Whether your Christmas is shaping up to be more The Happy Prince Of Wales Road or Grimethorpe and Puishment, we have got the perfect festive read for you.
A very merry Christmas from Fargate From The Madding Crowd. I hope you get some quiet time with a book in amongst all the festivities. Thank you for reading along.
Get in touch via twitter @AnnaCaig or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The deadline for reader reviews of Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is December 29. The next book club read will be Emma Jane Unsworth’s Animals, deadline for reviews, January 12.
Read of the fortnight
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie
Christmas is a time for fun and festivities in the bosom of your loving family. Isn’t it?
Or is it, as the great Belgian detective himself points out, a time when “people who do not feel amiable, are putting great pressure on themselves to appear amiable”?
If it’s all getting a bit much for you, then this is the perfect book choice.
Curl up by the fire with some mulled wine, relax and enjoy the ride as Simeon Lee, the ultimate demanding, tyrannical patriarch at the centre of Christie’s story, gets his throat cut like a pig in a locked room.
A superb antidote to too much saccharine Christmas sentimentality. All the classic Christie elements are here.
The grand house cut off from the rest of the world, and containing a family group who almost all have a reason to wish Simeon dead.
Dark secrets are uncovered; old grudges and alliances are revealed.
I almost never correctly guess who the killer is in a Christie story, although I do love to try.
And this one is no different.
She is a master of misdirection, with red herrings aplenty, as well as genuine clues, littering every scene.
When it comes to plotting, Christie is nothing short of a genius.
I would love to write a thesis unpicking that uncanny ability to put all the information you theoretically need to guess the true identity of the murderer right under your nose, all the while nimbly diverting attention on other suspects.
And as you approach that characteristic Christie denouement, it becomes genuinely unputdownable.
This story was supposedly prompted by a criticism from Christie’s brother-in-law that her murders were too anaemic.
He asked her for a good violent murder with lots of blood.
But despite the blood-spattered room, this is the usual civilised Christie fare where a murder may be bad, but a scandal would be unthinkable, and Poirot has everything neatly solved, tied up, done and dusted well before new year.
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas should provide just the escapism you need, so you can go back and face your family with a smile on your face.
A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig
Mum and daughter reviews from Rachel and Charlotte, aged 10, in High Green:
Rachel says: At this time of year there’s nothing quite like a captivating, warming Christmas-themed read, and this book fits the bill perfectly. I’ve struggled to be drawn into a book since having my third child last year, so I was happy to be transported into Haig’s magical world so effortlessly.
The book opens in a bleak part of Finland and introduces the main character Nikolas, written in the third person as it describes the poor boy’s rotten life.
He wants the best for his family, but most important to him is love, not material possessions: a very important message for young readers of the Facebook generation. As the story developed I was awestruck, then heartbroken, then elated within just a few pages. I finished the book feeling the magic of Christmas, and couldn’t wait to give this book to my 10-year-old Christmas-cynic of a daughter. I hope the messages at the end will restore her faith in Christmas and encourage her to always fight for what she believes in. This is a thrilling and emotional read, and is highly recommended.
Charlotte says: This is a heartwarming story about a young boy named Nikolas, who lives in a small area of Finland with a little mouse called Miika as his only friend. My favourite character is probably Little Noosh, a small elf who Nikolas befriends in Elfhelm, the magical land of elves. I thoroughly enjoyed this lovely tale, and recommend it to all ages.
Reyt as Rain Reads... books to make it better
Kelly says: My main reading problem is that my children take up all of my time, so I have none left to read. But I love short stories as they’re easier to gorge on in spare half hours. Do you have any recommendations for good collections?
Anna says: The short stories I enjoy tend to be based around an interesting, often gruesome or supernatural, concept. The brevity of the form lends itself well to the exploration of a single idea that takes a bit of a sideways look at the world.
A good example of this is The Mistletoe Bride by Kate Mosse, a collection of what can loosely be termed ghost stories. And especially at this time of year, is there anything more delicious than a ghost story? This is a book crying out to be read on a cold winter’s night, by the dancing light of a roaring fire. But don’t worry, these are not spine chillers. Most are stories of time slips; worlds colliding or what Mosse calls ‘cracks in time’.
Inspired by English and French folk stories and legends, this is a richly evocative collection. These are not character-driven stories; they are gripping because of the concepts behind them.
It is true that the creation of engrossing, three-dimensional characters, and genuine emotional engagement, are often difficult in the limited space and time of a short story. But a notable exception to this is an incredible collection by Jhumpa Lahiri called Interpreter of Maladies.
It is difficult to put your finger on how a writer successfully enables a heartfelt connection between their characters and the reader. Lahiri certainly has an impressive way with description; finding those small details that tell us all we need to know. But I think the key here is that she is a master of ‘just enough’. Her writing, although vivid, is beautifully simple. The reader must fill in the emotional blanks. Lahiri strikes the perfect balance between depicting a ‘real’ character, and allowing space enough for us to project our own experiences. And I don’t use the word perfect lightly there. These are some of the best short stories I have ever read. By the end of the first story in the collection, A Temporary Matter, I was sobbing.
While this opener is the stand-out offering, all of the stories in this collection are excellent. All killer, no filler. Several of them deal with immigrants living in a new place, far from their home, and explore the difficulties, the excitement, the awkwardness, the potential and the confusion of this. Lahiri’s writing places the reader well and truly in the shoes, particularly in an emotional sense, of people in this situation.
This is one of the real joys of reading. Experiencing someone’s story, and feeling ourselves to be part of it, must be one of the most powerful ways to overcome mistrust and misunderstandings. It’s impossible to see someone as the ‘other’ when you’re seeing what they’re seeing, and feeling what they’re feeling.
But even if we can’t quite manage peace on earth and goodwill to all men, this book is still a brilliant read.
What short story collection would you recommend for Kelly?