A Few Books I Especially Enjoyed in 2011 – You Might Like Them, Too

Looking back over the books I read this past year I can’t help but feel disappointed. I didn’t read as much as I wanted to (only 38 books) and I didn’t read as many classics as I wanted to. However, I did find some true gems, books I loved and enthusiastically recommend. Here they are:

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton –“I’d seen the movie and also read many reviews of this classic Pulitzer Prize winning novel. What I was unprepared for was the depth of emotion and strong mixture of reactions that Wharton’s complex tale provoked in me.”

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones – “I adored this novel. I experienced an intense emotional connection to the characters and to the story. It is my favorite kind of book – one that will leave a lasting impression.”

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan – “This is a really good book. It has complex characters, a suspenseful plot and presents a vision of a scary future that I hope never comes to pass, but that makes you think about how fear and uncertainty can lead to harsh governmental control. “

Thornyhold by Mary Stewart – “Reading this novel was like snuggling down into a soft, warm bed in your own familiar room – completely comfortable and satisfying. I think I have found an author who will stay with me.”

Snowdrops by A.D. Miller – “There is so much to ponder in Snowdrops. It’s a powerful book for having  a relatively action-less, slow moving plot.”

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths – “This is an engrossing, solid mystery. I’m taken with both Ruth and DCI Nelson and will continue to read the series if only to see where their relationship ends up.”

Now on to 2012! What do I hope for the new year? I hope to read more, read primarily classics, keep my blog going strong and to stick to the challenges I’m joining. In addition to the Classics Challenge I am joining the Victorian Challenge hosted by Laura’s Reviews. These are the books I want to read for the challenge:

*Jane Eyre

*Vanity Fair

*Lady Audley’s Secret

*North and South

*The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

*The Return of the Native

I hope everyone has a wonderful New Year and best reading wishes for 2012!

I Couldn’t Resist…A Day in Books

I’ve loved reading the many versions of this meme that have proliferated on the blog scene, so I decided to give it a go myself.

I began the day with A Heart of Stone.

On my way to work I saw The Odd Women

and walked by Thornyhold

to avoid The Dead Path,

but I made sure to stop at The Crossing Places.

In the office, my boss said, “Enough about Love

and sent me to research A Brief History of Montmaray.

At lunch with The Witch of Ravensworth

I noticed Snowdrops under The Night Circus

then went back to my desk where Chief Yellowhorse Lives On!.

Later, on the journey home, I bought A Book of Secrets

because I have Faith, then, settling down for the evening,

I picked up The Complaints

and studied The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe

before saying goodnight to the The American Heiress.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas. Mine was very peaceful and relaxing and now it is back to work tomorrow before another short break at the new year. Enjoy your week, friends!

Christmas Reading: A Holiday for Murder by Agatha Christie

My continued craving for holiday reading brought me to A Holiday for Murder, also known as Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. I’ve seen the tv version of this mystery novel, but couldn’t remember who the culprit was so thought it would be safe to read it. It isn’t really a Christmas story – the murder takes place at Christmas, but there is hardly any mention of the holiday or the traditions surrounding it. That was okay, though, because reading it reacquainted me with Agatha Christie, whom I haven’t read in many years.

This novel finds Poirot spending Christmas with Colonel Johnson when they are called to Gorston Hall, the scene of a horrific murder. Simeon Lee, the wealthy patriarch of a bickering family, has had his throat slashed. His four sons and their wives, plus two unexpected guests, have assembled for Christmas and they all become suspects as the room Lee was killed in was locked from the inside and the window closed. The assumption is that an intruder would not have been able to leave the house unseen.

The usual interrogations and sly Poirot ‘conversations’ soon give him all the information he needs to reveal the killer of Simeon Lee. It is a very tricky outcome and I definitely didn’t guess who the culprit was.

Agatha Christie is a forceful writer and I’d forgotten how colorful her characters are. I wouldn’t recommend this novel if you are looking for holiday cheer, but it is a good example of the ‘locked room mystery’.

I’d like to read some of her other novels next year – do you have a favorite Christie novel? What is her best mystery?

endpapers designed by Peggy Skycraft.

Persephone Secret Santa Day!

This was my first year participating in the Persephone Secret Santa event and it was a blast. My Santa was extraordinarily generous and sent me some splendid gifts that I am thrilled about.

Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple was my Persephone book and it is just what I wanted. I can’t wait to start reading it! She also sent a gorgeous Christmas tree ornament and a scrumptious box of Ferrero Rocher (which is already gone, by the way).

And look at these glitter greetings! They are nifty postcards of vintage London with glitter embellishments. I love the card pictured on the case of Queen Elizabeth in all her glory.

AND she also sent Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman and a beautiful bookmark featuring ‘Reading on the Rocks’ by John George Brown. I am so excited to read the literary essays in Ex Libris and the bookmark is just lovely.

Isn’t everything wonderful?

Who was the amazing giver of this bounty? Danielle from A Work in Progress! Thanks so much, Danielle! I feel fortunate to have received so many fantastic gifts.

Thanks also to Claire and Verity for hosting and organizing the entire event. I hope to participate again next year!

Christmas Reading: Dylan Thomas + Truman Capote

This past weekend I was craving some cozy, Christmas, comfort fiction so I turned to two stories I had on my shelves. Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales and A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote.

A Child’s Christmas in Wales is a charming remembrance, an adult’s memories of his childhood holidays filled with food, ‘Useless’ and ‘Useful’ presents, and the music that roars on Christmas night. Dylan’s language is colorful and vivid and there is a very jubilant energy bursting from the story. It is really a joy to read.

