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Book Review: The Christmas Card Crime and Other Stories

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The Christmas Card Crime and Other Stories
Edited by Martin Edwards, compilation 2019 (US release)

New Release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: A new collection of little-known stories with a holiday twist from the classic age of crime fiction from British Library Crime Classics.

Like most short fiction collections, this one is hit and miss. Some of these stories are fun, but none of them are exceptional. Several introductions mention that the author rarely wrote short stories or seldom wrote mysteries. Apparently, this is the third collection from this publisher collecting unknown British crime stories on a wintry theme. What I'm trying to say is, they might be scraping the bottom of the barrel at this point.

The first story is by Baroness Orczy of Scarlet Pimpernel fame, and the characters are a lot of fun, although the plot is somewhat lacking. Two of the best stories in the volume follow: “By the Sword,” a tale in which a murder…

Toy/Book Review: The Elf on the Shelf (2005)

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To be clear, I honestly thought I was done writing about Christmas-themed toys. I've reviewed quite a few over the years, but something about the experience wasn't as fulfilling as it once was. It's hard to put my finger on the precise issue--

Oh, wait. Now I remember: no one cared about any of those posts.

At any rate, I've looked at a variety of holiday action figures, dolls, building sets, playsets, a Batmobile, and... whatever the hell this was... but there was one thing that always eluded me. And that, of course, was The Elf on the Shelf.


Obviously, "elude" is a strong choice of words. I've seen countless of these for sale over the years but it's rare to see them marked down significantly. There were times early in the blog's existence I considered paying the full $30 for a chance to mock these little demons publicly. But before I got around to that, I started seeing them parodied and viciously criticized, and... I don't know. It kind fe…

Book Review: A Cup of Holiday Fear

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A Cup of Holiday Fear
Ellie Alexander, 2019

New Release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Jules runs a bakery in charming artistic tourist town Ashland, Oregon, where she is kept busy preparing for the Christmas rush and snooping around after an out-of-towner ends up dead.

I've read quite a few Christmas-themed cozy mysteries by now. Most of them are readable but nothing special.

It wasn't immediately clear from the publisher's description that this takes place well into a series, but it was obvious from the first page. Backstory and past relationships are recapped at length, even when they have nothing to do with the plot of this book.

I have two fairly substantial issues with this book, and in the end, I can't give it a pass.

The first is the mystery itself; it's just uninteresting.

The killer is the obviously mean character, the victim was a horrible person, and the resolution takes place entirely off-screen in…

We Need to Re-Evaluate L. Frank Baum's "The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus"

Content Warning for discussion of genocide and accounts of severe historical racism.

We've reviewed L. Frank Baum's Life and Adventures of Santa Claus in the past, we've written about the Rankin/Bass special, and we've talked it about multiple times. But, in the process of watching the 2000 animated adaptation for the first time, I wanted to go back and revisit the book, as well as its sequels.

So I did. I wrote an extremely long article discussing the merits and flaws of the work (some of the writing is pretty but most of it is kind of boring) and how influential it was (it probably created one of Santa's two primary origin stories, it's more or less the basis for all the Rankin/Bass specials, and its sequels, "A Kidnapped Santa Claus" and "How the Woggle-Bug and his Friends Visited Santa Claus," are probably why we have Nightmare Before Christmas).

I went through the plots, the characters, all of it. It was a lot of work, and I think I did…

Book Review: Nothing Lasts Forever, by Roderick Thorp (1979)

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Nothing Lasts Forever is, arguably, the most influential Christmas novel written since A Christmas Carol, and if it's title hadn't been changed when it was adapted into a movie nine years later, I wouldn't have to explain why.

That movie, incidentally, was Die Hard.

I'm not sure what I expected from the book, but it wasn't this. I knew going in it was a sequel to a novel Thorp wrote in 1966 called The Detective. I've never read that, but I have seen the film adaptation, which starred Frank Sinatra in the lead role. It's pretty obvious from reading Nothing Lasts Forever that Thorp wrote this with Sinatra in mind.

The plot. It's exactly the same as the movie's. Also, it's completely different.

