Thursday, December 23, 2010

Book Review: A Dreamspun Christmas

A Dreamspun Christmas
Authors: Marilyn Campbell, Carole Nelson Douglas, Justine Davis, Edith Layton, Emma Merritt
Mass Market Paperback, 379 pages
Published November 1, 1994, by Topaz (Dutton Signet, a division of Penguin Books USA, Inc.)
Reading Genre: Christmas paranormal romance

The combination of Christmas and the paranormal is one that I especially treasure.  My all-time favorite movie, after all, is “It’s A Wonderful Life”.  

It wasn’t just the sweet, tender cover of this book that caught my eye.  It was also the title.  What kind of Christmas, I wondered, would dreams spin?    

Although one of the stories didn’t quite give me that satisfied feeling at the end, I decided to give the book an overall rating of five stars, because just one story shouldn’t affect the general impression, I think.

The first story, titled “Ghosts of Christmas Past”, by Marilyn Campbell, is a total delight from start to finish.  The author skillfully portrays the humorous, even eccentric, side of small-town life.

Small towns, of course, tend to be traditional places, and this is the case with Haversham, Vermont, founded in 1710, with a total population of 956, soon to be 958…

Wesley Haversham XII, the town’s mayor, and Janice Fowler, a free-lance journalist, are paired off in the minds of the townspeople, as well as by Wesley’s antic-loving ancestors, from the very beginning. 

Janice is doing an article on haunted towns, although she's a skeptic.  This is her last stop of a tour of such towns, and she has so far seen nothing to shake her skepticism.  Wesley assures her that  his town is different, since his own ancestors, as well as those of other townspeople, regularly make appearances. 

Meanwhile, a very strong attraction has sprung  up between Janice and Wesley, and, after a night of passionate lovemaking, he suddenly proposes.  While Janice is reluctant at first, telling him that, after all, they've just met, she finally becomes convinced that Wesley, is, indeed, the right man for her.  Talk about a whirlwind courtship!  With some help from the spirits, she decides to accept his proposal  Yes, this is the stuff of every girl’s dreams and fantasies…although I have heard of such lightning-fast courtships taking place in real life, as well.  The end of the story is certainly awe-inspiring, as a miraculous event takes place on Christmas Eve. 

My rating is, obviously, five sparkling stars!

The second story, “Christmas Magic”, by Carole Nelson Douglas, shows a lot of potential at the beginning and throughout.  It’s the ending that I find somewhat disappointing.

Melody Johansen, usually known as “Mel”, is a window display designer for Macy’s in New York City, and just getting over a failed relationship.  One day, after work, she stops at a quaint little store, “The Santa Shoppe”, to buy a Christmas tree.  Somehow, she is transported back to the year 1896, where she meets Jeremy Gardner, a struggling young actor/songwriter whose father is determined to push into the banking business. 

The unusual thing here is that Melody is invisible, and Jeremy thinks she’s the spirit of a long-dead aunt.  However, she begins to solidify as the story, and their romance, progresses, until, nearly at the end, she has become fully solid.  Then she and Jeremy return – still in his time – to “The Santa Shoppe”, in order to find Jeremy’s brother, who had been disowned by his father due to his choice of bride. 

It is the story’s ending that spoils everything.  I’m not giving anything away.  Suffice it to say that all the charm and beauty just kind of disappear....

The story wasn’t entirely disappointing in spite of the ending, though, so I’m giving it four stars.

The third story, “Star Light, Star Bright”, by Emma Merritt, is another winner.   Once again we have a whirlwind courtship, and a very beautiful one, too, with an unexpected surprise thrown in along the way.

On December 24, 1852, Architect Nicholas Devlin returns home to Port Huron, Michigan, to celebrate Christmas with his loving adoptive mother, Adeline Peabody Stimms, affectionately called “Addie”, and her “family”, consisting of a cook, a housekeeper, several stray dogs she’s taken in, and “Tommy” (Thomasina), a formerly homeless old woman who can see angels and stardust.

Nick soon meets Sara Finley, a nurse from Chicago whom Addie has hired to look after Tommy.  Nick learns that Tommy has been wanting to go home to heaven; she tells Nick that Sara is really her angel, sent to take her there. 

Sara is indeed an angel, one with a hard decision to make.  If she chooses to stay with Nick, she will have to endure a mortal life, with all its sufferings and vicissitudes.  Much as she loves the heavenly realm, she can’t give up Nick, and I can’t say I blame her! 

My rating is definitely five stars!

The fourth story is “It’s A Wonderful Christmas”, by Edith Layton, and the title is no coincidence.  The story borrows its theme from the great film classic, but what Layton does with that theme is amazingly inventive.

Lady Maude has been married to Miles Randal, the Viscount of Southwood, for several years.  The couple has three children.  It’s Christmastime, 1835, in Merry Old England, and Lady Maude has gone to gather some mistletoe growing in a grove on the outskirts of the village.  There is an ancient well in that grove, and people frequently make wishes there.  She unexpectedly runs into the village vicar, accompanied by a young man, Mr. Clarence.  Fans of the movie will remember that George Bailey’s guardian angel was also named Clarence.

The family gathers together at Southwood Hall, as is their yearly custom, to celebrate the holiday.  Maude, who carries a burden of unnecessary guilt over the childhood death of her brothers, is stunned to meet Cressida, her husband’s ex-fiancee, at the reunion.  Other circumstances lead her to believe that she is not really wanted, and, in desperation, she runs back to the well, where she fervently wishes she had never been born.

Mr. Clarence mysteriously reappears at that precise moment.  After chatting with him briefly, Maude proceeds to walk toward the village, and he strolls along with her.  As in the movie that inspired this story, everything, and everyone, has changed.  Even her husband is a cynical, hardened man who boasts about his illegitimate offspring.

Distraught, Maude finds herself back at the well, where Mr. Clarence explains that her wish has been granted.  Maude begs him to make everything as it was before.  She breaks down and cries, and, when she looks up, he’s gone.

The ensuing events mirror the ones in the movie.  Maude is ecstatic at seeing how blessed she really is, and discovers that her husband is not secretly pining for his former love, as she had mistakenly thought.

Layton’s writing is not only extremely engaging, but also evokes the appropriate mood without sentimentalizing.  I give this one five stars, as well!

The fifth and last story, “The Crystal Dove”, by Justine Davis, is the most unusual one in this anthology.  

The dove in question appears one morning on the hotel desk of one Case Rafferty, a hard-working business tycoon who leads a rather lonely existence, and doesn’t know it.  He’s totally indifferent to anything that might distract him from accomplishing his business goals.  Naturally, he considers holidays, and most especially Christmas, a total nuisance.

Mystified by the dark-blue glass dove, he contacts the hotel’s security department in an attempt to discover how it could have gotten into his penthouse suite.  No evidence of anyone entering his apartment is found.  So, on the recommendation of a hotel butler named, significantly enough, Raphael, Case approaches Kestra Shepherd, the proprietor of "Celebration", a shop in the building he owns.

Need I say that this is a truly magical tale?  Case and Kestra are immediately attracted to each other, discovering that each of their fathers has painfully marked their personalities, thus affecting their children's future love lives.  The dove continues to mysteriously appear in different locations, its color getting lighter and lighter as Case gradually changes, discovering the power of love, while Kestra herself gradually gets over her own distrust of men obsessed with their work.

Beautifully and simply written, this story is a wondrous tale of redemption, admittedly a clichéd theme, but masterfully handled by the author.  I give it five stars, too!

This book is well worth acquiring, even if it takes some time and effort to find it.   It will make your Christmas a warmer, more love-inspired one!  I guarantee it!

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