Christmas Special: The Snowman ~ Raymond Briggs

As this week is Christmas week, I will be doing something special on the days I post.  Today we will begin with one of my favourites and, what better way to start, than with a few words from the Author himself:

“I remember that winter because it had brought the heaviest snows I had ever seen. Snow had fallen steadily all night long and in the morning I woke in a room filled with light and silence, the whole world seemed to be held in a dream-like stillness. It was a magical day… and it was on that day I made the Snowman.” – Raymond Briggs

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Review: The Children’s Train: Escape on the Kindertransport ~ Jana Zinser

Children's trainISBN ~ 978-1939371850
Publisher ~BQB Publishing
No. Of Pages ~368 pages
Links ~ Netgalley, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

The Jewish children of Germany are frightened, and their parents are too. Hitler’s men have just broken their store windows, stolen and destroyed their belongings, and arrested many Jewish fathers and brothers. When England arranges to take the children out of Germany by train, the Kindertransport is organized. The train filled with Jewish children escaping the Nazis chugs over the border into Holland, where they are ferried across the English Channel to England and to freedom. But for Peter, the shy violin player, his sister Becca, and his friends Stephen and Hans, life in England holds challenges as well. Peter’s friend Eva, who did not get a seat on the Kindertransport, is left to the evil plans of Hitler. Peter, working his musician’s hands raw at a farm in Coventry, wonders if they should have stayed and fought back instead of escaping. That night the Coventry farm is bombed. The Nazis have reached England. Peter has nothing left. He decides it’s time to stand and fight Hitler. Peter returns to Germany to join the Jewish underground resistance, search for the mother and sister he left behind in Berlin, and rescue his childhood friend Eva.

5 Thumbs-Up I actually downloaded this novel for free from Netgalley, with the usual caveat I would provide an honest review, as if I write anything else, as it fit into my studies and was looking for a different fictional viewpoint for a paper I was writing.  Little did I know that once I started reading this I would find it very hard to put down.

There really aren’t any words I could write here that could make anyone read this book, particularly given the subject, but it surely is a book that needs to be read to ensure something as horrific and tragic as this never happens again. The Author writes mainly from the viewpoint of the children involved in the journey of the Kindertransport, but also takes time to bring to life on the page the awful decisions their parents had to make in letting them go.  As always with history, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but at the time in which the novel is set many of these adults still did not believe their lives could possibly be in jeopardy, never mind the lives of their children.

Although there are few places in the book where the Author reminds us that this is truly a work of fiction, the novel is very informative and engrossing and I would highly recommend this book as reading for teenagers to help them understand another aspect of the Holocaust.  I am always indecisive when it comes to the issue of whether to read another novel on this subject, but I am glad I read this and will be looking out for more from this Author in the future.

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Are you Listening?

Headphones-on-Books1

I had an interesting conversation the other day; a young man in the library asked me if I had read a certain book that he held out to me, I replied that I hadn’t but I’d read the print copy.  As you’ve probably guessed by now the young man was showing me an audiobook.  So is ‘listening’ to an audiobook just as good as holding a print copy in your hands?

I suppose the answer to that question must come from your own personal definition of reading. If reading is understanding the content of the story or the theme, then audiobooks certainly succeed.  Understanding the message, thinking critically about the content, using imagination, and making connections are at the heart of what it means to be a reader and why kids learn to love books whether they read them alone, are read to or listen to them.  Audiobooks also play a large role in bringing reading to the visually impaired and help them enter that other world all readers know and love, and I for one would never say a visually impaired reader was not a true reader just because they listened to audiobooks.

Which brings me to the crux of the matter why is there even room for the “Which is better: listening to an audiobook or reading a print book” debate. It’s inane, banal and pointless, and as long as books are being absorbed in one form or another surely it is a plus for all concerned.  The debate is based on the premise that, as a reader you can’t do both and that you have to fall onto one side of the debate or the other, pretty much like the eBook debate (but we all know my feelings on that subject).

