Our Traditional New Year’s Eve Dinner: Wieners & Potato Salad

16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 16 – New Year’s Eve / St. Sylvester’s Day

Tasks for Hogswatch Night: Make your favourite sausage dish.

As it so happens, wieners and potato salad are my mom’s and my traditional Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve food.  This year we cheated (store-bought instead of homemade potato salad), so no recipe to post, but anyway … here we go!

 

 

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Charles Dickens: The Chimes

16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 16 – New Year’s Eve / St. Sylvester’s Day

Prophetic Bells

 

Well, well — nothing like ringing in the New Year (albeit a day early) with Charles Dickens: What he did for Christmas in the story about the old miser Scrooge, he did again a year later for New Year’s Eve with this story; which is, however, quite a bit darker than A Christmas Carol.  Once again, a man is swept away to see the future; this time, however, it’s not a miserly rich man but a member of the working classes, a porter named Toby (nicknamed Trotty) Veck eeking out a living near a church whose migihty bells ring out the rhythm of his life — as if Dickens had wanted to remind his audience that the moral of A Christmas Carol doesn’t only apply to the rich but, indeed, to everyone.  Along the way, the high, mighty and greedy are duly pilloried — in this, The Chimes is decidedly closer to Hard Times, Our Mutual Friend, A Tale of Two Cities, and Bleak House than it is to A Christmas Carol — and there are more than a minor number of anxious moments to be had before we’re reaching the story’s conclusion (which, in turn, however, sweeps in like a cross breed of those of Oliver Twist and Oscar Wilde’s Importance of Being Earnest).

Richard Armitage’s reading is phantastic: at times, there are overtones of John Thornton from the TV adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, (or in fact, both John Thornton and Nicholas Higgins) which matches the spirit of the story very well, however, since workers’ rights and exploitation are explicitly addressed here, too, even if this story is ostensibly set in London, not in Manchester.

In the context of the 16 Festive Tasks, The Chimes is an obvious choice for the New Year’s Eve holiday book joker, so that it is going to be.

 

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The Medieval Murderers: The Sacred Stone

16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 16 – New Year’s Eve / St. Sylvester’s Day

A Miraculous “Sky Stone”

Book themes for Hogmanay / New Year’s Eve / Watch Night / St. Sylvester’s Day: a book about starting over, rebuilding, new beginnings, etc. –OR– Read anything set in medieval times. –OR– A book about the papacy –OR– where miracles of any sort are performed (the unexplainable – but good – kind).

Well, go figure, this book took me by surprise.  I’ve read enough of the Medieval Murderers round robins at this point to be thoroughly familiar with both the format and the recurring characters — and I’ve seen enough of the participating authors’ writing styles to know exactly what to expect, and to have developed my preferences … or so I thought.  So far, while I’ve liked the series well enough to go back to it again and again, my rating of the individual books has always been a solid 3 1/2 stars — while there were individual sections in each book that I loved (or at least liked a great deal), there was always at least one that I didn’t particularly care for; and more often than not, by the same author — Bernard Knight.

Not so here: In fact, Knight’s entry was one of my favorites. There had been one other Medieval Murderers book — King Arthur’s Bones —  where I’d already noticed that as soon as Knight ditches his very medieval-style macho main series characters I care decidedly more for his writing, particularly if and to the extent that he puts women at the center of his plots and writes from their perspective, as is very much the case here.  But up until now, I’d considered his chapter in King Arthur’s Bones a one-off, because pretty much every other Medieval Murderers entry I’ve seen from him was centered around his main men, with plenty of gruff voices, growling, and repetitive vocabulary.  So Mr. Knight, might I suggest you continue to write about women … or at least, allow that female touch to brush off on your writing about medieval men of the law, too?  It seems to be doing them (and you) a world of good!

