Books With a Difference

Responding to Moonlight Reader’s “call for papers (= titles / authors)” — there are quite a number of excellent lists out there already; anyway, here’s my contribution … or a first draft, at least.  Links go to my reviews (or status updates / summary blog posts / author pages) to the extent I’ve posted any.

Not necessarily in this (or any particular) order:

Dorothy L. Sayers: Are Women Human?
Sayers didn’t like to be called a feminist, because she was adverse to ideology for ideology’s sake, but nobody makes the case for equality and for the notion that a person’s qualification for a job depends not (at all) on their sex but solely — gasp — on their qualifications and experience more eloquently than she did in these two speeches.  (I gave up on the attempt to review this little book when I realized that I was basically fawn-quoting half its contents, but the BL book page lists two very good reviews by others.)  Sayers’s crime fiction is legendary, of course, but she’d totally be short-changed if she were ever reduced to that … even to a brilliant book like Gaudy Night (which transforms into fiction much of what she addresses here).  This should be taught and listed right alongside Virginia Woolf’s Room of One’s Own and Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women.

Moderata Fonte: The Worth of Women
If you thought women in the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance didn’t know how to speak up for themselves, think again.  There’s Margery Kempe, Julian of Norwich, Hildegard of Bingen, Christine de Pizan … and then, there is 16th century Venetian Moderata Fonte.  The Worth of Women is, essentially, a witty, pithy conversation among several women preparing one of them (the daughter of another one of their number) for her wedding, and it covers everything from women’s daily life and struggle (as such, but in particular vis-à-vis the stupidity and inferiority of the other sex, which without any justification whatsoever has been declared “superior”), their wishes, desires, etc.  The young bride, who actually doesn’t much feel like marrying to begin with, is consoled over the fact that she really has to (the only alternative being the cloister) by the assurance that every effort has gone into finding her a good husband (i.e., the best specimen from an inherently inferior selection), and receives manifold advice on how to get around him.  The whole text reads refreshingly contemporary, very much to the point — and in part, it is just laugh-out-loud funny.  (“Moderata Fonte” was, incidentally, the pen name of a lady actually named Modesta Pozzo, which means … exactly the same thing: Modest Fountain.  [Or Fountain of Modesty.]  And yes, I probably should review this book at some point, too — God knows, I added enough quotes from it on Goodreads back in the day …)

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Half of a Yellow Sun
One of my highlights of 2018 and the book that (in large parts) inspired my personal “Around the World in 80 Books” challenge; an insightful, heartbreaking, unflinching, and just all around amazingly written look at the 1960s’ Biafra war, post-independence Nigerian society and the human condition as such, by one of today’s most brilliant writers, period.  Eye-opening in so many ways.  (And yes, admittedly this one is on several of those published “must read” lists, too, but in this one instance I don’t care.  This really is a book that everybody should read.)

Aminatta Forna: The Memory of Love
My Half of a Yellow Sun of 2019; the book which alone would have made that “Around the World” challenge a winner even if I’d hate every other book I’ve so far read for it (which I don’t).  Trauma, fractured lives and society, love, betrayal, war and peace in post-independence Sierra Leone (1960s-70s and present day).  Forna is Adichie’s equal in every respect and then some.  For a bonus experience, get the audio version narrated by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith: He transforms a book that is extraordinary already in its own right from a deeply atmospheric and emotional experience into visceral goosebumps material.

Xinran: The Good Women of China
Before she emigrated to the UK, Xinran was a radio presenter in Nanjing: Inspired by the letters she received by women listeners, she started a broadcast series dedicated to their stories, some of which she tells in this book.  Her broadcasts gave Chinese women — firmly under the big collective male thumb for centuries and still considered beings of a lower order today — a voice that they hadn’t had until then; now her books give non-Chinese readers a pespective on an aspect of Chinese society that most definitely doesn’t figure in the pretty picture of a modern high-tech society that China would love to present to the world.

Astrid Lindgren: Pippi Longstocking and Lindgren’s Wartime Diaries (“A World Gone Mad”)
Pippi Longstocking taught me, when I had barely learned to read, that girls can go anywhere and do anything they set their minds to. — Lindgren’s wartime diaries are tinged with the same sense of humor and profound humanity as her children’s books, in addition to containing a spot-on analysis of the political situation in the years between 1939 and 1945 and many insights into her daily life.

Lion Feuchtwanger: Die Jüdin von Toledo (Raquel, the Jewess of Toledo, aka A Spanish Ballad)
A bit hard to come by in translation, but absolutely worthwhile checking out (and an indisputable evergreen classic in the original German): Set during the medieval Spanish Reconquista (the era when Christian princes and armies were wresting the Spanish peninsula back from the Muslims), in Toledo, during a phase when Christians, Jews and Muslims were living together peacefully in Castile; the true-life story of — married — (Christian) King Alfonso of Castile and his love for a young woman of Jewish faith.  Lots of food for thought on multicultural societies, tolerance, broadmindedness and responsible choices that applies today just as much as it did then.  I first read this decades ago and it has stayed with me ever since.

Iain Pears: The Dream of Scipio
More on multicultural societies, tolerance, conscience and choices; set in the Avignon area of Provence during three distinct historical periods: the end / breakdown of the Roman empire, the medieval schism of the Catholic church (when the popes were residing in Avignon), and the Nazi occupation of France.  All three periods are linked by a mysterious manuscript, and in all three periods the (male) protagonists are guided by a woman who is their superior in wisdom and who becomes their inspiration.  Another one of those books that have stayed with me for years and years.

Wallace Stegner: Remembering Laughter
MR mentioned Angle of Repose, and I’d agree that is Stegner’s best novel (it’s also far and away my favorite book by him); but I do also have a soft spot for his very first novella, written as his (winning) entry in a writing competition, in which all of the hallmarks of his fiction are already present, most importantly the backdrop of his beloved Western Plains and the topic of people’s isolation from each other (even when they’re ostensibly in company).

