Saturday, January 4, 2014

Book Review: The Christmas Town, by Elyse Douglas (Fifth review for the 2013 Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge)

This is my fifth review for
The 2013 Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge
which is hosted by Michelle @
and runs from
Nov. 22, 2013, to Jan. 6, 2014!

The Christmas Town
Elyse Douglas
(Elyse Parmentier and Douglas Pennington)
Trade Paperback, 246 pages
CreateSpace, Sept. 29, 2013
Christmas Romance, Science Fantasy

Book Synopsis:  Traveling home for Christmas, two young women in their 20s are forced to drive together during a snowstorm, and they get lost. They cross a covered bridge and, suddenly, they enter the past, finding themselves in a small picturesque Vermont town in 1943. They meet two handsome soldiers, who are about to be sent off to war, and they fall in love with them, while also struggling to find a way to return home to their own time.

With the soldiers’ help, on Christmas Eve, the two women finally have one chance to return to their own time, but they are caught between their love for the soldiers, and their desire to return to the present. At the last moment, they must make the difficult decision and, because it is Christmas, a miracle happens.

My Review

When I first saw this novel, I was immediately drawn to it. I love reading Christmas romance novels during the Christmas season, and the synopsis of this one really called out to me. The cover looked so enchanting, too, with the combination of the church, the blue snow, and the very romantic couple locked in a passionate embrace.

At the beginning of the story, I didn't feel much sympathy for the two main characters, Megan Jennings and Jackie Young. They meet at a small airport in the state of Vermont, where their flight has been diverted, due to a snowstorm that has made it impossible for the plane to land at Portland International Airport, in Maine, as scheduled. 

Megan is a twenty-something fledgling actress who lives in New York City and has performed in a few Broadway plays. She is traveling to Portland to meet her family. although she's dreading the occasion. Jackie Young, also in her twenties, is the Senior Graphics Manager for the Lotus Design Corporation, and she, too, is traveling to Portland from New York, to spend Christmas with her fiance's family, although she's not too happy about that, either.

Both women struck me as very self-centered, and not in tune with the spirit of the season. This was quite evident in their squabbling over who would get the only rental car left at the airport, which each of them would need in order to get to Portland. When the man who had reserved the car graciously lets them have it -- thanks to Megan's concocted story about a family emergency -- they are both upset about having to share the car. Having no other option, however, they reluctantly agree to do so, and set off on their perilous journey to Portland through the storm, and at night, to make matters worse.

I must say that their decision to drive through that storm, at nighttime, is not believable at all. The more rational choice would have been to wait until morning, at the very least. In fact, I don't think they would have been able to make it to Portland even then. It would have taken days for the roads to be cleared. The diverted flight took place five days before Christmas, too, so that would have made it even more unlikely that Megan and Jackie would have arrived at their destination in time for the holiday.

The whole point, of course, was to get these characters lost in the storm, so that they would come across an old covered bridge, which, unbeknownst to them, was really a time portal.

Once they cross this bridge, the two young women discover a town named Holly Grove, with a population of 5,400. As they seek shelter and food, they also come to discover that, somehow, they have traveled backward in time, to the year 1943....

Ironically, I found the fantastical section of this novel a bit more believable. The authors have gone all-out in creating their fictional town (no such place exists in Vermont), immersing the reader in the daily life of this World War II community, with such things as rationing tickets, incredibly low prices, and swing bands. One gets the unmistakable feeling that the authors are nostalgic for this time in American history. The people, the events of the story, everything makes the reader feel this way, as well. Perhaps the characters living in this time period are idealized to some extent, but they are still very appealing. I really enjoyed the touches of humor as things we take for granted in the 21st century were woefully missing in 1943. Megan and Jackie had to catch themselves when they inadvertently mentioned something anachronistic, and caught puzzled looks from the town residents.

The soldiers that Megan and Jackie fall in love with are just wonderful! Corporal Danny (known as "Danny Boy") Crawford and First Lieutenant Jeff Grant are charming young men, rather naive and harmless by today's standards, but also very handsome. They are perfect gentlemen, as well, and so sweet. Danny and Jackie find each other immediately attractive, while Megan and Jeff also feel a mutual attraction.

I have to admit that this all sounds a little too predictable, but I found myself enjoying it, just the same. The two couples are simply perfect for each other. So, in spite of the "insta-love" element, I went along with the story. Although I do think that a mere five days is too short a time to fall in love with someone, I was simply swept along in the romance! 

The girls begin to change as they strive to solve the problem of how to get back to their own time, while dealing with their feelings for the two soldiers they must undoubtedly leave behind. Being forced to work together, as well as confide in each other, gradually eliminates their sarcastic verbal swipes at each other, as well as their antagonistic attitudes. They must become allies, and, in the process, end up as good friends, as well. They also become a lot more likable.

How they solve their problem, with the help of the two soldiers (who don't know the whole story, since the two girls are afraid of being thought crazy), makes for some very entertaining reading! The plot speeds up as the villain of the story seeks the help of the town sheriff, and the girls find an unexpected ally in one of the town residents.

I do wish the authors had given more background on the soldiers.  There was a scarcity of details about their personal lives. The one thing we find out is that Jeff's father is a minister, although we never get to meet his family. The two young men simply showed up in the lives of the two young women, almost as if by magic.

In spite of the objections above, I totally became immersed in this story, and was completely enchanted by it! 

In short, I do think this novel is definitely a heartwarming, cozy Christmas read. . After all, the Christmas season has always been associated with magic and miracles, not only because of the divine birth, but also because of such historical figures as Charles Dickens, O. Henry, and Frank Capra. Once the time-travel plot gets underway, the reader is totally lost in the story, and the minor flaws somehow get glossed over as one is swept up in the romance of it all.

Furthermore, the ending is appropriately magical, as well as mysterious....

This is one of those novels that would make a great movie! That's because the authors have made sure that the characters and setting are vivid in the reader's mind.  I would love to see this book become another one of those beloved Christmas film traditions, to be treasured over the years!



Elyse Douglas

About the Authors
(from Goodreads)

Elyse Douglas is the pen name for the husband and wife writing team of Elyse Parmentier and Douglas Pennington. Elyse began writing poems and short stories at an early age, and graduated from Columbia University with a Master's Degree in English Literature. Douglas grew up in a family of musicians, astrologers and avid readers. Some of Elyse Douglas's novels include: The Astrologer's Daughter, Wanting Rita, The Christmas Diary, and The Christmas Town.  They currently reside in New York City.

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