The Cosy Christmas Teashop – Christmas book review

The cost Christmas teashop

Front cover of the Cosy Christmas teashiop

by Caroline Roberts

HarperImpulse (Harper Collins), London 2014

Age group: mid-teen to adult

Format: 384 page paperback

This is actually my daughter’s book, but the title gives a Christmas link and sounded cute so I gave it a go.

The story

Ellie runs a teashop and weddings in an old castle, alongside her husband and a mixed team. The story covers their lives over a few months, including weddings, a Christmas Fayre and a Christmas wedding.

My review

I hadn’t realised it was the second book about Ellie, and the summary of the first book was a surprise – poorly written and not introduced as a summary made me wonder if it was a poor prologue!

Frankly, I think this book could be about one third shorter simply by removing the repetition! In the first fifty pages I lost count of how many times I was told Ellie had started a new tearoom and was lucky to have met the wonderful Joe. Then there was the mention of her father and brother in overalls in front of their van labelled “Hall & Son” – followed a page later with an explanation that her brother had moved into a trade like their Dad and joined the family business. I found it insulting to imply I couldn’t understand or remember anything and needed to be told it over and over.

Aside from the repetition, I found the writing very simple, over detailed and the conversation stilted.

The story itself varied between sweet romance with Ellie, Joe and their friends running a teashop and tourist castle, and humorous interactions with customers such as a Bridezilla wanting to arrive on a unicorn!

Running a Christmas Fayre followed by a special wedding, gives the story the tinsel, mince pies and Christmas cakes I enjoy. The Fayre does sound beautiful with a huge tree and lots of festive stalls inside the manor hall of an old English castle – I would enjoy being part of that!

So do I recommend it? I can’t say I would recommend this, unless you read book one and want to know more about Ellie and Joe, but it’s not bad for a light read if you can get past the repetition.

A cheese Christmas wreath

So we went to a Christmas in July dinner last week and I wanted to take something special to add to the Christmas spirit. I think I ended up with a Christmas look and, as everyone kept coming back for more, a yummy treat all in one.

Baked cheese Christmas wreath on a wooden board

Making the cheese Christmas Wreath

 

In the simplest of terms, I prepared a baked cheese and surrounded it with green and some red ‘decorations’.

Ingredients

325 g ricotta cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped grilled red capsicum

decent handful of rocket leaves
bunch of basil
cherry tomatoes (or use stuffed bell capsicums)
couple of pieces of grilled capsicum, sliced into strips
some roughly chopped parsley leaves as a garnish

Method

The baked cheese is very easy and based on a recipe from Taste – I just adjusted it by using herbs we had growing at home and added the capsicum to give it more Christmas colour! Basically, you just mix the ingredients and bake it in a cake tin.

Baked cheese wreath before cooking

After 25 minutes baking, I turned the cheese onto the serving board facing up (ie don’t just turn the tin upside onto the serving dish! Facing up has a bit of colour showing and keeps a better shape as the top is firmer than the bottom of the cheese.) I decided to have a rustic look so used a wooden chopping board underneath the wreath.

Once it had cooled a little, I surrounded it with rocket and basil leaves.

I then added some Christmas baubles (being cherry tomatoes and stuffed baby capsicums).

baked cheese surrounded by green leaves to form a Christmas wreath

For fun, I draped capsicum strips over the baked cheese and greenery as ribbons of tinsel and then scattered chopped parsley leaves over it all for flavour and to break up the red decorations a little.

Baked cheese Christmas wreath on a wooden board

I was really pleased  with my Christmas cheese wreath – it looked festive and tasted delicious!

Do you think this would be a good snack to leave out for Santa (well maybe leave in the fridge for him to get if it’s a hot  night!)?

 

Artul’s Christmas hamster – Christmas book review

Artul’s Christmas hamperFront cover Artul's Christmas hamper

 

by Richard Brown
illustrated by Paul Howard

Cambridge Readers, UK, 1996

Age group: 4 to 7 years old

Format: 24 page paperback

Another lucky find at our holiday house, this is a year one reader that originated from a school near home! My kids are above this reading level now but we still had fun reading it together.

The story

A young boy meets a hamster for the first time and is hopeful his parents are getting him one for Christmas.

