It may or may not surprise you (OK, it probably won't) that, given a choice, I like to read Christmas/holiday-themed books during December. Also, I generally don't get as much reading done in December, since I'm busy with wrapping, baking, etc.
Here is what I read last month, to wrap up 2009:
Kissing Christmas Goodbye: An Agatha Raisin Mystery, by M.C. Beaton. I had high hopes for this book, in spite of the fact that the main character's name is Agatha Raisin. (That just seems like a name that would take quite a bit to make likable.) It supposedly takes place during the Christmas season, with part of the mystery being a murder in a Cotswold village manor house.
All I can say having finished it, is that I will never get that time back in my life that I spent reading it. Fortunately it was a quick read, so I didn't lose a lot. But I found Agatha Raisin to be really annoying, for one. She seemed to be totally self-absorbed, and begrudging of her friends'/colleagues' good fortunes when they happen. The murder part of the mystery was underwhelming, and to be honest I just didn't care that it happened or who did it.
In the end, Agatha seemed ambivalent at best about her Christmas dinner celebration, which runs as an undercurrent throughout the story. By the time it happens, you know it isn't going to work, and what could have been pretty comical is described in what I thought was a really boring manner.
Plum Pudding Murder: A Hannah Swensen Mystery, by Joanne Fluke. I had purposely saved the Advance Reader's Edition of this book to read during Christmastime. I enjoy reading Christmas stories at this time of year, and thought it would be fun to meet a new character.
I was slightly disappointed with this book. I had not really expected any great work of literature, but this story seemed especially simplistic to me, and I was only sort of fond of the main characters. Hannah Swensen, the main character/sleuth, just didn't seem that interesting to me. I realize that this could be due to the fact that she and the others who populate the story are already well-know to fans of the series, so they are not reintroduced each time. Hannah has an interesting profession (running a bakery/catering business), and the mystery could have been compelling (who killed the owner of the Crazy Elf Christmas Tree Lot?), but it seemed lukewarm at best.
I will admit to trying the recipe for the Raspberry-Chocolate Truffles listed in the book, and they are quite yummy. So it wasn't a total loss, but I'm not sure I'll got out of my way to read any others in this series.
A Rumpole Christmas: Stories, by John Mortimer. Well, if there was ever a Christmas collection that could make me smile and laugh out loud, it's this one. I love Horace Rumpole, his wife Hilda (She Who Must Be Obeyed), and the other characters that populate his world. And I used to think that Leo McKern's portrayal of Rumpole in the PBS series was spot on. This is a small collection of Christmas-related stories that have been published before in various places, but I hadn't read any of them, so it was all new and fresh to me.
How sad that John Mortimer is no longer with us, and we will not hear from Rumpole any more. But if you can read these stories, and not get into the Christmas spirit, or have a good chuckle, then I think you must be pretty hopeless. The ones that amused me most were the ones where Rumpole and Hilda travel for Christmas, to someplace where they are either going to "become healthier" (Hilda's idea), or where they can have a "relaxing" Christmas and a change of pace. But every story was entertaining, and evoked a vivid picture in my mind of the various characters involved.
If you are a Rumpole fan, this is a quick, fun read. If you have never met Rumpole, you might very well enjoy this, though it's much more fun when you have a little bit of backstory.
An Irish Country Christmas, by Patrick Taylor. This is the second in the series by Patrick Taylor that I have read, and it was truly enjoyable. Once again, we visit the tiny town of Ballybucklebo, County Down, Northern Ireland, to spend Christmastime with Final Flahertie O'Reilly, M.D., his young partner, Barry Laverty, M.D., and their housekeeper, "Kinky" Kincaid.
The best part about these books for me is the way they describe the day-to-day lives of small-town inhabitants in 1960s Ireland. The townspeople are well-drawn, and seldom caricatures. There are no "romantic" depictions of life - rather, you understand how some have so little while others are living at a much higher standard. Since all of them need a doctor's care from time to time, there's a chance to know them all.
In this particular book, the doctors and their neighbors are in the Christmas spirit, preparing for the season, while dealing with their own challenges. For Barry Laverty, it's the fear that he is losing Patricia, the love of his life, who has left to study at Cambridge, and does not seem to be making an effort to come home for Christmas. For Dr. O'Reilly, it's learning to move on from the memory of his late wife, Deidre, to a new relationship with an old friend.
There are of course, other stories going on the whole time, and an especially amusing description of the Christmas program performed by the local schoolchildren.
If you enjoy cozy, Christmas-themed stories, and particularly if you enjoy hearing about celebrations in other countries, you would enjoy this book. It definitely leads you to feel the Christmas spirit!
Knit the Season: A Friday Night Knitting Club Novel, by Kate Jacobs. This book was given to me as a gift, and as I enjoy reading books about the holidays during the month of December, it proved to be just the right time ...
The story revolves mainly around Dakota Walker, who has left college to attend culinary school, while also keeping up with things at the yarn shop of her late mother, Walker & Daughter. She has help in the person of Peri, who manages things day-to-day, as well as from the women in the Friday Night Knitting Club, and Dakota's father as well.
The book takes place basically from Thanksgiving through New Year's, broken into sections according to the holiday. Dakota is faced with several challenges during this time period, each one that forces her to choose between her personal life and her career desires.
The book is also quite detailed in its description of a visit by Dakota and her extended family to her grandmother's house in Scotland for Christmas.
I didn't really love this book, but I enjoyed it. Some of the characters were more believable than others, some parts of the story line were also. But in general, it dealt with busy people dealing successfully with the winter holidays, and not falling apart or becoming Scrooge-ish about them. Which means that it also meets another one of my requirements for a book set during the holidays.
If you are in the mood for such a book, it's an enjoyable and quick read. Not Shakespeare, but also not claiming to be!
So there you go, the good and the "eh" reads of December. According to Goodreads, I read 93 books during last year! I'm sure I won't get nearly as much reading done in 2010, but that's OK. I never thought I would say this, but I did learn during my eight months at the penitentiary that I can actually get tired of reading! Seriously, there were some days when - even though I was reading something I liked - that I wished I could do anything else. Who knew that would ever be possible? Not me!
Next thing you know, I'll find out I can get tired of eating or knitting or something else ... (And then downtown will be uptown, backwards will be forwards, and God knows what else could happen!)