Christmas in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1863

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Saturday Review of Books: December 9 and 16, 2017

Go ahead and add your review links for this week to the Linky for last week, since I didn’t get around to posting any reviews of my own this week. I hope everyone is having a very joy filled and hope filled Advent season, with lots of time for reading and reflecting and worshipping the Lord of Christmas.

“Your house, being the place in which you read, can tell us the position books occupy in your life, if they are a defense you set up to keep the outside world at a distance, if they are a dream into which you sink as into a drug, or bridges you cast toward the outside, toward the world that interests you so much that you want to multiply and extend its dimensions through books.” ~Italo Calvino


Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

SATURDAY December 30th, will be the annual special edition of the Saturday Review of Books especially for book lists. You can link to a list of your favorite books read in 2017, a list of all the books you read in 2017, a list of the books you plan to read in 2018, or any other end of the year or beginning of the year list of books. Whatever your list, it’s time for book lists. (Links to regular reviews are also welcome, and you can certainly link to more than one review or more than one list.)

Christmas in Austin, Texas, 1885

A serial killer stalks the women of Austin, Texas:

In an extraordinary Christmas Day meeting, more than five hundred city and business leaders, lawyers, doctors, and clergymen met to devise a plan to stop the killings. There were proposals to light the entire city at night with huge lamps. Governor John Ireland suggested that fire alarms be set off whenever the next attack occurred so that everyone could come out of their houses fully armed to hunt the killer down. A bombastic former Confederate general suggested that sentinels be stationed around Austin to prevent anyone from leaving and that all those within the city be strictly questioned as to their whereabouts on the night of the murders.
None of it would be necessary. Just as suddenly and as inexplicably as they had begun, the attacks stopped. The city was left reeling, torn by questions and consumed with suspicions about who the killer was. And many of those questions, it turned out, revolved around the death of Eula Phillips.

Christmas in Ireland, c.1970

Rumer Godden’s novel, The Diddakoi, features a half-Romany (gypsy) and half-Irish orphan girl named Kizzy who after her grandmother’s death must come to live with the “gorgios”, or non-gypsies. One of those gorgios is Admiral Twiss:

“Admiral Twiss . . . made models, chiefly of ships, sometimes sail, sometimes steam; he never spoke to the village children, nor they to him—they were afraid of the eyebrows and moustache—but he made a model church, big enough for each child to creep into, and every Christmas stood it at the House gates. The church was lit up so that its stained-glass windows shone, every tiny piece perfect, and from inside came music, carols that Kizzy liked to think were tiny people singing—Prudence would have told her at once it was a tape—and at midday and midnight, bells would ring a miniature carillon.
In the wagon Kizzy could hear them and knew it was Christmas. Admiral Twiss, too, always sent Kizzy’s Gran a cockerel for Christmas, some oranges and dates, and a bag of oats for Joe. Sometimes Kizzy thought the oranges and dates were for her; sometimes she thought the Admiral did not know she existed.”

This one is another of my book-buying finds. I knew the author from her adult novels, In This House of Brede and Black Narcissus and also her doll stories for children. This story, of a child who experiences prejudice and bullying but manages to learn to trust the trustworthy adults in her life and with their help overcome the racist attitudes of her peers, looks to be a winner.

Christmas on Galveston Island, Texas, 1840

From Carol Hoff, author of Johnny Texas and Johnny Texas on the San Antonio Road, comes this story, Head to the West, of German immigrants to Texas in the early days of the Texas Republic. in the first chapters of the book, Franz and Rosa and their parents land on the Texas coast on Galveston Island on Christmas Eve:

“They worked until almost dark. With sunset a fine rain began to fall, but the norther the captain expected did not come. The sailors had built two shelters, enclosed on three sides with the sail canvas, open to the west for the fire. Inside they had laid mattresses from the ship, and each woman had carried in a little pile of her belongings.
After a supper of venison steaks broiled over the coals, everyone sat in the women’s shelter and sang Christmas carols. Rosa sat watching the flickering firelight on the faces of the shipwrecked singers as the lovely melody of ‘Silent Night’ flowed about them. Some looked sad and lonesome, and some afraid, but a few were gay with the love of adventure.
Rosa thought of the lonely stretches of sand and sea about them, the wind sighing around their makeshift shelter and the rain dripping from the canvas. She thought of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter in faraway Bethlehem. ‘Franz,’ she whispered, ‘I think I understand about Bethlehem and Baby Jesus in the manger better than I ever did before.’
‘Yes,” Franz whispered back. ‘So do I.'”