The other thing I really liked about this book was the way in which it — consistently throughout all the different authors’ sections — treated the superstitions associated with the meteorite or “sky stone” which it follows from its first appearance in 11th century Greenland to the present day.  Given the magical powers historically associated with meteorites in popular belief, there would have been occasion aplenty to either take the individual chapters down a route blurring and even trespassing beyond the edges of reality (looking at you in particular, Ms. Maitland), or to talk down to the charactes for their adherence to such beliefs; but (again, as in King Arthur’s Bones) the authors thankfully show themselves both too solid historians and too emphatic writers to be tempted into doing either.  As with their entry centering on the Arthurian legend (where the principal question, of course, is whether you believe in Arthur’s historical existence in the first place), in The Sacred Stone there is the repeated suggestion that the “sky stone” might have miraculous / unexplained healing powers and be a force for good — but it is always counterbalanced by the whole series’s central premise; namely, that a malign object’s path is being traced throughout the centuries, from the Middle Ages to the present day — an object that inspires and fosters violence, murder, treachery, and all-out evil; and here, in fact, it is precisely the belief in the stone’s alleged benign powers that brings about the evil acts at the center of each of the book’s individual sections.

I was sorry not to see Michael Jecks as a co-author of this particular installment of the Medieval Murderers series, but, as I said above, there was not a single chapter I would have wanted to do without; my favorites probably being the prologue and epilogue (there are, for once, no author attributions, but even without those I’m fairly confident that both of these were written by Susanna Gregory), as well as the chapter authored by Bernard Knight (easily enough identifiable because a very much aged version of one of his series characters does make an appearance, even though he’s not the central character), and the sections written by two of my longstanding favorite Medieval Murderers participants, Ian Morson and Philip Gooden (in both their cases easily enough identifiable because their sections were written from the point of view of their main series characters). — As an aside, I was also glad to have read an earlier entry in the series, House of Shadows, fairly recently, because it (inter alia) lays the groundwork for a plot line that I am happy to see Morson went on to incorporate into his main series (the Falconer mysteries, set in 13th century Oxford) and which he continues to spin in his entry for this particular book as well.

Final comment: I was tempted to use a different book for the New Year’s Eve / St. Sylvester’s Day square and attribute this one to the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti holiday book joker, as the Sol Invictus cult actually makes a recurring appearance in this book.  (And trust me, I almost fell off my chair when it was first mentioned and I realized it was going to be a theme in one of the sections — and even more so, when it even showed up again in yet another section.) However, none of the book’s sections are set even remotely on this particular deity’s birthday or make reference to that particular day (and there is only the vaguest hint, if even that much, at the connection between Dies Natalis Solis Invicti and Christmas), so “Middle Ages”, “miracles” and Square 16 it is, after all.  (The book would also work for the Hanukkah square, however: It features several main characters who are Jewish — in fact, one entire section is set in the Jewish community of medieval Norwich — and the miracle of light plays a role in more than one section as well.)

 

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16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 16 – Kwanzaa

Tasks for Kwanzaa: Create a stack of books in the Kwanzaa color scheme using red, black and green and post your creation and post a photo (or post a photo of a shelfie where black, red and green predominate).

BONUS task: Create something with your stack of books: a christmas tree or other easily identifiable object.

 

It so happened I had a bunch of planned Halloween Bingo reads still sitting around that fit the bill … so here we go:

 

… and rearranged as a star (and I swear the covers of those books by Denise Mina, Louise Penny, Val McDermid and Stephen Booth are actually greenish-turquoise, not blue):

— and finally, rearranged again as a reader sitting on a chair (OK, well, just use your imagination … :D):

 

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Margery Allingham: Traitor’s Purse

16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 16 – Kwanzaa

Headless Chicken Parade Part 2: Albert Campion*


Well, I suppose that’s what I get for not checking a book’s online blurbs before reading it.  I downoladed this book purely because it was available on Audible and it was one of Allingham’s Campion that I hadn’t read yet.  Turns out its plot chiefly rests on not one but two mystery tropes I don’t particularly care for: the amnesiac detective and “Fifth Column” shenanigans, Golden Age mystery writer variety.

