Tag Archives: seasonal

Snow on Snow

“Snow had fallen, snow on snow”. In the Bleak Midwinter, Christina Rosetti


One of the more insidious and effective ways that “the holiday spirit” gets to us is through seasonal music. You can’t escape it. There’s no agreement as to when the “season” begins. After Halloween, surely. PROBABLY after Remembrance Day, right? But when? December 1st? The first Sunday in Advent? Grey Cup? Whatever you use to define the beginning of the holiday season, there’s no doubt that we are reaching the “peak cheer” zone this week.

The holiday season for me is all about traditions, and I like to listen to the same handful of albums year in and year out. They connect me to Christmases past and fill me with warmth and good feelings. Are any of these on your favourites list?

A Charlie Brown Christmas by Vince Guaraldi


I remember watching this tv special even back before you could record it on VCRs, so you had to plan ahead to make sure you didn’t miss it. I still try to watch it at least once a year with my daughter, although it’s clear that it doesn’t hold the same meaning for her. Maybe that will change once she sees the live action version of it, currently playing at Manitoba Theatre for Young People.

The Bells of Dublin by The Chieftains


I often think of this album as the Christmas album for people who hate Christmas albums. It shies away from the more well known carols, and opts instead for songs like The Rebel Jesus, The St. Stephen’s Day Murders and Past Three O’clock. At various points during the album you can hear long medleys of various carols played in a live setting, and it really creates the impression that you are eavesdropping on a bunch of talented musicians jamming and having a great time, in the tradition of a Celtic kitchen party.

Christmas by Bruce Cockburn


I would include this album EVEN IF I didn’t feel a certain obligation to have some Canadian content in this list. Even though this album came out in 1993, it is the most recent addition to my regular rotation, joining the others just a few Christmases ago. I like the folksy, upbeat treatment most of the songs on this album get, especially Mary Had A Baby, I saw Three Ships and that most Canadian of Christmas Carols (No, not River by Joni Mitchell, you guys), The Huron Carol.

James Taylor at Christmas by James Taylor


You know, sometimes you just want to hear a schmaltzy Christmas album, and James Taylor doesn’t disappoint. He kicks things off with Winter Wonderland and gamely works his way through many contemporary classics, like Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Jingle Bells, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and the problematic Baby It’s Cold Outside with Natalie Cole. It’s not all tinsel and marshmallows, though. We get a lovely rendition of In The Bleak Midwinter towards the end, one of my favourite traditional carols, and one that feels like it was written especially for our part of the world.

What are some of your perennial favourites, and have you found any interesting new ones this year? Let us know in the comments below.


‘Tis the season to be reading!

Thanks to Mother Nature, it’s finally feeling pretty Christmassy outside. Inside the library, we’ve got you covered for seasonal romance and mystery. I’ve spent the past few months ordering all sorts of Christmas goodies for our readers, including stories with ho-ho-hot rogues, magical mistletoe, paranormal presents, and cozy Christmas sleuths. The current offerings provide something for every taste, so get comfy under a blanket (or mistletoe!), pour yourself a cup of something hot (alcoholic or not!), and check out the books below.

Making Spirits Bright by Fern Michaelsmaking-spirits-bright

This swoon-worthy collection of novellas hits the holiday sweet spot. In the title story, singleton Melanie McLaughlin dreams of adopting far more than she frets about her empty love life, but everything comes together when she’s offered two children orphaned by a terrible car crash and twinkle-eyed Bryce Landry steals her heart along with his offer to give the kids “the best Christmas ever.” Elizabeth Bass cooks up a tear-jerker in “Runaway Christmas” as spunky Texas teen Erica, trying to get back on track after her mother’s death, decides to spend Christmas with a family friend in Brooklyn. Rosalind Noonan’s “Home for Christmas,” a tale of a single mother falling for a wounded soldier returning from Afghanistan, is sure to tug the heartstrings. Nan Rossiter’s “Christmas on Cape Cod” delivers a dog-lover’s dream.

