Thursday, December 18, 2014

Santa: Finding out The Truth about the Jolly Ol' Guy

       Youngsters have often heard adults say, "If you want to know something, go look it up!"  Back in the day, there were books, encyclopedias, thesaurus, dictionaries and a whole slew of tools to find the answer.  Today, the internet has made it that much more easier to tap into a wealth of knowledge.  Yet there are still some tidbits of information that eludes youngsters.  In particular, Santa Claus and his jolly ways.  Who is this strange man who works only one night a year, dresses in a read suit and leaves presents for good little boys and girls?  Is he for real?  How does he go around the world in one night?   Why did he pick reindeers to help him travel in his sleigh?  Wouldn't unicorns be better?  (No.  Silly, unicorns don't exist!)  The questions go on and on and on.  Luckily there are ways of getting to the truth about the beloved man everyone has come to know as Santa Claus. 

     Harold Myra lays out all the facts in his book Santa, Are You Real?   From the traces of Santa's early history as Saint Nicholas to today as the  jolly red suited man children all over the world recognize. It's sweet and it reminds readers that St. Nicholas' example of love and charity is the way to keep Christ in the heart of Christmas.   The author eludes that Santa is alive through the stories of St. Nick.  However, adults can prove that Santa is real with Ingrid Ostheeren's I'm The Real Santa Claus.  How frustrating must it be for Santa Claus to find so many men impersonating him at Christmas time!  They are everywhere!  No wonder people have stopped believing in him.   In this tale, Santa get the gentle reminder that children still believe in him and in Christmas magic.  Must say, there are so adults who need this same reminder. 

        Now before the more practical, stuffy and so called level headed nonbeliever starts to explode because there need concrete facts.  Gerry Bowler's book  Santa Claus: A Biography gives the facts in a manner that would make every historian rest at ease.  Yes, Bowler insists that Santa  is a legend, mystical wonderful fictional elf that has graced greeting cards,  wrapping paper and commercial ads for centuries but that shouldn't stop the young at heart from enjoying the book.  Having said that,  readers should   not miss out on reading The Christmas Chronicles: The Legend of Santa Claus.  The title should not fool the reader.  Tim Stover probably called it a legend to lure nonbelievers into believing in Santa again.  The details of Santa's life are rich, warm and wonderful!  How could this be fiction?  It simply feels too real to be fake.  Of course, if one really wants to be a cynic that is their choice but the facts of the story are difficult to dispute.  Such as how Santa learned to make wonderful toys, or how he met his love, Mrs. Claus.  Stover even details how Santa was able to get the reindeers to fly.  How could he just make that up?  It's simply must be true.
   In need of more proof of his existence?  Fictional characters are in books.  Authors are not in books, they write the books.  Santa can't be fictional because he wrote a book. He's a published author just as James Patterson and Danielle Steele are.    It's available for anyone who wishes to know the REAL Santa.  (It's even available in e-books, just to prove that old men can still keep up with technology our day)  Santa Responds:  He's Had Enough ... and He's Writing Back!   Frankly, it's about time that he stood up for himself!  All the letters from boys and girls who simply write them to appease their parents but truly don't believe and don't deserve half of the items on their list.  That's okay because Santa has a way of setting the record straight that isn't too confrontational and gets his message across.
      This Christmas, the best gift every reader can give to themselves is the gift of believing in Santa. If  that is too far of a stretch, then at least to start believing that  wonderful magical things can happen. .   It is never too late to start believing again.  After all, through the magic of Christmas every reader is young again and it is possible for one fat elf in a red suit to travel the world in one night on a sleigh with eight flying reindeers.  It's the magic of the season.  It's Christmas.


Monday, December 8, 2014

The Best of Modern Christmas Stories

In the last post, there was a brief run down of the worst that Christmas novels have to offer.  Frankly, the publishing industry has turned this into a niche that many times have no soul and it shows in the style of writing and canned story plots.    It may be awkward to say but this niche has  often proven  that there has to be bad stories in order for readers to find and treasure the truly good ones.  In this post,  there is good news for readers who want a memorable holiday story that will become a favorite for years to come.   If after reading these stories, and  readers don't place them on their  "go to " shelf for holiday books, it will be flat out surprising.  

