It is a bit early to be thinking about Christmas, I admit, but the opportunity to take part in the book tour for this intriguing sounding book from New Vessel Press was too good to miss.

Short story collections by assorted authors can be hit and miss. Harnessing together authors from different periods with very different writing styles is quite risky. The logic behind such an enterprise is, I imagine, to seek to introduce the reader to a variety of writing united by some common theme or themes – as here where we have two in Frenchness and Christmas – at the same time bearing in mind that not everyone is going to like everything, but should at least like something! This book very successfully presents us with an excellent selection of festive French literature that I think will please and interest the vast majority of readers.

The Frenchness emerges in various ways in the anthology. France has long been thought of as a bastion of male chauvinism, something reflected in the language itself. Get one guy and a thousand girls together and you have to refer to them as ‘ils’ because of that one man! Times are changing, however, if slowly, but it was rather disappointing to see just one female author included in this anthology. Yes, it’s a long story/screenplay but it’s still just one as opposed to nine male authors. The lone female is Irène Némirovsky, of Ukranian Jewish origin, lived half her lifetime in France and wrote in French, but was refused French citizenship. Had she been awarded it, this prolific author might have avoided being arrested as a stateless Jew on 13 July 1942, despite having converted to Roman Catholicism, and sent to Auschwitz where she died just over a month later. It is thus very poignant and powerful to find her work included in this French anthology, since her adopted country let her down.

Other Frenchness emerges in how Christmas isn’t overly romanticised in any of the stories. In many, it’s mainly a background. This is how Noël is in this country. There isn’t the crazy hype starting in October that you get in other countries. There’s an air of restraint about it, but nonetheless, a good time is had by all. There is also a clear focus on eating during the festive season, and this emerges in many of the stories. The importance of food is one French stereotype that holds firm! But there are some small helpings of magic and wishful thinking, a crucial part of Christmas.

Straight talking is another Frenchness. No beating around the bush. Thus it’s a little startling and uncomfortable, for Western European readers at least, to come across an African character called Black Jo in one of the stories. It’s not offensively motivated, it’s who he is to the other boys at the school, and as the narrator of the story comes to know the boy better, he begins to call him Jo or Joseph.

But all these Frenchisms, together with the variety of writing we are offered, give a good impression of the country’s historical and present culture.

These are the stories and authors:

The Gift – Jean-Philippe Blondel (b.1964) Relationships and loneliness at Christmas.

St Anthony and his Pig – Paul Arène (1843-96) Great fun this one! St Anthony struggles with terrible temptation.

The Louis d’Or – François Coppée (1842-1908) A gambler seeks redemption.

Christmas in Algiers – Anatole La Braz (1859-1926) A soldier far from home attends a midnight mass with a difference.

The Wooden Shoes of Little Wolff – François Coppée (1842-1908) A touching tale, the most Christmassy of them all.

Christmas Eve – Guy de Maupassant (1850-93) The moral of this story is don’t pick up a pregnant prostitute on Christmas Eve…

Christmas at the Boarding School – Dominique Fabre  (b.1960) A young African boy in France, because of ‘events’ faces Christmas far from home.

Salvette and Bernadou – Alphonse Daudet (1840-97) Two imprisoned French soldiers remember the Breton Christmases of their youth.

A Christmas Supper in the Marais – Alphonse Daudet (1840-97) A Christmas ghost story – or just too much wine for Christmas supper?

A Miracle by Guy de Maupassant (1850-93) Evil spirits at Christmastime.

I Take Supper with my Wife – Antoine Gustave Droz (1832-95) Husband and wife share a playful Christmas Eve supper.

The Lost Child – François Coppée (1842-1908) A sweet Christmas miracle.

The Juggler of Notre Dame – Anatole France (the pseudonym of Jacques Anatole Thibault 1844-1924) Another religious miracle based on a medieval legend.

Noël – Irène Némirovsky (1903-42) Bittersweet undercurrents during a Christmas party held by affluent Parisians.

My only gripe is with the subtitle – in my opinion it’s a little rash to claim things are the ‘greatest’ but it gets attention I suppose, and it’s acceptable ‘puff’. However, I think the anthology would have worked just as well without it. Clearly the stories are selected because the editing team considers them to be exceptionally good and worthy of inclusion, and thus it’s implicit that there is merit in reading them. I suspect an anthology of awful stories not worth reading has yet to be published…

I also take slight issue with the ‘of all time’ label as three of our ten authors were born in the twentieth century, and all the other seven in the nineteenth from 1832 onwards. But since some of the stories refer to earlier times and we come right up to the present, then we do get a taste of several periods.

