24 Festive Tasks: Door 17 – Winter Solstice: Task 4 (Soyal)

The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales - Wilhelm Grimm, Jacob Grimm, Brothers Grimm, Joseph Campbell, Josef Scharl, Margaret Raine Hunt, Padraic Colum, James Stern The Complete Fairy Tales - Hans Christian Andersen Sämtliche Märchen - Wilhelm Hauff Aesop's Fables - Laura Gibbs, Aesop

My mom told or read me a good night fairy tale or fable almost every night when I was little — mostly from the Brothers Grimm’s collection, but also those by Hans-Christian Andersen and Wilhelm Hauff.  I generally preferred the Grimm tales over Andersen’s, chiefly because they could be relied upon to have a happy ending (which is also why witches and evil giants didn’t scare me one bit there — I knew their ultimate purpose in the narrative was to be vanquished by the hero(ine); whereas in Andersen’s tales that wasn’t a given, and if the ending was sad, it was very sad indeed).  The stories I liked best, though, were those by Wilhelm Hauff: many of them were set in oriental or otherwise exotic settings in the undifferentiated “past” and were mischievously funny — and those that had sad or serious aspects reached me much more forcefully than Andersen’s.

As I said in another post, fairy tales and fables also made for the first audiobooks I owned, in the form of vinyl records that I learned to play way before I had reached elementary school and “reading” age.

(Task (Zuñi & Hopi / Native American): While systems of written symbols and communication already existed with the Pre-Columbian Native American cultures, to many tribes even today (including the Zuñi and Hopi) the oral tradition is still important.  Have you ever had stories told to you (e.g., as children’s bedtime stories, or at night during a camping vacation)?  Or if you haven’t, try to imagine a “storytelling” situation you’d like to experience?

Original post:

24 Festive Tasks: Door 17 – Winter Solstice: Task 2 (Yaldā Night)

The Christmas Egg - Mary Kelly, David Thorpe


I stayed up until 3:00 AM last night reading the first half (approximately) of this book — which contrary to recent appearances still isn’t my “usual” bedtime.  So I’m claiming the book for this task.  (And if I were less knocked out I might even have made it an all night read — the book is certainly good enough for that — but that sort of thing just isn’t an option at the moment.)


(Task: Yaldā Night task (Persia / Iran): Stay up all night reading a good book (or at least stay up past your usual bedtime).

Original post:

24 Festive Tasks: Door 17 – Winter Solstice (Yule / Yaldā Night / Dongzhi / Soyal)

17 - Solstice
3 - Melbourne Cup Day
9 - World Philosophy Day
12 - St. Andrew's Day
15 - International Human Rights Day
1 - dia de los Muertos
13 - Advent
6 - Veterans / Armistice Day
5 - Bon Om Touk
14 - St. Nicholas’ Day
7 - International Day for Tolerance
11 - Thanksgiving
10 -  Russian Mothers' Day
2 - Japanese Culture Day
16 - St. Lucia's Day
8 - International Children’s Day
4 - Guy Fawkes Night


Winter Solstice
Door 17:  Winter Solstice (Yule / Yaldā Night / Dongzhi / Soyal):
Task 1: Yule task (Germany / Scandinavia): Burn a Yule log – or if you don’t have a fireplace, light a candle to chase away the winter and welcome in the longer days. If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, light a candle to mourn the slow but inexorable retreat of the sun.
Task 2: Yaldā Night task (Persia / Iran): Stay up all night reading a good book (or at least stay up past your usual bedtime).
Task 3:  Dongzhi task (China): To commemorate Marco Polo’s memoirs of his trip to China, write a fictional diary entry or letter home from an imagined trip to a faraway place (real or invented) – or if you actually have written such a letter in the past and are happy to share it with us, please do!
Task 4: Soyal task (Zuñi & Hopi / Native American): While systems of written symbols and communication already existed with the Pre-Columbian Native American cultures, to many tribes even today (including the Zuñi and Hopi) the oral tradition is still important. Have you ever had stories told to you (e.g., as children’s bedtime stories, or at night during a camping vacation)? Or if you haven’t, try to imagine a “storytelling” situation you’d like to experience?
Book:  Read a book that takes place in December, with ice or snow on the cover, where all events take place in a single day or night, that revolves around the solstice, set in Persia / Iran, China or the American Southwest or prominently featuring Persian / Iranian, Chinese or Native American characters, or a collection of poetry.

NEW: Once you’ve completed a task or tasks, please use the handy form, located in the spoiler tags (to keep things tidy) to let us know. This will make tracking points MUCH easier for the 24 Tasks Team.

