12 Books of Christmas

Christmas by NVS

By Nora Vasconcelos

Now that the Holiday season is around the corner I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite Christmas stories, and here they are:

1) Fallen Angel, by Don J. Snyder. Christmas time in a cottage called Serenity is the best place to help Terry McQuinn heal old emotional wounds. At the same time, he finds himself in this places that he had almost forgot as time passed by, the same as the relationship with his father. The cold weather and the snow accompany him, unaware that some new visitors to Serenity will change his life forever.

2) Silver Bells, by Luanne Rice. This book tells the story of Christopher Byrne and his son, who find the path back to happiness and family love thanks to a rough time spent in New York city, and the help of Catherine Tierney, who unexpectedly becomes a key element for all of them to finally be able to have a happy Christmas.

3) The Last Dickens, by Matthew Pearl. Not exactly a Christmas story, but, as part of the story occurs in winter and it places the reader in the time when Charles Dickens toured around the East Cost of the U.S, I always relate this book to the Holidays season.

4) Sherlock Holmes: A Case at Christmas and Other New Adventures, by N.M. Scott. For me good mysteries are always welcome, and who else that Sherlock Holmes himself to flavour a little bit the season. In this collection of stories, Scott retakes the characters created by Conan Doyle to bring many more enjoyable adventures, placing some of them during the holidays.

5) Murder never takes a holiday, by Donald Bain. As part of the series of books based on the TV series Murder She Wrote, this book features two stories. In the first one, A little Yuletide Murder, Bain takes the main character, Jessica Fletcher, to her hometown, Cabot Cove, where the mystery writers hopes to spend a joyful Christmas. However, as always it happens to Mrs. Fletcher, a murder comes on her way to prevent her to sit down and relax. The second story, Manhattans and Murder, places Mrs. Fletcher in New York city, where she’s determined to solve another mystery that’s has happened right in the middle of her book tour.

6) ‘Tis the Season, by Ann M. Martin. This children’s story touches the heart of everyone who reads it as it tells the story of little Flora and Ruby, who had recently lost their parents and are trying hard to fit themselves in a town where Christmas is all around.

7) and 8) Mrs. Miracle and Call me Mrs. Miracle, by Debbie Macomber, are two books in which Mrs. Merkle, often called Mrs. Miracle, goes around different places finding ingenious ways to solve those little problems that people around her face, exactly those little problems that seem impossible to be solved and that once they are solve, bring love, happiness and a very merry happy Christmas to everyone.

9) Skipping Christmas, by John Grisham. Imagine all what can go wrong during this time. Add then the idea of skipping the holiday. The result: A complete disaster. One that Luther and Nora Krank won’t be able to solve unless they accept some help from whom they less expect it.

10) Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop, edited by Otto Penlzer, owner of the Mysterious bookshop in New York City. This book compiles mystery short stories placed during Christmas time, written specially for the Bookshop by famous authors such as Anne Perry, Mary Higgins Clark, Lawrence Block, Ed McBain and Donald E. Westlake.

11) A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. Of course this good old classic can be never missed during the celebrations. I’ve read and re read this story over and over, and I never get enough of it. I never get tired of going through its pages while I allow myself to get lost in the story as if I were a silent witness of what’s happening to Mr. Scrooge during that ghostly night destined to save his soul.

12) A Rumpole Christmas, by John Mortimer. If Christmas time is not really your thing, you can always take revenge of it by reading the adventures and misfortunes of Horace Rumpole, a moody character, who experiences all kind of situations during the Holiday Season while trying to make the least of this joyful time.

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The Hidden Talent of Fictional Writers

By Nora Vasconcelos

Anthony_TrollopeFor many years I’ve been fascinated by the enormous ability shown by different authors who are able to create not only believable characters but also very skillful imaginary narrators who come to life on the pages of books, telling readers the story the author has plotted.

These fictional writers narrate the story from their personal point of view, both as a witness and main characters of the story they’re telling, bringing the readers inside the story and making them confidents of their troubles, thoughts, fears and accomplishments.

Of those imaginary authors who have captivated my imagination, here are my three favorites:

The noble efforts of Dr. Watson

"Strand paget" by Sidney Paget (1860-1908) - Strand Magazine. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
“Strand paget” by Sidney Paget (1860-1908) – Strand Magazine. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

It was around 1880 when John H. Watson met Sherlock Holmes for the first time.

Dr. Watson was looking for “less pretentious and less expensive domicile”. At the same time, Sherlock Holmes had found a nice place and was trying to find “someone to go halves with him”. A mutual friend introduced them, and the next day Watson and Holmes went to inspect the rooms at No. 221B, Baker Street.

“They consisted of a couple of comfortable bed-rooms and a single large airy sitting-room, cheerfully furnished, and illuminated by two broad windows. So desirable in every way were the apartments, and so moderate did the terms seem when divided between us, that the bargain was concluded upon the spot, and we at once entered into possession. That very evening I moved my things round from the hotel, and on the following morning Sherlock Holmes followed me with several boxes.” (*)

Holmes, a consultant detective, solved problems and puzzles when others had failed. Watson, curious about his flat mate abilities, observed him closely, and as confidence grew between the new friends, he became Sherlock’s partner.

