A Christmas to Remember

Time for more Dear Canada Christmas vignettes!

This time is A Christmas To Remember: Tales of Comfort and Joy, originally published 2009.

christmas to remember

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A Season for Miracles

One of my favourite things that the Dear Canada series has done is put together collections of Christmas-themed short stories that are addenda to the Dear Canada books themselves. I love it. And it’s Christmas time, so let’s have a look at them!

A Season for Miracles: Twelve Tales of Christmas, various authors, 2006.

To go through every short story would involve spoilers, so let me just give a brief recap of each short story and what book it’s connected to!

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Shot at Dawn

I had so many mixed feelings about this book. I read it when it first came out, when I got a quarter of the way through and thought “What the hell,” and now I read the whole thing and thought “WHAT THE FUCK?” This book is for young people. Good Lord.

Shot at Dawn: World War I, Allan McBride, France, 1917, John Wilson, 2011.

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For starters: I think it was a particularly brave decision by Scholastic for their very first book in a series that they would hoping be a popular spinoff to a popular series to be about a deserter being faced with execution. I mean, really. John Wilson is a great author who’s done a great job with it, so no qualms there (he also wrote Graves of Ice later in the series, which was also great), but this is pretty intense for what is ultimately a book targeted at YOUNG PEOPLE.

The structure of this book is also a bit different from some of the others—it starts out with a prologue where Allan is being held overnight in preparation for his execution the following morning, and telling his story to the officer guarding him will form the bulk of his story. I also don’t know for sure but I’d like to think that the choice of McBride is an allusion to The Green Fields of France, which if you haven’t listened to it (you should) refers to a young man by the name of Willie McBride. Anyway, that has nothing to do with anything, but I enjoyed it.

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Flame and Ashes

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I looked at this book and thought “When the hell did St. John’s have a great fire?” Not being a native of St. John’s, or Newfoundland, (or Canada if you want to get down to it,) I’m probably missing some things, but I can honestly say I learned something here.

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Flame and Ashes: The Great Fire Diary of Triffie Winsor, St. John’s, Newfoundland, 1892, Janet McNaughton, 2014.

One of the interesting things that I enjoyed about the acknowledgments in this book (which is not a sentence I write very often), is that she noted that Barbara Haworth-Attard (another Dear Canada author) informed her that Triffie, initially, “was not a likable character.” Knowing that gave the book a very different cast to me! This is a classic “fortunes reversed” story, and I have no complaints against that when it’s done well—and it is done well here. But I can see, in certain lights, how Triffie is absolutely not a likable character, certainly in the first portion of the book.

Here’s another thing—the only other book set in Newfoundland is set in the early part of settlement, and this one is set near the turn of the century in an urban setting, which is an interesting choice. Newfoundland is usually stereotyped as backwards and rural, but this is very modern and urban in tone, which is interesting and a nice choice.

Anyway, Triffie (which if you’re wondering is a nickname for Tryphena, and which my born-and-bred Newfoundland correspondent tells me is a very old-fashioned and familiar name there, which is a very neat little touch) is the daughter of a wealthy department store owner in St. John’s, where she lives with her parents, older sister Sarah, and younger brother Alfie. Alfie is sickly with a lung complaint (asthma), and he and Triffie are very close, which means they are usually in trouble somewhere in their magnificent house. Triffie is a bit spoiled thanks to her wealth and her generous father, and their home is full of beautiful and expensive things. Triffie’s foil is their youngest maid, Ruby, who is almost her age, but comes from around the bay and is working in St. John’s because her family needs the money. Not that knowing her story makes it any better—Triffie writes that when she gave Ruby an old dress, “I am not sure Ruby was properly grateful for this Act of Charity. I think those who are unfortunate enough to be poor should at least have the grace to show gratitude.”

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A Light in the Storm

The only reason I’ve waited so long to review this book is because honestly? I hated it.

A Light in the Storm: The Civil War Diary of Amelia Martin, Fenwick Island, Delaware, 1860, Karen Hesse, 1999.

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It’s an interesting story, I suppose. Delaware has got to be one of the most boring states in America, so its’s nice that they got thrown a bone of a DA book. Unfortunately, it’s boring and also irritating. This is a classic “I’m not like other girls!” book, which is one of the bugaboos that I harp on most frequently. For some reason I was absolutely obsessed with lighthouses as a kid, so I should have been all over this book, but even as a kid I found it vaguely irritating.

Amelia’s father is the lighthouse keeper on their island, so they live an isolated life from everyone else in town, and it’s abundantly obvious that her parents do not have a good marriage. Her mother is miserable on the island, while her father and Amelia both love it out there. And more importantly, her mother is ardently for slavery, while Amelia and her father are against it. So already the house is tense.

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Behind Enemy Lines

I don’t know where I expected this book to go but this was NOT it.

sam frederiksen

Behind Enemy Lines: World War II, Sam Frederiksen, Nazi-Occupied Europe, 1944, Carol Matas, 2012.

I think the entire reason I had no idea what was coming was because the back cover blurb on this book is terrible. Just terrible! Our fearless hero Sam has his plane shot down, and in his effort to get back to England he works with the French Resistance. It does not go well to say the absolute least.

The other thing that’s strange about this series is that some of them are more diary-style (numbered entries, text like “I don’t know what to write” or things like that) and some of them, like this one, are just straight first-person recounting that happen to have a date at the beginning of the chapter to orient the reader. Neither one is better, it’s just a little bit odd for me, the reader. (Or possibly it doesn’t bother normal people and it just bothers me, the reader reading these things for detail and comparing and contrasting them to other books in the same and sibling series.)

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Chickadee

Time for a major time skip!

Chickadee, Louise Erdrich, 2008.

chickadee

I’ve definitely raved about Louise Erdrich and the Birchbark House series before, because she and it are both so fantastic, and they’re usually compared to the Little House books. But with one, fairly major, exception! The first three Birchbark House books are about Omakayas growing up and her family, but the fourth and fifth are about her twin sons, Chickadee and Makoons. As titled, of course. I really love the concept, and I love that it’s handled very well—a lot of books and series like this tend to fall into the “exactly like it was before and everyone acts exactly as they did when they were teenagers,” but in these the focus is definitely on the children with a really interesting and well-done portrayal of Omakayas as an adult woman.

At any rate, Omakayas marries Animikiins, as was foreshadowed in The Porcupine Year, and they have twin sons, Chickadee and Makoons, which means Little Bear. They live near the great lake with the rest of their family, and as the story opens everyone else is safe at home while Animikiins is out hunting a moose and getting caught in the icy lake. He manages to survive, but just barely, while at home the boys and their sister Zozie (who is not actually their sister, but is Two Strike’s daughter (yes! Two Strike marries and then immediately discards her husband, and then essentially lets Omakayas and Angeline raise her daughter because she freely admits she has no idea what to do with kids)) are out looking for small game since it’s the end of winter and they’re all starving. Animikiins manages to snare his moose after all, but not before living through a terrible snowstorm that badly frightens Omakayas. But he makes it home safely with the moose, which will carry them through the rest of the winter and his being away is just dramatic foreshadowing for the rest of the story.

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