* Required

Blog Name: *

Festive Task Door Completed: *
Dia de los Muertos
Japanese Culture Day
Melbourne Cup Day
Guy Fawkes Night
Bon Om Touk (Korean Water & Moon Festival)
Veterans / Armistice Day
International Day for Tolerance
International Children’s Day
World Philosophy Day
Russian Mothers’ Day
St. Andrew’s Day
St. Nicholas Day
International Human Rights Day
St. Lucia’s Day
Winter Solstice
New Year’s Eve / St. Sylvester’s Day
Twelfth Night / Epiphany

I’ve completed the following task for this holiday: *

Have you completed some of the tasks for this holiday already? *

If you have completed tasks previously, which ones? * (Required if answered yes to the previous question.)
(Optional) Link to your blog post:

Previous door’s tasks are “beneath the fold”


Previous Doors’ Tasks and Books


Dia de los Muertos
Door 1:  Dia de Los Muertos
Task 1: Compose a limerick or short poem in honor of a favorite book character.
Task 2:  If you like Mexican food, treat yourself to a favorite dish – and / or make yourself a margarita – and share a photo.
Task 3: Write an epitaph for the book you most disliked this year.
Task 4: Do you have any traditions or mementos of happy memories of a loved one that you feel like sharing?
Book: Reread a favorite book by a deceased author or from a finished series, or read a book set in Mexico or a book that either has a primarily black and white cover or all the colors (ROYGBIV) on the cover, or a book featuring zombies.


Japanese Culture Day
Door 2:  Japanese Culture Day
Task 1: Tell us about a cultural festival or event in the area where you live.
Task 2: Try a flavor of Kit Kat other than chocolate and report back if you liked it.
Task 3: Try your hand at folding a paper crane. Instructions: https://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-make-a-Paper-Crane-1/
Task 4: If you like Japanese food, treat yourself to a favorite dish.
Book: Read a graphic novel or a book set in a school or academic setting.


Melbourne Cup Day
Door 3:  Melbourne Cup Day
Task 1: Pick your ponies.*
Task 2: Roses are the official flower of Flemington Race Track; write your own “Roses are Red, Violets are Blue” poem for one of your favorite or most hated books of all time.
Task 3: Aussies shorten everything, so Melbourne Cup Day is just called “Cup Day” – post a picture of your favorite cup or mug for your daily fix of coffee, tea or chocolate.
Task 4: Prepare your favorite dessert – in a cup! Post a photo of it for us to enjoy vicariously.
Book: Read a book about horses, with a horse or with roses on the cover, about gardening, or set in Australia, or written by an Australian author.
* Ponies (horses) running the race will be posted here by Darth Pedant, guest hosting for MurderByDeath, as soon as they’re announced, or thereabouts. The official field is published on November 3rd.


Guy Fawkes Night
Door 4:  Guy Fawkes Night
Task 1: Make a list of the top 3 treasonous crimes against books that an author can commit.
Task 2: Start a revolution: What one thing would you change about the book reading world? (Be it publishing, distribution, editing, cover art, bookstores – anything having to do with books.)
Task 3: Make a little straw (or wood / cloth / wool / fabric) effigy of the book character you like least.
Task 4:

How do you order the books on your shelves?
Book: Read a book set in the UK, a political thriller, a book involving any monarchy or revolution, a book about arson or related to fires and burning, a book whose plot involves costumes / fancy dress, or that has masks on the cover, or that is self-published.


Bon Om Touk
Door 5:  Bon Om Touk
Task 1: List / tell us about your favorite rainy day reads.
Task 2: String up some fairy lights around your books / bookcase / kindle and share a picture of the results.
Task 3: Dragons and dragon-like serpents (imugi) are important to Korean mythology (as they are to that of other Asian peoples). So – which are your favorite literary dragons (fictional, mythological, whatever)?
Task 4:The South Korean flag features images of ying / yang (the blue and red circle in the center) and four sets of three black lines each representing heaven, sun, moon and earth and, in turn, the virtues humanity, justice, intelligence and courtesy. Compile a list or stack – 4 books minimum – composed of books that either have opposing words in their titles (e.g., war / peace; asleep / awake – not necessarily both words in the same title), or that feature the words “heaven,” “sun,” “moon,” “earth,” “humanity,” “justice,” intelligence,” and / or “courtesy.”
Book: Read a book by a Korean author or set in Korea, that takes place at sea or on a river, where the plot involves a festival, where the moon or rain plays a pivotal role in the plot, or with rain, water or the moon on the cover.


Veterans / Armistice Day
Door 6:  Veterans / Armistice Day
Task 1: Sunrise services are a staple of this day: Take a picture of the sunrise where you live and share it with us.
Task 2: In keeping with the minute of silence, tell us about the authors who have passed this year that you will miss the most.
Task 3: Rosemary is for remembrance, but it’s great for chasing away moths, silverfish and other bugs that can damage books (and linens). Make a sachet with some rosemary, lavender, dried basil, etc. to keep on your bookshelves – post a picture of the results and let us know what combinations of herbs you used. A list of possibilities can be found here: https://www.mnn.com/your-home/organic-farming-gardening/stories/12-plants-that-repel-unwanted-insects
Task 4:The Forest of Compiègne, just outside Compiègne, France, is the site of the signing of the 1918 Armistice. It was also the site of the signing by the French of a truce with the Germans following the German invasion in 1940. – Find a green space in your local area (or favorite area) and go for a walk or bike ride of a mile (or 1.61 km) and post a picture or screenshot of the map of where you walked / biked.
Book: Read a book involving a war, battle, or where characters are active military or veterans, or with poppies on the cover, or honor the ‘unknown soldier’ of your TBR and read the book that’s been there the longest.


