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Semicolon Book Recommendations

I just found this site, called Anne Knows Books, which offers personalized book recommendations for a reasonable price ($3.00 a month) based on a book profile that you fill out and update regularly. I also noted this post, Why I’m Not Making a Holiday Gift Guide by Alyssa at Everead, in which Alyssa offers to give you personalized book recommendations for yourself or for those who are on your Christmas shopping list.

Well, I generally give book recommendations at the end of the year to those who add a link to their “best of” reading lists at the Saturday Review of Books on the Saturday just before or after New Year’s Day. (The Saturday Review of Books, Special Edition for Book Lists will be January 3rd this time.) But I’d love to get a head start. If you have some Christmas shopping to do, and you’d like to buy a book for someone special, or if you’d like to have suggestion or two about what you might want to read next, leave me the following information, and I will suggest three or more books for you to choose from for your gift-giving. I need to know the gift recipient’s:

Age and gender
A few interests and hobbies
Two or three favorite books or genres, if you know

You could try Alyssa, too, or Anne Knows Books, and see if we come up with the same ideas. Have fun giving a book or two or three for Christmas. I’ll leave my suggestions in the comments section here, and I might compile them into a post at some time later in the season.

Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, The Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions by Lenore Look

Alvin Ho is back again, kind of like his namesake, the chipmunk. (Actually, the two have nothing to do with one another. I just was reminded of Alvin the Chipmunk for some reason and wanted to post a picture. Maybe because both Alvins have a penchant for getting into lovable trouble.)

This time Alvin Ho goes on a trip at Christmas time to China with his family to visit his relations who live in a tall scary apartment building. And Alvin has to fly across the ocean in an airplane, aka tin can, to get there. And there are maybe a billion people in China who could squash you. And you might have to use a squat toilet or be stuck all over with acupuncture needles like a pincushion. Scary, right?

Those are only a few of the dangers Alvin faces as he explores, or tries to keep from exploring, a new country. I’m getting a little jaded on Alvin, but I think this book might be just as funny and just as comforting to the average second or third grader as were Alvin’s previous adventures.

I did especially like chapter 15, You Can Make a Friend Anywhere, where Alvin does something very generous and kind in spite of all of his fears and phobias. The rest is standard Alvin Ho fare, although it provides a good introduction to the tourist attractions and interesting aspects of a visit to China. I felt sorry for Alvin’s dad, though, who is forced to be very, very patient and forgiving with Alvin’s childish anxieties and careless misdeeds.

Read this one if you’re a fan or if you want a painless introduction to China or if you have yet to meet the inimitable Alvin Ho.

Greenglass House by Kate Milford

Setting: Wintertime, almost Christmas, in an old four-story smugglers’ inn at the top of Whilforber Hill near the village of Nagspeake. Each floor of the inn has a beautiful stained glass window, and the guest rooms also have greenglass windows and old-fashioned, but comfortable furniture. There’s an attic full of treasures and junk, and the inn has outbuildings and a garage to explore, too. Plenty of room for mystery, treasure-hunting, and clues.

Characters: Milo Pine, the innkeepers’ adopted son, Mr. and Mrs. Pine, Milo’s parents, and several mysterious, unexpected guests.

Plot: Milo and his friend Meddy attempt to solve the mystery of Greenglass House and its history by taking on roles as players in a role-playing game. Milo is a blackjack, and Meddy is his scholiast.

