10 Blind Dates

by Ashely Elston
First sentence: “Are you sure you won’t come with us?”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is kissing and some inference to sex (but none actual). It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Sophie’s parents are off to take care of her older sister as she’s bedridden with pregnancy issues, which means Sophie gets the run of the house over Christmas break. She’s supposed to be in Shreveport with her grandparents (and huge Sicilian family), but what she really wants to do is hang out with her boyfriend, Griffin. That is, until she overhears him saying he wants to break up with her.

So, she takes off for Shreveport, and once there her Nonna hatches a plan: 10 blind dates, each set up by a different member of the family, in between December 21st and 31st. Sophie may not find her perfect man, but it will at least take her mind off of Griffin, right?

This book is, at turns, super hilarious (oh my goodness, some of these dates!) and super sweet (okay, so the boy next door, Wes, holds a lot of appeal). But what I loved best about it was that Elston caught the huge family dynamic super well. They were loud and somewhat oppressive, but super supportive of Sophie and just a really great family overall. I loved the way the cousins and aunts and uncles all bounced off each other, had fun with each other, and humiliated and loved each other in turn. It was sweet and wonderful and made a very very cute YA romance that much better.

A great Christmas romance. Or anytime romance.

Audiobook: Holidays on Ice

by David Sedaris
Read by the author.
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Listen on Libro.fm
Content: There was a lot of swearing. It’s in the holiday book section at the store every year.

Okay, yeah, so I’m starting the year off with a DNF. It’s not that I don’t like David Sedaris. I do. (Sometimes.) I like him a lot better on audio than in print, so I was hoping that this one would come off better listening to it. And the first one, his Santaland Diaries, kind of did. I didn’t really laugh (his humor is often too mean for me), but I was amused. But, by the third story, the Christmas letter where everything goes wrong, I was thinking that satire really isn’t my thing. I’ve learned this before; i just take things way too literally to be amused by satire. But I guess I thought maybe this one would be different. It wasn’t, though.

I had to abandon it to listen to a Cybils book, and was thinking I’d get back to this one. But, the holidays are over, I’m enjoying (for the most part) the other book, and I have no desire to listen to the other two stories in this one. So, I’m calling it a DNF and moving on.

Ghosts of Greenglass House

by Kate Milford
First sentence: “Frost was pretty much the worst.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Greenglass House
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: It’s a bit slow moving and long, so while appropriate for the age, probably not good for the reluctant readers. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

It’s been a year since Milo has seen his ghost friend Meddy, and the adventures of the last Christmas. He’s mostly doing okay, except for a bit of a problem at school with a teacher who isn’t terribly sensitive (Milo is Chinese American, and adopted). But it’s Christmas break (again), and Milo is looking forward to a guest-free (mostly), teacher free break. That is, until his old friends Clem and Georgie show up (again), having robbed the legendary smuggler Violet Cross’s stash. Things kind of go downhill from there, with the arrival of the Waits, a group of traditional carolers, when they turn everything at Greenglass House upside down.

It’s a solid book. taking place over just a couple of days, with a strong mystery. It was fun to revisit the characters again (I don’t even remember the first book all that well, so it’s really not necessary to read it before reading this one), and I loved how Midwinter it was. There’s a whole subplot with the running of the deer, and the hobby horse, and the holly and the ivy that I thoroughly enjoyed.

It was just a delightful story to read.

What Light

whatlightby Jay Asher
First sentence: “‘I hate this time of year,’ Rachel says.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: October 18, 2016
Content:  There’s some mild swearing and some mention of violence. It will be in the YA (grades 6-9) section of the bookstore.

Sierra has spent her whole life going to California for the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Her parents own a Christmas tree farm in Oregon, and they haul their trees down to a small California town to sell them. It’s usually just in and out for them; they don’t really have too many connections in California. But this year, the year Sierra is 16, things change. Sierra meets Caleb, who’s cute, charming, sweet, and generous. But, he’s also got a past.

On the surface, this is a very sweet first love story. Sierra and Caleb meet cute, have a whirlwhind romance and are together by the end. But it’s also more complicated than that. First complication: Sierra being in California is temporary. Second complication: Caleb’s past, which everyone’s warning Sierra about. But she does the admirable thing and instead of judging him based on rumors and what other people say. She gets to know him, and decides for herself. Which is something I really appreciated. Asher takes a simple love story and gives us something with depth, something that’s worth reading.

Very, very sweet.

2014 Advent: Nativity Displays

For years, there was a virtual advent tour going around the blog, 24 days  of Christmas stuff at various spots. I don’t know what happened to it this year, whether I just missed signing up for it, or it doesn’t exist this year, but I realized this past week that it doesn’t feel like Christmas without a Christmas-y post on the blog.

I also realized that one of the things I haven’t shared here was my collection of nativities. Our church put on a huge nativity display this year, and while my collection isn’t the biggest or the fanciest or the coolest (there were some pretty neat ones I should have snapped pictures of), I’m still quite proud of it.

This one is the oldest one we own. I don’t know where my parents got it, but it was “mine” as a kid, and they actually gave it to me my freshman year of college, when I had bout of homesickness. I’ve been displaying it every year, ever since.

