm as the full-length novels--although it did have an interesting twist at the end. The best of the lot was MacLeod's own "Counterfeit Christmas" featuring her curmudgeonly Professor Shandy. Not that he's always prickly--but he does have a firm dislike for all the over-the-top decorating that goes on at Christmas at Balaclava College. And when counterfeiters try to take advantage of the festivities to pass some fake bills, he's more than happy to escape the blinky lights and track the criminal/s down.
Overall, I rate this collection as a two and a half out five. MacLeod's story earns a four and Smith's a solid three.(less)
There's no place like home for the holidays. And no place for a murder, either. Especially in Georgette Heyer's period mystery, Envious Casca. Uncle J...moreThere's no place like home for the holidays. And no place for a murder, either. Especially in Georgette Heyer's period mystery, Envious Casca. Uncle Joseph has convinced his curmudgeonly brother Nat Herriad to allow all the family and their guests to come home to Lexham Manor for a good, old-fashioned English Christmas. Nevermind that none of the relatives really get on with each other and that Nat would rather quarrel than raise a glass of good cheer. It's going to be jolly--at least until someone decides to stab dear old Nat in the back. In a locked room, no less. It isn't long before suspicion falls rather solidly upon the presumed heir and Nat's nephew, Stephen. But Inspector Hemingway from Scotland Yard will have to find a way for the murderer to have gotten out of the locked room before he can bring anyone to book.
This is another of Heyer's fine 1930s/40s mysteries. You have your cast of stock characters in the country house, but they are so well-drawn that she gives new life to each and every one. There are just enough red herrings to keep the reader guessing and plenty of Golden Age atmosphere to keep vintage mystery fans happy. This was a re-read for me (as I endeavor to read all of Heyer's mystery stories for the Georgette Heyer Reading Challenge), but even knowing the culprit ahead of time didn't dim my enthusiasm. Envious Casca is still a good solid read. Three stars out of five.
This review was first posted on my blog My Reader's Block. Please request permission before reposting. Thanks.(less)
My first installment for the Christmas Spirit Challenge—A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings by Charles Dickens was just what the doctored o...more My first installment for the Christmas Spirit Challenge—A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings by Charles Dickens was just what the doctored ordered to get the Christmas season off and running. Although I have seen all sorts of adaptations of the famous Dickens story (everything from the Muppets to Scooby Doo to Fred Flintstone to Patrick Stewart [my personal favorite] to the classic 1951 version with Alistair Sim and the 1970 version with Albert Finney and Alec Guinness), I had never read the original story. I didn’t realize what I was missing…and what the various adaptations had added.
Reading the story would have been worth it for the initial description of Scrooge alone. There’s nothing like a Victorian writer for giving a complete description:
Oh! But he was a 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 within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled 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.
And, of course, being so familiar with the story…it was like coming home when I was sinking into it. Dickens in A Christmas Carol is so much more delightful than the Dickens of Great Expectations (which I read and hated in high school). It was very comforting to watch Scrooge’s transformation as the Spirits made him visit his past, present and future. The party and dancing at Fezziwig’s was given much more attention than is usually the case in the films…and the descriptions were captivating. I also felt Scrooge’s true sorrow at his behavior as he witnessed the “present” Christmases of the Cratchit family and the other poor folks that the Spirit of Christmas Present presented him with. It is truly wonderful to watch Scrooge become human and join his fellows in celebrating Christmas. It would be nice, indeed, if everyone would keep Christmas all year round as Scrooge vows to do. There is a reason that this story is a classic.
The shorter pieces, “Christmas Festivities” and “The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton,” which appear before A Christmas Carol in this collection (and, presumably, which appeared in journals prior to Carol’s publication) have elements that are found in the longer work. The family gatherings in “Christmas Festivities” are reminiscent of the party at Fred’s house and the transformation of the Sexton clearly echoes the transformation which Scrooge undergoes. Each of these shorter stories is a pleasant read, but it in the Carol that Dickens’s ideas are fully fleshed out.