First on the list is Dave Barry's  The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog (2008) is a nostalgic laugh out loud Christmas tale that only he could write.   Reader's looking for a light hearted Christmas tale of Christmas past that can be read in one sitting have found the perfect match in this story.  Barry's humor shines through page after page keeping the reader in stitches up until the very last word.  It has everything that a reader could want: warm family memories, a Christmas play and beloved family dog.    The story is authentic, honest and humorous. Was the number of laughs per page mentioned? .  It makes one yearn for the good ol' days when life was a little simpler.  A MUST  have for every holiday season.

Another notable  authentic Christmas novel that is a must read is The Christmas Cookie Club: A Novel by Ann Pearlman (2010).   Set in Michigan, this story is about twelve friends who come together every holiday season to share cookies and wine. The friends come from all different backgrounds but they share the holiday traditions that brings them together for a special night that is just for them.  No husbands.  No children.  No work.  Just time for them to enjoy the festive season and each other.   The bond that is shown in this circle of friends proves what women have always known for centuries:  if you can't tell your best friends your troubles than you don't have friends or hope.  The recipes for the cookies shared in the novel are printed  at the end of the book.  It's really a bonus to have a holiday bake book and good story to go along with it.

If the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles is appealing then David Baldacci's holiday novel is a perfect fit   The Christmas Train (2013) takes the reader on a journey with Tom, a writer who is trying to get home in time for the holiday.  Why not take a plane?  Well then the story wouldn't be as eventful as getting into with airport security which leads to Tom being forced to take a train.  This of course leads to him encountering  a memorable  cast of character which sets the story on track for  an unexpected romance.  The icing on the cake to change everyone's plans of the holiday: an avalanche.  Could it get any better?  Nope.

What do all these novels wonderful?  They don't try be something that they are not.  What you see is what you get.  It seems that many Christmas novel try too hard to recapture what The Christmas Carol and The Gift of the Magi did many years ago.  That is create stories with strong emotions and strong moral message.  These classics really don't need to be replaced or rewritten.  That is why they are timeless classics.   Barry,  Perlman and Baldacci understand that the  goal in writing their novels is to capture the readers attention and everything else will fall into place.  They don't need to compete with the classics they simply need to bring enjoyment to their audience.   The Christmas season is all the more brighter with these novels filled with laughter, friendship and the desire to make it  home for the holidays.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Christmas Stories With A Formula But No Heart

Every season there are stories that just make the holidays seem a bit brighter.   There is no doubt that every reader has their own favorites that they read and reread to to get into the right mood.  Dickens' A Christmas Carol is one such story along with Andersen's  The Little Match Girl.  Let's not forget O Henry's Gift of the Magi.  Each  of these stories go straight for the heart and elicits the true emotions of the Christmas season.  There are very few stories like this of our generation.  It seems that writers and readers alike have forgotten that at the center of the Christmas messages is love.  Let's be totally honest,  the message may be lost because writers and perhaps their publishes, don't want to sound overly preachy.  In an effort to stay mainstream without getting too religious all the Christmas stories have become the same.  Sweet stories about the holiday season that are empty of a message.

Please stop reading this if you love to read holiday books that have no meaning behind it except to give the author and publisher a paycheck.  Is this a little harsh?  Perhaps but let's lay the formula of the quick, no meaning,  forgettable  holiday novel.  There are at least five elements that make this niche market nauseating.  Readers may find all of these elements in the book or at a minimum two.  Make no mistake, the publisher pushing the novels are trying to make extra holiday dough to add to the bottom line.

First,  there is  someone with a serious illness who is just about to die or has just recently died.  Mom has cancer.  Child has incurable disease that is so rare only 0.01% of the population will get it much less know of the disease.  Yes, this is to make sure that everyone realizes how precious each moment on earth is and that next Christmas we may not be around.   If VanLier's  The Christmas Shoes come to mind, well it should.  It actually is the winner for best of the worst tear jerker story about a dying mother and an adorable child at Christmas.  Seriously, these books are not good for the hypochondriac in the family or for the reader who wants a Christmas the tis merry.  Who wants to think about dying at Christmas?  Well, maybe the depressed reader who wants a little more misery to make their Christmas bluer. Other than that, no one.

