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text 2017-12-05 14:48
How Mrs. Claus Saved Christmas ★★☆☆☆
How Mrs. Claus Saved Christmas - Jeff Guinn

 

Jeff Guinn is a terrific writer of nonfiction historical events and biographies. I thoroughly enjoyed his books on Jim Jones and on Bonnie & Clyde. But it was painfully apparent to me, early on in this book, that this talent doesn’t translate well to the telling of fictional stories. At least not fictional stories about Santa and Mrs. Claus. I tried to soldier on through this book, because I needed it for Square 3 of The 16 Tasks of the Festive Season (Book themes for St. Martin’s Day: Read a story dealing with an act of selfless generosity (like St. Martin sharing his cloak with a beggar)), but I just can’t keep punching myself in the head like this. I had to stop. I can’t even work up the energy to detail the many ways in which this book continually failed me. Just take my word for it: Read the hell out of Mr. Guinn’s nonfiction books – I’m eyeballing the one on Charles Manson right now – but don’t spend your time or energy on this set of “fanciful” Christmas stories.

 

DNF. I gave it 2 stars only because I was able to make through 41% of the book (that’s 4 ½ hours of listening!) before giving up.

 

Audiobook, purchased via Audible. Susan Denaker’s smarmy & self-righteous tone certainly seemed to suit the character as written, but damn.  

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review 2017-12-05 14:08
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows ★★★★☆
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (A Flavia de Luce Mystery #4) - Alan Bradley,Jayne Entwistle

I’ve been in a reading funk lately, trying to read some holiday themed books to put me in the Christmas spirit and finding myself left more Grinchy than jolly by the experience. So I decided to take a break from the holiday stories and get in some light entertainment in the form of my favorite little scamp, Flavia deLuce. Only to find that the next book in the series is… set at Christmas! In retrospect, the cover art featuring a dancing skeleton in a Santa hat should have been a dead giveway, but I can only plead inattention due to upper-respiratory infection.

 

In this installment, the deLuce family finances has forced them to allow a film crew to invade their ancestral home, while Flavia has decided on an empirical approach to determining whether Father Christmas is real, by cooking up a sort of people version of fly-paper in her chemistry lab to slather around the chimney. Meanwhile, there’s a murder, and Flavia is her usual delightfully obnoxious self in disrupting the official investigation and ferreting out the clues.

 

Audiobook, purchased via Audible, with another fantastic performance by Jayne Entwistle.

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review 2017-12-05 13:45
Duck the Halls ★★★☆☆
Duck the Halls: A Meg Langslow Mystery - Donna Andrews

A very cute, very light holiday mystery that starts with a series of silly pranks where a person or persons unknown are filling various places of worship with animals – skunks, snakes, ducks, etc – that eventually turns dark, and then someone is dead and it’s not a joke to anyone. Our protagonist isn’t a professional detective or sleuth for hire. As far as I can tell, she’s just an unashamedly nosy mom. But then, this is book #16 in the Meg Langslow series and there is probably a whole lot more to this character and her history than I was able to grasp in this one short book. Certainly there is a whole history to her extended family dynamics, which come into play throughout the story and bring us a really adorable holiday scene at the conclusion. This does work okay as a standalone, but I suspect the pleasure in it would be enhanced for readers who are already familiar with the series.

 

Many thanks to Themis-Athena and Murder by Death – I can’t remember which of you recommended this one to me, but you were right, this was a fun antidote to the string of unfinishable holiday-themed books that I kept trying to use to put myself in a holiday mood.

 

Audiobook, purchased via Audible, with a very good performance by Bernadette Dunn, although I think she does a much better job on all the Shirley Jackson books – maybe she needs that darker material to really sink her teeth into.

 

I’d have liked to use this for The 16 Tasks of the Festive Season, but I already have books lined up for all the book tasks and I already have a Christmas book for the Holiday Book Joker.

 

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review 2017-12-03 17:50
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress ★★★★☆
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress - Sijie Dai

This was an interesting story with an unusual setting – China during Mao’s Cultural Revolution in the 1970s – following two teenaged boys who are being “re-educated” in the country for the crime of being part of the bourgeoisie, as part of the Down to the Countryside Movement. In a political and social atmosphere that punishes independent thought and romantic ideals, celebrating ignorance and encouraging violence against dissenters, the boys discover a stash of forbidden classic Western literature and are transformed. Perhaps the best part of this story is the twist at the end, where they discover its true power that is so feared by the authorities: that this transformative power can’t be leashed to serve their own needs alone.

 

Audiobook, borrowed from my public library via Overdrive, with an excellent reading by BD Wong.

 

I read this for The 16 Tasks of the Festive Season; Square 7: December 10th & 13th: Book themes for International Human Rights Day: Read a book originally written in another language (i.e., not in English and not in your mother tongue), –OR– a book written by anyone not anglo-saxon, –OR– any story revolving around the rights of others either being defended or abused –OR– Read a book set in New York City, or The Netherlands (home of the UN and UN World Court respectively). This book fits several of the requirements: written by a Chinese author in French, with a theme of human rights and civil liberty abuses.

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text 2017-12-02 13:15
Duck the Halls - 68%
Duck the Halls: A Meg Langslow Mystery - Donna Andrews

Okay, there's lots of ducks now. Meg sure is nosy, isn't she?

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