Advent Review Day 24: The Night Before Christmas By Clement C Moore

ISBN: 9780007133987

Published By Harper Collins

Everyone knows the start of this poem, mice not stirring and all that, but I wonder how many people have read it all the way through? It is definitely one of those poems which works best if read aloud. It starts with the calm and hush of Christmas Eve as everyone is falling asleep. Soon, our unnamed narrator is woken by the arrival of Santa Claus, and his meeting with the jolly fellow dressed in red is charming.

This is definitely one for Christmas Eve with a nice cup of hot chocolate before you head upstairs to bed.

Good night, sleep well, and I hope Santa brings you many literary presents!

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Advent Review Day 22: The Snow Queen By Hans Christian Anderson

Published By The Folio Society

A classic fairy tale today. I know many of Anderson’s fairy tales, but I don’t think I have ever read any. The Snow Queen is one of his longest and is in seven parts. It details the friendship between a little girl, Gerda and a little boy Kay. One day Kay’s heart is pierced with a fragment of mirror which magnifies the ugly and shrinks the beautiful, and leaves a person’s heart cold. Kay is then kidnapped by the beautiful Snow Queen who takes him away to her ice palace and keeps him there. 

Gerda sets out on an epic adventure to find her friend and free him from the palace. Along the way she meets all sorts of people and talking animals who help her with her quest. 

This is a great story about friendship, but it is very psychedelic in places. I have a feeling that Anderson may have overdone the rum in his egg nog when he wrote this. It does make a great Christmas read though.

Advent Review Day 21: The Woman In Black By Susan Hill

ISBN: 978-0099511649

Published By Vintage Classics

Ghost stories were a part of a traditional Victorian Christmas and so I thought I would include on in my advent reading list.

This is the book upon which the famous (and utterly terrifying) stage play is based. Arthur Kipps, a solicitor, is sent to a small town in the East of England to see to the final affairs of Alice Drablow. Mrs Drablow lived in a remote house at the end of Nine Lives Causeway which is cut off by the sea at high tide. 

As Arthur tries to discover more about his deceased client, the more he finds the locals will not talk, nor will they go anywhere near the house. He doesn’t take heed of their thinly veiled warnings and decides to spend a few nights in the house to sort out Mrs Drablow’s papers. As the title of the book suggests, he starts to see the mysterious woman in black, and eventually finds out who she is and what happened to her.

The brilliance of this book is the way the tension is built. Very little is said which is obviously frightening, but the way the woman influences Arthur’s mind and thought process is chilling. This is a proper, one hundred percent scare the living daylights out of you, give you the creeps for weeks afterwards ghost story.  Go on, read it. I dare you.

 

Advent Review Day 20: Jeeves and the Yule-tide Spirit By PG Wodehouse

ISBN: 978-1841591421

Published By Everyman

This short Jeeves and Wooster story is a part of a collection published under the title of “Very Good, Jeeves”.  I struggled to find a Jeeves story set at Christmastime, I think in the world of Plum it is perpetually spring and summer. However, this adventure sees Bertie cancel his trip to Monte Carol in favour of spending Christmas at Lady Wickham’s country house. Jeeves is somewhat annoyed at missing a trip to warmer climes and becomes rather standoffish with Bertie. Bertie reveals that he has two reasons for changing his plans, the first is to take revenge on Tuppy Glossup who played a practical joke on him, and the second is to win the heart of Bobbie Wickham.  Jeeves is generally on guard when it comes to Bertie’s love interests, saving him from both his own selection of mate and those which are foisted upon him by his Aunt. 

Nothing in the Bertie’s world goes to plan, and as always it is up to Jeeves to ensure that Bertie does not end up in trouble or married to someone totally unsuitable. The plot of this particular story is straight forward and you can see what is coming almost from the off, but complex plotting is not the point of Wodehouse. You read a Jeeves story for the wonderful dialogue between Bertie and his valet, and to ensconce yourself in a world where nothing bad ever happens.  If you have never read any of the Jeeves stories, treat yourself to this collection, it will brighten your day.

Advent Review Day 19: The Dark Is Rising Sequence By Susan Cooper

ISBN: 978-0140316889

Published By Puffin Books

I have spoken before about how much I loved this series when I was a child. Whilst I had always read a lot, this was the first book which totally entranced me, and I read under the duvet at night with a torch (Sorry Mum!).  Don’t judge these books by the appalling film, it was so far away from the amazing adventure that Cooper created to be utterly insulting.

The sequence is made up of five books: Over Sea Under Stone, The Dark Is Rising, Greenwitch, The Grey King and Silver On The Tree. 

The books follow five children, starting with the Simon, Jane and Barny Drew who go on holiday in Cornwall with their Great Uncle Merry. They become embroiled in a fight between the Light and the Dark who are searching for a grail. The Old Ones represent the Light and are fighting for the freedom of mankind whilst the Dark long to bring chaos to the world.  It transpires that their Uncle is an Old One and protects them from the Dark. In the later books we meet Will Stanton, a seventh son of a seventh son and the last of the Old Ones. He must join the fight and fulfil his destiny in the war with the Dark. The final child is Bran, a Welsh albino boy and his dog. Tied into ancient Welsh legend he joins the others in the fight, but has a mysterious past.

The characters are well drawn and the atmosphere that Cooper creates is exhilarating and frightening at the same time. Whilst they are not strictly Christmas reads, the first book being set in the summer in Cornwall,  the mystical way that Cooper mixes the real world with the mythology of Cornwall and Wales is so wonderful it begs to be read at this time of year. 

Advent Review Day 18: The Haunted Man By Charles Dickens

ISBN: 978-0307947215

Published By Vintage Books

I couldn’t blog about Christmas reads without including a Dickens story could I? My first list had A Christmas Carol on it, but although it is a wonderful book, I thought I would take a look at the other Christmas Books Dickens wrote. I have picked a novella called The Haunted Man. Professor Redlaw teaches chemistry, and is haunted by a spirit who seems to be a replica of him. Redlaw is tormented by memories of the past. The spirit gives him the ability to forget these memories, but the problem is that everyone Redlaw then comes into contact with also forgets their bad experiences. Remembering only the good and not the bad, is not good for anyone. As with A Christmas Carol, a happy ending ensues after some life lessons are learned. 

Dickens can sometimes feel a little bit of a struggle because of the excessive description. I find the easiest way to approach it is to accept you won’t read his works quickly and to let the language flow over you. 

This little story is a nice alternative to A Christmas Carol with all the Dickensian festive joy you could want.

Advent Review Day 17: The Snowman By Raymond Briggs

ISBN: 978-0-14133-680

Published By Puffin

The Snowman is a simply wonderful, Christmassy book. Despite being over 20 years old, it is still very fresh. The book is traditionally a picture book, but the version I read had words added by Raymond Briggs. The words don’t really add much, and after reading them, I spent more time looking at the beautiful pictures. 

The illustrations are what makes this book so enchanting, they immediately transport you to a world where a snowman built by a young boy comes alive and takes him on an adventure through the winter skies. It’s utterly charming.