12 Books of Christmas: Number 4: The Christmas Horse and the Three Wise Men

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New for Christmas this year is Isabelle Brent’s retelling of the Biblical story of the three wise men journeying to meet the Christ child. Told from the point of view of an Arabian horse, a camel and an elephant–each from different lands,  the language of the story includes actual Bible verses. Magnificent illustrations add luster to this gem of a re-telling. The Christmas Horse and the Three Wise Men by Isabelle Brent.

Earlier in her career, the author published yet another re-telling of the Christmas Story From the King James Bible.

You can read more about Isabelle Brent here.

12 Books of Christmas: Numbers 5 and 5.5 Christmas in Harmony

 

 

When it comes to heartwarming series fiction, Philip Gulley’s Harmony is right up there with Jan Karon’s Mitford in my affections. While Mitford’s Father Tim is an Episcopalian priest, Harmony’s Pastor Sam is a Quaker. His long-suffering wife, like many another small church pastor’s wife, has had her share of necessities relabeled as Christmas gifts. In Christmas in Harmony Sam is guilt plagued by the thought that a four-slot toaster is too “extravagant.” So, in the Christmas Scrapbook he sets out to redeem himself as a gift-giving husband by making her a gift from the heart, but as usual, there are consequences. But then what could possibly go wrong for a pastor who must hold his elders’ meetings on the folding table next to the noodle freezer?

Happily, the Christmas Scrapbook is on sale for $1.99 for Kindle right now. It’s barely the length of a novella, so even if you are not familiar with the series, buy it, fix a cup of tea or cocoa, and have a delightful Christmas read today. I know you’ll be hooked on this wonderful series that showcases small town Indiana at its best.

Christmas in Harmony and the Christmas Scrapbook by Philip Gulley.

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Also on sale, for $3.99 for Kindle, is Gulley’s newest, A Gathering in Hope, which I will be reviewing in the New Year. Enjoy this follow-up to the Harmony series.

12 Books of Christmas: Number 6: Letters From Father Christmas

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First let me say that this book took my breath away–even on Kindle. Now I won’t rest until I have a hard-bound copy to keep forever! I’ve never made it through the Hobbit, nor the Lord of the Rings trilogy. My brother, nephew and niece’s husband are big-time Tolkien freaks, but not me. This book changed that–at least on Tolkien as artist and scribe for Father Christmas!

There are no words to do this masterpiece justice. As the children writing to Father Christmas grow up, so do Father Christmas’s replies get more sophisticated and the cast of helpers at the North Pole grows. The business of Santa becomes more complex and is more harshly impacted by world events like the Great Depression and World War II. The polar bear assistant goes thru all sorts of problems–just like LOTR, Tolkien creates an entire world of Santa-land at the North Pole.

But, to me, it is the exquisite drawings–so compelex, so measured and exact–that makes this book the treasure that it is.

 

You can view many of the illustrations in these blog posts:

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Shelley Davies’ Christmas is Coming post

 

 

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Tygertale’s Letters from Father Christmas post

Letters From Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

 

Christmas book written just for me! The 12 Books of Christmas: No 7 A Cornish Christmas

“Sometimes, on your way to one dream, you find a new one, a better one.”

(p.128)

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A back-to-the-land Old Etonian, his children’s book illustrator wife now call Cornall their home. As Stuart creates exotic jams from the turnips and cabbages he grows in his plastic sheeting greenhouse (aka the poly-tunnel), Ivy draws the illustrations for the cute Inspector Fudge children’s mystery series.  Their lovable bulldog and secretive cats help make their home cozy.

Did I mention Stuart’s sister is an award-winning biographer, currently working on Cornwall’s own Daphne Du Maurier? Or that this sister once used seemingly my own words by confiding that she “regretted her popularity [as a writer] because it often meant that she spent far less time doing what she loved–which was research” (p. 94). Now, I ask you? Can you get more ME than that? I could move right in to the amazing study she calls her office. But, she’s a minor character.

