Sunday, December 25, 2011

Book Review: Comfort and Joy, by Kristin Hannah (third review for The Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge)

This is my third review for
The Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge,
which runs from November 21, 2011
through January 6, 2012!

Please click on the link in my sidebar
for the rules, as well as
a complete list of participating bloggers.

Title: Comfort and Joy
Author: Kristin Hannah
Format: Hardcover, 272 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: Nov. 1, 2005
Genre: Christmas Romance, Urban Fantasy

The main character of this beautiful, magical book has an appropriate name for the Christmas season: Joy Faith Candellaro.  Some readers might point out that the author is 'laying it on too thick', but somehow, it works for this particular novel, just as the title does.  The word "comfort" refers specifically to the Comfort Fishing Lodge, where most of the first part of the book's events take place, while the word "joy" refers to the main character.

I was so happy and pleased when I unexpectedly received this book as a Secret Santa present!  I had been wishing for it, and even mentioned it in one of my Follow Friday hop posts. 

The story starts off on a very depressing note.  Joy is doing her best to resume a normal life after a devastating divorce, which has been finalized less than a year ago.  As anyone who has been through this type of experience knows, it takes some time for one to even begin to feel 'normal'.  Things can never really be normal again, though...especially for Joy.

Her husband's lover is Stacey McAvoy.  She happens to be Joy's sister.

I don't know how I would even begin to handle such a situation.  I can relate to Joy's pain to some extent, since I've gone through one divorce, but fortunately, nothing this horrible.  By this point, in the book's first few pages, I was already hating Stacey.

On the day her school's Christmas vacation (she's a school librarian) begins, Joy reluctantly decides to buy a Christmas tree, and then heads for home.  When she drives up to her house, there's someone standing in the driveway, waiting for her. 

It's Stacey.

Joy is thinking, hoping, that her sister has come over to tell her that everything is over between her and Thom, Joy's ex-husband.  But that's not the news Stacey has for her... Instead, she does two things: gives Joy a wedding invitation, and then...tells her that she's pregnant.

Joy snaps, and does exactly what I would have done.  She gets back in her car, and drives off as fast as she can.  She ends up at the airport, where she impulsively buys a charter plane ticket.  The plane is headed for the town of Hope, in British Columbia, Canada.

Except that it never gets there, because it crashes a short while after takeoff..

This is where the beauty of this book comes in, because, incredibly, Joy not only survives, but, although a little shaky and bleeding from a couple of cuts, she actually walks away from the crash. 

After walking through a forest, and down a country road, she ends up at the Comfort Fishing Lodge, the very place she had been looking at in a travel brochure on the plane.

It's here that she meets Bobby, a small boy who has recently lost his divorced mother, and Daniel, Bobby's father, who is attempting to reach the son he hardly knows.  Joy stays at the lodge as a guest, rapidly becoming attached to Bobby, as well as feeling increasingly attracted to Daniel.

I know this sounds like some schmaltzy romantic slush, except that it works!  Hannah's exquisite, stark prose style has a lot to do with that.  She doesn't sentimentalize, but merely tells her story as simply as she can.  The setting, with all its details, is mystically beautiful, the drama unfolding between Bobby and his dad depicted with gentle, but uncompromising, honesty.

Joy suddenly realizes that she wants to start over, and actually wants to stay with these two hurting strangers.  She forgets her own pain for a while in her efforts to help them heal their own.  Ultimately, however, she realizes that she has to return home, and deal with her own reality...

There's an added, miraculous element that makes this book truly stand out.   The Christmas season is, after all, known as 'the season of miracles', and it's certainly true here.  In addition to the magical elements, there are the elements of forgiveness, of healing wounded hearts, of new beginnings.  All of these ingredients come together in a very unique way here.

The characters are just perfect.  Joy is emotionally vulnerable, yet resilient at the same time.  Daniel mirrors her state of mind, as he tries desperately to connect with his son.  Bobby is totally endearing and lovable, although he's haunted by his mother's death.  Even Stacey ends up coming across as somewhat likable --- she becomes very supportive of Joy when the latter decides to go for that new beginning she's been wanting.

I must admit that I had a hard time suspending my disbelief, during the first part of the novel.  Since I couldn't stand all the emotional upheaval, and wondered how someone surviving a plane crash would simply walk away from it, I did the unthinkable, for any self-respecting bookworm -- I skipped ahead, and read part of the subsequent chapters.  Although this spoiled the surprise, of course, I am very glad I did so, because everything then fell right into place.

Kristin Hannah's Comfort and Joy is not just another 'feel-good' holiday read.  It's a gracefully crafted piece of work, dreamy and mellow, yet richly passionate, and wistfully evocative. 

In spite of all the positive aspects of this novel, I do have to point out a couple of things that I found somewhat unsatisfying.  

First of all, I don't think that the issue of adultery was handled in a realistic manner here.  It's true that this novel has a fantasy element, but still, adultery is a very serious matter.  In this case, it's even more serious, because one woman betrays her very own sister.  Although Stacey is very remorseful, the process of forgiveness and reconciliation should have taken much longer.  Instead, Hannah shifts the reader's attention to Joy's new relationship with Daniel and Bobby O'Shea.  In Hannah's defense, I could say that her focus is on the positive emotional and spiritual atmosphere that Christmas brings, which is sometimes nothing short of miraculous.

The romance between Daniel and Joy lacks depth, which is another unsatisfying aspect of the novel.  This is because of the intrinsic nature of the plot, however.  Although I would have enjoyed a more developed relationship between these two, I don't find this as bothersome as the problem I mentioned above.

Despite these apparent shortcomings, this book is a jewel, one that I know I will come back to next year, when the gentleness and spiritual mellowness of Christmas roll around again!


Where to buy:  Amazon, Barnes & Noble   


  1. i love secret Santa gifts that are perfect for the receiver :) Merry Christmas..what a lovely review. I hope to pick this one up.

  2. Oh, Kimba, thank you so, so much for your kind words!! Merry Christmas to you, too!! You should definitely read this book. You'll love it for sure!!! : )

  3. I'm glad to hear this is such a good one because I have it on my Christmas book shelf. I'll add it to the list for next year. =O) Thanks for the great review!

  4. Yes, indeed it IS a terrific book! I can't believe my Secret Santa gave it to me! Who knows? Maybe she happened to read the blog post in which I first mentioned the book! Life sure has some strange synchronicities sometimes...

    Thank you so much for your compliment!! I'll be looking forward to your review of the book next year, unless you can't wait, and decide to read it now... : )

  5. P.S. Thank you so much for the follow, Michelle!!! : )


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