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From the New York Times bestselling author of A Dog Named Christmas comes this heartwarming Christmas story about the power of family and the strength and love that comes from our pets.
In this fourth installment of the poignant stories of the McCray family and their lovable canines in rural Kansas, matriarch Mary Ann McCray is determined to shake up Christmas by accepting the role as Crossing Trail's first woman Santa Claus. Mary Ann, always a bit of a rebel, is looking to offer a more progressive voice in the staunchly conservative town at Christmastime and has a few ideas up her red velvet sleeves.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Mary Ann McCray had been on the board of the Crossing Trails Public Library for what she considered to be too many years. Like most small Kansas towns, Crossing Trails was losing population. With a shrinking tax base, the library struggled for funding. Mary Ann was not sure she understood the other board members. They seemed too easily diverted from their primary mission, fostering literacy, as well as raising the money, volunteers, and awareness to support that cause. The problem was serious. Not only was there not enough money, but people weren’t reading like they used to.
The use of the library was shifting, too. It was easy to measure. Book loans were down, but they did a booming business in DVDs, CDs, and video games. The demographics were changing before their eyes. The patrons of the library were older, like her, and the young people who did come in seemed to be there for the free Internet access. They needed to get kids reading books, in her opinion. As a longtime teacher in Crossing Trails, she believed with all her heart that books ignited a passion for learning.
But other issues seemed to continually divert the board’s attention, including today’s topic. Mary Ann had tried to keep quiet, not make waves, but this latest discussion was upsetting, particularly because it involved one of her oldest and closest friends. She leaned forward and raised her palm, like a conversational traffic cop. “I disagree, totally. We don’t need to do this.”
“Why not?” one board member asked. Carol Sampson seemed surprised that something so simple as finding a new Santa Claus for the library’s annual holiday program would prompt such a reaction.
“It’s a matter of loyalty. Hank Fisher’s been playing Santa for us for forty years. We never paid him a dime, and he’s never asked for a thing in return. It’s an important part of who we are--part of our tradition.” Mary Ann tried to check her indignation before adding, “I just can’t imagine Christmas or Crossing Trails without Hank as our Santa.” She thought for a moment about dear Hank, whom she’d known since she was a little girl. True, Hank was over eighty, but asking him to hang up his Santa suit after all these years--it didn’t sit well with her.
“I disagree,” Marsha Thompson, the youngest board member, countered. “Our responsibility is to the library and the children of this community, not Hank Fisher. I hate to sound harsh, but children shouldn’t have to see Santa in a wheelchair or with oxygen tubes up his nose. They’ll worry that Santa might not make it to Christmas.”
Another member, Catherine Evans, also spoke out. “Marsha is exaggerating. Hank doesn’t always need oxygen and isn’t in the wheelchair all the time, but here’s the real point--Hank isn’t the tradition, Santa is the tradition. Sooner or later Hank has to retire, and maybe the time has come.”
“I agree,” the head librarian, Tammy Larson, gently interjected, her tone kind, “but before we ask Hank to step down, shouldn’t we find someone else willing to do it?”
“Lots of people could do it.” Marsha looked back to Mary Ann. “How about your son, Todd? He’s back in town, right? Let’s put a fresh face on Santa. He’d be a great Santa. Or your husband, George? He could do it.”
“Todd’s just now moving back, and all his spare time is taken up with the new animal shelter. And as for George . . . well, he’s not all that fresh!” The board members chuckled a bit, but Mary Ann shook her head soberly. “Besides, George wouldn’t take this away from Hank.”
“I adore Hank,” said Louisa Perkins, a longtime friend of Mary Ann’s. “We all do, but he’s so fragile. If we can’t find a volunteer, maybe it would be best if we just hired someone to do it. That way we’re certain that Santa has been professionally trained and vetted. You can’t be too careful these days.”
Refusing to give up on Hank, Mary Ann argued, “I don’t think this has anything to do with Hank’s health or how an aged Claus might affect the children in our community. Having a thin old man dressed in a red suit just upsets our vision of what we think Santa should look like. The kids won’t care a bit. We should just get over it and let Hank do his job for as long as he’s willing to do it.”