International Day for Tolerance
Door 7:  International Day for Tolerance
Task 1: Find a redeeming quality in a book you read this year and didn’t like.
Task 2: Share a story about yourself, or a story about your family that’s survived the generations, or share a particular tradition your family has passed on from generation to generation and if there’s a story behind why, tell us about it.
Task 3: The French expression for tolerance towards others is “laisser faire, laisser aller” (roughly: “let them do as they want, let it go”). Have you ever “let go” a book (e.g., given it away or decided not to yield to the temptation to buy it) and later regretted that choice?
Task 4:If you were offered an all-expenses-paid trip to one (one only!) of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, which one would you pick (and why)?
Book: Read a book about tolerance, or outside your comfort zone, or set in Paris (seat of UNESCO).


International Children’s Day
Door 8:  International Children’s Day
Task 1:  What was your favorite children’s book growing up? Your favorite middle grade book?
Task 2: Rediscover your childhood with a yo-yo, a slinky, – whatever toy you loved from childhood you still have access to, or make and blow some bubbles! Take a picture and share your fun with the rest of us.
Task 3: Make some art – draw a picture, or color one in and share the results with us. Free printable bookmarks can be found on Google images
Task 4: As a kid, did you enjoy visiting amusement parks and carnivals? Which were your favorite rides or shows? Do you still have any photos, or is there a memorable event you’re happy to share? – Alternatively, if you’re a parent now: Do you visit amusement parks / carnivals with your kids?
Book: Read a children’s or YA book or a book where children or teenagers play a significant role, or written by an author who was under the age of 18 at the time of publication.


World Philosophy Day
Door 9:  World Philosophy Day
Task 1:  Share your reading philosophy with us – do you DNF? If so, do you have a page minimum to read before you declare it a DNF?
Task 2: Share your reviewing philosophy with us – how do you rate a book? Do you have a mental template for reviewing? Rules you try to follow, or rules you try to break?
Task 3: How do you stay zen / sane over the holidays or in other stressful periods?
Task 4: Did you love or hate the books you had to read for school? Looking back, which ones (good or bad) stand out to you the most?
Book: Read a book about philosophy or a philosopher, or a how-to book about changing your life in a significant way or suggesting a particular lifestyle (Hygge, Marie Kobo, etc.).


Russian Mothers' Day
Door 10:  Russian Mothers’ Day
Task 1:  “Three Russian writers walk into a bar …” (Take it from here – the wilder the merrier!)
Task 2: Towards the end of the 17th century, there was a Russian apprentice carpenter and shipwright going by the name Peter Mikhailov in the Dutch town of Zaandam (and later in Amsterdam), who eventually turned out to be none other than Tsar Peter the Great, whose great interest in the craft would become pivotal to his programs for the build-up of the Russian navy and naval commerce.
So: Tell us about a favorite book, either nonfiction history (demonstrably true facts, please, no conspiracy theories or unproven conjecture) or fiction – all genres, not limited to historical fiction –, dealing with a member of royalty “moonlighting” as a commoner.
Task 3: Until WWII, the most famous part of the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo near St. Petersburg was the so-called amber room. It was looted, lock stock and barrel, by the Nazis, and has since vanished from the face of the earth, with its fate a complete mystery to the present day. Let your imagination run wild: What do you think may have happened to it? (Kidnapped by aliens? Spirited away by dwarves and hidden in a secret cavern deep below the face of the earth? Sold, piece by piece, to finance … what? The Nazi war effort? The restoration of the Romanovs to the throne of Russia? Stalin’s pogroms? What else?) Don’t hold back, we’d love to know!
Task 4: Forget-me-nots and handmade medals of honor are important Russian Mothers’ Day gifts. Create a medal of honor (with or without the image of a forget-me-not) for a favorite book character or for a family member or friend of yours that you’d like to pay respect to.
Book: Read a book set in Russia, by a Russian author, featuring a story within a story (like a Russian “matryoshka” doll), or featuring a character who is a mother.


Door 11:  Thanksgiving Day
Task 1:  If you have kids or pets, tell us about something “bad” they did that was so funny you couldn’t help but forgive (“pardon”) them. If you have neither kids nor pets, was there such an event in your own childhood – or with kids or pets in your family or circle of friends?
Task 2: Tell us: Of the books that you read this year, which are you most thankful for, OR was there one that turned out to be full of “stuffing”? Alternatively, which (one) book that you read anytime at all changed your life for the better?”
Task 3: Share your favorite turkey or pie recipe.
Task 4: Send a friend you’re thankful for having a postcard (in the mail!). Snap a picture of the postcard image (not the message) and share it with us.
Book: Read a book with an autumnal cover, set in New England, where a turkey shows up in the story, with a turkey or pumpkin on the cover, or with the theme of coming together to help a community or family in need.