Gabriel García Márquez: Crónica de una muerte anunciada (Chronicle of a Death Foretold)
100 Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera may be the books by García Márquez that the creators of those “must read” lists tell you to read (and I don’t exactly disagree), but this brief novella set in a small Columbian seaside town is every bit as worthwhile of notice: A deconstruction, in a mere 100 pages and in reverse chronology, of an honor killing and the society that has allowed it to happen.  Completely and utterly spine-chilling.

Salman Rushdie: Joseph Anton
Actually, any nonfiction by Rushdie (for my money, most of his fiction writing as well, but part of that is on “those lists” anyway, and I know Rushdie’s style of fiction writing isn’t everybody’s cup of tea).  I’ve read some of his essays, but not enough of them yet to make for a full collection, so I’ll go with the one nonfiction book of his that I actually have read cover to cover: His memoir of the fatwā years.  Unapologetically personal and subjective, even if oddly — and to me, jarringly — written in the third instead of the first person; but definitely one of my must-read books of the recent years and one that I have every expectation will stand the test of time.

For completion’s sake: His essays are collected in two volumes entitled Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991 and  Step Across This Line: Collected Nonfiction 1992-2002.  I’m hoping to complete both of them, too, some day soon.

Graham Greene: Our Man in Havana and John Le Carré: The Tailor of Panama
Two takes on essentially the same topic — corruption, Western espionage and military shenanigans in Central America –, both redolent with satire and featuring a bumbling spy against his own will as their MC.  I’m not a fan of either author’s entire body of work, but I find both of their takes on this particular topic equally irresistible … and unfortunately, they seem to have regained consiiderable topicality in recent years.

Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman: Good Omens
By which I do not mean the recent TV adaptation but the actual book, as well as (by way of a companion piece) the full cast BBC audio adaptation.  Armageddon will never again be as much fun — but Pratchett and Gaiman wouldn’t be Pratchett and Gaiman if there weren’t a sharp-edged undercurrent, too: Unlike the TV adaptation with its squeaky-clean looks, the book does not shy away from taking an uncomfortably close look at religion and society.  And then, of course, there’s Crowley and Aziraphale …

(Honorary entry from Pratchett’s Discworld series: Hogfather.  Just because.)

Michael Connelly: Harry Bosch Series
One of the two ongoing crime fiction series that I’m still following religiously and have been, from very early on.  Connelly nails L.A., to the point that it becomes a character in its own right in his novels rather than merely a backdrop.  Harry Bosch is a Vietnam vet, your quintessential curmudgeonly loner with a big heart, fiercely loyal (motto: “Everybody counts or nobody counts”) and hates corruption, grift and nepotism in the LAPD more than anything else.  One of my all-time early favorite entries in the series is book no. 6, Angels Flight (which deals with the Rodney King riots and their fallout), but really, Connelly just keeps getting better and better.  The TV series starring Titus Welliver as Harry makes for great companion material, but to me the books will always come first.  (Even more so now that some of them are actually narrated by Mr. Welliver in the audio versions.)

Ian Rankin: Inspector Rebus Series
The other long-lasting crime fiction series that I’ve been following since pretty much forever; for similar reasons as Connelly’s Harry Bosh series: Edinburgh is a character of its own rather than mere backdrop; John Rebus (ex-S.A.S.) is Harry Bosch’s brother in spirit in virtually every respect — except that Bosch has a daughter, whereas Rebus has (or had, until recently) his booze — and like Connelly, Rankin does not shy away from addressing the social and political topics of the day in his novels.  For me, Rankin had found his Rebus legs, oddly enough, also in book 6 of the series, Mortal Causes (which deals with the “white supremacy” /  neofascist brand of Scottish nationalism), but he, too, just keeps getting better and better.

P.D. James: Inspector Dalgliesh Series
From the waning years of the Silver Age of detective fiction (post-WWII through the 1960s) all the way to the New Millennium, James was the reigning queen of British mystery writers, and for a reason.  Her friend (and rival for those honors) Ruth Rendell may have been more prolific, but every so often gave in to populism and cliché — not so James.  She was unequaled at setting a scene and creating a suspenseful atmosphere, and in the best tradition of the Golden Age masters, her mysteries always turned on psychology first and foremost.  Means and opportunity were important, but it was humans and their relationshp that she was chiefly interested in.   I have no doubt that her books will stand the test of time just as well as those of Conan Doyle, Christie, Sayers and their generation of mystery writers.

Joy Ellis: Their Lost Daughters
The second book in Ellis’s Jackman and Evans series; an absolute stunner in every single way.  Mike Finn and Jennifer(‘s Books) weren’t that enchanted with Ellis’s other series (Nikki Galena), and I have only read one other book by her so far (Jackman & Evans no. 1), but be that as it may, this one is completely worth it and then some.  Set in the Fen Country, dripping with dark atmosphere, with a likeable and fully rounded pair of detectives as MCs — and a veritable jaw-dropper of a finale.  Oh, and the audio version (of the entire series) is narrated by Richard Armitage.

Peter Grainger: An Accidental Death
New Fen Country crime fiction series no. 2, and every bit as atmospheric and well-written as Ellis’s Their Lost Daughters.  This is the first book in the DC Smith series, which centers on a formerly higher-ranking policeman who has chosen to stay on the job as a detective sergeant (rather than go into retirement), so as to be able to actually do hands-on crime solving work instead of being shackled to his desk dealing with police administration.  Again, highly recommended, and I am very much looking forward to continue reading the series. — With this series and those by Ellis, I’m also really, really happy to have found not one but several new series set in a part of Britain that has not yet been written to death.