The Haunted Man & the Ghost’s Bargain is another tale of transformation. Redlaw, the central character, is a chemistry teacher who broods on the evil which has been done to him and grief he has experienced in his past. One night, near Christmas, he listens to his servants talking of their good memories despite their circumstances (particularly of Philip…who has seen “87 years!” and had many things to overcome) and he falls into a particularly deep brooding state. A shadowy phantom of himself appears and offers him the chance to forget all the wrongs from his past. With this “gift” comes the power that will pass the “gift” on to those Redlaw comes in contact with. The result? Peace and happiness as Redlaw expects? Not so. Redlaw and those he comes in contact with fall into a wrathful state of universal anger. All but Milly, one of Dickens’s purely good female characters and a young boy that Milly has taken in who has known nothing but evil treatment until now. Finally, Redlaw—seeing the damage his “gift” has wrought—begs the phantom return and remove the gift. It is done…but only Milly’s goodness can counteract the anger and bring everyone back themselves. And it is Milly who presents Redlaw with the moral of the tale: "It is important to remember past sorrows and wrongs so that you can then forgive those responsible and, in doing so, unburden your soul and mature as a human being." Redlaw takes this to heart, and like Scrooge, becomes a more loving and whole person. Just in time for Christmas.
“A Christmas Tree” is a weird little story. It begins with the narrator sitting before a Christmas tree and reminiscing about his past Christmases…all the toys and presents of the past. Most of these presents seem to have scared him in some way. These memories give way to several stories of ghosts—ghosts seen by the narrator or by those he knows. And in the middle off these ghost stories the narrator informs us that he is dead. “But it’s all true; and we said so, before we died (we are dead now) to many responsible people.” I’m still not sure that I know what the point of this piece was.
“What Christmas Is, As We Grow Older” is also an odd little piece—talking about the changes in our views of Christmas as we age. The best part is this quote: “Therefore as we grow older, let us be more thankful that the circle of our Christmas associations and of the lessons that they bring, expands! Let us welcome every one of them, and summon them to take their places by the Christmas hearth.”
The final short piece, “The Seven Poor Travellers,” is nice story of a Good Samaritan. The narrator, a traveler himself, discovers that there is a house that welcomes six poor travelers (neither “rogues nor proctors”) to spend the night free of charge and gives them four-pence each. Now, as the housekeeper in charge of the house tells the narrator, four-pence doesn’t go very far in buying the travelers their dinner. So, the narrator decides that since it is close to Christmas he will provide a feast for the six travelers who spend that very night in the house. It is a nice little story about a man who sees a way to do a good turn for others and does it.
All of these stories showcase Dickens’s talent for description. Carol carries it off best with the descriptions of the various spirits and the scenes that they reveal to Scrooge—not to mention that initial description of the man himself. Some of the shorter pieces go on a bit too long, particularly when you consider that the story is much shorter than Carol. And in The Haunted Man Dickens outdoes himself…going on for two whole pages describing what winter is like when Redlaw is in his home. “When the wind was blowing, shrill and shrewd, with the going down of the blurred sun. When it was just so dark, as that forms of things were indistinct and big, but not wholly lost. When sitters by the fire began to see wild faces and figures, mountains and abysses, ambuscades and armies, in the coals. When….” And this goes on, as I said, for two pages. Some of the descriptions are very apt and effective, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
Rating this collection is a bit difficult. I will rate it in sections and then give an average for the whole. Four and a half starts for A Christmas Carol—a nearly perfect piece of work. The Haunted Man and the shorter pieces garner three and a half stars. This gives the collection as a whole a four star rating. Overall, a great beginning to the holiday season.
This review was first posted on my blog My Reader's Block. Please request permission before reposting any portion. Thanks.(less)
Just in time for the holidays! Murder for Christmas (aka Hercule Poirot's Christmas or A Holiday for Murder) by Agatha Christie gives us a good old-fa...moreJust in time for the holidays! Murder for Christmas (aka Hercule Poirot's Christmas or A Holiday for Murder) by Agatha Christie gives us a good old-fashioned English country Christmas. Well...okay, not really. But it does give us a good old-fashioned English country Christmas murder complete with the typical nasty patriarch ticking off as many family members as possible, threatening to change his will, and getting himself bumped off for his efforts.
