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30 Important Books: No. 13, The Christmas Box

This is probably the shortest book on the list. But that doesn’t make it less important or well-written.

I first read it when I was in seventh grade. I ordered via the book order; man, I looooved the book order. One of the best parts of school for me. (If you didn’t have book order: It was usually from Scholastic–it was a flyer, a few pages long (like the grocery insert in the Sunday Paper), where you could order books and other things, like pencils and notebooks, for a few dollars. You filled out the form, gave the money to your teacher, and a week or so later, voila! The books arrived, rubber-banded together for you! ) Anyway, The Christmas Box , by Richard Paul Evans, was one of the choices I made that year. It was probably under $3.  (It was much simple than the pic below–paperback, with a forrest green cover and a small, embossed white snowflake under the title.)

Christmas box cover

It’s the story of a small family–dad, mom and little girl–who go to live as in-home caretakers to a wealthy, elderly widow in Salt Lake City named MaryAnne. The husband, Richard, hears music coming from the attic, and discovers a “Christmas Box” ( a box with the Nativity scene etched on the lid) full of letters to a lover. Every night, Richard hears the music and dreams of a stone angel.

As Richard delves into the mystery of the box, MaryAnne asks Richard what the first gift of Christmas was, insisting that he know. When she’s diagnosed with a brain tumor, it becomes even more important that Richard discover what the gift was–as well as the secret Mary’s hiding from them.

Like all of Richard Paul Evans’ stories, this one is about love, faith, and family. It touched me deeply as a pre-teen, and even now, when I re-read it every Christmas, I’m captivated by its charm and evocative writing. It eventually became the first book of a trilogy, with The Timepiece and The Letter following it, as well as many other best sellers. I love getting a new book of his, and yes, almost all of his adult novels have to do with Christmas.

If you haven’t read his novels, try a few of them in the New Year. I promise, all of them are excellent.

Hearing the People Sing

So, like the rest of the world, I went and saw Les Miserables on the big screen last week (Saturday, to be precise), with a good friend of mine. I’ve seen the show several times live, and think that Colm Wilkinson is the best Jean Valjean in existence. These are my biases going in. 🙂

Not going to recap plot, just give you some notes.

  • I was blown away by Marius. BLOWN. AWAY. Wow. He did a fantastic, fantastic job. I hope he gets nominated for something come Oscar time. Wowzers.
  • Samantha Barks was an excellent Eponine. The changing position of “On My Own” was a bit, um, weird for me, but she still did a great job with it. (In the show, “On My Own” is the first big number in the second act. Here, it’s right before “One Day More.”)
  • Love Aaron Tveit, the actor who sang Enjoras. That’s a great supporting part, and he did a fantastic job with it. He’s a Broadway singer, so of course he should have done a great job. He delivered
  • Anne Hathaway. Boom. Fantastic. Although, if one tried to cry on stage, like Anne cried during “I Dreamed A Dream”, you’d probably get notes from the director. You can’t cry onstage like that! But hey, this is Hollywood. She was still great. (The reason you can’t cry onstage like that: It will, usually, mess up your voice. If you’re really crying, then you can’t control your breath and the song will suffer. You can cry when you sing, but it just can’t be really cathartic crying.)
  • Russell Crowe surprised me. I was expecting it to be really bad. Now, he didn’t sing it the way I would prefer Javert to be sung. He’s not the voice I’d normally perfer. But he made definitely valid artistic choices, and when we got to the suicide, it was very moving. He played him as a straight, almost no feelings, Old Testament guy. And it worked. (Oh my gosh, when he gave Gavroche the cross? So. Sad.)
  • Hugh. Darling Hugh. I love you, sir, but not as Jean Valjean. Butchered “Bring HIm Home.” Butchered, I say. He just doesn’t have the voice for Valjean.
  • Amanda S. was an nonentity. She was OK. She played Cosette sort of frantically, which didn’t help with my overall impression of the character. (Like 90% of women, I prefer Eponine in this contest)
  • The reallllllllly close up cinematography was not my cup of tea. Not sure what was happening there. Also, um, the documentary like shaky cam? That got old. Real fast.
  • Loved the staging of “Do You Hear the People Sing?” and the end reprise. Great stuff right there.
  • Oh, the Thenardiers. They were good. Very good. 🙂 Who doesn’t love “Master of the House”?
  • We did not need the new song. Instead of new scenes and new songs, how about you just give me all the verses of “Come to Me” and “Castle on a Cloud”? Grrrr.
  • If you haven’t read the book, you might be sort of confused. They bring in Marius’ grandfather for a bit part, and they do the escape into the convent in Paris. If I hadn’t just re-read the book, I would’ve been like, what are we doing here, guys? But it’s all book-based, they didn’t just make it up.
  • I sort of wanted a more robust chorus. I can understand why it’s not there, but I wanted it. I like me some big choruses.
  • “Lovely Ladies” got chopped up, a lot, which sort of bugged me. I think I’ll enjoy this more the second time I see it, because the reordering of scenes and adding things and moving things around was driving me sort of batty the first time.
  • I just wish, wish, WISH the Valjean had been better. Then it would’ve been a truly great film.
  • Tom Hooper, the director, likes to do movies about men who are faced with Big Dilemmas: John Adams, George VI, Jean Valjean. These men have to choose to serve the greater good, and live lives of honor and virtue, rather than do what they’d like. He’s a good director for these things, and movies with these underpinnings are too rare anymore in both the TV and movie theater realms. Brings them back, I say!
  • And a final note: Colm Wilkinson. Voice like butter. I could listen to him all day. So glad he was in the movie.