Two,  poverty or hard times have just hit home.  Yes, this may seem a little hypocritical to complain about since mentioning   classic stories that deal specifically with poverty.  However, in some of  today's holiday novels the message seems hollow and insincere.  For example,   in Wright's  The Christmas Jars the message of sacrifice is lost. The novel is based on the tradition of putting money in a jar all year long and at the end of the year use the money to help someone who is in a bad situation.  Um, well it would be a great story if the author had not wrapped it into an unbelievable turn of events that leads the main character to find out about her birth mother from complete strangers.  It's a small world scenario that just doesn't add up to reality.  In fiction, suspend reality to enjoy the story, right?  Yes, do that and the book will be fine.

Three,  cute adorable dogs or cats who tug at the heartstring because they were lost but now found or they are on their last legs.  Kleenex time again!  Kincaid's  A Dog Named Christmas is claimed to be  the book to get for the dog lover in your list.  To be honest, it is a good book to give to someone who is not  a serious reader.  As a librarian, this book has been suggested to reluctant readers because of it's brevity and "brain candy" plot.  However,  Kincaid's story is not one to be given to a dog lover. Why?  Simple, what dog lover would love a story about  taking in a shelter dog for only the holiday season and returning it once the season is over.  Really? To be fair that is not how the story ends but the premise there is an animal shelter out there that would consider this as a way to take care of the animals is frightening.   There are so many other stories that are better written and the plots are not as contrived as this one.

Four,  the plot is so predictable that one would think they are reading a Harlequin romance.  Picture this: a lonely Amish widow who is in need of a nanny to help take care of his six uncontrollable but adorable children.  Does the reader really need to think hard on what's the ending of the book will be?  Nope.   Gray's  Snowfall: A Days of Redemption Christmas Novella follows the recipe for quick light romance right to the last page.   The only thing that makes it passable is that it is set at Christmas time and it is perfect for the Christmas niche market.  Was it mentioned this is a quick read?  Good thing because long  sappy stories can be draining.

Five,  build a story around a dysfunctional family that needs to be reminded of the true meaning of life, (otherwise known as the true meaning of Christmas).    Hildebrand's Winter Street has all of the family drama and more.  This is definitely one of the best worst holiday book for dysfunctional family that packs into its pages every storyline from  the history of soap operas.   Let's start with the checklist.  Cheating wife, check.  daughter who is unable to get boyfriend to commit, check.  First son is successful in business but by questionable means, check.  Second son, not as successful and fooling around with a French maid, check.  Youngest son can not be reached because he's in the army and his unit is in Afghanistan, check.  First wife comes in to make all things merry and bright, check.  Well at least by the end of the book the family finds happiness in the chaos.  How?  Who really knows because in soap operas they all live to see another day.

Now don't get discouraged.  Although the books listed here are the examples of why Christmas books may suck the holiday spirit right out of the reader.   There are many worthwhile reads for the holiday season.   Consider this the opportunity to look at the worst Christmas holiday reading season in order to find the great stories that are waiting to be discovered.   Are they out there?  Yes, Virginia there really are good holiday books that do not follow the cookie cutter formula but rather go on a path that is unique and unforgettable.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Books That Make A Librarian Thankful

It may be the holiday season that is fast approaching that is making this librarian a bit nostalgic.  After all Thanksgiving is meant for reflections on the blessings and bounty in life.   What could a librarian be thankful for?  Books!  Each and everyone of them. From the wordless books to the books that are over 1,000 pages long.  To the hardcover, paperbacks and  digitize  copies that constantly beckons to be read and sometimes re-read.   Every librarian will have their own particular favorite  titles that have stayed with them thought the years.  So on a personal note this holiday season, the following titles are among the ones that yours truly, Mrs. Nowc Librarian at Large is very thankful for.

First and foremost,  The True Story of the Three Little Pigs is the picture book that started it all in the way of becoming a Childrens' Librarian.  It is clever, funny and demonstrated that Children's book were meant to be shared not once but often.  How many times has this book been read during Mrs. Nowc's  story times over the years?  Too many times to count.  Each time there is the same results: laughter, giggles and demands for encores.   Thank you Mr. Jon Scieszka for this wonderful book and new perspective on an old tale!

At the age of twelve, yes twelve,  Dr. Zhivago was read for the first time. What a wonderful long tale that helped pass the time driving down to Florida.   Granted, Boris Pasternak's work was complex and much of the story's impact was missed the first time reading though it. The book was reread in junior year of high school and again in college.    Pasternak's work made such a  lasting impression  that it inspired the desire to learn more about Russian history, culture and language.  Perhaps it could be  said that  you can never forget your first novel.   As a side note, this book also proved that the movie is never the same as the book.   In most cases, the book is  better.

Finally,  The Alchemist is a book that turned out to be a delightful surprise. Recommended by a friend as a must read title  and became forever enamored with Santiago and his journey.    It reads like a folklore but speaks volumes about the desire to find a treasure that has been within reach the whole time. Ah, the romance of following one's heart never grows old.  Paulo Coelho's style and graceful storytelling lingers long after the last page has been read.  A huge and heartfelt thanks to the author Coelho for creating this masterpiece and the friend kept insisting that the book be read.

There are so many other books that life would have been so dull without them.  The key to discovering each wonderful writers and their stories has always been libraries.   So thankful for libraries.   That's it!  Libraries are what this librarian is very thankful for but then who isn't thankful for libraries?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Taking A Look At Christian Fiction

There a cycles and trends that repeat every couple of years or decades, especially in the publishing world.   However, now it seems that there are no cycles but just trends due to the wealth of self published and independent publishers that changing the way readers  discover new authors and titles.  This is especially true with Christian Fiction.  For years it has been considered a small niche in the publishing market, with Tyndale, Bethany House, Castle Gate Press,  and Zondervan providing the path for Christian Authors and readers to meet.  That's not the case any longer.   The big five publishers, HarperCollins as one example,  have stepped in and acquired the smaller Christian publishing companies in an attempt to get into the market.  Not a bad move considering the range of what Christian fiction covers.  Everything from spiritually lifting stories to romance without the hardcore erotica.  There is something for everyone.  In other words there is a bigger niche in which the publishers can explore and find a new audience.   Before discovering some of the newer titles that were published this year,  here are some older titles and veteran authors that may be of interest to readers.

Janette Oke is a veteran romance Christian author. Fans of this writer can honestly say they were readers  of Christian Fiction before Christian fiction was cool.  Most of her stories take place in the Western Frontier and Oke's series Canadian West is the perfect example of a strong heroine who adjusts to a new life in the Canadian Frontier and settling into the her new position as the school teacher.   Nestled in the series is a wonderfully written romance that flourishes between the heroine and aRoyal Canadian Mounted Police.  The title of the first book in the series is When Calls The Heart (Canadian West #1). 

The Circle Trilogy is an interesting tale woven by Ted Dekker that will take the reader's breath away.  First published in 2004,  this series brilliantly intertwines reality and dreams.  Once the reader is introduced to Thomas Hunter, they will never be able to forget the unlikely hero who maneuvers between two realities and conquers dangers, deceit and destruction.  It is in a word,  a thrill-ogy.  A must read for any reader interested in Christian Fiction.

Mark Bertrand's Roland March Mystery series fairly new but it has the feel of a ready made classic series.  The first in the series Back On Murder, was published in 2010 and Detective March is the type of character that everyone will root for just as they did for famous detectives like Columbo.  In the first book, readers find that Detective March is ready to retire, but the disappearance of a famous Houston Evangalist's teen daughter throws him into the middle of a crime investigation.  This is his chance to prove that he is one of Houston's finest.  Terrific writing filled with suspense and surprises.  Although this is Christian Fiction, it is not overly preachy, which makes it readable for those who want a good mystery without the sermon to go along with it.

For political thrillers, look no further than Joel C. Rosenburg's Dead Heat.    As the title suggests the story begins as a President nears the end of his term and two candidates are vying for his seat.   There is a death threat on the head of one of the candidates and the Secret Service must determine which candidate is the target of terrorist extremist in order to save the lives of millions.  This is an edge of your seat kind of book, not to mention one that can not be put down.

