Santa's Letter Elf

A writing elf who helps out Santa each year with some personalised letters for Australian children

Holly’s Christmas

Tonight I watched a movie called Holly’s Christmas.

It was on general commercial Australia TV – I was checking what was on TV tonight and was surprised to find at least 4 Christmas shows in a row on a standard channel.

So this is a Hallmark movie, known as Christmas with Holly in the USA and based on a novel by Lisa Kleypas called “Christmas Eve at Friday Harbour. Christmas Eve At Friday Harbour: Number 1 in series (Friday Harbor)

The movie…

In short, a young man (Mark, played by Sean Faris) has become guardian of his six-year-old niece after his sister’s death. A selective mute, the  girl is being returned to an earlier school year so Mark takes her back to the island he grew up on and was living up to three month ago.

As they caught the ferry, a young woman (Maggie, played by Eloise Mumford) is heading to the island to start her dram toy shop. Instantly, we knew she would become the love interest and probably help Holly (played by Josie Gallina) talk again. Our children, on the other hand, followed the story and didn’t see it coming!

The movie does end at Christmas and has some special Christmas elements (beautiful lights on boats and the harbour, a special Christmas gift for Holly and Holly asking about her mum). However, it otherwise is mostly just a feel good story about a young girl and her uncle’s romance.

For me, it was a nice light movie to watch on a Sunday evening and we enjoyed it.

The movie has some nice water views, a lovely side story of fairies watching a toy store, lovely people, nothing nasty, and a happy ending.

A Christmas homecoming – Christmas book review

A Christmas homecoming Front cover a A Christmas Homecoming

by Anne Perry
Headline Publishing Group, UK, 2011

Age group: teen to adult
Format: 224 page paperback

Following on from A Christmas Message, I was intrigued about one author having 13 Christmas books, so I grabbed another from the library to see how she does it!

The story

A theatre group preparing to perform Dracula in 1897 is interrupted by a murder…

My review

After finishing A Christmas Message, I was very unsure about how this book would be. I’m very glad to say it was more like my expectations of A Christmas Message and I enjoyed reading this book.

One thing that I had wondered about Perry writing 13 stories (based on the same characters was my initial incorrect thought) was how she managed that over time – surely there can’t be multiple mysteries solved around any particular Christmas by a single character! As it turns out, Perry’s festive series covers many years – one goes back as far as 1847 and A Christmas Message is set in 1900 – so that makes it more feasible!

I really enjoyed this book and the charterers, and it was interesting to think of Dracula as a ‘new craze’ and of dubious value and longevity! There are many reminders in this book of how things have changed, too – no phone to call for help, wood fires as the only source of warmth, no movies/TVs , less exposure to ‘scary’ effects so more sensitive to fear settings, and less general knowledge of investigations and forensics.

The key character, Caroline Fielding was also interesting. An older women (in her late 50s to 60s is my guess) who has been widowed and now remarried to a man 20 years younger and of a lower station, she has depth and experience that I liked. She is depicted as intelligent, resourceful and strong, but also a bit lonely at times so not overly perfect! Caroline’s son-in-law (present in many Perry books I gather) is policeman so she was able to preserve evidence and work on the case.

Much of the book revolves around the development of the play to be performed on Boxing Day – the murder doesn’t occur until over half way through the book! So it seems that Perry’s style is to have a story and work a mystery into it, rather than have the mystery as the key focus – different to what is common but not in a bad way.

I hadn’t realised that Bram Stoker’s Dracula centres around Dracula washing ashore near Whitby in York, but this book is set there which was an appropriate setting for their play, obviously.

Would I recommend it? Yes, I do both as an easy-to-read mystery and as an interesting reminder of how things used to be.

 

A little Christmas in space!

Have you been to a space museum or centre?

I’ve been to one near Canberra and it was interesting. As expected, there was information about space exploration and how planets, stars and galaxies work. There wasn’t much connection to Christmas though!

However, a good friend is currently in the USA and she visited the Kennedy Space Centre on Merritt Island in Florida. And she found the unexpected – Christmas display in a space centre! Ok, it was mostly Christmas ornaments (which make nice souvenirs!) in the gift shop, and being close to Disney World the Mickey Mouse theme makes sense, but here are the photos she shared with us.

