I was pretty certain I was going to like this book even before I started reading it. First up, it’s a Christmassy romcom that manages not to have ‘little’ in the title! The author could have jumped on the bandwagon with ‘Christmas at the Little Village Pub’ or similar, but thank goodness she doesn’t! ‘Little’ is currently one of the most overused words in book titles, or at least I think so. Instead we have ‘Christmas at the Dog & Duck’, and the novel is as unpretentious and down to earth as the pub’s name, although we get our magic sprinkling of festive happiness at the end which we and the protagonists all deserve.

As well as the title, the book cover is also distinctive. There’s a definite craze for Christmas romcom covers to be shades of blue with a snowy house in the centre. At the bottom of this review you’ll see four such covers that I found within a few minutes of searching! Christmas at the Dog and Dog bucks this trend. We have a striking, unique look for this book, and it’s equally as Christmassy as all those snow scenes.

The book turns out to be equally as impressive. The story is beautifully and intelligently written. I notice some reviewers have grumbled about this not being a very Christmassy book as a lot of the action takes place during the months preceding the festive season. The plot of this novel is such that this needs to be the case, and quite frankly it doesn’t disqualify it from being a seasonal story at all. We see characters and their relationships develop over time, and a chain of events unfold. The action culminates on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in a superbly warm and cosy way. This is most definitely a Christmas romantic comedy.

Heroine Ellie is smart and sensible, and taking time after a redundancy to sort herself out. She’s returned to the village she grew up in to housesit for her absent parents and sets up a dog walking business to tide her over. She also works at the Dog and Duck, and the pub is central to the story. The main love interest comes in the form of Max, a local landowner. They first bump into each other in less than flattering circumstances, at least for Ellie, and we get our share of mishaps and misunderstandings that are crucial to the romantic comedy. There are some endearing animals in cameo roles, but we stay well clear of the mawkish cutesiness that’s all too rampant in this genre.

This a measured, classy and immensely enjoyable novel. Three cheers for Jill Steeples, and five stars for her book.

 

Here are those other covers I mentioned earlier:

nineladiesNine Ladies Dancing by Cat Lavoie is a complete delight!

It’s everything you want from a Christmas novella – a seasonal setting (the office party in this case), charming and quirky characters, a handful of mishaps but a happy ending. The bonus is that the writing is sparkling and witty. The author comes up with some wonderful words – adorkable and Quinn-tervention (they’ll make sense when you read the book!) – and gives us, I suspect, an insight into her own creative process when Casey, the heroine, who is a closet would-be novelist, talks about how her characters ‘take on a life of their own … and move on to another story’!

This is a little gem of a Christmas book and your twelve days of Christmas just won’t be complete if you don’t read it.

Available as an ebook from all the Amazons for 99 cents or as a Kindle Unlimited book to ‘borrow’.

Enjoy the story and please feel free to substitute ‘Caitlin’ with the name of the little angel in your household!

 

Caitlin and the Christmas angel

The Christmas tree looked lovely — except for the silly gold star that mum insisted on putting at the top every year.

Caitlin sighed. A proper Christmas tree should have a beautiful Christmas angel on top. Her best friend Nicky’s did. Grandma’s did too, and so did the huge tree in the square outside the town hall.

“Mum, can’t we get an angel for our tree?” she asked as she put the last garland of tinsel onto the tree’s prickly branches.

“Whatever for?” said mum, surprised. “We’ve got a pretty star. It always goes on top. It represents the star of Bethlehem that told the world where Jesus was born.”

“I know, but the Christmas angels told the world about Jesus too,” replied Caitlin.

“You’re right,” smiled mum, “but the star stays.”

So that was that. Caitlin was so busy over the next few days, getting ready for Christmas, that she more or less forgot about the tree. It wasn’t till Christmas Eve that she thought about it again.

Mum was in a panic. She couldn’t find the Christmas pudding she had made months ago. She knew she had put it in a safe place, but she couldn’t remember where.

“We’ll have to make another,” she announced. “I’ve looked everywhere and I can’t find it.”

“Can I help?” asked Caitlin. She loved helping mum bake.

Between them they measured out the ingredients and stirred them all together.

“Remember to make your wish as you stir the pudding,” said mum.

This was Caitlin’s chance! She shut her eyes and without a moment’s hesitation she silently wished for a Christmas angel.

But almost before she knew it, it was bedtime and there was no Christmas angel to be seen. It looked as though her wish was not going to come true.

Full of disappointment she put out a mince pie and glass of milk for Santa and trailed sadly to bed. She didn’t even feel excited about the presents she might get. It didn’t feel like Christmas Eve at all.

She was just dozing off when she heard a tap-tap-tapping at the window.

“Must be the wind,” she muttered sleepily to herself.

But then it came again, only this time a lot louder. It was more of a thud-thud-thudding!

Caitlin sat bolt upright. Could it be Santa at the window? Perhaps he couldn’t get down the chimney?