Donna Andrews: Meg Langslow Series
I am not anywhere near a reader of modern cozies (and though Golden Age mysteries are often lumped into that category, to my mind few of them really belong there) — I quickly get bored by trademark kinks and similar forms of repetitive humor, and I often find their plotlines, characters and settings unconvincing, shallow and overly sugarcoated.  Donna Andrews is the exception to the rule: I probably still wouldn’t read too many of her books back to back, but visits to the crazy but comfortable world of her small-town Virginia have become a Christmas reading tradition in the last couple of years that I’ve really come to look forward to.  Favorite entries to date: Duck the Halls, The Nightingale Before Christmas, and Six Geese A’Slayin’.

Jennifer Worth: Call the Midwife
Midwifery in London’s East End, in the mid-20th century.  I’m not even a mother myself, but man, I’ve never been more grateful for the advances in modern medicine than after reading this book.  Well, and other social advances obviously.  Gotta love the Sisters, though …

 

Jared Diamond: Collapse and The World Until Yesterday
Diamond won a Pulitzer for Guns, Germs and Steel, but these two books (particularly: Collapse) are, to my mind, much more relevant to the world in which we’re living today; in analyzing both the state of our modern, globalized world (and its chances for a sustainable future) and the lessons to be learned from past societies: those whose choices led them to failure as much as those whose choices led to success and long-term survival.  Diamond is anything but a prophet of disaster, but being a scientist, he cannot and of course does not shrink from simple, indisputable facts and realities.  At no time have voices like his needed to be listened to and taken seriously as much as today.

  Full disclosure: I know Jared Diamond personally; he’s a longtime friend of my mother’s.  That doesn’t however impact my belief that his voice, and those of scientists like him, need to be heard now more than ever.

Stanley Wells, James Shapiro, Tarnya Cooper and Marcia Pointon: Searching for Shakespeare
Hard to believe this started life as a National Portrait Gallery exhibition catalogue, but it did: A lavishly, gorgeously illustrated, supersized, book-length (240 p.) showcasing of Shakespeare’s life and times; companion to the 2006 exhibition on the NPG’s examination of the authenticity of six portraits then believed to be of the Bard (of which only one, the Chandos Portrait, in addition to the famous First Folio cover of Shakespeare’s works and the statue in Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church survived that scrutiny).  More informative in both text and images than many a Shakesperean biography or a book on the history of the 16th / 17th century.

Stanley Wells: Shakespeare and Co.: Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Dekker, Ben Johnson, Thomas Middleton, John Fletcher and the Other Players in His Story
The world of Elizabethan theatre, by the grand master of British Shakespearean scholars and long-time chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.  Equally engaging, informative and entertaining — and I’m pretty sure the Bard would have appreciated Wells’s not just occasionally pithy turn of phrase.

Antony Sher and Gregory Doran: Woza Shakespeare: Titus Andronicus in South Africa
The future artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company and one of Britain’s greatest contemporary Shakespearean actors (himself born in South Africa) — off stage, a couple — take the Bard’s most controversial and violent play to Sher’s home country … in the middle of Apartheid.  Judging by their tour diaries (in essence, this book), it must have been quite a trip.

Final note, for those who are wondering: Golden Age mysteries have been covered by several other list creators here on BL already, so I decided not to replicate that (obviously, otherwise the better part of the entire canons of Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie and others would have shown up on my list, too).  Similarly, while Jane Austen, the Brontës, and several other 19th century writers are unquestionably part of my personal canon, they’re also on just about every published “must read” list out there, so there hardly seemed any point in including them here.  Ditto Greek mythology.  Ditto William Shakespeare (the plays themselves, that is).  Ditto Oscar Wilde.  Ditto John Steinbeck.  Etc. …

And now that I’m finally about to hit “post”, I’m probably going to think of a whole other list of books that I really ought to have included here!

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1903597/for-moonlight-reader-books-with-a-difference

Donna Andrews: Six Geese A-Slaying

24 Festive Tasks: Door 9 – Thanksgiving, Book


90952946660eb6bf871d8147603b0148

I decided to backtrack a bit to the series’s first (I think) Christmas entry, which is set right after Meg and Michael’s marriage and in which Meg is in charge of organizing Caerphilly’s annual holiday parade — emphatically not a “Christmas” parade, since it includes a nod to Diwali (complete with elephants), as well as a Kwanzaa float, which obviously makes this book a fun match with “24 Festive Tasks”.

Andrews had definitely found her Meg Langslow legs by the time of this book, and the writing and plotting is great fun … of course a holiday parade themed on The Twelve Days of Christmas offers countless opportunities for things to go hilariously haywire, but you still have to be able to hit just the right balance of humor and storytelling instead of simply stringing together a series of (wannabe) quirky incidents and characters, which not every writer is able to pull off convincingly.  Perhaps the one tiny letdown was that the murderer (and their motive) was fairly obvious well before the conclusion of the book, but still, I very much enjoyed my annual return to Caerphilly for Christmas the holidays.

And since a whole rafter of turkeys show up in various parts of the book — they march in the holiday parade, they’re being offered as charity gifts to the local poor, they’re roasted at one of the local church community’s food stand, and a turkey also features in the Christmas dinner “in the off” at the end of the story, to be prepared by Meg’s mother — I feel justified in using this as my Thanksgiving square read in “24 Festive Tasks” … even if the turkeys are not accorded quite as prominent a role as the titular six geese (or actually, 37 geese … or make that 38, counting one deceased of natural causes).

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1817937/24-festive-tasks-door-9-thanksgiving-book

Donna Andrews: Lord of the Wings



A Halloween entry in Donna Andrews’s long-running series featuring Caerphilly, VA artisan blacksmith and volunteer town events organizer Meg Langslow — what could possibly be more fitting for this bingo square?