My review

This is a sweet story that is actually based on a true story from 1973 when Artul Pandy was new to Cambridge (England).

When visiting a friend, Artul sees a hamster and very excitedly tells his parents how much he would love to get one for Christmas. His parents were very non-committal to this request but had some mysterious shopping trips.

Reading the book, it did seem very likely Artul would get a hamster on Christmas morning but a beginning reader book isn’t likely to have a lot of depth or complexity in the plot! Having said that, the book did have an unexpected twist for Christmas morning that added to overall enjoyment of the story (and luckily the potentially bad ending didn’t eventuate!)

Would I recommend it? For a child learning to read, this is a great Christmas story to practice with. For everyone else, it is simple but enjoyable so yes I’d say it deserves to be recognised as a good Christmas book!

Christmas in July!

Over the weekend, I went to a beautiful Christmas in July celebration.

dining table set in a Turquoise Christmas theme

 

Yes there is a bit of hype about this and it became something of a trend, but it really does make some sense!

CHriChristmas tree beside a roaring fire

It was cold outside all day so heading indoors for a full roast meal with open fires going felt welcoming, cosy and special – just like the Christmas we imagine. And we probably ate more and better enjoyed the roast meats, onion tart, roast potatoes, roast carrots, vegetable salad and Christmas puddings in the cold than we do in the heat of summer!

collage of Christmas food photos

We all got into the spirit of Christmas – we had the full Christmas tree and table decorations, popped bonbons, kids wore tinsel (and ran around making noise!), Christmas jewellery was worn, we played Christmas music in the background, and shared some lovely time and a delicious meal with people we care about. And various foods were Christmas themed – star shaped dragon fruit, a Christmas wreath cheese plate and Christmas tree meringues were amongst the banquet.

It was also more relaxed than Christmas in December as no one had rushed around worrying about gifts, it was a one off event (ie no one had to deal with more Christmas events the next day) and it was one group of friends (no family squabbles interfered with our celebrations and no guilt as choosing one family over the other either).

As someone who spends Christmas Day with family, I loved having a formal Christmas celebration with a group of friends and I think that is what will inspire me to host Christmas in July next year!

Lettice’s Christmas wish – Christmas book review

Lettice’s Christmas wishfront cover of Lettice's Christmas wish

 

text & illustrations by Mandy Stanley

HarperCollins Children’s Books , Great Britain, 2010

Age group: 2-5 years old

Format: 32 page paperback

How happy was I to discover a Christmas book on the shelves at our latest holiday house? It may have been out of season, but my kids and I enjoyed reading it together ?

The story

A curious and brace rabbit sets off to discover Christmas.

My review

This is a cute little story that requires a certain suspension of disbelief!

Lettice is a young rabbit who can communicate with humans, wonder what Christmas is and dress but has never seen snow before.

inside pages of Lettice Christmas Wish story bookShe goes off exploring to find out what Christmas really is, eventually finding some children who show her Christmas in their house. They discuss things like decorating the house and Santa delivering gifts, which is sweet, but I was a bit uncomfortable about all their wishes coming true and the absence of ‘being with family’ and ‘sharing’ in their descriptions. That is, it may be somewhat realistic for how children think but isn’t encouraging deeper thought nor non-material warmth.

It is a happy and joyful story, including generous children, so it seems very suitable as  Christmas book.

Would I recommend it? For younger children and those who have enjoyed other Lettice books, yes this is a beautiful addition to a Christmas book collection.

final page of the Lettice Christmas Wish story

Let’s Pretend Christmas – Christmas book review

Let’s Pretend ChristmasFront cover of Let's Pretend Christmas book and piezes

 

by Roger Priddy
Priddy Books, UK 2017

Age group: toddlers
Format: hardcover picture book, 8 page book plus 15 cut outs

I have a friend who loves Christmas as much as me so when I saw this interactive book, I just had to get it for her toddler!

The story

A simple story with things to find and objects to fit in place.

My review

This is a cute book, designed for inquisitive toddlers as it encourages interactions with the book rather than just listening to a story.

The book has a plastic box attached that contains various cut outs. There are five spots per double page where the cut outs will fit in, so little fingers have to coordinate the pieces like a simple jigsaw puzzle. It is simple and a good idea, although my nine year old found a few pieces challenging to place – it is easy to have them upside down and some are quite a tight fit.