This book is one I discovered on my most recent book-buying jaunt, at a Half-Price Bookstore in north Houston. I am looking forward to reading the entire story, since the first few chapters that I did read are wonderful.

Christmas in Staffordshire, England, 1585

From A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley, in which Penelope lives a divided life between the twentieth century and the fourteenth century at Thackers, a rural farmhouse where the Babington family used to live and where they planned the rescue of the doomed queen, Mary Queen of Scots. As Penelope moves through time, she senses the tragedy that is coming inevitably in the lives of the Babingtons and of Queen Mary.

“The great kitchen was decked with boughs of fir and scarlet-berried holly and many a branch of bay. From a central hook in the beam hung a round bunch of holly and mistletoe intermingled with ribbons and garlands swung in loops across the walls. ‘The Kissing Bunch’ Dame Cicely called the ball of berries and bade me beware of standing under it, for at Christmas every one, young lords and all, would clip and kiss those maids they caught under its shadow.”

“‘Come and see the Yule log Penelope!’ He showed me an enormous log which four men had dragged up to the barn. All the village would come to Thackers on Christmas Day, he said, to eat the roast beef and drink the mulled ale, and they would be asked to the hall to watch the Yule log burn and drink healths, the poorer sorts in barley ale, the farmers in sack and canary wine.
Then there would be gifts of food and woolen stuffs, and some of them would bring presents to Anthony. All would be on equality, with singing and music and play-acting, dressed in garments from the oak chest where I had found my tunic, he added.
There would be church in the morning, and then the great feast, and I must come too, he said, no slipping away.”

“The room was beautiful with leaves and berries hanging in circular wreaths and long twining garlands along the walls, symmetrical and correctly even, unlike the freedom of the boughs in the kitchen. At the far end of the room was a table laid for the Christmas Eve feast, spread with a white linen cloth and set with silver and glass and shining pewter plates, each engraved with the Babington arms. On a raised dais was a table lighted with red candles . . .
MIstress Babington smiled and signed to me to stay still, while she went on with her singing.

In that hall there stands a bed.
The bells of Paradise I heard them ring.
It’s covered all over with scarlet so red,
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything.
Under that bed there runs a flood,
The bells of paradise I heard them ring,
The one half runs water, the other half blood,
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything.

At the bed’s foot there stands a thorn,
Which ever blossoms since He was born,
Over that bed the moon shines bright,
Denoting our Savior was born this night.

The sweet notes of the plaintive air and the tinkling of the virginal flowed through the timeless world where I stood, and I thought it was the ringing of bells of ice high in the winter sky.”

Christmas in Cornwall, 1789

From Winston Graham’s second Poldark novel, Demelza:

“It was a fine night and an hour before Sawle Church choir had been up to the door singing carols. Demelza had never had much to do with religion but she still said the prayers her mother taught her, adding a postscript of her own to keep them abreast of the times; and at Christmas she had always felt an inward impulse to go to church. Something in the ancient wisdom of the story and the fey beauty of the carols tugged at her emotions; and with a suitable invitation she would have been willing to join the choir. She specially wanted to help them this evening, hearing their depleted voices struggling through ‘Remember, O thou Man’. But even her enjoyment of the two carols was a little spoiled by anxiety as to how she had best behave when they knocked on the door. She sent Jane Gimlett for the cakes she had made that afternoon and took down a couple of bottles of canary wine from Ross’s cupboard.

Demelza nervously gave them all a drink and took one herself; she would almost sooner have entertained Sir Hugh Bodrogan than these humble choristers; at least she knew where where she was with him. She pressed cakes upon them and refilled their glasses and when they rose to go she gave them a handful of silver—about nine shillings in all—and the carolers crowded out into the misty moonlit night, flushed and merry and opulent. There they gathered round the lantern and gave her one more carol for luck before filing off up the valley towards Grambler.”

Christmas in Toronto, Canada, c.1937

Jane of Lantern Hill is one of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s lesser-known stories. (Ms. Montgomery is, of course, the author of the Anne of Green Gables books as wells the series about Emily of New Moon.) Jane of Lantern Hill tells the story of a girl, Victoria Jane Stuart, who finds out at the age of ten that her father is not dead as she had presumed, and soon after that Jane is compelled to go and visit for the summer with the father she never knew on Prince Edward Island.