Caerphilly (that’s CaerPHILLY to you reporters if you don’t want to have the locals screaming at their TVs at the top of their voices) has decided to join the Halloween festival craze and is going at it hammer and tongs.  Mayor Shiffley is supposed to have an assistant organizing the festivities, but she’s more bossy than efficient (and vanishes halfway through the event, to boot), so unsurprisingly the whole thing lands in Meg’s lap all over again.  Unfortunately, some evilminded soul has decided to hijack the festivities for their own purposes, so soon enough Meg, the Mayor and Chief Burke have two real corpses on their hands, the local would-be vampire (formerly: the police department’s forensic pathologist) is carted off to hospital with a near-fatal head wound administered with a blunt object, the town is beset by scavenger hunters who seem to stop at very little in pursuit of a computer game called “Vampire Colonies II” created by the software company of Meg’s brother Rob, Mutant Wizards; and a group of live action role playing vampires have converged on the town with who knows what agenda of their own. — Meanwhile, Meg’s grandfather has added a bat cave to the local zoo (which is run by him), has managed to tame a bunch of ravens to stick to him more or less like sown to his wizard cloak with fine thread and croak “Nevermore” and similar Halloween’ish things, realistic-looking body parts show up in the zoo’s lion’s den and Florida alligator swamp areas (they are soon revealed as part of the scavenger hunt pranks, however) — and in the middle of the festivities, a former heavy metal drummer of Scandinavian origin comes into his own again, which promises great things for the subsequent year’s Halloween.

As an installment in the series that is set against the backdrop of a major holiday I didn’t love this quite as much as Andrews’s recent Meg Langslow Christmas books (Duck the Halls and The Nightingale Before Christmas) — perhaps because unlike Christmas, Halloween is the sort of holiday where you more or less expect a certain amount of craziness anyway; so oddly, it didn’t offer quite as much opportunity for Andrews’s comic genius to shine as the Christmas setting, where the contrast between the expectation of a supremely peaceful holiday (certainly in a small town setting at least!), and the chaos engendered by the intrusion of violent crime and various pranks seems to work a bit better — at least for me — than in a setting that, like Halloween, must have had Andrews walking a fine tightrope practically all the time in order not to have things going over the top.  But this is ultimately nit-picking … first and foremost, at now over 20 entries (of which this is no. 19), I’m happy to see that the series is still going so strong at all!

Halloween Bingo 2017: Update 2

 

My Square Markers and “Virgin” Bingo Card:

“Virgin” card posted for ease of tracking and comparison, as called and read squares will, bit by bit, vanish behind my markers and everybody’s cards are different.


Black Kitty:
Read but not called


Black Vignette:
Called but not read

Black Kitty in Black Vignette:
Read and Called

 

Current Status of Spreadsheet:

(Note: Physical print editions unless stated otherwise)

 

Books Read / Listened to – Update 2:


Donna Andrews: Lord of the Wings

A Halloween entry in Donna Andrews’s long-running series featuring Caerphilly, VA artisan blacksmith and volunteer town events organizer Meg Langslow — what could possibly be more fitting for this bingo square?

Caerphilly (that’s CaerPHILLY to you reporters if you don’t want to have the locals screaming at their TVs at the top of their voices) has decided to join the Halloween festival craze and is going at it hammer and tongs.  Mayor Shiffley is supposed to have an assistant organizing the festivities, but she’s more bossy than efficient (and vanishes halfway through the event, to boot), so unsurprisingly the whole thing lands in Meg’s lap all over again.  Unfortunately, some evilminded soul has decided to hijack the festivities for their own purposes, so soon enough Meg, the Mayor and Chief Burke have two real corpses on their hands, the local would-be vampire (formerly: the police department’s forensic pathologist) is carted off to hospital with a near-fatal head wound administered with a blunt object, the town is beset by scavenger hunters who seem to stop at very little in pursuit of a computer game called “Vampire Colonies II” created by the software company of Meg’s brother Rob, Mutant Wizards; and a group of live action role playing vampires have converged on the town with who knows what agenda of their own. — Meanwhile, Meg’s grandfather has added a bat cave to the local zoo (which is run by him), has managed to tame a bunch of ravens to stick to him more or less like sown to his wizard cloak with fine thread and croak “Nevermore” and similar Halloween’ish things, realistic-looking body parts show up in the zoo’s lion’s den and Florida alligator swamp areas (they are soon revealed as part of the scavenger hunt pranks, however) — and in the middle of the festivities, a former heavy metal drummer of Scandinavian origin comes into his own again, which promises great things for the subsequent year’s Halloween.

As an installment in the series that is set against the backdrop of a major holiday I didn’t love this quite as much as Andrews’s recent Meg Langslow Christmas books (Duck the Halls and The Nightingale Before Christmas) — perhaps because unlike Christmas, Halloween is the sort of holiday where you more or less expect a certain amount of craziness anyway; so oddly, it didn’t offer quite as much opportunity for Andrews’s comic genius to shine as the Christmas setting, where the contrast between the expectation of a supremely peaceful holiday (certainly in a small town setting at least!), and the chaos engendered by the intrusion of violent crime and various pranks seems to work a bit better — at least for me — than in a setting that, like Halloween, must have had Andrews walking a fine tightrope practically all the time in order not to have things going over the top.  But this is ultimately nit-picking … first and foremost, at now over 20 entries (of which this is no. 19), I’m happy to see that the series is still going so strong at all!

 

Ruth Rendell:
The Babes in the Wood

& Not in the Flesh

For the “In the Dark, Dark Woods” square, I decided on a Ruth Rendell double dip.  The Babes in the Wood and Not in the Flesh are books no. 19 and 21 in Rendell’s Chief Inspector Wexford series, and now that Rendell is no longer around to add to the series, I’m getting ever more nostalgic about revisiting Wexford’s Kingsmarkham (notwithstanding that IMHO Wexford did, probably, retire just about when it was really time).