Display of Christmas ornaments at Kennedy Space Centre

 

 

A Christmas message – Christmas book review

A Christmas message from cover of A Christmas Message

by Anne Perry
Headline Book Publishing, United Kingdom, 2017

Age group: teen to adult
Format: 176 page hard cover

Does ‘Christmas mystery’ mean a crime story set at Christmas, or a story about the unknown and Christian faith? This book has them both covered…

The story

A couple travel from Turkey to Jerusalem in 1900 and find carrying a message is more complex than it seemed.

My review

I am starting this review despite only have read a few pages as the writing style is so enticing that I already like the characters and want to know more – so a great start to this book which is set (so far anyway) just before Christmas in Jaffa, Turkey.

Actually, this is Perry’s 14th novella in her festive series! I am intrigued as to how she can write so many books all about mysteries/crimes involving Christmas so watch out for future reviews of her books to find out!

After finishing the book…

A Christmas message is set in 1900 with newly weds Victor and Vespasia travelling by train from Jaffa in Turkey to Jerusalem. Both characters have appeared in a number of Perry’s earlier books so there is a progression but I didn’t find this hindered my reading of this book.

The book starts with the couple meeting an older man and receiving from him a message to deliver to a ‘House of Bread’ in Jerusalem. There is intrigue and mystery as to who the man was, what the message is (our heroes can’t read it as it was not in a language they recognised), and how they will manage the delivery. Along they way, they meet a strange character they called Benedict and are threatened by The Watcher. All of that was interesting and somewhat as expected.

However, there is an increasing level of religious and spiritual discussion in the story as it progresses. There are pages and pages of these discussions rather than focusing on the mystery of the message – from thoughts about redemption to the star within (as distinct from the wise men following a real star to Bethlehem). It was not as expected and fits an entirely different genre to a mystery book.

It is a modern book (Perry published this in 2017) so uses contemporary writing but works in the 1900 atmosphere nicely. Even to the point that Vespasia is having these religious epiphanies but can’t mention them to her husband as ‘one doesn’t bring up such things’!

I would have liked a bit more about Jerusalem as it was and certainly more focus on the mystery (although the philosophy sections finally connected with the mystery, it was unnecessary and over the top for me).

 

Would I recommend it? Hard to say really – it is easy to read, has some interesting things in it (like the train from Jaffa to Jerusalem as that line only existed between 1891 and 1948), and I like the characters. The religious thoughts and underlying message was a bit much for me – both in it being religious but also it was based on metaphors and a deeper level of thought than the book enticed me to.
If you already know Perry’s character, I dare say this is a great read for giving them a happy ending; if you like theology and mysteries together, you will love this book; if you just want a simple mystery without the morals and religion, find another story!

 

Another little Christmas murder – Christmas book review

Another little Christmas murder

Front cover of Another Little Christmas Murder

Front cover

 

by Lorna Nicholl Morgon
Sphere, London 1947

Age group: teen to adult
Format: 256 page paperback

A mystery read with no real connection to Christmas…

The story

Therese Brown unexpectedly plays host to 8 extra people due to a blizzard on treacherous roads beside her house on the same night that her ill husband dies – but not all goes as one would expect.

My review

This story takes place over a few days in December along a deserted road in Yorkshire. At the end, two characters drive off to a family Christmas gathering. Unfortunately, that is the entire Christmas connection for this book.  Apparently, this is a publisher effect as the original version was actually called Another little murder.

Being written in 1947, the remote house is truly remote without mobile phones or even a landline, and the house doesn’t even have electric lighting to add further atmosphere. It is a simpler plot and less gruesome than many modern crime books, but that didn’t stop my enjoyment of it.

The motive behind the crimes was a complete surprise, which is unusual in the crime genre, but clues and the culprits are present throughout. It is a bit ‘secret seven’ like with people bumbling around at night but that feels like the period.

It was a bit strange to have so many people turn up at Wintry Wold – why were so many people on this remote road so far into a storm? – but it kept the story moving and the plot hidden.

