I’ve spent the past six weeks reading pretty much only Christmas stories. At the end of 2010, I read Janet Evanovich’s holiday mystery, Visions of Sugar Plums (which Rudi and I had listened to a couple years ago); Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor, a passable romance novel that focused on who comprises a family; Miracle on 34th Street, which I reviewed here; and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which Rudi and I listened to via CraftLit on our drive home from Connecticut.
But I still had a couple Christmas books in progress, all of which I finished in the last week:
A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas (illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman)
From the jacket: “A lost but not forgotten childhood is evoked in this nostalgic recollection that endures as one of the most beloved Christmas stories of all time.”
My take: This charmingly illustrated edition of Dylan Thomas’ classic piece reminiscing about a young boy’s Christmas day was a delight to read. Although my reading of it was accomplished in a single day’s commute, it was a moving and transporting tale and one which I’d like to track down for my own collection.
O Christmas Three: O. Henry, Tolstoy, Dickens
From the jacket: “Heartwarming stories that recall Christmas past.”
My take: Another small book that included four short stories. The first is O. Henry’s ubiquitous “Gift of the Magi,” a well-known, bittersweet story of a couple who sacrifice their most valuable personal possessions in the name of love. The second was Tolstoy’s “Where Love Is, There God Is Also,” a folk tale of a man who, while he awaits the arrival of God, offers up acts of kindness to those around him. Rounding out the book were two Dickens stories: “The Seven Poor Travellers” focuses on a narrator who provides Christmas Eve dinner to seven travellers staying at a hostel for the night and who regales them with a story afterwards. “What Christmas Is as We Grow Older” is more of a reflective essay that shares how as we age Christmas comes to be more of a tying of the living and the dead and of the past, present, and future than it is when we were young.
The O. Henry piece was its usual sweet self, and it’s good to revisit the source material since it is so often adapted by others. I was surprised by how much I liked the Tolstoy story and am inspired to read something by him in the coming year. And while the Dickens pieces were my least favorite, it was interesting to read writings of his so unlike his other material.
An Irish Country Christmas by Patrick Taylor
From the jacket: “Barry Laverty, M.B., is looking forward to his first Christmas in the cozy village of Ballybucklebo, at least until he learns that his sweetheart, Patricia, might not be coming home for the holidays. That unhappy prospect dampens his spirits somewhat, but Barry has little time to dwell on his romantic disappointments. Christmas may be drawing nigh, but there is little peace to be found on earth, especially for a young doctor plying his trade in the emerald hills and glens of rural Ireland.”
My take: Recommended to me by Nan, this is the third in a series of books set in a fictional village in Northern Ireland in the mid-1960s. If you’re a fan of James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small or any of his other veterinary works, you will find this a comfortable read. Like those works, this one features a young man fresh from school joining the practice of an older curmudgeonly master (in this case named Doctor Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly) and moving into the home/office, which is kept by a dear housekeeper (Mrs. Kincaid, or Kinky, here). Instead of pets and livestock, we are treated to patients of a human kind, but they are just as quirky as Herriot’s creations.
The Christmas setting is a nice one, and you soon find yourself immersed in the village’s preparations for the holidays, a time when the Catholics and the Presbyterians join together to celebrate the birth of Jesus. I found my mouth watering every time the story entered Kinky’s kitchen and I was relieved to find an afterword from her with some Christmas recipes. There’s also a glossary which gives insight into the many Irish phrases sprinkled throughout the book.
The one thing I did find distracting was the author’s obvious struggle to explain certain aspects of his story — medical problems/procedures and various cultural references from Ulster 50 years ago. You learned a lot as the book went on, but it felt like it bogged the story down from time to time. There was definitely “more telling than showing” going on in those instances and the jamming in of facts had the unfortunate side effect of making Fingal sometimes come across as a lecturing bore.
That aside, I did like the story and the characters and plan to read the first two books in the series at some point in the future.