St. Andrew's Day
Door 12:  St. Andrew’s Day
Task 1:  Tell us: Who is your favorite Scottish (or Scots-born / -descendant) writer?
Task 2: Ian Rankin likes to say that the Scottish national diet is sugar, fat and alcohol. The traditional Scottish dessert – Raspberry Cranachan – contains all three of these (and of course the alcohol in it is the national drink, whisky), but it’s also delicious! So … make Raspberry Cranachan: http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/2852/raspberry-cranachan.aspx (For a non-alcoholic version just omit the whisky – or substitute with orange juice.)
Task 3: St. Andrew was a fisherman by trade: Which book(s) from your TBR that you read this year turned out to be the year’s greatest “catch”?
Task 4: If you could create your personal tartan, what would it look like? Or if you have a favorite existing tartan, which one is it?
Book: Read a book set in Scotland.


Door 13:  Advent
Task 1:  Share a picture of your advent calendar.
Task 2: Tell us: What is your favorite holiday tradition?
Task 3: Prepare an apple cider wassail bowl or a wassail bowl containing your favorite drink or fruit. Post a picture and enjoy!
Task 4: Tell us about an event in the immediate or near future that you’re looking forward to.
Book: Read a pastiche, a book authorized by a deceased author’s estate, the 4th book in a series, a book with the word “four” in the title, a book featuring four siblings, or a book with a wreath, pines or fir trees on the cover.


St. Nicholas Day
Door 14:  St. Nicholas’ Day
Task 1: Write a book wish list to St. Nick / Santa Claus for books that you’ve been eyeing but can’t justify the expense of purchasing. (E.g., art books? Collector’s editions? Boxed sets?)
Task 2: In the Netherlands, ‘Sinterklaas’ is celebrated with ginger biscuits, marzipan and hot chocolate with cream; in Germany, it’s St. Nicholas’ Day with gingerbread, chocolate and / or nut or almond cookies, chocolate candy, and tangerines (or oranges). Choose one or more of the above as a holiday snack and post a picture for us to drool over.
Task 3:  St. Nicholas is a man of many names in English alone – Santa Claus, Saint Nick, Father Christmas … although in the English speaking world he only comes once (at Christmas, not also on December 6 – whereas in Germany and the Netherlands he makes his visits under different names on both occasions). Which of your favorite books were published under different titles in the same language, e.g., in North America vs. Britain? Have you ever bought a book under a title unfamiliar to you, only to discover belatedly that it was one you already own / had already read under a different title?
Task 4: A Czech Republic tradition for St Nick’s Day is groups of three “people” – St Nick, Angel, and Devil – to roam the streets the night before St Nick’s Day and stop children to ask them if they have been good during the year or not. Most kids say yes, sing a song or recite a poem. The three “strangers” then decide if the children are telling the truth. The good kids get candy / treats from the Angel, bad kids get potatoes or coal from the Devil. So: Post a song or poem (your own or someone else’s) that involves candy, potatoes, or coal.
Book: Read a book with an orange or red cover, set in the Netherlands or Germany, by a Dutch or German author, or with nuts, chocolate, coins, canals or beer on the cover.


International Human Rights Day
Door 15:  International Human Rights Day
Task 1: Cook a dish from a culture other than your own or something involving apples (NYC = Big Apple) or oranges (for the Netherlands, seat of the International Court of Justice & International Criminal Court).
Task 2: Create a stack of books or a list with books by some of your favorite female and / or minority authors (minimum: five) and tell us what you like about their writing.
Task 3:  Nominate a (fictional) character from one of the books you read this year for a Nobel Prize – regardless which one – or for a similarly important prize (e.g., the Fields Medal for mathematics) and write a brief laudation explaining your nomination.
Task 4: Reconstitute one of the bodies or institutions of the United Nations (Plenary Assembly, Security Council, Secretariat, International Court of Justice / Criminal Court, World Bank, etc.) with some of your favorite characters (minimum: five) and explain why you chose them and what you’d expect them to achieve.
Book: Read a book featuring a strong female character (or characters), by an author from any minority group, a story about a minority overcoming their oppressors, or revolving around the rights of others either being defended or abused, a book set in New York City, or a book originally written in a language other than English and / or your mother tongue or by anyone not Anglo-Saxon.


St. Lucia’s Day
Door 16:  St. Lucia’s Day
Task 1: Famous first words: Tradition has it that the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize are woken up by the St. Lucia maidens, as St. Lucia’s Day (Dec. 13) is just three days after the Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony and many laureates stay long enough to be able to take in the St. Lucia festivities. Imagine one of your favorite (fictional) characters had won that prize: How would you think (s)he would greet the maidens? (If you’ve used the Nobel Peace Prize for Door 15, Task 3, this can be the same character, of course … or a different one, just as you wish.)
Task 2: Compile a list of five or more carols, poems, short stories, novels or other pieces of writing that feature sleigh rides.
Task 3:  Trolls, gnomes, dwarves and similar beings (some evil, some less so, almost all of them mischievous) are a staple of Scandinavian mythology and folklore, as well as other folklores and mythologies around the world and, of course, fantasy and speculative fiction. Who is your favorite such creature and why? (No matter whether mythological, fictional or from whatever other source.)
Task 4: The historic (3d century AD) St. Lucia was Italian; yet, like those of many other saints (including, e.g., St. Andrew and St. Nicholas), the most important celebrations of her holiday don’t occur in her place of origin but somewhere else in the world.
Book:  Read a book set in Scandinavia / Northern Europe, by a Northern European / Nordic author, with a predominantly white cover (or white with red lettering), newly released in November or December of this year, or set in the candle-lit world (i.e., before the discovery of electricity – roughly, that is, before the late 19th century).