When it comes to listening to audiobooks or reading books, it’s not actually an issue of personal preference for me. It’s not even a matter of choice rather a matter of common sense and deciding if I want to get home in one piece. I cannot choose to read a book while I’m driving; the choice here is whether to listen to an audiobook or the radio; if it’s the audiobook careful choice has to be made as to content, I want something interesting but not too engaging that I lose focus on driving.  There are many circumstances in my everyday life (and probably yours too) where by using common sense my choices are a) listen or not, and b) listen to what? There is no option to read with my eyes.

If this debate had been brought up back in the heyday of dramatised books on the radio, and at the advent of the wonderful A Book at Bedtime show that BBC Radio 4 has featured on weeknights since 1949, it would not have even been given notice, or credence.  It was the norm to read your print book, listen to your radio dramatisations and then the Book at Bedtime before retiring for the night.  I’ve even had classroom discussions about a particular book on the BBC with my English Literature teacher, who had set it as homework knowing certain members of the class would be more likely to ‘read’ the book this way, rather than having to hold it in their hands.

So stop the debate or argument, whatever you want to dress it up as. Please. For it really is neither of these things. And if you insist on still travelling down this misguided path, find a visually impaired person; ask your obtuse question of them, then come away from that conversation being thankful you have an extra sense with which you can receive information.

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Wednesday Poem: Fireflies in the Garden ~ Robert Frost

fireflies

Fireflies in the Garden

Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And they were never really stars at heart)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they can’t sustain the part.

Robert Frost

Robert Frost, “Fireflies in the Garden” from The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright 1928, 1969 by Henry Holt and Company, Inc., renewed © 1956 by Robert Frost. Reprinted with the permission of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.
Source: The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (1983)

Review: Inkheart (Inkworld #1) ~ Cornelia Funke, Anthea Bell (Translator)

InkheartISBN ~ 9780439531641
Publisher ~The Chicken House
No. Of Pages ~534 pages
Links ~ Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Scholastic,

Twelve-year-old Meggie learns that her father, who repairs and binds books for a living, can “read” fictional characters to life when one of those characters abducts them and tries to force him into service.

Characters from books literally leap off the page in this engrossing fantasy. Meggie has had her father to herself since her mother went away when she was young. Mo taught her to read when she was five, and the two share a mutual love of books. He can “read” characters out of books. When she was three, he read aloud from a book called Inkheart and released characters into the real world. At the same time, Meggie’s mother disappeared into the story. This “story within a story” will delight not just fantasy fans, but all readers who like an exciting plot with larger-than-life characters.

5 Thumbs-UpThis book is the first of the Inkworld Trilogy, with the others in the series being Inkspell and Inkdeath.  I first was introduced to the world of Inkheart through the movie of the same name, and from watching this numerous times and also mentioning how I would love to read the book my Husband surprised me with the Trilogy.  I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive about starting Inkheart, as for the movie to be so good I felt that maybe the book was truly terrible; thankfully I was wrong.  There has also been a lot of debate as to whether this Trilogy is suitable reading for the age group it is aimed at (8-12 years), but as parents are the ones who know their children it is not for me to pass comment in this area.

Surprisingly, for a book aimed at this age group, the Author has managed to create characters that are rich and full of life, so much so it almost feels as they may just come off the page and enter the real world alongside the reader.  It would have been easy for the Author to just make her characters cookie cutter images and move on with the story, but they endow them with all the personality traits, flaws and weaknesses that go into making us all so uniquely human.  Through the book the reader learns about love and loss, hatred and deceit and, although it can become a little dark at times, there is nothing that would make anyone think that these characters could not possibly exist outside the written word; I think that was the beauty of the book for me.  The Author has written a storyline that revolves around characters coming out of the book, and carries this theme into them whether they are major leads or just passing through on their way to another story.  The Author skilfully manages to keep any secrets the characters may have well hidden, making them not easy for the reader to guess until they are revealed at exactly the right moment, and in exactly the right way; a skill that many other Authors of this genre would do well to learn,

The world in which the book takes place is also very real, there are no made up locations in this book; the reader can visualise a place in Europe where all the scenery described is there.  With the colourful houses, I was transported to parts of Italy and Southern France which also included the mountains which seem to be always looming in the background in this region.  I could smell the ocean and feel the change in the wind when a storm was approaching.