Just a few days later they became flatmates, Watson came up with the following list related to Sherlock Holmes limits:

1. Knowledge of Literature.—Nil.
2. Philosophy.—Nil.
3. Astronomy.—Nil.
4. Politics.—Feeble.
5. Botany.—Variable. Well up in belladonna,
opium, and poisons generally.
Knows nothing of practical gardening.
6. Geology.—Practical, but limited.
Tells at a glance different soils
from each other. After walks has
shown me splashes upon his trousers,
and told me by their colour and
consistence in what part of London
he had received them.
7. Chemistry.—Profound.
8. Anatomy.—Accurate, but unsystematic.
9. Sensational Literature.—Immense. He appears
to know every detail of every horror
perpetrated in the century.
10. Plays the violin well.
11. Is an expert singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman.
12. Has a good practical knowledge of British law. (*)

As the time passed by, the knowledge and care that Dr. Watson developed by watching his friend in action led him to write down his adventures and later on, to become his biographer.

Using the first person, Dr. Watson describes with great detail the cases Holmes solved, presenting him as a skillful and quick thinker. The chronicles written by Watson started with A Study in Scarlet and then they were divided into a series of stories with different headings put together under the title of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.

With a big heart and an instinct to find precision, Watson put up with his friend’s insolence, as more than once Holmes fiercely criticized the doctor’s efforts to present him as an extraordinary detective with humane sparks and an avid hunger for the truth.

The endless enthusiasm of Snoopy

Snoopy, the beloved cartoon dog created by Charles M. Schulz, has captivated kids and adults for over 60 years with his charm, contagious happiness and extraordinary imagination, which makes him the same become a war pilot or an elegant gentleman.

In his daily life, Snoopy does what most dogs do, claims his food, sleeps over the roof of his house, enjoys the company of his bird friend Woodstock, and spends time with his owner Charlie Brown and his friends.

It’s often that Snoopy also gets inspired and takes his typewriter out in hopes of being published one day. Throughout his life, this doggy writer has received many letters of rejection with devastating answers such as “Dear contributor, we have received your latest manuscript. Why did you send it to us?..” or “To save time we’re enclosing two rejection slips, one for this story, and one for the next story you send us…”

However, Snoopy has the enthusiasm of all those authors who keep on sending their manuscripts to publishing houses despite continuous rejections. He never loses hope and keeps on trying, even when inspiration is not always on his side.

The funny thing is that, even when Snoopy has never been published, he has a faithful readership which has increased lately thanks to social media where his attempts appear frequently, getting the support of people who are convinced that, at some point, he’ll got it right and we’ll be able to make his dream come true.

In my case, I have to say that I would really love to read Snoopy’s manuscripts, which I think, they should be fun and entertaining.

Mrs. Fletcher’s curiosity

Cabot cove house

Originally created as a character for a TV program, Jessica Fletcher, an English teacher living in the fictional town of Cabot Cove, wrote her first crime novel as a way to overcome the death of her husband. As her book becomes an immediate success, she starts a career as a writer, at the same time that her skills as a keen observer become helpful when solving “real” crimes along with the police force.

“Murder She Wrote” was broadcasted between 1984 and 1996, composed by 12 seasons and 264 episodes in which, Jessica shares with her closest friends, her concerns about deadlines, book tours and writers block.

Throughout the years, she also faces the challenges that come with the evolution of technology, since the moment her old typewriter loses some keys up to the moment when she decides to attend a computing school to adjust her writing routine to the modern times.

As times passes by and she becames worldwide famous, Jessica Fletcher starts teaching at a University in New York, where she shares her experience as a writer with future authors and police officers.

In 1989, Donald Bain and the fictional Jessica Fletcher started publishing a number of books based on the TV program. The book series, which continues until now, has over 40 titles, all of them depicting Mrs. Fletcher the same as her character on TV, with all her friends, her home town, the trips, troubles and endless curiosity that often places her at the wrong place at the wrong time, only to save her seconds later thanks to her quick thinking.

(*) A study in Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle.

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Traveling minds on commuting trains

By Nora Vasconcelos

Books on the go.
Books on the go.
For years and years I’ve been reading on the city trains and busses while commuting to and from work but it’s been until recently when I’ve realized how amazing its the ability of our minds to travel free to faraway places while reading a book in a confine crowded book.

For the past month, I’ve been reading a book places in New Orleans, I city I’ve been lucky enough to have visited, enjoyed and in the end loved, thanks to its colorful architecture, its delicious food, its some times melancholic and some many other times lively music and its unique people.

The image of this city that remain in my memory have been getting more and more alive while going through the pages of this mystery book called Murder in a minor key, which is part of the series of books Murder She wrote by the fictional author Jessica Fletcher (main character of the old TV series under the same title) and her writing partner in real life, Donald Bain.

It doesn’t matter how crowded, uncomfortable or noise the bus/train is, my mind is happily wandering around the streets of New Orleans (with the constant risk of missing my stop), seeing the places that are referred to, listening to the magical sounds that come from the jazz performers and enjoying all those delicious smells that come from the family kitchens and the restaurants.

As the parade continues on Bourbon Street and the suspense rises at a funeral home, I’m a few pages away from finishing the book and I have to say, I don’t have the finest idea who the guilty part could be.

Of course, I can’t wait to see how the story develops at the end, but, as the big mystery-book fan as I am, I’m not willing to ruin the excitement of learning all the secrets to come by advancing fast with my reading. On the contrary, I’m patiently waiting to discover, page by page, all the mysteries that are to come, and of course, enjoying my last imaginary days in New Orleans (while traveling on the bus/train), while Mrs. Fletcher is still there.

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