Original post:

24 Festive Tasks: Door 17 – Winter Solstice: Book

Three Blind Mice and Other Stories - Agatha Christie, Hugh Fraser, Joan Hickson, David Suchet, Simon Vance

The core action of the main entry in this collection — the novella Three Blind Mice (basis for the play The Mousetrap) — all takes place in a single day, and it is also set in winter (even though not explicitly in December).  That’s got to be good enough to make it qualify as my Winter Solstice book.

(Task: Read a book that takes place in December, with ice or snow on the cover, where all events take place in a single day or night, that revolves around the solstice, set in Persia / Iran, China or the American Southwest or prominently featuring Persian / Iranian, Chinese or Native American characters, or a collection of poetry.)

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24 Festive Tasks: PSA – Gävle Goat, Holiday Book Joker, 2019 Reading Plan and Reading Year in Review Posts, etc.

First things first: The Gävle Goat did survive this year!  Here are the website, Twitter, and Instagram pages to prove it.  So, I am going to add a bonus point to the score of everybody who guessed correctly.  (If you did, please respond to this post or in the Bingo Group to confirm and make sure I don’t miss your guess.)

Next, all those of you who have read one or two books during these past 2 months that are set on one of the holidays included in the game and which you haven’t used for the game yet: remember that you can use up to two holiday books for the holiday book joker and collect 2 extra points that way.

Along similar lines, all those who are now posting “my 2018 in books” and “2019 reading plans” posts, remember that these, too, qualify as 24 Festive Tasks posts (Door 22, New Year’s Day, tasks 1 and 2, respectively.)

And, lastly, we’ve already cracked 1000 points and the game isn’t even over yet — go us!


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Jill McGown: Murder at the Old Vicarage

24 Festive Tasks: Door 18 – Winter Solstice / Yuletide, Task 2 (Neverending Book)

I’m going with the book I read yesterday for this: Mind you, this is by no means a bad book (I gave it 3 1/2 stars); the characters are well-developed, the story gets going fairly quickly, and while it does, it’s an engaging read — even if I didn’t like all the characters I was supposed to like quite as much as the author probably hoped.  Also, if you haven’t made up your mind early on about the “who” (and the probable “why”), and if you like an author twisting your tail round and round until you get to the solution, you’ll certainly get your fill here.  Alas, the latter wasn’t true for me in this instance, though; and as a result, from a certain point onwards the story’s twists and turns felt a bit like the manipulations of one of those “three caps and a pea” shell game operators, but one where you’ve twigged the main sleight of hand early on and are just half-heartedly following the motions and waiting for the big reveal.  As a result, the final 100 or so pages of the book took me about twice as long as they would have if I had still been fully engaged at that point — and in a 230 page book, that equates to almost half the contents.

Side note: While PanMacmillan’s (and it always seems to be them) insistence on republishing mysteries set during or even only in the vicinity of Christmas with a new title (and matching cover) shouting “Christmas mystery”, “cozy”, and “Golden Age tradition” is seriously getting on my nerves at this point, here they’ve actually hit the bull’s eye in a sense — which will become clear very fast to any reader who’s also read the book after which this mystery’s title is obviously fashioned, and to which it pays hommage to a certain extent; i.e., Agatha Christie’s first Miss Marple mystery.  Unfortunately, the new title indirectly also shines a light on precisely those clues and constructive elements of the book that, to me, made it clear fairly early on where we were headed … and of course now I’ll never know whether, if I had read the book under its original title (Redemption), those clues would have stood out to me quite as much as they actually did.


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24 Festive Tasks: Door 18 – Winter Solstice / Yuletide, Task 1 (Bibliomancy)

The Complete Novels of Jane Austen - Jane Austen The Complete Works (Oxford Shakespeare) - William Shakespeare, John Jowett, Gary Taylor

I was just going to do an “Ask Auntie Jane (Austen, not Marple)” … but as BT pointed out, you can never really ask Will Shakespeare for his comment too often, so I’ve decided to call upon him for a second opinion.  Not that I mistrust Miss Austen of course, but these are serious questions, after all, so it seems justified to make doubly sure.


So, here we go:


  • A.   Will I read all the books on my TBR?  (page 378, line 29)

Jane Austen’s response (from Pride and Prejudice):

… their vice.  He was fond of the country and of books, and from these tastes …

William Shakespeare’s response (from Romeo and Juliet):

Prodigious birth of love it is to me

Umm.  This is seriously spooky.  You guys can’t possibly mean my entire TBR —  or if you do, you’ve both answered this one completely blindly.  So I’m going to interpret this as meaning I’ll at least read all the books on any TBR I might create for a special purpose in 2019 (e.g., for my new spin on the Women Writers challenge).



