Village Christmas, (1966) Miss Read
First published as what Miss Read would call “a slim volume”, this edition of Village Christmas, along with The Christmas Mouse, was included in an omnibus entitled Christmas Tales. Set in Fairacre, it is the story of 2 aging sisters who are comfortable in their set ways, until their world is invaded by a young family who moves in across the road. Diana Emery and her husband have 3 cheerful little girls and another baby due any minute. Margaret and Mary are constantly shocked by the Emerys: Diana smoked, wore torn stockings, sent the children over to borrow a bit of string for a parcel, and was actually friendly.
“As Mary had foreseen, her Bohemian garments scandalized the older generation. An then, she was so breath-takingly friendly! She had introduced herself to Mr. Lamb in the Post Office, and to two venerable residents who were collecting their pensions, shaking hands with them warmly and asking such personal questions as where they lived and what were their names.
‘Wonder she didn’t ask us how old we be,’ said one to the other when they escaped into the open air. ‘She be a baggage, I’ll lay. I’ll take good care to steer clear of that ‘un.’ ”
While not exactly a spoiler, I just have to include a passage from the last few pages, because, of course, everything turns out to be okay. New babies have a way of changing things.
” ‘D’you know what Vanessa said when her father fetched her?’ asked Margaret. ‘She said” “This is the loveliest Christmas we’ve ever had!” ‘Twas good of the child to say it, I thought, after such a muddling old day. It touched me very much.’
‘She spoke the truth,’ replied Mary slowly. ‘Not only for herself, but for all of us here in Fairacre. ‘Tis a funny thing, sister, but when I crept up the stairs to take a first look at that new babe the thought came to me: “Ah! You’re a true Fairacre child, just as I was once, born here, and most likely to be bred up here, the Lord willing!” And then another thought came: “You’ve warmed up us cold old Fairacre folk quicker’n the sun melts frost.” You know, Margaret, them Emery’s have put us all to shame, many a time, with their friendly ways, and been snubbed too, often as not. It took a Christmas baby to kindle some proper Christmas goodwill in Fairacre.’ ”
The Christmas Mouse, (1973) Miss Read
The second Fairacre story in this volume is the story of old, widowed Mrs. Berry, her young widowed daughter Mary and Mary’s two little girls and a couple of unexpected guests on Christmas eve. It’s a bit longer than the previous story and is also a morality story with a good bit of wisdom in it.
This third Miss Read Christmas story is also set in Fairacre, with a different set of characters. Miss Quinn is an efficient, executive secretary for a businessman. Her life is well ordered and just the way she wants it, with very little fuss and certainly no big celebration at Christmas. Then her brother sends out a call for help with his children when his wife has to go into the hospital and he, being a vicar, is busy with parish duties.
Caring for a whole household is a new experience:
“With a shock she remembered that there had been no preparations made for lunch at home. For the first time in her life, she bought fish fingers, and a ready-made blackcurrant tart. How often she had watched scornfully the feckless mothers buying the expensive “convenience” foods. Now, with three children distracting her and the clock ticking on inexorably, she sympathized with them. Catering for one, she began to realize, was quite a different matter from trying to please the varying tastes of five people, and hungry ones at that.”
It’s a lovely story, with even a touch of romance, and I read it again nearly every year.
Christmas Scrapbook, (2005) Phillip Gulley
A second Harmony Christmas story by Gulley, concerns the Quaker minister’s attempts to make a really special gift for his wife, a scrapbook of her life. Gulley is a real-life Quaker minister and I’m a little uncomfortable with the casual lying in which his protagonist engages. It’s an okay book, but no great shakes, and unlike the Miss Read pieces, I won’t reread.
Esther’s Gift, (2002) Jan Karon
If you’ve read any of the Mitford books, you know that Esther Bolick’s claim to fame is her Orange Marmalade Cake. This story is about her preparation of several to give as Christmas gifts and her struggle with generosity.
Once I read that when Jan Karon first mentioned the cakes in her series, that she didn’t have a recipe for it, just the idea. Memory fails me as to how she finally came up with it, but I’m glad that it’s included at the end of this story. It sounds mouth-watering.
Not a Christmas book at all, but simply an incredible story, Same Kind of Different as Me, is a double first hand account of redemption and freindship. More on this book later. Here is their website.
Christmas Cookie Murder, (1999) Leslie Meier
Really, I should know better. A couple of weeks ago I was at our local library and looking for some light reading and picked this one up. One of the Lucy Stone series, it’s set in a little town in Maine. Lucy is a wife, mother and part-time reporter for the local newspaper. Meirer’s story lines are mildly interesting but they drip with political correctness.