... and because my TBR clearly still has room for expansion ...
Snow Globes: Reads
I intend to also read a book for the Kwanzaa square and try to get as many of my as-yet missing activities done (Holiday Down Under, Movie Ticket, and Holiday Party), but since completing either activities or reads qualifies for completing a square, as far as the game itself is concerned here's hooray for blacking out my card!
Thanks to Moonlight Reader and Obsidian Blue for hosting yet another great game -- I had great fun with this one, never mind the hosting site's performance issues. (I only wish those woes were over once and for all.) As with the bingo, I enjoyed following everybody else' updates and comparing notes at least as much as completing my own card.
So, here's for the grand finale:
Task the Second: The Silent Nights:
- Read a book set in one of the Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland and/or Denmark), where winter nights are long!
Inspired by Lillelara's advice to Olga Godim, I changed plans on this one and revisited Babette's Feast, Tania (Karen) Blixen's love letter to the culinary arts, set against the bleak background of (mostly) midwinter in a Pietist religious community in a remote Norwegian fjord. It's an apt read not only for this square but also for the season, as the feast is Babette's selfless gift to the two women who, suspicion against "papists" notwithstanding, have taken her into their home after she had lost her own. I'd read it for the first time after having seen the movie, with the sumptuous visuals of the feast (as contrasted by the dour setting of the protagonists' lives) still freshly in my mind, and I loved it even better then; but I'm still happy I decided to reread it ... and few can hold a candle to Blixen's gift of setting the atmosphere of a story.
Task the Fourth: The Gift Card:
- Read a book that you either received as a gift or have given as a gift.
This task truly came in handy, as my birthday fell smack into the Halloween Bingo and I therefore haven't made particularly great inroads with the many treasures I'd accumulated back in October.
So, always eager to find out what's going on in the life of one DI (has-been) John Rebus of Police Scotland, I picked Ian Rankin's Even Dogs in the Wild, which I absolutely loved ... until it dawned on me that
the back story of (and solution to) this entry in the series is VERY similar to that of Dead Souls, which happens to be one of my favorite Rebus books and which I therefore know inside and out. (And Rankin has also used the method of disposing of a dead body referenced at the beginning of this book before ... not to mention bent cops, who more often than not seem to hail from Glasgow instead of Edinburgh.)
Bit of a bummer, that, and it knocked the book straight down from a five- to a four star read. Still, I loved the fact that part of the book was told from the perspective of "Big Ger" Cafferty, Rebus is as crotchety and unyielding a lonely wolf as ever, and I'm glad to see that Siobhan finally seems to be coming into her own well and truly, without finding it necessary to cling to anybody's coat tails (particularly not those of her boss, DCI James Page). What with Darryll Christie resurfacing in a prominent role and the Glasgow underworld in play big time as well, I wonder if we're headed for another gangland showdown along the likes of The Hanging Garden in one of the next books ...? Now wouldn't that be a treat. Also, is Rankin unsure where next to take Malcolm Fox -- or why is Fox virtually surplus to requirements at the beginning of the book and wondering whether he should throw in his towel?
- Give a book to a friend and post a picture of the wrapped present.
My best friend's birthday is on December 16, as a result of which I only get to go gift shopping for her in a major way once every year, and I typically only decide later, when I'm back home, which items she's getting for Christmas and which ones for her birthday. This year, I decided it would be the books and a few assorted other items for her birthday ... it'll be a bath tub caddy and a set of goodies from one of our favorite local food (or more specifically spice, condiments and sauces) stores for Christmas. -- The books are Helen Macdonald's H Is for Hawk and a cookbook based on the Harry Potter novels, which I hope she'll love (and doesn't own yet), being both an HP fan and a stellar and enthusiastic cook.
Task the Fifth: The Kwanzaa:
- Make a small donation to a charitable organization that operates in Africa.
I made a donation to a charity that my mom and I have been supporting for a long time -- in fact, I remember my mom donating to them even when I was a small child: SOS Kinderdörfer (literally, "SOS Children's Villages"), an organization that takes in and provides housing, schooling and, most importantly, a loving and supportive community, to orphans and children whose parents are too poor or otherwise unable to properly care for them, in different parts of the world. If you make your donation online you can specify the project you want your money to go to, and I picked their project in South Sudan, which has been particularly beleagured of late: as a result of the war, they were forced to abandon their facilities, casting the future of the project, and the children and their carers themselves, into great peril. They've only recently begun to slowly build towards a new home for their village and community.
(I've included links to their website, which however doesn't seem to have an English version, unfortunately, so if you want to learn more you'll have to copy and paste the contents into Google translator, I'm afraid.)
Task the Eighth: The Movie Ticket
- Read a book that has been adapted to a holiday movie.
