Book review

Christmas Novellas

Thanks to Bookbub I squirreled away some free Christmas stories from this service emails of the latest deals on books based on my chosen genres. I thought I’d get to those before Christmas. That didn’t happen. Holiday preparations mixed in with the usual suspects slowed my reading pace. I have only read two so far that I will review here. I did a bit of literary time traveling going from Victorian England in “A Holiday by Gaslight” by Mimi Matthews to present day Montana in “Mistletoe at Moonglow” by Deborah Garner.

A Holiday by Gaslight

The novella opened with an ending – a breakup between Edward Sharpe and Sophia Appersett. Edward was a wealthy manufacturing, while Sophia was a baronet’s daughter. Sophia isn’t hung up on the fact that Edward isn’t from a titled family. She’s tired of hearing her own voice! He talked so little. And little did she know a gentlemen’s etiquette book was pulling Edward’s strings. They were going through the motions of courting.

Besides that misunderstanding, Sophia felt that Edward should marry an earl’s daughter. Her father was a spendthrift, making endless modernizations to their estate — gaslighting, for instance. In the author’s note, Matthews said fitting a country house for gas would cost $100,000 in present day. Sophia and her mother did their level best to keep the family afloat financially, remaking their clothing, choosing economy when buying food and drink. Meanwhile, the mister and sister Emily were equally resistant to their efforts.

Sophia had been reading Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” and started to apply his take on adapting ourselves to changes in society to survive. Her mother asked Sophia what Darwin would say about her choosing to end things with Edward. I think that conversation was the catalyst for Sophia, her sister, and their young maid scandalously showing up outside Edward’s office (Sharpe & Murray, like Scrooge & Marley) in Fleet Street. Matthews wrote:

“[Sophia] was determined to do her duty to her family. She wouldn’t make a martyr of herself. Nowhere near it. But if something could be salvaged between her and Edward Sharpe – even if it were just friendship – she would accept him as her suitor. As her husband.

It would have to be enough” (70).

Sophia asked Edward to come to the Appersett Christmas house party in Derbyshire. The proposition then set up the reader for a romantic or disastrous treat. Matthews gives a nod to North & South in this story. (I’m still taking my time with that book, so I was pleased.) She also has a twisted ankle scene reminiscent of Jane Austen’s Marianne from Sense & Sensibility.

Matthews has a tight story structure. I was swept along and – but for the fact I had all these cookies to bake – I would have finished this novella in less than a day. I was happy that Edward’s partner, Walter Murray, was invited to the party for a secondary love story to begin. The thread of Darwin’s arguments wove through the story-telling as far as the characters adjusting their behaviors in order to adapt and survive something new whether a relationship or the new, modern world. Matthews updated her Victorian lady in that Sophia was concerned that Edward was in love with her good looks more than her mind. Looks fade after all. Most posh ladies in Victorian novels banked on their looks, so that was a pleasant change. And their love story was like watching a slow-simmering pan of hot chocolate. I’ve included this article about gas-lighting. It may explain why so many women fainting away back then: https://www.countrylife.co.uk/property/guides-advice/gas-lighting-in-victorian-times-16562

Mistletoe at Moonglow

Garner’s novella’s opened with the main character, Mist, looking out at a wintry scene from the front door of the Timberton Hotel in Montana. A chef and resident artist, Mist was thankful for hotel owner, Betty. Without her assistance, Mist would have been homeless after losing her business, the Moonglow Café. Betty made a way for the Moonglow Café to move into her hotel. Mist sought to connect each visitor to each other from the guests to the community. Certain community members came to the hotel to eat daily, and Mist had this set-up where they were to leave whatever amount of money they felt in their hearts to leave. The amount always covered the cost of food. (Of course, the sarcastic thought I had was: Did she maybe lose her café because she let others decide the price of her food?)

I couldn’t help thinking this story would work well in a Hallmark Christmas movie.  Garner created an ideal environment and ideal characters. The hotel behind the scene worked like a well-oiled machine. Very few conflicts arose. Some characters had suffered losses, but their distress was put aside and not mourned over the entire visit to the hotel. I think the only distress anyone had was the thought of eating “greasy eggs and burnt toast” at Wild Bill’s, the only other restaurant in the area. Any seemingly major obstacles were ended favorably.

Mist reminded me of another fictional chef, Amanda, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar in the movie “Simply Irresistible.” Mist though was an excellent chef and not aided by a magical crab. She was described as having her own magic. A fortune teller at a birthday party she attended as a teen told her she “had some kind of magic surrounding her.” Her schoolmates seemed to agree. Garner wrote:

“But she knew it was only a matter of how she perceived the world. Heart wide open. Eyes and ears tuned in.”

Mist was a very thoughtful woman. She had this Mary Poppins-style closet where she had put away just the right items for each guest. I did think how nice it would be to go to this hotel where the employees made my stay that enjoyable by knowing just the thing I needed in order to relax and make memories.

I do think that I like my characters flawed…or more flawed. I did see there were threads to pull, so to speak, where I might find “more to the story” later. Garner does continue the story in other Christmas novellas. Overall, I accepted this one as a cozy, feel-good, suspend-my-need-for-flaws Christmas novella. It’s one preferably read by a roaring fire with a cup of tea and one or more cookies made from Betty’s cookie recipes provided at the end.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas. I will keep reading. My next book to review is a devotional I read, “In the Manger” by Max Lucado. And I plan to tuck into Carrie Turansky’s “Moonlight Over Manhatten” next. She gifted readers with that one in one of her author emails before Thanksgiving. Please share in the comments what books you read over the holiday season.

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