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Christmas Reading Review 2016

Every year I look forward to reading several books over the Christmas holiday.  This year, I was able to read:

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Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie.  4/5 stars.  See my review here.

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A Charlie Brown Christmas by Charles M. Schulz.  The book is simply the written form of the beloved Christmas TV special.  While good, it doesn’t quite capture the magic from the screen.  4/5 stars.

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How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss.  The well-known story is one that I think we should share with children every year.  Christmas isn’t about the presents, food or other material things.  It’s about friends, family and love.  The book is a wonderful presentation but it’s the animated show that made my heart grow three sizes.  4/5 stars.

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2016 is my first annual reading of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. At some point I will write a proper review for this but it is a classic for a reason.  The ghosts of Christmas past, present and future teach us that we have to look outside of ourselves to find happiness and fulfillment.  5/5 stars.
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This is my fourth annual reading of A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd.  I love the movie and I love the book.  You can find my review here.

 

Merry Christmas everyone.

Holiday Review: A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd

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Today represents my fourth annual re-read of A Christmas Story.  MERRY CHRISTMAS everyone and don’t shoot your eye out!!

3rd read: 12/25/15
2nd read: 12/25/14
1st read: 12/25/13

I love Christmas. The gifts, the food and spending time with family. One thing I look forward to each year is watching “A Christmas Story” – usually multiple times to the annoyance of said family.

In this year’s stocking, my husband gave me a copy to read. So, on Christmas day, I spent a few hours with Jean Shepherd and his family.

Mr. Shepherd wrote several essays about his life in lower middle class America. These essays were compiled and created the screenplay for the movie. While the movie actually follows the stories closely, the stories are not all set around one Christmas and there were some changes. It was heartfelt, funny and just what I wanted on Christmas day.

The first story, Duel in the Snow, or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid, shares his memory of the Christmas he longed to receive a Red Ryder BB Gun from Santa along with all the subtle hints he gave his parents. Of course, he received the classic block: “You’ll shoot out one of your eyes.” His dad, however, came through and made sure he got his gun Christmas morning. He proceeded to almost shoot his eye out but somehow got away with it. Even if I had never seen the movie, I would have laughed out loud while reading this story. It perfectly captures the feelings of childhood. Wanting something so badly and feeling like you are being thwarted around every turn. And just when you think all is lost, your mom or dad saves the day.
Story two, The Counterfeit Secret Circle Member Gets the Message, or The Asp Strikes Again, tells us about the secret decoder he finally got in the mail to use during the Little Orphan Annie Radio broadcasts. “Drink Your Ovaltine” – a crummy commercial. This may have been his first realization that nothing is free and the real world is just looking to sell you something.
My Old Man and the Lascivious Special Award That Heralded the Birth of Pop Art – Ahhh…the infamous leg lamp. So sexy, so inappropriate. Yes, his mom broke it on purpose. Who can blame her?
Grover Dill and The Tasmanian Devil – finally our protagonist takes out his tormentor (Grover Dill in the written story) in a flurry of fists and obscenities. My favorite part of this story is the detail about his mom really protecting him so that his dad wouldn’t punish him for the fight. He literally vomits in relief and, I will admit, it almost brought a tear to my eye. Who didn’t have one of these moments in childhood?
The final story, The Grandstand Passion Play of Delbert and the Bumpus Hounds, gives much more information about the redneck neighbors and their dogs that terrorized the neighborhood. The dogs break in the back door and steal the Easter ham from the table. This scene (stealing the Christmas turkey) in the movie always made me chuckle. But, while reading, I had a much more serious feeling. These were not rich people. They had saved and scrimped to have a nice Easter. The entire family looked forward to a few special meals a year and this was one of them. To have the ham taken away was horrible. And, the Bumpus family were awful neighbors on a day to day basis. I sighed with relief when they moved out one night and the neighborhood was able to get back to normal.
Overall, this is a wonderful book about childhood and family with a little Christmas cheer thrown in. I do believe I will make a re-read a Christmas day tradition. 5/5 stars.

Mini-Review: Murder for Christmas aka Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (Hercule Poirot #20) by Agatha Christie

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As one of the characters said, I would have liked to experienced more of a classic English Christmas with all the traditional goodies. But, instead, this is a fairly standard Poirot mystery that simply has Christmas as the back drop. Still full of Christie twists and turns; just not quite what I was hoping for.

4/5 stars.

Halloween Reading – Triple Play

The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe 

Published: 1845

Edition: E-book (Kindle)

As you read The Raven, you begin to sense the cadence, the rhythm. It starts as normal speech with slight inflections on particular words. It continues, the pace increases and you catch yourself looking around you, into the shadows. Further and faster you read, making yourself breathless and wild eyed. Completed, you say quietly, “Lenore…Nevermore” and sigh.  5/5 stars

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Published: 1818

Edition: Dover Thrift Paperback

A classic that is less a tale of horror than of the failings of men.  It is full of hubris and self-loathing.  Frankenstein is a fascinating work written in a different time.  However, the atmosphere and emotion it evokes is timeless.  5/5 stars.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Published: 1886

Edition: Dover Thrift Paperback

Does good and evil live within each of us? Is there a way to separate the two? Dr. Jekyll found out the hard way that it isn’t quite that simple.  5/5 stars.