It took me about three seconds to make up my mind about this one, and I never stopped to think twice -- this just had to be one of my all-time favorite stories, which also happens to have been adapted into one of my all-time favorite holiday movies, never mind that the final scene actually isn't even set at Christmas in the book: Frances Hodgson Burnett's Little Lord Fauntleroy, whose screen adaptation starring Ricky Schroder and Alec Guinness has been an annual Christmas ritual on German TV for over 35 years now. So call me a sop -- and I admit I've never actually tried revisiting this story at length outside the Christmas season (I might well find it a bit too tug-at-your-heartstrings-sentimental then -- but as a feel good story about love, redemption, and the meaning (and effect) of unselfish generosity, this one is hard to beat ... golden-haired cherub, saintly mother and friends to steal horses with all included.
And here's my tally of completed reads and activities:
Task the First: The Winter Wonderland:
- Read: A book that is set in a snowy place.
=> Dylan Thomas - A Child's Christmas in Wales (audio version, read by the author himself)
- Activity: Take a walk outside and post a picture of something pretty you encountered on your way.
Task the Second: The Silent Nights:
- Read: A book set in one of the Nordic countries.
=> Tania (Karen) Blixen: Babette's Feast (see above)
- Activity: Hygge: Put on your fuzziest socks, light a candle, and spend some time (reading) in front of the fireplace or your coziest nook.
Task the Third: The Holiday Party:
- Read: A book where a celebration is a big part of the action.
- Activity: Make something that is considered party food where you are from, and post a picture of it on Booklikes.
Task the Fourth: The Gift Card:
- Read: A book that you either received as a gift or have given as a gift.
=> Ian Rankin: Even Dogs in the Wild (see above).
- Activity: Give a book to a friend and post a picture of the wrapped present.
=> Book gift, see above.
Task the Fifth: The Kwanzaa:
- Read: A book written by an African-American author or set in an African country.
- Activity: Make a donation to a charitable organization that operates in Africa.
=> SOS Kinderdörfer, South Sudan project (see above).
Task the Sixth: The Hanukkah:
- Read: Let the dreidel choose a book for you
- Activity: Make a traditional Hanukkah food like doughnuts or potato latkes.
Task the Seventh: The Christmas:
- Read: A book set during the Christmas holiday season.
- Activity: Set up a
Task the Eighth: The Movie Ticket:
- Reading: A book that has been adapted to a holiday movie:
=> Frances Hodgson Burnett - Little Lord Fauntleroy (see above)
- Activity: Go see a new theater release this holiday season (this does not have to be a holiday movie).
Task the Ninth: The Happy New Year:
- Read: (A coming of age novel or) any old favorite comfort read:
- Activity: Post a holiday picture of yourself from your childhood or youth.
=> Task the Ninth, Part 2
Task the Tenth: The Holiday Down Under:
- Read: A book set in Australia or by an Australian author.
- Activity: Buy some Christmas crackers (or make your own) to add to your festivities and share some pictures.
Task the Eleventh: The Polar Express:
- Read: A book that involves train travel.
=> Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express
- Activity: Read a classic holiday book from your childhood, or tell a story about a childhood Christmas you'd like to share.
=> Hans Christian Andersen: The Snow Queen
Task the Twelfth: The Wassail Bowl:
- Reading: A book set in the UK, preferably during the medieval or Victorian periods.
- Activity: Drink a festive, holiday beverage; take a picture of your drink, and post it to share - make it as festive as possible.
=> Mulled wine (Glühwein), courtesy of Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market
- Read a book that involves train travel (such as Murder on the Orient Express).
Well, as it happened I did pick Murder on the Orient Express for this square. Not that I'm not intimately familiar with the story as such already -- it was actually one of the first books by Agatha Christie that I ever read, not to mention watching (and owning) the screen adaptation starring Albert Finney and half of classic Hollywood's A list. But I'd never listened to the audio version read by David Suchet, and I am very glad to finally have remedied that now. Not only is Suchet the obvious choice to read any of Christie's Poirot novels because his name has practically become synonymous with that of the little Belgian himself -- great character actor that he is, he was obviously also having the time of his life with all of the story's other roles, including those of the women; and particularly so, Mrs. Hubbard, whose interpretation by Suchet also gives the listener more than a minor glance at the fun that recent London audiences must have been having watching him appear as Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde's Importance of Being Earnest (drag and all).
A superb reading of one of Agatha Christie's very best mysteries and one of my all-time favorite books. Bravo, Mr. Suchet!
נ Nun (miracle): Christopher Paolini - Eldest (audio version read by Kerry Shale)
ג Gimel (great): Arthur Conan Doyle - The Valley of Fear (audio version read by Simon Vance)
ה He (happened): Ian Rankin - Even Dogs in the Wild
ש Shin (there, i.e. Israel): J.R.R. Tolkien - Letters From Father Christmas
So, it was to be Arthur Conan Doyle's Valley of Fear.
