One-Minute Book Reviews

December 17, 2009

A Sherlock Holmes Christmas Story — ‘The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle’

Filed under: Classics,Mysteries and Thrillers,Short Stories — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:36 pm
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The world’s most famous detective must figure out how a priceless gem ended up in a white goose

By Janice Harayda

Great holiday crime stories are rare. Set a murder mystery against the backdrop of a celebration of the birth of Christ and you risk accusations of trivializing the season or playing it for heavy irony. And who wants to be reminded that the wreath-draped mall teems with pickpockets or that burglars may strike after we leave for the airport?

Part of the genius of “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” is that it implicitly acknowledges such realities. Arthur Conan Doyle begins this Sherlock Holmes tale on the second morning after Christmas. It’s a holiday story without the freight it would carry if it took place two days earlier. And it has a plot perfectly attuned to the season. Holmes has the benign Watson by his side as usual. But he doesn’t face his arch-foe, Moriarty, or a killer armed with a gun or a trained swamp adder as in “The Dancing Men” or “The Speckled Band.” He needs only to find out why a priceless gem – the blue carbuncle – turned up in the gullet of a Christmas goose abandoned on a London street.

Of course, it isn’t that simple. But Holmes resolves the case, in fewer than a dozen pages, with panache and in a spirit of holiday generosity. You could probably read “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” aloud in 20 minutes or so as a yule log burns. And it appeals to nearly all ages – not just to adults but to children who need more dramatic fare than The Polar Express.

Part of the allure all the Sherlock Holmes tales is that, while their stories are exciting, Holmes is imperturbable. “My name is Sherlock Holmes,” he tells a suspect in “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.” “It is my business to know what other people don’t know.” How nice that, in this case, he knows how to set the right tone – in a secular if not religious sense – for the season.

Furthermore: You can download “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” for free at the online Classic Literature Library, which makes available at no cost books in the public domain. At top left is the Audio CD “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes — The Blue Carbuncle” (Mitso Media, 2006), read by James Alexander.

This review first appeared on this site on Dec. 19, 2007.

One-Minute Book Reviews is for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

http://www.janiceharayda.com

December 12, 2009

Funny Gifts for Readers Today on Twitter

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:06 pm
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On my Twitter page today I’m recapping in 140 characters or fewer some of the amusing and other gifts for readers that I’ve mentioned on One-Minute Book Reviews and that you can still find, such as the Shakespeare’s Insults Magnets and the Jane Austen Action Figure. You don’t need to have your own Twitter account to see these. Just click on “my Twitter page” in the first sentence of this paragraph.

December 3, 2009

My Holiday Gift-Book Guide on Twitter

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:42 pm
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Looking for holiday gift-book ideas? I’ll post mine  on One-Minute Book Reviews closer to Christmas. In the meantime I’m putting up one or two gift-book suggestions a day for adults and children on Twitter (@janiceharayda) at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda, based on reviews posted on this site. Today’s reminder: Fans of Jan Karon’s “Mitford” series might like Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind (Harper, 2000), the first of Ann B. Ross’s “Miss Julia” books about a rich Presbyterian widow in a North Carolina hamlet who adopts a child. I reviewed it earlier this year on One-Minute Book Reviews.

December 22, 2008

Wrap Holiday Gifts for Free With Items You Have at Home — Ideas From Elaine St. James’s ‘Simplify Your Christmas’

Filed under: How to,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:38 pm
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Have you noticed how some of those cute little holiday gift-wrap bags can cost more than the presents you put inside them? In Simplify Your Christmas: 100 Ways to Reduce the Stress and Recapture the Joy of the Holidays (Barnes and Noble, 2003), Elaine St. James suggests that you instead use leftover wallpaper, the Sunday comics, art or photos from last year’s calendar, outdated maps or oceanographic charts, or a basket you want to recycle.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com


December 20, 2008

Gift Coupons for Kids — Wrap Up Permission to Skip the Vegetables, Have a Later Bedtime or Curfew, or Control the TV Remote for a Night

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:49 pm
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Low- or no-cost gifts for children and teenagers that you can make with a pen and paper or a laserjet printer

The Awesome Kid Coupon Book: 52 Ways to Say You’re Special and You’re Loved!’ Hallmark Gift Books, unpaged, $5.95, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

O come all ye slackers who have fallen behind in your shopping for a child! Why not wrap up coupons good for the kinds of gifts described in this book — a waiver of a chore, a one-hour bedtime or curfew extension, or the right to “play the music you want for as loud as you want for one hour”?

The Awesome Kid Coupon Book has firm roots in a core principle of child psychology: Kids want to get out of doing some things as much as they want to have permission to do others. So this book has a coupon that lets a child to skip the vegetables at one meal as well one that confers control of the TV remote for an evening.