Both books feature classic Rendell territory: the victimization of women (physical abuse in The Babes in the Wood, female circumcision in Not in the Flesh), child abuse, xenophobia, racism, the marginalization of immigrants and minorities (also including, in Not in the Flesh, “travelers”, aka gypsies) and, oh yes, all that amidst the investigation of a murder or two.

The title of The Babes in the Wood is largely symbolic, referring as it does to the title of a traditional children’s tale dealing with — you guessed it — two kids all alone in the woods, after their parents have unwittingly left them to the care of their evil uncle, who in short order proceeds to deliver them into the hands of murderers.  The tale was first published as a ballad by Thomas Millington in Norwich in 1595 — the late 19th century Caldecott version is available for free on the Project Gutenberg site — and has given rise to a proverb indicating essentially the same as someone being “in over their head”; i.e., being overwhelmed by situation requiring decidedly more experience than one really possesses. Rendell’s novel does in fact trace the eponymous children’s story to a certain extent, however, in that it concerns the disappearance of two kids and their caretaker during their parents’ brief absence from home — and I guess both the fact that there’s a wood on the cover (of the CD I listened to, as well as on that of the paperback edition) and the fact that the one corpse showing up some time after the kids’ and their caretaker’s disappearance is found in a quarry near a patch of woodland makes it qualify for the “In the Dark, Dark Woods” bingo square.

Not in the Flesh begins with the discovery of a corpse in a forest near Kingsmarkham, and a while later, a second corpse is found in a locked and abandoned basement nearby (besides, here, too, both the CD and the paperback edition have a wood on their respective cover).  As both murders have occurred quite a while ago, Wexford and Burden get to be their own cold case investigators, or rather, criminal archeologists.

Of the two novels, I slightly preferred the later one (Not in the Flesh): The subplot of The Babes in the Wood, which brings a case of domestic violence to Wexford’s family, is not quite convincing (once Wexford’s daughter Linda, who has been victimized by her boyfriend, is rescued, she seems to recover surprisingly quickly from her ordeal — quickly and fully enough to have another boyfriend in absolutely no time whatsoever, as if she didn’t have some fairly significant trust issues to overcome first), whereas that of Not in the Flesh — which was written at the height of the public outrage over female genital mutilation — left room both to explore the horrors involved in the practice as such and the cultural complexities involved, and it also served as an uncomfortable reminder that a human rights issue making headlines one day will just as easily drop from public consciousness as soon as more pressing concerns emerge.  Female circumcision is still as much of an issue in many parts of the world as it was ten years ago when this book was written, but at a time when the Western world is buffetted by everything from the Trump presidency to ISIS, Brexit and the aftermath of the 2009-2009 financial crisis, it hardly seems to impinge anymore. — As a side note, I very much enjoyed briefly meeting again Dr. Akande, Wexford’s doctor and one of the protagonists of the series’s 16th novel, Simisola.

For both novels, I listened to the audio narration by Christopher Ravenscroft, the Inspector Burden of the long-running TV series starring George Baker as Wexford.  (I do also own a paperback copy of Not in the Flesh, however, and consulted it for reference and plot tracking purposes.)  Ravenscroft gives Wexford a bit more of a country man’s accent than he has in the TV dramatizations — and, I have to say, in my head when I read the books — but he is a pleasure to listen to, and his obvious familiarity with the source material only adds to that pleasure, as does his classical stage training.

 


Robert Louis Stevenson: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

One of the great classics of the horror genre — which I’d read before, but when I heard that there was a recording of the story by Sir Christopher Lee, I just had to have it.  And Lee more than delivers on the promise associated with his name alone.  No wide-eyed, flamboyantly-gestured horror movie antics here (or their audio equivalent), just great empathy for all of the characters involved — and for none more so than for the unfortunate, tragically overreaching Dr. Jekyll.

Never mind the story’s one minor logical inconsistency — by which I’m not referring to its central premise, the notion of (even physically) splitting apart a man’s personality into its “good” and its “evil” components (reject that, and the story falls apart entirely, obviously), but if Hyde is initially significantly smaller in stature than Jekyll because his is, or has heretofore been the less dominant part of Jekyll’s personality, shouldn’t Hyde then grow in stature, too, as his influence over Jekyll grows? — this is rightfully a classic of the genre, and a cautionary moral tale to boot; and in an age that has made the manipulation of human genetic material easier than ever, also eerily timely … not to mention that it brilliantly shows that “horror” does not have to involve bucketfuls of blood oozing from the pages in order to achieve a truly terrifying effect; psychology and atmosphere, if as brilliantly executed as here, really does it all.  (Oh, yes, of course there is the one brutal murder committed by Hyde, but let’s be honest, that doesn’t even come close to the real life horror that would be spread, barely two years later, by Jack the Ripper; and it certainly hasn’t got a dime’s worth on our latter days’ slasher yarns.)

 

Having lucked out with the two most recent bingo calls, in that one of them (Genre: Horror) isn’t on my card and the other one (Locked-Room Mysteries) is one I’d already read a book for, I decided to indulge in a bit of a mini-binge for one of the squares I had been particularly looking forward to — and had also had a disproportionately hard time making up my mind what book(s) to read for it.  I ended up settling for a print edition of Cornell Woolrich’s The Bride Wore Black and an audio threesome of Chandlers: an unabridged reading by Elliott Gould (who better?!) of Chandler’s second Philip Marlowe novel, Farewell, My Lovely, and full cast audio dramatizations of Marlowe books nos. 3 and 6, The High Window and The Long Goodbye.

