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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

ana of california book geraniums front porch

Summer reading is some of my favorite reading, and I’ve been getting through stacks of books this month. Here’s the latest roundup:

Ana of California, Andi Teran
Shuttled around the foster system for years, Ana Cortez has run out of chances when she comes to work on a farm in Northern California. A vivid, lovely 21st-century reimagining of Anne of Green Gables. Ana is fierce and vulnerable and I loved her (and the whole cast of characters). Found recently at the Concord Bookshop.

The Wrath and the Dawn, Renee Ahdieh
Khalid, the boy-king of Rey, murders a new bride every morning. After her best friend falls victim to his cruelty, Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid, planning to take revenge. But his story is more complicated than she’d thought. A riff on One Thousand and One Nights with two likable heroines, though the magical element felt forced.

The Case of the Murdered Muckraker, Carola Dunn
On a working holiday in New York, Daisy Dalrymple (now Fletcher) witnesses a murder. A mad chase for the killer and plenty of culture shock ensue. A fun variation on the series, but I missed the usual supporting characters.

The Last Bookaneer, Matthew Pearl
In the days before copyright laws, literary piracy flourished. Pearl imagines a breed of “bookaneers,” swashbuckling thieves who made their fortunes stealing from authors. An engaging adventure tale full of colorful characters and some great lines about the literary life – though I didn’t like the ending. Recommended by Laura.

Mistletoe and Murder, Carola Dunn
Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher and her family end up at an isolated Cornwall estate for Christmas, where (of course) someone is murdered. A highly enjoyable holiday twist on this series.

My History, Antonia Fraser
Biographer Antonia Fraser has always adored History with a capital H. She details her growing-up years and her burgeoning love of the field in this memoir. It is full of Oxford (where she grew up and went to university) and witty commentary on her family and herself as a young woman. Some lovely lines, though the whole thing felt a bit disjointed. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 13).

The Carols of Christmas: A Celebration of the Surprising Stories Behind Your Favorite Holiday Songs, Andrew Gant
Despite their pious lyrics, many Christmas carols have a checkered history. Choirmaster Andrew Gant tells the entertaining (often murky) stories of 21 classic carols. Occasionally obtuse but mostly accessible and really fun. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 15).

Astrid and Veronika, Linda Olsson
Reeling from a recent tragedy, Veronika rents a house in an isolated Swedish village. Her elderly neighbor, Astrid, is also carrying a heavy sorrow. Gradually, a friendship develops between the two women. Quiet, spare and beautifully written.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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get your jingle on sign christmas

Dreaming Spies, Laurie R. King
Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell get tangled up in a blackmail case in Japan, involving family honor, national politics and ninjas. (And a brief return to Oxford.) 13th in a series – it’s good, but read the other ones first. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 17).

The Secrets of Midwives, Sally Hepworth
A family saga of three generations of midwives: Neva, her mother Grace and her grandmother Floss. A little soapy, but engaging and heartwarming. Great for fans of Call the Midwife. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 10).

Winter Solstice, Rosamunde Pilcher
One of my very favorite Christmas stories – a warm, twinkly tale of five people finding themselves (and each other) in a Scottish village at Christmastime. Full of hope.

Sorcery & Cecelia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer
A whimsical Regency-era YA novel, told in letters between cousins (and novice magicians) Kate and Cecelia. Confusing at times (the magic isn’t always well explained), but engaging and fun.

The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp, Eva Rice
A lovely, bittersweet novel of music and young love in 1960s London – a companion of sorts to The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, one of my longtime faves. Bought at Foyles in London.

Paw and Order, Spencer Quinn
Chet and Bernie are back on the case – this time in D.C., where Bernie’s love life, national politics and Slim Jims all play a role. Chet, the canine narrator, is as lovable (and easily distracted) as ever.

Honeymoon Hotel, Hester Browne
Type-A wedding planner Rosie McDonald spends her life creating perfect days for brides – but her own love life is sadly lacking. A bit like The Wedding Planner in book form. Predictable, but really fun.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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merry and bright

christmas card 2014

From our household to yours, the happiest of holidays.

I’m taking the week off, friends. See you back here next week.