The book makes for an interesting, enjoyable and educational read, will make your Christmas more multi-cultural and will, I hope, tempt you to discover more French writers after sampling the writing in this anthology.

 

A Very French Christmas:
The Greatest French Holiday Stories
of All Time

on Tour

August 8-14

Very French Christmas Cover

A Very French Christmas:
The Greatest French Holiday Stories
of All Time

(short story collection)

Release date: October 10, 2017
at New Vessel Press

ISBN: 978-1939931504
142 pages

Website
Goodreads

 

SYNOPSIS

A continuation of the very popular Very Christmas Series from New Vessel Press, this collection brings together the best French Christmas stories of all time in an elegant and vibrant collection featuring classics by Guy de Maupassant and Alphonse Daudet, plus stories by the esteemed twentieth century author Irène Némirovsky and contemporary writers Dominique Fabre and Jean-Philippe Blondel.
With a holiday spirit conveyed through sparkling Paris streets, opulent feasts, wandering orphans, kindly monks, homesick soldiers, oysters, crayfish, ham, bonbons, flickering desire, and more than a little wine, this collection encapsulates the holiday spirit and proves that the French have mastered Christmas. This is Christmas à la française—delicious, intense and unexpected, proving that nobody does Christmas like the French.

THE AUTHORS

Alphonse Daudet, Guy de Maupassant, Anatole France
Irène Némirovsky, Jean-Philippe Blondel, Dominique Fabre,
Paul Arene, Francois Coppee, Antoine Gustave Droz, Anatole La Braz

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Buy the book: on Amazon

***

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Be sure to follow each participant on Twitter/Facebook,
they are listed in the entry form below.

Enter here

Visit each blogger on the tour:
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5 winners

***

CLICK ON THE BANNER TO READ REVIEWS

Very French Christmas Banner

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’.

Now that my own Christmassy romcom Fa-La-Llama-La, is published, it’s time to take a look at some of the opposition. There are a lot of other festive romcoms to choose from, many set in guesthouses, cafés or other eateries, so I think I’ll start with some of them. Today’s is set in a café in Cornwall.

 
Cornish Cafe Christmas

Christmas at the Cornish Café by Philippa Ashley is the second in a planned trilogy. I hadn’t read the first book,  Summer at the Cornish Café, so perhaps this was the reason I found it rather slow and uncertain to start with. However, the reader can soon work out roughly what has gone before, but I imagine there will be added depth if you come to this book from the first one. It may also make the opening chapter or so less slow.

There is a plethora of books out at the moment about little teashops or cafés or guesthouses by the coast, and many are romanticised and twee. So it was a huge relief to find that this one gives a realistic portrayal of working in the hospitality trade – difficult customers, tight deadlines, the sheer volume of work involved.

That’s true of this whole book. It has its light-hearted, rosy-glow side but also has its feet firmly in reality, which, as we know, is far less than perfect. At times I couldn’t quite marry the two as I feel the author’s strength is more with the in-your-face aspect. The idealised, picture-perfect element occasionally didn’t quite fit in.

Overall the book is enjoyable. Our main characters, Demi and Cal, are rounded and flawed and believable. We care what happens to them, and in this story we see Demi’s café dream become reality and both she and Cal develop as the story unfolds. They both realise what is important to them, and both have to deal with difficult aspects of their past. Demi in particular becomes more confident and courageous. And since this is Christmas, the time for families and forgiveness, we see reconciliations and new starts.

The setting is wonderful. The author describes the scenery and local life in St Trenyan in exquisite detail and it’s very atmospheric. There are also some fascinating minor characters, including Kit Bannen who is mysterious and turns out to be something of a catalyst.

I was attracted to this book because of the Christmassy element, and that didn’t disappoint at all. The story has all the festive, feel-good tingles you expect from a seasonal novel.

Will I be reading the next book in the trilogy? I don’t know. I came to admire the characters rather than fall in love with them, and I also rather liked the ending of this book so I don’t know if I want to find out if that’s spoiled!

Cornwall is the setting for another Christmas story, A Cornish Christmas>em>, which I’m actually not tempted to read and review from its description, and I don’t think I’ll be alone in thinking that the covers of these two books are very similar – old cottage, snow, night sky, italic typeface.. Always good to have a distinctive cover.