Simeon Lee is an overbearing man who has invited his far-flung brood home for the holidays. Ostensibly because he is getting old and just wants his family around him for Christmas. In reality, he wants to give them all a good shake-up. On the guest list are all his sons and their wives. Alfred, the good boy who has stayed home and allowed himself to be kept under father's thumb; George, the "respectable" one--a member of parliament and in need of a generous supply of cash to support the life-style...and his rather expensive spouse; David, the one who resents his father most...primarily because of the way dear old dad treated his mum; and Harry, the black sheep of the family who left home after certain unmentionable events and is ready to be welcomed back to the bosom of his loved ones. Surprise guests include Pilar, Simeon's granddaughter by his only daughter--who ran off with a Spaniard--and Stephen Farr, son of Simeon's partner from the old days in South Africa.
Simeon spreads the good cheer among his offspring liberally for the holidays--first by making it clear that Harry is more than welcome back at home (to the extreme displeasure of Alfred) and that granddaughter Pilar is fast moving up the ranks in his affections and second by announcing that he has plans to make substantial changes to his will. There are other minor skirmishes, but those are the biggies. It's no surprise that the evening after relaying the news about the will Simeon is found murdered--with his throat cut after what appears to be a violent struggle. It is a surprise for the murderer that Hercule Poirot is staying with the Chief Constable and is soon on the spot to get to the bottom of it all.
As Poirot proves in the final wrap-up, they all had motives and they all could have done it--even the ones who were apparently alibied. There are red herrings and clues a-plenty and an astute reader should be able to reach the proper answer. That's not to say that you will--I didn't--but it's there for the taking if you can grab onto all the correct clues.
It is always a delight to return to Dame Agatha, particularly after not reading anything by her for a while. Tight plotting and interesting twists are par for the course in a good Christie novel--and this is definitely one of that rank.
Mistletoe Mysteries, a collection of short stories collected by Charlotte MacLeod made for a nice little holiday diversion and a nifty addition to my...moreMistletoe Mysteries, a collection of short stories collected by Charlotte MacLeod made for a nice little holiday diversion and a nifty addition to my reading for the Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge. The book is made up of a variety of mystery story types by authors ranging from Mary Higgins Clark and Isaac Asimov to Marcia Muller and Aaron Elkins. It has everything from ghost stories to murders and robberies to missing teenagers. I enjoyed nearly all of the stories--there were just a few weaker tales hidden among the holiday gold. My favorite stories are "The Haunted Crescent" by Peter Lovesy and "Silent Night" by Marcia Muller.
In "The Haunted Crescent" we have one of the ghost stories in the collection. An ex-policeman is waiting in a reputedly haunted house on Christmas Eve. We are told that this is when the ghost is said to walk. Right on schedule, a pale young woman in white appears and the tale unfolds....but there is an unexpected twist at the end that makes this story more than your run-of-the mill ghost story. Lovesy does an excellent job of drawing the reader in and then pulling a clever bit of sleight of hand to change the perspective.
"Silent Night" finds Muller's detective, Sharon McCone, scouring the city on Christmas Eve for her run away nephew. The charm of this story isn't so much the mystery--there isn't much beyond the mystery of the nephew's location--but in what Sharon learns about her nephew and herself along the way. It is a nice, very short tale of redemption and how just a little attention to others can make a difference.
I give this collection three and a half stars out of five--with the two stories above rating four stars apiece.(less)
Anne Perry has dedicated her novel, A Christmas Grace, "to all those who long for a second chance." A highly appropriate dedication for a story that c...moreAnne Perry has dedicated her novel, A Christmas Grace, "to all those who long for a second chance." A highly appropriate dedication for a story that centers on Emily Radley and her efforts to give a second chance to the folk who live in her Aunt's Irish town. Emily is called at Christmas time to be with her aunt who is dying. She thinks she is going to lay to rest an old family feud--a second chance for her aunt as well, but finds that Susannah Ross is looking for help with more than that.