Almost every review I read of this little gem of a book compared it either to The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin’s Newbery winner and mystery classic, or to Agatha Christie. And without having read those reviews beforehand, I also thought of The Westing Game and of Christie’s The Mousetrap or other books where the cast is snowed in or otherwise isolated (And Then There Were None). Greenglass House is not your typical children’s mystery story. In fact, you can read about three unspoken rules that author Kate Milford breaks in her novel, to the betterment of the story IMHO, in Betsy Bird’s insightful review at A Fuse #8 Production

I noticed, and enjoyed, the loving and involved adoptive parents. Mr. and Mrs. Pine are very busy with their inn and their unexpected guests, but not too busy to check on Milo and to do things with him and for him to make his Christmas special. I also liked the fact the the story is set at Christmastime. And it feels like an old-fashioned Christmas with a Christmas tree, a Christmas Eve gift for Milo, father/son sledding, hot chocolate by the fire, and story-telling. The setting is indeterminate, sort of Victorian with no cell phones or computers in evidence, but also modern with an electric generator for back-up electricity and up-to-date speech patterns and behavior. So that gives Christmas at Greenglass House a timeless feel.

Milo is a great protagonist, too. He’s very conscientious; he does all of his homework on the first day of vacation so that he can have the rest of the holidays to play. He’s resistant to change, but also intelligent and adventurous. He and Meddy make a good team since she inspires and encourages him to step out and use his imagination to solve the mysteries that the two of them encounter.

Greenglass House would be a lovely Christmas read-aloud book for a class or a family in the holiday mystery mood. I recommend it.

Nagspeake Online: The Nagspeake Board of Tourism and Culture.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

The 22nd Gift of Christmas in Plymouth, Massachusetts, 1820

From Daniel Webster’s Plymouth Oration, delivered at Plymouth, Massachusetts, December 22, 1820:

Our fathers were brought hither by their high veneration for the Christian religion. They journeyed by its light, and labored in its hope. They sought to incorporate its principles with the elements of their society, and to diffuse its influence through all their institutions, civil, political, or literary. Let us cherish these sentiments, and extend this influence still more widely; in the full conviction, that that is the happiest society which partakes in the highest degree of the mild and peaceful spirit of Christianity.

The hours of this day are rapidly flying, and this occasion will soon be passed. Neither we nor our children can expect to behold its return. They are in the distant regions of futurity, they exist only in the all-creating power of God, who shall stand here a hundred years hence, to trace, through us, their descent from the Pilgrims, and to survey, as we have now surveyed, the progress of their country, during the lapse of a century. We would anticipate their concurrence with us in our sentiments of deep regard for our common ancestors. We would anticipate and partake the pleasure with which they will then recount the steps of New England’s advancement. On the morning of that day, although it will not disturb us in our repose, the voice of acclamation and gratitude, commencing on the Rock of Plymouth, shall be transmitted through millions of the sons of the Pilgrims, till it lose itself in the murmurs of the Pacific seas.

We would leave for the consideration of those who shall then occupy our places, some proof that we hold the blessings transmitted from our fathers in just estimation; some proof of our attachment to the cause of good government, and of civil and religious liberty; some proof of a sincere and ardent desire to promote every thing which may enlarge the understandings and improve the hearts of men. And when, from the long distance of a hundred years, they shall look back upon us, they shall know, at least, that we possessed affections, which, running backward and warming with gratitude for what our ancestors have done for our happiness, run forward also to our posterity, and meet them with cordial salutation, ere yet they have arrived on the shore of being.

Advance, then, ye future generations! We would hail you, as you rise in your long succession, to fill the places which we now fill, and to taste the blessings of existence where we are passing, and soon shall have passed, our own human duration. We bid you welcome to this pleasant land of the fathers. We bid you welcome to the healthful skies and the verdant fields of New England. We greet your accession to the great inheritance which we have enjoyed.

We welcome you to the blessings of good government and religious liberty. We welcome you to the treasures of science and the delights of learning. We welcome you to the transcendent sweets of domestic life, to the happiness of kindred, and parents, and children. We welcome you to the immeasurable blessings of rational existence, the immortal hope of Christianity, and the light of everlasting truth!

Note that Mr. Webster assumed that future generations would value certain ideals: science, learning, good government, religious liberty, domestic life, rationality, truth, hope, and most of all Christianity. If he were to travel through time and see us here, what would he think of our stewardship of the pleasant land of the fathers and of the blessings of liberty and of the immortal hope of Christianity?