This is a book lovers book, whether they like the fantasy genre or not, whether books in this age group are their thing or not.  This is a book that understands those among us that love to smell books, don’t break the spines and would be devastated if anything happened to our collections.  This is a book that says ‘hey it’s OK to be this way.  I understand and you’re not alone’.  This is an easy novel to read, and pulled me in totally from about the 4th or 5th page not letting go until I closed the back cover on it two days later.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves to read, loves books and is open to the infinite possibilities that losing themselves in a book can bring.  I already have the remaining two books in the Trilogy lined up to read, but am trying to resist as I don’t want to rush through this world without having the time to absorb everything; who knows if I’m lucky I may even be ‘read’ into it.

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Review: Ultimate Star Wars ~ Ryder Windham, Adam Bray, Patricia Barr and Daniel Wallace

star warsISBN ~ 978-1465436016
Publisher ~ DK
No. Of Pages ~320 Pages
Links ~ Amazon, Dorling Kindersley, Barnes and Noble

Become an expert on the Star Wars galaxy!

Ultimate Star Wars® is an in-depth visual feast exploring the characters and storylines from the Star Wars galaxy. This is a beautifully illustrated guide that is structured chronologically and packed full of information about key characters and storylines from the Star Wars movie saga, The Clone Wars, and Rebels™Ultimate Star Wars will get new and old fans caught up and knowledgeable on all things Star Wars.

© & TM 2015 LUCASFILM LTD.

Let me start by explaining the reason behind my four thumbs review, I’m not a huge Star Wars fan.  Don’t get me wrong I enjoy the movies, but I’m not a fangirl in the same sense or to the extremes others out there are.  Having said this, this art book really hit the spot with me, and went a long way to explaining some of the storylines and characters in the movies.

Dorling Kindersley have done their usual excellent work when publishing this book and, with the frenzy that is building with the release of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens in December of this year, they are sure to have a money-maker on their hands.

This book is sure to appeal to fans of any levels, and maybe capture the interest of those new to this Universe.  The book itself is divided into topics that cover things from characters to locations, and these are interspersed with ‘key event’ facts  and each includes a timeline  and a behind the scenes article.  Covering all six of the Star Wars films, it also touches on the animated TV series of Clone Wars and Rebels.

To say this book has detail would be an understatement, and do it a total injustice.  As I said earlier I am not a huge fan, but I found the character pages fascinating; each has a biography which includes some important events of which they were a part and other little pieces of information on their weapons etc.  The major characters, such as the R2-D2 unit are given a double page spread, as can be seen in the image below, while lesser character may, in some cases only get a portion of the page they are still included and this is part of what makes this a comprehensive guide to the Star Wars Universe.

r2 unit

Apart from the myriad of information that the reader will find within this books pages, they are also given a visual treat in the form of crisp images that are full of detail, from the most important of characters right down to the obscure.  I have to admit that my favourite part of this book, along with the foreword by Anthony Daniels, were the character and location sections, as after reading it I now feel I might just be able to hold my own in a conversation with a die-hard fan.

I would highly recommend this to all lovers of Star Wars and those, who like myself, enjoy the movies but feel their knowledge is lacking.

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Review: What Do You Do with an Idea? ~ Kobi Yamada, Mae Besom (Illustrator)

IdeaISBN ~ 978-1938298073
Publisher ~Compendium Inc
No. Of Pages ~ 36 pages
Links ~ Amazon, Barnes & Noble

This is the story of one brilliant idea and the child who helps to bring it into the world. As the child’s confidence grows, so does the idea itself. And then, one day, something amazing happens. This is a story for anyone, at any age, who’s ever had an idea that seemed a little too big, too odd, too difficult. It’s a story to inspire you to welcome that idea, to give it some space to grow, and to see what happens next. Because your idea isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s just getting started.

4 Thumbs-UpEveryone at some time in their life has been told that an idea they’ve had is going nowhere and to let it go, only to see it realised by someone else further down the road.   This children’s book, aimed at the 4-8 year old age group, takes that and runs with it in a way that a reader of any age can grasp and take onboard.