Cornell Woolrich: The Bride Wore Black

Woolrich was one of the classic noir era’s masters of psychological suspense; few of his contemporaries were capable of making nightmare scenarios come alive within a few short pages the way that Cornell Woolrich could.  Many of his stories have a downright evil twist at the end, and as far as such endings go, The Bride Wore Black certainly shows Woolrich at the top of his game.  (Be warned, however: Woolrich doesn’t always play fair.  His final twists may come out of left field not only for his characters but also for the reader; and this, too, is certainly true for this particular novel.  While certain clues are provided throughout the story hinting at yet another narrative level, they in themselves are not sufficient to allow a deduction what precisely that level might coonsist of.)

There is very little that can be said about the plot without spoiling at least significant parts of it, so let’s just stick with what the title implies — this is a twist (and a fairly major one) on the “black widow” trope, in that over the course of 2 1/2 years, several men are murdered … though not by a woman whom they themselves have married.  It’s a thrilling tale that I greatly enjoyed, even if not all of the background details provided over the course of the book and in the final reveal do, IMHO, fully resolve the things that had nagged at me while I was reading the book.

(Note: If you don’t know the book and are seriously planning to read it, DO NOT read the below paragraphs, which contain significant spoilers.)

 

In the Moran chapter particularly, “the woman”‘s background research — notably, into Miss Baker’s habits and into Cookie’s kindergarten routine (the “gold star” awards system for the children’s drawings, etc.) would seem to have had to be much more extensive than a brief absence from her job (as she owns to during the final reveal) would have enabled her to carry out, and I also think this is the one section where the book most clearly shows its age in terms of child psychology. — Moreover and still in that same section, the murder method seems inconsistent with “the woman”‘s otherwise extremely careful planning in that it seems opportunistic, as she certainly couldn’t expect to come across that conveniently suffocating closet (and we neither have any indication that she had ever actually seen the inside of Moran’s house before, nor that she had initially been planning on a different murder method, e.g., for using that fruit paring knife, and changed her mind only at the very last moment, baiting the trap with a game of hide and seek).

Similarly, given the back story it seems hardly credible to me that Corey should not have been aware of her (and able to recognize her) long before she even showed up at Bliss’s engagement party: This is the woman who ruined his business racket and made his former partner abscond with the proceeds … and yet, to Corey she’s supposed to have been “that unimportant little white doll-like figure” next to her husband even on their wedding day?!

And, finally, I find it hard to believe that Wanger should not have focused on the cross sections of the victims’ lives much earlier than we are told he did.  Surely if you are convinced there is a connection between several killings, taking a look at the victims’ lives and seeing where they intersect is one of the very first things you do … especially if you have a hard time convincing your superior officer because all else you can come up with is the fairly esoterical notion that the killer might — just might — be the same woman?

(Spoiler paragraphs end.)

 

So, a bit of suspension of disbelief is required on the part of the jaded modern reader who’s read one or two mysteries too many.  But the quality of the writing, the clever build-up of suspense, and the wicked twist in the final reveal more than make up for that.

And just as a side note now, take a look at that cover: Isn’t it simply fabulous?  It alone almost tells you everything you need to know about the story going in — and in the actual physical copy I own, the red and deep black almost have a lacquer glow.  So gorgeous!  Hats off to the artist whoever came up with it.

 

Raymond Chandler:
Farewell, My Lovely

Farewell, My Lovely is supposed to have been Raymond Chandler’s own favorite novel, and although it didn’t quite manage to elbow The Big Sleep out of the top spot of my personal affections for Chandler’s writing, it came darned close and is also, along with the Christopher Lee / Robert Louis Stevenson “co-production” (of sorts) on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (see above and here), easily the stand-out experience of this particular batch of bingo books.  It certainly helped to have it read to me by Elliott Gould, whose dark, slightly husky voice and laconic intonation is a perfect match for Chandler’s language — and for Marlowe’s character –, but even narration aside, this book has everything you can possibly ask for in a Raymond Chandler novel: razor sharp language and observation, perfect pitch, a 1940s Los Angeles leaping off the pages in every conceivable shade of gray, dodgy characters (both male and female) aplenty, and a Philip Marlowe in deep trouble after successive run-ins with representatives of both sides of the law (with both sides of the law sometimes being represented by the very same persons, of course).

Structurally, the book follows a similar pattern as The Big Sleep and virtually every other Marlowe novel: After having made an acquaintance with every potential to land him in the deepest of muck — and not before the first specks of said muck have indeed begun to materialize — Marlowe is hired by a(nother) client, as a result of which his attention is temporarily deflected from the muck already accumulating elsewhere, until it dawns on him that the two piles of manure are actually — or at least very likely — products of the same stable.  He digs deeper (or is dragged deeper in), whereupon the manure acquires Augean proportions.  Further complications ensue, until at the end Marlowe emerges from it all: yet a bit more cynical and disillusioned by his recent experience, minus a client or two, and feeling that, once again, in a city where not even the police can be trusted to do their job, he has done their job for them very much at his own cost.

In this instance, the trouble begins with a variation of the “two men enter a bar” joke, except when a private dick (Marlowe) and a black six-foot heavyweight boxer-material ex-con appropriately named Moose Malloy enter this particular bar, the punch line is, in quick succession, a dead body in a back room, Marlowe’s first of several run-ins with the cops, and a phone call from an equally rich and shady character seeking to hire him, at the very last minute, as a bodyguard for a nightly rare-jade-necklace-for-a-suitcase-of-ransom-money-exchange in the hills above the city.

Plot serpentines the size of Mulholland Drive aside, however, the true feast in any Raymond Chandler novel is the language and imagery.  Oh, it’s cynical beyond belief (this is a noir novel, remember), and female sensibilities in particular aren’t catered for; much less so than even in the writings of Chandler’s contemporary Dashiell Hammett.  But there’s a rapid-fire gut-punch quality to it that just hasn’t got any equals anywhere — just take these few examples, all within just a few pages of each other (if that) fairly early on:

“I said: ‘Mrs. Florian? Mrs. Jessie Florian?’
‘Uh-huh,’ the voice dragged itself out of her throat like a sick man getting out of bed.”