A Christmas Memory is a bittersweet story that I try to read every year during the holidays. It is told from the viewpoint of a child, Buddy, and recounts his memories of his Christmases in Alabama during the 1930’s. Buddy and his cousin, whom he calls ‘my friend’ throughout the story, embrace the traditions of the season by scraping together all of the money they can find to buy ingredients to make fruit cakes. They make them for friends, family and even President Roosevelt. They also find joy in harvesting their own tree and making presents for each other. This autobiographical tale takes the reader back to a simpler time and introduces us to the unforgettable character of Buddy’s cousin, who was based on Capote’s real relative, Miss Sook. This is a gem that I highly recommend.

If you’re looking for some quick and gladdening reading during this hectic time of the year, try one or both of these terrific stories!

Pryday #16

Movies are not my thing. Really, not my thing so I think I’ve seen the standard Christmas movies such as It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, and A Christmas Story maybe once or twice in my lifetime. I am not a huge fan of the mush or the overly sentimental either unless it is done just right and I am, like Simon over at Savidge Reads, a bit of a scrooge, especially when it comes to movies and spending pots of money on ridiculous gifts. However, there are two Christmas films that have entered my heart and become a much-looked-forward to treat at this time of the year. One is a classic, black and white, old Hollywood production. The other is a contemporary multi-storyline blockbuster. Both are fantastic!

The Bishop’s Wife (1947). Magical, heartwarming, charming, old-fashioned and beautiful. Cary Grant and Loretta Young are irresistible as the angel Dudley and the neglected bishop’s wife, Julia. David Niven is perfection as the distracted bishop. This is a lovely favorite that I watch every year on Christmas Eve.

Love Actually (2003). Funny, touching, romantic. Many stars appear in this interconnected set of stories. Liam Neeson! Emma Thompson! Hugh Grant! Keira Knightley! Alan Rickman! Colin Firth! So many marvelous actors, yet Bill Nighy steals the show as the aging rock star Billy Mack. I think it is a perfect companion to The Bishop’s Wife – something nice and something naughty.

How about you? Do you have a favorite Christmas film?

Thornyhold by Mary Stewart

First off I want to take a moment to *gush* about Mary Stewart. She is amazing. I’ve been reading a lot about her the past few months here and here and here. I felt immediately sure that I would like her novels, but I didn’t know how smitten I would be. Her writing is dreamy and evocative and her main characters are sensible and likeable. And there is the supernatural! I don’t know if all of her novels contain otherworldly elements, but this one and the one I am reading now, Touch Not the Cat, definitely do and I like it.

Thornyhold reminded me in some ways of Practical Magic, Garden Spells and The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. There were elements of all these books drifting through Thornyhold, but Stewart has such a charming, unique style that I didn’t feel like I was entering “been there/done that” territory. Plus, Stewart came first!

Geillis (Jilly) Ramsey has had a tough life. Her parents are not affectionate, won’t let her have pets (which she dearly longs for) and ship her off to school at the first chance they get. Her mother is a cold, stern woman who doesn’t provide any light or sparkling moments for Geillis to cherish. The most memorable interactions of her childhood are with her mother’s cousin, Geillis Saxon. Cousin Geillis has mysteriously appeared in her life a few times throughout her childhood and has left a tender and magical impression on Jilly’s heart. During college Jilly’s mother passes away and she returns home to care for her aging father until he dies as well. With no where to go and feeling anxious for her future she receives notification that Cousin Geillis, whom she hasn’t seen in years, has also passed and has left Jilly her home in the country, a home called Thornyhold.

Could this be Thornyhold?

This miraculous coincidence takes her to a paradisaical home that is surrounded by a neglected, but lush garden.  As Jilly settles into her new environment she encounters her young neighbor William and her cousin’s housekeeper Agnes Tripp who is not altogether trustworthy. She soon discerns that her cousin was known as a wise woman among her neighbors and she suspects that she may have the same gifts herself.

Slow, simmering suspense and a very sweet love story infuse Thornyhold with the perfect mixture of the serious and sublime. Jilly is a great character, a woman I can see myself befriending – she’s so real and believable. The setting is also colorfully alive and tangible – Stewart has a huge talent for description.

Reading this novel was like snuggling down into a soft, warm bed in your own familiar room – completely comfortable and satisfying. I think I have found an author who will stay with me.

Have you read Mary Stewart? Do you have a favorite Mary Stewart novel?

Pryday #15

One of the joys of this season for me is the music. I absolutely love to sing and Christmas songs are so wonderful to sing to. And because we’ve heard them a million times throughout our lives we know the words to them! Here are some of my favorite Christmas albums – what are yours?

My favorite Christmas music.

Old loves

Johnny Mathis ~ Merry Christmas. How wonderful is this man? His voice is so smooth and velvety and it is at its best singing these standard holiday tunes.

Mariah Carey ~ Merry Christmas. Yes, yes, I know Mariah is kind of a joke now, but this Christmas CD is fantastic. Who doesn’t like ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’?

Vince Guaraldi Trio ~ A Charlie Brown Christmas. This takes me right back to childhood when I used to watch the Charlie Brown Christmas special on tv every year. It makes me feel very nostalgic.

CSSR State Philharmonic Orchestra ~ Christmas Goes Baroque. I love the nice, peaceful tone of this lovely CD. There are some surprising arrangements of familiar songs here that make them interesting again.

New favorites

The Lower Lights ~ Come Let Us Adore Him. This mainly Utah based group of musicians have produced a marvelous folksy take on traditional hymns and holiday favorites.

She & Him ~ A Very She & Him Christmas. Mellow, sixties-flavored tunes from actress Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward.

Do you have any favorite Christmas albums?