B.   Will any of my 2019 reads be 5 stars? (page 227, line 31)

Jane Austen’s response (from Sense and Sensibility):

… judged it wisest, from the experience of the past, to submit — and therefore, …


William Shakespeare’s response (from Venus and Adonis):

At this Adonis smiles as in disdain

What?!  I’m supposedly going to finish off my TBR, but not a single book is going to be a 5-star read?  You’ve got to be kidding me!  That’s some motivation to keep on reading …


C.   Will I discover a new favorite book / author / series? (page 309, line 23)

Jane Austen’s response (from Pride and Prejudice):

… be soon down again and soon dining at Longbourn, and the conclusion of …

William Shakespeare’s response (from Love’s Labours Lost):

Suscribe to your deep oaths, and keep it, too.

That sounds like another “no” from both of you — both answers are along the lines of “stick to what you already know.”  You’re really not explaining very well how this “finishing off my TBR” thing is supposed to work, you know?  Again, not really a tremendous amount of motivation you’re giving me … unless you mean I’ll finish off that TBR because I’ll DNF a whole lot of books.  I’ll have you know that I typically don’t count DNFs towards a reading challenge, though … Oh well.  Moving on:


D.   Will I discover that a major twist (hopefully, for the [even] better) has occurred in one of my favorite series? (page 459, line 16)

Jane Austen’s response (from Pride and Prejudice):

“‘I can easily believe it.  You thought me then devoid of every proper …

William Shakespeare’s response (from The Merchant of Venice):

Content, in faith.  I’ll seal to such a bond

Aha!  This makes more sense.  A new twist, especially one for the even better, is surely going to keep me reading, because I’ll want to know how it ultimately plays out.  Seems now we’re (finally) getting somewhere.


E.   Will I finish all of my reading challenges in 2019? (page 69, line 7)

Jane Austen’s response (from Sense and Sensibility):

… regret that they were only eight altogether.”

William Shakespeare’s response (from Henry VI, Part II):

… holden at Bury the first of this next month.”

Err … and by that you mean … what, Will?  I can see that Miss Austen thinks I’ll embark on eight reading challenges (no “only” about it, though, I can assure you, Jane!) and I’ll easily make mincemeat of them.  But what’s the reference to Bury St. Edmunds supposed to mean, Will?  Or do you mean I’ll “bury” those challenges?  It doesn’t really make sense since you’re clearly referencing the place and not the verb, but I think I’m just going to write this one off as one of your lesser known (and, um, I’m sorry to say, less succesful) witticisms.



F.   Will I stay within my book budget in 2019? (page 98, line 5)

Jane Austen’s response (from Sense and Sensibility):

… pleasure at seeing them in London, making the usual enquiries about their …

William Shakespeare’s response (from Henry VI, Part III):

And were I strong, I would not shun their fury.

Uh, oh.  I think this doesn’t bode well for my book budget.  Miss Austen has me touring my usual London book haunts (which invariably ends up disastrously as far as any budgetary plans are concerned).  And Will Shakespeare thinks I’m just going to cave in to pressure … which, I’m afraid, just may turn out a rather astute assessment, when faced with shelves and shelves of shiny, sparkling new books in a favorite store … or on the website of an online seller.  OK, I guess I had better rethink the size of that book buying allowance …


Original post:

Diane Setterfield: The Thirteenth Tale

24 Festive Tasks: Door 18 – Winter Solstice / Yuletide, Book

Somewhat too self-involved for my taste, though in a first novel dealing with identity and the autobiographies we create for ourselves that probably shouldn’t have come as a total surprise … and I’ll grant Setterfield that it doesn’t exactly have “first novel” written right across its forehead.  The story’s central underpinning is one of my absolute no-go tropes, however (a secret baby) — and I’m sorry, but the days when I would have found the two (!) generations of Angelfield / March children’s upbringing and childhood, or the household as such for that matter, anything even approaching romantic, wild or desirable are long gone.

Far and away the best scene is the one summed up in isanythingopen‘s 70% mark status update — a doctor’s prescription of Sherlock Holmes as a cure for a cold and for getting overly romantically caught up in an identification with 19th century women’s literature:

(Writer, heed thy own words, I’m bound to add.)

3 1/2 stars because I’m feeling generous and the writing actually is quite atmospheric whenever it isn’t trying too hard.

The framework narrative mostly takes place in December, so I’m counting this book towards the Winter Solstice / Yuletide square of 24 Festive Tasks.


Original post:



On the original version of this post, I had the following exchange with my friend Murder by Death (who also has a WordPress blog) — SPOILER  ALERT: We did discuss the final plot twists and resolution –:

Murder by Death
I had to look back at my review to refresh my memory, but my original rating was 3.5 start too, though I bumped it up to 4 because I loved the Vida Winters character – she kept me reading when I’d have long before DNFd the book based on the MC.

Were those family dynamics supposed to be romantic, wild or desirable? If so, I’m with you – I just found them profoundly twisted and f*cked up (pardon the language).