Fields Where They Lay by Timonthy Hallinan fields-where-they-lay
It’s three days until Christmas and Junior Bender, Hollywood’s fast-talking fixer for the felonious, is up to his ears in shopping mall Santas, Russian mobsters, desperate holiday shoppers, and (’tis the season) murder, in this sixth entry in the Junior Bender Holiday Mystery series (after King Maybe). The halls are decked, the deck is stacked, and here comes that jolly old elf. Junior Bender, divorced father of one and burglar extraordinaire, finds himself stuck inside the Edgerton Mall, and not just as a last-minute shopper (though he is that too). Edgerton isn’t exactly the epicenter of holiday cheer, despite its two Santas, canned Christmas music, chintzy bows, and festive lights. The mall is a fossil of an industry in decline; many of its stores are closed, and to make matters worse, there is a rampant shoplifting problem. The murderous Russian mobster who owns the place has decided it takes a thief to catch a thief and hires Junior–under threat–to solve the shoplifting problem for him. But Junior’s surveillance operation doesn’t go well: as Christmas Eve approaches, two people are dead and it’s obvious that shoplifting is the least of the mall’s problems. To prevent further deaths, possibly including his own, Junior must confront his dread of Christmas–both present and past.


christmas-brideA Christmas Bride by Hope Ramsay

‘Tis the season in Shenandoah Falls and the first time Willow Peterson has been home in years. But she’s determined to fulfill the wishes of her recently deceased best friend and restore Eagle Hill Manor to its former glory–all in time to host the perfect holiday wedding. She just has to get the owner of the historic inn to hire her. Unfortunately, that means dealing with Scrooge himself.
After the death of his wife, David Lyndon has a bah-humbug approach to Christmas. But as December counts down and the wedding planning is in full swing, it’s harder and harder to stay immune to the charms of Willow, especially when he sees how much joy she brings his eight-year-old daughter. After a simple kiss under the mistletoe turns into something more, David is hoping he can turn the magic of the holiday season into the love of a lifetime.

The Twelve Dogs of Christmas by David Rosenfelttwelve-dogs-of-christmas

Martha “Pups” Boyer, who’s at the center of Edgar-finalist Rosenfelt’s entertaining 15th legal thriller featuring Patterson, N.J., attorney Andy Carpenter (after Outfoxed), earned her nickname for her efforts to take in stray puppies that the local animal shelter can’t handle and find them permanent homes. Near the holidays, Pups’s new neighbor, Randy Hennessey, reports her for keeping more than the legal limit of animals. Andy, a long-time friend of Pups, figures that puppies and Christmas are key words that will ensure that the case is dismissed. He’s right. But when Randy turns up dead, Pups is arrested for his murder. The evidence is stacked against her, but Andy refuses to believe Pups guilty. On the other hand, Andy and his team discover some alarming discrepancies when they dig through the assets of the wealthy Pups and her late husband.


holiday-temptationHoliday Temptation by Donna Hill, Farrah Rochon, and K.M. Jackson

Three unlikely couples heat up the pages in this sensual trio of holiday. An aspiring playwright and a barista who is more than he seems learn to trust their hearts in Hill’s passionate “A Gift of Love”; a chance meeting in Istanbul’s spice market turns into something more for a Christmas-phobic photographer and techie craft brewer when the fates and the weather get into the act in Farrah Rochon’s affecting “Holiday Spice”; and a hard-driving real estate mogul hires a health-conscious chef to improve his diet and lifestyle during a business trip aboard his yacht and gets more than he bargained for in K.M. Jackson’s pert “From Here to Serenity.”


We Wish You a Murderous Christmas by Vicki Delanywe-wish-you-a-murderous-christmas

In Delany’s second book in the Year-Round Christmas Mystery series (after Rest Ye Murdered Gentlemen), Merry Wilkinson is content with life in Rudolph, NY, where she runs a Christmas shop. The town has reinvented itself as a holiday-themed tourist destination full of indie businesses. So when the owner of the Yuletide Inn lands in the hospital following a heart attack, and his son, Gord, swoops in to convert the inn into a franchise of a budget hotel chain and sell land to a big-box store, the community is in an uproar. They’re almost relieved when Gord is murdered, until their resident Santa, Merry’s father, is questioned. Now Merry will have to find the real killer before her dad ends up in jail and the holiday is ruined.

it-must-be-christmasIt Must Be Christmas by Jennifer Crusie, Donna Alward, and Mandy Baxter

Three novellas with a delightful assortment of settings sweep readers off their feet with stories that highlight a variety of holiday experiences. A university librarian and a professor of Chinese lit (with a secret agenda) trade barbs and kisses as they spend Christmas Eve searching for an elusive action figure for a five-year-old in Crusie’s nonstop chuckler “Hot Toy”; a small-town doctor and an ex-Navy SEAL dad are thrown together when they find a newborn in the Christmas crèche in Donna Alward’s insightful “Christmas at Seashell Cottage”; and a wealthy rancher who wants nothing to do with his late father’s money finds romance with the founder of a sports-related charity for at-risk kids in Mandy Baxter’s steamy “Christmas with the Billionaire Rancher.” Library Journal states: “spirited, refreshing, and brimming with holiday joy, this diverse trilogy delivers both sexy and sweet, providing a little something for everyone.”

