Reviews for Wishin' and Hopin' : A Christmas Story

Booklist Reviews 2009 October #2
Lamb, best known for his Oprah-anointed She's Come Undone (1992), offers up a charmingly nostalgic tale for the holidays. Felix Funicello, a distinguished professor of film studies, recalls an eventful fall. In 1964, he was a mischievous fifth-grader who spent his days getting into trouble with his best friend, Lonny, and fantasizing about his third cousin, actress Annette Funicello, whose poster graced the wall of Felix's family's bus-station diner. A well-meaning scamp, Felix inadvertently causes Sister Dymphyna, his teacher, to have a breakdown when he scares a bat out of hiding during class. The vibrant Madame Marguerite takes over the class and shakes things up, as does the arrival of a new student: the bawdy and daring Zhenya, whose thick accent, colorful language, and athletic prowess make her a hit with the boys. Big things loom for Felix--his mother is going to be in a televised baking contest, and he'll be in the Christmas nativity play, then a calamity provides him with an unexpected chance to shine. Sweet and old-fashioned, Lamb's Christmas yarn will appeal to readers wistful for more-innocent days. Copyright 2009 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews 2009 December
'Tis the season

Wasn’t it just Christmas 2008? How is it possible that it’s already time to haul the decorations out of the garage and begin the season of overeating and overspending again? But the holidays don’t have to be this way. Cozy up with one of these fine Christmas tales to get yourself in the right frame of mind to celebrate the real meaning of the season (or at least to postpone the gift shopping).

Laughing all the way

We might as well call Wally Lamb the man with the golden pen. Known for such classics as She’s Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True, he serves up a treat with this holiday offering, a novella called Wishin’ and Hopin’. It’s the tender, laugh-out-loud funny story of Felix

Funicello, an upstanding citizen (“I have an advanced degree in Film Studies, a tenured professorship and an eco-friendly Prius. I vote, volunteer at the soup kitchen, compost, floss.”) who looks back on his fifth-grade year in a 1960s Catholic school.

It was a time of immense social change, and Felix is in flux, too, on the verge of puberty with all the confusion and angst that phase of life brings for a young Catholic (or anyone, really). In one of the funniest scenes, Felix confesses to lusting after his third cousin, Annette Funicello (of Mickey Mouse Club fame), whose poster adorns the wall at the lunch counter the family runs at the local bus depot: “I was thinking, as I recited the prayer, about how my impure thoughts were really more Pop’s fault than mine. He was the one who’d led me into temptation by taping Annette’s poster above the fryolator in the first place . . . Monsignor told me to imitate Jesus and gave me his blessing.”

The book culminates with . . . let’s just say an unorthodox and truly unforgettable Christmas pageant for the ages, one that will leave you laughing and thinking nostalgically about your own school days and holidays past.

Unexpected riches

The Gift is in itself a gift—a perfectly satisfying story of a man who works too much and enjoys life too little. Lou Suffern has always prided himself on his professional success. Being a high-powered Dublin executive is all he knows—that and his well-earned after-work drinks at the pub. His wife and young children barely see him, but Lou doesn’t see that as a problem. After all, he’s providing them with a beautiful home and luxurious life, and that means putting in long hours at the office. “This was what everybody he knew was faced with. Not enough hours of sleep and the inability to get away from work or work-related devices like laptops, BlackBerrys and mobiles: distractions that each of their family members wanted to flush down the toilet.”

One freezing morning, he offers his coffee to a homeless man on the sidewalk, and they strike up a conversation. Intrigued, Lou gets Gabe a job in the mailroom of his company, and soon Gabe becomes inextricably involved in Lou’s life and teaches him some tough lessons about what’s really important.

The daughter of a former Irish prime minister, Ahern wrote the best-selling novel P.S., I Love You, made into a movie with Hilary Swank. The Gift is another first-class offering that will leave you entertained and enchanted.

A spooky season

If a Christmas murder mystery seems a tad macabre, well, it is. But Katherine Hall Page delivers a real treat in The Body in the Sleigh, the latest entry in her Faith Fairchild Mystery series. Faith is a caterer, wife and mother by day, but she’s also an amateur detective who can’t seem to walk three blocks without stumbling over an intriguing whodunit.