“I’m sure we could all be pretty flexible on Santa’s appearance,” Catherine Evans observed. “I really don’t think appearances are the issue.”
“Really?” Mary Ann echoed, incredulous. “Are you so sure?”
“Yes. I’m sure,” Catherine responded. “This has absolutely nothing to do with appearances.”
She might have spent the last thirty years as a guidance counselor and music teacher at the Crossing Trails High School, but the activity that Mary Ann enjoyed most was coaching the debate team. If nothing else, she knew how to argue. “I think I’m right about this. I’m telling you, it’s all about appearances.”
“Why do you say that?” Catherine asked, worrying that the increasingly uncomfortable conversation was about to become quite heated.
Mary Ann set her pen down on her pad of paper. “I’m willing to go meet with Hank and tell him that his forty-two years as Crossing Trails’ St. Nick is about to come to an end, not because he looks too old and feeble--because, we all know, appearances don’t matter. It’s just that we’ve decided to go in a different direction this year.”
“Yes?” Arthur Lee prodded. Arthur was the only male board member, and he was also the chair. He’d been silent up to now, willing to hear out Mary Ann’s point of view but also unsure of how to reach a compromise on something that suddenly seemed more complicated than just picking a new Santa.
Mary Ann held everyone’s attention now. “Instead of Hank doing it,” she began, pulling the reductio ad absurdum argument directly from her debate playbook and pausing for effect, “I’ll do it.”
The room went quiet as each board member wondered if Mary Ann McCray was serious or just being contrary. Every person would agree she was a major asset to the board, but from time to time she showed her prickly side.
She continued, “Think about it. Mr. Claus is tired. He needs to take this year off. Santa has no 401(k), so he can never retire. He’s been doing this for a few hundred years. Never complains about his bad back or the arthritis in his fingers. The man needs a break. This year he sent Mrs. Claus to Crossing Trails. Women do the shopping, wrap the gifts, and do the decorating, right? They can wipe children’s noses, change their diapers, so I suppose they can take gift orders from adoring children. That’s the easiest part of Christmas. I’ll do it. Do you want me to be Santa Claus instead of Hank? Appearance isn’t the issue. Right?”
There was a long silence as everyone in the room tried to take in her point. Arthur Lee wasn’t sure what to think. There was something rather clever about the idea, but at the same time he wasn’t sure it added up. “Well, that certainly would be going in a different direction, but don’t you think that children are accustomed to seeing Santa as a grandfatherly figure? Would they be disappointed?”
Placing her hands flat on the conference-room table and leaning in, Mary Ann said, “Crossing Trails--the only town in America that Mrs. Claus cared enough to visit. It wasn’t easy, but she left her cozy kitchen at the North Pole, took off her apron, and came to see us. Aren’t we lucky?”
Marsha Thompson, jumping in to break the tension, quipped, “The elves will revolt--who’ll do the laundry?”
Catherine laughed but then said, “I thought it was supposed to be Santa Claus, not . . . Anna Claus.”
Mary Ann could not help crowing. “See, that’s my point! It is about appearances. It’s hard for us to envision Santa as anything but a robust old man with twinkling blue eyes. So what if he’s getting older? What difference does it make? Don’t we all get older, just like Hank Fisher has? It’s not how Santa looks, it’s what he does that matters, and Hank is a great Santa.”
As he cleared his throat, all eyes turned to Arthur Lee. Mary Ann was confident that she’d won the argument and that Arthur would side with her--Hank could keep his job, at least for now. She’d always found Arthur to be a very reasonable man. There was no reason to believe that today would be any different.