Today’s Gifts from Semicolon:
A story: about Daniel Webster, just for fun: The Devil and Daniie Webster by Stephen Vincent Benet.

A song: On this day in 1808 Ludwig van Beethoven conducted and performed in concert at the Theater an der Wien, Vienna, with the premiere of his Fifth Symphony, Sixth Symphony, Fourth Piano Concerto (performed by Beethoven himself) and Choral Fantasy (with Beethoven at the piano).

A birthday: Edward Arlington Robinson, b.1869.

A booklist: Deliberate Reader with 31 Days of Great Nonfiction.

'Tombstone of Louisa P. Daugherty' photo (c) 2013, Bob Shrader - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/A verse:
A Happy Man by Edward Arlington Robinson

When these graven lines you see,
Traveller, do not pity me;
Though I be among the dead,
Let no mournful word be said.

Children that I leave behind,
And their children, all were kind;
Near to them and to my wife,
I was happy all my life.

My three sons I married right,
And their sons I rocked at night;
Death nor sorrow never brought
Cause for one unhappy thought.

Now, and with no need of tears,
Here they leave me, full of years,–
Leave me to my quiet rest
In the region of the blest.

The 17th Gift of Christmas in Paris and in the English countryside, 187-?

“Everyone remembers the severity of the Christmas of 187- . . . ”

“Then they all went to church, as a united family ought to do on Christmas Day, and came home to a fine old English early dinner at three o’clock—a sirloin of beef a foot-and-a-half broad, a turkey as big as an ostrich, a plum pudding bigger than the turkey, and two or three dozen mince-pies. “That’s a very large bit of beef,” said Mr. Jones, who had not lived much in England latterly. ‘It won’t look so large,’ said the old gentleman, ‘when all our friends downstairs have had their say to it.’
‘A Plum-pudding on Christmas Day can’t be too big,’ he said again, ‘if the cook will but take time enough over it. I never knew a bit go to waste yet.’
~Anthony Trollope, Christmas At Thompson Hall, from Christmas Stories

Today’s gifts from Semicolon:
A song:

A poem:
The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every ‘long-shore home;
The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it’s just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessèd Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard’s was the house where I was born.

O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother’s silver spectacles, my father’s silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china plates that stand upon the shelves.

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessèd Christmas Day.
~from Christmas At Sea by Robert Louis Stevenson

The 16th Gift of Christmas in Surrey, England, 1815

From Emma by Jane Austen, chapter 16:

“To youth and natural cheerfulness like Emma’s, though under temporary gloom at night, the return of day will hardly fail to bring return of spirits. The youth and cheerfulness of morning are in happy analogy, and of powerful operation; and if the distress be not poignant enough to keep the eyes unclosed, they will be sure to open to sensations of softened pain and brighter hope.

Emma got up on the morrow more disposed for comfort than she had gone to bed, more ready to see alleviations of the evil before her, and to depend on getting tolerably out of it.

It was a great consolation that Mr. Elton should not be really in love with her, or so particularly amiable as to make it shocking to disappoint him—that Harriet’s nature should not be of that superior sort in which the feelings are most acute and retentive—and that there could be no necessity for any body’s knowing what had passed except the three principals, and especially for her father’s being given a moment’s uneasiness about it.

These were very cheering thoughts; and the sight of a great deal of snow on the ground did her further service, for any thing was welcome that might justify their all three being quite asunder at present.

The weather was most favourable for her; though Christmas-day, she could not go to church. Mr. Woodhouse would have been miserable had his daughter attempted it, and she was therefore safe from either exciting or receiving unpleasant and most unsuitable ideas. The ground covered with snow, and the atmosphere in that unsettled state between frost and thaw, which is of all others the most unfriendly for exercise, every morning beginning in rain or snow, and every evening setting in to freeze, she was for many days a most honourable prisoner. No intercourse with Harriet possible but by note; no church for her on Sunday any more than on Christmas-day; and no need to find excuses for Mr. Elton’s absenting himself.”