 
Cornish Christmas

The Reindeer Keeper by Barbara Briggs Ward is a moving, magical seasonal tale. It centers on Abbey, who is bravely fighting cancer and staying positive in the face of an impending threat to the family business. Her husband and grown up sons are all that matter to her. She puts off retirement as she loves her work with the kindergarten but she little expects she’ll have a more important job to do soon. Part of the estate she recently inherited from her father includes a barn where Thomas looks after reindeer. Abbey finds herself continually drawn to this spot – for a very good reason. When she brings her sons and their partners there at Christmas, the girls show their true sides. One of them, Meg, is reserved and sharp, but both Abbey and the reindeer work their magic on her. The family becomes very close as Abbey becomes more ill. And she still has to appoint the next reindeer keeper.

Can stark adult-centred realism – cancer, possible looming bankruptcy, unhappy partnerships – work successfully alongside magic and fairy tale? In this author’s hands, it can. Somehow we know from the start that Thomas is a special person and he is the bridge between ours and Abbey’s world and the magical one of Santa and Christmas. Having grown-ups as the ones who enter Santa’s realm makes this story all the more powerful. It’s never too late to believe in him again. There are flashbacks to the past in the letters that Santa has kept and reads back to the people who wrote them long ago. They held the clues as to how special these people were going to be – special enough to be chosen by Santa. The realism-magic juxtaposition is echoed in the death and birth we see in this book. Death is harsh and final, and birth is always miraculous with its promise of all that is to come. Without the other, there wouldn’t be balance. Real life and fairy tale, real people and magical characters, despair and hope – these opposites unite in Barbara Briggs Ward’s beautiful story to bring us the true spirit of Christmas and humanity.

Get the Reindeer Keeper from amazon:

Nasty Nick was delighted. It was Christmas Eve and at last his robot was finished. It was no ordinary robot — it was a robot Santa. Nasty Nick called it the Santabot.

Nasty Nick’s plan was simple. Tonight he would programme the Santabot to follow the real Santa around. But unlike the real Santa, who would leave presents, the Santabot would take them! No-one would ever suspect the Santabot in its Santa disguise!

Evening came. Lots of excited children hung their Christmas stockings up. Nasty Nick chuckled at the thought of how they would find them still empty in the morning.

Jingling sleigh bells announced Santa’s arrival. Nasty Nick flicked the switch on the control panel in his workshop and the Santabot jerked into action. Keeping a safe distance, it called at each house after Santa left and took all the presents he had just left.

“Perfect!” cackled Nasty Nick, rubbing his hands with glee. “Nothing can possibly go wrong!”

But he reckoned without Peter! Try as he could, Peter couldn’t get to sleep. When he heard Santa creep into his room, he shut his eyes tightly and snored. He listened with delight to the rustle of wrapped presents. Santa crept out and Peter peered in wonder at his bulging stocking.

“Wow!” he exclaimed, then “Yikes!” as the bedroom door opened again. He dived back under the covers but decided to peep out this time. He saw what looked like Santa enter very stiffly, march to his Christmas stocking and then suddenly swing round — and take presents out of it! Peter was horrified.

“Hey!” he thought. “What’s going on? Santa shouldn’t be doing that! Something’s up!”

As soon as the Santabot had gone, Peter leapt out of bed and slipped out of the house behind the Santabot. He began to follow but then spotted the real Santa in his sleigh next door.

“Two Santas?” gasped Peter. He looked more closely at the Santabot walking jerkily along in front of him. This Santa didn’t seem very jolly. This Santa didn’t have a sleigh. There was definitely something odd about this Santa.

“I’d better tell the proper Santa at once!” thought Peter. Keeping out of sight of the Santabot, he sneaked up to Santa. Santa was surprised to see him.

“Hello Peter!” boomed Santa. “I’ve just left your presents!”

“I know!” gabbled Peter. “But then the other Santa took them!”

“Other Santa?” echoed Santa.

“Yes, he looks just like you but walks all funny, like a robot,” explained Peter. “He’s following you around and taking the presents back out of the sacks.”

“Goodness gracious! We’ll have to stop that!” cried Santa.

“Yes!  Let’s trap him,” suggested Peter. “Next time you climb out of a chimney, hide behind it. Then when the other Santa comes, I’ll help you grab him!”

“Great idea!” agreed Santa. “Hop on my sleigh and we’ll go to the next rooftop.”

Peter jumped on at once. The sleigh, pulled by Rudolph of course, shot into the air. It was a magical moment for Peter.