She hurried to the window and dragged open the curtains. She gasped in astonishment. There, looking cold and tired, was a real, live Christmas Angel!

Caitlin stood staring at her until the angel called through the glass. “Well, are you going to let me in or not?” She sounded a bit cross for an angel, Caitlin thought.

Caitlin leapt into action. She heaved on the catch and slowly swung the window open. In came the angel with a lot of cold air.

“Here I am, one Christmas angel as wished for,” she announced with a flourish.

Caitlin just gaped at her.

“What’s the matter?” snapped the angel.

Caitlin jumped. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to stare,” she said. “It’s just that, well, you’re a real angel. I only wanted an angel for the Christmas tree.”

“Well, why didn’t you say that in your wish,” sighed the angel. “Honestly, what a mess. Here I am, I’ve just flown all the way from the North Pole and I’m not wanted.”

“North Pole?” echoed Caitlin. “I thought Christmas angels came from Heaven.”

“Not Christmas pudding Christmas angels,” explained the angel. “We’re Santa’s department.”

“Oh dear, I’m so sorry about the muddle,” sighed Caitlin. “Will you have to fly all the way back to the North Pole again?”

“No, I’ll get a lift back from Santa when he calls here. I’ll just have to wait until then.” The angel adjusted her halo. “By the way, I’m starving. It really is a very long way from the North Pole. Have you got any food?”

“There’s the mince pie and milk I put out for Santa. Will that do?” asked Caitlin.

“Yum!” said the angel, brightening up at once. “Santa won’t mind if I have them. He’ll get millions of mince pies and glasses of milk tonight, after all!”

Caitlin led the angel to the lounge. The ashes were glowing in the grate and the Christmas  tree lights were twinkling daintily.  The angel perched on the fireplace and happily munched her way through the mince pie. Then she drained the glass of milk and absentmindedly wiped her mouth on her sleeve. Caitlin tried not to giggle.

“I see why you wanted an angel for the tree,” said the angel, nodding towards the star that sat wonkily and dully at the top of the tree. “It is a bit grim, isn’t it.”

Caitlin nodded in agreement. “Yes, but mum says it’s got sentimental value so I think that means it’s worth a lot. You wouldn’t think so, would you?”

The angel shook her head and she Caitlin stared sadly at the star for a moment or two. Then Caitlin had an idea. “Angel,” she asked shyly, “will you play with me. I’ve got these lovely board games that I never get the chance to play with. Mum’s always too busy, and dad thinks they’re boring. They’re not,” she added quickly, “they’re really fun!”

“Oh, yes please,” said the angel, hopping down from the fireplace at once. She was a lot more cheerful now that she’d had a rest and some supper. “I love playing games. I’m brilliant at picture lotto and dominoes. I always beat Santa. Let’s see what games you’ve got.”

They hurried back to the bedroom and Caitlin lifted down some games from the shelf. Then she and the angel settled down on the floor and opened the first box.

Caitlin didn’t know how long they played for, but they got through all her games. They did some jigsaws too and listened to some story tapes. The angel wanted to read books next, but Caitlin’s eyes kept closing.

“Oh dear, I’m going to have to go to bed,” she yawned. “Thanks for a really great time, Christmas angel. And I really don’t mind about you being real, I mean, I’m glad you are. You’re much nicer than a pretend angel. Thank you for coming.”

“That’s OK,” smiled the angel. “I’m very glad I came. Now, quickly, off to sleep before Santa comes. I’ll tidy up.”

That was the last thing Caitlin heard. Or did she hear a deep, booming chuckle a bit later the night — the happiest chuckle ever? And was she dreaming, or did she catch a glimpse of a large, round face surrounded by lots of whiskers peering round the bedroom door? And did she hear the angel saying goodbye to her and wishing her a wonderful Christmas?

Caitlin couldn’t be sure. But when she awoke next morning, she knew at once that she hadn’t imagined the angel. A few of the games were still on the floor. And Santa had been — there was a big sack of presents at the foot of her bed.

Caitlin dragged the sack into the lounge where she could hear mum and dad chatting.

“Morning!” she called happily. “Happy Christmas!”

“Happy Christmas!” said mum, and dad gave her a big hug.

“Look,” he said. “There’s an extra present for you under the tree.”

Caitlin rushed over. The label on the present said “To Caitlin.”

“Who’s it from?” she wondered. The paper on the parcel was the loveliest she’d ever seen. It had pictures of tiny reindeer all over it. Caitlin carefully unwrapped it, and gave a cry of delight. Here was her Christmas angel at last! And it was a beautiful angel. It looked very much like her visitor from last night.

Dad and mum looked very surprised.  Then mum said: “We’d better get dad to put that lovely angel on top of the tree. I have to admit, it’s a lot prettier than my poor old star!”

“Thanks mum,” said Caitlin. “And thanks Santa and the Christmas angel,” she added under her breath.

She watched as dad stood on a chair and put the angel — her angel — at the very top of the tree. She smiled happily.

The angel smiled too.