Short Story Review: The Gift of The Magi by O. Henry

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Poignant and heart-warming, this story is hard to forget. 4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

One dollar and eight-seven cents is all the money Della has in the world to buy her beloved husband a Christmas present. She has nothing to sell except her only treasure — her long, beautiful brown hair. Set in New York at the turn of the twentieth century, this classic piece of American literature tells the story of a young couple and the sacrifices each must make to buy the other a gift.

Favourite Quote

“…life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.”

(From The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry)

Review

I read this story for Festive Reads Fortnight 2019 but never got around to posting the review, so I waited a whole year so that I could as I thought it would seem quite out of season to do anything but.

The Gift of The Magi is a sweet and sentimental read. It’s also very short, so short I happily read it online at my PC.  Poignant and heart-warming, it tells of the unselfish love between Della and Jim.  Money is tight but they go to extraordinary lengths to buy each other a present for Christmas.

It’s a lovely tale for Christmas, which reminds us that when it comes to gift-giving, it’s not the quantity of gifts which is important. This story is hard to forget…

Rating

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Book Review: Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore

Twas the Night Before Christmas, or A Visit From St Nicholas by Clement C. Moore, with illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Beautiful, charming and timeless.  A delight to read. 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

This poem first appeared in a newspaper in Troy, New York, USA, on December 23, 1823, as “A Visit From St. Nicholas”. No one claimed authorship until 13 years later. Clement Clarke Moore, a professor and poet, said that he wrote the piece for his children. Unbeknownst to him, his housekeeper had sent it to the newspaper to be published. However, the family of Henry Livingston Jr. contended that their father had been reciting “A Visit from St. Nicholas” for 15 years prior to publication. Regardless of the true author, the poem is now a Christmas classic.

Favourite Quote

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself

Review

This Christmas was the first time (that I can remember) reading this poem from beginning to end.  Of course, this poem is so well known that, even without having read it, some of its lines are easy to quote.  But I’m so glad that I found the time this year to read it.

The edition I read was from 1912, via Project Gutenberg, and was beautifully illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith.  My favourite picture was the stockings hanging from the mantlepiece – it’s such a typically festive Christmas scene.

I don’t think I quite realised just how old the poem is. It was first published in 1823 and, to give that a little context, it was published twenty years before Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  Neither did I realise “Twas the Night Before Christmas” isn’t actually its title, but “A Visit From St Nicholas”, though the poem is more commonly known by its first line.  Something else I discovered this Christmas is that there is argument for attributing the writing of this poem to a different author.

The poem is beautiful and charming and conjures up many ideas we associate with Christmas to this day (for example, Santa’s sleigh is pulled by eight reindeer – Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen – stockings hanging from the mantlepiece, St Nick entering the house via the chimney).  And, apart from a few archaic words, which have been changed out and modernised with later publishing, it could have been written much more recently for the audiences of today.

Even as an adult reading it, there is much joy to be found in the poem, and I have no doubt I will read the poem again, in its entirety, next year, and probably for all the Christmas’ after that!

Rating

Short Story Review: This Year It Will Be Different by Maeve Binchy

This Year It Will Be Different is from the short story collection of the same name by Maeve Binchy.  I listened to an audiobook version of this story, read by Kate Binchy.  (Book cover above from Goodreads)

Summary (my own)

A middle-aged woman, Ethel, is not looking forward to Christmas.  She’s reached a point where Christmas seems like too much hard work because her family has come to expect her to do everything for them (as well as go out to work), without offering to help.  But when her family realise that something’s amiss, they promise “this year it will be different”…

Favourite Quote

If she saw one more picture of a 47 year old woman, smiling at her out of magazine, with the body of an 18 year old, gleaming skin, 56 even teeth and shining hair, Ethel was going to go after her with a carving knife.

Review

I’ve not read (or listened) to any Maeve Binchy before.  These types of stories are not the usual type I’m drawn to, but I thought it would be interesting to give one of these Christmas stories a go.

There is so much involved with preparing the “perfect” family Christmas and if the work load falls only to one person, it’s no wonder that they become fatigued just thinking about it.  Listening to the story, I really felt for Ethel.  Her family has a selfish streak, which she accepts responsibility for, which I think is sad – and is probably one of the reasons she finds herself in this state of apathy.  After all, people don’t often know there is a problem unless they are told or made to taken responsibility for it.