A few hours before the beginning of this book, Campion — out on a secret mission whose full details are only known to him and Oates — has gotten himself coshed on the head.  The book opens with him waking up in a hospital not knowing who he is and how he got there.  From an overheard conversation he concludes that he has been involved with a violent altercation that ended in the death of a policeman.  Within minutes, a young lady named Amanda whom Campion doesn’t recognize but who seems to know him very well appears next to his hospital bed and whisks him away in what he discovers is his own car, to the house of an eminent scientists where, it turns out, Amanda and he are staying.  Campion also discovers that he seems to be involved in some sort of highly charged top-secret mission.  Now, instead of lying low until he has regained his wits and knows precisely who he is, what his role in that ominous mission is, whom he can trust, and what not to do if he doesn’t want to give himself away — and despite the fact that that same evening a death occurs that may well be connected with the ominous mission — Campion starts running around like a headless chicken trying to bring the whole thing to completion.

Full marks for implausibility so far, Ms. Allingham.

Which brings us to trope no. 2, and which in its details is just about as ridiculously implausible as is the amnesia part of this book’s plot.  Yet, the saving grace of this second part of the plot is (alas) that in the days of Russian meddling with the American and European democracies’ political process via Facebook campaigns, “fake news” and other instances of rumor mongery, the mere concept of an enemy power’s meddling with a country’s political process (here: by way of manipulating the target country’s monetary politics) does unfortunately no longer sound quite as ridiculous as it might have even a few years ago.

Still I really would have wished Allingham hadn’t tried to match Christie in the wartime spy shenaningans game — which was not a particular forte of either of them.

I listened to this book for Square 16 of the 16 Tasks of the Festive Season, Kwanzaa: Read a book written by an author of African descent or a book set in Africa, or whose cover is primarily red, green or black.


* Note: Headless chicken No. 1 is Giordano Bruno in S.J. Parris’s Heresy.

 

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The Festive Tasks in Calendar Form – December

Reblogged from: Murder by Death

 

Posting this just in case anyone else finds it useful. November is here.

 

 

Square 5: 

Book themes for Advent: Read a book with a wreath or with pines or fir trees on the cover –OR– Read the 4th book from a favorite series, or a book featuring 4 siblings.

Tasks for Advent: Post a pic of your advent calendar. (Festive cat, dog, hamster or other suitable pet background expressly encouraged.) –OR– “Advent” means “he is coming.”  Tell us: What in the immediate or near future are you most looking forward to?  (This can be a book release, or a tech gadget, or an event … whatever you next expect to make you really happy.)

Bonus task:  make your own advent calendar and post it.

 

Square 6:

Book themes for Sinterklaas / St. Nicholas’ Day / Krampusnacht:
A Story involving children or a young adult book, –OR–
A book with oranges on the cover, or whose cover is primarily orange (for the Dutch House of Orange) or with tangerines, walnuts, chocolates, or cookies on the cover.

Tasks for Sinterklaas / St. Nicholas’ Day / Krampusnacht: Write a witty or humorous poem to St. Nicholas –OR–
If you have kids, leave coins or treats, like tangerines, walnuts, chocolate(s) and cookies [more common in Germany] in their shoes to find the next morning and then post about their reactions/bewilderment.  😉  If you don’t have kids, do the same for another family member / loved one or a friend.

Book themes for Bodhi Day:
Read a book set in Nepal, India or Tibet, –OR–
Read a book which involves animal rescue.  (Buddhism calls for a vegetarian lifestyle.)

Tasks for Bodhi Day:  Perform a random act of kindness.  Feed the birds, adopt a pet, hold the door open for someone with a smile, or stop to pet a dog (that you know to be friendly); cull your books and donate them to a charity, etc. (And, in a complete break with the Buddha’s teachings, tell us about it.)  –OR–
Post a picture of your pet, your garden, or your favourite, most peaceful place in the world.