As we all know though ideas do not go on to become great things on their own, and this book offers a way for parents to talk to their children about how they can nurture and grow their ideas, just like the boy in the book.  This book opens the door for what could be a great discussion between those involved with it, the parent and child or just two like-minded adult readers, and what is there not to like about a conversation that has been set into motion by a book.  .  My reason for the 4 thumbs review is that I just wanted more; I wanted to see what the idea grew into and how it really does take just one person to start making a change.

The Authors idea to give life to an idea was genius and the use of an egg as the idea even more so.  Combine this with simple but beautiful prose and delicate illustrations and you have a perfect example of what you can do with an idea.  It has been a while since I read and reviewed a children’s book, and I am so glad that I picked this one up to read.  This is a book that is all about creativity, giving to wings to soar and caring for it in a world where no one else seems to care.  Another part of the book I really like was the way in which the only colour in the book, at the beginning, was the egg.  As the idea was cared for and grew, this colour started radiating to other parts of the world, until it finally exploded at the end, so even if the words may be difficult for some children to understand, the way in which they were translated in the illustrations would help immensely.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has ever had an idea and has been told it’s just a ‘dream’.

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Wednesday Poem: The Jumblies ~ Edward Lear

jumblies
The Jumblies

They went to sea in a Sieve, they did,
In a Sieve they went to sea:
In spite of all their friends could say,
On a winter’s morn, on a stormy day,
In a Sieve they went to sea!
And when the Sieve turned round and round,
And every one cried, `You’ll all be drowned!’
They called aloud, `Our Sieve ain’t big,
But we don’t care a button! we don’t care a fig!
In a Sieve we’ll go to sea!’
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

They sailed away in a Sieve, they did,
In a Sieve they sailed so fast,
With only a beautiful pea-green veil
Tied with a riband by way of a sail,
To a small tobacco-pipe mast;
And every one said, who saw them go,
`O won’t they be soon upset, you know!
For the sky is dark, and the voyage is long,
And happen what may, it’s extremely wrong
In a Sieve to sail so fast!’
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

The water it soon came in, it did,
The water it soon came in;
So to keep them dry, they wrapped their feet
In a pinky paper all folded neat,
And they fastened it down with a pin.
And they passed the night in a crockery-jar,
And each of them said, `How wise we are!
Though the sky be dark, and the voyage be long,
Yet we never can think we were rash or wrong,
While round in our Sieve we spin!’
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

And all night long they sailed away;
And when the sun went down,
They whistled and warbled a moony song
To the echoing sound of a coppery gong,
In the shade of the mountains brown.
`O Timballo! How happy we are,
When we live in a Sieve and a crockery-jar,
And all night long in the moonlight pale,
We sail away with a pea-green sail,
In the shade of the mountains brown!’
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

They sailed to the Western Sea, they did,
To a land all covered with trees,
And they bought an Owl, and a useful Cart,
And a pound of Rice, and a Cranberry Tart,
And a hive of silvery Bees.
And they bought a Pig, and some green Jack-daws,
And a lovely Monkey with lollipop paws,
And forty bottles of Ring-Bo-Ree,
And no end of Stilton Cheese.
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

And in twenty years they all came back,
In twenty years or more,
And every one said, `How tall they’ve grown!
For they’ve been to the Lakes, and the Torrible Zone,
And the hills of the Chankly Bore!’
And they drank their health, and gave them a feast
Of dumplings made of beautiful yeast;
And every one said, `If we only live,
We too will go to sea in a Sieve,—
To the hills of the Chankly Bore!’
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

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Let children read the books they love ~ Neil Gaiman

I read this article in 2013 in The Guardian newspaper, it was written by Mark Brown their Arts Correspondent, and thought that it would be an interesting read to get this year off to a start.  Enjoy.

bookworm

Neil Gaiman believes well-meaning adults can destroy a child’s love of reading by giving them ‘worthy-but-dull books’.

Children should be allowed to read whatever they enjoy, the author Neil Gaiman has said as he warned that well-meaning adults could destroy a child’s love of reading for ever.

Gaiman was delivering a lecture on Monday night about the future of books, reading and libraries to an audience of arts and literary figures. In a wide-ranging speech he said the rise of ebooks did not mean the end for physical books and made an impassioned plea to stop library closures.
Gaiman, who has written books for children and adults, warned of the dangers of trying to dictate what children read at the second annual Reading Agency lecture, inaugurated last year by Jeanette Winterson.