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katie memorial church green coat harvard yard

My soul magnifies the Lord
My spirit rejoices in God my Savior
My soul magnifies the Lord
My spirit rejoices in God

It is the week before Christmas, that strange in-between time where real life continues even as we hurtle toward festivity. For those of us who travel long distances to celebrate, the holiday is a clear separation from routine, a break made more definite by two thousand miles on an airplane, suitcases stuffed with clothes and presents, then three hundred miles of long, gray Texas highway.

As the calendar ticks closer to our departure date, I’m living two parallel lives: one largely normal week of work and home and daily routine, one week of lists and preparations and giddy anticipation of seeing loved ones I haven’t seen for months, or a year.

Glory be to God the Father
And glory be to God the Son
Glory be to God the Spirit
Glory be to God

This week, I still hit the snooze button in the mornings, throw on my green coat and ride the subway to Harvard Square. I answer emails, wrap up work projects, then walk down to Darwin’s for some chai and breathing space. On Monday afternoon, I sat on the steps of Memorial Church, my back resting against one of its wide wooden columns, letting my brain spin out while I gazed at the deep blue sky.

This week, I am still making soup, eating leftovers, sitting in front of the Christmas tree with a mug of tea in my hands. I’m clinging to my routine, with its built-in space for solitude, because it’s about to be disrupted for two whole weeks. I’m looking forward to the disruption – I’m aching to see my parents and sister, meet my brand-new nephew and hug my friends – but I also know it will be exhausting.

He has been mindful of his servant
He has been mindful of me
I will be blessed forever, forever
I will be blessed by the Lord

The celebrations are rushing by: the office holiday lunch with its Secret Santa exchange, a few last lunches and coffee dates, the church Christmas party. I am making Texas plans: dinner with family friends in Dallas, the Christmas Eve service at my parents’ church, some much-needed time with friends in Abilene. Nephew cuddles, quiet days with our families, and lots and lots of Mexican food.

God alone is mighty, mighty
Our God alone has done great things
God alone is worthy, worthy
Holy is his name

Here, late in Advent, I am humming the Magnificat, a simple four-part a cappella song based on Mary’s hymn of praise in the first chapter of Luke. We’ve been singing it at church lately, the soprano and tenor, bass and alto parts weaving around and over and through one another.

I have heard and sung many choral versions of the Magnificat over the years, but this one is my favorite. My friend Frankie loves it too, and I think of her every time we sing it, her warm alto voice matching mine.

advent scripture wreath church

We are still waiting for Christmas, waiting for Christ to come, amid frightening headlines and soul-weariness and constantly growing to-do lists. But during my long, frenetic workdays, the Magnificat plays steadily in the back of my mind, like a heartbeat. A quiet reminder that, behind everything else, there is this: wonder, humility and praise.

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christmas book stack charlie brown

The reading is haphazard this month. But it’s happening. (Above: the Christmas picture books I put out every year.)

 An Appetite for Murder, Lucy Burdette
When aspiring food writer Hayley Snow follows her new boyfriend to Key West, she falls in love with the island – and gets dumped. When her ex’s new girlfriend turns up dead, Hayley decides to investigate. A light, well-plotted cozy mystery.

Topped Chef, Lucy Burdette
Hayley Snow gets tapped to judge a foodie reality TV show. When one of her fellow judges is murdered, Hayley starts sniffing around for clues – hoping she isn’t next on the killer’s list. The mystery was a little thin, but I like Hayley and the cast of supporting characters.

Act One, Moss Hart
Moss Hart tells the story of his struggle to become a playwright – from working as a theatre office boy to directing theatrical summer camps, and finally his first hit. Warm, witty and big-hearted. Bought at Three Lives & Co. on our NYC trip.

Shepherds Abiding, Jan Karon
This Mitford Christmas tale makes me cry every year, as Father Tim works to restore a battered Nativity scene as a gift for his wife. So sweet and hopeful.

The Land Where Lemons Grow: The Story of Italy and its Citrus Fruit, Helena Attlee
Attlee tells the long, convoluted tale of citrus production in Italy, covering its history, cultivation, connections to the Mafia, and unbeatable flavor. Fascinating, though a little dense. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 5).

