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Yes, Virginia…

There Is a Real Santa Claus

Real Santa

Real Santa: A Novel by William Hazelgrove (Koehler Books, $16.95, 244 pages)

“While the merry bells keep ringin’
May your every wish come true…
Happy holidays to you.” – Irving Berlin

William Hazelgrove again delivers the goods with Real Santa, which is, on a very superficial level, the story of a Dad and a daughter; or, at a deeper level, the story of a mid-life crisis; or, at what is presumed to be the author’s intent, a story in which the great tradition of Santa is the vehicle to enter into a much larger conversation about the current state of the human condition and – as is Hargrove’s specialty, a further glimpse into human dysfunction.

Real Santa Hazelgrove

In Real Santa, George Kronenfeldt, a self-proclaimed Santa freak, harbors the pain of his childhood and attempts to reconcile his perceived child-rearing errors from his first marriage. His wife took off with an old high school flame, and George, who is portrayed as a difficult person (which seems to be an inherited trait from his father), has a distant and troubled relationship with his two oldest children.

As the story begins, George is let go from his job as Christmas approaches and simultaneously vows to preserve one additional year of his daughter’s childhood by prolonging her belief in Santa Claus. He blows his savings to create an elaborate ruse that escalates beyond even his intentions. And, while George makes his play as the true Santa, the real Santa – of course – actually makes an appearance.

This is all either completely psychotic or rather charming, depending on one’s perspective. But, the larger themes of second chances, love, forgiveness, positive values, parenthood, childhood, and hope transform this story into one that resonates. While it may end up on the Hallmark Channel someday, it is not a cheesy made-for-TV Christmas story. It is, rather, a “real” novel about everyday people who are doing their best to overcome their weaknesses, survive, and occasionally do the right thing amid circumstances that do not always cooperate.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Dave Moyer is an education administrator in Illinois, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

Real Santa blurb

You can read the first chapter of Real Santa here:



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The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee

The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee by Barry Jonsberg (Chronicle Books, $16.99, 248 pages

Perhaps you’ve heard the comment, “He’s a bit of an odd duck.” Well, Candice Phee, a twelve-year-old who lives in a suburb of Brisbane, Australia is surely an odd duck. The inability to lie, even a kindly white lie, is but one of her many quirky behavioral traits. Overwhelming shyness has led her to use written communication in uncomfortable situations such as prolonged discussions with adults other than her parents and with kids at school. She is a devout reader of the dictionary, which provides her with a remarkably broad and specific vocabulary.

Candice’s world is full of adults who are alienated (not aliens). Her mom is plagued by depression and her dad won’t have anything to do with his brother, Rich Uncle Brian, who is his former partner in a software company. Miss Bamford, Candice’s all-time favorite teacher has a lazy eye that sets her apart and draws reactions from her students.

The other kids in Miss Bamford’s sixth grade class, especially the ultra cool Jen Marshall, mock Candice. The arrival of a new and similarly odd student, Douglas Benson, creates an opportunity for Candice to experience friendship for the first time in her life. Their interactions are hilarious.

Miss Bamford has assigned Candice’s class the task of writing a narrative/autobiography using each letter of the alphabet as the theme of a paragraph. Thus, the primary structure of the book is Candice’s take on the assignment. Interspersed are the poignant and intelligent letters she has sent to her pen pal in New York City who doesn’t reply to Candice.

The Categorical Universe black and white

The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee is intended for readers ten years of age and up. Clearly, the audience for the book is a wide one. Fans of The Westing Game, young, old and any age in between, will thoroughly enjoy this heartwarming, sometimes gut-wrenching and ultimately satisfying tale. Author Barry Jonsberg has won numerous Australian writing awards. He is a teacher and resides in Darwin, Australia. This reviewer visited Darwin over 45 years ago, well before Mr. Jonsberg moved there from England. I hope he enjoys the barramundi fish that are plentiful in Darwin! Barramundi is my all-time favorite.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher. This book was released on September 9, 2014.