He said: “I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad book for children.” Every now and again there was a fashion for saying that Enid Blyton or RL Stine was a bad author or that comics fostered illiteracy. “It’s tosh. It’s snobbery and it’s foolishness.”

He added: “Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child’s love of reading. Stop them reading what they enjoy or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like – the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian ‘improving’ literature – you’ll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and, worse, unpleasant.”

Gaiman revealed that he too had been guilty, once telling his 11-year-old daughter that if she loved Stine’s horror books, she would absolutely adore Stephen King’s Carrie: “Holly read nothing but safe stories of settlers on prairies for the rest of her teenage years and still glares at me when Stephen King’s name is mentioned.”

Gaiman said physical books were here to stay. He recalled a conversation with Douglas Adams more than 20 years ago in which Adams said a real book was like a shark. “Sharks are old, there were sharks in the ocean before the dinosaurs and the reason there are still sharks around is that sharks are better at being sharks than anything else is. Physical books are tough, hard to destroy, bath-resistant, solar operated, feel good in your hand – they are good at being books and there will always be a place for them.

Earlier Gaiman said most of the publishing industry was trying to figure out what is going to happen in five or 10 years. “None of them know. All of the rules have changed … they are just making it up as they go along.”

Gaiman said reading fiction was one of the most important things people can do and he was passionate in his defence of libraries, the closure of which was stealing from the future, he said. “It is the equivalent of stopping vaccination programmes. We know what the results are. In order to remain a global power, in order to have a citizenry that is fulfilled and fulfilling their responsibilities and obligations, we need to have literate kids.”

Mark Brown

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Our Own Little Christmas ~ Heidi Peltier

Today’s short story comes from the Author of The Delmar Shark Chronicles, which I reviewed in June 2013.  If you’ve not yet read any of these books they are worth the time.

