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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Breathing new life into old characters: a safe bet or a big risk?

By Nora Vasconcelos

512px-Francisco_de_Goya_y_Lucientes_-_Gaspar_Melchor_de_Jovellanos
For 55 years, To Kill a Mockingbird, was considered not only a classic of modern American Literature, but also an inspiration for lawyers and readers who found in Atticus Finch, a role model and an inspiration to act with integrity no matter how hard and challenging the circumstances were.

Today, as the world is reading the “long lost” second part of this novel written by Harper Lee, they’re set to discover different faces of the personality of Atticus Finch, some of them which have already uncovered by the media, during the previous days.

Some readers have shared on social media their surprise on the new turn the beloved character takes in these book, Go set a Watchman, and some others have even asked if it was really necessary for the author to have written a sequel.

It’s said that, when the manuscript was discovered, it had been written even before To Kill a Mockingbird. One more mystery that remains about Lee’s works, as well as the recent news that say that it might be a third book written by the same author.

Either way, the appearance of this new novel has been the cause of many many book chats all around the world, and that has kept me thinking about the big chances that authors and publishers take when they create a new piece of fiction based on a well-known, and often beloved, character.

Not so long ago, the Algerian writer, Kamel Daoud, published his first novel, The Meursault Investigation, in which he shares the point of view of the brother of the “Stranger” who was killed by Meursault, in the famous novel by Albert Camus, The Stranger (also called The Outsider).

The story written by Danoud, is placed in today’s Algeria, and shows it through the eyes of his main character, who was seven years old when the original crime happened.

The novel was awarded the first prize by the French Académie Goncourt, last May, and it has received positive comments by the critics and the readers. In this case, things have gone all well for the author.

A complete different situation is the one that faces Pablo Katchadjian, an Argentine author who is currently dealing with a lawsuit, due to the work he has done with “The Aleph”, a fictional piece written by the also Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges.

Katchadjian remixed Borges’ stories, adding his personal writing, to compose what he called “The Fattened Aleph“, which has resulted now in formal charges of intellectual property fraud. According to Katchadjian, it’s work is only a “legitime experiment”.

In some other cases, developing new stories based on famous novels has been more and act of love for the characters and a deep curiosity of the readers, that takes them to complete unfinished stories, such as The Mystery of Edwing Drood, the last manuscript, left incomplete by Charles Dickens; or the many authors who have developed new mysteries, only for the pleasure for them to be solved by the famous Sherlock Holmes.

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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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I'm part of Post A Week 2014

My year in books

Text by Nora Vasconcelos

2013 books
If I had to choose a title for my year in books, I would say that it should be 2013: Back to the Classics.

And this is because this year I spend a good deal of time getting amazed (one more time and from an adult perspective), by some of the most well recognized books such as Frankenstein by Mary Shelly; From the Earth to the Moon and Round the Moon, by Jules Verne; Dracula, by Bram Stocker, and of course, my always faithfull companion, the Sherlock Holmes stories, by Conan Doyle.

I also discovered -thanks to my friends-, the magic of old stories such as Superman, particularly the old radio shows from the 40’s and 50’s, which were based on the original comic version of the superheros or on old fiction works from the 30’s.

My love for mystery stories remain fresh thanks to some of the books of the series Murder, She Wrote, by Donald Bain. My favorite one so far is Murder in Minor Key, and I like this one because it’s placed in New Orleans, one of my favorite cities in all the world.

Another suspense book for this year was Inferno, by Dan Brown, and what I liked the most of this story was that it’s placed in Florence, city which I also like a lot.

However, my very favorite mystery/suspense book of this year it the one I’m currently reading that it’s call The burglar in the library, by Lawrence Block. The story happens in an old English style cottage not far from New York city, and then it’s developed by the author in a delightful way, leading the reader from one room to the other in order to solve the mysterious events that are ruining everybody’s weekend.

Not related to this genre, I came back to the Steven Milhausser stories. I started last year with Eisenheim The Illusionist, and I continued this year with the collection of short stories under the title The Barnum Museum. What I love about Milhausser it his attention to the details and the precision of the descriptions of every single part of the rooms where the stories happen, making of the surrounding key elements to the story the same as the characters.

My Christmas book for this year, is one that I’ve just bought. It’s title is The Bridge, by Karen Kingsbury. It’s a sweet love story gone all wrong combined with a stressful situation related to a library that is about to go under. What will it happened? It’s still for me to find out, but by the speed I’m turning the pages, I’m sure I’ll get all the answers before 2014 comes here.