You can read a sample of this book for free on your Kindle device or app:



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Coming Up Next…

Death on Telegraph Hill (300)

A review of Death on Telegraph Hill: A Sarah Woolson Mystery by Shirley Tallman. Read Chapter One here:


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Waging Heavy Peace (an excerpt)


Click here to read an excerpt from Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream by Neil Young:


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The Death of Bees

The Death of Bees novelThe Death of Bees: A Novel by Lisa O’Donnell was released by Harper on January 2, 2013.   This unique story begins with these words:

Today is Christmas Eve.   Today is my birthday.   Today, I am fifteen.   Today I buried my parents in the backyard.

“…this beautifully written page-turner will have readers fretting about what will become of the girls (sisters Marnie, Nelly and Lennie).”   Booklist

Click on this link to read the first 55 pages of The Death of Bees:



Joseph Arellano

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Every Day Is a Miracle

Every Day Is a Miracle by Victoria Jackson, Author of Saving Each Other: A Mystery Illness, A Search for a Cure, A Mother-Daughter Love Story (Vanguard Press)

Every day is a miracle.   That I do know, even though I forget it sometimes.

Isn’t that kind of the point of 2%?   It’s like by throwing a rare light show or random nightmare storm in our direction, the universe is just trying to get our attention so we don’t take anything for granted and just appreciate our days and the hours and minutes that make them up.

That’s what’s on my mind as I talk to a mom who has just lost her son, my daughter Ami’s age to Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO).   She sounds so strong.   For all these years I’ve been waging war with the image of Ali having to be wheeled across the stage at her graduation, maybe not even getting there.   Maybe that’s why I’m looking for ways to delay the ceremony.   And here is a mother whose son didn’t make it.   Not only that, incredibly, she’s calling not to talk about her loss but to thank us for the work of the foundation that gave him longer than they had expected.   She lets me know that friends and family have sent in donations for our Guthy-Jackson Charitable Foundation to be used in his memory.   Her voice is clear and resolute as she tells me to call on her for anything she can do to help raise awareness in the ongoing search for a cure.

When I get off the phone, sad and mad that we couldn’t do more, I fight a flood of fearful thoughts and just try to be in the moment to appreciate where we are.   The truth is that every worst fear that I could and did imagine for Ali – none of it has happened.   The dire prognosis that we were given hasn’t come to pass.

It’s true that I have lived too often with the subliminal concern that special events and usual rites of passage may be her last.   The irony, of course, is that she prefers low-key.   But my impulse was always to give the kind happy memories and make all the details so memorable that they’ll be able to relish them long into the years to come.

Even thinking that there could be a cap on the years to come for Ali is so sacrilegious, not even something I allow myself to think about, that I compensate by making every milestone the ultimate.

Senior prom, of course, had to be the absolute best in the world because (a) it’s prom, (b) there might not be another event like it and (c) I never went to prom and refuse to let her miss out on anything that life has to offer.

The logic and the love were really uppermost in my mind.   But then again, finding the most amazing dress and then having it altered — I went a little crazy, almost going so far as to tell the tailor that it has to be perfect because only God knew how much time she had left.

Evan once told me that you have to try to just have faith in the world.   That’s the lullaby I kept trying to sing myself now.   He has always said that to me.   Still, I looked around at other moms at the pre-prom party and realized that probably no other mother was thinking of her daughter in her very special dress the same way I was thinking of Ali.

This piece is an excerpt from Saving Each Other: A Mother-Daughter Love Story by Victoria Jackson and Ali Guthy.   Used by permission of Vanguard Press, a member of the Perseus Book Group.   Copyright 2012.   Saving Each Other will be reviewed in the near future on this site.


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The Beginner’s Goodbye

Anne Tyler is one of our national treasures as a writer.   She is best known as the author of the novel (and film) The Accidental Tourist.   She also won the Pulitizer Prize in Fiction for Breathing Lessons: A Novel.   Tyler has just released a new novel, The Beginner’s Goodbye, in which she explores how a middle-aged man, devastated by the death of his wife, is gradually restored by her frequent appearances – in their house, on the roadway, in the market.   It is said to be, “A beautiful, subtle exploration of loss and recovery, pierced throughout with Anne Tyler’s humor, wisdom, and always penetrating look at human foibles.”

Click on the link below to read Chapter Two of The Beginner’s Goodbye: A Novel by Anne Tyler:


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