shark-and-fish-at-christmas-20812-1680x1050Our Own Little Christmas
By Heidi Peltier
Terra woke up alone again this morning, just like she did on Valentine’s Day, and on her birthday, and on our fourth wedding anniversary a few months ago. Either I had left early in the morning, or I had never come home at all the night before. The further into my college education I got, the busier and more preoccupied I became. The first few semesters, I made the three-hour journey to and from the university in Palermo, Sicily, every day. Each night, I would return home to our tiny island home of Isola di Squalo, the island of which Terra was Queen. I would be exhausted from a full day of study and travel, but I would happily fall into bed each night knowing she was right beside me, snuggled in my arms. That alone made it all worth it.
But as my classes grew more challenging and my workload mounted, it became impossible to make the trek home every night. I refused to get housing on campus. I refused to accept that I couldn’t go home to her every day. So, for a long time, I would stay in a hotel or crash on a friend’s couch for the night in order to make a late night study session and an early morning class. Finally, Terra convinced me that my best option would be to lease a flat near campus. I adamantly denied needing it, but she could see the exhaustion on my face. She knew I couldn’t keep up the rigorous pace much longer. I swore to her I would come home every weekend, and I did…until once again, the work mounted up, and I was forced to stay one weekend, then two, then three.
She’s busy too, I told myself. She has a country to run. She probably doesn’t even notice I’m not there most of the time. It was a lie, and I knew it. She noticed. I could see it in her eyes when I would return. And I dreaded seeing the pain on her face when it was time for me to leave again. She never cried though, never complained. I think she knew it would only make it that much harder for me. And we both knew I couldn’t give up. She established the Delmar Shark Institute for me. It was an unbelievable gift, one that went against every natural instinct she had. But she did it for me because she knew how much it meant to me, so I was going to earn it. I just never knew the price I would have to pay, the sacrifices both of us would have to make.
I’m almost done, I told myself. It’s almost over. With the college courses I’d taken in high school and being able to go to school full time, I’d completed my undergraduate studies in just two and a half years. I gave up competitive swimming to devote my full attention to getting my degree. I immediately started working on my master’s degree and only had a little further to go to finish it. Once I started on my PhD, I could spend a whole lot more time at home working at the shark institute. No more going back and forth every day. No more nights away from home. No more saying goodbye to Terra. I just had a little bit more to go, but she had no idea. She knew I’d been pushing myself, but I hadn’t really been keeping her up to date on my progress, mostly because I didn’t want to disappoint her if I failed. So, I set my goal and kept it to myself.
At the end of November, we had a long weekend break, and even though there was work to do at school, I went home. I had to. I hadn’t seen Terra in three weeks at that point and refused to go another week. I arrived at the palace unannounced in the early afternoon. I peeked into her office and found her slumped over her desk, her head in her hands, crying. I couldn’t bear it. I burst into the room, ran to her, and took her in my arms. She gasped and immediately started wiping her eyes. She plastered a smile on her face and tried to compose herself.
“Dylan,” she said in surprise, “I didn’t know you were coming.”
“I wanted to surprise you,” I murmured, my joy at finally seeing her being trampled by the sadness in her eyes. “I’m so sorry, sweetheart. I’m sorry I’ve been gone so long.”
“No need to be sorry,” she insisted. “I know you’re busy.”
“I never meant to hurt you this much, Terra, really.”
“I’m fine, Dylan.”
“You were crying,” I pointed out. “You’re not fine.”
That’s when I spotted the note on her desk. It was a message from her brother, Fed. The note told Terra that he would not be coming home for Christmas this year because he’d be spending it with his girlfriend Ana’s family in Portugal. Terra’s sister, Delphine, had already told us she wouldn’t be coming for Christmas either since she was studying at an art institute half way around the world in Canada. Terra’s parents were both dead, which meant Terra had been sitting here thinking about having no one at Christmas. Surely, she didn’t assume I wouldn’t be here. Or perhaps she did. With her brother and sister both studying out of the country and me gone almost all the time now, she must have been feeling very lonely. And suddenly, my heart was breaking for her. I should have realized. I should have been paying closer attention.
I pulled her closer to me and tucked her head under my chin. As I stood there holding her, a plan started to form in my head. I would be home for two full days after this, and then I would probably be gone until the semester ended the third week of December. I was going to make the most of my time on the island and put my plan in motion.
Terra had a meeting that afternoon which I knew she couldn’t cancel just because I’d graced her with my presence unexpectedly. So, in those two hours, I held my own secret meeting with Ilario, Terra’s head of security. He and I arranged everything, and by the time Terra was free, my plan had come together. But she had no idea.
For the next two days, Terra and I were inseparable. We spent hours walking through the gardens and by the lagoon. We went into town but didn’t stay long. The friendly people of the island were wonderful and loving, but I hadn’t come home to see them. I wanted to be selfish and have my wife all to myself. I took her for a picnic at Faro di Merrick, the lighthouse hill overlooking the sea where we always went to escape life for a little while. We talked about our future together once I was finished with school. I hadn’t realized until that day just how badly she wanted to start a family. With a baby to take care of, I thought hesitantly, she won’t be alone. I held her in my arms, and we danced to the music of the sea until the sun set.