Let's Pretend Christmas cut outs

The text on each double page mentions certain items for the child to find as well – two candy canes or three presents for example. We also then realised that each of the cut outs for that page are also ‘hidden’ on the page to be found. There are suitably obviously placed for toddlers to be challenged and find them all.Inside pages of the Let's Pretend Christmas book

I really liked this book, and the two year old recipient loved the pictures and playing with the cut outs so I count it as a successful Christmas present all round!

It also introduced me to Roger Priddy’s books – he seems to have written some fantastic books for kids that are fun and educational.

Would I recommend it? The publisher describes the book as “Encourages development of vocabulary and hand-eye coordination skills” and I would say that is very accurate, so this is a fun and developmental Christmas book I highly recommend.

 

 

 

 

Thanking Santa – a sweet reminder

When Santa holidays in Australia, we sometimes get his mail so he can stay in touch with children around the world.

Recently, we received, on Santa’s behalf, a lovely card from a little girl. Preslee wanted to thank Santa for his letter last Christmas, as well for giving her Sparkie and hoping she makes it onto the nice list again in 2018.

Cards like this remind us why it is so special and how very privileged we are to be assisting Santa with his letters each year.

a child's thank you card to Santa for her letter

The beautiful card from Preslee, with the attached note from her Mum.

And maybe they also remind others to thank Santa and show him how much he is appreciated 🙂

Kissing Christmas Goodbye – Christmas book review

Kissing Christmas Goodbye

Cover of Kissing Christmas Goodbye book by M C Beaton

by MC Beaton
Constable, New York 2007 (this edition UK 2016)

Age group: mid-teen to adult
Format: 240 page paperback

I’ve seen some Agatha Raisin mysteries on TV so when I saw a christmas themed book, I grabbed it to see what the books are like – and how closely they fit the TV version!

The story

Agatha Raisin aims for a perfect Christmas whilst trying to determine who gave hemlock to Mrs Tamworthy (after the lady in question told Agatha she was scared for her life).

My review

So this is book 18 in the Agatha Raisin series, but the first one I have read. It was perfectly fine to read this one before the other 17, although I assume character development and history would be better read in order. Interestingly, M C Beaton wrote the Hamish MacBeth books as well yet I find the two TV series based on the books to be quite different to each other. Have you read both series – did you find them particularly different?

The mystery itself unrelated to Christmas, but it includes a sub-story about Agatha preparing for a Christmas party to end all parties – she hopes! And the party includes a twist that readers of the series will find interesting, I believe.

Kissing Christmas Goodbye introduces a new character, Toni, for the series. This late teen girl gives opportunities to show Agatha as generous and caring, as well as grumpy and jealous of Toni’s youth and enthusiasm.

There is a complex plot to the crime in this story, with a quite unexpected result. The book also shows Agatha’s struggles with aging and men.

It was rather interesting to have many characters call each other “Mrs…” in a relatively modern setting. It gave the story a somewhat parochial feel at times and made it feel like a 1950s story, which somehow suits the tone of it overall.

So do I recommend it? That depends – as a truly Christmas book, no, not really. A sa light read over a Christmas holiday, absolutely! It is a bit of fun and fairly easy to read (the complex plot takes a little effort to keep up with!) so worth a try although it is never going to be one of my favourite books.

 

 

 

Aussie Christmas animals – in April!

On holidays last week, we went into a tourist information centre to grab some walking maps. I was happily surprised to find a display of Christmas ornaments – yes, in April!

Even happier to discover the display was all based on Australian animals 🙂

It makes sense that a tourist place has Aussie animal ornaments as keepsakes (Philip Island hosts many international visitors) but I was surprised to find them in April – and they weren’t bundled into a bargain bin either.

The shop display of Aussie Christmas animal ornaments

Personally, I love the little penguins with their ruffled feather look 🙂

And yes I did come home with some of these lovely decorations – I’ll share some photos of them hanging a tree at some point.

The Christmas Elf – Christmas book review

The Christmas Elf

Book cover of The Christmas Elf

by Hsiu Peng Wong
illustrated by Sami Lewis
IG Design Group, Clayton South, Victoria*

Age group: primary school (5 – 10 years)
Format: soft cover picture book, 14 pages

This book came as part of a box set with a plush elf who can stay in the house each December to help Santa.