He began to speak. “I have a twelve-year-old daughter. Most of you know Lilly. I think she’s pretty special.” His face seemed to light up at the mere mention of his daughter’s name. He continued, “I want Lilly to believe that she can be anything she wants. I read once that traditions are not so much abandoned as disregarded--like bobbing for apples--because they don’t change with the times. Mary Ann, I think you’re right. We’ve ignored the other partner in the Claus family for too long. I think you’ve stumbled across a novel and intriguing idea whose time has come. Why not extend Anna Claus an invitation to visit Crossing Trails for Christmas? Let’s have fun with it. Let’s do press releases. Let’s put Crossing Trails and Mrs. Claus both back on the map this year. After all these thankless centuries she deserves some recognition!”
A certain excitement filled the room. Each board member glanced across the table and smiled. There was an obvious consensus: this could be fun.
Mary Ann raised her hand and stammered. “No . . . no, you don’t understand. I don’t really want to--”
Louisa, thinking she’d do her old friend a good turn and show her support for this new idea, broke in with “I agree! How delightful!”
“All in favor, raise your hand,” said Arthur.
Mary Ann kept her arms folded across her chest while all the others raised their hands. While they assumed she was just being polite and didn’t want to vote for her own idea, she was making a mental note to change one of her debate lesson plans. Reductio ad absurdum, indeed--this one can backfire, kids.
She felt like slinking down into the conference-room chair like one of her bewildered students. She’d be the laughingstock of Crossing Trails. Why couldn’t she just keep her mouth shut and let Hank Fisher retire? It wasn’t even Thanksgiving, and her husband, George, would still be laughing at her--a woman in a Santa suit--when the glittering silver ball dropped in Times Square. He would never let her live this one down.
“Mary Ann,” said Carol Sampson warmly, “you’ll be a wonderful Anna Claus. Thank you so much for volunteering.”
The chairman smiled and began singing an old familiar tune, to slightly different lyrics: “ ‘Anna Claus is coming to town.’ ”
Mary Ann dropped her purse on the kitchen table. The television was broadcasting the evening news in the living room, so she hung her coat in the hall closet and walked in that direction. As she expected, George was getting a head start on a good night’s sleep. His bad leg, wounded in Vietnam, was fully extended. It seemed to hurt less that way. His left hand rested on the head of his aged Labrador, whom their son, Todd, had named “Christmas” years ago. The old dog looked up lovingly at Mary Ann, and his big, thick tail brushed slowly back and forth across the floor. After giving Christmas an acknowledging pat, she gently nudged her husband’s shoulder. “George.”
Startled, George sheepishly rattled the paper that rested on his lap as if to wake himself. “Oh, I must have fallen asleep.”
“Oh, you must have,” Mary Ann teased. “Did you and Christmas get Todd moved into his new apartment? I can’t believe he’s already back in Crossing Trails. His time at Heartland sure went by fast,” she marveled. “They’re going to miss him.”
“I called. He said he was already moved in.”
“I guess so. I doubt that funny-looking little dog of his was much help. What’s her name? Elle?” George stretched. “How was your board meeting?”
“Not good.” She paused, thoughtful. “Actually, it was awful.”
George looked up, surprised. Library board meetings had been described by Mary Ann in a lot of ways over the years, but never like that. “Why? What happened?”
“You promise to not make this worse for me than it already is?”
George sat up straight, now wide awake and intrigued. If Mary Ann was expecting him to be critical of her, George had a pretty good idea what had happened. The affronted look on her face all but sealed his suspicions. “You were fussing with someone, and they kicked you off the board or you quit?”
“No!” Mary Ann scolded. “Why in the world would you say such a thing?”
George cocked his head sideways, as if surprised she had to ask. “Well, let me see.” He held his right fist up and extended one finger at a time as he ticked off his points. “Number one, you’re outspoken. Two, you’re bright but like to debate. Three, you champion your principles at the expense of other people’s principles. Any of those applicable? Am I getting warm?”
“You make me sound wicked.”
George reached out and pulled her closer to him. When she was close enough, he gave her a hard tug so that she fell onto his lap. He whispered into her ear, “Deliciously wicked. Just the way I like it.”
“George, I’ve been a real idiot, and now I have myself in a fix.”