“Right!” said Santa when they stopped by the chimney. “Duck behind and wait for me.”

Santa hopped nimbly down the chimney with his sack. He was back up again in no time. He squatted next to Peter.

They waited. then they heard a faint clang … clang … clang as the Santabot walked up the side of the house. Clump … clump … clump, it plodded along the roof. Then creak … squeak , it lifted its left leg all ready to climb down the chimney.

“Now!” roared Santa and he and Peter leapt out and nabbed the Santabot. It kept on trying to get down the chimney so Peter grabbed its beard. To his horror, it came off in his hand, revealing a big red button with STOP on it.

“Press it!” gasped Santa, struggling with the Santabot.

Peter whacked it hard. The Santabot stopped.

“Phew!” panted Santa. “Now, what have we here?” He pulled out his spectacles and inspected the Santabot. He prodded it. He poked it. Then he said: “Well, it’s a mechanical me!”

Back in Nasty Nick’s workshop, the control panel registered that the Santabot had stopped.

“Bother!” grumbled Nasty Nick. “Now I’ve got to go out in the cold and fix it.”

He packed his tools and set off. Meanwhile, Santa and Peter were examining the Santabot.

“We need to reprogram it,” explained Peter who knew a bit about robots. “We must make it take the presents back and then get it to take us to the person that made it!”

“Absolutely!” agreed Santa. “But how?”

Peter didn’t know.

Just then, Peter caught sight of Nasty Nick approaching.

“Look!” he hissed. “Someone’s coming. And he’s carrying a toolbox — I bet he made the Santabot!”

“You’re right!” exclaimed Santa. “Quick, let’s hide again. We’ll grab this fellow too!”

Santa ordered the reindeer out of sight and Peter shoved the Santabot’s beard back into place. Then they dived behind the chimney pot.

They heard Nasty Nick muttering crossly as climbed the drainpipe to the roof. They peeped out and watched him open his toolbox. Then he paused. He looked into the Santabot’s sack.

“I’ll just open a couple of presents before I fix you,” he said to the robot.

“Oh no, you don’t!” bellowed Santa leaping out and grabbing Nasty Nick. “How dare you build a robot me and steal the children’s presents, you miserable wormy thing, you!”

Santa was furious. His face was as red as his coat. Nasty Nick trembled in fright.

“I’m sorry!” he stammered. “I only wanted a few presents. You see, no one ever gives me any!”

“Huh! You wanted all the presents,” retorted Santa. “And no one ever gives you presents because you’re so nasty!”

“I really am sorry!” sobbed Nasty Nick. “I promise not to be nasty any more.”

“Do you really and truly promise?” asked Santa, not so cross now.

“Yes, yes, yes!” nodded Nasty Nick.

“Very well, Not-So-Nasty Nick,” said Santa, letting go of him. “Make this thing of yours take the presents back at once — and then destroy it. I shall pick up the bits on my way home. Now, Peter, do you think you could give me a hand delivering the presents? I’m running late.”

Would Peter mind? Of course not — there was nothing he would rather do! The rest of the night was a whirl. Up and down chimneys Peter raced (Santa taught him how.)

Then at last they were finished. They called at Not-So-Nasty Nick’s. He handed them a box of nuts and bolts and bits and pieces. It was all that was left of the Santabot. Then Not-So-Nasty Nick gave Santa and Peter a present.

Santa smiled. “Thank you, Nick. I hope you will keep your promise to be good. Now, here’s a present for you.” Santa delved into his sack and pulled out a huge orange teddy bear.

Not-So-Nasty Nick’s mouth dropped open.

“Is this for me?” he gasped. “A present? I’ve never had a present before!” He hugged the teddy in delight.

Santa smiled again. Peter yawned.

“Come on, young man!” chuckled Santa. “Time you were back in bed!”

The dawn was just tinting the sky as Peter crept back into bed. He was delighted to see his stocking bulging with presents again. Santa tucked him in, hugged him and then disappeared into the cold winter sky.

“This,” thought Peter sleepily, “has to be the best Christmas ever — especially for Not-So-Nasty-Nick!”

And, not so very far away, Not-So-Nasty-Nick was thinking exactly the same thing!

 

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.

 

I mentioned book bags in a previous post. A book bag is always a nice present. It’s traditionally a bag, hence the name, but you can equally have a book box or book parcel, which contains a book together with some appropriate items to go with it. A book bag for a cookery book, for example, would have some cooking items in it too – perhaps a pinafore and a rolling pin. Now that the ebook is here, there’s no need to include the book anymore. You supply that separately to the recipient. But you can still give the bag of associated goodies.

