Christmas Reading List 2009 book reviews

Badass Book Report

Each year, around November, I create a reading list of Christmas books that I want to read for the coming Christmas season.  I like having holiday themed books to read during the actual holiday.  Last year I read five or six books for Christmas. A good amount of books in a month for me, but I planned a little bit more ahead that year, plus several of the stories were very short.  This year, I had so much other stuff to read, I couldn’t match last year’s output.  It’s also getting tougher to find good holiday themed books because the majority of Christmas themed mysteries are geared more towards middle aged women.  They have a woman sleuth (which I don’t mind) and many times offer recipes for cookies and cakes with the story (which I do mind).  I even found one Christmas mystery murder book that had an all female construction crew as the focus of the story.  AN ALL FEMALE CONSTRUCTION CREW.  Needless to say, this is not something I personally want to read.  So I continue to Google endless variations of  “Best Christmas mysteries” to come up with my holiday reading list.

So, after much searching, I was able to track down three holiday books this year that I found interesting and I offer you my reviews.

Adv of Blue Carbuncle

The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle (A Sherlock Holmes Mystery) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – One of Doyle’s short stories featuring the titular detective.  This particular mystery takes place right around Christmas day.  One of Holmes’ acquaintances discovers a priceless blue gem in the crop of a Christmas goose.  Holmes must first discover what the mysterious blue gem is and then detect how it came to be in the neck of the goose.  This story is short, but it’s one of Doyle’s best Holmes stories.  I had forgotten that I read it back in high school.  The opening scene between Homes and Watson has always stuck with me;  Holmes studies a discarded hat, and from this hat, he rattles off a laundry list of deductions about the hat owner.  It’s pretty cool and when I think Sherlock Holmes, I think of this scene.  Holmes follows his deductions backwards and with a bit of luck, discovers the mystery of the gem.  Much like Agatha Christie’s A Christmas Tragedy (which I read last year), this story has a very tenuous connection to Christmas, but this story works so much better than Christie’s short story.   I’ve loved Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories since high school and I’m very happy to see they are still solid reads, unlike the aforementioned Agatha Christie (whose work is less interesting now that I’m older).  I highly recommend not only this story, but much of Doyle’s Holmes stories (however, beware of Sherlock Holmes stories written by other authors as the quality is highly uneven).

Benjamin Franklin and Xmas Murder

Benjamin Franklin and a Case of Christmas Murder (1990) by Robert Lee Hall – This is actually the second book in Hall’s Benjamin Franklin series. The first Ben Franklin book was Benjamin Franklin Takes the Case in 1988, followed by this Christmas mystery in 1990. Then four more books followed to round out the series at six books, the last being written in 1997.  Obviously, I chose this because of the Christmas theme, but I also thought the idea of Benjamin Franklin as an amateur sleuth solving murders and crimes was a great idea.  Feeling this was a promising story I got it off Paperbackswap.com and read it earlier this month.  And it’s not great.  The idea is solid, but the execution is a little ham-fisted.  It very much reminded me of Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie which you’ll remember I read last year during the holidays.  The author does write in language similar to the time (late 18th century), but that only makes it incredibly hard to stay focused and read.  The story was written similar to Agatha Christie, but the story structure was also very similar to early Sherlock Holmes books.  Franklin has a young protege that tags along and is used by Franklin as a sounding board for his thoughts (much like Watson and Holmes).  We go from venue to venue as Franklin interviews suspects and in between each interview he reviews what he learned with his young ward.  Finally we get the Christie-esque reveal and everything ties up nicely in the end.  Honestly, I was a bit disappointed and I felt that the premise had much more potential than what I read.  Also, the connection to the Christmas holiday is slight.  The murder happens on Christmas day, but the majority of the events in the novel really happen during the days leading up to New Year’s Day.  It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great.

the Christmas train

The Christmas Train (2002) by David Baldacci – I picked up this audio book on CD at a Cracker Barrel for ten bucks.  I’ve been wanting to read it for a few years.  I’ve read Baldacci before, namely The Camel Club, and I enjoyed it very much, so I was glad to hear he had a Christmas themed book that I assumed he would take seriously.  However, there is no way Baldacci took this book seriously.  The story is corny and the dialogue is even cornier.  Tom Langdon, an investigative print news reporter takes a train from the DC area across the country to LA to visit his girlfriend.  He meets crazy characters along the way and learns a little bit about himself and gains an appreciation for the lost art of “riding the rails”.  The plot in this book is thinner than a Swedish supermodel.  Tom riding the train is the plot.  That’s it.  The different “crazy” characters come in and out, but provide no solid plot threads.  Then, half way through, we get the predictable “ex girlfriend” appearance.  For the first third of the book, Tom pines for this former girlfriend, Eleanor.  They were an item many years ago when they were reporters over in Europe.  Suddenly, she up and leaves him.  She never explains why.  So he was heartbroken (which he tells us several times).  However, Eleanor did ask him to come with her when she left, and stubbornly he said no.  But, to be fair, she never said why she was leaving, she just said that if he loved her he’d come with her.  WTF, lady?!  Anyway, every few minutes something reminds Tom of her, even though it’s years later and he’s on his way to visit his current girlfriend.  Then, suddenly, BAM!, we learn Eleanor is on the train.   Yes, unbelievably, and I’m saying that sarcastically, Eleanor is on the train with a famous movie director writing a story about riding the train across country (yes, exactly like Tom).  And, of course, the director wants them to work together closely on the story (of course he does).  So we get all the drama of Tom and Eleanor back together and arguing about their relationship years prior (and not actually writing their stories about riding the train).  You can see where the story is going.  Hell, Stevie Wonder could see where the story is going (current girlfriend flies in and gets on the train half way through creating more drama).  Needless to say, I was very disappointed.  This book is like one of those holiday movie specials on Lifetime or Oxygen.  One my mom would love and I would hate with the burning fires of Hades itself.  Not only was the story ridiculous and predictable, Baldacci’s dialogue is so incredibly corny I about strained my retinas rolling my eyes.  I had a lot of trouble actually finishing the story without tossing the CDs out the window of my car.  I’ll stick to Baldacci’s thrillers.  This human interest story was more like a human dis-interest story.  FAIL.

So, I’m kinda bummed I had two (out of three) stinkers for my holiday reading.  I’m going to have to go with a few books next I know I’m going to love.  Those will probably be the final Percy Jackson book, The Last Olympian, or the third Artemis Fowl book, The Eternity Code.  Those are two series that never disappoint me (damn, I just jinxed myself).  I’m also looking at The Maze of Bones (The 39 Steps Book 1) or Star Trek The Return by William Shatner.  So I have some potentially BAD ASS reading material coming up the next month or so.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Update:  I read The Maze of Bones and it’s flippin’ AWESOME.  I am definitely continuing the series.  It heavily mentions Ben Franklin in it.  And then, right after reading it, I watched an episode of Bones that also heavily mentioned Ben Franklin.  It’s been a Ben Franklin Christmas for me this year.  It has prompted me to request the book Benjamin Franklin: An American Life on Paperbackswap.com.  The dude is fascinating and I can’t wait to read more about the man’s life.

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4 Responses to “Christmas Reading List 2009 book reviews”

  1. Oh I’m so glad you’re liking the 39 Clues!

  2. IvtMqd Excellent article, I will take note. Many thanks for the story!

  3. Thanks-a-mundo for the blog.Really thank you! Great.

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