Book Review: The Christmas Carriage and Other Writings of the Holiday Season

The Christmas Carriage and Other Writings of the Holiday Season is Alice Jane-Marie Massa’s first book. It’s a collection of holiday-themed memoirs, fanciful stories, and poems. Readers are immediately drawn into the book for two reasons.

picture of a Christmas carriage on a snowy day

First, the book’s cover photo features a picture of a Christmas carriage on a snowy day. This photo by photographer Cindy Kennedy-Lesky reflects a nostalgic illustration of the winter season and holidays. The image holds in it the memories we all have of our own personal recollections of holidays and family gatherings.

Second, when I opened the book, I began reading the "Introduction" first. Massa’s excitement is apparent as we can almost hear her voice welcome us and invite us to join in her festive holiday spirit. I felt like I entered the home of a dear friend, and she was hosting a special holiday event. Shortly after I started reading, I began to feel at home with Alice and her family members.

When asked what inspired the book’s title, Alice said:

“For the holiday season of 2014, I wrote the short story "The Christmas Carriage." This title for the short story seemed the most logical for the story and later the collection because a horse-drawn carriage plays an important part in my Christmas story.”
“Since living in Milwaukee’s East Town area, I have enjoyed hearing the horse-drawn carriages that go by my townhouse and that travel in the area where my guide dogs and I have walked through the years. All four of my guide dogs have worked very well parallel to the working horses. Besides the clippity-clop sounds, the horses are bedecked with bells for the holiday season.”

On the back cover is a photo of Alice’s third Leader Dog, Zoe, to whom this book is dedicated. The author’s sister, Mary E. Massa Fanyo snapped this picture. For a reader who is new to the world of blindness, you will quickly discover that guide dogs are often a vital part of a blind person’s life; it is not unusual for blind writers to celebrate their experiences with their dogs in various ways through writing and photography. This recognition of Alice’s cherished dog adds a personal touch and depth for the reader.

In the introduction to her book, Alice Jane-Marie Massa offers her readers a special gift. She invites her audience to feel the excitement she experienced as she wrote the pieces. Each is focused on the anticipation and delights of special activities that take place from Thanksgiving to Christmas and into January. The stories are mostly memoirs from her childhood and her present life. This book also features poetry and fiction, all based on her life with her extensive Italian family.

A Perfect Holiday Gift

The 100-page book would be a perfect item to include in your gifting this year. I plan to give it to friends, family, and in some anticipated gift exchanges. While the stories are seasonal, I was just as interested in reading them much earlier in the year. I think it’s a book that the reader can pick up and enjoy reading at any time and would be a volume I would keep on my coffee table or bedside for reading random samples periodically.

Each piece in the book is in the form of a diary entry; she puts a date with each piece and offers various aspects of the circumstances when it was written. Alice includes weather conditions, personal family history as well as a unique insight into her life as a blind writer who had the companionship of four Leader Dogs over her lifetime. Currently, Alice has her fourth Leader Dog, Willow.

The book has a second dedication which is to Alice’s parents. Many of the works in this book feature them and other relatives. As I read, I had the feeling that I was a visitor who was welcomed into their private world. I also learned about Alice’s Italian family customs, foods, daily life, and relationships.

The book features 13 stories and six poems. Alice included two surprises: one is a poetry game for Thanksgiving Day, and the other is a creative project for making a Christmas card. Each one is suitable for adults and children and can be done alone or by a pair or even as part of a team.

As I read the book, Alice inspired me to begin thinking early in the year about how I can make a special Christmas card for my friends and family too. Alice called this chapter, "Keeping the Christmas Memory of the Best Gift Ever." I’ve already started working on my own card inspired by Alice Jane-Marie Massa.

More About the Author

Alice Jane-Marie Massa grew up in Blanford, Indiana, but her teaching career took her to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she taught for over 20 years at the Milwaukee Area Technical College. After her retirement, she remains in Milwaukee.

The variety of influences and inspirations in her stories evolved from her life experiences as she grew up in both Indiana and later when she lived and worked in Wisconsin. Her family history and Italian ancestry is an integral part of her first book. We read stories about her childhood holidays with her family, and we read stories about fictional characters brought to life because of Alice’s keen insight into human nature and her love of people and animals.

“My guide dog and I went off in search of a Christmas tree. We were not en route to a store for a new artificial tree; we were on the lookout for an 88-foot white spruce, weighing in at 13,000 pounds.”

Find out about this remarkable day in the chapter titled, "Leader Dog Zoe Visits U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree."

In another of my favorite family stories, Alice begins with this passage:

“With or without snow, our family home in Blanford,Indiana, was a hallmark of a home for the holidays. That house, near the top of the knoll on the cut-off road, is still a house full of beloved Christmas memories for me.”

Find out about the "The Snowflake Garden," "Zoe’s Christmas Eve," and lots more.

Alice Massa’s work has been published in a variety of literary journals such as Magnets and Ladders, Indiana Voice Journal, Dialogue, Newsreel, and The ACB Braille Forum. She is also in the anthology, Behind Our Eyes: A Second Look. Alice is a past president of the non-profit organization, Behind Our Eyes.

For additional information about ordering the print or electronic version of The Christmas Carriage and Other Writings of the Holiday Season, please visit the author’s web page.

You can also read a collection of writings posted on Alice’s blog.

I can easily recommend this book for your own gift-giving this year! In a word, it is simply "delightful!"

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