"Friends, Lovers and Chocolate"

Friends, Lovers, and Chocolate by Alexander McCall Smith

In this second installment of "The Sunday Philosophy Club" series, Isabel Dalhousie finds herself running her niece Cat's deli while Cat is traveling in Italy. Isabel meets a man who has been the recipient of a transplanted heart and believes he is having flashbacks of the donor's memory.  Interested in the philosophical implications, she agrees to help him find out something about the donor. Her very practical housekeeper, Grace, and her friend Jamie lend what assistance they can while making their disapproval of Isabel's involvement clear.

Then there is Tomasso. Cat met him in Italy and he followed her back to Scotland to do some sightseeing...and to become a potential romantic interest for Isabel.

I liked this book as well as I did the fist one in the series. They are nice light reads, not great but enjoyable. What I particularly love is their Scottish-ness, the setting of Edinburgh and the language, that British manner of expression that is so appealing to me. Also I'm still waiting to find out what the "Sunday Philosophy Club" actually is. In the first book we were told that a group of people meets on Sundays for discussion but I have yet to hear any more about them. Surely the authour must plan on introducing them to us at some point. That's enough to keep me reading the series but not for a while because I've got a stack of other titles to get through first. It's time to tackle all those books I set aside in favour of Christmas reading. Alas, Christmas is over for another year. I wish you all a safe, happy and healthy new year. 

"Christmas At Fairacre"

Christmas At Fairacre by Miss Read

This is the Christmas book I've been waiting for. One might question why I've been waiting given that it's been in print for several decades. And the answer of course is that this is yet another authour of which I knew nothing till I took my first faltering steps into the blog world. If the rest of the books in her Fairacre series and her Thrush Green series are anything like this one, then Miss Read will be one of the best discoveries I've ever made.

This books reminds me of Anne of Green Gables, or the Mitford books by Jan Karon with small town settings and characters full of common sense and heart. Kindness to one's neighbours, duty to family, and helping the less fortunate are the principles they live by. There is comfort in these stories. They restore your hope in humanity when much of what we read and hear is working to destroy it.

There are three stories here: "Village Christmas", "The Christmas Mouse" and "No Holly For Miss Quinn". "Village Christmas" is about two aging sisters living across the road from a growing young family. Slightly disapproving at first, the sisters remember the true meaning of Christmas when the neighbours need their help in an emergency on Christmas morning.

"The Christmas Mouse" takes us to the home of Mrs. Berry, her widowed daughter and two young grandchildren. It is Christmas Eve, and with everything ready for the next day, the family has settled in their beds for the night. Mrs. Berry is awakened by what she fears is a mouse but turns out to be a small boy, wet, cold and about to eat the Christmas cake she'd made only that day. This encounter will change both their lives and help each one appreciate their many blessings.

The final story is "No Holly For Miss Quinn", which has Miss Miriam Quinn, in need of a new place to live, renting the annex of Holly Lodge. She is looking forward to a quiet, solitary life but things don't go according to her very carefully laid out plans. She is called away when her brother, a busy Pastor, calls to tell her his wife has been hospitalized and asks her to come help with the children. Her plans for redecorating will have to be put on hold, but, she tells herself, "What can't be cured must be endured". As she is swept up in the busyness of family life she finds herself enjoying it - and the company of a surprise visitor - far more than she had expected to.

As I came to the end of each story I wished it would keep going so I could spend more time with these wonderful, very human characters. I loved them, and was utterly charmed by the setting and the storytelling. I can't wait to read more. Very, very enjoyable.

From Some Far Place

I wrote this poem some years ago. I used it then in Christmas cards and sang it in church, and every Christmas my heart wanders back to it. It still brings tears to my eyes when I think of what that first night must have been like for a young girl holding the Son of God in her arms, and her husband wondering how he would ever be worthy of the honour of protecting and raising Him. This is the wonder of Christmas.

From Some Far Place
From some far celestial place
unobserved by human eye,
he came,
unfettered by the chains of time
 and space.
A mystery.
God’s vastness,
concentrated in one tiny seed,
would grow to be a child
of form, and face.

She sat within the starlight
and held him while he slept.
Her firstborn child -
she laughed with joy,
would bear her sin and die -
she wept.
Beyond the distant hills
she thought she dimly heard a song
...did angels sing?
Quietly she stored these things
within her heart and thought
of what the years would bring.

Her husband stood beside her,
an ache to understand
inside his heart.
An angel dream had told him -
he had known 
about this moment from the start.  
And yet -
Jehovah’s son? His wife?
Could it be
that they would give each other life?

From some far celestial place
unobserved by human eye,
he came.
A stranger to the weary race on earth.
A mystery.
He, spirit, took on human life
to give us, human, 
spirit birth.

"Old Christmas"

Old Christmas by Washington Irving

Full of charm - and wonderful sketches - this little book is a collection of observances about Christmas in England many years ago. It begins with the authour rambling a bit about Christmas and how it has changed, then he meets up with a friend, and having no other plans, agrees to join him and his family for Christmas.

The family live in a large manor house where the Christmas gathering includes people of all ages. The Christmas Eve celebrations are described - from the children's games to the grown-ups toasting each other over the wassail bowl - then the next chapter talks about Christmas morning and another details the Christmas feast.

I tend to leave books I like quite marked up and I found lots to underline in Old Christmas:

On society...  "The World has become more worldly. There is more of dissipation and less of enjoyment. Pleasure has expanded into a broader but a shallower stream, and has forsaken many of those deep and quiet channels where it flowed sweetly through the calm bosom of domestic life."

On Christmas..."It is, indeed, the season of regenerated feeling - the season for rekindling, not merely the fire of hospitality in the hall, but the genial flame of charity in the heart."

On family..."It was the policy of the good old gentleman to make his children feel that home was the happiest place in the world; and I value this delicious home-feeling as one of the choicest gifts a parent can bestow."

As good as those are, my favourite quote comes from the last ten lines of the book...but I'll leave you to discover that for yourself. 

This is a treasure of a book. I never get tired of reading it, it's such a pleasure. I class it with "A Child's Christmas In Wales" and "A Christmas Carol" and I think that's probably the best recommendation I can give it!

"The Aluminum Christmas Tree"

The Aluminum Christmas Tree by Thomas J. Davis

This is a somewhat typical Christmas story. It's a bit overwritten, a bit cliche, a bit sappy - but the dust jacket is beautiful!

The story is narrated by Mildred Jackson, an elderly widow telling her cousins about the struggles she and her late husband Jimmy experienced as they married and raised a family. Told in flashbacks, it's a mildly interesting story with a predictably nice ending.

The writing isn't bad but I found the dialogue forced in places. The bottom line is it's one of those stories I can tolerate during the holidays but wouldn't enjoy any other time. I'll keep it on my Christmas book shelf and perhaps read it again one day when I've forgotten the plot. It wasn't anything special for me, but for anyone who is looking for a light holiday read - this may be just what you want. I found it on christianbook.com for $2.99 so you may find it worth checking out.