Just Passing Through

Throughout the year, I collect Christmas books at the library book sales and from my favorite book store.  These books are often planned as Christmas gifts and, as such, are just passing through my little book filled house.

The weeks before Christmas are busy, and I don’t have a lot of time to read, so I pick through my stack of Christmas gift books, ready to be wrapped, choosing short ones to read just before bed.

Here are three that are sure to please my intended recipients and perhaps yours as well:

The Mysterious Toyshop by Cyril W. Beaumont

This lovely little book will please not only older children, but also adults.  Written in 1924, The Mysterious Toyshop is a compelling example of relatively early science fiction, combined with a bit of the Brother’s Grimm. Written in Victorian style, the book tells the tale of a wonderful toyshop that suddenly appears in an abandoned building in a small village, run by an equally curious toymaker.  The toys are mechanical and uniquely magical. And the shop itself – well, just read this description:

It was a long rambling room, bull of bends and corners that seemed to say: “You loose yourself if you’re not careful.  The first object to meet the eye was a large doll places just inside the doorway.  [Its] arm was outstretched and held a silver wand which pointed towards a long glass-covered counter, heaped with objects to tempt the most exacting child.  The walls were lined with shelves and cases full of toys and bright coloured boxes, with their lids raised ever so slightly to afford a tantalizing peep at the treasure within.  The ceiling was dazzling in its light and colour, for it was covered with convex and concave mirrors.

The townspeople are bewildered by the toymaker who only sells some of the toys, some of the time, to some of the customers —

…the more pressing a the customer became the more evasive would be the toymakers replies.

Those fortunate enough to purchase one of these mechanical wonders, host parties to show off their acquisitions.

Then, an pompous aristocrat demands that a toy be made exactly for him, but the old toymaker resists. He does not take commissions, the aristocrat makes a fuss and the toyshop disappears as mysteriously as it appeared.

I fell hard for this book based on illustrations










A short, very interesting story and perfect for reading aloud to both children and adults.  I know just the parents and child…in a few years.


The Christmas Rose by Sepp Bauer ~~Illustrated by

Else Wenz-Victor 

Like the previous volume, I was taken with the cover and exquisite illustrations for this little fairy tale.  First published in Germany in the 1920’s, this advent story is told in parts one for each day from Saint Nikolaus’s Day – December 6 to Christmas Eve.

A classic  tale of two little children who must find a blossom from the only rose that blooms at Christmas, as one whiff of this rose will cure their father’s illness.

The illustrations are pure enchantment, which I think any child will love, I know I did.









This goes to a German friend and proud grandmother.


The Mistletoe Murder by P.D. James

I have read everything – yes everything written by P.D. James, so I was all in when these previously unknown stories were published after her death.

So grab a cup of cocoa and light the fire…this is a quick read to cozy up with any night during the holiday season.

The title story is a classic drawing room murder, complete with a body found in a locked library.  But as always, the author’s descriptions of place lift her writing beyond the common place mystery story:

…[my first sight of Stutleigh Manor].  It loomed up out of the darkness, a stark shape against a grey sky pierced with a few high stars.  And then the moon moved from behind a cloud and the house was revealed; beauty, symmetry and mystery bathed in white light.

Our narrator looks back 52 years to a Christmas spent at her grandmothers manor and a suspicious death.  Now the successful crime writer, the only member of the family still alive, can tell the real story.

The manor is creepy, the Christmas decorations sparse – just a few sprigs of holly here and there, and our narrator is suspicious of one of the guests. The story is riveting, and despite who you think did it, I’m guessing you’ll be surprised by the last sentence.

The second story, A Very Commonplace Murder is Ms. James at her creepy best.  A psychological study of a voyeur who cleverly convinces himself, and the reader, he is doing the right thing by keeping silent about something evil he observed. Again, the ending will surprise.

The final two stories The Boxdale Inheritance and The Twelve Clues of Christmas feature a young Adam Daglish – bumbling through a crime in the first story and, in contrast, amusing and clever in the last.

While these are short yet complex stories, and, as in her novels, Ms. James always delivers a sly twist — that we never see coming — but rather than feeling duped we are totally entertained.

This went to one of my biggest Book Barmy fans, my mother.

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