Holiday Review: Little Town on the Prairie (Little House #7) by Laura Ingalls Wilder

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Book 7 still brings the Little House magic but it has lost a little of its shine.  The long winter is past and now the Ingalls are back to their normal day to day lives.  They get a kitten.  The family works to send Mary to college.  And, preventatively they decide to spend another winter in their town building to make sure they aren’t caught in the shanty during a blizzard.

A couple of random thoughts:

You do have to read these remembering that it was a different time.  Almanzo starts to court Laura when she is just 15.  He’s 23.  In today’s world, that’s a big problem but the truth is that it wasn’t uncommon then.  There are also a few cringe-worthy scenes where Caroline calls Indians savages and Charles does a performance in black-face.  In today’s world, both of those are unacceptable but if we exclude all literature from the past that includes anything that we know is wrong today, then we will start to ban books and that’s just not okay.  We can enjoy (and learn from) reading about the past even when we don’t agree with everything that takes place.

Laura is a sympathetic character but she certainly wasn’t perfect.  I appreciated her honesty in Little Town.  Nellie Olsen moves into town and  we all know she isn’t a very nice girl.  But, Laura, has a little evil streak herself and definitely makes things worse by mouthing off.  One thing I didn’t like was that Laura wasn’t smart enough to talk to Ms. Wilder (Almanzo’s sister who comes to town and becomes their teacher).  Instead she let Nellie poison Eliza against Laura and reacted poorly.  If she had a 5-minute conversation with her it could have been cleared up.

Regardless, another great read.  4/5 stars.

 

Holiday Review: The Long Winter (Little House #6) by Laura Ingalls Wilder

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The title of this installment of the Little House series sums up the theme – The Long Winter.  When Charles notices that the muskrats have built an exceptionally sturdy home for the winter with very thick walls he points out to Laura that animals know things through the environment that we humans no longer recognize. Other signs are pointing to a cold winter and when a Native American comes into one of the shops and communicates his predictions, it frightens the settlers and rightfully so.  “Heap big snow, big wind…Many moons” while holding up seven fingers meaning seven months of blizzards.  And, yeah, guess what.  He was right.  The winter is horrible with blizzard after blizzard.  The Ingalls move into their town building rather than live in the shanty on their claim.  Food becomes scarce and as it says it’s a Long Winter.

There are several reasons this was a 5-star read.  First, the description of the winter and the struggles of the settler’s kept you on the edge of your seat.  It was truly a life or death situation.  Second, we get to see more of the grown up Almanzo Wilder and he is quite a young man although Laura still barely knows him and doesn’t seem to give him a second thought.  Lastly, and most importantly, Caroline finally has enough and tells Charles NO a few times.  Go, Caroline!

“A fellow might do it,” Pa remarked.  “With a couple of days of clear weather and a snowfall to hold up the sled, he ought to be able to make it all ri…”

“No!” said Ma.

Pa looked at her, startled. They all stared at her. They had never seen Ma look like that.  She was quiet but she was terrible.

Quietly she told Pa, “I say, No. You don’t take such a chance.”

“Why…Caroline!” Pa said. 

“Your hauling hay is bad enough,” Ma told him. “You don’t go hunting for that wheat.”

Pa said mildly, “Not as long as you feel that way about it, I won’t. But…”

“I won’t hear any buts,” Ma said, still terrible. “This time I put my foot down.”

“All right, that settles it,” Pa agreed. 

Laura and Carrie looked at each other.  They felt as if thunder and lightning had come down on them suddenly, and suddenly gone.  

Holiday Review: By the Shores of Silver Lake (Little House #5) by Laura Ingalls Wilder

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It has been such a joy reading this series of books as an adult.  They are a reminder of simpler times both in my life and in the world.

By the Shores of Silver Lake was especially interesting because I had to remember that Charles Ingalls was not Michael Landon.  Stay with me for a few minutes and I will explain.  The Little House TV series is one of my mom’s favorites so I was always familiar with it.  And, let’s just be honest, she had quite a crush on Mr. Landon.  Because of his portrayal of this character, we have in many ways romanticized the ‘real’ Charles.  And while he seems to have been a good man, he most definitely had faults.

One of my status updates while reading said “Charles had ants in his pants” and that sums up one of his biggest faults.  The family is once again forced to move.  According to him, too many people have settled near Plum Creek so when he’s offered a short term job in DeSmet / Silver Lake, he convinces Carolyn that it’s the right thing to do.  They leave their nice home (where apparently they never had a good wheat crop and never made ends meet).  The government is allowing people to claim land and if the fulfill the requirements (building, farming, etc.) then they will own said land.

Things go okay at first and the Ingalls do get some lucky breaks.  Charles was slow to make his claim and almost lost their spot but an old friend helps him out.  I guess all is well that ends well (for now) and Charles making the big decisions is a sign of those times.  But, it was hard for me to read that Carolyn basically gives up everything she wants over and over so that Charles can chase this elusive dream of his.

One good thing – Laura finally sets eyes on her future husband, Almanzo Wilder, who is also in DeSmet to make a claim.  It’s too bad that she seems more interested in his beautiful horses than him.  (Actually, I love that.)

4/5 stars.