When the family make their promise of, “this year it will be different”, on noticing that Ethel’s not her usual self, their solution was not one I expected.  And, it highlights the undercurrent of expectation that moves through their house.

The story was a short listen, at just under twenty minutes, but in that time, we are given a clear and crisp glimpse into Ethel’s character, as well as the personalities of the other family members.  It’s not a cheery Christmas story, but with the weight of expectation associated with this time of year, I think for some it is a realistic one.

Rating

Short Story Review: A Dangerous Nativity by Caroline Warfield

When the Duke of Murnane dies, the responsibility of running the estate falls on his widow’s brother, William, Earl of Chadbourn.  But when he arrives, he finds a rich, vast estate in a state of disrepair.  As he goes about the business of taking stock, he stumbles across a small holding and cottage on the edge of the estate and is instantly taken with the young woman he finds there.  She is strong, intelligent and knows about farming.  But what is her story?  And why does the family have nothing to do with the big house?

I thoroughly enjoyed this Christmas short story set during the Regency.  The love tale itself is charming, the idea of the boys nativity play hilarious, and the cast on the whole, easy to warm to.  I would certainly enjoy reading more of these characters in the future.to see what becomes of them all, and I would happily re-read this story again…

I downloaded A Dangerous Nativity for free from Smashwords.

Looking Ahead to Festive Reads Fortnight 2016

festive reads fortnight

I know it might seem a little early, but we like to plan ahead here at Sammi Loves Books.  Well…sometimes 😉

This year’s Festive Reads Fortnight begins on 11 December 2016.  I have a few stories that I have been putting to one side for this reading challenge, but I am always eager for more. 😀  If you have any recommendations or review requests for stories that centre on the Christmas / Winter Solstice period (no matter the length or genre, whether self-published, or posted on a blog or Wattpad, etc), I would love to hear from you!  Comment below or contact me through my ‘Contact Me’ page.

To see what I read for last year’s Festive Reads Fortnight, click here.

Can’t wait to hear from you!

Book Review: The Chimes by Charles Dickens

The Chimes, or A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In is a short story / novella by Charles Dickens published in the 1840’s.  It is the second of the five Christmas stories that he wrote, the most popular and well-known being the first, A Christmas Carol.

Toby Veck, called Trotty due to the strange way he walks, is a hard-working, honest but poor man, who has a deep obsession with the bells in the church tower, the porch of which is where he waits for work as a ticket porter.  The strange thing about Trotty is that when the bells chime, it’s as if he hears them ringing out messages.  He lives with his daughter, Meg, who is planning on marrying her sweetheart on New Year’s Day.

On New Year’s Eve, Toby hears the tolling of the bells, and thinking they are calling to him, he goes to the church, where he finds the door to the bell tower unlocked and open.  Climbing the stairs, when he reaches the bells, he is greeted with the vision of a multitude of goblins dancing.  But what message does the spirits of the bells have for Toby this particular New Year’s Eve?

As you make your way through The Crimes, it would be hard to miss the strong social and moral theme that is the backbone of the story.  This is no surprise as Dickens is well-known for depicting the plight of the poor and downtrodden of Victorian Britain.  One of the main things to strike me as I read the story was the terrible and cruel personality of the rich characters, the worst part being that they actually believed that they were kind and generous, compassionate and helpful to those less fortunate to them.

There are also a number of strange character names, which, when I read Dickens, I must say I look out for and make a note of 🙂  My favourite strange-sounding name in this story would have to be Mrs Chickenstalker.

The story is a fairly gloomy one, one that brought tears to my eyes at one point, but it clearly brings home the message of how hard life was for the poor of Victorian towns and cities.  And yet, the message in the story might be one of hope or overcoming the despair of the circumstances you find yourself in.  Still, it is quite a dark, gloomy read.

In my opinion, if you enjoy the classics, this is a great story to read over the Christmas and New Year period but if you are looking for a more light-hearted festive read, you probably won’t enjoy this so much.

Short Story Review: Snowed Inn by Danielle Lee Zwissler

It’s Christmas Eve, and Lacy Johnson has spent the last three days driving home.  However, making an unfamiliar turn, her car skids on the road and her tyre ends up in a ditch.  She has no idea where she is exactly, and can’t get a phone signal.

Luckily, Grayson Snow is driving past and offers her a lift.  Asking where she is going, she sees a sign at the side of the road for the Snowed Inn.  Already feeling terribly stupid, she says she has a booking for the inn, not realising that it is a family-run establishment – run by Grayson’s family and he knows there are no bookings for that night.