“A couple of frayed lamps with once gaudy shades that were now as gay as superannuated streetwalkers.”

“The woman’s eyes became fixed in an incredulous stare.  Then suspicion climbed all over her face like a kitten, but not so playfully.”

“[T]heir faces were as threadbare as a bookkeeper’s office coat.”

“I wouldn’t say the face was lovely and unspoiled, I’m not that good at faces.  But it was pretty.  People had been nice to that face, or nice enough for their circle.  Yet it was a very ordinary face and its prettiness was strictly assembly line.”

“‘Huh?  Oh yeah, funny.  Remind me to laugh on my day off.'”

“They had Rembrandt on the calendar that year, a rather smeary self-portrait due to imperfectly registered color plates.  It showed him holding a smeared palette with a dirty thumb and wearing a tam-o’-shanter which wasn’t any too clean either.  His other hand held a brush poised in the air, as if he might be going to do a little work after a while, if somebody made a down payment.  His face was aging, saggy, full of the disgust of life and the thickening effects of liquor.  But it had a hard cheerfulness that I liked, and the eyes were as bright as drops of dew.”

“Montemar Vista was a few dozen houses of various sizes and shapes hanging by their teeth and eyebrows to a spur of mountain and looking as if a good sneeze would drip them down among the box lunches on the beach.”

“I walked back through the arch and started up the steps.  It was a nice walk if you liked grunting.  There were two hundred and eighty steps up to Cabrillo Street.  They were drifted over with windblown sand and the handrail was as cold and wet as a toad’s belly.”

Let me tell you, after you’ve been through a whole novel’s length of that sort of stuff, you feel like you’re fresh out of the wringer, too; right down there with Marlowe!

 


The High Window

The Long Goodbye

Compared to an unabridged reading of Chandler’s own words, any radio adaptation of his novels must necessarily fall a bit short, even if it’s got the BBc’s stellar production quality and the cast — lead by a very credible Toby Stephens as Marlowe; accent, cynicism and all — do their level best to convey the essence of Chandler’s works.  Still, I wasn’t disappointed, and quite frankly, another two servings on the same level ast he Elliot Gould reading of Farewell, My Lovely would have been more than I’d have been able to stomach in this rapid succession.

The High Window, Chandler’s third Marlowe novel, sees the detective hired by a rich bully of a widow (magnificently portrayed by Judy Parfitt) to recover a “Brasher Doubloon”, a valuable antique coin (see left) that she has inherited from her late husband.  Like The Big Sleep, this story has an extremely jaded “it’s all in the family” subtext, and while its storyline is not quite as tangled and knotted as that of Chandler’s most famous novel (where reportedly not even the author himself was ultimately able to unravel all of the plot strings), there are noir joys aplenty along the way … and Marlowe even gets to go on a cross country trip to rescue a Mid-Western damsel in distress from her toxic big city environment and restore her to her parents’ porch.

The Long Goodbye, finally, was Chandler’s penultimate Marlowe novel complete and published during his lifetime.  It begins when Marlowe makes the acquaintance of a drunk ex-soldier in a sort of on-again-off-again-marriage/relationship with a rich tycoon’s daughter, who after several months on-again-off-again friendship with Marlowe asks the detective to help him to make it to Tijuana airport … only to be reported to have died in Mexico a short while later; not however before dispatching two farewell notes to his late pal — a short letter accompanied by a larger banknote than Marlowe has ever seen.

 Los Angeles in the 1940s:

A map of Raymond Chandler’s / Philip Marlowe’s Los Angeles:

Source: Huffington Post

… and finally, a couple of my own photos (from the 1990s and early 2000s): View from Mulholland Drive: Hollywood Bowl, 405 Freeway, Westwood;
on the horizon, downtown Los Angeles


Left: Westwood, Beverly Hills and Century City;
Right: Bel Air and Hollywood Hills


Hollywood Hills and Hollywood Sign


Beverly Hills: Sunset Blvd. and Rodeo Drive


Santa Monica


Rancho Palos Verdes

 

Next Read:

  TBD!

 

Books Read / Listened to – Update 1:



Terry Pratchett: Equal Rites

 



Wilkie Collins: Mrs. Zant and the Ghost
(Gillian Anderson audio)

 



Martin Edwards / British Library:
Miraculous Mysteries – Locked-Room Murders and Impossible Crimes

 



Agatha Christie: Mrs. McGinty’s Dead
(Hugh Fraser audio)

 

The Book Pool:

Most likely: Donna Andrews: Lord of the Wings

Alternatively:
* Diane Mott Davidson: Catering to Nobody
* One or more stories from Martin Greenberg’s and Ed Gorman’s (eds.)
Cat Crimes

* … or something by Lilian Jackson Braun


Most likely: Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights (audio return visit courtesy of either Michael Kitchen or Prunella Scales and Samuel West)

Alternatively:
* Wilkie Collins: The Woman In White
(audio version read by Nigel Anthony and Susan Jameson)
* Isak Dinesen: Seven Gothic Tales
* Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages
* … or something by Daphne du Maurier


Candace Robb: The Apothecary Rose


Most likely: Simon Brett: A book from a four-novel omibus edition including An Amateur Corpse, Star Trap, So Much Blood, and Cast, in Order of Disappearance

Alternatively:
* Georgette Heyer: Why Shoot a Butler?
* Margery Allingham: The Crime at Black Dudley
(audio version read by David Thorpe)
* Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages
* Minette Walters: The Shape of Snakes


Most likely: Something from James D. Doss‘s Charlie Moon series (one of my great discoveries from last year’s bingo)
Or one of Walter Mosley‘s Easy Rawlins mysteries

Alternatively:
Sherman Alexie: Indian Killer


Terry Pratchett: Carpe Jugulum


One or more stories from Martin Edwards’s (ed.) and the British Library’s Miraculous Mysteries: Locked-Room Murders and Impossible Crimes


