Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Holiday Bookshelf

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Holiday Bookshelf on Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com - Some Christmas themed books that have found a place on my holiday bookshelf recommendations.

As much as I enjoy reading, I was a little surprised that I didn't have much in the way of holiday themed books on my reading list this year. Just one of the many ways the season has been sneaking up on me, I suppose! The Homeschool Review Crew are sharing some recommended holiday books this week, so I took a look through my blog archives and picked out a few books with Christmas themes that have been past favorites. 

One I like to read every year is Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. It's been our family tradition to watch the movie on Christmas Eve (our preferred version is the one starring Alistair Sim) so it's a story we're all familiar with. But I think there's something special about reading the original book, and it's one I've read aloud to my kids several times.

And speaking of kids, I want to mention a couple of favorites for the younger set. My kids may have outgrown these, but I still love them! One I especially like is Mary's First Christmas by Walter Wangerin Jr. It's the story of Jesus' birth as if Mary is telling it to her son, in the time-honored tradition of moms retelling their special memories of their children's birth stories. The illustrations are gorgeous as well.

Also good for family read-aloud would be The True Saint Nicholas: Why He Matters to Christmas by William J. Bennett. It's a retelling of what's known about the historical Nicholas of Myra, along with legends and stories that have been told about him over the years. The book explains how the stories of this good bishop traveled the world and were embraced by so many cultures; and how he became Santa Claus and part of Christmas traditions even though his feast day is at the beginning of December. It puts the fantasy and magic associated with Santa into perspective in its place in the celebration of Christmas. A read-aloud for families that enjoy including Santa might be The Christmas Chronicles: The Legend of Santa Claus by Tim Slover. I read it several years ago and found it a quick and entertaining read. The 'true story' of Santa Claus is told with some unusual twists, presented as the biography prepared by Santa's court historian. The story is sweet, and humorous in places, and has a fairytale charm. Especially fun for those who still want to believe in Santa!

A quick read - or read-aloud - that focuses on the birth of Christ is The Christmas Journey by Donna VanLiere. Donna VanLiere is the author of The Christmas Shoes, for which I will forgive her, since I so enjoyed this little book retelling the story of Mary and Joseph and their journey to Bethlehem. (I admit I have not read the shoes book, only suffered through the song, which I cannot stand at all, so perhaps I am judging the book harshly!) The Christmas Journey takes only minutes to read, but the  simple yet evocative description of the journey to Bethlehem and birth of Jesus is compelling, showing Mary and Joseph as very ordinary human beings.

One more suggestion for a family read is Were They Wise Men or Kings? by Joseph J. Walsh. Suitable for about 10 and up, it answers Christmas season questions in a common-sense way without being simplistic or overly scholarly.  The author taught a course on Christmas to freshmen at Loyola, so when I read it I wondered whether his answers regarding the Nativity and its relevance to the Christmas celebrations would be dismissive.  After reading his answers, I really don't know whether he is a believer or a skeptic, because he stuck to the facts! His answers were honest and sometimes humorous, acknowledging the unknowns such as when exactly Jesus was born, some of the facts surrounding the historical St Nicholas, and details about the wise men and the star. He doesn't gloss over the fact that the church co-opted pagan feast days and remade them into celebrations of the Nativity of Christ, but is also quite clear that it is the Christian celebration of this holiday that has made it great and inspired most of the charity associated with it. The book is organized into chapters by topic with a series of questions along with the answer, Read the book cover to cover, or just look up the answer to a question that intrigues you. This may be the book to have on hand when your kids ask what holly and ivy have to do with Christmas, and what the twelve days of Christmas are.  As homeschoolers like to say: "Why don't you look it up?"

Looking for a grown-up novel with a Christmas theme or setting? Here are some ideas from three of my favorite authors.

