Book Countdown: Day 12

It’s finally Christmas Eve, and Christmas is only hours away!  I’ve finally finished all my wrapping, and I’m ready for Christmas morning.  My wisdom teeth (or lack thereof) are healing slowly, but hopefully I’ll be able to eat at least a few cookies…

The final book in the Christmas countdown is one that I hold in very high regard.  It’s a children’s story, but the deeper meaning is often appreciated by adults as well.  It used to be read to every child, but has begun to lose popularity among younger generations.  I’m talking about The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams.  A small, velveteen rabbit is given to a boy for Christmas, where he is snubbed by the other household toys, many of which are more expensive, fancy and complicated.  The other toys consider themselves Real, but an old rocking horse tells the rabbit that a toy can only become Real if it has been truly loved by a child.  The story follows the rabbit as he becomes a constant companion to the boy, and what happens after he is replaced.

My copy of this story was filled with beautiful, detailed illustrations, and even included my own velveteen rabbit toy.  If you need a gift for a child, or a baby shower this year, I highly recommend you look for a copy of this story.  And if you haven’t read it yourself, talk a quick trip to the library or invest in your own copy.  It’s a sweet story that is guaranteed to make you smile, and maybe even cry a little.

Merry Christmas.



Book Countdown: Day 11

The second last spot in the Christmas book countdown belongs to Angels and Demons by Dan Brown.  Most people associate Dan Brown with The Da Vinci Code, but Brown actually published three earlier books, starting with Digital Fortress in 1998.  Having read all five of Dan Brown’s novels, I have a love-hate relationship with his books.  Some impressed me, some did not, but Angels and Demons was a thrilling page-turner every step of the way.  After the religious controversy that has followed The Da Vinci Code, let me warn you that Angels and Demons deals with religion, but Dan Brown intended the book to be entertaining and fictional.  Treat it as a best-selling thriller, and you will not be disappointed.  The unexpected ending will make you go back and read it over a second time just to wrap your head around it.

And it’s yet another popular novel with a pretty decent movie adaptation, starring Tom Hanks as main character Robert Langdon.  Check it out.


Book Countdown: Day 10

With less than 3 days to Christmas, today’s book is Nine Princes in Amber.  There is no explaining this book.  I picked it up in a secondhand bookstore, along with the next two in the series The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny.  This is a cult favourite among hardcore sci fi and fantasy fans, but not well-known among younger generations.  I bought it on a whim, and quickly discovered that I had purchased a deep, involved read that with frequent plot changers and intense conflict.  Having the main character wake up with no memory of himself or his life was one of the most effective beginnings I have ever read in a novel.  The reader learns along with the narrator about the mysterious life and powerful legacy of Corwin of Amber, one of the heirs to the highest throne in the kingdom.  If you like it, there are a total of ten books in the series.  Check it out!

Book Countdown: Day 9

Four more days until Christmas, and I’m finally caught up with the countdown.  Today’s book is another classic- A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

I hear more scoffing.  Don’t judge the classics though!  There’s a reason why A Little Princess has remained a favourite since 1905.  You might even have seen the movie.  To this day, my sister and I cannot get through the end of that movie without bawling our eyes out.

There are a few differences between the book and the movie, thought the movie was really fantastic.  The girl who played Sara Crewe did a fantastic job.  This novel is about a little girl raised in India who is put into an English boarding school to “become a lady.”  Her and her father are inseparable, and his wealth helps encourage the headmistress to treat Sara like a celebrity.  But when a major tragedy changes everything, Sara teaches the other girls what it really means to be a princess inside, no matter what your social station is in life.  The ending is incredibly satisfying, though slightly different from the movie ending.  Definitely a beautiful, emotional story.  And if you enjoy it, I’d recommend The Secret Garden, another famous novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett with a well-done movie adaptation.


Book Countdown: Day 8

For fantasy and fairytale lovers, another popular author is Robin McKinley.  McKinley as published dozens of books, but my favourite two are Spindle’s End, a re-telling of Sleeping Beauty, and Sunshine, an original story about vampires.

Now, don’t go scoffing at me for using the V-word.  McKinley wrote Sunshine long before the vampire craze started, AND her vampires are scary, inhuman beings.  She weaves her own brand of magic into a post-war world where supernatural creatures are known, but feared.  After a local baker, Sunshine, is kidnapped by vampires, she starts to learn all sorts of things about her father, her own heritage,and forges a tentative truce with the vampire Constantine after he enlists her help in defeating his rival vampire.

I loved every single page of Sunshine.  It’s one of those books that you don’t want to end, but you can’t stop reading.

Book Countdown: Day 7

Next on the list is another animal themed book.  I should say books, rather.  James Herriot (real last name Wight) was a country vet in the Yorkshire area for most of his life.  At the age of 50, he wrote about his rural adventures and became a widely successful author.  Herriot’s books are laugh-out-loud funny, and especially entertaining for anyone who’s spent any time around animals.  You don’t really have to read the books in order either, but they follow Herriot’s life in chronological order.

