An Unexpected Gift - Christmas in Australia-Five Short Stories by KJAn Unexpected Gift by KJ is a series of short, overlapping Christmas stories set in Australia.

Since Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere it’s a hot Christmas and so time on the beach and in air-conditioned places is the order of the day. But the sweltering temperature is no reason that women of all shapes and sizes cannot find love.

What KJ did with this collection was a fab series of short stories, each one following on from the next both in timeline and in characters. So the first story starts a week before Christmas and the next starts six days before Christmas and a minor character from the first story is a main character in the second story. It is a fun way linking the stories, an unusual and exciting thing to find in lesfic.

Writing

KJ wrote the stories in first person. This gives them an intimate feeling as you read, kind of like someone is telling you about their day. First person isn’t for everyone but I liked the flavour that it added to this collection.

What I Appreciated

The cast of main characters was diverse in identity, race and coming out journey. We have everything from butch to femme and  characters both in and out of the closet.

I liked how different KJ managed to make each main character and how within a very short space of time you felt for them.

Another plus for me was that the stories had real world commentary in them that I could appreciate. Not big things just one liners here and there. It added depth to the stories.

The Conclusion

This is a short story collection which means that you aren’t going to get super deep and meaningful character arcs.

What you do get is a series of really sweet, well told stories about people experiencing a hot Christmas – meaning beach, beer, shorts and shade.

I loved the dive into something that I experience myself every year since I live in the Southern Hemisphere too and I loved that I got a good sense of Australia.

If you want a short story collection to read in between making Christmas cookies then this is a great place to start.

Excerpt from An Unexpected Gift by KJ

Christmas Angel

I like where I work. At the BargainBuy supermarket on Wilkins Street with the tramline at one end and Laskin Beach down the other. That beach is a major tourist drawcard. The Council threw money at it last year and a massive fancy-pants lifeguard tower appeared over the winter and spring, just in time for the hordes of people who swell the population of our sleepy Melbourne suburb during the Christmas summer holidays. My job is pretty straightforward. Sure, there are times when the day’s road changes direction entirely and heads out cross-country through the bush and crashes into the trees. Every job has those days.

Mind you, I’m one of the most invisible people in society. Except when something doesn’t go someone’s way. Then I may as well wear a neon sign, rather than my pressed black pants and green and yellow-checked shirt. At the moment, head office has insisted that we all wear plastic holly pins on our collars to, and I quote, “brighten the customer’s day” which means that when I’m visible to a frustrated customer at Christmas, I’m very visible. Christmas is a great season. I love it. But sometimes Christmas can be the worst.

“This was marked down to one dollar forty, and you rang it up as two dollars.”

The man, maybe in his sixties but it’s hard to tell under the flat golfer’s cap, glares at me. He dumps the packet of biscuits, which will now be crushed, onto the counter of my checkout, and leans forward. Perhaps he wants to intimidate me. Who knows. People generally say that they’re more intimidated by me, not the other way around. Sure, I’m tall. And broad-shouldered. And I’m not in the sort of shape I was five years ago when I was hurling javelins for medals. Not quite. Cycling to work keeps my twenty-eight-year-old body going, even with the few spongy bits. I surreptitiously poke my stomach. Spongy. Doesn’t matter. I like that my pants fit and I’m happy with my shape. But I don’t think I’m intimidating. The opposite actually. I’m as shy as a pastel at a party for primary colours.

“I want to see the manager,” Golfer Hat demands. I smile politely.

“Well, that’s me. If I could have your receipt, then we’ll look at getting this item refunded and a new packet of biscuits to replace these.” I smile again. “Just in case they’re broken.”

He goggles. “Well…yes. Fine.” He reaches into his shopping bag—the green ones that the supermarket sells—and fishes out a receipt. I take it from his fingers, and he goes back to studying me. I know I confuse him. I confuse a few people. In their minds, the tall, broad-shouldered situation combined with my short haircut that some consider ‘manly’ doesn’t work with my soft voice and my name, which they can read on the tag pinned to my shirt. They also don’t expect a manager to be working one of the registers. Perhaps they’re alarmed by plastic holly.

With the money in his hand, a new pack of biscuits in his bag, and my sincere apology tucked into his ears, I wish Golfer Hat a great day and a Merry Christmas. I’m even fine with only receiving a mumbled version in reply. I expect it, and really, who wants to hear a million ‘Merry Christmas’ wishes every day this close to the actual date? Just meaningless. So I settle back into being an invisible person behind one of the ten checkouts at the front of BargainBuy.

Christmas should be lovely this year. I’m going to visit Mum, and my sister will be there with her three kids and coleslaw. I’ll take a few of the Christmas puddings and the cakes that I can get the staff discount on. Maybe a pavlova. That’ll go down well, seeing as it’s an Australian dessert. Mum’s a bit nationalistic about her sweets.

I spend the next hour scanning people’s items, handing out trolley tokens for the folk who don’t have a dollar coin, running through a couple more refunds—must get the price-fix guys to sort out the shelf markers—and giving directions to the toilets and the aisle with the aluminium foil—two different places. All the while wishing folk a merry or happy or have-a-great Christmas, and adjusting the tinsel taped to the front of the counters, so it doesn’t get sucked down the end of the conveyor belt to jam up the machinery.

I’m leaning into the register, halfway through my once-a-week five-hour shift operating register eight, when it occurs to me. Again. The front-end area is a study in human nature, observing customers interacting—or not—with service staff. Take tall, blonde, yoga woman—organic cereal, almond milk, and the bunch of kale leading the charge along the conveyor belt—who’s a regular customer on Tuesdays, and currently going through register seven. She barely acknowledged Kevin’s greeting. She’s staring into space, past his right shoulder as he scans the six-pack of coconut water and places it at the bottom of the bag so light stuff can go on top—good job, Kev. I guess her head is full of thoughts and having to make conversation with an eighteen-year-old university student in the week leading to Christmas was never going to be a priority.

See? Invisible.

Unlike my blue-eyed angel. She sees me.

A number of weeks ago, a collection of items building a cityscape at the end of my conveyor belt jolted me from my philosophical reverie. I activated the belt, and tossed out my familiar “how are you today?” so it travelled all the way to the end. My hand landed on the first item—one of three onions—and I looked up and over the produce to the trolley parked at the other end. The onion slipped a little in my grip as I fell into the bluest pair of eyes I’d ever seen.

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Bits and Bobs

  • ISBN number: 9798686379695
  • Publisher: Indie author
  • KJ Online

If you enjoyed this book then you should also look at

Comfort and Joy by Karin Kallmaker

 

 

 

 

 

Note: I received a free review copy of An Unexpected Gift by KJ. No money was exchanged for this review. When you use our links to buy we get a small commission which supports the running of this site

About the author

Website | + posts

Sheena is the founder of The Lesbian Review.

She discovered lesbian fiction when she was 19. Radclyffe and Karin Kallmaker soon became favourite authors and she spent a large part of her hard earned income on shipping books from Amazon.com to her home in South Africa.

Over the years she became frustrated with purchasing mediocre lesbian fiction feeling like it was a waste of her money and time. And so she decided to share only the best books and movies with lesbians who are looking for only the best. And so, The Lesbian Review was born