Having given up London and the rat-race for a simpler life in Cornwall, Stuart and Ivy’s big goal has at last been achieved they are about to become parents–finally. But the mother-in-law-  from-somewhere-not-heaven makes a comment that nearly draws blood. All while Ivy’s longing for her late mother to share all her joy has come to an interesting crossroads.

There’s a dash of pixies or a pinch or fairies or maybe just a touch of whimsy that makes this book the exact right book at the exact moment I needed it this holiday season.Here’s yet another reason why:

Love should feel good….when you have love it should only ever enhance your life, it should never detract from it….love really should just feel good; sure you can have your bad patches, and those should be worked on, but for the most part love should feel right. If it doesn’t there’s a problem (p. 101-102).

I have not read anything by this author before, but her work reminds me of a British version Sarah Addison Allen. And, that, to me is a very good thing! I look forward to more delightful books from author Lily Graham.

A Cornish Christmas by Lily Graham

The 12 Books of Christmas: Number 8: Visions of Sugar Plums

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Often one of the really fun parts of reading a book series is the extra books–Christmas or Halloween or side- or back-story books. It was pure coincidence that I reached Visions of Sugar Plums in the Stephanie Plum series during Christmas week! A delightful coincidence? “Dam* Skippy”–as Lula would say. Grandma Mazur dating a Senior Citizen Stud Muffin? Perfect sis Valerie a mess? A Ranger-like angel known as Diesel hanging out with Stephanie? “Babe….” How could pass up a Christmas like this! Throw in Randy Briggs–one of my favorite Plum FTAs [failure to appear in court–the guys she tracks down as a bounty hunter], the ever loving Joe Marelli, a villain named “Ring” and an elf cookie riot and you’ve got a pleasant way to de-stress after the too-crowded, too-picked over Mall.

Visions Of Sugar Plums by Janet Evanovich. You can buy all the Stephanie Plum Between The Numbers books in a single volume Kindle edition, too.

This review originally appeared on my old blog on December 21, 2010

12 Books of Christmas: Number 9: The Christmas Train

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David Baldacci is known mostly for his best selling thrillers. I’ve found he’s sneaked in two other books that are so delightful I know I’ll re-read them both. Wish You Well was a town read years ago at a small library near Indianapolis that I enjoyed visiting often. It has since become a movie that I hope to watch soon..  The Christmas Train, is  on the verge of being a modern holiday classic–if it hasn’t already been declared so and I missed the announcement (typical).

An incident of air-rage has cost writer Tom Langdon the privilege of flying so he takes the train back to California. He’s also hoping to find a colorful story or two to sell to magazines. Along the way he meets some interesting folks, as you’d expect. But he also has to reevaluate much about his life, his loves and his purpose.

Another reviewer mentioned the audio of this book as great for a family Christmas car trip. I think it would be fine for most families with kids junior high age and older–and many families would not object to younger children listening as well. As always, if in doubt, pre-read to match items with your own family’s standards.

The Twelve Books of Christmas: Number 10: A Gift From Bob

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If you know me in “real life” you know I’m a cut person even though I still miss (to the point of tears even now) my sweet dog who died in 2007 after many years of faithful companionship. But cats are the right pets for this stage of my life. They love naps, they don’t mind if it’s quiet so I can read and they are very helpful when I’m using my laptop.

I also believe in the therapeutic “properties” of pets. Not only do I agree with my late Dad that you recover faster from pneumonia or bronchitis if you have a cat who sleeps, purring all the while, on your chest. Cats, with their love a heat source nearby, are comforting and calming. Oh, yes! I’ve had met bad cats who weren’t like that, but mostly I find they are calm and love a nap-buddy.

Author James Bowen was a drug addict and homeless when he met Bob the cat. In his words, Bob saved his life. Caring for and protecting Bob helped him reclaim his own life. In his first book, A Street Cat Named Bob, Bowen tells their complete story.