The Fairchilds have retreated to their cabin in rural Maine to celebrate the holidays while Faith’s husband, Tom, recovers from a frightening illness. Their plan for rest and relaxation is turned upside down when on Christmas Eve, Faith discovers the body of a local teenager in the town holiday display, dead of an apparent heroin overdose. The next day, Mary Bethany, a local cheese maker and recluse, calls Faith to report that an infant was left in her barn the night before. She asks for Faith’s help tracking down the mother, and Faith finds herself searching for answers and trying to connect the two seemingly unrelated incidents.

Page is adept at mixing charming narrative with page-turning mystery. The Body in the Sleigh is a poignant reminder of the importance of savoring every moment.

A Victorian Christmas

Prolific author Anne Perry writes two Victorian mystery series, a World War II series and a host of holiday mystery novels. Her newest holiday offering, A Christmas Promise, is a wonderful addition to her already impressive oeuvre.

Two young girls from the slums of London meet each other while one of them, Minnie Maude, is looking for her donkey. Or actually, that of her uncle Alf, who was her caretaker until he was murdered and his donkey and cart stolen. Thirteen-year-old Gracie Phipps, out on an errand for her grandmother, runs into eight-year-old Minnie. She finds herself drawn to the sad young girl, and vows to help her find the donkey, the only thing she has left in the world. The pair are pulled into an unexpected adventure in this slim but satisfying novel.

Every wintry detail in this story comes alive, from the girls’ hardscrabble lives to the frosty, cobbled streets of 19th-century London. Longtime Perry readers will recognize Gracie as the maid of Charlotte and Thomas Pitt in her series of the same name (Buckingham Palace Gardens, Long Spoon Lane), but even those new to Perry will enjoy this warm and ultimately redeeming Christmas tale.

Amy Scribner writes from Olympia, Washington.

Copyright 2009 BookPage Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2009 October #2
Lightweight holiday fare in the entirely predictable subgenre of What Else Can Go Wrong at the Christmas Pageant?Lamb (The Hour I First Believed, 2008, etc.) takes half the novel just to get around to Yuletide. Up until that time, he lays sometimes laborious, sometimes lighthearted groundwork at the Aloysius Gonzaga Parochial School of New London, Conn., in the fall of 1964. It seems that Sister Dymphna has had a serious emotional meltdown in front of her class, necessitating the arrival of fearsome but charismatic Madame Marguerite Frechette, a Qubcoise whose gifts include directing plays--or in this case a set of tableaux vivants for the school's Christmas production. Fifth-grader Felix Funicello is both narrator and imp of the perverse. And yes, his family is related to the renowned Annette Funicello, whose posters adorn the walls at the bus-depot lunch counter Felix's father runs. (At one point the boy has to confess to a priest that he French-kissed the sexy poster of Annette in her How to Stuff a Wild Bikini phase.) Bad luck stalks Felix like an obstinate shadow, especially as three big events are beginning to intersect in his life: the aforementioned Christmas program, his mother's appearance as a finalist in the Pillsbury Bake-Off (her recipe: Shepherd's Pie Italiano) and Felix's TV debut on The Ranger Andy Show. Readers obviously collude in the deal, for they know that nothing good will happen on any of these fronts. Sure enough, the pageant performers embarrass themselves and their parents with inappropriate off-the-cuff witticisms; Ma gets the trots during her appearance on Art Linkletter's show (the shepherd's pie burns); and Felix tells Ranger Andy an off-color joke that of course is carried live on local networks. Our narrator has two foils here: the egregiously obnoxious Rosalie Twerski (aka "Turdski"), who desperately wants the part of Mary in the pageant, and the exotic Zhenya Kabakova, newly arrived from Russia and suspected (by Rosalie) of being a communist. Flimsy and barely entertaining. Copyright Kirkus 2009 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2009 October #1

In this charming departure for Lamb (The Hour I First Believed), feisty fifth grader Felix Funicello (yes, distant cousin to Annette) anticipates Christmas. It's 1964 in blue-collar Connecticut, and Felix worries that he's caused Sister Dymphna's mental breakdown. When the school's Christmas pageant rolls around, the school brownnoser and the new Russian girl duke it out over who gets to play Mary. Full of pop-culture references of the day (the Beatles, for example, as well as the Queen Mouseketeer), this will have broad appeal.

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