The people in the town that Aunt Susannah has come to love have lived under a cloud of suspicion for seven years--ever since a young man was washed up on their shores during a dreadful storm. Saved from the sea only to murdered later by one of their own. While Emily settles into her aunt's home, another storm rages bringing another shipwreck victim ashore. Is history repeating itself? And can Emily help the townspeople face what happened before and avoid a similar fate for the shipwrecked man? Emily also faces personal questions of family loyalty to an aunt who left her family for love and questions about the kind of love she (Emily) shares with her husband. It will take a special kind of Christmas grace to help Emily find the answers.
This is a beautifully told Christmas mystery. Perry has a wonderful sense of place and a particularly graceful way of giving her readers that same sense. I feel as though I had actually visited this small coastal Irish village. It was very touching to read this story of Emily's final gift to the aunt she had never known. Perry carries off the story without making it too sentimental and improbable. The ending is a bit flat, but over-all a fine story for the Christmas season. It also develops some interesting threads that could be taken up in later stories about Emily and her husband, Jack. Three and a half stars.(less)
In Corpus Christmas, Margaret Maron gives us a little murder for the holiday season. Dr. Roger Shambley, the most recent addition to the board of dire...moreIn Corpus Christmas, Margaret Maron gives us a little murder for the holiday season. Dr. Roger Shambley, the most recent addition to the board of directors for the Erich Bruel house is found dead the morning after a Christmas-themed party at the small art museum. At first glance, it looks like the snoopy, insinuating scholar had a bit too much egg nog and missed his step on the steep stairs leading to his office in the attic. But the scene has not quite been perfectly set and it it becomes apparent to Lieutenant Sigrid Harald of the NYPD that a bit of musical murder scenes has been played out.
The list of suspects grows as Lt. Harald discovers that Shambley managed to insult and infuriating nearly everyone he come across...from implications that the director is incompetent to murmurings of forgery, he had cast a knowing glance at all and sundry. Some of his insinuations prove to be mere gossip, but did something hit home? Is that why someone hit the scholar upside his rather fragile skull. It's up to Lt. Harald and company to find out.
This is a nice cozy little mystery, set in a grand old relic of a house which has been turned into a shrine to the artistic taste (both good and bad) or Erich Bruel. There are plenty of red herrings and more suspects than you can shake a stick at. The characters are delightful--realistic and humorous and sympathetic in turns. I don't believe I've ever read a story by Maron before, but I can assure you, this won't be my last. Three stars for a nice solid mystery.(less)
This is a decent collection of Sherlock Holmes pastiches written with a Christmas holiday theme. There are eleven stories in all--written by well-know...moreThis is a decent collection of Sherlock Holmes pastiches written with a Christmas holiday theme. There are eleven stories in all--written by well-known mystery writers like Anne Perry, Edward D. Hoch, Peter Lovesy and Jon Breen as well as tales from science fiction and western writers like Bill Crider and Tanith Lee. And a few of the authors have dipped their toes in Holmes tributes in the past (Loren D Estleman and Daniel Stashower, for example). There are a wide range of themes from a stolen Stradivarius to a second adventure with a previous client to a puzzle involving a beautiful woman and a family curse. We also find Holmes solving mysteries for the likes of Oscar Wilde, O. Henry, Charles Darwin and Timothy Cratchit (Tiny Tim).
Just as there is a wide range of themes, there is a fairly wide range of expertise in this collection. The stories are obviously meant as homage to the Master, but few of the authors get the voice of Watson down correctly and there are occasional missteps in the relationship between Holmes and the good doctor. But regardless of the flaws, the stories are on the whole interesting and well worth the read--especially at this time of year. Three stars.(less)
The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by Frank L. Baum (most widely known for his Oz books) gives us the story of Santa Claus from his earliest days...moreThe Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by Frank L. Baum (most widely known for his Oz books) gives us the story of Santa Claus from his earliest days with the fairies and nymphs of the forest through his transformation into the yearly Christmas Eve visitor who brings toys for the children. It tells how the human baby was discovered by Ak, the Master Woodsman, and given his protection and then he was adopted by Necile, the nymph. The boy was named Claus ("little one") and grew up enjoying the protection of the immortals (Nymphs, Ryls, Knooks, and Fairies--those who care for the forests, waters, plants and animals). Once he is old enough to be told that there are others like him, he realizes that he would like to spend his life making other children as happy as he has been with his guardians. He learns to make toys and gives them to the children who have nothing, but soon decides that all children (even those that are rich and seem to be well-cared for) should benefit from his goodness. We also learn how he came to use chimneys and reindeer and finally, why he now makes one trip a year on Christmas Eve.
