... 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
Task the First:
– Read a book that is set in a snowy place.
Dylan Thomas: A Child's Christmas in Wales
Thomas's lyrical memoirs of his childhood Christmas experience, read by himself ... truly magical. One of the books (or CDs) that I revisit every single holiday season.
Task the Seventh:
– Read a book set during the Christmas holiday season.
Donna Andrews: The Nightingale Before Christmas
The year before last's entry in Donna Andrews's Meg Lanslow series: An uninhabited Caerphilly house has been turned into a show house for the local interior designers' pre-Christmas competition, which Meg has agreed to organize (her own mother being one of the contestants, and Meg's involvement as an organizer having been the price for their own house not to be used as the scene of competition) -- as a result of which Meg is having to constantly mediate between the contestants, who keep going at each others' throats hammer and tongs and are, as a whole, more unruly than a bag of wriggling kittens. It doesn't particularly help, either, that there's a student hanging around the place doing research for an article on the competition that she's writing for the local university newspaper, that moreover, packages containing the contestants' orders of items needed in their decorative arrangements keep disappearing, and that at last someone even takes to vandalizing the house and some of the half-arranged rooms, with merely a few days to go to Christmas (and to the advent of the judges). When the most unpopular of the contestants -- whom the others also hold responsible for the disappearance of their packages and for the vandalization of their rooms -- is found murdered, there doesn't seem a shortage of suspects ... except that every single one of the other designers seems to have a credible alibi.
A more than solid, tremendously enjoyable entry in the series ... having read Duck the Halls just before Christmas last year, I'm seriously tempted to hunt down all of Andrews's holiday books and read them, one at a time, before Christmas each year! She truly has a knack for combining a hilarious storyline with fully-rounded characters (however unusual), a homely and comfortably-feeling small-town setting and a lot of warmth, humor, and common sense. Highly recommended!
Task the Seventh:
– Grab your camera and set up a Christmas bookstagram-style scene with favorite holiday reads, objects or decorations. Possibly also a cat. Post it for everyone to enjoy!
Well, the cat preferred to watch the setup from atop the half-empty box of Christmas decorations instead of being part of the picture, but anyway ... here we go! (And yes, that's a real candle again. :) )
Snow Globes: Reads
- Read a book set in Australia or by an Australian author, or read a book you would consider a "beach read".
Well, I can see how a screen version of this might work rather nicely, but alas, as written, it wasn't really for me. I liked Bert and Cec, and Dr. MacMillan, and Dot (once transformed, though her transformation was perhaps a bit of a rapid one) ... but I couldn't much bring myself to care for either Phryne herself, or the narrative voice, or the story as such. And I'm afraid the author already lost me right at the beginning, where there is an IMHO not-very-successfully-executed attempt at an Agatha Christie / Arthur Conan Doyle supersleuth-style "instant solution" of a crime committed in Phryne's presence (which then, even more implausibly, serves as instant motivation for one of those present at the scene, who doesn't until then have seemed to know much about Phryne, to entrust her with the both expensive and rather delicate task of travelling all the way to Australia to look after his daughter's wellbeing). Moreover, both the author and Phryne seemed to share a sneering tone, talking down to the reader and half the other characters alike, which I found rather grating, particularly in a book billed as a "cozy" mystery. Fundamentally, though, what I found fairly preposterous was the notion that a young woman, who hasn't been to Australia since her childhood days (when she moved in quite different circles from those in which she is moving upon her return, and who therefore can't possibly know or anticipate all the pitfalls of her commission), only needs to show up in Melbourne and, in the space of a mere couple of days, manages to solve not one but several crimes that have had the Melbourne police all up in arms for months ... and all this by pushing buttons that, in the case of both of the chief criminals, should have stared any halfway competent policeman and / or the criminals' own associates in the face within about the same amount of time it ended up taking Phryne to discover them. (But then, Phryne has virtually no faults at all to begin with -- she is Superwoman incarnate, which is one of my major pet peeves anyway.) Add to all that the super-clumsy drop of a clue as to the final reveal fairly early on in the story -- the sort of clue that, if used by Christie or Conan Doyle at all, is bound to be a means of the most skillful misdirection, not the sort of dead giveaway it is here -- and I was seriously underwhelmend all the way through.
Still, as I said, there were characters I enjoyed, and the writing, narrative voice and major plot implausibilities aside, flowed nicely -- and judging by the popularity of both the book and the TV series, I decidedly seem to be in the minority here as far as my overall opinion is concerned ...
- 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!