Silent Night (A Lady Julia Grey Mystery) by Deanna Raybourn. The Lady Julia series of mysteries is one of my favorites. Lady Julia Grey was introduced in Raybourn's debut novel, Silent in the Grave, when her first husband died unexpectedly and it was discovered to be a clever murder.  Lady Julia had the services of investigator Nicholas Brisbane to solve that mystery, and later - after collaborating in other cases - the two married.  Julia's entire family is quite infamous for their eccentric habits and personalities, and this provides humor and conflict throughout the series. This brief Christmas themed novella updated readers on the Brisbanes and many members of Lady Julia's family, as they gather to celebrate the Christmas holidays. This is almost a cozy mystery, as there are no murders or bodies (there's missing jewelry, and mysterious family secrets), and it is a short and fun read.  The mystery is easily solved, and I think readers who aren't already familiar with the series would enjoy it, although knowing the characters already makes it even more fun! (Read my complete review and find out more about the series on my book blog: Just A Second - Deanna Raybourn)

From another favorite author, Tasha Alexander comes Star of the East: A Lady Emily Christmas Story. This is also a Christmas themed novella that's part of a larger mystery series, but can be enjoyed by readers who haven't followed Lady Emily previously. Lady Emily and her husband Colin have agreed to spend Christmas at her parents' home, along with other house guests including a family from British India. Emily befriends the daughter, who is petulantly demanding that her parents find her a husband even though she is still rather young for marriage. This odd behavior sets the stage for the drama, because the 'Star of the East' is a valuable family jewel that is traditionally worn by a bride, but has a curse attached to it. When the jewel disappears, Colin and Emily set to work to find out what happened. (Read my complete review and find out more about this series: Just A Second - Tasha Alexander)

Star of the East: A Lady Emily Christmas Story

Still another favorite - and another mystery author! - is Anne Perry. She is known for her William Monk series and her Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series, both set in Victorian London. She also writes little Christmas novellas that feature characters that have been introduced in the other series, but you don't need to be familiar with those in order to enjoy the novellas. One of the more recent ones is A Christmas Escape: A Novel. In it, Charles Latterly has come to the Mediterranean island of Stromboli to spend his first Christmas as a widower. Among the guests at the small inn where he stays are an arrogant novelist, a retired colonel, a married couple that seem always to be at odds, and an elderly gentleman and his teenage ward. Charles strikes up an unlikely friendship with the teenage girl, and starts getting to know her and her guardian a little better. The other guests cause several awkward scenes, but then the situation becomes dangerous when the local volcano threatens a major eruption. The host urges all the guests to leave for their own safety, but before they can get away, one of their number is discovered killed, and Charles realizes that it's a murder, and the killer must be one of the group of guests.  As with all Perry's Christmas novellas, it's a quick read with interesting characters and a not-too-difficult mystery to solve. (You can read my full review of this one: Recent Reads - A Christmas Escape; and my reviews of some others in the series: A Christmas GarlandA Christmas HomecomingA Christmas BeginningA Christmas GuestA Christmas Odyssey)

A Christmas Escape (Christmas Stories, #13)

Finally, a modern setting mystery (I read mysteries a lot, apparently!) that I discovered a couple years ago is Holiday Buzz (A Coffeehouse Mystery) by Cleo Coyle. This one is set in New York City around Christmastime. Clare Cosi operates a trendy coffee shop in the Village that is taking part in a series of Cookie Swap holiday parties for charity. At the first Cookie Swap, one of her employees that also works at a friend's bakery is brutally murdered; and Clare discovers the body. Clare is dissatisfied with the direction that the police investigation is going and pursues any leads she can come up with in order to bring the killer to justice. She gets assistance from her quirky cast of coffeehouse employees and a bakery owner friend; as well as the assisting detective on the case, her ex-husband and his mother, and her current significant other who happens to be a former cop himself. Clare puts herself into some dangerous situations as she doggedly follows up on any information she gathers, but there is plenty of comic relief along the way as well.There are even several delicious-looking recipes in the back of the book!

And what's on my list this year? I just purchased From Heaven: A 28-Day Advent Devotional by A.W. Tozer after seeing it recommended on a book blog and this will be my Christmas themed reading this season. I'll be busy with family visiting and a short trip we've got planned, so I'm prioritizing a seasonal book that I hope will help me focus on the true meaning of Advent.

What's on your reading list this Christmas? What would you recommend? Leave a comment and let me know; and then visit the Homeschool Review Crew blog to see what other Crew members are reading and recommending in the Books for the Holidays Round-up.

Books for the Holidays

This post is also part of the round-up of Our Favorite Christmas Books on the Homeschool Review Crew blog dated December 14, 2018.

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