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Holiday Reads (without the Romance)

21 Dec

There are lots of holiday romance books and movies, but sometimes I want books with a festive theme or wintry backdrop but with a little mystery, fantasy, or memoir instead. These were my three Christmas picks, I enjoyed this holiday season.

Blackmail and Bibingka
by Mia P. Mananasala

I’ve become of fan of Mia P. Mananasala’s Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery Series so was excited that her newest, Blackmail and Bibingka was set during the holiday season. Lila Macapagal and her family and friends are busy with the weeks leading up to Christmas preparing lots of delicious sounding treats including Bibingka. Bibingka is a slightly sweet and soft rice cake that Filipino families often make and eat around Christmas; if you are curious to try them, there is a recipe for Bibingka as well as other yummy treats mentioned through out the novel at the end. Added to the holiday hubbub, Lila’s estranged cousin Ronnie has recently returned and is attempting to start a winery centered around exotic fruits. When one of Ronnie’s investors passes away under mystery circumstances, Lila investigates to prove her cousin’s innocence. Like any good cozy, the Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mysteries are filled with charming and quirky characters, but the diversity of backgrounds represented adds depth. You can also read my review of the first in the series Arsenic and Adobo. If you are looking for more Christmas mysteries, check out my recent review of Donna Andrew’s Dashing Through the Snowbirds.

Immoveable Feast: A Paris Christmas
by John Baxter

My father was born in Paris so for me Christmas isn’t Christmas without a Bouche de Noel (log cake) and other French delicacies. As a child I would need to explain to anyone new to our celebrations that it was a marathon and not a sprint so they would be prepared for a meal that could be sometimes 6 or 7 courses; I couldn’t resist therefore John Baxter’s, Immoveable Feast about an Australian man’s quest to prepare himself to prove to his Parisian in-laws that he was up to the challenge of creating a Noel dinner worthy of their family. His stories about sourcing ingredients were frequently filled with humor. The memoir also mixes bits of his experience living in Australia as a child, as well as a sprinkling of his career writing about the movie industry (some big names are dropped) with his adventures in France with his wife, daughter, and in-laws. Some of his wife’s families traditions differed from my own, but many aspects resonated with me and I enjoyed learning about how Christmas is celebrated in Summer in Australia. Baxter has written several other books about Paris for those who are Francophiles, including Paris at the End of the World.

A Scandal in Battersea
by Mercedes Lackey

A Scandal in Battersea is the the 12th in Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters Series. We picked it for this year’s December book discussion for our Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Discussion Group at the Library. The story starts out strong with a perfect Victorian Christmas with afternoon tea, pantomimes, and sleigh rides, but darkness is lurking as a brash, foolhardy would-be-magician attempts to summon a powerful being that he thinks will make his dreams come true. It is, however, a penny dreadful nightmare when the young women, whom he brings the creature, return from the other dimension zombie like, unable to respond but to follow basic commands. The book alternates between the efforts of the magician and the protagonists, a group of psychically and magically gifted original characters along with with Sherlock Holmes and Watson. The book brings in a lot of diverse elements which sometimes felt like they could be developed more and I wish the holiday trappings had continued throughout rather than being dropped towards the end, but overall I enjoyed this fast paced fantasy read with some clever plot twists. Some of the books in the series incorporate fairytales like Reserved for the Cat, a personal favorite of mine that I highly recommend.

You can also read previous posts about some unexpected Holiday Movie picks. For those who prefer holiday romance check out this post about the Dash and Lily series and next month I’ll be reviewing Wintery Paranormal Romances, Back in a Spell and Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries.

Do you have a favorite December Holiday or Winter Read; share it in our comment section!

Written by:
Aimee Harris
Information and Digital Services Manager

Imaginary Books: The Gentleman’s Book of Vices and The Princess Bride

30 Nov

I’ve seen it called literary inception. Could there be anything more relatable for a book lover than a story centered around a character’s love for literature even if those books themselves don’t exist? Two spins on this I recently enjoyed were The Gentleman’s Book of Vices and The Princess Bride.

The Gentleman’s Book of Vices
by Jess Everlee

Set in London in 1883, The Gentleman’s Book of Vices, has protagonist Charlie Price counting the days towards an arranged marriage which he needs to pay off his debts. He takes solace in his naughty novel collection and when he decides to track down the secret author of his favorite; he finds actual sparks with the author/bookstore owner, Miles Montague. Miles’s novels always end in tragedy for its protagonists; can he and Charlie make a happy life together in a time when their love is forbidden? Though the novel is fairly predictable as romances go, the charming characters made this a fun read. I liked that Charlie’s bride found her own happily ever after as well. The novel is the first in the Lucky Lovers of London series. I received an advance copy from the publisher and Netgalley.

The Princess Bride
by William Goldman

Many people may be familiar with the Princess Bride in its movie form. Terrific casting and acting has made that story a romantic comedy classic. But the novel that the film is based on is also worth a read. We read it as part of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Discussion Club and many of the group shared stories about their first reads of the book but agreed that it held up for them over the years. One difference from the movie is the framing is that of a man recounting a book he loved as a child from the perspective of the author retelling a translation of the story, compared with the movie which shows a grandfather reading the book to his sick grandson. However, Buttercup and her long suffering farm boy Wesley, still fall in love and then are tragically separated. Adventures ensue with Buttercup being kidnapped and then forced to marry. Villains and heroes turn out not to be who they seem. It is as much a love letter to fairy tale romances as it is a parody of them.

Written by:
Aimee Harris
Information and Digital Services Manager

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