Themis-Athena’s Garden of Books
I think they were — we’re supposed to like Annabelle and the twins / the girls, if no one else, since it’s clear that Vida Winter must be one of them … and we’re also supposed to like her. I kind of did, and I also “got” how the fictitious public bios operated as her veil of privacy — still, I think in RL I’d have written her out of my life pretty quickly. For however much she may have grown up with the need to deceive built into her life from early on and thus having become a habit, I wouldn’t want that level of dishonesty in my life as a permanent companion (if only in the form of never really knowing whether and to what extent she happens to be telling the truth at any given time). She only comes clean vis-à-vis Margaret at the very end of her life, as a last resort. That may have been good enough for Margaret, who met her at that particular moment. But the mere *hope* that she’ll one day be truthful would not be enough for me … not to mention, look at how many other people suffered as a result of her family’s secrets and the things they did to hide them. There’s *nothing* glorious about those secrets and that family’s behaviour, and yet the book damn well nearly glorifies it all. My initial rating was in the range of 2 1/2 or 3 stars; I’m still not sure whether I shouldn’t bump it back down to that level after all.


Murder by Death
Ah, I see where you’re coming from. I took the story at face value; as in, I didn’t extrapolate out beyond the scope of the story on the pages. Based on what is on the pages, I liked Vida – I’d never have tolerated her myself for the same reasons you cite, but I was able to enjoy her on the page as an eccentric woman with a gift for words. Her family though, was profoundly messed up and I didn’t get the vibe that she herself thought any differently. I’d argue (and here I am extrapolating) that amongst all the reasons she felt she had to lie, embarrassment would be amongst the them (not to mention more than her fair share of personal dysfunction as a result of her childhood).

The hidden baby trope, which is one I normally can’t tolerate either, didn’t bother me here simply because it wasn’t even on my radar until it was revealed and by that time the story was pretty much at an end. I think I also didn’t mind it because the baby being hidden wasn’t as much of the point as the consequences were.

But Margaret was what almost killed the story for me – I just wanted to smack her and tell her to get over it. Well, I started out wishing she’d get some therapy; it was only by the end that I wanted to smack her. That part of the story just completely failed for me.


Themis-Athena’s Garden of Books
Yes, that part came across as way too artificial and trying too hard — especially since the “twin” experience that was apparently supposed to create a special bond between Margaret and Vida was so totally diifferent it would hardly have created any bond at all; when it comes down to it, the “twin” thing was nothing more than a huge coincidence … and a Macguffin. Not to mention that I actually found it hard to believe one half of a couple of Siamese twins should have literally taken *years* to find out about the whole thing — the traces the operation left on / in her own body, if nothing else, should have told her otherwise from early on. (Also, just by the by, that whole ethereal “twins’ special bond” thing is nonsense anyway — my grandma was a twin, and though there are a few of those cliché twin photos from their childhood, with identical clothes etc., neither she nor her sister had any particular “sixth sense” when it came to the respective other twin. They lived hundreds of kilometers apart and had to rely on the same means of communication as everybody else to hear about each other — and were each other’s fiercest critics, when all was said and done, even if by and large they got along.)

The final “hidden baby” revelation wasn’t actually the first thing that annoyed me about it (it was more like an “oh God, and now this, too” / “everything but the kitchen sink” moment) — but there was a secrecy surrounding the twins from the start that put me off right away and made me suspect there was more to come, all the more in light of the heavy-handed handling of the whole “twin” motif in general.

As for Vida, I generally can accept (and enjoy) fictional characters for who they are in the context of a story, too — but dishonesty, whichever way it is explained and whatever may have caused it, is something I dislike in fictional characters as much as in real life — perhaps even more so if, like Vida, they’re supposed to be a book’s (positive) hero(-ine). Embarrassment about one’s family history may be a cause for withdrawal from the public eye, but there are ways of dealing with that sort of family history without hiding it below several layers of wild fabrications. And for all the “withdrawal” part, Vida also enjoyed being front and center, and telling outrageously sensationalist stories about one’s own past and one’s family is very much in line with that — not with a need for privacy. (Besides, Vida obviously had a great time concocting and telling those stories — and she never spent a moment thinking about what she might be doing to others connected with her family; not least Aurelius and the family *he* had been kept away from for most of his life.)


Murder by Death
You bring up two interesting points in the last paragraph. I’m with you on the idea of honesty above all things (some who know me in RL sort of wish I had less of it; they should just stop asking me questions they might not like the answers to! lol) But … what did Vida owe her public as a celebrity? How obligated is she to bare her entire life to her reading public, given that she didn’t commit any crimes (legal ones, moral ones are a different matter)? I’m reticent by nature and dislike anyone acting too interested in ‘knowing me’ – there’s a point at which it becomes invasive. In the case of a celebrity, does she have a responsibility to her reading public to bare the skeletons in her closet just because she’s a celebrity? And in her case, she never tried to be consistent; her celebrity myth, if you will, incorporated the wild stories about her past that everybody seemed to have recognised as just that – stories. It became part of her ‘celebrity character’, if you know what I mean? If she was not a public figure of fame, I’d abhor the dishonesties, but given that I’ve never understood a fan’s need to know intimate details in a celeb’s life, I sort of condone the stories they might make up to protect themselves, or keep their lives from being picked apart.

SPOILER ALERT AFTER THIS!!!!!!!!! On the other hand, the second point is – Aurelius. There’s a responsibility there too, and I’m not at all sure she made the right decision there. Yes, in terms of keeping him from the woman who may or may not have been his mother (since if she wasn’t, she was the one that tried to kill him several times and may try to again), but no, in that I feel she had a responsibility to tell *him* the entire truth so that he wasn’t forever wondering about his past and why he was abandoned. Her decision in this area was not entirely the correct one – she could have done better by him. But, if she had, there’d be less of a story, I suppose.