What struck me about this very interesting story of Santa Claus is how much the movie Santa Claus Is Coming to Town must have built on Baum's work (without, as far as I can tell crediting him). The parallels are quite striking: Forest animals protect him; Elves rather than a nymph take in the orphaned child; the scenes showing him learning to make toys; there is the Burgermeister who doesn't want the children to receive toys (in the book it's just a few nobles who won't allow Claus to give toys to their children); the Burgermeister takes the toys and burns them=the Awgwas in the book who steal the toys and hide them in the mountains; in the book the reindeer grow strong on special food so they can run swiftly and leap to the rooftops and in the movie they eat magic corn that allows them to fly; and so on. I'm sure the movie rearranged things as they did to play down the very pagan connections in Baum's work.
This is a quite lovely history of Santa Claus. And the illustrations are wonderful. If I had read it as child, I'm sure I would have rated it higher. As it is--three stars. (less)
Plum Pudding Murder by Joanne Fluke is the twelfth book in the Hannah Swenson baking mysteries. It's also the first one that I've read. Fortunately, o...morePlum Pudding Murder by Joanne Fluke is the twelfth book in the Hannah Swenson baking mysteries. It's also the first one that I've read. Fortunately, one really doesn't need to have read earlier books to slip into this one (although there are some relationships to work out that are probably explained as you go along if you read them in order).
Hannah Swenson is the owner of the Cookie Jar pastry shop in Lake Eden, Minnesota. She's the queen of baking in the small town and a pretty dab hand at solving a mystery or two. It's Christmas time in this particular outing and business is booming with everyone putting in orders for extra cookies, pastries and other deserts for their holiday gatherings. "Lunatic Larry" Jaeger, the owner of the Crazy Elf Christmas Tree Lot is no exception. He's been selling Hannah's creations in his Elf Treat shop and the cookies are flying out of there faster than Santa's reindeer. He asks Hannah to whip up a special dessert that will make even more customers flood into his tree lot and she obliges with some Minnesota Plum Pudding. She takes a sample to Jaeger to try, but before he can tell her whether he thinks it will fit the bill someone decides that he has sold his last Christmas tree.
When Hannah gets curious about who might have wanted Jaeger to join the ghosts of Christmas present, she finds that there are more people on the list than she anticipated--from the Mayor who was Jaeger's partner (and who may have found himself swindled by the fast-talking tree salesman) to his ex-wife to his current fiancee to connections from his rather murky business past. It seems that Jaeger was on more than just Santa's naughty list. Hannah and her helpers (her mother, her boyfriend the dentist, her pastry shop assistant, and her boyfriend the police officer--yes, two boyfriends) will have to work fast to find the killer before the killer decides to put an end to Hannah's cookie business...permanently.
This book has a lot of fluff....and I'm not just talking about the marshmallow creme in some of the recipes (yes, there are recipes included--and they sound yummy). I realize that this is a cozy mystery and on the whole I'm a fan of cozy mysteries...but this one leaves a lot to be desired. It starts out with a bang (literally) and Jaeger immediately becomes a Christmas corpse. But then Fluke takes us back in time--One. Whole. Day. That takes up more than One. Half. of the Book. Just to give us the background and lead us back to the point where Jaeger's body is discovered. That's because we have to take all these little detours through "what the heck is Hannah's mom's best friend up to and why is she so secretive???" to "the multiple adventures of Hannah's cat and the first-ever Christmas tree that he has to deal with"--not to mention working in all the recipes that we then pad the story with. Not that the recipes don't sound good. They do. But, honestly....28 recipes in one book? Is this a cozy mystery with a bit of cooking theme or a cook book with a murder thrown in for spice?