 

Square 7:

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–
Read a book written by anyone not anglo-saxon, –OR–
Read 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).

Tasks for International Human Rights Day: Post a picture of yourself next to a war memorial or other memorial to an event pertaining to Human Rights.  (Pictures of just the memorial are ok too.) –OR–
Cook a dish from a foreign culture or something involving apples (NYC = Big Apple) or oranges (The Netherlands); post recipe and pics.

Book themes for Saint Lucia’s Day: Read a book set in Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Sweden – and Finland for the purposes of this game) or a book where ice and snow are an important feature.

Tasks for Saint Lucia’s Day: Get your Hygge on -light a few candles if you’ve got them, pour yourself a glass of wine or hot chocolate/toddy, roast a marshmallow or toast a crumpet, and take a picture of your cosiest reading place.

Bonus task:  Make the Danish paper hearts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jur29ViLEhk

 

Square 8: 

Book themes for Hanukkah: Any book whose main character is Jewish, any story about the Jewish people –OR–
Where the miracle of light plays a significant part in the stories plot.

Tasks for Hanukkah: Light nine candles around the room (SAFELY) and post a picture. –OR–
Play the Dreidel game to pick the next book you read.
Assign a book from your TBR to each of the four sides of the dreidel:

  • נ (Nun)
  • ג (Gimel)
  • ה (He)
  • ש (Shin)

Spin a virtual dreidel: http://www.torahtots.com/holidays/chanuka/dreidel.htm
– then tell us which book the dreidel picked.

–OR–
Make your own dreidel: https://www.activityvillage.co.uk/make-a-dreidel, –OR–
Play the game at home, or play online: http://www.jewfaq.org/dreidel/play.htm and tell us about the experience.–OR–
Give some Gelt: Continue a Hanukkah tradition and purchase some chocolate coins, or gelt. Post a picture of your chocolate coins, and then pass them out amongst friends and family!

Book themes for Las Posadas:  Read a book dealing with visits by family or friends, or set in Mexico, with a poinsettia on the cover. –OR–
Read a story where the main character is stranded without a place to stay, or find themselves in a ‘no room at the Inn’ situation.

Tasks for Las Posadas: Which was your favorite / worst / most memorable hotel / inn / vacation home stay ever?  Tell us all about it! –OR– If you went caroling as a kid: Which are your best / worst / most unfortettable caroling memories?

Bonus task: Make a piñata (https://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Pi%C3%B1ata), hang it from a tree, post, basketball hoop, clothesline or similarly suitable holder and let your neighborhood kids have a go at breaking it.

 

Square 9:

Book themes for Winter Solstice and Yaldā Night:
Read a book of poetry, or a book where the events all take place during the course of one night, or where the cover is a night-time scene.

Tasks for Winter Solstice and Yaldā Night: Read a book in one night – in the S. Hemisphere, read a book in a day. –OR–
Grab one of your thickest books off the shelf.  Ask a question and then turn to page 40 and read the 9th line of text on that page.  Post your results.  –OR–
Eat a watermelon or pomegranate for good luck and health in the coming year, but post a pic first!.

Bonus task:  Read a book in one night.

Book themes for Yuletide: Read a book set in the midst of a snowy or icy winter, –OR–

Read a book set in the Arctic or Antartica.

Tasks for Yuletide: Make a Yule log cake – post a pic and the recipe for us to drool over.

Book themes for Mōdraniht: Read any book where the MC is actively raising young children or teens.

Tasks for Mōdraniht: Tell us your favourite memory about your mom, grandma, or the woman who had the greatest impact on your childhood.  –OR– Post a picture of you and your mom, or if comfortable, you and your kids.

Bonus task:  Post 3 things you love about your mother-in-law (if you have one), otherwise your grandma.

 

Square 10:

Book themes for World Peace Day: Read a book by or about a Nobel Peace Prize winner, or about a protagonist (fictional or nonfictional) who has a reputation as a peacemaker.