As for Non-fiction books, I’m taking great delight with The Big Bands by George T. Simon, as it tell the story of this music movement that started to be very popular in the States, back then in the 1940’s.

Cooking books, another fiction novels and short stories were also part of my 2013 reading list and for all of them, each one of them, I’m truly thankful.

What will I be reading in 2014? The list it long, the pile is high, and the thrill of going through my new acquisitions is immensely big.

Until then, Happy readings to you all!

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Simply… Thankful

The essence of life.
Anyone could wonder why I’ve chosen this photo among so many to represent with an image the world Thankful.

The answer comes from a deep feeling of completion that I got while standing on this amazing place, over there at the North of Ireland, when I had the chance the walk for about 3 km along the shore of the tip of the island only to see the magnificence of this rock formations that have become the meeting point between the earth with the sea waters for hundreds of years.

So, now, with this image, I have the chance to put together in this post three of my strongest passions in life: traveling, writing and reading.

Although I didn’t physically have a book with me that day on the shore, books are always with me, both in paper and in my head. So, now that I’m thinking about how thankful I’m for all the wonderful things that these three passions have given to my life, I thought I’d also add to this post the titles of some of the books I’ve year and for which I’m absolutely thankful for.

So, from the list of my dearest books, I have to start with two stories that marked my childhood: One and Thousand One Nights, The Travels of Marco Polo and The Miser by Moliere.

While growing up, I added some other titles to my top list, such as the works of Oscar Wilde; Around the World in 80 days by Jules Verne; Love in the Time of Colera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco; The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Conan Doyle, and the works of Charles Dickens.

Recently I’ve increased my list of dearest books with The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov; The last Dickens by Matthew Pearl; Final Theory by Mark Alpert; The Broker by John Grisham, and the collection of books written by Debbie Macomber around Blossom Street.

It’s hard to keep me from prolonging this list, but the books that I’ve mentioned have giving me so many moments of reflexion and enjoyment, that it’s something to be thankful for.

As for my trips, I have to say that there’s not a single one for which I’m not absolutely thankful and amazed for.

Cheers!

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On writers and books. Funny things I’ve read – Conan Doyle.

The story behind the writer.
As an avid reader as I am, I’m always curious about everything, and love to read about how an specific story was created or what the life of a writer I’m reading was like.

It’s so that I’ve come across about some very interesting findings. For example, I’ve learned that Conan Doyle was so tired of his Sherlock Holmes stories that had taken over his other writing, that he decided that Holmes had to die. So, one day he wrote the famous scene in which the detective suffers a deadly fall into an huge water fall.

Somehow, and seen it from the distance, I think it’s understandable, as the Scottish writer, mainly remembered by his Sherlock Holmes stories, is also the author of many other stories non related to the detective, such as The Lost World, a collection of short stories, The Professor Challenger, Tales of Pirates and Blue waters, and a two-volume collection of historical fiction.

However, according to the letters he used to exchange with his mother, it was her how asked him not to stop writing his Sherlock Holmes stories so, the good Conan Doyle had to revive his unique character, which as it’s said, many writers dream of creating a character of such strong presence and charm.

The story also says that at some point, his fellow writer and a Scotsman as well, Robert Louis Stevenson, confirmed by saying that he’d actually recognized some resemblance, that Doyle modeled the famous detective based on one of his teachers, Joseph Bell, while the writer studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh

On the other hand, giving it a lot of thoughts, I’m pretty sure that dear Dr. Watson is a lively image of Conan Doyle, who was a doctor who loved to write, the same as the inseparable companion of Sherlock Holmes.

We shouldn’t forget that Doyle wrote many of his detective stories while he waited for the patients to come to his office.

I’m sure he never imagined the immortal impact that his work was going to have in the history of literature.

As for me, I’m a faithfull reader of his Holmes adventures, of which I just can’t get enough of, but, I’m also pretty enthusiastic about going through the rest of his very ample work, which, I’m sure, I’ll enjoy as well.

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Dear lively characters

Charming characters make us smile like only good friends can do.
Charming characters make us smile like only good friends can do.
I always get amazed when a writer has the immense capacity of developing characters that get alive in our minds.

The way these characters are described and presented in different kind of stories make us feel them real, as we’re able to have a very clear image of them in our minds, so much that little by little they start gaining more and more space in our everyday thoughts.