The book is plugged in the synopsis as "a clever whodunit with pastry recipe dividends." I'm afraid not. It's not all that clever. I spotted the murderer as soon as s/he was introduced in a meaningful way. I think the characters could be very interesting if we had as much attention given to them as we do to the minute details of every recipe (which recipes are given with multiple helpful hints "from" various characters in the book. Two stars--just.
This is the third in Perry's Christmas mystery series. These books tend to focus on the supporting cast members from her series books. A Christmas Gue...moreThis is the third in Perry's Christmas mystery series. These books tend to focus on the supporting cast members from her series books. A Christmas Guest follows Grandmama Mariah Ellison as she is shipped off to spend the Christmas holidays with her daughter-in-law Caroline and Caroline's new husband Joshua. The vinegary Grandmama Ellison is none too happy about these arrangements. There she is expecting the usual fine holiday gatherings hosted by her well-to-do granddaughter Emily with lots of London entertainment and society only to be told that Emily and her husband are headed to France and Grandmama is not going along for the trip. Instead, she finds herself journeying to the chilly, windswept coastal village of Romney Marshes--where there is nobody who is anybody and nothing to do but visit the local church and admire its architecture or take brisk walks along the coast.
As if that's not enough, another Christmas guest is soon foisted upon them. Joshua's cousin Maude, who has not been in England for 40 years, has come home to find that the welcoming fires may be burning--but not for her. Her family pleads previous obligations that will prevent them from hosting her during the holidays and asks Joshua to take in another guest with nowhere else to go. Grandmama Ellison barely has time to work up a suitable snit over the unwelcome guest when a housemaid is unable to wake Maude one morning...and the woman is declared dead. Supposedly from a heart attack. But Mariah isn't satisfied. Maude was hale and hearty--outwalking the spry elderly woman in their few rambles along the coast and never seemed to be the least bit unwell.
Soon Mariah is on a quest--spurred by her "very proper feelings" that the dreadful news should be broken to Maude's family in person, she is soon ensconced in the family bosom and trying her hand at a bit of detective work. After all, if her granddaughter Charlotte and her unsuitable policeman husband can solve mysteries, surely she has the wits to do so as well. She begins by pretending grief over a brief, but serious friendship for the woman she had just met--but soon realizes how much she really had likde Maude and could have come to be such friends had they had the time. As Mariah uncovers secrets that resulted in Maude's murder, she uncovers truths about herself as well and...like her fellow Victorian, Scrooge, learns what it means to truly keep Christmas.
This was a very short novel. The mystery is not intricate, but the story is well told and it was nice to see Grandmama Ellison learn some very good lessons--about herself and about how to treat other people. A nice little slice of Christmas happy endings to make the season bright.(less)
This Gorey masterpiece gives us his take on the Christmas Carol story by Dickens. Edmund Gravel sits down for tea on Christmas Eve, cuts a slice of fr...moreThis Gorey masterpiece gives us his take on the Christmas Carol story by Dickens. Edmund Gravel sits down for tea on Christmas Eve, cuts a slice of fruitcake, and is immediately visited by the Spectre of Christmas That Never Was, the Spectre of Christmas That Isn't, and the Spectre of Christmas That Never Will Be. Guided on his spectral journey by the Bahhum Bug, Edmund is taken through his village of Lower Spigot and shown Affecting Scenes, Distressing Scenes, and Heart-Rending Scenes. Filled with Gorey's spectacular drawings and his twisted and mysterious world-view, this was a nice little diversion before leaping back into my vintage mysteries. Four and a half stars out of five.
This review was first posted on my blog My Reader's Block. Please request permission before reposting. Thanks.(less)
It's about 1977 and the night before Christmas when self-identified dog person and curmudgeon Cleveland Amory finds himself on a mission to help rescu...moreIt's about 1977 and the night before Christmas when self-identified dog person and curmudgeon Cleveland Amory finds himself on a mission to help rescue a thin, bedraggled feline from a New York alley. The cat has obviously been on his own for a good while and someone has injured him. The rescue is just for the night...Amory offers to house the poor kitty overnight until someone can come claim him. But the unexpected happens. The cat decides that Amory is who he wants to live with and from the moment Amory finds him staring at him the next morning the die has been cast. Amory discovers what it's like to be owned by a cat....and how much he likes it.