The Last Chance Christmas Ball by Mary Jo Putney and otherslast-chance-christmas-ball

Eight romance authors (collectively known as the Word Wenches) walk into a Regency-era ballroom and wreak fabulous, shimmering holiday mischief all over the place. The Dowager Countess of Holbourne is hosting an extravagant Christmas ball, and the guest list includes some of the loveliest, loneliest people in high society. Publisher’s Weekly states: “The best of the stories woven around this premise are Joanna Bourne’s ‘My True Love Hath My Heart,’ in which a little larceny spices a long-smoldering romance; Susan King’s ‘A Scottish Carol,’ wherein snowbound lovers never quite make it to the ball; and a maiden’s romantic rescue from a young ladies’ seminary in Anne Gracie’s ‘Mistletoe Kisses.’ The characters are smart and attractive-so much so that it can be hard to believe the ball is their only chance to find love-and their stories are delicious and appealing.”

our-first-christmasOur First Christmas by Lisa Jackson, Mary Burton, Mary Carter, and Cathy Lamb

Join four of the most favorite romance authors for tales of Christmas romance to remember forever.   In Lisa Jackson’s “Under the Mistletoe,” Megan Johnson’s marriage is over—or so she thinks. When her husband Chris lands in the hospital, she remembers the unexpected joy of their first Christmas together. The holidays bring painful memories for history professor Marisa Thompson in Mary Burton’s “A Ranger for Christmas.” But agreeing to help Texas Ranger Lucas Cooper solve a case presents her with more than a distraction. In Mary Carter’s “A Southern Christmas,” reporter Danielle Bright is heading home to write about Christmas down south—and possibly win back her ex. But Sawyer, the sexy photographer, is determined to jingle her bells. Family is where you go after quitting your job, but Laurel Kelly isn’t prepared for the changes at home in Montana—or the fact that her high school boyfriend now owns the family land in “A Ranger for Christmas” by Mary Burton.

Deck the Hallways by Kate Carlisledeck-the-hallways

Contractor Shannon Hammer is back in Carlisle’s fourth “Fixer-Upper” mystery, an entertaining Christmas cozy. Shannon’s latest project is overseeing the remodeling of an old Victorian mansion into apartments for families in need. Since the bank donated the foreclosed house to the Holiday Homebuilders, company representative Mr. Potter is sent to keep an eye on the progress. However, he manages to harass and fight with several of the workers, including Shannon’s dad, then ends up murdered, leaving a long list of suspects. Hoping to keep her father off the list of potential killers and get the renovation back on track, Shannon does some amateur sleuthing.

trouble-with-mistletoeThe Trouble with Mistletoe by Jill Shalvis

Fans of Shalvis’s Sweet Little Lies will surely want to pick up her second Heartbreaker Bay contemporary, which is also very accessible to new readers. The series’s cuddliness factor is amped up to 11 with redheaded Willa Davis and her San Francisco pet store, South Bark Mutt Shop. Willa’s single and happy that way; she gets her daily dose of love from half a dozen eight-week-old golden retriever pups and the other lost animal souls she tends. Then handsome Keane Winters, a man from her past, shows up with Petunia, a Siamese cat he’s nicknamed Pita because she’s a pain in the ass. Pita is his great-aunt’s pet, and he needs all the cat counseling he can get, but Willa, Christmas spirit notwithstanding, would just as soon he seek it elsewhere. Willa’s a gem, Keane’s a hunk-tool belt and all-and the two spar as only Shalvis’s characters can, fighting a losing battle against the powers of mutual attraction and the holiday season.

Miracle on 5th Avenue by Sarah Morganmiracle-on-5th-avenue

As a surprise, Eva Jordan agrees to decorate for Christmas the apartment of the grandson of one of her events and concierge company’s oldest clients (even preparing frozen meals) and finds crime writer Lucas Blade lurking in the dark instead of in Vermont where he is supposed to be working. Recently widowed Lucas has hit a massive writer’s block and is hiding out at home. He certainly doesn’t want an effervescent, captivating, Christmas-loving woman disturbing his peace-although it’s exactly what he needs. A cynical novelist who doesn’t believe in love and an optimistic chef who thinks it’s more important than all else set the pages alight in a compelling romance that tempers the serious issues of loneliness, grief, and fear of commitment with the salutary joy of the season.