Would I recommend it? As a Christmas book, obviously not! And as a serious crime book with a plot to get engrossed in, no not really. As a pleasant read in front of a winter fire, yes I would so maybe you can pop it in someone’s Christmas stocking this year!

 

Dear Santa – Christmas adult book review

Dear Santacover of Dear Santa from Samuel Johnson

edited by Samuel Johnson OAM
Hachette Australia, Sydney, 2018

Age group: teen to adult
Format: 148 page paperback

A compilation of letters to Santa, written by Australian celebrities as adults.

The story

Not a story as such, but the book was thought of and executed by Samuel Johnson (unicycle rider, TV celebrity, brother who founded Love Your Sister) as a fund raiser in the fight against cancer. All of the letters have been written without the celebrities receiving any payment for their contribution to the book.

My review

Obviously this is a collection so there is a lot of variation from page to page – some letters are nostalgic, some are funny and some are a bit political (such as wanting refugee children out of detention on Nauru). There is also variation from a few lines to a few pages – either way, giving you space to read it slowly over time or easily read it as a single entity.

inside the book, Dear Santa

I found it interesting that the people I was most drawn to read were not always the letters I most enjoyed reading. A couple of letters felt like they were trying too hard – trying to be clever or impressive rather than getting into the spirit of writing to Santa (to me, that is genuine and heart felt) but the range of topics and styles was interesting and thought provoking, too.

It is nice to have it adult centric – I mean, it could have been letters of what they imagined they wrote as children, or some other child centric model.

Celebrities included…

There are 68 letters to Santa in the book, written by a range of Australians, including:

  • Gus Luenig, artist
  • Shane Jacobson, Chief Scout (Vic), actor
  • Deborah Mailman, actor
  • Leigh Sales, ABC presenter
  • Rove McManus, TV personality
  • Hildegrad Hinton, prison guard
  • Stuart Coupe, band manager of old, broadcaster
  • Paris Mitchell, public speaker
  • Helen Garner, writer
  • Ian Smith, political lobbyist, married to Natasha Stott Despojer
  • Peter FitzSimmons, ex rugby player, presenter

Would I recommend it? How can I not? Raising money to fight cancer is such a worthy cause – cancer causes so much pain and suffering. Add in it is about letters to Santa and it has my vote!

But seriously, it is an interesting book and has some letters well worth reading. Sure, some of the letters I didn’t like much and others didn’t add a lot of value, but overall the letters are good. It is an easy read given you can read just a page or two at a sitting, so I think it makes a great Christmas gift.

 

Last day of advent calendars!

Yes, it is Christmas Eve, Santa is almost here and our Christmas count downs are just about done!

Ornament calendar

Given it is Christmas Eve, finding Santa behind the flap is perfect! This is one of my favourite ornaments from this set – it just works really well with the two pieces giving the impression of Santa’s rotund body and cheeriness!

The cute image underneath of Santa racing down a hill on a sled is fun, too.

Press out decoration Santa on the Christmas tree

 

Lego City

Like the press-out calendar, the Lego City calendar left Santa until Christmas Eve! It was not unexpected (Santa was also on day 24 in 2015, 2016 and 2017) but still fun to find and build Santa carrying his sack!

This is what Santa looked like before we put him together.

Santa and his sack, with the Christmas tree and presents behind.

 

Lego Friends

Unlike the other two advent calendars, Lego Friends did not finish with Santa or even a Christmas tree. Instead we made a lovely little train pulling a trailer carrying a letter (to Santa perhaps?)

Lego Friends train

Christmas book

Of course, we had to save The night before Christmas to read tonight in anticipation of Santa’s arrival. Hopefully it will help put everyone to sleep nice and early…

Tinkles shrunk the food!

Tinkles is much smaller than us so it seems fair that she prefers smaller food portions than us…

CHristmas elf's food shrinking machine with the elf and lollies

Apparently, Tinkles created a food shrinking machine overnight and proceeded to make herself some elf-sized marshmallow and freckles treats! This is something of a highlight of Tinkles’ behaviour over the month as far as my kids are concerned – they loved looking at the machine and tiny food portions.

