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Friday, January 2, 2015

Two Christmas Books

Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past by Sharyn McCrumb

The two tales in this novella are predicated on two deliciously funny cosmic jokes. They are very well worth reading! Most of my review contains spoilers, so be warned.

The main tale is of Nora Bonesteel being asked by a couple from Florida to discover why their Christmas tree was thrown over. It isn’t hard to figure out: the ghost is staging a major protest against the couple’s wretched taste in decor. They bought a lovely old farmhouse made with hardwood inside and out, and up until Christmas they have furnished it with lovely old pieces in keeping with the age and style of the house. But when they decide to stay for Christmas, they neglect to replace their Florida-pink-aluminum tree with its sunglasses-and-shorts-wearing Santas and nautical-themed ornaments with something more in keeping with the overall decor of the house. The ghost can’t stand it. The tale is told seriously, but the premise is seriously funny.

The second tale, interwoven with the first but related only in that Sheriff Arrowood is often featured alongside Nora Bonesteel in other McCrumb “Ballad” novels, is a joke about Christmas angels. Spencer Arrowood’s deputy is determined to make the arrest of a rather harmless man who had the misfortune to hit a parked Mercedes-Benz belonging to the wife of a senator who wants revenge in the form of a Christmas lockup. The deputy and the sheriff spend hours on three tasks, helping the old man and his wife prepare their back-country home and cattle for the winter snows before finding out they are trying to arrest the wrong man, and the right one is two states away visiting relatives for Christmas! But the old man had prayed for angels to come help him and his wife, and isn’t it better to be an angel on Christmas Eve than an arresting sheriff? Ha ha. 

I like Sharyn McCrumb’s sense of humour, and her writing style never disappoints. I recommend this to all my friends.

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron

The twelfth book in the mystery series that features Jane Austen herself as a sleuth, this novel finds Jane and her mother and sister traveling to Steventon to spend Christmas with brother James and Mary Austen and their daughter and son. James’ older daughter by his first wife is married and gone. We get an amusingly detailed picture of the pompous and stiff James and his self-centered, dramatically hypochondriac wife before we are whisked away to a large country house with all the Austens joining a neighbor’s party for the twelve days of Christmas.

We have long had a perfect vision of a Victorian Christmas in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and in Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas we get an equally delightful, very detailed view of a Georgian/Regency era Christmas, which was a little different. There is no Christmas tree yet, but there is a yule log slowly burning throughout the twelve days, until it is small enough to reveal a clue toward solving the mystery that gives the house party something to do when they are snowbound and unable to return home.

The heart of the novel is not the mystery though. It is the Christmas that Jane and Cassandra devise for their little niece Caroline. They have contrived to give her a beautiful doll, and every morning one or the other of them steals into Caroline’s room to leave on her pillow a new dress or a complete ensemble or another article of clothing for the doll, and each one gives another clue to the mystery, which is bound up in this remarkable setting.

It’s a beautifully crafted novel for a murder mystery, with delicious satire from the character of Jane in her observations of her family and fellow guests, but with her appreciation for the more admirable or love for the innocent on display, as well as a tiny but welcome glimpse into her private religious views.

In short, it is just as I imagine the real Jane Austen might be.

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