These three titles are especially good and demonstrate quite well the versatility of the genre.  This list is by no means complete.  There are so many authors whose talents have yet to be discussed  Having said that, next week's post will provide a peek at some new authors that have made Christian Fiction just as interesting and timely as those mentioned here.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Celebrating the Heroes -- Books For Veteran's Day

It's hard to know how to celebrate Veteran's Day.  After all, how does one celebrate the fact that someone gave their life so that others could live in peace.  It's odd to say that one can not have peace unless battles are fought.  Any general will tell you that wars lead to peace or at least that is the hopeful outcome.  In our nation's history there have been plenty of war stories to share and plenty of Veterans to show appreciation to for the sacrifices they have made.  In honor of this day and for those who served our country valiantly, here are the top three books on our list that should make every reader humbled by the courage and sacrifices of heroes who sometimes are forgotten.

Laura Hillenbrand 's Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption is an inspiring story that is written so well that the reader forgets they are reading nonfiction.  It reads like a novel and is a beautiful tribute to a World War II hero,  Louis Zamperini.  He defied all odds of surviving a plane crash on the Pacific Ocean, which leaves the reader in awe of the human spirit and the will to survive anything.  Wonderfully told.  Never to be forgotten.  

Another story of World War II is told by historian Barbara W. Tuchman  The Guns of August   This is the book on World War II that is definitive and the best.  In rich narrative Ms. Tuchman details how the war began, who were the key characters and how the war could have been stopped but wasn't.  The tome is over 600 pages but well worth the time to read if someone is serious about learning the details of World War II. 

Veterans' of today's military are often overlooked as heroes.  In part because America has become a bit war weary.  In Black Hawk Down, written by Mark Bowden, readers are discover the true courage and brutality that are synonymous with battles.  In October of 1993,  one hundred US military men went into Somalia in hopes to capture two top Somali warlords.  A simple task which should have taken one hour but last through the night.  This narration is riveting, and readers will not be able to put the book way until the very last word is read.   This book is a valuable resource to modern war, which to some, gives an excellent starting point to understanding the  U.S Military of today. 

There are so many wonderful books written about the military, some uplifting others a scathing rebuke of military actions.  The debate will continue to go on about the good and evil of war, one thing is for certain.  In every battle there are heroes who deserve the recogniton and honor that comes along with being a hero.   To all the men and women who served our country, a heartfelt thank you for your dedication.  To the authors who wrote about their lives and battles, thanks to you as well.  Without your talent, readers would never get to know these men and women.   


Monday, November 3, 2014

Poliotical Books: The Race is On!

Tomorrow is election day.  As advocates of  all types of libraries, this day is very important because nothing is more democratic then the right the vote.  Take for granted that precious right, you might as well start taking away other democratic institutions. Such as libraries and public schools.   Corny? Not really when considering America is the first experiment in the idea of a Republic and has been held up as a model of freedom and  democracy.  Since our society is set up with freedom of speech as well, it is with amusement that to watch publishers fall over themselves trying to get the right author who will someday become President of the United States.  This is no joke.  This is why most politicians gladly and negotiate for an advancement on a book that is yet to be penned.  All in hopes that their ideas catch on and they become the next rising star in the political arena.  For the 2016  Presidential Race, it seems that everyone is throwing their books into the ring.  None of these candidates have officially announced their intent to run, but from the sounds of their tomes, chances are they are flirting with the idea.  Unless you are a political pundit who writes political/current events books for a living, the only other reason to write is to get noticed for higher political office.

So let the race begin in the political publishing arena to see who will come out as the front runner in both parties.   Hillary Clinton is sure to make a stab at it yet again.   Clinton's latest book Hard Choices is a very dry book.  Difficult to get through mostly because it didn't reveal anything new about her time as Secretary of State.   Her other book, Living History (2003) is much better.  Perhaps it is because it is a little more personal and the reader gets a rare glimpse into the First Lady's life.
Andrew Cuomo's resume is impressive to say the least.   Coming from a political family, much like the Kennedys, Governor Cuomo has followed his father's footsteps upon his election as Governor of New York.  In October of this year,  Cuomo's book All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and  Life is the typical comeback kid type memoir.  His book details the lesson learned and wisdom gained through his political career, which includes  New York Attorney General, United States Secretary of HUD and currently as New York Governor.  It is inspiring but the reader comes away thinking that much of the success and failures came with the recognition of the name.  Sometimes in politics, that is the biggest foot in the door.