Most likely: Agatha Christie: Mrs. McGinty’s Dead
(audio return visit courtesy of Hugh Fraser)

Or one or more stories from Martin Edwards’s (ed.) and the British Library’sSerpents in Eden: Countryside Crimes

Alternatively:
* Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages
* Josephine Tey: Brat Farrar, To Love and Be Wise, or The Singing Sands
* Georgette Heyer: Why Shoot a Butler?
* Peter May: The Lewis Man
* S.D. Sykes: Plague Land
* Arthur Conan Doyle: The Mystery of Cloomber
* Michael Jecks: The Devil’s Acolyte
* Stephen Booth: Dancing with the Virgins
* Karen Maitland: The Owl Killers
* Martha Grimes: The End of the Pier
* Minette Walters: The Breaker


One of two “Joker” Squares:

To be filled in as my whimsy takes me (with apologies to Dorothy L. Sayers), either with one of the other mystery squares’ alternate books, or with a murder mystery that doesn’t meet any of the more specific squares’ requirements.  In going through my shelves, I found to my shame that I own several bingo cards’ worth of books that would fill this square alone, some of them bought years ago … clearly something needs to be done about that, even if it’s one book at a time!


Isabel Allende: Cuentos de Eva Luna (The Stories of Eva Luna) or
Gabriel García Márquez: Crónica de una muerte anunciada (Chronicle of a Death Foretold)


Most likely: One or more stories from Charles Dickens: Complete Ghost Stories or Sharyn McCrumb: She Walks These Hills
Alternatively:
* Wilkie Collins: Mrs. Zant and the Ghost
(Gillian Anderson audio)
* Stephen King: Bag of Bones


Terry Pratchett: Men at Arms


Obviously and as per definition in the rules, the second “Joker” Square.

Equally as per definition, the possibles for this square also include my alternate reads for the non-mystery squares.


Most likely: Cornell Woolrich: The Bride Wore Black

Alternatively:
* Raymond Chandler: Farewell My Lovely or The Long Goodbye / The High Window
* James M. Cain: Mildred Pierce
* Horace McCoy: They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
* David Goodis: Shoot the Piano Player or Dark Passage
* … or something else by Cornell Woolrich, e.g., Phantom Lady or I Married a Dead Man


Most likely: Ruth Rendell: Not in the Flesh or The Babes in the Wood (audio versions read by Christopher Ravenscroft, aka Inspector Burden in the TV series)

Alternatively:
* Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages
* Sharyn McCrumb: She Walks These Hills


Most likely: Peter May: Coffin Road

Alternatively:
* Stephen King: Bag of Bones or Hearts in Atlantis
* Denise Mina: Field of Blood
* Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages
* Minette Walters: The Breaker
* Jonathan Kellerman: When The Bough Breaks, Time Bomb, Blood Test, or Billy Straight
* Greg Iles: 24 Hours


Most likely: Sharyn McCrumb: She Walks These Hills

Alternatively:
* Karen Maitland: The Owl Killers
* Greg Iles: Sleep No More


Most likely: Margery Allingham: The Crime at Black Dudley
(audio version read by David Thorpe)

Alternatively:
* One or more stories from Martin Edwards’s (ed.) and the British Library’s Murder at the Manor: Country House Mysteries
* Georgette Heyer: They Found Him Dead
* Ellis Peters: Black is the Colour of My True-Love’s Heart



Most likely: Something from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld / Witches subseries — either Equal Rites or Maskerade

Alternatively:
* Karen Maitland: The Owl Killers
* Shirley Jackson: The Witchcraft of Salem Village


Most likely: Antonia Hodgson: The Devil in the Marshalsea

Alternatively:
* Rory Clements: Martyr
* Philip Gooden: Sleep of Death 
* Minette Walters: The Shape of Snakes
* Ngaio Marsh: Death in Ecstasy
* One or more stories from Martin Edwards’s (ed.) and the British Library’s Capital Crimes: London Mysteries


Most likely: Robert Louis Stevenson: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (audio return visit courtesy of Sir Christopher Lee)

Alternatively:
* H.G. Wells: The Island of Dr. Moreau
* … or something by Edgar Allan Poe


Most likely: Something from Ovid’s Metamorphoses

Alternatively:
* Robert Louis Stevenson: The Bottle Imp
* Christina Rossetti: Goblin Market
* H.G. Wells: The Island of Dr. Moreau


Most likely: Jo Nesbø: The Snowman

Alternatively:
* Val McDermid: The Retribution
* Denise Mina: Sanctum 
* Mo Hayder: Birdman
* Caleb Carr: The Alienist
* Jonathan Kellerman: The Butcher’s Theater
* Greg Iles: Mortal Fear


Most likely: The Medieval Murderers: House of Shadows or Hill of Bones

Alternatively:
* Sharyn McCrumb: She Walks These Hills
* Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House
* Stephen King: Bag of Bones
* Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages
* Michael Jecks: The Devil’s Acolyte


Ooohhh, you know — something by Shirley Jackson … if I don’t wimp out in the end; otherwise something by Daphne du Maurier.

 


 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1597306/halloween-bingo-2017-update-2

The Twelve Tasks of the Festive Season — Task the First: The Winter Wonderland; and Task the Seventh: The Christmas

Dylan Thomas Reads a Child's Christmas in Wales and Five Poems/Cd - Dylan Thomas The Nightingale Before Christmas (Meg Langslow Mysteries) - Donna Andrews

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 (howevver 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
Bells: Activities

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1504759/the-twelve-tasks-of-the-festive-season-task-the-first-the-winter-wonderland-and-task-the-seventh-the-christmas

Donna Andrews: The Nightingale Before Christmas

The year before last’s entry in Donna Andrews’s Meg Langslow 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!