Today’s Gifts from Semicolon:
A song:

A birthday:
Ludwig von Beethoven, b.1770.
Jane Austen, b.1775.
Marie Hall Ets b.1895, author of many children’s picture books including Gilberto and the Wind and Nine Days to Christmas
Playwright Noel Coward, b.1896
Arthur C. Clarke, b.1917, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey and other science fiction classics.

Who knew that Jane Austen and Beethoven were near in age and shared a birthdate?

The 14th Gift of Christmas in Virginia, c.2000

41nFjdCDnbL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_“One Christmas morning, after all the gifts had been opened my husband announced that there was one more present in the garage, one that wouldn’t fit under the tree. When it comes to gifts, my husband is both creative and generous, so I don’t even try to guess anymore. I never would have guessed what this present was: a wheelbarrow.

It was perfect.

What I loved so much about the wheelbarrow (besides its sheer utility) is that it required a certain amount of knowing me, knowing my daily life and needs, knowing the pleasure I take in caring for the horses and chickens each day, in order to see its fittingness. Having already had a perfectly usable, if far inferior, wheelbarrow, I certainly didn’t need a new one. And it would have been easier, in both conception and execution, to buy me a necklace or jacket or such. The wheelbarrow was a gift chosen because it was perfect for me.” ~Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior.

Today’s Gifts from Semicolon:
A song: Jubilation by Andrew York, guitar by Christopher Parkening.

A birthday: Shirley Jackson, b.1916.
Rosemary Sutcliff, b.1920
Christopher Parkening, b.1947

A verse: Our Brother Is Born by Harry and Eleanor Farjeon

Now every Child that dwells on earth,
Stand up, stand up and sing:
The passing night has given birth
Unto the Children’s King.
Sing sweet as the flute,
Sing clear as the horn,
Sing joy of the Children,
Come Christmas the morn:
Little Christ Jesus
Our brother is born.

Read the rest of the poem, Little Christ Jesus Our Brother Is Born.

The 13th Gift of Christmas in Italy, 1294

“The cardinals assembled at Perugia after the death of Pope Nicholas IV in April 1292. After more than two years, a consensus had still not been reached. Pietro, well known to the cardinals as a Benedictine hermit, sent the cardinals a letter warning them that divine vengeance would fall upon them if they did not quickly elect a pope. Latino Malabranca, the aged and ill dean of the College of Cardinals cried out, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, I elect brother Pietro di Morrone.” The cardinals promptly ratified Malabranca’s desperate decision. When sent for, Pietro obstinately refused to accept the papacy, and even, as Petrarch says, tried to flee, until he was finally persuaded by a deputation of cardinals accompanied by the kings of Naples and Hungary. Elected on 5 July 1294, at age 79, he was crowned at Santa Maria di Collemaggio in the city of Aquila in the Abruzzo on 29 August, taking the name Celestine V.

Realizing his lack of authority and personal incompatibility with papal duties, he consulted with Cardinal Benedetto Caetani (his eventual successor) about the possibility of resignation. This resulted in one final decree declaring the right of resignation, which he promptly exercised on December 13, 1294, after five months and eight days in office. In the formal instrument of renunciation, he recited as the causes moving him to the step: “The desire for humility, for a purer life, for a stainless conscience, the deficiencies of his own physical strength, his ignorance, the perverseness of the people, his longing for the tranquility of his former life”. Having divested himself of every outward symbol of papal dignity, he slipped away from Naples and attempted to retire to his old life of solitude.” ~Wikipedia, Pope Celestine V.

Today’s Gifts from Semicolon:
A song: When It’s Christmas in Texas, sung by George Strait.