A Fighting Chance does not detail Elizabeth Warren's ambition to run for President this time around.  It may be that she is waiting for Hillary to decide whether she is indeed running or that she is not interested in trying for the higher office.  This book does demonstrates the situations and ideas that shaped her life and passion.  In the first portion of the book Warren details how her family faced financial setbacks that ultimately formed her view of capitalism.  It is not pretty.   If readers are more inclined to follow a progressive ideology they will enjoy the book from cover to cover.  However regardless what side of the isle the reader is on, the mere fact that this woman, who hails from Oklahoma City to win the Massachusetts Senate Seat in 2012 is amazing.  Readers will come away from this book thinking that if Ms. Warren doesn't run in 2016 she probably will in 2020.

From the GOP side there are just as many contenders as there are on the DNC side.
Again none of the authors have come out stating they are definitely running only hinting that the possibilities are being explored.  This keeps the rumor mills  flowing so publishers are eager to get these books published as well.  One of the most interesting title of the bunch is  Allen West's Guardian of the Republic.  Again, we see the portrait of a person who has come from humble beginnings to become a successful leader in the U.S. Army,  U.S. Congress and a strong unapologetic voice in conservative politics.   He does not compromise on his  core beliefs and makes the case that these values that have been the backbone of the U.S. Constitution are under attack today.    This is not West's first book but it is the first in which he is considered to be a Presidential hopeful. 

There is a definite media buzz surrounding newcomer, Dr. Ben Carson because he dared to speak against President Obama's policy at the 2013 National  Prayer Breakfast. If the reader does not already know this name.  He is a conservative, well known pediatric brain surgeon who happens to be African American.  Like Allen he comes from very humble home to became successful in medicine.  Carson is  an overnight sensation in the political arena because of  his famed speech, mentioned earlier,  in which President Obama was just a mere feet away, as the good doctor tore apart Obamacare.   Earlier this year,  Sentinel HC  published One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America's Future,  which is  Carson take on what has is holding America back from continuing on as a great country.  Everything from Obamacare to political correctness and personal accountability.  It is filled with inspirations from his own life and well as biblical passages.  Will he be accepted as a Republican Presidential Candidate?   Dr. Carson is certainly testing the waters with this book but also with the website:

Governor Jeb Bush's name has been bandied about as a front runner for the Republicans but the acceptance for his eventual Presidential run seems very lackluster.  It can be due to the fact the name Bush has run it's course.  It could also be due to the fact that the book he co-authored in 2013 on immigration has not helped him at all.  Immigration Wars is an attempted to shed light on possible solutions for a very controversial topic.  Bush's stance on immigration policy has caused some angry ripples within his own party.  The book itself is well written but it struggles to make a definite case for immigration reform that is both enforceable and based on realistic situations.   It will be interesting to see if the Governor wins the GOP nomination.  If he does, it won't be because this book helped him achieve his goal.  It will be mostly due to his name recognition.

Rick Santorum is no stranger to the craziness of campaign races, both as a Senator and a Presidential hopeful. His latest work entitled Blue Collar Conservative is an attempt to reach out to the Republican Party to remind them that the true base of the party are the middle class conservatives who have lost faith that neither of the parties worth supporting.  Santorum lays out a plan that could help the Republican party regain the trust of voters and ultimately win elections, especially the Presidential elections.  This book may have been published during the midterm cycles, but it seems to be intended for the 2016 Presidential cycle.  If Senator  Santorum does not run again in 2016  it will be surprising. 
  It could very well be that none of the names mentioned here will win the nomination for either party.  Time will be the judge as to which author runs and wins in 2016.  In the meantime, enjoy the books and by all means go vote.  Especially if your city has a library mileage on the ballot.  Vote to support your local library!  (The only political bias readers will find on this blog!)