What’s Cooking at Westwood? Seasonal Delights!

Cookie Cookbook

How do you know your Cookbook club meeting is a success? When you have to find a larger table to hold all of the food!

For our December meeting, we decided to concentrate on holiday cooking. We covered appetizers, brunch, main dishes and of course, desserts.

4 Ingredient Christmas Cookbook

Elaine made Ricotta Prosciutto Pies from the 4 Ingredients Christmas cookbook. She found the title a little misleading since there are many more than 4 ingredients in some of the recipes. She also made Walnut Cream Rugelach from  Taste of Christmas Cookie Cookbook and Inspiration for the Season.

Christmas with Paula Deen

Ellen was interested in the biographical stories accompanying the recipes in Christmas with Paula Deen. She was a little disappointed in the fact that so many recipes used prepared foods such as cake mixes and canned soups but was happy with the Applesauce Cake and Blueberry Muffins she made. Elaine found this book’s size a little awkward to handle and keep open but the recipes were good.

Joy of Cooking Christmas Cookies

Jessica made 4 types cookies and one brownie recipe from the Joy of Cooking: Christmas Cookies and said the recipes were delicious. Each recipe was accompanied by great photograph, good cooking and storage tips, but 2 of the doughs were hard to handle.

Gluten-free Holiday Baking

Joanna was pleased with the Almond Jelly Roll from Gluten-Free Holiday Baking and will be making this recipe regularly.

Betty Crocker Christmas Cookbook

I made several recipes out of the Betty Crocker Christmas Cookbook and would make all of them again. As is typical of Betty Crocker books, this book had good explanations for beginners, plentiful photographs, alternative ingredients and serving suggestions.

Margaret tested several recipes in the 2012 edition of Taste of Home Best Christmas RecipesTaste of Home Christmas and was not impressed by the taste of the Cherry Cake which was made by adding ingredients to a cake mix. She shared the more successful Chocolate Biscotti and Chocolate Raspberry Cream Cheese Brownies and highly recommended the 2013 edition of this book.

Olga is an experienced cook but learned a new technique for fluffy scrambled eggs and tasted truffle oil for the first time in the Linguini from Christmas with Gordon (Ramsay). Olga commented that the mixture of imperial and metric measurements and Ramsay’s British terminology were a bit of a challenge but she liked the end results. She warned us that this book is full of butter and cream and not for people who are watching their fat intake.

Here’s some pictures of the food we made:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We ended the evening with full stomachs and new recipes to try. I think every one of us come away from the meetings having learned something new, either from a book or another book club member.


Rockin’ Around the Christmas CDs…


Are you a Christmas music fanatic? Do you long to hear something different, something other than the standard Bing Crosby, Burl Ives or Nat King Cole? Well, check out the library’s extensive Christmas music collection on CD. The library has more than 800 Christmas music CDs!

For the past year (since last November), I’ve been listening to Christmas music non-stop. Luckily I love Christmas music, and I have a desk job so I can wear headphones while working (I think my coworkers would kill me if I played this stuff out loud year-round). I made it my personal goal to listen to every Christmas CD the library has. I’ll admit sometimes it’s been difficult, especially when it’s been over 30 Celsius in the middle of summer, but now that it’s November again and the snow is back it has become easier. Surprisingly, after a year, I’m still not sick of Christmas music!

In the past year I’ve listened to over 60% of the collection, so I still have a ways to go, but I have listened to hundreds of CDs I would never have listened to and some of those CDs have been so good I’ve went out and bought myself copies. I also know what sort of Christmas music I don’t like, but this article will focus on the some of the ones I think deserve some recognition.

Ashanti’s Christmas was the first CD I listened to that I liked enough to buy. I was vaguely aware that she was a singer, but I had no idea what she sang or anything about her. I have to admit I thought it would be another trite, overdone CD. I couldn’t be more wrong. Her voice is so pure and clear and the songs are fairly traditional. I love this CD!

In a similar vein, A Winter Symphony by Sarah Brightman is also well worth listening to. Again I thought I wouldn’t enjoy the CD, but I was proved wrong once again. She has a clear and powerful, but, at the same time, soft voice and it works wonderfully well with the arrangement of traditional and unfamiliar carols.

Who knew I liked Celtic music, or medieval music? I had never heard of Celtic Woman, but I certainly put A Christmas Celebration on my wish list. Of course I knew of Loreena McKennit, but I was only vaguely familiar with her music. After listening to A Midwinter Night’s Dream I have definitely put it on my “to buy” list.