Here are ten ideas, starting with three of my books, followed by seven great reads I’ve enjoyed this year:

1. Best of Blog in France (Non-fiction about expat life in France.) A bottle of French wine and some French cheese, one of the varieties that comes in a round wooden or cardboard box, would be most suitable as well as practical. But anything French will do!

2. The Smelliest Cheese in the World (Fiction) Now this is a kid’s book, but adults would enjoy it too. If you’re giving it to a grown up, then give them some smelly cheese too – stands to reason! Roquefort or Auvergne Blue are good ones. For younger readers, since the story also features socks, then a pair of those would be perfect.

3. Oh Santa! A chocolate Santa, a skipping rope and a Santa hat would be good choices.

Now for those other ebooks that I’d thoroughly recommend:

4. Big Backpack – Little World: this is a wonderful and entertaining account by Donna Morang of her experiences as an ESL teacher. See the guest post by Donna on this website. The ideal accompaniment would be a rucksack. The author spent a lot of time in Mexico, and in fact now lives there, so some Mexican food like a box of tacos or a jar or guacamole, or a bottle of Tequila would be excellent too.

5. Sunshine Soup by Jo Parfitt: this is a book about expat life with a good bit of cooking thrown in. A soup recipe book, or a set of nice soup bowls would be suitable.

6. Stay Tuned by Lauren Clark: this is about Melissa who works for a TV station. It’s chick-lit/rom-com. I reviewed it here. During the story she revamps her look. Give the recipient some make-up or a voucher for a facial or a massage.

7. A Song for Europe by Simon Lipson: this is rom-com at its best with the Eurovision Song Contest at its heart. A CD of all the songs from one of the Contests would be fitting (2010 and 2006 were really good years). Anything Euro would go well with this book. Failing that, go here  to get souvenirs with the European flag on them!

8. The Lingerie Castle by Markee Andersen: well, lingerie would be good with this book! Or a football. You’ll have to read the book.

9. Lye in Wait by Cricket MacRae, a home crafting mystery. The heroine is a soapmaker so fill a book bag with beautifully handmade perfumed soap.

10. The Wake-Up Call by Jonas Eriksson: gritty rom-com starring an overstressed, overstimulated executive, so I’d suggest decaff coffee, bath bombs, scented candles or a lavender-filled sleep mask.

Hope these are helpful!

 

I’ve always enjoyed writing poems, usually silly ones, but occasionally I’ve come out with some serious poetry. I rather like this one about Christmas, and hope you will too. Enjoy!

 

 

Baby Jesus and the Fox

for Janet Lane

 

The fox stood at the top of the hill

In the freezing snow, so deep and still.

Then he began to travel down,

Something was calling him into town.

 

Normally he stayed well clear

But tonight he overcame his fear.

He knew exactly where to go

So he crept through the shadows, keeping low.

 

He found the stable fairly soon

And hid in a corner, in the gloom.

He watched with glowing amber eyes

And heard a tiny baby’s cries.

 

Soon Mary and Joseph fell asleep.

Now was the fox’s chance to peep!

He cautiously left his hiding place

And gazed at Baby Jesus’s face.

 

A chilly wind began to blow

Bringing another flurry of snow.

The cold made the fox’s whiskers quiver

And Baby Jesus began to shiver.

 

And so without a thought of danger

The fox jumped up into the manger.

He laid his golden, bushy tail

Over the baby, cold and pale.

 

The fox lay there for quite a while

Till Jesus warmed up, and began to smile.

He tickled the fox’s furry head,

Then surprised him when he suddenly said:

 

“Both you and I will be hunted down,

Your fate hounds’ teeth, mine a thorny crown.

Men hate us though we do no wrong,

And hatred is cruel, fierce and strong,

 

But love, like the love you’ve just shown me,

Will save us all eventually.”

Then Baby Jesus began to doze,

Still gently stroking the fox’s nose.

 

The pink of dawn began to glow.

The fox knew that he had to go.

He was puzzled by the baby’s words

But he knew it was goodness that he’d heard.

 

He quietly got up and slunk away,

To struggle through another day.

But when he got back to his wood

He found a pile of tempting food –

 

Bread and cheese, and meat and fish,

Everything a fox could wish!

As he ate he smiled in a foxy way:

Today was a truly magical day.