Most coupons involve free or low-cost gifts, and you can remove easily any that involve a cash outlay too steep for this bare-knuckles economy. (“SUPERSIZE YOUR ALLOWANCE – This coupon entitles you to double your normal allowance for one week.”) Some children may especially appreciate the “TOTAL SLOB COUPON!” that says: “Lounge in your grungiest clothes and do nothing all day! And don’t forget to wad up this coupon and throw it on the floor!” Just make sure your child reads the fine print on that one: “Weekends only.”

Best line: “BAN IT! This coupon entitles you to specify one food you do not want to find on your plate for an entire week.” Also: “A WHOLE NEW YOU — For one whole weekend day, you can be called any name you like, including anything that starts with ‘Super.’” And “BOOKWORM — Buy any book you want with a price up to $____________.”

Worst line: “BE A WINNER — Present this coupon and three scratch-off lottery tickets will be purchased for you. If you win, the money’s all yours!” This coupon seems to encourage adults to skirt the legal ages for buying lottery tickets (18 years old in most states, 21 in a few) by buying them for children. Would Hallmark have said, “Present this coupon and three six-packs will be purchased for you”?

Published: 2007

Warning: I found this book at a large CVS in September 2008 but haven’t been able to find it anywhere, including on the Web, since then. This is unusual: Books rarely go out of print so fast, and this one may have been recalled because of the lottery issue I mentioned above. I decided to post this review, anyway, because a) you might have better luck than I did at finding the book and b) some of its ideas may provide inspiration for homemade coupons.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

December 18, 2008

How to Listen to Handel’s ‘Messiah’ – What Are the Functions of a Recitative, an Aria and a Chorus?

Filed under: Nonfiction,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:38 pm
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At this time of year people often speak of the “Christmas portion” of Handel’s Messiah as opposed to the “Easter portion.” But are those terms accurate? A few comments from Robert J. Summer, a professor of choral studies at the University of South Florida and founding conductor of the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, in his Choral Masterworks From Bach to Britten: Reflections of a Conductor (Scarecrow, 2007):

“Part I is more than just the Christmas portion since it encompasses also the prophecy and Christ’s sojourn on earth. Part II focuses on Christ’s suffering and death, but also includes movements for the resurrection and ascension as well as the spreading of the gospel.”

Summer writes of the pieces that directly follow the Overture (#1) in Messiah:

“The internal structure of most Baroque oratorios, including Messiah, is organized into sequences of recitative, aria, and chorus. The function of the recitative is to relate the story or action; the aria reflects on the action or becomes a state of mind; and the chorus completes the thought, summarizes the situation, or participates in the action (the turba chorus). An example this relationship can be observed in the first three vocal pieces of the work. The recitative, ‘Comfort ye’ (#2), ends with instructions on how to prepare for the coming of Christ – ‘make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’ The aria, ‘Every valley’ (#3), describes what needs to be done in order to carry out these instructions – [Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low; the crooked straight and the rough places plain]. And if all this is accomplished, the glory of the Lord shall be revealed as sung by the chorus in ‘And the Glory of the Lord’ (#4).”

Listen to tenor Paul Elliott singing “Comfort Ye” and “Every Valley” from Messiah, conducted by Christopher Hogwood ,at www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhy2SRHqpuQ. Listen to the choir of King’s College, Cambridge, singing “And the Glory of the Lord” from Messiah at www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZorcMYb3fPo&feature=related/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

December 10, 2008

8 Good Christmas Poems for Adults and Teenagers With All the Words Online – Verse by Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson and Others

Filed under: Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:35 pm
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Many critics agree with the novelist Reynolds Price that John Milton’s “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity” is “the supreme Christmas poem in the English language.” But other good Christmas poems are shorter or less insistently religious or were written after the 17th century.

One problem with finding them is that many poems on the Internet are plagiarized, misattributed or inaccurately reproduced. Another is that some books that contain holiday–themed poems may disappear from library and bookstore shelves well before Dec. 25.

Here are some of the best Christmas poems for teenagers and adults and where to find their full texts from trustworthy online or other sources:

1. “The Savior must have been a docile Gentleman” by Emily Dickinson. This brief Nativity poem has just 40 words, divided into 8 lines of iambic trimeter. It casts Jesus as a gentle Savior who was nonetheless strong enough that he “leveled” a road to Bethlehem that would otherwise have been “A rugged Billion Miles –” from his “little Fellowmen.” Full text online at
www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19309.