If you prefer your music more upbeat try Destiny’s Child’s 8 Days of Christmas. I loved the CD and especially loved their interpretation of the 12 days of Christmas. Elton John’s Christmas Party is also great for a rocking good time. His compilation includes everyone from Otis Redding, U2 and The Pet Shop Boys. Of course Elton sings a couple of tunes himself. I would highly recommend both CDs if you’re hosting a party.

Never in a million years would I think I would like choir music, but I loved Joy to the World by the Robert Shaw Chorale. Perhaps because I attended churches with an “open door” policy on choir members (if you wanted to join, you could, regardless of any sort of musical talent), but I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was.

If you really can’t go without Bing or the other crooners, you’ll love the 3-CD set entitled Happy Christmas Memories. Bing, Elvis, Rosemary Clooney, The Andrew Sisters and Danny Kaye are well represented along with many others.

Although I think that Bing Crosby gets overplayed, I did quite enjoy The Voice of Christmas : the Complete Decca Christmas Songbook. It has got all of the tunes we are familiar with, as well as some I had never heard before, including “O fir tree dark”, “Looks like a cold, cold winter” and “Little Jack Frost, get lost”. It’s a great find.

Some other recommendations include: Christmas Portrait by the Carpenters ; Christmas Greatest Hits (a compilation) ; Peace on Earth by Matt Dusk ; Christmas Stays the Same by Linda Eder ; Christmas by Colin James & the Little Big Band ; Joy : a Holiday Collection by Jewel ; Christmas with Dino and Season’s Greetings both by Dean Martin ; and finally The Christmas Music of Johnny Mathis.


A Librarian’s Holiday Gift List

In 1970, when I was an angry young woman full of pathos for the refugees of political turmoil and the ravages of flood and famine in Bangladesh, I entreated my family to send any money they would have spent on gifts for me to a benefit fund. On Christmas morning my father, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, produced a wood packing crate filled with gifts labeled “From the People of Bangladesh to Jane” along with a donor cheque. I learned then that charity and abundance are not mutually exclusive. I also came to the heartbreaking realization that despite my self-sacrifice, the poor are always with us.   Now, while I do donate to charities, I also enjoy giving special books to my favourite people and indulging in one or two for myself.


Here is my list for 2011:

For my husband, who is both handy and handsome, a tin of book darts from Lee Valley and The Anarchist’s Tool Chest by Christopher Schwarz. It includes a list of 48 essential hand tools and instructions on how to build a chest to house them.

For my daughter who faithfully PVRs “Iron Chef,” cooking lessons from Chef Bender at Louis Riel Arts & Technology Centre and a copy of The Art of Living According to Joe Beef by the proprietors of the eponymous restaurant in Montreal. More of a philosophy than a cookbook, it includes a recipe for absinthe, a homage to railway dining cars and a gorgeous fold out of a thirty ingredient smorgasbord.

For my mother who misses her daily Oprah fix, the novel The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. Anointed “Most Cinematic” on Oprah’s Best Fiction list in December 2011 issue,  it is billed “as an irresistible and astonishingly assured debut about working-class women and world weary WASPs in 1930s New York” and is touted to “pick up where The Great Gatsby leaves us”.

To my sister who juggles an active 7-year-old, a part time job, volunteer duties at school and, consequently, has no time to read, a voucher for meals from Supper Central and a subscription to Canadian Family magazine which features Canadian articles and sources for home décor, vacation, food and health and parenting.

To my brother who writes very funny yet cynical letters, I will wrap a fountain pen along with Roz Chast’s What I Hate , an alphabetized list of terrible things that cause anxiety from carnivals and Ouija boards to tunnels. I never fail to laugh out loud at Chast’s cartoons in the New Yorker.

To my brother who now lives in “Shangri-La” on Vancouver Island, a pair of garbage mitts and Winter, the 2011 CBC Massy Lectures by Adam Gopnik to remind him of what he is missing. Did you know that the Russians embraced the return of winter because the snow meant the end of muddy roads?

And for myself…? In a Venn diagram of various literary prizes constructed by The Globe and Mail, the “convergence of opinion” puts Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan at the top of my Must Read list.  After an afternoon of delivering hampers for the Christmas Cheer Board, I look forward to a mug of mulled cider and cracking open this winning novel about a jazz musician’s memories of Paris in the Second World War.

Read more books, give more time, spend less money this holiday.