The book starts with Joe Leland (they changed his name along with the title for the film) being driven to the airport on Christmas Eve. Leland isn't actually a detective anymore: he left that profession at the end of the first book and became a security…

Book Review: Plum Pudding Murder

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Plum Pudding Murder
Joanne Fluke, 2009

I have been known to pick up Christmas-themed books on the cheap pretty often and this is one of those cheap reads. It's another cozy mystery, and this one not only reads like a Hallmark movie, it was turned into a literal Hallmark movie.

It's the twelfth book in this series, so while all the backstory and name-checking earlier events and established relationships is boring, it's at least excusable.

Okay, I said it was a cozy, right? Let's check off the tropes: Hannah owns a cookie shop, is dating a law enforcement guy, and is known to stumble into murders. I was briefly intrigued by the fact that she is also dating a dentist and all three parties seemed happy enough with their relationships. It seemed like a sympathetic portrayal of people who didn't feel the need to lock down a monogamous heterosexual marriage and were comfortable with that. Of course, later the guys both showed little jealousies, and the narrative clearly c…

Book Review: The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain

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We all know A Christmas Carol was a great success, but what about the stories that tried to follow it? Dickens released four more special Christmas volumes following the publication of A Christmas Carol. I'm reading through them all this year.


The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain, A Fancy for Christmas-Time
Charles Dickens, 1848

For the final one of his “Christmas Books,” Dickens returns both to Christmas and firmly to the supernatural.

If The Chimes is a morality play, The Cricket on the Hearth is a romantic comedy, and The Battle of Life is a soap opera, The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain is an episode of the Twilight Zone. It’s a well-done, if straightforward, “be careful what you wish for” tale.

The story follows Professor Redlaw, who is said to look “haunted.” He was wronged as a young man when a friend married his sister, leading to her death (I think - this part of the plot is fairly vague), and he thinks constantly about this. One year at Christmas, a phantom who lo…

Book Review: On Her Majesty's Secret Service

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On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Ian Fleming, 1963

So when we were researching Christmas espionage for the podcast, I realized I never wrote a review of this novel. And that was an oversight that could not stand.

I need to start by saying that I enjoy the Bond books. They are dated. They are sometimes awful. But I love the style, and I love how much more complex they are than the films.

For one thing, the series, taken as a whole, is the story of a man who has a thankless, terrible job that forces him to be a heartless weapon. The books very seldom glamorize the life of a spy.

In On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Bond is tired of it all. He's ready to chuck the whole career in the bin, and he grasps at his whirlwind romance with Tracy as one bright thing, a light at the end of the tunnel. When we meet her, she's traumatized and suicidal after being abandoned by a husband and the death of a child. Bond is drawn to her need for rescue, but we never see whether the relation…

Book Review: The Battle of Life

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We all know A Christmas Carol was a great success, but what about the stories that tried to follow it? Dickens released four more special Christmas volumes following the publication of A Christmas Carol. I'm reading through them all this year.


The Battle of Life: A Love Story
Charles Dickens, 1846

This third novella wasn’t as unfocused and odd as The Chimes or as charming as The Cricket on the Hearth. It was just sort of... there.

If anything, it’s even less Christmassy, as one important scene takes place at “the Christmas season” and the rest is vague, but probably not in winter.

The story takes place in a village that sits on the site of an ancient battle. Many characters make reference to the history, and the primary thematic conflict is between the older men who believe that in contrast to the past, life is “too easy” or “a joke,” and the young people, who believe that everyone is struggling in their ways, and just because their battles are of the heart does not make them less …

Book Review: In Peppermint Peril

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In Peppermint Peril
Joy Avon, 2018

New Release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

I almost didn’t write a review for this book, because I sort of felt bad. Unless it’s a new pseudonym (completely possible) this is the first book by a new author. And it’s not horrible, it’s just sort of broken. It’s a mishmash of mystery tropes that doesn’t recognize why some work together and others don’t.

It’s a holiday mystery that has little to do with the holiday. It has Agatha Christie elements but only sometimes. It has many, many side elements that read like references to previous books (that don’t exist). Worst of all, it’s a cozy mystery with a boring main character.

Cozy mysteries live and die by their leads. Almost always female, commonly bakers or small business owners, most modern cozy leads have romantic plots with happy endings or they have husbands who endorse their part-time mystery solving. Not every mystery lead has to be a winner - usually you …

Book Review: The Cricket on the Hearth

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We all know A Christmas Carol was a great success, but what about the stories that tried to follow it? Dickens released four more special Christmas volumes following the publication of A Christmas Carol. I'm reading through them all this year.