When they arrive at the inn, Grayson’s mother thinks that Lacy is in fact Grayson’s girlfriend, there to stay for Christmas.  What follows is a light-hearted Christmas tale full of banter…but will it lead to romance?

The plot of this short story is very fast, perhaps too much so for my personal preference.  Lacy Johnson is a very quirky main character; she is strong, independent, says what she thinks but with a caring side.  Grayson is a gentleman but cannot help but tease Lacy when the opportunity arises.  The banter between Lacy and Grayson is consistent, and the setting as well as the storyline is perfectly festive.

This is a short, sweet, fast-paced Christmas read with an endearing ending.

I downloaded a copy of this short story for free from Smashwords.

Book Review: Home for Christmas by Melissa McClone

Rachel Murphy is an expert baker who is currently going through a tough time.  Usually, her over-protective brother visits her in Arizona for Christmas, but this year, Rachel just needs to get away.  After a run of bad luck in business where her ideas have been stolen by those who are supposed to be her friends, she instead goes to stay with her brother in Montana.

Whilst in Montana Rachel plans to save her dream of one day owning her own bakery.  To finance this she is going to make and sell gingerbread houses.  When her brother’s boss Nate offers her the use of his kitchen on the ranch, she gets more than she bargained for.  With a head for business, Nate tries to help Rachel, but after all she has been through, she’s not in a particularly trusting mood.

Will Nate be able to convince Rachel to trust him? Is her brother over-protective for a reason?  Can she really finance her dream with the sale of gingerbread houses?  And most importantly, with emotions running high, is Rachel in for a happy Christmas?

This was a really sweet, captivating, romantic read.  I loved this story.  It really brought the season to life and inspired me to feel really Christmassy.  I also wanted to bake gingerbread – a lot! 🙂 I can imagine that this will be a story I read every Christmas.

It was easy to connect with the characters in this story, and as it unfolds I found I was hoping that Rachel was going to get a happy ending.  The setting was evocative and really helped to set the scene and the season, and the romance was charming.  I would definitely read more by this author.

A thoroughly enjoyable festive read that I struggled to put down.

I downloaded a copy of this book for free from Smashwords.

Short Story Review: A Christmas Oath by Vicki Hopkins

It is a few weeks before Christmas and Elizabeth Dutton and her mother have been invited to the annual Christmas Eve party at Darley Hall.  However, Elizabeth is not full of the joys of the season.  Having recently had her heartbroken by Francis Oldham, Elizabeth is in fact quite miserable.  Even suing him for breach of promise of marriage three months before didn’t make her feel any better.  In fact, the truth of the matter is, she is still in love with him.

She agrees to attend the Christmas Eve function only because she believes that her hosts would not have done anything quite as silly as invite Francis.  And yet, the evening turns into a disaster…one mishap follows another, until something quite miraculous happens…

Although I knew this was a historical romance when I began reading this short story, and knew that somehow Elizabeth and Francis would end up back together (it is implied in the book description), I was intrigued how such a thing could come about.  They had both been publicly embarrassed by the other and so the reason behind them reuniting I believed would have to be quite good to make it seem possible.  That being said, it was, and it was something that I didn’t expect which made the story all the more likeable.

I found the historical notes at the end of the story extremely interesting.  It is clear as you read A Christmas Oath that the author had spent a significant amount of time researching the history behind her story.

There were a few tiny things that niggled me which didn’t seem appropriate to the time the story was set or where it was set, but in the great scheme of things, they were easy to overlook.  Overall, I enjoyed reading this short story and would certainly read more by this author in the future.

I downloaded a copy of A Christmas Oath for free from Smashwords

Festive Reads Fortnight at Sammi Loves Books

festive reads fortnightI love Christmas but a few days ago, I noticed that whilst book-shopping (a favourite past time of mine 🙂 ) there seems to be a huge number of Christmas reads in the shops.  And this got me thinking…I don’t think I have ever read that much Christmas fiction.  Off the top of my head I can only recall reading a book of Charles Dickens Christmas stories.

So, that is set to change.  For the two weeks running up to Christmas Day, I will be setting myself another reading challenge.  This time I will only be posting reviews of Christmas fiction.

If you have any recommendations, I am all ears…comment below or contact me via the form on the ‘contact me’ page.  Don’t forget that I welcome suggestions that include short works of fiction published on blogs and websites, for any budding authors out there.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Sammi x