As the days pass by, we want to know what’s going to happen with them, and how the story’s going to develop for them. In some extraordinary cases, we even rush home to get back to our books and see how things are going for these special characters.

In some cases we even identify with them, and we get attached to them the same as we do with a dear friend.

Then, when the story’s over, we remain close to these characters for a long time, and even forever.

Of course, I have a group of dear characters that I keep in my mind and close to my heart, even when I’ve read some of these books a long time ago.

The very first want that made this kind of impression on me was Peter Rabbit, from the series of books by Beatrix Potter. I first read a Peter Rabbit book when I was a little child, and ever since, this lovely lovely little rabbit has remained as one of my favorite characters ever.

Of course, I’m pretty fond of Sherlock Holmes, that it’s said “is the character that every writer would like to have written”. For that I admire Conan Doyle a lot, however, I have to say that my very very favorite character is Dr. John Watson.

I’m just totally taken by him. Not only because he’s the real image of a loyal friend but also, because in the story, besides being a doctor and Mr. Holmes’ partner, Watson is a writer who really enjoys writing Sherlock Holmes adventures in a very detailed way.

Another character I’ve totally got attached to is Captain James Holland, from the fast-passed suspense novel Pandora’s clock, written by John Nance. In this book, Captain Holland, the pilot of a doomed plane, becomes a true hero in a very humane way, so much that it’s almost possible to see him on the cockpit of the plane saving the day.

And lately, I’ve become pretty fond of the characters of the old TV series Murder, She wrote. Although the characters were created for the series, what I like very much of it is the way every single detail has being taken care of, creating very lively characters that live in an ocean town which, of course doesn’t exist in the real life, but due to the way it was conceive it totally feels like the place you’d like to visit for your next holiday.

Based on this TV series, a number of books keeping the same characters have being written throughout the recent years by Donald Bain, who has being able to keep the same lovely charm of each one of the characters who live in the coastal town of “Cabot Cove”. My favorite one of all of them is Sheriff Metzger, a caring man who looks after the well being of the town and of course, his own friends.

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Extraordinary my dear Watson, truly extraordinary!

Extraordinary my dear Watson.
It was just a few minutes passed the lunch time. The sky was getting dark and the freshness in the air clearly announced that a heavy rain was about the start. Anyways, I was a woman on a mission.
I had been in London just for a few hours, but I couldn’t skipped my one chance to visit the one and only Sherlock Holmes Museum right at 221B Baker Street.
I didn’t take my coat. I didn’t wear my hat. Even more, I didn’t even carry an umbrella.
Then I started walking. From Paddington station to the Regents Park area. It seamed quite easy. I had a map, after all.
Some twenty minutes later… I was lost!
Well, not lost lost. I was simply confused.
I had passed by Baker Street so many times without actually finding the place.
Everything was there, just like the map showed it, the same streets around but no museum at all!
Did I get dissapointed? Yes.
Dissapointed yes, but never discouraged!
The rain came, as expected, and as it should happen, I got all wet.
Crossing Regents Park right in the middle of the storm was a unique adventure. With a beautiful view, though.
Did I quit?
Never!
The following day I went back on my steps.
I was totally determined to find the famous place that houses the memorabilia created from the famous series of short stories written by Conan Doyle!
The enterprise wasn’t easy again. And again, I got my good share of walking that day. No rain, though.
Did I find the place…?
Elementary my dear readers. I did find the place!
Right in front of me there it was! 221B Baker street with its very own fence and a green sign. I was totally amazed!
Once inside, things were like described by Conan Doyle in his Study in Scarlet.
“WE met next day as he had arranged, and inspected the rooms at No. 221B, Baker Street, of which he had spoken at our meeting. They consisted of a couple of comfortable bed-rooms and a single large airy sitting-room, cheerfully furnished, and illuminated by two broad windows”.
And then, while visiting the house… I ran into the very own Dr. Watson!
My amousement couldn’t be better!
Wearing a suit and a hat. Dr. Watson greeted the visitors and talked to everyone.
Resting in a living room. Sherlock’s loyal partner, proudly showed everyone all the letters that the detective receives from all over the world. Specially from children. Asking him to solve their problems and concerns. The museum collects them in a binder.
Saddly, after exploring all the rooms, it was time to go. Not without saying good bye to Dr. Watson first! Smiling, he waved good bye.
I smiled back and couldn’t help myself. He wans’t listening any more because I was faraway then, but anyways, I exclaimed: Extraordinary, my dear Watson, truly extraordinary!