CHristmas lying besdie her food shrinking machine and lollies

My son determined she used an empty Lindt box (maybe that’s her excuse for eating our chocolates? LOL!) to create her machine and that the tab designed for closing the box is what pushes down on the large food to force it into the smaller size (I love how he investigated the box carefully to decide this, all without touching the box or Tinkles!) The family decision is that Lindt boxes are a bit magic already so Tinkles was clever to use that box when making her machine – although we started wondering if Lindt balls start much larger in the Lindt factory…

Day 23, or Little Christmas Eve, is here!

Happy Little Christmas Eve, as they call it in Norway.

Ornament calendar

The hidden image tonight was cute – Merrit peering at a smiling bauble in a tree! We then made a red and orange bauble to hang on our tree.

finding a Christmas bauble decoration in the calendar

Lego City

The Lego City calendar produced a yellow helicopter which my son enjoyed putting together.

yellow Lego helicopter

Lego Friends

Tonight’s most exciting discovery, however, was the Christmas Tree in the Friends calendar.

Lego Christmas tree ornament

Christmas book

Our Christmas book is That’s good, that’s bad which the kids always enjoy, even if it is not my favourite Christmas story.

Tinkles found some new playmates…

So yesterday we put together our collectables and I said the kids could decide where to put them. However, it appears that Tinkles has decided for them and our collectables are in an empty cupboard with Tinkles this morning!

Christmas elf with supermarket Christmas Collectables

Day 22 – Christmas is close now…

Only two more flaps to open after tonight – we’re getting very close to Santa’s arrival now! Have you planned your snack to leave out for Santa yet?

Ornament calendar

We pressed out and created a shooting star for day 22. The picture underneath is cute, with two kids looking out a window at a shooting star – but I love that the neighbouring picture (from day 17) has Merrit and a reindeer also looking at the shooting star!

Shooting star ornament

Lego City

We made a little robot in the Lego City advent calendar tonight. The wind up key didn’t attach on the back as the instructions indicated though so my husband stuck it on the robot’s head instead!

small Lego robot on red background

Interestingly, there is a robot in the Christmas Collectables, too! I still don’t see the connection to Christmas, other than someone wanting one as a gift (but on that basis, EVERYTHING could be included!)

Lego Friends

Strangely, tonight’s Lego ornament is a microscope… well maybe not so strange if that is one of the decorations representing a Heartlake friend I guess (and I am more than happy if one of the Lego girls is into science as that is a great role model for kids).

Lego microscope ornament

Christmas book

And now we are going to settle down with our next Christmas book – Where’s Santa? I hope you enjoy your Christmas reading tonight, too!

Creating some collectables

While we don’t go shopping anywhere just to get their gimmicks, we have managed to gather a few of the Woolworths Christmas collectables this year. Have you collected them, too?

I decided to keep them aside so we could put them together as a Christmas activity, which we did this afternoon.  It was a simple activity but we all enjoyed doing it together.

 

I have no idea if we have all the different pieces but it is a good collection, and here are some of my thoughts about them.

  • they are made of cardboard – not plastic – so that is a HUGE win (we wouldn’t have collected any at all had they been plastic)
  • they are sturdy so will last – I think they will even be okay to use again next Christmas!
  • the layers of board can separate a bit too easily meaning pushing some bits through the slot was hard (particularly the key going into the robot – my daughter couldn’t get it in)
  • the collectables are more challenging to put together and sturdier than the ornaments in our press out advent calendar
  • some pieces don’t stand very well – for instance, the Christmas tree has two parts but as only one rests on the ground the final tree is wobbly

We don’t have the Christmas tree stand – Woolworths decided to only give it to some members (those who buy the ‘correct things’ during the year according to their response when I questioned this) and sell it to others, and I choose not to pay for it. So the kids can just arrange them on the mantle piece or their window sills I think.

Where do (or would) you display these collectables in your house? Would you add them to your stored Christmas items for next ear as well?

Santa with his sleigh, gingerbread man beside a gingerbread house

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