2. “Christmas Bells” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The author of “Hiawatha” and “Paul Revere’s Ride” wrote this poem not long after his wife died and his son suffered severe wounds fighting for the Union in the Civil War. Written in iambic tetrameter, it is better known today by the title “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” In the poem speaker despairs and sees “no peace on earth” until pealing Christmas bells remind him that “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep.”
Full text online at www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/16819. Five stanzas are used as a hymn you can hear at Cyberhymnal www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/i/h/iheardtb.htm.

3. “Christmas Trees: A Christmas Circular Letter” by Robert Frost. A country-dweller debates whether to sell his evergreens to a city sharpie who undervalues them in a wistful poem much longer than Frost’s better-known “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” (in itself a good seasonal, though not Christmas, poem) rpo.library.utoronto.ca/poem/856.html. Some critics see the trees in “Christmas Trees” as a metaphor for poetry, which is similarly undervalued.
Full text online at www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19307.

4. “Some say that ever ’gainst that season comes” (Seven lines from Act I, Scene I of Hamlet) by William Shakespeare. In the first scene of Hamlet, a character who has seen the Ghost of Hamlet’s father speaks seven lines of unrhymed iambic pentameter (blank verse) that begin: “Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes / Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated.” These lines describe the mysteries of a season “So hallow’d” that, people say, “The bird of dawning singeth all night long.” Though not a free-standing poem, the lines work well on their own and rank among the greatest poetry written about Christmas. Full text online at www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19317.

5. “Christmas at Sea” by Robert Louis Stevenson. During a Christmas Day storm at sea, a young sailor thinks sentimentally of home: “O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there, /My mother’s silver spectacles, my father’s silver hair.” This poem has 11 stanzas of four quatrains each that may have special meaning for the families of servicemen and –women overseas. Full text online at www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19311.

6. “Noël” by Anne Porter. In this poem Advent brings, along with the “customary carols,” the “fresh truth” from children: “They look at us / With their clear eyes / And ask the piercing questions / God alone can answer.” “Noël” springs from the heartfelt Catholicism of Porter, a National Book Award finalist and one of America’s finest religious poets. Full text online at
www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/20503 and collected in the author’s recent collection, Living Things.

7. “A Christmas Carol” by Christina Rossetti. The Academy of American Poets lists the title of this popular poem as “A Christmas Carol,” but most of us know it as “In the Bleak Midwinter” (that season when “Frosty wind made moan”).
Text online at www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19287. You can listen to the carol at at www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/i/n/intbleak.htm. And there’s a stanza-by-stanza analysis on Wikipedia en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_the_Bleak_Midwinter (As always, use caution with Wikipedia, which I have linked to here because it includes more analysis of the poem than other easily accessible sites.)

8. “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (“’Twas the Night Before Christmas”), attributed to Clement Clarke Moore. This children’s classic has charms that may also seduce adults — its rousing anapestic meter, its “visions of sugarplums,” and its dynamic plot, which ends with St. Nick wishing a “Happy Christmas” to all. Full text online at
www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=171924.

And don’t forget …
John Milton’s “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativitywww.dartmouth.edu/~milton/reading_room/nativity/index.shtml and E . E. Cummings’s “little tree” www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=176724. I left Milton off the main list because his poem, with 27 stanzas and more than 200 lines, is much longer than all the others. And I omitted Cummings because “little tree” reads more like a poem for children (am I missing something here?). But his poetry enraptured me when I was 13 and may have a similar effect on other teenagers.

If you’ve read any of these poems, which do you like best? To keep this site reasonably faithful to its title, I’ve kept my remarks on these poems brief. But many people might like more information them and, if you can provide it, I’d love to have it in the comments section, where I would be glad to say more about any.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

 

December 8, 2008

Christmas in Shakespeare? Astound Us With Your Memory, English Majors

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:10 pm
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I’ve been looking for good Christmas poetry and found enough of it that I split the material into two posts: one on the seasonal offerings for children, posted on Saturday, and a one on the possibilities for teenagers and adults, which will appear Wednesday, Dec. 10.

The biggest surprise was that I came across a wonderful passage in Shakespeare that I’d be tempted to use on my Christmas cards if I didn’t already have this year’s batch. How I could have forgotten this one is a mystery given that I’ve read it or heard it many times on film or on stage — unless the explanation is that I majored in political science was reading Che Guevara’s diary when I could have been rereading some of the plays.

Do you know which passage I’m thinking of? It’s not a free-standing poem – not one of the sonnets, in other words – but it’s entirely appropriate to the season. I’m throwing this one out there because there may be other Christmas-card–worthy lines by Shakespeare that I’ve forgotten or never known. If you can point them out in a comment, you may help people still casting about for these.