Tasks for World Peace Day: Cook something involving olives or olive oil. Share the results and/or recipe with us. –OR–
Tell us: If you had wings (like a dove), where would you want to fly?

Book themes for Pancha Ganapati: Read anything involving a need for forgiveness in the story line; a story about redemption –OR–
Read a book whose cover has one of the 5 colors of the holiday: red, blue, green, orange, or yellow –OR–
Read a book involving elephants.

Tasks for Pancha Ganapati: Post about your 5 favourite books this year and why you appreciated them so much. –OR–
Take a shelfie / stack picture of the above-mentioned 5 favorite books.  (Feel free to combine these tasks into 1!)

 

Square 11:

Book themes for Soyal: Read a book set in the American Southwest / the Four Corners States (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah), –OR–
Read a book that has a Native American protagonist.

Tasks for Soyal:  Like many Native American festivities, Soyal involves rituals such as dances.  What local / religious / folk traditions or customs exist where you live? Tell us about one of them. (If you can, post pictures for illustration.) –OR– Share a picture you’ve taken of a harvest setting or autumnal leaf color.

Book themes for Dōngzhì Festival: Read a book set in China or written by a Chinese author / an author of Chinese origin; or read a book that has a pink or white cover.

Tasks for Dōngzhì Festival: If you like Chinese food, tell us your favorite dish – otherwise, tell us your favorite desert. (Recipes, as always, welcome.)

 

Square 12:

Book themes for Festivus: Read anything comedic; a parody, satire, etc.  Books with hilariously dysfunctional families (must be funny dysfunctional, not tragic dysfunctional).  Anything that makes you laugh (or hope it does).

Tasks for Festivus: Post your personal list of 3 Festivus Miracles –OR–
Post a picture of your Festivus pole (NOTHING pornographic, please!), –OR–
Perform the Airing of Grievances:  name 5 books you’ve read this year that have disappointed you – tell us in tongue-lashing detail why and how they failed to live up to expectations.

Book themes for Saturnalia:  The god Saturn has a planet named after him; read any work of science fiction that takes place in space.  –OR–
Read a book celebrating free speech. –OR–
Read a book revolving around a very large party, or ball, or festival, –OR–
Read a book with a mask or masks on the cover.  –OR–
Read a story where roles are reversed.

Tasks for Saturnalia: Wear a mask, take a picture and post it.  Leave a small gift for someone you know anonymously – a small bit of chocolate or apple, a funny poem or joke.  Tell us about it in a post.  –OR–
Tell us: If you could time-travel back to ancient Rome, where would you want to go and whom (both fictional and / or nonfictional persons) would you like to meet?

 

Square 13:

Book themes for Christmas:  Read a book whose protagonist is called Mary, Joseph (or Jesus, if that’s a commonly used name in your culture) or any variations of those names (e.g., Maria or Pepe).

Tasks for Christmas:  So. many. options.  Post a picture of your stockings hung from the chimney with care, –OR–
Post a picture of Santa’s ‘treat’ waiting for him.  –OR–
Share with us your family Christmas traditions involving gift-giving, or Santa’s visit. Did you write letters to Santa as a kid (and if so, did he write back, as J.R.R. Tolkien did “as Santa Claus” to his kids)?  If so, what did you wish for?  A teddy bear or a doll? Other toys – or practical things? And did Santa always bring what you asked for?

Book themes for Hogswatch Night: Of course – read Hogfather!  Or any Discworld book (or anything by Terry Pratchett)

Tasks for Hogswatch Night:  Make your favourite sausage dish (if you’re vegan or vegetarian, use your favorite sausage or meat substitute), post and share recipe.

 

Square 14:

Book themes for Dies Natalis Solis Invicti: Celebrate the sun and read a book that has a beach or seaside setting.  –OR–
Read a book set during summertime set in the Southern Hemisphere.