When it was time for me to leave, I told her it was OK to cry because I was crying too. She buried her face in my chest, and I held her until I couldn’t stay another second without being late. I boarded the ferryboat that took me back to Sicily and watched her until I couldn’t see her anymore. Then, I sank into my seat and cried, not caring that the driver and my bodyguard could see.
Three excruciating weeks passed as slowly as molasses on a cold day, as my grandma used to say. I worked my tail off and fell into bed exhausted every night. Every morning, I ticked another day off the calendar, counting down the days until I saw my girl again. I finished my work and met with my professors and advisors. I made my request, and they granted it. All that was left now was to pack up my belongings from the flat and get home.
I made a call to Ilario, and he got things rolling at the palace. Terra’s personal attendant, Maria, had been tasked to pack Terra’s bag for her in secret. That bag was now stowed in a closet, ready to be thrown into the car as soon as I arrived.
I swept into the castle, and Terra was there waiting for me. I pulled her to me and pressed my lips to hers. When I finally let her come up for air, she said, “I’m so happy you’re home.”
“Not for long,” I said conspiratorially.
“What do you mean?” she asked, but before I had a chance to answer, Maria crept up behind her and threw on her coat. Ilario grabbed the suitcase from the closet and put it in the car that was still waiting outside.
“What’s going on?” she asked, confused but smiling.
“Your chariot awaits, my lady,” I said, offering her my arm.
I led her to the car, and Ilario drove us back to the docks while I spent the time kissing my very curious wife. I kissed her on the ferryboat, and I kissed her in the car on the way to the airport. Royal decorum dictated that I was not allowed to kiss her in the airport or on the airplane, but I snuck a few in here and there. She asked over and over again where we were going only to be answered with another kiss. I think she eventually caught on to the game and asked anyway knowing she’d never get an answer. I resumed showering her with kisses in the car when we arrived in Switzerland.
And now, here we stand, outside one of the most remote ski resorts in the Alps. The sun has set, and thousands of twinkling white lights illuminate the scene. On the eaves of the buildings, they sparkle inside the icicles that hang there too. An enormous Christmas tree stands just inside the two story high lobby windows, inviting us to come inside. I look at Terra and am mesmerized by the reflection of the lights in her eyes, sparkling like the sunset on the ocean. I can’t help it – I have to touch her. I run my finger gently down her jaw line, and she turns her glittery eyes to me.
“I knew,” I say, leaning in to kiss her neck, “that you didn’t want to be in that big, empty palace for Christmas. So, I decided we’d have our own little Christmas away.”
She stays quiet, but she doesn’t have to say anything. The look in her eyes is enough.
“And we don’t have to ski at all, if you don’t want to,” I whisper in her ear.
She blushes and giggles, and we walk inside.
On Christmas morning, Terra doesn’t wake up alone, and if I have my way, she never will again. She begins to stir, but I wrap my arm tighter around her to hold her in place. I kiss the back of her head and nuzzle into her hair.
When we finally emerge from the bedroom, breakfast is already laid out for us on the table. She refuses to let me bring her breakfast in bed, so we sit together to eat. Suddenly, a look of panic crosses her face.
“Dylan,” she gasps. “I didn’t bring your Christmas gifts. I didn’t know…”
“I don’t need any,” I tell her. “This Christmas isn’t about me. It’s about you. It seems like everything has been about me for the last few years, and I’m tired of that. Come on.” I extend my hand to her and pull her to the living room sofa. “Let me get your gifts for you.”
“Oh, Dylan, this trip is enough…”
“Hush,” I whisper as I disappear into the bedroom. When I return, I have two packages in my hands. I give her the smaller one first.
It’s a necklace and earring set – heart shaped aquamarine stones surrounded by diamonds. I had them specially made to match the ring I gave her four years ago. The blue of the stone almost matches her ocean blue Delmar eyes.
“They’re beautiful,” she whispers, a slight catch in her voice.
“Not as beautiful as this,” I say, handing her the larger package.
She lays the rectangular shape in her lap and begins to tear off the paper. Inside is a black leather folder. Inside that is my master’s diploma.
“The University of Palermo,” she mutters, skipping lines, “have conferred upon Dylan Austin Murphy the degree of Master of Science, Marine Biology…”
She looks up at me, confusion etched on her face. “What…?”
“I wanted to surprise you,” I say, taking her hand in mine. “I graduated…four days ago.”
“But Dylan,” she argues, “we were here. We missed it. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t miss anything,” I tell her. “I did what I went there to do, and now I have my degree and I have you. That’s all that matters.”
“You’re finished?” Disbelief exudes from her. “Already? But how…?”
“When it’s something you love,” I explain, “you just do it.”
She nods and looks back down at the diploma.
“I’m talking about you,” I say, pressing my lips to her fingers. “I did this so I could come back home to you. I couldn’t stand being away from you so much, so I pushed myself to finish quickly. I’m sorry for all the time I’ve been gone, but from now on, most of what I’ll need to do can be done at home, at the shark institute. I’m done, baby. I’m not leaving you ever again.”
Finally, she lets herself cry, and she throws her arms around me. I wrap mine around her, and I never, ever intend to let go.
©Squalo Books 2014

For Christmas Heidi is offering the above short story as a free download for your kindle, head over and pick it up for future reading.

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