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review 2018-01-14 22:03
Christmas Past by Robert Brenner
Christmas Past: A Collectors' Guide to Its History and Decorations - Robert Brenner

I have to admit something to you all: I'm crazy about Christmas. I don't have a tree up all year or sing carols or anything, but as soon as Thanksgiving is over, IT'S ON! The Christmas albums come out, the lights get put up and our collection of ornaments get hung on the trees.*

My husband and I have family ornaments ranging from a few fragile German pieces from just after WWI to mid-century Shiny Brites to a piece of purple foil glued on cardstock marked 'MyLes' in pencil.** We also like finding eclectic antique and vintage ornaments in cotton or paper or glass. The problem is that while we've picked up a thing or two, we never had a comprehensive reference on how to identify or date ornaments. As 'crackers' as we are about the ornaments, there's a real limit to how much we'll spend on a piece of fragile glass or a disintegrating candy container. So we hunt for bargains that aren't going to be researched and labeled. That's where Robert Brenner and his books come in.

This Christmas we received three of his books on the history of ornaments. This one is his earliest and is a valuable reference tool, but it does suffer from some issues. The book is divided into sections based on the materials an ornament is made of - dough, cloth, metal, paper, wax, cotton, glass, composition and plastics - with some grey areas addressed. Oh, and lighting. The book is furnished with some excellent photos of early ornaments of most types discussed.

A big revelation was how many ornaments and styles kept on for decades after we thought they would have fallen out of fashion. We were aware of many modern reproductions, but certain styles of ornaments we thought were exclusively Victorian it turns out were made well up into the early 1930s - these include the large wire wrapped glass figurals and the abstract tinsel ornaments made built around tissue-thin glass spheres. "Feather trees", artificial trees made of wire and wrapped in dyed goose feathers, and the miniature ornaments to match, were also made right up until WWII. Brenner offers some advice on what to look for: a rule of thumb is that more elaborate construction and "true" lifelike colors in glass and paper indicate an earlier date. But there are exceptions. And, while there are hundreds of color images in the book, Brenner rarely, if ever, puts examples side by side. For example, if Japanese honeycomb tissue ornaments were 'less dense' then their German counterparts what does that mean exactly if there isn't a single picture of a German or a Japanese item?

The book is a great place to start, and there is a later edition of this book (still twenty years old...), but I'm hoping the others provide some more concrete examples and insight. I'm hoping to be a little more educated next time we come across promising ornaments.

*We had two. Maybe a third next year. Only one is real though! Does that make it better?

**I've always disliked arts and crafts, so I tended to phone it in even then.

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review 2018-01-14 19:38
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever - Barbara Robinson,Judith Gwyn Brown

I know for a fact I read this book in elementary school, but I didn't remember anything about it. It turns out The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is about how the Herdmans, a gang of ill-bred ruffian poor children, hijack the Christmas play at Church because they thought there would be food, and they end up teaching everyone in town the lesson that.....they have feelings? I think that's it. It was marvelous.

The narrative, from the perspective of the daughter of the woman who ends up having to direct the pageant, is deadpan and with the humor mostly being carried by the dialogue between her parents and a lengthy segment where the hard-bitten urchins are disgusted by the treatment Mary and Joseph receive in Bethlehem and the poor quality of gifts offered by the wise men.

The humor is great, but there is a core of genuine sympathy in the book. Robinson cleverly cuts through all of the 'expected' traditions and finds a way to express the, yes I'm going to say it, the true meaning of Christmas. There isn't much resolution, but it does raise many questions, which can be a good thing when one enters into the dicey territory of Christmas fodder. This is a quick read for Christmas day and can be supplemented by the 1983 television special.

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review 2018-01-14 18:28
A second chance with a little help.
A Texas Christmas Past (Whiskey River Christmas Book 1) - Julia Justiss

This story is about second chances at love with a little help from the spirit world. My heart hurt for both Audra and Drew as they dealt with their PTSD in their own ways, in a time when the idea of PTSD was unheard of. Audra had the strength to recognize her weakness and worked toward a future of healing herself and others. Drew felt a need to keep it to himself, and I felt sorry for him as he struggled with loneliness, anger, and shame. When they decide that the other is more important, I had tears in my eyes. The story moved me and entertained me. I look forward to reading the other Whiskey River Christmas stories.

This is my unsolicited review.

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review 2018-01-13 20:23
Santa Paws Is Coming To Town, Roxanne St. Claire
Santa Paws is Coming to Town (A Dogfather Short Tail) (The Dogfather Book 4) - Roxanne St. Claire

I really enjoyed this short, somewhat clean Christmas story. I received this for free and I voluntarily chose to review it. I've given it a 5* rating. This really had a lot going on. It had many of the sorrows and joys we all have during the holidays. So this was a nice soul touching Christmas story.

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review 2018-01-12 14:42
The Christmas Cottage / Ever After - Samantha Chase

The Christmas Cottage by Samantha Chase
This one starts out with Lacey and her lifelong friend Ava is about to be married in 7 weeks and spend her honeymoon night in the family cottage.
Lacey is burnt out with the details, daily of how to wear her hair, etc but she's tactful about it.
Ava wants Lacey-the maid of honor and the best man to get the cottage ready for them-she's got this huge book all about it.
Ava isn't on the same page as to the future and children...and there are other obstacles, her job...
Cottage is supposed to be magical and those who've been married in it have stayed together for a very long time, maybe NOT always happy on the outside...
Lacey will be decorating the cottage with Ava's brother Ean-who Lacey has a crush on....
Twists and turns and love hearing about the cottage first hand. They have their differences and they are older as they get to know one another again.
They do think Ava needs more time with Mason.
Love the locale and wish they had more time around the area in the book.
Pretty predictable. Lots of drama. Other works by the author are highlighted at the end.

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