Tasks for Dies Natalis Solis Invicti: Find the sunniest spot in your home, that’s warm and comfy and read your book. –OR–
Take a picture of your garden, or a local garden/green space in the sun (even if the ground is under snow).  If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, take a picture of your local scenic spot, park, or beach, on a sunny day.  –OR–
The Romans believed that the sun god rode across the sky in a chariot drawn by fiery steeds.  Have you ever been horseback riding, or did you otherwise have significant encounters with horses?  As a child, which were your favorite books involving horses?

Book themes for Quaid-e-Azam:  Pakistan became an independent nation when the British Raj ended on August 14, 1947. Read a book set in Pakistan or in any other country that attained sovereign statehood between August 14, 1947 and today (regardless in what part of the world).

Tasks for Quaid-e-Azam: Pakistan’s first leader – Muhammad Ali Jinnah – was a man, but both Pakistan and neighboring India were governed by women (Benazir Bhutto and Indira Gandhi respectively) before many of the major Western countries.  Tell us: Who are the present-day or historic women that you most respect, and why?  (These can be any women of great achievement, not just political leaders.)

 

Square 15:

Book themes for Newtonmas:  Any science book.  Any book about alchemy.  Any book where science, astronomy, or chemistry play a significant part in the plot. (For members of the Flat Book Society: The “Forensics” November group read counts.)

Tasks for Newtonmas: Take a moment to appreciate gravity and the laws of motion. If there’s snow outside, have a snowball fight with a friend or a member of your family.  –OR– Take some time out to enjoy the alchemical goodness of a hot toddy or chocolate or any drink that relies on basic chemistry/alchemy (coffee with cream or sugar / tea with milk or sugar or lemon, etc.).  Post a picture of your libations and the recipe if it’s unique and you’re ok with sharing it.

Book themes for Boxing Day/St. Stephen’s Day: Read anything where the main character has servants (paid servants count, NOT unpaid) or is working as a servant him-/ herself.

Tasks for St. Stephen’s Day/Boxing Day: Show us your boxes of books!  –OR–  If you have a cat, post a picture of your cat in a box.  (your dog in a box works too, if your dog likes boxes – I’m looking at you WhiskeyintheJar) – or any pet good-natured enough to pose in a box long enough for you to snap a picture.

BONUS task:  box up all the Christmas detritus, decorations, or box up that stuff you’ve been meaning to get rid of, or donate, etc. and take a picture and post it. 

 

Square 16: 

Book themes for Kwanzaa: Read a book written by an author of African descent or a book set in Africa, or whose cover is primarily red, green or black.

Tasks for Kwanzaa: Create a stack of books in the Kwanzaa color scheme using red, black and green and post your creation and post a photo (or post a photo of a shelfie where black, red and green predominate).

BONUS task: Create something with your stack of books:  a christmas tree or other easily identifiable object.

Book themes for Hogmanay / New year’s eve / Watch night / St. Sylvester’s Day: a book about starting over, rebuilding, new beginnings, etc. –OR–
Read anything set in medieval times. –OR–
Read a book about the papacy –OR–
Read a book where miracles of any sort are performed (the unexplainable – but good – kind).

Tasks for Hogmanay / New year’s eve / Watch night / St. Sylvester’s Day:  Make a batch of shortbread for yourself, family or friends.  Post pics and recipe. –OR–
Light some sparklers (if legal) and take a picture – or have a friend take a picture of your “writing” in the sky with the sparkler. –OR–
Get yourself a steak pie (any veggie/vegan substitutions are fine) and read yourself a story – but take a pic of both before you start, and post it.–OR–
Make whatever New Year’s Eve / Day good luck dish there is in your family or in the area where you live or where you grew up; tell us about it, and if it’s not a secret recipe, we hope you’ll share it with us.

MASSIVE HUGE BONUS POINTS if you post a picture of yourself walking a pig on a leash.  (Done to ensure good fortune of the coming year.)

 

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