The first two books, If Only They Could Talk and It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet were put together into a larger volume, called All Creature Greats and Small.  I’d recommend starting there!


Book Countdown: Days 5 and 6

I’ve decided to devote two days to one of my favourite authors, because I can’t pick just one of her books.  A popular fantasy author, Mercedes Lackey has published over 100 novels in less than 25 years, and she’s still going strong.


If you like fantasy, you should definitely read her Valdemar series…

Arrows of the Queen (the book to start with):

Talia is a young girl living in a repressive country community.  Her entire life changes when she is Chosen by Rolan, who just happens to be one of the most important Companions in the realm of Valdemar.  Her new bond with him catapults her in the high-ranking position of the Queen’s Own Herald, making her the right-hand advisor to the queen just as new dangers being to threaten Valdemar.

Take a Thief, Exile’s Honor, Exile’s Valor (my favourite Valdemar trilogy):

These books deal with some of the best characters Valdemar characters introduced in earlier books.  Take a Thief belongs mostly to Skif, the lovable thief-turned-Herald, and the mysterious Alberich, traitor to his own land.  These books are technically prequels to Arrows of the Queen, but they should be read after.


If you like fairytale re-tellings…

The Fire Rose:  Based Beauty and the Beast, with an emphasis on Elemental Masters of fire and air.

The Gates of Sleep:  Based on Sleeping Beauty, with an emphasis on Elemental Masters of water.

All of the books in The Elemental Masters series deal with magic based on the four standard elements: Earth, Water, Air and Fire.  The magic scheme is simple, but effective, and makes for interesting re-tellings of long beloved fairytales.


If you just want a good book…

The Black Swan:  A mature re-telling of The Swan Princess, this novel is one of Lackey’s rare stand-alone books.  It’s actually the first of her novels that I ever read, and it still has a special place in my collection.


Mercedes Lackey has something for everyone.  Detective thrillers, hardcore fantasy, urban fantasy, fairytales, dragons, magical horses, gryphons… the list goes on and on.

Book Countdown: Day 4

Day 4 belongs Black Beauty, a book that I didn’t learn to truly appreciate until I was in my teens.  When I first read it, I simply liked it because it involves horses.  Years later, when re-reading it, I discovered a new appreciation for the deeper meaning of the story.

Anna Sewell never meant for Black Beauty to become a children’s story.  She wrote it for adults to encourage kindness to animals, and to create metaphors for respect and patience among people.  The language itself can be a tough read, and the original Black Beauty isn’t something most children want to read.  I highly recommend that everyone read it once in their lifetime though, since it’s one of those books that everyone has heard of, but hardly anyone has actually read.  Sewell died five months after it was published, but she lived long enough to know it was a huge success.  It later went on to break publishing records.

Black Beauty  is told from the perspective of a horse, and it gives a romanticized and dramatized view of human interactions through the eyes of an animal.  As Beauty passes from master to master, each from a very different social background, we get the chance to examine the morals of human society.  Sewell also mentions that hardships of a horse-drawn taxicab driver, and it is believed that the publication of Black Beauty helped improved the legalities limiting their work.

As an added bonus, many editions of Black Beauty include gorgeous illustrations.

A short, but beautiful read.

Book Countdown: Day 3

The next book in the countdown is a novel that I bought second-hand.  I’m a huge supporter of second-hand bookstores.  I like finding different, inexpensive additions for my book collection.  I picked up this particular novel without realizing I was already familiar with the author.  Nicholas Sparks is best known as the writer of The Notebook, made popular by Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling in the 2004 movie adaptation.  As a side note, that movie is one of the few instances where the film was much better than the book.

Nicholas Sparks is an interesting writer.  He’s one of the few male writers that writes frequently from a female perspective, and does so very well.  His books are based on very emotional situations, often involving illness or death.  In my opinion, the best of his books is The Guardian.

After Julie Barenson is widowed at the age of 25, she can’t imagine going on without the love of her life.  Depressed and lonely on the first Christmas after her husband’s death, Julie is shocked when a Great Dane puppy is delivered to her door.  The puppy is a posthumous gift from her husband, and in the accompanying letter he urges her to take comfort and security from the large dog’s presence, and to remember that he is guarding her from heaven.  Julie names the dog Singer for the high-pitched, whining noises he makes, and he becomes her closest companion.

Fast forward four years, and Julie is ready to start dating again.  She has her pick of a few men, but manages to narrow it down to long-time friend Mike, and handsome engineer Richard.  But when one of her admirers turns into a dangerous stalker, Julie has to rely on friends, Singer, and her guardian husband as she tries to save her own life, and the lives of others.

An emotional, intense read.

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