This time out, Bowen tells about Christmas with Bob–a cat who turns off the X-Box when he’s feeling ignored! (What’s not to love?) Bob is tyrannical about HIS Christmas tree. He does not allow just any old ornaments. He must approve them or he knocks them off! He also loves to push presents off the Christmas tree table and then unwrap them–a problem Bowen deals with by wrapping up fake presents. Bob’s talents also extend to waking James in time for their stop when they are on the bus home from work! These days, Bob copes admirably with adoring fans and meet-and-greet celebrity party events, too.

Bowen used to sell copies of The Big Issue–a magazine written by homeless people to raise awareness. You may recall a big news story about Prince William keeping his word on a promised interview with a homeless girl. The Big Issue is THAT magazine. Anyway, back to Bowen and Bob. This book takes us through their holiday season with flashbacks to a few bad old times.

As they talked to people while selling The Big Issue, they gave out Christmas cards and reached out to people–thus regaining the true meaning of Christmas, that is connection to others and giving from the heart.  A Pastor stops and tells James that he is impressed–James and Bob have truly learned that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

A Gift From Bob: How a Street Cat Helped One Man Learn the Meaning of Christmas by James Bowen.

Bob’s story is also available in an edition suitable for young people.

My Name is Bob and Bob to the Rescue

For Links to ALL of the Bob books, visit author James Bowen’s author page on Amazon.

The movie version of Bob’s and James’ life opened in the USA in November. Here is the trailer–with Downton Abbey’s Joanna Froggart.

Note to American readers

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The “crackers” referred to in the story are these (below), not Ritz Crackers or similar that we eat with cheese. Two people each pull an end to break it open. There is usually a paper hat, a trinket and maybe a candy.

12 Books of Christmas: Number 11 On Christmas Eve

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In 1958, Tess McAlister has a rite of passage approaching: To continue to believe in Santa or not. Meanwhile, her best friend Sarah is dealing with a looming loss–the approaching death of her very ill father. The girls live out in the country in farming town called Hopewell and enjoy the same sorts of things all girls their age love, but especially watching  Tess’s big sister Evvie and her friend Maggie do “eleven year old stuff.”

As Sarah’s father’s condition worsens, the school Christmas pageant comes and goes, and finally–finally! it is Christmas Eve. Tess and her dog Sadie get the chance to see the real Santa. A discussion ensues in which Sarah questions the limits of Santa’s ability to grant wishes.

This is a sweet book–no spoilers but nothing for parents to worry about. Christian parents will be reassured that Santa has acknowledged limits to his wish-granting powers. It was also nice to read that the girls attended church. Kids today will be surprised to learn that children couldn’t visit parents in the hospital back in 1958. They may giggle at the thought of $4.00 being ample for Sarah’s Christmas shopping, too.

Appropriate for early to middle Elementary School aged children. Vocabulary is typical of middle grades Chapter books.

On Christmas Eve by Ann M. Martin

The 12 Books of Christmas: My True Love Gave to Me: 12 Holiday Stories by YA Authors

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Instead of the Twelve DAYS of Christmas, this year I’m having the twelve BOOKS of Christmas! And, let’s do it backwards, ok? Today’s book is a collection of TWELVE great holiday short stories by great YA authors. If your idea of YA is Twilight and other things vampire, let this fun collection of stories introduce you to REAL YA literature!

Gayle Forman, whose If I Stay and Where She Went are two of the best YA books out there, is how I won a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review. Her story, What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth? predictably, was wonderful.

I’ve been meaning to read anything by Rainbow Rowell since seeing fans of all ages wait patiently in a line about three city blocks long or her autograph at a book fair last year. Her story, too, was fabulous.I truly get now why she’s so immensely popular.

For me, the happy new discovery was author Matt De La Pena, author of the award winning children’s book, Last Stop on Market Street. I did not know he wrote YA as well as children’s books.  His story, Angels in the Snow, is a poor boy, rich girl meet-up over cat sitting. What’s not to love, right? I devoured the story

While some stories are grittier than others, all are a worthy contribution to YA literature and to the holiday fun reads canon. If you’ve dismissed YA–rethink it and read this compelling collection of stories. It would also make a superb Christmas gift for a teen or anyone who loves YA literature–or any good read.

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories edited by Stephanie Perkins.