Book Review: Christmas Branches

Latest Jack Kline collection of Christmas tales is a shareworthy feast
Reviewed by Brian R. Wright

The work of exceptional new fiction writer Jack Kline came to my attention a couple of years ago with the P.I. novel, But Not for Me, set in 1930s Kansas City and introducing Philip Morris and entourage into the pantheon of—some say ‘noir,’ I say ‘good’—classic detective literature. This year the author has assembled thirteen short stories from his imagination and family experience that capture the essence of Christmas… its intertwined holy day and ‘holiday’ aspects. Christmas Branches is a welcome addition for our time to the classic literature of the season.

As explained in the foreword, Jack’s writing career was presaged by the first story he ever wrote, as an assignment in the ninth grade. It was about Santa Claus saving a man from frozen death in a Christmas Eve blizzard… which became, in 2008, “Only a Christmas Story.”  That piece came one year after he wrote “Naming Christmas,” a splendid resolution of Jack’s recalled insensitivity, as a 13-year-old, to his dad’s feelings about “not getting the right tree,” for the family occasion. [Both of these Christmas stories appear in the author’s Blowing Carbon (2009) reflections.] With the Santa story:

“The bug had bitten. Each year since I have gifted my family a new story. A few have since been published, including “Christmas with the Pack” in the United Kingdom’s Prole magazine. All of them up through 2018 are included in this collection.

“Why Christmas Branches as the title?

“Decorated evergreens were originally part of pagan celebrations of Winter Solstice. Gradually, particularly during Queen Victoria’s reign in England, evergreens became integral in the Christian observation of Christmas. Each story in this volume is intended to be a branch of the overarching Christmas story—a story of joy, giving, faith, and love.

“I hope readers feel how much I love Christmas and the magical feeling it engenders, both religious and secular. Some of these stories do not directly relate to the reason for the holiday, but they show warmth and generosity that are part of the season. And some reflect more directly on the birth of Christ, including an unusual visit to Bethlehem at the time Joseph went up from the town of Nazareth.

“May these stories enhance your joy of this most special season.

“Merry Christmas,

“Jack” Continue reading

Book Review: Chicken Soup for the Soul, Runners

101 inspirational stories of energy, endurance, and endorphins… Ron Kaiser, et al

Chicken Soup: RunnersI’ve run short stories from Ron before, and he’s also been published before in the Chicken Soup series. The Soup book on runners I thought would be fairly prosaic, ho hum stuff. I mean, it’s just running, right? Who wants to think about all the boring minutes on the road while worrying about knee damage? What’s the inspiration? Where’s the human interest? Well, you’d be surprised. A lot of the stories are from women who have used the rigors of running to free themselves from depression or household routine or the desire to pop a Twinkie. Yet the common theme for men and women is a certain spiritual connection they find in the experience of running, in the streets or, better, through nature. — bw Continue reading