Letters from Father Christmas, J.R.R. Tolkien
I’m a longtime Lord of the Rings fan, but this collection of handwritten, gorgeously illustrated letters is new to me. Tolkien wrote to his children as Father Christmas from 1920-1943 (with notes from his assistant, the North Polar Bear). Hilarious and inventive. Found at Blackwells in Oxford.

The Blood of Olympus, Rick Riordan
“To storm or fire the world must fall” – and a group of demigods must prevent an all-out war, before Gaea wakes. Fast-paced and fun, with lots of zany jokes and surprising depth.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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Advent: now and not yet

memorial church moon harvard yard cambridge

I walked through Harvard Yard one evening last week, my breath clouding in the frigid air. The Yard is dark and empty at that time of day, but I was drawn by the sight of Memorial Church, a tiny light in its bell tower, illumined both by floodlights and the rising misty moon.

I stopped to snap the photo above, thinking about the news lately: protests, disease, injustice, wars and rumors of wars. I wanted to go and sit in the church and pray, but instead I stood there, shivering, thinking: this is Advent. We want so badly for everything to be all right, and it isn’t. Not at all.

light candles memorial church

This weekend, my friend Laura (who is spending this fall in Oxford) wrote on Facebook: “Tonight as I stood in St. Mary’s church listening to the Hallelujah Chorus being performed, I watched the blue lights of an emergency vehicle illuminate the stained glass. And it occurred to me, this is Advent. Now, and not yet.”

On Sunday, my friend Desiree called as we were leaving the house: “The power’s out at church. Can you guys pick up some coffee?” It was too late to cancel the service, so instead we huddled in the front few pews, two tall purple candles on the Advent wreath burning merrily, winter light slanting in through the windows. It was chilly and dim, but the red poinsettias splashed the sanctuary with color, and Abi read aloud the words of the prophet Isaiah: Comfort, comfort my people, says the Lord your God.

advent scripture wreath church

We sang a few Christmas carols – O Come O Come Emmanuel and O Little Town of Bethlehem, O Come All Ye Faithful and Amy’s favorite, the haunting Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming. I stood between Kelsey, whose soprano soared on the high notes, and Betsy, whose rich alto voice matched the notes I was singing. And I looked around at this group of people, some of whom I love and some I barely know, and I thought: this, too, is Advent.

It has been a difficult few weeks around here, whether I’m watching the news or checking in on sick relatives or simply trying to get through the day. I worry about the injustice that is still so prevalent in this country, and I remind my husband to call the dryer repairman. I check in on a friend who has had pneumonia, and I hum carols as I chop veggies for dinner or answer work emails. I hurt and I pray, for the world and for concerns closer to home, and I buy gifts and send Christmas cards. I text my sister to see how she’s doing, and I sit in front of our twinkling tree, filled with quiet awe and wonder.

This is Advent. Now, and not yet. Tension, and aching, and longing for the promise to be fulfilled – the promise of redemption and renewal. The waiting, and the tentative hope. The quiet solidarity of walking this road together.

Most days, the fulfillment of the promise seems a long way off. But there is beauty, and deep joy, in the waiting.

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red door wreath cambridge christmas

I love so many things about this festive season: the traditional decorations and music, the fun of buying gifts for friends and family, the Christmas cards that show up in my mailbox,  the reverent preparation of Advent.

I know Christmas is beset by commercialism these days (the sale emails are piling up in my inbox), but I confess I love a festive shop window (or outdoor display). And the streets of Harvard Square, where I work, are bursting with holiday spirit.

The Brattle Square Florist has piles of fresh-smelling greens, which spill out onto the sidewalk:

brattle square florist christmas reindeer

I love the little birch reindeer.

The barbershop down the street has Linus, Lucy, Frosty the Snowman and the whole gang from the Claymation version of Rudolph. (Yukon Cornelius! Hermey the elf!)

rudolph christmas barbershop cambridge

I spotted this deconstructed reindeer outside a landscaper’s office.

abstract reindeer cambridge christmas

The cupcake shop Sweet has gotten into the spirit:

pink christmas tree sweet cambridge

At Black Ink, the display is subtle but festive. (I could spend hundreds of dollars in here.)

christmas cards window black ink cambridge

And the Anthropologie windows, as always, are sheer magic.

anthropologie christmas window cambridge

What does this season look like in your neighborhood? Any fun window displays?

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