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review 2018-12-23 22:01
24 Festive Tasks: My Final Books (Doors 16, 17 and 19 -- Human Rights Day, St. Lucia's Day, and Festivus)
A Christmas Guest - Anne Perry,Terrence Hardiman
Skandinavische Weihnachten: Die schönsten Geschichten von Sven Nordqvist, Hans Christian Andersen, Selma Lagerlöf u.a. - Hans Christian Andersen,Selma Lagerlöf,Various Authors,Sven Nordqvist,Josef Tratnik,Dirk Bach,Jens Wawrczeck
A Woman of No Importance - Full Cast,Oscar Wilde
Model Millionaire - David Timson,Oscar Wilde


Anne Perry: A Christmas Guest

The third book in Anne Perry's series of Christmas novellas, each one of which has as their protagonist one of the supporting characters from Perry's main series (William Monk, and Charlotte & Thomas Pitt).  This installment's starring role goes to Charlotte Pitt's vinegar-tongued grandmother, who -- like another remote relative, recently returned to England after having spent most of her adult life living in the Middle East -- finds herself shunted onto Charlotte and her husband Thomas at short notice, because the family with whom she had been planning to spend the holidays have made other plans.  While Grandma pretends to despise her widely-traveled fellow guest, secretly she develops a considerable amount of respect for her, so when the lady is unexpetedly found dead, grandma takes it upon herself to seek out the people who had unloaded her on the Pitt household; convinced that something untoward is afoot.

 

As Perry's Christmas novellas go, this is one of my favorite installments to date, and i loved seeing it told, for once, not from the point of view of an easily likeable character, but from that of Grandma, who is a major pain in the neck to others (even though you'd have to be blind not to recognize from the word "go" that her acerbic tongue and pretensions are merely part of her personal armour).  I also wondered whether the murder victim's character might have been inspired by pioneering women travelers like Gertrude Bell, even if the story is set a few decades earlier than Bell's actual life.  I had issues with a couple of minor aspects of the plot (and characters / behaviour), but they didn't intrude enough to seriously impinge on my enjoyment of the story.  And since Grandma, for all her overblown pretenses, is certainly a strong woman character -- which she shows, not least, by eventually admitting to her own fallibilities -- I am counting this book towards the Human Rights Day square of 24 Festive Tasks.

 

 

 
Various Authors: Skandinavische Weihnachten

A charming anthology of Christmas short stories and poems from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and Finland; chiefly geared towards children, but more than enjoyable by readers and listeners of all ages and generations.  I knew some of the entries (no Scandinavian Christmas anthology without Andersen's Little Match Girl, I suppose), but many of the stories were new to me, and they made for delightful listening on this 4th weekend of Advent. -- Set in Scandinavia, and thus I'm using it as my book for the St. Lucia's Day square.

 

 


Oscar Wilde: A Woman of No Importance

Wilde's second play; an acerbic take on the narrowness of fin de siècle English morality; or more particularly, supremely hypocritical perceptions of women's role in society.  Unlike in Wilde's later plays, the beginning comes across as a bit of an over-indulgence in the author's own clever wit, with a veritable fireworks of sparkling onelines and repartees following in quick succession without greatly advancing the plot (which is what earns the piece the subtractions in my star ratings -- it's the perfect example of too much of a good thing); but once the plot and the dialogue centers on the opposing protagonists, it quickly finds its feet. -- As Festivus books go, it's rather on the dark side, but it's a satire nevertheless, so I'm counting it for that square ... and though (unusually for Wilde) the last line is telegraphed a mile and a half in advance, I nevertheless enjoyed saying it along with the play's heroine from all my heart.

 

 


Oscar Wilde: Model Millionaire

My encore enjoyment to follow up A Woman of No Importance; a story that couldn't be any more different in tone and intent -- the tale of a gentleman who believes he has done a kindness to a raggedy beggar modelling for his artist friend ... only to find that he could not possibly have been any more mistaken, and that in fact it is he who is ultimately at the receiving end of an unexpected kindness.

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review 2018-12-20 00:04
24 Festive Tasks: Door 23 - Hogswatch, Book
Hogfather (Discworld, #20) - Terry Pratchett
Hogfather: Discworld, Book 20 - Nigel Planer,Terry Pratchett

... and another yearly Christmas tradition right here, the annual Hogfather reread.  Or relisten (thank Heaven for Nigel Planer's narration).

 

Much has already been shared (and the whole book is one huge piece of quotable writing, of course), but anyway, this is one of my favorite bits not mentioned by anybody else yet:

     "In the glittering, clattering, chattering atmosphere a head waiter was having a difficult time.  There were a lot of people in, and the staff should have been fully stretched, putting bicarbonate of soda in the white wine to make very expensive bubbles and cutting the vegetables very small to make them cost more.

     Instead they were standing in a dejected group in the kitchen.

     Where did it all go?' screamed the manager. Someone's been through the cellar, too!'

     'William said he felt a cold wind,' said the waiter.  He'd been backed up against a hot plate, and now knew why it was called a hot plate in a way he hadn't fully comprehended before.

     'I'll give him a cold wind!  Haven't we got anything?'

     'There's odds and ends ... '

     'You don't  mean odds and ends, you mean des curieux et des bouts', corrected the manager.

     'Yeah, right, yeah.  And, er, and, er ...'

     'There's nothing else?'

     'Er ... old boots.  Muddy old boots.'

     'Old -- ?'

     'Boots.  Lots of 'em,' said the waiter.  He felt he was beginning to singe.

     'How come we've got ... vintage footwear?'

     'Dunno.  They just turned up, sir.  The oven's full of old boots.  So's the pantry.'

     'There's a hundred poeple booked in!  All the shops'll be shut!  Where's Chef?'