This Christmas passage comes from late in the story when Jane is back in Toronto but has grown to know and love her estranged father very much:

The week before Christmas Jane bought the materials for a fruit-cake out of the money dad had given her and compounded it in the kitchen. Then she expressed it to dad.She did not ask anyone’s permission for all this—just went ahead and did it. Mary held her tongue and grandmother knew nothing about it. But Jane would have sent it just the same if she had.
One thing made Christmas Day memorable for Jane that year. Just after breakfast Frank came in to say that long distance was calling Miss Victoria. Jane went to the hall with a puzzled look . . . who on earth could be calling her on long distance? She lifted the receiver to her ear.
“Lantern Hill calling Superior Jane! Merry Christmas and thanks for that cake,” said dad’s voice as distinctly as if he were in the same room.
“Dad!” Jane gasped. “Where are you?”
“Here at Lantern Hill. This is my Christmas present to you, Janelet. Three minutes over a thousand miles.”
Probably no two people ever crammed more into three minutes. When Jane went back to the dining room, her cheeks were crimson and her eyes glowed like jewels.

I do think that perhaps this L.M. Montgomery book, one I don’t remember ever reading, will be my first read of 2018. Skimming it was a delight, and I’m fairly sure that reading the story properly will be quite a good way to start the new year.

I wish my copy were this Virago edition. I love the cover on edition pictured above.

Christmas in Sweden, c.1930

Flicka Ricka Dicka and Their New Skates by Maj Lindman

What a lovely Christmas gift this book, with its accompanying set of triplet paper dolls, would be for a doll-playing or ice skating little girl. Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka are Swedish triplets from the 1930’s who each receive a pair of “shiny skates on white shoes” for Christmas. The three blonde Scandinavians go to visit their Uncle Jon and Aunt Lisa after Christmas, and as they are out skating on the pond they make a new friend and have a rather breath-taking adventure.

This new edition of an old storybook, published by Albert Whitman & Company, comes with the afore-mentioned paper dolls. (DO NOT buy paperback editions of these books. The paperbacks are poorly constructed, and the pages fall out with only a little wear.) The illustrations, and the paper dolls, are beautiful, and the story is old-fashioned and charming, with just a hint of danger to spice it up. I loved these books when I was a kid of a girl, and I love them now.

The other books in the series are:
Flicka Ricka Dicka and the Three Kittens
Flicka Ricka Dicka and the New Dotted Dresses
Flicka Ricka Dicka Bake a Cake

Flicka Ricka Dicka and the Little Dog
Flicka Ricka Dicka and the Strawberries
Flicka Ricka Dicka Go to Market
Flicka Ricka Dicka and the Big Red Hen
Flicka Ricka Dicka and Their New Friend
Flicka Ricka Dicka and the Girl Next Door

The ones in italics are the ones I have in my library. I wish I had all of the others—and all of the Snipp Snapp Snurr books, too:

Snipp Snapp Snurr and the Red Shoes
Snipp Snapp Snurr and the Big Surprise
Snipp Snapp Snurr and the Reindeer
Snipp Snapp Snurr Learn to Swim

Snipp Snapp Snurr and the Buttered Bread
Snipp Snapp Snurr and the Gingerbread
Snipp Snapp Snurr and the Yellow Sled
Snipp Snapp Snurr and the Seven Dogs

Snipp Snapp Snurr and the Big Farm
Snipp Snapp Snurr and the Magic Horse

There’s something about twins and triplets that just intrigued me as a child, and these books still suck me into the small, simple world of a trio of Swedish sisters (or brothers) growing up in the rural halcyon days of the early twentieth century. If it’s idealized, then perhaps we can use a little of the ideal from time to time.

Christmas in London, England, 1716

From Pirate’s Promise by Clyde Robert Bulla:

“They walked through the village and down the road. Horses and wheels had made tracks in the snow. Tom and Big John walked in the tracks.
Late in the day they came to London. Tom had thought it would be a beautiful place. He was disappointed to find the streets so dirty. The smoke in the air made him sneeze.
But there was much to see. There were horses and carriages. There were Christmas trees in the windows. There were people everywhere—more people than Tom had ever seen before.”

Immediately after country boy Tom’s introduction to the big city of London, he is shanghaied onto The Lady Peg, a pirate ship.

“I can’t stay and talk,” said the man (ship’s cook). “I’ve got my work.” But he did stay a minute longer. “Eat your food. I put a bit of pudding on the side, because of Christmas.”
Tom looked at the plate of salt fish with a bit of black pudding on the side. So it was Christmas Day, and this was his Christmas dinner.

Clyde Robert Bulla’s books are just right for early readers who are beginning to want chapter books. Pirate’s Promise is only 87 pages long, but it tells an exciting story of kidnapping, piracy, and eventually rescue. The pirates in the story are not romanticized, but also not wholly evil. And Tom is a sturdy young man who grows to find his own way and place in the world in spite of his circumstances.