The story

A short story to build the message of an elf who watches children’s behaviour to help Santa keep his naughty and nice lists current.

My review

I love the illustrations in this book – it is colourful and cheery, and fun to read. There is not a lot of text so the book will suit very young children as well as those able to read it themselves as part of their Christmas excitement.

Map of Australia and New Zealand Aussie kids dreaming inside The Christmas Elf book

I also like that there is a variety of children in the story – different genders and skin colours – and that dreams of gifts are not genderised (for instance, one child wants a boat and a doll while another wants a tennis racket, a nutcracker and a doll).

It is an Australian book and shows the elf crossing Australia and New Zealand in Santa’s sleigh. So I would have preferred the use of ‘jobs’ instead of ‘chores’ and perhaps some reference to the boomers instead of just reindeer.

It is a positive that the book gives some constructive ideas for getting onto Santa’s nice list – keeping a bedroom tidy, doing your jobs, finishing your homework and being good to one another.

Unfortunately, by the end of the second read, pages were starting to come loose so the construction quality is not great and I’d be wary of letting toddlers read it alone…

Map of Australia and New Zealand inside The Christmas Elf book

* Unfortunately, the publication date is not printed on the book nor can I find it elsewhere…

 

 

Introducing a Christmas elf

In the last couple of years, the idea of Santa sending an elf to visit in December has become widely known across Australia.

And leading up to Christmas 2017, a number of friends were visited by an elf and thus my children were keen to have an elf in our home, too.

When to welcome an elf to your house?

Apart from anything else, I didn’t think it would work very well to have an elf arrive part way through December. I guess it could have been too busy helping Santa at the North Pole to get here for the first of December, but it felt strange to me.

If you have a visiting elf in your house, when did it arrive? Do you think it matters when he or she arrives?

However, it also seems a long time until next Christmas, especially for young children, so when I came across an elf the other day I thought of having him pop in now to say hello in preparation for next December.

box set of The Christmas Elf

Tinkles was acrobatic before she even left the box!

Introducing an elf to the family

How do most people have the elf appear?

At our house, we take down the Christmas tree and decorations on the 6th of January – based on the tradition of 12 days of Christmas.

As we worked on removing the tree decorations, we discovered an elf hiding amongst the branches!

Soft elf, Tinkles, hiding in the Christ,as tree

Tinkles hiding in our tree!

My children were very excited to discover we had a visiting Christmas elf! And even more so when they discovered the elf had a letter from Santa with her to introduce her as Tinkles the Elf. After a brief visit today, the letter explained, Tinkles will return on the first of December to watch over our family and report to Santa.

Elf lying on a letter from Santa

Tinkles lying with the letter she delivered from Santa

We finished packing up the tree and have left the elf sitting on our mantelpiece to be close to the chimney for his return to Santa at the North Pole. It also gave them a timeframe to write their thank you letters to Santa so the elf could deliver them directly for us.

Elf in front of a colourful letter to Santa

Tinkles on the mantelpiece with a thank you letter for Santa

 

The toys’ night before Christmas – Christmas book review

The toys night before Christmas Front cover of The toys'night before Christmas picture book

by Dugald Steer
illustrated by Susanna Ronchi
Ken Fin Books, Collingwood, October 2004

Age group: 2-8 years
Format: hardcover picture book

I saw this book at a friend’s house when she encouraged me to read it, knowing that I love Christmas and books! I’m glad she did.

The story

It’s Christmas and Jack-in-the-box is disappointed that the toys don’t get any Christmas gifts.

My review

This is a beautiful book. Not only are Ronchi’s illustrations bright and colourful, the pages are textured with the main images embossed on the page. I found it impossible not to run my fingers over every page as I read this book.

The story is nice and simple – Santa forgets to bring gifts to the toys. Most of the toys accept they are toys, lol, but Jack is upset and sets about getting the toys acknowledged.

Jack sets out to make a Santa experience for the toy box residents, including a bird-pulled-sleigh! It involves the toys all working together, especially once someone gets stuck in the chimney!

Every page has a sign of Santa to find, too. The story ends, unsurprisingly, with Santa making Christmas extra special for Jack and his toy friends.

inside pages of the book

Absolutely gorgeous book to have on display for Christmas!

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