The Cat Who Came for Christmas by Cleveland Amory isn't really a Christmas story. It's a story about the bond between a cat and his human that just happens to start at Christmas. The story follows Amory and Polar Bear (as the naming of the cat goes) through a year of settling in to a life together. The stories about Polar Bear are charmingly told and remind me of the cats found in the Lockridge mystery series. The cat is obviously his own person and that is relayed without making the story too cutesy.
The only part that really didn't work for me was Amory's long-winded section on the history of cat's and cat names. Not that the history of cats might not be interesting in the right context. I just don't think this book was it.
Overall, a very pleasant read and a good one to finish off my Christmas Spirit Challenge reading for 2013. Three solid stars.
The Birds' Christmas Carol (1886) is a very sweet short novel written by Kate Douglas Wiggin and illustrated by Katharine R. Wireman. It centers aroun...moreThe Birds' Christmas Carol (1886) is a very sweet short novel written by Kate Douglas Wiggin and illustrated by Katharine R. Wireman. It centers around Carol Bird--originally destined to be named Lucy until she arrived unexpectedly on Christmas. She grows to be an exceptionally happy, loving, and generous girl--despite the fact that she is diagnosed with an unspecified illness at age five and is bedridden by the time she is ten. As the story says, "perhaps because she was born in holiday time, carol was a very happy baby...she may have breathed in unconsciously the fragrance of evergreens and holiday dinners; while the peals of sleigh-bells and the laughter of happy children may have fallen upon her baby ears and wakened in them a glad surprise at the merry world she had come to live in." Just by being Carol, she manages to influence her unruly brothers to behave more generously to one another and her entire family learns lessons about the true meaning of Christmas from their very own Christmas Carol.
Carol manages to teach her family and readers alike that it really is better to give than to receive. Her fondest wish is to prepare a gala Christmas celebration for the nine Ruggles children who live in a small house behind her own. She finds a way to earn her own money to provide a Christmas dinner that the children will never forget as well as presents the likes of which they have never seen. While the story is primarily a moral tale about a very angelic child with an incredibly giving heart , it also features some very humorous scenes--particularly when the Ruggles matriarch is attempting to prepare her large brood for their first fine social occasion.
Even though it is tinged with sadness at the end, this is a truly lovely story--entirely suitable to the Christmas season. Five stars.
A Christmas Promise continues Anne Perry's shorter holiday mystery series with the story of thirteen-year-old Gracie Phipps and her new friend Minnie...moreA Christmas Promise continues Anne Perry's shorter holiday mystery series with the story of thirteen-year-old Gracie Phipps and her new friend Minnie Maude Mudway. Gracie is running errands for her Gran when she runs across Minnie Maude--looking sad and lost. Minnie Maude is an eight-year-old girl on a mission to find Charlie, the beloved donkey that belonged to her Uncle Alf. Uncle Alf has just been found dead...apparently from a fall from his rag and bone cart. But the cart and Charlie have both disappeared and Minnie Maude is worried that the donkey is scared and lost.
Gracie promises Minnie Maude that she will help find the donkey. Not knowing where to go or how to set about it, they wind up consulting Mr. Balthazar, a wise old shopkeeper who warns them that there may be danger in asking too many questions. They soon discover that Uncle Alf was on the wrong route and may have picked up a valuable object that wasn't intended for the junk collector. Did someone kill to get the object back? Will the girls and their ally find the answers before Christmas--so Charlie can be home and safe in time for the holiday? You'll have to read and find out.
This is a very short and straight-forward mystery with just the right amount of Christmas charm. It is a good character study in the Victorian era and it is enjoyable to watch the girls quickly become friends. A bit of suspense and a fast-paced wrap-up make for a very solid Christmas mystery. Three stars.