Monthly Archives: December 2010

Challenge Wrap-Up: What’s In a Name

I actually finished the last book for this challenge more than two weeks ago, but neglected to post the wrap-up!

What’s in a Name

Host: Beth F


Goal: Read books with titles that contain a word in each of the following categories: food, body of water, title, plant, place name and a music term.


1. (Food) The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy [review]

– This ended up being one of my favorite books I read this year, a great romp in France with the irresponsible but irrepressible Sally Jay Gorce.

2. (Body of Water) River Secrets by Shannon Hale [review]

I was a little nervous of Hale writing a male protagonist, as all I’d read of her books prior to River Secrets had female protagonists.  However, this book ended up being my favorite so far of the Books of Bayern.

3. (Title) Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George [review]

I enjoyed this while I was reading it, but it’s not an especially memorable book now.

4. (Plant) You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up by Annabelle Gurwitch and Jeff Kahn [review]

I remember this book reminded me a lot of Ayelet Waldman’s Bad Mother, which I also read this year.  Unfortunately for Gurwitch and Kahn’s book, I liked Waldman’s book much better.

5. (Place Name) Stasiland: Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder [review]

Another favorite read of the year!  It features excellent accounts from citizens of the former German Democratic Republic.

6. (Musical Term) La’s Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith [review]

My first book by the prolific McCall Smith k and it was rather underwhelming.

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Five favorite Christmas music albums

One of my favorite aspects of this time of year is breaking out my Christmas CD’s.   Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day is open season.  Outside of that time, I do not play Christmas music, except if I need to practice for an upcoming Christmas church service performance.

I first started collecting Christmas CD’s in college.  I think the first two were Point of Grace’s album, A Christmas Story and The Nutcracker Suite.  Since then, I’ve acquired at least one new album every year.

My taste in Christmas music runs to carols and classics, and fairly traditional versions of those.  I am open to new and different musical interpretations of traditional holiday songs, but there have been some really, really awful results, so I have to be careful.

I just tried to create a list of my favorite Christmas songs, but soon realized how long a list that would be.  I’ll just throw out a few: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, “O Come O Come Emmanuel” “Coventry Carol” “Carol of the Bells” “Sleigh Ride” “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)”.

My list of Christmas songs that I don’t like is shorter – inane pop songs like “Last Christmas,” and most songs with Santa in the title.  It’s not a principle thing with the Santa songs, but they tend not to be that good.  “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, “Santa Baby,” “Here Comes Santa Claus,” “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” . . . I’ll go as far as tolerating them, but I don’t enjoy them.

More to the point, however, here are my favorite Christmas albums from my collection:

1. Point of Grace – A Christmas Story

I thought I should start off with one of my first Christmas CD’s.  If you haven’t hear of them, Point of Grace is a contemporary Christian music group made up of four women.  Their blend of voices works perfectly for Christmas songs.  I like their medleys of “Let it Snow/Sleigh Ride” and “Carol of the Bells / What Child is This.”  Their original songs slide in smoothly with the carols for the most part.

2. Anuna – Winter Songs (also sold under the title Christmas Songs)

This is an album of ethereal, almost other-worldly beauty and a favorite of my family’s when we all get together.

Here is a youtube video of their gorgeous version of “Silent Night”:

3. Burl Ives’ Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

I don’t feel compelled to watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer every Christmas, but I really love listening to the music.  When I was little, I was especially taken with the song “There’s Always Tomorrow” which Rudolph’s little reindeer girlfriend sings to him.  This is definitely a nostalgia-packed CD for me.


4.  Cherish the Ladies – On Christmas Night

Truth be told, this might be my #1 Christmas album.  It’s a tremendously appealing mix of sung carols and Irish reels and jigs.

Here’s a video with samplings from the album:

5. Over the Rhine – Snow Angels

In a departure from my usual Christmas music fare, this album is comprised mostly of original music by husband/wife Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist.  The songs are soulful and a bit melancholy.  My roommate calls this a coffeehouse Christmas album.

Karin Bergquist’s voice is so low, lovely and creative.  My favorite song is probably “White Horse” but I also dearly like “All I Ever Get For Christmas is Blue” and “Darlin'”.

A couple of other good albums from my collection deserving of mention:

David Benoit – Remembering Christmas: The influence of this jazz pianist’s close association with Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown is clear on this instrumental album.

Jerry Read Smith & Lisa Marie Smith – One Wintry Night: features dulcimer / flute instrumentals

The following video is not from the Christmas album, but it gives an idea of the style:




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The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

2009 (audio).  High Bridge Audio.  8 discs. 9.5 hrs

Translation (2008) by Alison Anderson

Readers: Barbara Rosenblat as Renee and Cassandra Morris as Paloma.

In a nutshell:

Renee Michel is the concierge at a Parisian apartment building inhabited by the rich and pretentious.  She keeps up a dull facade to the tenants but has an active life of the mind, fueled by philosophy books, Tolstoy and Japanese films.  Paloma Josse is a 12 year old girl whose family resides in the building.  She too is very intelligent but despairs of finding meaning to life.

When a kind and observant Japanese gentleman moves into a recently vacated flat in their building, his friendship with both Paloma and Renee will cause them to reassess their view of life.


Have you ever listened to a person rant about how only he or she sees the world clearly, and all other people are mindless sheep?  I’ve mostly encountered this sort of person on the internet, especially in the comment sections of news articles.  (One of the many reasons why one should avoid the online comment sections of news articles – it’s better for the blood pressure.)

Renee and Paloma remind me of that person.  The beginning of the book, especially, is riddled with almost-misanthropic musings.  The introduction of the inperturbably gentle Mr. Ozu as a character was a welcome reprieve to all the bitterness.  Also Renee and Paloma’s commentary on the world around them softens as a result of their acquaintance with Mr. Ozu.  I was definitely a fan of Mr. Ozu.  He reminds me of those awesome souls who approach relationships simply and without pretense, who seem never to have heard of the word ‘angst.’

I was not an overall fan of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, however.  A major portion of the book consists of either Renee or Paloma’s inner discourse on a subject or insight into an observed event.  I don’t object to this rambling style in and of itself, but the content better be worth dragging the reader down into it.  Unfortunately, I did not find the content to be all that illuminating or intriguing.  Yes, there were some passages that I did enjoy, but mostly they teetered on being tedious.  I think I would have managed worse in print.  Both audio book narrators were very capable and this helped me through the long-winded nature of their characters’ inner monologues.

Barbery’s decision to throw some abrupt and unnecessary drama into the ending further soured me on the book.  Throughout the book, the characters are defined by their grasp of subtlety in an obtuse world.  The plot twist at the end seemed decidedly unsubtle in its play for the reader’s emotions.

I’m glad I finished the book, if only so I can throw my opinion into the mixed bag of responses to The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

Other reviews:

books i done read – hilarious (negative) review that is too spoiler-iffic to quote here.

Shelf Love – “I understand that the author is a professor of philosophy. This shows in the elegance with which she discusses ideas. But she is also a writer who gives us a lovely story peopled with interesting characters, and manages to tug at our heartstrings, too.”

Vulpes Libris – “At times, these [digressions] read like a rather transparent vehicle for the author’s pet subjects . . . and the integrity of the characters’ voices sometimes suffers as a result.”


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