The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairy Tale of Home
Charles Dickens, 1845

This is the only one of these stories that I had heard the title of before doing any research. Like The Chimes, it’s not explicitly a Christmas story (it’s set in early January), but it was released in December as part of Dickens’ sequence of illustrated holiday novellas. Unlike The Chimes, there’s a lot to enjoy about this one.

The Cricket on the Hearth is sort of like if Dickens wrote a romcom. There’s a little supernatural stuff and a little moralizing, but most of it is just delightful character studies and misunderstandings that get resolved to everyone’s happiness at the end.

The story starts with Dot Peerybingle, a young woman happy in her home and her life with her …

Book Review: The Chimes

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We all know A Christmas Carol was a great success, but what about the stories that tried to follow it? Dickens released four more special Christmas volumes following the publication of A Christmas Carol. I'm reading through them all this year.


The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In
Charles Dickens, 1844

Wow. I wasn't really expecting greatness with these, but I am surprised how much this actually feels like a knock-off of A Christmas Carol. Dickens saw so much success from Carol that it makes sense that he would try to recreate that magic, but this piece just... doesn't work.

It follows Trotty, a poor elderly man who scrapes together a living running errands for people and is easily swayed by other people's opinions. His daughter brings him a lunch treat on New Year's Eve with the news that she and her sweetheart are getting married. Then some rich jerks see them and lay down a bunch of relatively nonsensical shaming - t…

Book Review: The Santa Claus Man: The Rise and Fall of a Jazz Age Con Man

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The Santa Claus Man: The Rise and Fall of a Jazz Age Con Man and the Invention of Christmas in New York
Alex Palmer, 2015

Premise: In the early 1900s, more children began to write letters to Santa, and the Post Office asked for help. Enter John Duval Gluck Jr. and his creation: The Santa Claus Association.

This was an interesting book overall, although the payoff is smaller than I would have preferred.

The book paints a complex and intriguing picture of New York in the first few decades of the twentieth century, particularly around Christmas. The specific story of Gluck and his various "charities" is only the largest thread; the book also explores early influences on the image of Santa, how various staples of Christmas (public tree-lightings, parades, etc.) started or became notable in New York City.

I actually thought the information about how children came to write to Santa in the first place and how it was affected by the spread of efficient mail service was one of the mo…

Book Review: Krampusnacht: Twelve Nights of Krampus

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Krampusnacht: Twelve Nights of Krampus
Edited by Kate Wolford, 2014

Premise: Twelve short stories about Krampus. Variously known as the Christmas demon, the punisher of naughty children, and the star of severalrecent horror movies, Krampus has been having a bit of a moment recently.

Anthologies are generally hit and miss, and in attempting to please many tastes, this one definitely had some misses for me.

It starts fairly strong. "Prodigious" by Elizabeth Twist straddles myth and contemporary fiction tropes decently with a young man who plays Krampus at a toy store. "The Wicked Child" by Elise Forier Edie follows with something akin to a fairy tale, blending aspects of St Nicholas and Black Peter.

"Marching Krampus" by Jill Corddry was not short or funny enough for its thin "bratty sibling revenge" concept.

"Peppermint Sticks" by Colleen H. Robbins has some strong ideas about a darker interpretation of Christmas elves, but I didn't …

Book Review: The Silence of the Elves

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The Silence of the Elves
Meg Muldoon, 2016

Premise: Holly's been demoted right out of the North Pole through no fault of her own, but she'll need more than hope to get her life back on track.

You may recall that I kind of liked another one of Meg Muldoon's holiday-themed cozy mysteries, so when I saw she had a new series that was explicitly about Christmas elves, I had to try it.

Unfortunately, I feel that this book was the author attempting to move outside her personal formula and failing. It's a bit like a palette swap. Nothing about the Christmas-elf premise felt committed to or explored fully, just pasted on.