“Okay, what happened?”
She rested her head on his chest. “They wanted to fire Hank from being Crossing Trails’ Santa Claus. After all these years! Can you imagine that?”
“I’m not surprised.”
“They said he was too old. They said his oxygen tubes would scare the children.”
“They may be right. It’s time for Hank to turn over the reins, but they never should have said that to you.”
Mary Ann squirmed from George’s grip and leaned away from him. “What do you mean?”
“They slighted someone you love!” His eyes sparkled. “That will provoke the Charge of the Light Brigade, with you riding front and center, saber rattling, accepting neither prisoner nor counsel. Shoot first. Ask questions later.”
“Am I that bad?” When he only smiled but didn’t answer, she returned her head to his chest. “Still, I can’t imagine Christmas without Hank.”
“Hank knows that he needs to hang up the red suit. He’s afraid he’ll drop some kid on the floor.”
“Did he tell you that?”
“Sure. Last week.”
She looked at George, surprised. “I sure wish you’d told me that before I opened my mouth at the meeting. So what does he want to do?”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
When the library board in Crossing Trails decided that it was time for a new Santa Claus, Mary Anne McCray finds herself stuck with the job. Instead of a visit from Santa Claus, the kids of Crossing Trails are going to receive a visit from Santa’s other half, Anna Claus. Mary Anne must now discover Anna Claus’ purpose and offer some new insights into this Christmas tradition. Meanwhile, in the quaint little town of Crossing Trails, not everything is merry. The McCray’s friends are facing a difficult divorce and it is particularly hard for their two young children, Keenan and Emily. Todd McCray has moved back to Crossing Trails to help run the new no-kill animal shelter and be closer to his girlfriend of three years. He also brought the little dog he helped nurse back to health and has been trying to train as a service dog, Elle. However, Elle is not the easiest dog to train and Todd usually can be heard yelling “No, Elle!” Not only is Todd dealing with the stubborn Elle, but he is worried that his parents may be disappointed in some of his recent choices. Will a Christmas miracle descend upon the residents of Crossing Trails to bring about a Merry Christmas after all? This is the fourth installment in the “A Dog Named Christmas” series by Greg Kincaid. Thankfully, it can also be read as a stand-alone. I grew up in the country outside of a small town, so this story was very easy for me to imagine. The detailed settings and characters reminded me of that small town. Many of the characters reminded me of people with whom I grew up. The story itself was very unique. The idea behind Anna Claus and her message to children being different from Santa’s was an inspired idea. Though most Christmas novels I have read have messages of family and love, I have never read one that challenged the Santa tradition in the way that this one did. The characters were well-constructed beings, very realistic, entertaining, and dynamic. The writing was fluid and engaging and the plot line is unique. I enjoyed this novel very much and am very thankful that it could be read as a stand-alone as I have not had the opportunity to read the first three novels. I would recommend this novel to readers who enjoy heartwarming Christmas tales. I received my copy of this novel from bloggingforbooks.com and have permission from the publishers at Penguin Random House to use an image of the cover artwork above.
Wonderful Christmas Novel!
Noelle is another book about the McCray family, their lives and their dogs. This book has several storylines running parallel to one another, but they all come together in a wonderful conclusion. Elle is a dog that Todd rescued shortly after its birth. She is part retriever but the father is unknown. Elle is young, feisty, loving and has a mind of her own. It seems that she hears, "no Elle" all the time. Todd is trying to train her to be a service dog, but he is not having much luck. In fact, this it the first dog that he has been unable to train. The second story is about Todd and Laura. Todd is the McCray’s son and has worked with animals all his life. He has a developmental delay, but this does not stop him from working, falling in love and being a wonderful person. His parents supported him and pushed him so that he would be able to overcome his difficulties. Todd and Laura have moved in together and Todd is afraid to tell his parents. The next plot line is about Mary Ann McCray. She was trying to support her friend who was going to be snubbed as Santa this year and argued that it was all about looks. The next thing you know, Mary Ann has been offered the job of Anna Claus. Little does Mary Ann know just how much of a stir this idea of hers will cause when she goes out to schools, malls, centers, etc., meeting children, with a newly revised Christmas message about what they want to give for Christmas. Finally, there is the story of Abby’s and Link’s marriage and divorce. Link has no job and has become an alcoholic. How will they deal with the situation and how it will affect their children. This story is full of interesting characters and stories. The Christmas message it brings rings true to the spirit of the season. I thoroughly enjoyed the role the dogs played in the story, helping to bring the plot lines together with a fun twist. Of course Elle's name changes partway through the book to Noelle, which is a natural progression for this troublesome but adorable dog. The book is also filled with Christmas celebrations, traditions, and feelings. It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas reading this book. I recommend it to all dog lovers, those who love Christmas, as well as any reader who enjoys a good, solid, family story with a happy ending. The publisher generously provided me with a copy of this book via Netgalley.