[As usual when reading poetry on the Internet, I’ve been struck by how much of it is misquoted, misattributed or plagiarized. So the Dec. 10 post will list more than a half dozen good Christmas poems for adults or teenagers with a brief commentary on each and links to trustworthy sites that have posted the full texts. Poetry may be a genteel art, but when it comes to online verse, it’s a jungle out there, and on Wednesday I will don my leopard-skin Tarzan suit and try to clear a path to the safer vines.]

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

December 7, 2008

Good Christmas Poems for Children With All the Words Online

Filed under: Children's Books,Uncategorized — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:01 pm
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Christmas has inspired more good poems than any other holiday. But many of the seasonal children’s poems on the Internet are insipid, badly written or otherwise not worth learning. (Do you really want to introduce your child to poem built on the theme of “stupid presents I didn’t like”?) And that doesn’t count all the poems that are plagiarized, misattributed or inaccurately reproduced.

Here are some of the best holiday or Christmas poems for young children and where to find their full texts from trustworthy online or other sources. As always, use caution with Wikipedia, listed here because it provides more background on “The Goose Is Getting Fat” than other sites:

For Toddlers, Preschoolers and Others (Ages 8 and Under)
“A Visit From St. Nicholas” (“’Twas the Night Before Christmas”). No poem has had more influence on children’s fantasies of Christmas than “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” first published in 1823 and generally attributed to Clement Clarke Moore. Even children too young to understand all the words are often captivated by its rousing anapestic meter, its “visions of sugarplums,” and its exciting plot, which ends with St. Nicholas wishing a “Happy Christmas” to all as he departs. Full text online at
www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=171924.

“Christmas Is Coming, The Goose Is Getting Fat.” Few American children today may know the tune that goes with the folk rhyme beginning: “Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat. / Please put a penny in the old man’s hat.” But the words stand on their own and appear in many poetry collections. You can ask toddlers and preschoolers to add gestures, such as dropping a penny into a hat, so this is a great poem for the Webcam. And the nature of folk rhymes is that they change over time, so you can vary the words with a spotless conscience. (“Please put a penny in your mother’s hat.”) If you’d like to charm the grandparents at a holiday gathering, ask your child to go around the room and hold out a hat for a penny after reciting a variation that includes her name: “Please put a penny in Samantha’s [or “your nephew’s” or “your grandchild’s”] hat.” Full text online at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_Is_Coming.

“December.” Young children who are reading on their own may enjoy “December” in John Updike’s A Child’s Calendar (Holiday House, 32 pp., $17.95), a Caldecott Honor book beautifully illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. This quiet, lovely poem has a first-grade reading level and takes a thoughtful view of the season in short, rhyming, iambic lines. Full text in the Holiday House book holidayhouse.com/title_display.php?ISBN=978082341445

Five other short winter, Christmas, or holiday poems appear in The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (Random House, 248 pp., $22.99, ages 9 and under), an excellent collection selected by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated by Arnold Lobel. The book includes all the words to Langston Hughes’s 3-line “Winter Moon” (“How thin and sharp is the moon tonight!”) and to Aileen Fisher’s 8-line “Merry Christmas” (“I saw on the snow / when I tried on my skis”). It also has a 15-line excerpt from David McCord’s “A Christmas Package” (“My stocking’s where / He’ll see it – there!”) and all the words to “A Visit From St. Nicholas.” The Random House Book of Poetry for Children is available from online and other booksellers, and I found a copy a few days ago in the children’s poetry section of a large Barnes & Noble stores.

A post on good Christmas or holiday poems for older children, teenagers and adults will appear later this week.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

December 4, 2008

‘Unplug the Christmas Machine’ – How to Explain to Children Why You Plan to Give Them Fewer Gifts This Holiday Season

Filed under: How to,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:00 pm
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“First, talk to your children as soon as possible about your plans to give them fewer presents.”

Do publishers have a sense of irony? You might wonder after seeing all the double-digit price tags on books about how to simplify your holidays. So here’s an alternative: Head for the library and look for Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back Into the Season (Harper, 208 pp., $12.95, paperback), a field manual for the walking wounded in the annual holiday battle that advertisers and others wage for your soul and wallet.

This book grew out of workshops that authors Jo Robinson and Jean C. Staeheli began to lead in the late 1970s, and some of its material reflects the ideas of that era. But many of its suggestions are evergreen, and the advice never gives you the sense, as Martha Stewart’s does, that the glue gun can be a lethal weapon. A typical passage in the first edition tells how to ease your family into a celebration less focused on gifts:

“First, talk to your children as soon as possible about your plans to give them fewer presents. Be clear about what they can expect. Second, explain to children who are old enough to understand why it’s important to you to minimize gifts. Finally, give your children something else to look forward to, like a special trip or family activity. Focus on what they will be getting, not on what they won’t.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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