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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

A Dash of History with Your Mysteries: Even Though I Knew the End by CL Polk, Peril in Paris by Rhys Bowen, and Of Dragons, Feasts, and Murders by Aliette De Bodard

9 Nov

Even Though I Knew the End
by CL Polk

I had previously read and enjoyed CL Polk’s novel about witches The Midnight Bargain so was curious to check out their latest novel, Even Though I Knew the End. Even Though I Knew the End is a supernatural noir which takes inspiration from The Great Gatsby and is set in an alternative Chicago in the early 20th century where magic and demons are real and deals at the crossroads bring your heart’s desire for the cost of your soul. The supernatural elements are cleverly integrated and the sweet Sapphic romance as well as a story of reunited siblings was fast paced. If anything, it was over a bit too quickly for my taste, I wanted more of the charming characters and their adventures. It also had probably one of my favorite fictional demons. Lucky for you no soul selling required, you can check out a copy from the library.

Peril in Paris
by Rhys Bowen

Peril in Paris, on the other hand, is a good choice for those looking for a historic mystery with less fantasy of the supernatural variety and a bit more humor. I wasn’t sure now that Georgina was married and pregnant with her first child if some of the adventure in the Royal Spyness might be lacking, but Peril in Paris cured any worries I’ve had. Although I’m always a fan of the capers of the poor yet aristocratic Georgina, this novel was one of my favorites with Georgie encountering such historic figures as Coco Chanel and Gertrude Stein when she visits her friend Belinda in France and assists her husband on a secret mission for Britain. Of course there is also a murder mystery to be solved. Rhys Bowen does a brilliant job of weaving together history, humor, romance, and mystery. Fans of cozy mysteries even those not typically interested in historic settings will be delighted. I received an early copy of Peril in Paris and Even Though I Knew the End for review from Netgalley. Hoboken Public Library patrons can borrow them using the Libby App from eBCCLS.

Dragons, Feasts, and Murders
by Aliette De Bodard

Another quick fantasy/mystery read, the novella, Dragons, Feasts, and Murders is the first in the Dragons and Blades series which spun off from the Dominion of the Fallen Trilogy. During Lunar New Year, the dragon prince, Thuan takes his husband Asmodeus, a fallen angel, home to spend time with family, however, the revelries are interrupted by a murder that Asmodeus can’t resist attempting to solve. The setting is an alternate history Vietnamese inspired kingdom at the bottom of the Seine River in post-apocalyptic Paris where characters have an aquatic creature side to their humanoid appearance, which is depicted in as intriguingly original a way as it sounds. You can also borrow the second in De Bodard’s series Of Charms, Ghosts and Grievances from Hoopla.

Written by:
Aimee Harris
Information and Digital Services Manager

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