We do have a few international ones:

We didn’t pick this up in Ireland, but loved the stone, Celtic feel of it. The star is a Moravian star, which we picked up on one of our many trips to Pennsylvania.

This one we actually got in Rothenberg, Germany, when we went there on a day trip the summer of 1999. It gets used twice a year, once on story night, and once on Christmas Eve. Which is probably why it’s not turning as well as it used to.

This one we also got in Germany, when some diplomat friends of ours were going to Israel and asked if they could get anything for us. We said a nativity, and this is what the brought back. Yes, I do sense the irony of putting it up in front of the Game of Thrones books.

And this one my brother brought back from Venezuela for me. It usually sits high out of the kids’ reach at home, but I liked this arrangement so much, I think we need to figure out a way to do this at home as well.

This one, out of all of the displays, gets the most use. The girls, when they were younger, loved playing with it, rearranging the pieces, switching the hair on the wise men and shepherds. It’s gotten used for church, and sometimes I’m surprised the backdrop is still standing, or that the angel still has her wings (she lost her halo years ago, though.)

These next few we either just picked up at the store because we liked it, or were given to us.

In the “homemade” category, we have:

I made the ornament, as well as the picture frame above it.

This one was the handiwork of my sister-in-law.

And these, my mom made. I figured the best way to show them off was to put up our crazy nativity puppet play we do every year. It’s good for a laugh or three.

And that’s ours. Do you have any nativities that are special to you?

Happy Christmas!

“And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
the Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!” 
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day. Don’t clean it up too quickly.”  ― Andy Rooney

Happy Holidays from my blog to yours!

2013 Advent Tour: 10 Terrific Christmas Books

I was thinking, when I saw this button for this year’s Virtual Advent Tour, that I’d been a part of this since the very, very beginning. So, I went back and looked, and discovered that, yes, I have been. One of the benefits of being an Old Fogey in Blog Years.

One of the downsides is that it’s difficult coming up with new ideas every year…

But, going through past posts, I’ve talked about stories, yes, and I’ve talked about books, but I think what was needed is a list of all my favorite Christmas stories. (I am also doing this in the hope that I can get some good suggestions for next year’s book.)

1. Who is Coming to Our House? by Joseph Slate and Ashley Wolff: I don’t have many Nativity books, mostly because the ones I find are either too didactic or too saccharine. But this one, available only in board book, is charming and sweet and perfect.

2. The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg: Do I need to write about this one? I still cry at the end, no matter how many times I read it.

3. Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus, by Frances Pharcellus Church: A lovely Victorian-inspired illustrated version of the original letter.

4. The Night Before Christmas, by Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Jan Brett. There are many versions of this one, but even after years and years, I love Jan Brett’s version of this. (Though Holly Hobbie‘s new one is quite lovely as well.) I’m not a big fan of Brett, overall, but her style suits this story.

5. Great Joy, by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline: Simple story of a homeless man and a young girl in a church nativity play. It’s not often so few words pack so powerful a punch. Gorgeous illustrations as well (which is a must!).

6. Christmas Day in the Morning, by Pearl S. Buck, illustrated by Mark Buehner: I don’t often read this one because it’s long, but it’s worth the read. And Buehner’s dark, lush art only adds to this touching story.

7. The Twelve Days of Christmas, illustrated by Laurel Long: it’s just the Christmas song, but in this case, the art is Everything. I am also fond of Emma’s Christmas by Irene Trivas for a retelling of this. Unfortunately, I think it’s out of print.

8. How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr Seuss: I keep wondering if I’ll ever get tired of this because we read it constantly during the month of December every single year. I don’t think so, though.

9. Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost, illustrated by Susan Jeffers. Not a Christmas book, but a winter one. And gorgeously quiet.

I had a couple that could go here, but I think, in the end, I’m going to put the one that I picked up this year. It’s not the best book, per se, (it’s cheesy and I think it’s one of those mass-produced ones that change depending on where you live) but it’s fun, and the kids like it.

10. Santa is Coming to Kansas, by Steve Smallman, illustrated by Robert Dunn and Stefano Azzalin

There are mine. What are your favorite Christmas books?

Oh! And if you’re curious, here are my past posts:
2012: Advent Calendar
2011: American Girl Dolls
2010: Christmas Tree
2009: Christmas Top 10
2008: Merry Christmas Interview
2007: Story Night

I have the best bookgroups

And both did a holiday swap this year. First up, from my YAckers group:

My swapee (swaper? Am I the swapee?) was Holly from Book Harbinger sent this… the candy was cake balls. YUM. And the books were these:

I literally did a happy dance. As soon as the Cybils are over, I’m digging into them! *happy*

And for my long-time Nook friends, I was (at least) quite grateful that one of our members threw together a swap at the last minute, because I got Kellie as my gift giver. (I’ve wanted her to give to me for years, because she gives such lovely, thoughtful presents.) And she didn’t disappoint.

So cute. I’m keeping the tags. And inside?

 We have the game already (it’s one of our favorites), but M has been threatening to take it, so now she has her own copy!

As for the slippers, I stuck them on.

And haven’t taken them off!

Hope you had a happy Christmas!

Happy Christmas!

“Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew… [A]nd it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alife possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!”