     'William's trying to get him to come out of the privy, sir.  He's locked himself in and is having one of his Moments.'

     'Something's cooking.  What's that I can smell?'

     'Me, sir.'

     'Old boots ...' muttered the manager.  'Old boots ... old boots ... Leather, are they?  Not clogs or rubber or anything?'

     'Looks like ... just boots.  And lots of mud, sir.'

     The manager took off his jacket.  'All right.  Got any cream , have we?  Onions?  Garlic?  Butter?  Some old beef bones?  A bit of pastry?'

     ' Er, yes ...'

     The manager rubbed his hands together.  'Right,' he said, taking an apron off a hook.  'You there, get some water boiling!  Lots of water!  And find a really large hammer!  And you, chop some onions!  The rest of you, start sorting out the boots.  I want the tongues out and the soles off.  We'll do them ... let's see ... Mousse de la Boue dans un Panier de la Pâte de Chaussures ...'

     'Where're we going to get that from, sir?'

     'Mud mousse in a basket of shoe pastry.  Get the idea?  It's not our fault if even Quirmians don't understand restaurant Quirmian.  It's not like lying, after all.'

     'Well, it's a bit like --' the waiter began.  He'd been cursed with honesty at an early stage.

     'Then there's Brodequin rôti Façon Ombres ...'

     The manager sighed at the head waiter's panicky expression.  'Soldier's boot done in the Shades fashion,' he translated.

     'Er ... Shades fashion?'

     'In mud.  But if we cook the tongues separately we can put on Languette braisée, too.'

     'There's some ladies' shoes, sir,' said an under-chef.

     'Right.  Add to the menu ... Let's see now ... Sole d'une Bonne Femme ... and ... yes ... Servis dans un Coulis de Terre en l'Eau.  That's mud, to you.'

     'What about the laces, sir?' said another under-chef.

     'Good thinking.  Dig out the reicpe for Spaghetti Carbonara.'"

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review 2018-12-18 21:34
24 Festive Tasks: Door 15 - St. Nicholas' Day / Sinterklaas, Book
Desert Heat - J.A. Jance,Hillary Huber

 

I needed a break from all the Christmas and winter reads I've been indulging in lately, so I squeezed this one in -- the print version has been lingering on my shelves way too long as it is.  And I'm happy to have finally started on a series that I've long had a feeling I would like: There's a tiny bit of TSTL syndrome and a few somewhat implausible character actions / choices, as well as a bit of tautological writing at the beginning (surprisingly so, since by the time she published this book, Jance already had another successful series under her belt that had been running for almost a decade), but all of this is essentially over and done with -- and Jance and her protagonist Joanna Brady have found their book series feet -- by the end of the second or third chapter, and from then on we're off to very solid enjoyment.  The solution is clear pretty much from the word "go", too, but once the book finds its feet, it's fun to just come along for the ride.  This is definitely a series I'm happy to have added to my library.

 

And go figure, the audio version I listened to even has a bright red and orange cover, so it qualifies for the St. Nicholas square in 24 Festive Tasks!

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review 2018-12-12 15:05
24 Festive Tasks: Door 9 - Thanksgiving, Book
Six Geese A-Slaying (Meg Langslow, #10) - Donna Andrews
Six Geese A-Slaying - Donna Andrews,Bernadette Dunne

I decided to backtrack a bit to the series's first (I think) Christmas entry, which is set right after Meg and Michael's marriage and in which Meg is in charge of organizing Caerphilly's annual holiday parade -- emphatically not a "Christmas" parade, since it includes a nod to Diwali (complete with elephants), as well as a Kwanzaa float, which obviously makes this book a fun match with "24 Festive Tasks".

 

Andrews had definitely found her Meg Langslow legs by the time of this book, and the writing and plotting is great fun ... of course a holiday parade themed on The Twelve Days of Christmas offers countless opportunities for things to go hilariously haywire, but you still have to be able to hit just the right balance of humor and storytelling instead of simply stringing together a series of (wannabe) quirky incidents and characters, which not every writer is able to pull off convincingly.  Perhaps the one tiny letdown was that the murderer (and their motive) was fairly obvious well before the conclusion of the book, but still, I very much enjoyed my annual return to Caerphilly for Christmas the holidays.

 

And since a whole rafter of turkeys show up in various parts of the book -- they march in the holiday parade, they're being offered as charity gifts to the local poor, they're roasted at one of the local church community's food stand, and a turkey also features in the Christmas dinner "in the off" at the end of the story, to be prepared by Meg's mother -- I feel justified in using this as my Thanksgiving square read in "24 Festive Tasks" ... even if the turkeys are not accorded quite as prominent a role as the titular six geese (or actually, 37 geese ... or make that 38, counting one deceased of natural causes).

 

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review 2018-12-12 14:15
24 Festive Tasks: Door 6 - International Day for Tolerance, Book
A Very French Christmas: The Greatest French Holiday Stories of All Time - Jean-Philippe Blondel,Dominique Fabre,Alphonse Daudet,Irène Némirovsky,Guy de Maupassant,Jean Brassard

 

An anthology of French Christmas short stories, from 19th century classics to contemporary, up to and including stories published in 2017.  "Nobody does Christmas like the French" is, of course, monumental sales hyperbole (and that's not even taking into account the ubiquitous non-French usual suspects like Dickens's Christmas Carol and E.T.A. Hoffmann's Nutcracker), but the stories included are enjoyable enough, even if (on balance) a bit on the preachy side.

 

Since several of these stories are set in Paris, I'm using this as my book for the 24 Festive Tasks - International Day for Tolerance square.  Since one of the anthologized stories is by Irène Némirovsky, I'm also using it for the "N" square of the Women Writers Bingo.

 

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