The Valley of Fear is Arthur Conan Doyle's last novel-length Sherlock Holmes narrative. Like A Study in Scarlet, where Holmes makes his very first appearance, it is split into two parts: Holmes's actual investigation in Part 1; and the back story, i.e. the stuff that would either be told by Holmes himself or by the apprehended culprit in the shorter narratives (as well as in The Sign of Four) in the Big Reveal, appended as Part 2, with a very loose connection to Part 1 to the effect that Dr. Watson has been handed a written account of the back story during the reveal at the end of Part 1. (Part 2 is not in epistolary form, however.)
The first part of the book is a classic locked room mystery: A man is found shot in a historic manor house in the Weald south of London, not quite halfway on the way to the Channel coast. There is no indication that his killer is still in (or near) the building; nor could he however have escaped, as the building is surrounded by a(n albeit fairly shallow) moat and the drawbridge crossing that moat had been pulled up some time before the killing happened, and more importantly, since the weapon used is a particularly loud sawed-off shotgun, some of the building's other inhabitants had been drawn to the scene instantly, before the killer could possibly have gotten away. (There is also an inference that the water in the moat is muddied by clay and would thus not merely have wetted the killer's clothes by also left them with colored stains, but that didn't strike me as conclusive -- the killer might easily have hidden a spare set of clothes nearby and changed into those once the deed was done.) Holmes's investigation follows the familiar lines of logical inference, with the odd bit of cypher decoding thrown in for good measure and with Professor Moriarty making a (largely off-stage) appearance as well, and it concludes, like many a Sherlock Holmes locked room mystery, with a solution very much in the spirit of Holmes's old axiom "Eliminate the impossible and whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth" (though the closest we're getting to a verbalization of said axiom here is an exclamation of "impossible!" by one of the investigating police officers).
And no, the solution is neither a case of "when" the deed was done (as is so often the crucial issue in locked room mysteries) nor -- at least not exclusively -- how the killer could have escaped at all, either.
Well, so far, so enjoyable.
The story took a bit of a nose dive for me, however, when it got to Part 2 of the novel; and not merely because this book is structured essentially like A Study in Scarlet in the first place (nor, again like the very first Holmes novel, because it also uses an American setting for its second part; the eponymous "Valley of Fear"). However, and although certainly very atmospheric, it is -- albeit loosely -- based on actual historical facts that I was familiar with (only vaguely, but that vague knowledge was enough for me to place the story almost instantly), and which facts due to their then-recent notoriety Conan Doyle's original readers would very likely have been equally familiar with. Indeed, Conan Doyle telegraphs enough of the "final reveal" of Part 2 of the book early enough and obviously enough to allow even a reader unfamiliar with the actual historical basis of the book to clue in to the solution fairly early on.
So, decidedly not on a level with my favorite Holmes adventures (The Hound of the Baskervilles, A Scandal in Bohemia, The Red-Headed League, The Blue Carbuncle, The Speckled Band, Silver Blaze, The Naval Treaty, The Empty House, The Abbey Grange, The Second Stain, The Priory School, and The Bruce-Partington Plans, to name but a few), but still an entertaining, though in Part 2 rather somber read and a nice start into the Twelve Tasks of the Festive Season.
I listened to an audio version of this book, incidentally, read by Simon Vance as part of the Complete Sherlock Holmes set. Vance's reading is enjoyable, though he doesn't necessarily distinguish a whole lot between Holmes's and Watson's voices: but his interpretation of the other characters, accents and vocal inflections and all, more than makes up for this, and there is just about enough briskness in his voice whenever Holmes is talking for the most important speaker to be recognizable nevertheless, too.
This has been enormously great fun; thanks to Moonlight Reader and Obsidian Blue for putting this together and hosting it! I've loved following everybody's reads – still sorry RL duties made me bow out for 2+ weeks smack in the middle of it all. Most of my selections turned out to be enjoyable, many even great reads, and as a bonus I've discovered two new favorite series (James D. Doss's Charlie Moon series and Peter May's Lewis crime novels) and a new favorite character in an already-loved series (Angua, in the Night Watch subseries of Terry Pratchett's Discworld).
Diverse Authors Can Be Spooky Fun – Sherman Alexie: Reservation Blues
=> Bingos No. 10 & No. 12
Grave or Graveyard – Bram Stoker: Dracula & Edgar Allan Poe: The Cask of Amontillado
=> Final Bingo Square: Bingos No. 12 & No. 13
Genre: Mystery – Peter May: The Blackhouse
=> Bingos No. 11 & No. 13
Gothic – Horrace Walpole: The Castle of Otranto
=> Bingos No. 8 & No. 13
Creepy Crawlies – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Adventure of the Speckled Band
=> Bingos No. 9 & No. 13
"Fall" into a Good Book – Edgar Allan Poe: The Fall of the House of Usher
=> Bingos No. 7 & No. 12