Noelle: A Novel (A Dog Named Christmas) by [Kincaid, Greg]This book, Noelle, by Greg Kincaid, tugged at my heartstrings from the Prologue. It talked about the puppy mill where Noelle was born. My own dog was rescued at the side of the road from one of these places and would have froze to death if she were not saved. I have not read the previous books in this series, but that was all right as they gave a good description of events and people that were in this book. Noelle was cast aside when she was born because she was not the perfect example of a Golden Retriever. However, she became the friendliest and most wonderful dog. Todd and Laura are two characters in the story. Todd was born developmentally delayed. However, with the love and support of those around him he became a top dog trainer. In this book he and Laura move in together and look to the future. Todd becomes the manager of a new dog rescue facility. Mary Ann, Todd's mom and outspoken library board member, has found herself in the new position of Mrs. Anna Claus. Each of the characters is so easy to relate to, it was hard to believe that so much story could fit between the covers of this small book. This is definitely a book for those looking for a book for Christmas or for those who enjoy dog stories. I love both, so this fit in my life nicely. All the traditions of Christmas are included and put me in the mood for the season. I was given this book by NetGalley and by Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.
Where have I been to not have heard of A Dog Named Christmas series? Noelle is the first book I have read in the series and I loved it! The first few scenes were so heartbreaking and sad that brought tears to my eyes. It is truly amazing how cruel people can be. Thank goodness, the plot quickly changed and I was introduced to the McCrays. I love, love, love Mary Ann. So fun when she brings Anna Claus to town. Such a sweet, heartwarming, clean, and magical Christmas story. I highly highly recommend this book! I am hoping to find the first two in the series so I can read them for Christmas. 5 stars. I received this book from the publisher. This review is 100% my own honest opinion.
Noelle by Greg Kincaid A Dog Named Christmas Series Book Three This book presents the point of view from all different families. Adults, children, and sometimes even the dog. Todd McCray is challenged in ways, but not when it comes to dogs. He has a gift of training a dog and finding the right person for it. Until now. Elle is a dynamo of a tiny dog. Her beginnings were not very good but she survived. Everyone says, No, Elle! so often that some think her name is Noelle. Another couple is going through a divorce this Christmas season and it effects other families in the small town of Crossing Trails, Kansas. Lives are changing. Some folks are getting older. Some are just beginning. But they are all connected in ways. Great stories. Definite tissue alert. **Received from Blogging for Books for an honest review
A delightful story of a dog that is having problems becoming a service dog, or is she. The author had a previous book about a Dog Named Christmas, and we are reunited with this now elderly dog. There are several messages offered here, and one is letting our children grow up, and letting go. There is also the breakup of a marriage, not a fun topic, but we see the pain and suffering that goes on with the young children, and this is where our little No-elle comes in, and will she be able to bring some joy back into their lives? A story that ends with some unfinished business, and maybe another book, we can hope. The stereotypes are broken here and we meet Ann Claus, but love the way she handles the requests of children. A wonderful new Christmas book, and maybe it should be a TV movie? I received this book through Blogging For Books, and was not required to give a positive review.