Virtual Advent Tour 2011 | Twelve Books of Christmas, Part 2

I love giving and receiving books for Christmas! I’ve discovered quite a few new favourite writers from gifts (mostly from my sister, who gives awesome book recommendations!), and I love the thrill of receiving a book I may not necessarily have chosen for myself.

Part 1 of this list, posted this morning, is here.

Books featured in Part 1 are as follows:
(Note: Feel free to click on the thumbnail to be taken directly to that book.)

Scroll down or click on the cover image to go to that specific write up.


7. Look I Made a Hat, Stephen Sondheim


The sequel to the equally fantastic Finishing the Hat, Look I Made a Hat features lyrics from Stephen Sondheim’s musicals from 1981 – 2011. We also get materials from his TV and film career and (probably coolest for any Sondheim fan) never before seen material from unproduced projects.

As with Finishing, I love the intimate nature of this book, with anecdotes and commentary by Sondheim, production photos and copies of his hand-written notes and drafts. We get both a celebration of his public work and a peek into his private, creative process. Fantastic gift for Sondheim fans, and heck, musical theatre fans in general.

Even better, Knopf is coming out with the Hat Box this December! Both Finishing the Hat and Look, I Made a Hat in a pretty gold box. I wish the boxed set offered a bit more extra features than just the box (say, a bonus CD of Sondheim’s personally selected favourites?), just to give us more of an incentive to buy the box set instead of the individual books.

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8. I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, Alan Bradley

All I want for Christmas is Flavia! I Am Half-Sick of Shadows is the fourth book is Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series, and my personal favourite so far. It combines Christmas, Flavia and film — three of my favourite things! Bradley even adds a dash of Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet is far from my favourite Shakespeare, but the story behind the de Luce copy of the play is heartwarming. I also love the sly nods to Agatha Christie — the country home cozy mystery plot, the inspector’s dry remark “Just like an Agatha Christie,” and the book’s title, from Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shallot,” surely a nod to the Miss Marple mystery The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side, which also owes its title to that poem.

Shadows is a light hearted, enjoyable mystery with a fascinating cast of characters. Even Flavia’s usually mean, sometimes cruel, sisters feel the holiday glow, and we see a bit more of the de Luce as a family here than in previous books. Bradley has created a world, idyllic yet sinister, and you just want to lose yourself in it.

My full, gushing review is here.

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9. Up Up Up, Julie Booker

Back in the spring, I gushed about how much I love Julie Booker’s short story collection Up Up Up. The stories are funny because they’re true, and tragic because they’re so true all you can do is laugh. Each one packs a little punch, and if you’ve ever spoken to Julie Booker on Twitter, you probably already have an idea of her quick, razor sharp punchlines.

Her stories talk about speed dating (it has “lots in common” with a mall food court: “quick turnover, a story at every table…and some who always leave a trail of garbage”), female friendship (“two fat ladies in a kayak! In skintight wetsuits. Eek!”), and careers (e.g. a woman from “Bumfuck-Nowhere, Ontario” insisting on teaching only in French). I recognized myself in her stories, and chances are, so will lots of other women.

Great choice to stimulate feminine bonding. For more details, my full review here.

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10. Before I Go to Sleep, S.J. Watson

Before I Go to Sleep literally kept me up all night. Imagine losing your memory every time you went to sleep. That’s what Christine has to face every morning. Unable to trust even herself, she can only trust her husband, whom she recognizes only because of Post-it notes on the bathroom mirror saying “this is your husband.” Then she receives a phone call from a doctor she can’t remember, who tells her to meet him and not let her husband know.

Christine’s life is my idea of a nightmare, and S.J. Watson crafts his tale masterfully. Each new revelation makes you want to keep turning the page. No matter how spooked you are by what you find out, you can only imagine how terrified Christine must feel — she’s finding things out right along with you, and while you can close the book (a near impossible feat, once you begin, but it must be possible, right?), this is her life you’re reading about.

Fiction, but certainly feels like it could be real. Before I Go to Sleep won a CWA Dagger for “new blood,” and I can definitely see why.

Harper Collins Canada blog Savvy Reader was kind enough to post my review of this book, if you want to read more.

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11. Stroll, Shawn Micallef

Whenever I travel, I love setting aside at least a few hours just to wander. Package tours and tourist destinations are great, but there’s a charm as well in exploring the city like a local, just absorbing the place. Shawn Micallef offers us this experience in Stroll, and invites us to discover Toronto with him, at the pace of a stroll.

Micallef is a flaneur, which, as I’ve actually just discovered from this book, is, “someone who wanders the city with the sole purpose of paying attention to it.” More than just a guidebook or a history book, Stroll is a walking tour of Toronto, in a small, easy to carry volume. Micallef’s descriptions are detailed, coupled with convenient map illustrations by Marlena Zuber, and each section begins with handy tips, like “day trip,” or “off spring friendly,” or my personal favourite, “dress to impress.”

Great book to give someone who’s just moved to Toronto or who is or will be visiting Toronto. Also great for longtime residents who, like me, still have so many areas left to explore.

In his Flaneur Manifesto, Micallef writes:

Over and over, we’re told that Toronto is not Paris, New York, London or Tokyo. We’ve been trained to be underwhelmed.

[…] Any Toronto flaneur knows that exploring this city makes the burden of civic self-depracation disappear. And anybody can be a Toronto flaneur.

Sounds like fun.

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12. Vanity Fair: The Portraits, Graydon Carter

I love the portraits in Vanity Fair magazines. Vanity Fair: The Portraits collects 300 of its iconic portraits in a beautiful coffee table book. Photographers include such talented names as Cecil Beaton, Annie Leibovitz and Edward Steichen. Subjects include such 20th century legends as Pablo Picasso, Katharine Hepburn and Amelia Earhart.

It’s a beautiful book, and it showcases some of the most influential figures in the past century.

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Lots of fantastic books out there! What book are you giving this holiday season? What book do you have on your wish list?

Happy holidays!

2 thoughts on “Virtual Advent Tour 2011 | Twelve Books of Christmas, Part 2

  1. Pingback: Virtual Advent Tour 2011 | Twelve Books for Christmas, Part 1 | Literary Treats

  2. Pingback: Review | Full Frontal T.O., Patrick Cummins and Shawn Micallef | Literary Treats

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