A birthday: Dick van Dyke, b.1925
Christopher Plummer, b.1929
Taylor Swift, b.1989

A movie: Well, if you’re fan of Dick van Dyke, you can watch Mary Poppins, or if you prefer Christopher Plummer, you can pull out The Sound of Music. Either one would make for a great family movie time.

A book list: Kimbofo at Reading Matters is hosting A Book Bloggers’ Advent Calendar with one reading suggestion from her readers for each day of December leading up to Christmas. She’s collected lots of good reading recommendations for your 2014 TBR list.

A verse: Merry Literary Christmas by Alice Low at Becky’s Book Reviews.

The 12th Gift of Christmas in England, 1647

“Forasmuch as the feast of the nativity of Christ, Easter, Whitsuntide, and other festivals, commonly called holy-days, have been heretofore superstitiously used and observed; be it ordained, that the said feasts, and all other festivals, commonly called holy-days, be no longer observed as festivals; any law, statute, custom, constitution, or canon, to the contrary in anywise not withstanding.”
Puritan legislation in the British Parliament, abolishing the festival celebration of Christmas and other holidays (June 1647); as quoted in The History of the Puritans (1837) by Daniel Neal.

Today’s Gifts:
A song: Handel’s (and Charles Jennens’) Messiah.

A birthday: Gustave Flaubert, b.1821, Tracy Kidder, b.1925,

A poem: Christmas Greeting by Lewis Carroll.

Lady, dear, if Fairies may
For a moment lay aside
Cunning tricks and elfish play,
‘Tis at happy Christmas-tide.

We have heard the children say –
Gentle children, whom we love –
Long ago on Christmas Day,
Came a message from above,

Still, as Christmas-tide comes round,
They remember it again –
Echo still the joyful sound
“Peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Yet the hearts must childlike be
Where such heavenly guests abide;
Unto children, in their glee,
All the year is Christmas-tide!

Thus, forgetting tricks and play
For a moment, Lady dear,
We would wish you, if we may,
Merry Christmas, Glad New Year!

The 11th Gift of Christmas in Atlanta, Georgia, 1863

“Now Ashley was going away, back to Virginia, back to the long marches in the sleet, to hungry bivouacs in the snow, to pain and hardship and to the risk of all the bright beauty of his golden head and proud slender body being blotted out in an instant, like an ant beneath a careless heel. The past week with its shimmering, dreamlike beauty, its crowded hours of happiness, was gone.
The week had passed swiftly, like a dream, a dream fragrant with the smell of pine boughs and Christmas trees, bright with little candles and home-made tinsel, a dream where minutes flew as rapidly as heartbeats. Such a breathless week when something within her drove Scarlett with mingled pain and pleasure to pack and cram every minute with incidents to remember after he was gone, happenings which she could examine at leisure in the long months ahead, extracting every morsel of comfort from them — dance, sing, laugh, fetch and carry for Ashley, anticipate his wants, smile when he smiles, be silent when he talks, follow him with your eyes so that each line of his erect body, each lift of his eyebrows, each quirk of his mouth, will be indelibly printed on your mind — for a week goes by so fast and the war goes on forever.” ~Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Today’s Gifts from Semicolon:
A song: Hark the Herald Angels Sing

A booklist: Historical Fiction for Young Ladies, Part 1
Historical Fiction for Young Ladies, Part 2

A birthday: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, b.1918.

A poem: A Child of the Snows by Gilbert Chesterton

There is heard a hymn when the panes are dim,
And never before or again,
When the nights are strong with a darkness long,
And the dark is alive with rain.

Never we know but in sleet and in snow,
The place where the great fires are,
That the midst of the earth is a raging mirth
And the heart of the earth a star.

And at night we win to the ancient inn
Where the child in the frost is furled,
We follow the feet where all souls meet
At the inn at the end of the world.

The gods lie dead where the leaves lie red,
For the flame of the sun is flown,
The gods lie cold where the leaves lie gold,
And a Child comes forth alone.