A New Year

New Year’s doesn’t mean a whole lot to me; my more important yearly markers are my birthday and my transplant anniversary. I’ve never been one of those people who goes to parties on New Year’s Eve. I prefer to celebrate quietly. (I do have several friends who have New Year’s Day birthdays, however!)

My parish will hold a vigil Mass starting with holy hour at 11. I went to that last year, and I’ll probably go again this year. In the United States, January 1 is a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics, because it’s the the feast day of our country’s patronal saint (the Virgin Mary). So we have to go to church either tonight or tomorrow.

I did a lot in 2012: wrote my novel, got interviewed for a national magazine, and did some excellent theater. I hope to do even more great theater this year, and to get my book proposal out into the world. But generally my goals are to be alive, enjoy my life, and read as many books as possible. 🙂

I also usually don’t make resolutions. As a kid the resolution was to stop biting my nails, which always failed miserably. And the other “resolutions” I have are the same as the rest of the world: eat better and exercise more. I actually started exercising more back in December, so that resolution started early. Instead of eating “better”, mine is to cook more, which generally leads to eating better (when you can control your ingredients and how you prepare food, it works out better. Also helps with vegetable consumption!).

Some things I’m looking forward to: Doing Les Miserables this summer; seeing Rite of Spring in March; going to see Maria Stuarda at the  Live in HD performance next month; my sister graduates from college, and Disney World! (Hopefully. If dad’s proposal gets accepted) So there are lots of good things coming up, as well as turning 31, and my 8 year transplant anniversary.

I am, in general, an optimist. I know the world has problems. But I also think it’s better to try to fix them, instead of preaching gloom and doom, and fight the good fight. There are a lot of negative nelly bloggers out there who think they’re preaching “truth” and we all are being ostriches. The world is ending!

No it’s not. It’s changing–it always is–but I’ll take optimism, thank you.

Here’s to 2013.

Oh the weather outside is frightful….

and, indeed, my fire is very delightful.

Merry Christmas blog readers!

Instead of a White Christmas, Columbus is getting a white Boxing Day/St. Stephen’s Day/Second Day of Christmastide. It’s apparently slippery and icy and gross outside, so I’m not planning on leaving my house. Which is good, because it is stocked with many creature comforts, most of them courtesy of St. Nick:

  • Coffee from my new Cuisinart coffee make. My old one was wheezing its way to death but made it long enough to be unceremoniously replaced by this guy. It makes awesome coffee, which I think I’m going to need today, along with tea and Williams Sonoma Hot Chocolate. 
  • I have Criterion Collection movies to watch, which always make me happy. (I got Black Narcissus and Beauty and the Beast. Watched BN last night. Wow. Intense. Crazy nuns! Very exciting.)
  • I have books to read: The Leftovers, Leonardo and the Last Supper. I also got Dinner: A Love Story, which I read through about three times yesterday. Lots of goodness therein.
  • The fireplace, of course, is perfect for a day like today.
  • The larder is stocked and I have lots of snuggly blankets. And candles! So I am totally set for a day of winter homsteading. (Speaking of homesteading–maybe I’ll make some Irish Soda Bread today!)

Christmas was really nice this year. I had brunch with my friends first (and got a soggy collar on my sweater, thanks to Baby Evie’s enjoyment of it. I love that kid.) Mass was at 4:00, followed by dinner at Spaghetti Warehouse, then home for A Christmas Story marathon and Mom’s opening of the Leg Lamp we got her for Christmas. (We love A Christmas Story at our house.)

Christmas Day was a bit unusual for us; Bryan my brother had to work on Christmas Eve so he missed Mass and dinner with us. He went to Christmas Day Mass at a neighboring parish, so we didn’t get to open gifts until around 10:30 or so, when usually I am chomping at the bit around 7 AM (this is the only day of the year I voluntarily get up at 7). Yes, I love Christmas, the whole Christmas season. Why do you ask? 🙂

After presents comes Christmas Day Breakfast–sausage and cinnamon rolls–then we all sort of hang out until dinner, which this year was at 5:00 since Mel had to work a 7:00 shift at the hospital. With the ominous warnings of SNOWMAGGEDON my dad and brother helped me bring all my “packages, boxes and bags” back to my house last night; normally I’d do that today. Since I got a lot of heavy things (coffee maker, food processor, a 10 piece set of serving ware/casserole dishes), I needed their help!

So I’m settling in today to enjoy being snowbound. But then the snow better go away, because I’ve got a busy Th-Sat. coming up, which involves mucho driving. Mother Nature, take note!

How was your Christmas?