There's a thin veneer of elf-ness: Holly mentions her elf instincts to be cheerful, kind, and festive, but we never really see this play out to a greater extent than it would with a naturally cheerful person. The elves are basically indistinguishable from humans, and while Santa, Mrs. Claus, and some extended relations are characters, they are indistinguis…

The Mensch on a Bench Hanukkah Activity Kit

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In addition to the crappy doll I've already reviewed, The Mensch on a Bench brand has expanded to infect numerous products. I've seen ads for toy animals, and more dolls. And, of course, the activity kit I'm looking at today.

Do I even need to specify I found this on clearance? I got it at Michael's for 70% off the original price, which was still $2.99 I'm never going to see again.


Among the lies I found on the packaging were that there were eight Hanukkah card inside - mine only included SEVEN. Also, this claims the book includes "10 Fun Activities," when none of the activities were fun.


Setting that aside for a moment, let's look at what's included. There are the aforementioned eight (seven) identical Hanukkah cards and envelopes, six crayons, four markers, two sticker sheets, and the activity book. The cards are ugly, the crayons and markers are cheap, and the stickers are... well, they're stickers - not much to say there. Almost everythin…

The Mensch on a Bench

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While I haven't actually gotten my hands on an Elf on the Shelf yet, I've heard a great deal about it. And from that, I suspect The Mensch on a Bench may be just as good an idea as the Elf.

If you think that's a compliment, you probably don't know much about Elf on a Shelf.

The "Mensch on a Bench" was introduced to the world on Shark Tank. Sadly, they gave it an influx of cash and some publicity instead of letting it die there.

Like the product this is clearly ripping off, The Mensch on a Bench includes a book and stuffed doll. Also, it sits in your house, sleepless and ever watchful, judging your children.


You also get a removable cardboard bench, because "mensch" doesn't rhyme with "shelf." The doll is fine, if unremarkable. I doubt he'd stay on his bench without being tethered to it, though.

The story of the Mensch on a Bench is essentially the story of Hanukkah with all the interesting war stuff excised. Instead, Moshe the Men…

Book Review: Holidays on Ice

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Holidays on Ice
David Sedaris, 2008

I haven't been subjected to this unpleasant an attempt at "humor" in some time.

I thought I knew what I was getting into with this, and I expected it to be mixed. Erin spoke in the past about how much he disliked most of the Sedaris segments on This American Life.

The first story is the most famous: the author's lightly fictionalized account of working in Macy's Santaland. It's not bad, I guess. Aspects of it are amusing. However, I have a certain personal affection for the hardworking Macy's elves, the flagship store itself, and the young aspiring theater folk of New York, so I found the author's "ironic" cynicism unamusing and tedious.

The narrators in the four stories that follow are universally unlikable. Even though the point is often for the reader to therefore feel superior to the humorless adult who misses the point of a children's play or the murderous, racist grandmother, that doesn't act…

Book Review: Dreaming of a White Wolf Christmas

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Dreaming of a White Wolf Christmas
Terry Spear, 2017

New Release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.


I sort of hate that I'm spending any more time and energy on this godforsaken turd of a book.

The heroine starts out on a camping trip, where she's bitten by what honestly sounds like a fluffy puppy. After some terrible description and confusion on my part, I guess that must have been a wolf because now she's a werewolf. She sees a mysterious wolf across a river. And that's the set-up.

Two years later, she has abandoned her friends and family to live alone and write paranormal romance. The author spends endless pages introducing the male lead by recapping what sounds like at least a dozen earlier books, none of which have any bearing on the events of THIS book.

The male lead is a PI who's been hired to find her because her adoptive parents died and left her money. It's mentioned a few times that the heroine is adopted, which…

Book Review: If the Fates Allow

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If the Fates Allow
Edited by Annie Harper, 2017

New Release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Five stories of love, hope, and forgiveness at the holidays.

Do you need some warm and fuzzy holiday cheer? Do you love love?

This new collection features five LGBTQ holiday romances that make your heart feel full of sugarplums. I smiled and sighed and giggled. It's seriously sweet, without being too sweet.

The first author, Killian Brewer, starts off strong with "Gracious Living Magazine Says It Must Be a Live Tree." Marcus wants his first Christmas with his boyfriend to be perfect, and his grandmother's friends are there to help.

"True North" by Pene Henson follows a WNBA star who goes home for the holidays with a friend, only to navigate her family's misguided assumptions and her high school crush.

Erin Finnegan brings us "Last Call at the Casa Blanca Bar & Grill," in which a young political advise…