At any rate, this has suddenly become a more interesting book, just because of our conversation here. So kudos to the book – and to you – for that, and thanks! 🙂


Themis-Athena’s Garden of Books
Hahaha, you’re welcome, and thank you in turn! 🙂

I think the story could still have worked if Aurelius had known but not told anyone, because Vida had made him promise to keep it secret.

As for Vida herself, I don’t think she owed her public *access* to her life — God knows I’m the first person to be all for celebrities’ right to privacy; I think papparazzi and celebrity-hunting tabloids are one of the world’s greatest scourges, and if every celebrity decided to hide behind 15-feet thick and 50-feet high walls, they’d be totally within their rights (not that they should have to do this in the first place, obviously). But *access* isn’t the same thing as *honesty and truthfulness*, and (1) I do think people who are “in the public eye” are role models, and fabricating outrageous stories about oneself is just not something I’d want to see emulated or advocated by *anybody*; and (2) by the same token, it’s precisely because Vida deliberately chose to make this element part of her public persona that I have little time for her. If the stories were ludicrous enough I just might be amused by them, but if it were something on the level of what we’re told here (illegitimate baby raised in an orphanage), I’d probably just dismiss it as attention-grabbing once it had been revealed to have been a fabrication. Either way, I wouldn’t want her in my life, for however scintillating she might come across and for however much those gloriously fake bits of autobiography might be built into her public persona.

I guess ultimately it all comes down to reliability to me. A deliberately dishonest person just isn’t somebody I can rely on — and reliability is the core value I look at in any- and everybody; in RL (both work and private) as well as in fiction. Oddly, that doesn’t mean I dislike “unreliable narrator” stories as such — but it depends on just what causes a narrator to be unreliable. E.g., since “when it comes to the past we all write fiction,” as Stephen King put it, even the best-intentioned narrative involving memories must be necessarily flawed (and this is actually part of why I like Kazuo Ishiguro’s books — the unreliability of memory is core to all of them, and I love how he handles this). Similarly, I think few people are unfailingly apt judges of themselves and their own actions / position in the world, however well-intentioned and self-critical they are; so if this is a factor in why a given narrator is unreliable, I’ll probably both empathize with them and wish someone would smack them over the head or screw their eyes open (unless there is a deliberate element of self-deception, in which case, however, I just might glory in seeing them cut down to size). But that’s not the type of unreliable narrator we have here — here, we’re dealing with someone who has a very firm grip of who she is and where she came from and who is just lying to others about it. *That* kind of thing I simply don’t need in my life (any more than those who deliberately deceive themselves). — Side note: There’s obviously a fine line to be walked at times when honesty collides with tact. That’s not my issue here, though.


Murder by Death
But didn’t Margaret say at the beginning that all of Vida’s stories were widely regarded as just that? Wildly eccentric stories that changed with each journalist? I’d have to look back at my book to be sure, (and at the moment I have an Easter cat on my chest and a ‘lito cat on my feet), but I have a strong memory (for what THAT’S worth) that this is the case, and therefore they were just ludicrous and eccentric. But without book in hand, I’d not want to advocate that too strongly.

I doubt this will make sense, because the connection is tenuous and a huge stretch, but for some reason, from Margaret’s first description of Vida, she reminded me of the character of Ms. Dinsmoor in the ’98 movie adaptation of Great Expectations, minus the crazy break with reality. Once that impression was made, it was who Vida resembled in my head. This was, I think, the reason why I didn’t have any problem with her role in this book.

There was also an element of fear, and need to protect, in those stories, since right up to the end, Vida never knew which sister she was caring for: the one she loved or the one she loathed, though I cared less about that motivation than I was probably supposed to.


Themis-Athena’s Garden of Books
It’s not about whether or not the lies are obvious ones (which is only how Setterfield establishes Vida as an unreliable narrator anyway) — it’s that she’s telling them at all. And, again, you can protect your and your family’s privacy without resorting to untruths.

I can totally see the connection with Ms. Dinsmoor / Havisham, btw … and guess what, Estella and the way she was raised / the way she was encouraged to treat Pip / Finn by Ms. Dinsmoor / Havisham is a key reason why “Great Expectations” is far from my favorite Dickens novel in turn. 🙂 Same goes for the 1998 movie adaptation (though De Niro was great as Arthur Lustig) …


Murder by Death
I wholly admit I only watched that adaptation because it was filmed in Sarasota (Dinsmoor’s decrepit house is the Ringling Mansion – which is in perfect repair btw) and the bay where De Niro jumps Pip is the bay I grew up on.


Themis-Athena’s Garden of Books
NOW she tells me. I mean, I knew it was filmed in Florida, but it’s not like the state — or its coastline — would fit into a shoebox, after all!


Murder by Death
So true… it’s why the bootleggers, gun runners and drug smugglers love our state so much. 😛


Themis-Athena’s Garden of Books
… and elsewhere the Cornish coast …