Three for Christmas — from the Ho Ho Ho Readathon

I had a great time reading and participating in the Ho Ho Ho Holiday Readathon this past week! I set a goal of three books for myself, and I easily reached it (I also finished two more to review and started a third – guess I had time to read!).

The first book I read was A NEW YORK CHRISTMAS by Anne Perry. In this novel (and apparently Anne Perry writes a Christmas novel every year) it is 1904 and Jemima Pitt has accompanied her friend Phinny to New York from England for Phinny’s marriage. Poor Phinny doesn’t have much family and her mother left her while she was quite young under what seems to be mysterious and unfavorable circumstances. Jemima is hardly there when a dead body shows up – Phinny’s long-lost mother – and Jemima appears to be the main suspect in her killing (though with little motive). Determined to prove her innocence, Jemima joins forces with local policeman Patrick Flannery to figure out who the real killer is.

This was a fun read – and very quick for me (a few hours – less than 200 pages). Call me stupid but I never could figure out exactly WHY the murder took place and what it served. It seemed to stir up a lot of trouble, that’s for sure.

This was my first Anne Perry book, but she has a legion of fans and several other Christmas stories.

Thanks, Net Galley, for my copy!

Next I read CHRISTMAS TRUCE by Aaron Shepard. This was a children’s picture book that I got a pdf of from Net Galley. It tells the story of the WWI Christmas truce in fighting between the front lines of British and German men. This was a beautiful (and true) tale, with lovely illustrations by Wendy Edelson. Great for a read aloud to children!

Finally, from Blogging for Books, I got The 13th Gift: A True Story of a Christmas Miracle by Joanne Huist Smith. I just loved this book. This author lost her husband unexpectedly in the fall of 1999. They had three children, aged 10 to 17. That Christmas was incredibly painful and difficult for them. This true story tells how some unknown “true friends” delivered to them small surprise gifts each day leading up to Christmas and, in essence, helped them to feel the spirit of Christmas again. Not only was this a heart-wrenching read, especially because the grief was so poignant on these pages, but it was so inspiring to read the end and how the whole 13 gifts tradition got started, why, and how. What a beautiful and inspiring story — truly a favorite Christmas read for me.


I recently received a copy of TALES OF A JAILHOUSE LIBRARIAN from my friends at Meryl  Zegarek Publicists (just a note: anything I’ve ever gotten from MZPR I’ve loved!). This is a mini-memoir of one woman’s experience working as a library cart librarian and transition counselor in the juvenile section of a large prison in New York. For Marybeth Zeman, her relationship with the boys in this facility is centered around her library cart and the books and stories she brings to them each week. Reading, for these boys, is a sanctioned escape, a chance for the future, a little bit of freedom in their everyday life.

Told in short vignettes, Marybeth has captured numerous tales of different boys: how they came to be in prison, what their daily life is like, how bright or bleak their futures are. Their stories are touching, painful, and honest, and one is left with the knowledge that these boys are just a small percentage of the thousands of young men incarcerated in our country each year. Marybeth’s story highlights the workings of the justice system and shows where improvements could occur, especially in helping the boys to have the skills they need in order to not become repeat offenders. Most poignant of all, though, are the voices of the boys that stay with you long after reading this book.

I was so touched by this book that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Then I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Marybeth Zeman while I was in NY at BEA. We connected through her publicist and spent about 90 minutes together just chatting and talking about her work, the juvenile justice system, her experiences, etc. There was no formal interview, or a “how did you come to write this book” type of Q&A. Instead we were just two educators and readers, come together to discuss our concerns and feelings about these boys and our hopes for the future.

Marybeth’s story is one that deserves to be told. Readable, touching, and unforgettable, her TALES OF A JAILHOUSE LIBRARIAN reveals an intimate portrait of what life is like for many of our nation’s young citizens. And Marybeth is a spunky narrator, both in the book and in real life! I can’t believe I’ve heard the last from this woman — she is going places and, as her subtitle suggests, she is “challenging the juvenile justice system one book at a time”.

Here is a picture of Marybeth from our time together: